Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy and I’ve got an interview here coming up that’s way different from the others that I’ve done. The reason that it’s different is I usually interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses and I get into the details of it. We’ve done a bunch of those, over 1,000 interviews my team and I have put together here with entrepreneurs like the founders of Airbnb, the founder of Wikipedia, etc.
In some of those interviews, you might have seen that I got really excited about systems. In fact, we’ve done a series of interviews around systems because frankly I needed it. I needed to organize my company. I just wanted a process. When I was thinking about how to do it, I remembered back to my entrepreneurship class where Professor Craig Boyce handed every one of us a copy of “EMyth,” the book.
He said, “You don’t have to do this.” In fact, Craig Boyce was always about, “You’re an entrepreneur. You don’t have to do anything.” He said, “If you want to, read this book and it will show you how to organize your business.” I read it cover to cover. It was all about how to systemize your company, document everything.
I remember one thing that really stood out was if a blue suit works for you and that’s the way you communicate authority and people respect you with a blue suit, wear a blue suit every day. Obviously it wasn’t about how to get dressed, but that gives you a sense of how system-oriented that book left me thinking. That’s why I did a bunch of interviews on Mixergy with entrepreneurs who were systems-oriented.
Well, I found that there’s a limit to systems, that at some point you end up with what feels like a very bureaucratic company, at least the way that he did it. Other times, it stifles creativity or challenges it, at least So, over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking to an entrepreneur who actually used to run EMyth, the company. He used to be the CEO. Now he’s got a new company.
His name is Jonathan Raymond. He is the founder of Refound, which teaches people how to become great people managers. He has this new way of changing the relationship that we have as entrepreneurs and business people with systems.
We were supposed to record a course, but I couldn’t figure out how to turn it into a course. But he and I kept having these interesting conversations about management and I thought instead of doing my usual interview, what if he and I just have a conversation here and talk about the challenges of management, talk about the limits of systems and the benefits of them and see where it goes.
A lot of what we’ll talk about here is based on his book. It’s called “Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For.” I love that headline. I do feel like my team is waiting for me to be a certain kind of leader.
And this whole interview is sponsored by two companies. As always, I’ll tell you more about them later. But I’ll tell you their names now. The company that will host your website is called HostGator and the company that will help you find your next great developer or designer is called Toptal. I’ll tell you more about both of them later. But first, Jonathan, welcome.
Jonathan: Hey, Andrew. Thanks so much for having me on.
Andrew: Jonathan, let’s talk about the beauty of systems. Really, there is a real advantage as an entrepreneur. Do you have an example of what the advantage of systemizing your company is?
Jonathan: There are so many. The reason why that book was so popular–I love the framework that you gave to intro this subject because it’s a complex one in certain ways. So much of what happens, especially for entrepreneurs is that we’re so used to having our fingers in all the different pies in the business–the sales side, marketing side, operations, customer experience, talking to customers, you name it. We often don’t appreciate just how much we’ve taken on even in a really short period.
I launched my new business back in August and we just went through the process, my business partner and I, of going through ARs, areas of responsibility. Just that, which is a kind of system document, “Okay, who’s responsible for UX? Who’s responsible for updating copy on the website?” That’s a very light, more of a structure and a planning tool.
But it helps you get clear in your own mind. There are a lot of parallels with David Allen, “Getting Things Done.” What is your mind for? If you don’t document things to some degree, if you don’t understand between two business partners or between a manager and employee, “Where does my job begin and end and where does your job start?” There’s all kinds of cross communication, lines of authority being crossed inappropriately. There are all kinds of things that go wrong.
So, for me the biggest beauty of it is just the clarity that it offers and some really healthy boundaries around who’s doing what, who’s not doing what and who’s accountable for different results.
Andrew: I’ve talked often about how we used to be really chaotic here as a team booking guests, like, “Where would a guest come from? Who knows?” How would we make sure we followed up with a guest? We usually would remember and then sometimes we wouldn’t. So, a guest wouldn’t get followed up on for a year, literally, or more. Finally, we put together a system that said, “What are our steps for booking guests?” and laid them all out in software and assigned responsibilities.
Now I know as soon as this interview is done, I hit a button. Joe gets an email that tells him it’s time to edit it. He knows exactly where to find it, he knows how we edit and so on. Systems help that way. Or when we sell an ad–as soon as Sachit sells an ad, like the one for Toptal, an email goes to me, goes to our booking person who puts it on a schedule. It goes to someone else who sends out the invoice.
So, that is beautiful. When I think about systems, that’s the kind of stuff that I love, that I can really run my company in a way that just works. If there’s a problem with the system, we fix it so that everybody in the future gets to benefit. What’s the challenge then with that? If that is the beauty of it and it’s working for me, for you and for others, what are we missing?
Jonathan: Take one step back. I don’t know when this will go on the air. But Tesla announced there Model 3. There are probably a lot of Tesla fans on your broadcast as I am one of them. I think of it like that. This is a car, all of their models. Incredible constellation of systems, but all those systems, with the exception of maybe fill autopilot someday, is not going to stop you if you’re a lousy driver from crashing into something, right? I think a lot of times business owners have this fantasy.
The problem with systems is only in the fantasy, the fantasy that if I do that, everything else is going to take care of itself. It’s not. It’s going to provide you a baseline. It’s going to provide you the necessary infrastructure to get out of the most chaotic elements of starting a business. But I think the most challenging thing, to get to your question around if it’s working for me and it’s working for the people in my company, it really comes down to sobriety. Is it really?
A lot of the conversation–we’re so conditioned in the business world, especially as entrepreneurs to portray to the outside world how everything is going well and business is growing and I’ve got all these new clients. I have this amazing new technology I’m building, whatever it is. The truth is usually far more complicated than that. There are struggles with business partners. There are struggles with hiring. How do I find good people? How do I keep them? How do incentivize them? Is it just about money?
Andrew: Couldn’t you come up with a system for incentivizing?
Jonathan: Sure. It’s going to do something. It will give you a baseline, but like a lot of entrepreneurs make promises when it comes to incentives, just to use that example, incentives and compensation promise far too much far too early in the process because we’re looking online and we see WhatsApp or whatever the upside possibility of the startup world is. Again, of course Silicon Valley is one small part of the world.
There are a lot of Silicon Valleys across the country around the world, but the problem we get into is over-promising and under-delivering. People will do that in the hiring process, where people will wait too long to hire for a position, whether that’s for financial reasons or they don’t think about it or they’re taking it on too much themselves and not realizing it.
And then we hire–I’ve done this so many times in my career–we hire based on a current need versus hiring based on an internal skill set and emotional resiliency. How do you ask questions? There’s no system–there are good questions and bad questions, but you’ve got to be in turn with yourself as a human being to be able to gauge whether the person you’re going to hire is an emotionally resilient person.
It doesn’t come from–you can download a PDF on the web, “Ask These Five Tough Questions,” but if you don’t know how to listen, if you don’t know how to read between the lines and gauge people’s reactions and read the feel of the room, you’re going to make mistakes. Most managers and entrepreneurs make far more mistakes than successes when it comes to hiring and keeping people over time.
Andrew: When I think about the alternative to systems, I think about a time that you told me that it was a Tuesday night, your team was in a conference room. I’m looking here at my notes. I take notes even when we chat just as regular people. You said you had two of your lieutenants just brainstorming in the new site, back when you were working at EMyth.
You said, “You guys own it. I’m going to go. You take care of this and you figure it out for yourselves.” You didn’t leave them, as far as I know, you didn’t leave them a set of checklists for how to create the new site. You didn’t tell them specifically what the steps are for coming up with the new site. I don’t think you could do that. But you just said, “You guys are really good at this. You will figure this out with out.”
What you showed me with that was that by leaving, you empowered them to do this, by trusting them to do it, you empowered them. If you were sitting there in the room, they would have had to keep thinking about what you wanted. Once you left the room, they knew they had your trust and they had to think about what they needed to go up on the site. The site looks beautiful in comparison to what it did before.
Jonathan: Yeah. That was a really neat tool you showed me, the Wayback Machine. That was a lot of fun. I think that’s the message. It sometimes takes me a year with one of our clients and sometimes they get it immediately–the degree to which we disempower people just to our presence.
As entrepreneurs, we’re usually pretty strong-willed, pretty passionate by our ideas. It’s hard, if you just think back to times if you ever worked for somebody like that. It’s hard to carve out your own space when you’re working with someone who’s really clear, really passionate and holds your paycheck in your hands.
It’s hard to find space for that. Some people maybe are stronger at that than others. It’s incumbent upon the leader and the manager to create that space. In that example, for me to say, “Yeah, you could come up with some ideas.” But you already know what your ideas are. You already know what you would do in a general way. Let’s see what they will do if you’re not in the room.
Andrew: So, what’s the big take away from that? Number one, just step outside of the conversation. As much as you think that you’re in there showing you’re helping people, you’re probably actually taking away from their autonomy and their creativity. What else can I take away from that example?
Jonathan: Well, I think there’s a tool that we call cultural listening, which is about listening to the spaces in between. I think every entrepreneur, if you just take a survey of your day and you think about whether you have employees or contractors, whether you have three people or 30, whatever the reality is, what are the themes of the things that you hear or the things that you don’t hear?
So, in some teams, there’s more proactive–I wouldn’t call is complaining, necessarily, but there are more active voices of dissent, right? What does that tell you if you’re a leader? What does it tell you about the business? What’s missing from that?
Andrew: Do I want more dissent in conversations?
Jonathan: What was that?
Andrew: Do I want more dissent in conversations?
Jonathan: I would say you want respectful dissent. What often happens is that people, you’ll have some employees, I talk about five different personality types of employees in the book. You may have personalities that that’s just what they do is they’re kind of a rabble-rouser. I call them the provocateur. They just disagree to disagree. That’s not helpful in the long run. That’s helpful in some ways but you find yourself kind of managing around those people very often. It would be highly problematic for other people on the time.
As that example, if you find yourself going through your day and you’re not hearing contrary voices, you’ve got a problem. That problem may not hurt you for a couple of months. Maybe it won’t hurt you for a year, but if the people on your team–again, employees, contractors, it doesn’t matter–if they’re not sharing with you things that they see that they don’t like or things that they think could be done better or ways that they’re treated that they would like to be treated differently, then there’s a fundamental distrust in the system that’s very, very hard to overcome as the CEO or owner. You have to triple your effort in terms of listening.
Andrew: I see. All right. So, with systems, what you kind of want is everybody just working this current system. We’ve agreed that this is our process. That’s it. Let’s move on. And if you want to make tweaks to it, great. If you want to come up with a new system, let’s talk about it. But for the most part, we are continuing along this predictable road.
Jonathan: Well, just to add one more turn on that, I think what happens with systems–as we’re both saying, systems are wonderful, but they tend to induce a kind of sleepiness. They tend to induce, “Oh, this is the way I’m supposed to do it.”
Andrew: So then how do I get somebody to disagree with me? I’ve got a system here that works, right? Let’s take the interview booking system. It works. How do I get Joe, the guy who’s going to get an email as soon as this interview is done, to say, “Hey, Andrew, this is not the way we should be doing things. This is kind of a dopy way to do it.”
How do I get Andrea, who’s booking guests to say, “We’re actually not doing it right. It’s easy for her to continue booking the way that we’ve been booking. It’s harder for her to see that there is an alternative and harder still for her to come back to me and say, “Andrew, this is wrong. This is not going to work.” What do we do to allow them to do that?
Jonathan: You have to be proactive. Some of it is more I wouldn’t call it passive, because great listening is very active to me. But some of it is asking them, saying, “Hey, this is the way we’ve been doing it. It seems to be working.” You said before it wasn’t working and now it is working. “It seems to be working, but could it be better or is this just locked down and this is the way it is?” Fine, if it is, great.
If you’re an employer or contractor and you’re running a system that just works, then guess what? You can take on more responsibility because if that system does everything that it should, that person that’s running that system that just works like clockwork is going to be bored. There’s not much creativity left in the system. So, what else can that person be doing? What new responsibility can they be taking on?
Andrew: I kind of want somebody to say, “Hey, Andrew, this system is working. It’s great. Let’s throw it all out anyway or leave it to work, but come up with a brand new approach. I know that there are some people who are better at that, some people–like Sachit, the guy who sells ads. He has no business telling us who else we should be doing interviews with because he’s selling ads.
But I like that he will email me from time to time and say something like, “Andrew, I think we shouldn’t even be emphasizing the video. What would happen if we killed the video part of the video interviews?” I remember the first time he said it and I thought, “It makes no sense? What’s the point? We’ll keep video up and if people want, they can have audio.”
He came back and he said, “It’s possible that people think of Mixergy as just a video program. If we got rid of the video, then they would realize there’s a podcast and that the podcast was number one and then they’d be more likely to subscribe because they like podcasts better than they like watching videos of two talking heads.” I need him to push back like that. I need him to say, “This thing is working. Let’s break it. This thing is working. Let’s try it with something brand new.”
Anyone who’s on the site right now for the first time would see the video. They’ll actually see just audio because we tested it and sure enough, the guy was right. It actually increased podcast audience and it didn’t do much that was important to our video.
Jonathan: Nice. Well, what I would say about that–
Andrew: That’s the kind of leader I want to be. Somebody who gets this guy who can think creatively, who can think destructively to come up with an idea that breaks something that is inherent to what we do. So, you tell me–you’re the expert, you’ve done this, you’ve shown companies how to do it. How do I encourage more of that?
Jonathan: So, one thing which you just did when he listens to this podcast is you just praised the behavior that you want to see. I want people to challenge me, I want people to come back even after they say a first thing and I go, “What do you know? You’re just in sales. You don’t know anything about that.” I’m not saying you said it that way.
But you want them to come back and be like, “Hey, I want to bring this topic back around.” So, praising when somebody proactively does that because it’s so the other way. We’re so conditioned as employees or contractors that we bring it once and if the person doesn’t respond, then we did it wrong.
So, proactively highlighting, we did that a lot on teams over the years. When somebody takes the initiative, I loved what you said, to break things that are working–every business that you have now, it’s already completely systematized. Most of those systems suck, but it’s already systemized. If you do ten sales a month, you have a system for doing ten sales a month, even if you want 100, it may be you don’t respond to emails promptly, the tone of the calls is wrong, the script isn’t asking the right questions. But you have a system. It’s just a bad one, right?
So, when people come along and say, “Hey, this thing that we’re doing, yeah, it’s kind of working, but I think we can do it so much better. So, one huge element is praise and highlight and promote people who do things like that, giving them more opportunities rather than what most leaders do even when we think we’re not doing it is we subtly shut down that kind of challenge and subtly undermine and work around people who do that.
Leaders who think that they don’t do that, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we all do that because we’re busy. We’re overwhelmed. We don’t listen. It’s not even so much dissent. It’s creativity. The truth is as a leader, you have context that your sales guy doesn’t have. You have information and data about the business and the vision. But that’s your data and information.
So, by allowing that to surface and being like, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” That’s so great. Even if you disagreed, even if you said, “That’s a really amazing insight and I think you’re onto something. I’m not really sure what to do with it yet, but let’s keep talking about it.” You don’t shut them down and you say, “I don’t totally agree yet. I’m willing to be convinced, but let’s go a few more rounds on this, and encouraging that kind of dialogue.
Andrew: I immediately actually shut him down when he said it. I said, “No, that makes no sense. Logically you’re giving people both options. Why would you want to take away the video option.”
Andrew: Then what I came back with, I said, “I’m actually trying to listen to ideas that are different from the ones that I want or the ones that we’re doing. So, let me spend some time thinking about that. What’s the goal? Why are we trying to do that? And then I went to what’s a quick test that we can run. There’s always a quick test that won’t damage anything but allows us to get some results.
So, I immediately sent an email to our developer and I said is there a way for you for two weeks to just hide the video from people unless they’re logged in. Tell me what happens.” Nothing happened. Then I sent an email to the people who are doing customer support and I said, “Tell me if there are any complaints over that.”
Jonathan: Giving people the ability to try it.
Andrew: Praise it. Let people know this is what you’re looking for. I will then, after this interview is over, send an email to the whole team and say, “Thank you, Sachit, for suggesting this thing.”
Andrew: Let me do a quick sponsorship message and come back. The sponsorship message is for a company that does a lot of hiring. It’s called Toptal. What’s great about Toptal, Top as in top of the heal, tal as in talent, is that they have a network of developers and designers who are just proven because their peers have tested them, their peers have made sure they’re the right people to go with.
As a result, when you need to hire a new developer or designer, you let Toptal know they’re thinking about it, they put you in touch with someone where you talk to them about what your challenge is, who you’re looking for, who you want to hire, what’s your ideal result. Then they go out into their network and they find that person, they make the introduction and you can often get started within a couple of days.
Jonathan, I like to include my question these kinds of messages. Let me ask you this–if you were going to hire someone from Toptal or somewhere else, what’s one important question you would ask them to make sure they’re the right fit?
Jonathan: I would ask them what’s an experience they’ve had of a bad boss and what was it like.
Andrew: That’s a good one. So, we’re hiring people from Toptal or from anywhere else, one of the first questions we ask is, “What’s an experience you had with a bad boss?” Why do you think that’s a good question.
Jonathan: Because I want to test how they think about problems and their willingness to be honest and transparent, not to badmouth that “bad boss,” but to be willing to have a conversation about their needs and what are their expectations. I find that’s a really helpful way to get at that. Why are you looking now even if you’re a contractor? So, let’s have a conversation about that rather than the usual, “It was great. I’m just looking for new opportunities,” or whatever.
Andrew: One of the things that I like about that is it also helps you understand what makes a bad boss. If you start to see patterns when you’re talking to people, you realize, “That’s something I should stay away from because it’s clearly creating resentment in employees.”
If you want to hire someone from Toptal or just have a conversation with them about possibly hiring someone, just go to Toptal.com/Mixergy. When you throw that /Mixergy at the end, they’re going to give you a couple of things that will make the experience even better for you than they will be for other people.
The first is that after you complete your first 80 development hours with Toptal, they’re going to cover the cost of the next 80 development hours for you. That’s incredible. The second thing is that they are going to make sure that you won’t pay unless you’re 100% satisfied. Again, all the details about this are available at Toptal.com/Mixergy. Go find your next great developer or designer for full-time, part-time, full team, project-based, lots of different options are there for you.
You actually hired somebody–you hired a team of developers at your previous company and you wanted them to use one piece of software to start coding and instead they wanted to use Ruby on Rails. Tell me about the decision making process around that.
Jonathan: Sure. That was back in 2011, 2012 maybe let’s say. We wanted to move off. We had kind of a homespun CRM/marketing automation and platform where clients were coming to access materials. We were looking at a few different options. It was part of a wholesale IT/UX, the whole deal migration. We had brought in some consultants and they gave us some perspective. I was kind of new to that world of Ruby on Rails. We were looking at the Microsoft–I can’t remember their name of their platform and Salesforce and Force1 and we were looking at some different options.
There wasn’t a clear right answer. Each platform had its own benefits and its own downsides or potential downsides. We went to the team and we just said, “Hey, here we’re down to two options. We’re going to make a decision.” They could sort of read the tea leaves and they saw we were going to choose the non-Ruby on Rails option because of some of the things they knew mattered to us–the time delivery and the challenge of hiring Ruby on Rails developers and the scarcity of the market.
There were a lot of upsides to going with Ruby on Rails and there were a lot of potential downsides or challenges. One in particular relative to our infrastructure of how we were going to be able to integrate or not with billing or different things.
So, we came in pretty prepared to make the decision to push the non-Ruby on Rails decision. We showed up in our conference room on that Monday morning and the team was there and there was a little sheet of paper on our desk in front of everybody’s chair and they basically said, “Hey, look, we have a sense of which way you guys are going to go with this. We want to propose an alternative.”
One of the guys in particular, the team did an amazing job over the weekend and brought together their ideas and they said, “We understand the hesitancy around Ruby and those are real risks, but we think there’s a way to do this that we can still bring it to market on the right schedule and it’s going to cost a little bit more but only this much more and so forth and so on.
It was an incredibly compelling moment in my career as a leader as a CEO of a business to be in a room that was mostly guys who brought forward a solution that went against what they thought we were going to do. They were right. We were going to go the other way. It was just a really beautiful moment for us as a team, where they got to say, “We think we should do it differently.” They painted the picture and made their case and we said, “You’re right.”
Andrew: So, how do we do that? One of the things I’m getting from that is when you’re telling people why you can’t take their option, why you’re not going to go with the decision they want you to take, explain why you’re doing it so that then they can address the issues as opposed to just saying, “No, it’s not the right decision,” right?
Andrew: So, what else? What else can we do that will allow people to dissent like that?
Jonathan: Well, I think you earn that right over time. You earn that right by being a mentor to the people on your team and whatever the structure of your organization is. All those guys were in a mentoring relationship with one or more managers, where they had the feeling like the place that they were working was good for them as human beings, that we were interested, genuinely cared about their growth as humans, whether they stayed with us for a year or five years, that was the culture that I was trying to create.
That’s what we work with our clients–it says look, in the modern economy, any time I interview somebody, I want them to come in the door and I want to say to them, “Look, you’re hired. I don’t care if you stay here two years, that’s great. If you stay here five years, that’s wonderful. But that’s not what this is about.”
“This is about you doing the best work of your life as long as you’re here, us being in communication and then my dream is that someday you’re going to come to my office and you’re going to say Jonathan, thanks so much, this has been great. I’ve learned so much. I’m ready to move on. I’ll always think back on my time working for you as a wonderful time in my career. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Andrew: You want them to leave?
Jonathan: I want them to leave when they’re ready, yeah. I don’t want people stick around–I want to be challenged as a leader to create a place that’s so great, that’s so alive, that’s so full of opportunities for growth that people don’t want to leave. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my tenure at EMyth. People didn’t leave. We had people stay with us for a really long time.
Andrew: You want people to feel like they could leave because that gives them the understanding that you care enough about them that your concern goes beyond the company, but you do want them to stick around.
Andrew: And the way that you get them to stick around you said is by helping them grow within the job. How do you do that? When you’re trying to figure out how to grow the business and you have someone who’s just making things work, how do you also take time away from what’s going, away from growing the business to help this person not do what they’re doing right now really well so they could find something that’s more of a stretch that keeps them engaged in the future?
Jonathan: I think that’s a fiction in the sense that no matter who you have on your team, there’s something about the way, not about the technical work they’re doing. They may be really good at sales or writing code. But I’ve never had anybody on any team I’ve ever worked with, on, led, been a part of, including myself, that doesn’t need to evolve their relationship to their work.
That’s how you help people grow, in the way they communicate with their teammates, in the way they speak their mind or don’t speak their mind, in the way they’re self-organized or not self-organized, in the way they manage overwhelming amounts of data or not, in the way they mentor people or don’t, in the way they hold people accountable or don’t, the way they walk their talk–we all have room for improvement in that domain of life.
When you make your focus that as a manager, as an employer, you automatically transcend the technical work. So, if somebody’s good at their technical work, that’s great. I’ve worked with many incredibly talented, as you have, technical people. Every single one of them, myself included, has room for improvement into how to be a better teammate, how to communicate more proactively, how to get out ahead of issues, how to identify patterns, how to be a better critical thinker and that’s how you help people grow. You’re not undermining the technical work they’re doing. You’re unlocking it to a whole other place.
Andrew: You gave this talk once and you wrote about it in your book. At the end of the talk, as you were hanging out at the back of the room, this guy David comes up to you and says, “This is all great. Everything you’re saying is wonderful, but it’s never going to go anywhere in my company,” right?
Andrew: I think it’s important to talk about that. We do hear a lot of great ideas and they never actually get traction in the company. They never really change our lives. What was the problem for David? Do you know the guy I’m talking about?
Jonathan: Yeah. It was a company, a larger company. He’d been there for seven years, I think nine years. The CEO was doing what I see a lot of CEOs do. The CEO was talking about culture. He was introducing cultural ideas. He was bringing in amazing speakers–Simon Sinek, lots of other people with much bigger names than mine for conferences and making really exciting pronouncements about culture. But when it came down to how people were actually being treated and whether their ideas were actually respected, whether people got the opportunity to be right sometimes, not necessarily all the time, that’s where it was falling down.
That’s what David was upset about was, “Hey, we talk a good game when it comes to culture,” I had one CEO tell me recently, he’s like, “I feel like our culture, we’re like a body builder. We look great on the outside, but if you scratch the surface our bones are creaking, our digestive system is all screwed up. It’s below the surface of the talk about culture and engagement and, “We’ve got ping pong tables or yoga classes,” or whatever the thing is. Those are all wonderful. But that’s all outside. The reason why people leave–you look at the data over and over again.
The reason why people leave, there’s only one reason, really, which is bad bosses. That’s not necessarily the CEO, but it starts with the CEO. What’s the culture of boss-hood in that business? What does listening look like? How does communication happen? What happens when somebody makes a mistake? How does accountability work in the organization? Those are the things that weren’t happening in his business. So, all the great inspiring ideas, it’s like, “Okay, Here’s another idea the boss is bringing in this month. It’s not going to change how he talks to us.”
Andrew: Right. “He just read another book. He’s really excited about it. It’s not going to work.”
Andrew: Is it that the new book now is kind of on top of the existing culture and existing way of doing things and we know it’s not going to last and it’s not really changing the way we’re doing things.
Andrew: It’s just a new thing we’re adding for the next week.
Jonathan: Yeah. That’s a lot of what the book is about is that I think the mistake we’re making is we’re trying to layer all this new stuff on top of cultural dysfunction instead of actually rooting it out. Where it’s personal, it’s about relationships. It’s about changing the way we think about being the boss.
Andrew: So, Jonathan, that’s one of my concerns. We’ve got these systems that are working great. Everything is good. I still want people to break things, to try something brand new. So, you told me go send an email about Sachit’s thing to the team. Great. I go do that. Sachit feels empowered, everyone feels great. We still have these systems. Maybe I forget to do it next week. Maybe I forget to do it the week after.
The cool thing about the system is if for some reason I don’t do an interview, there’s something that goes red all over the place internally. There is no way for me not to do it. If I’m done with this interview and I hit that button that says I’m done, Joe’s going to get an email. If Joe doesn’t finish editing, someone else is going to see that your card in our system goes red and can go to Joe and say, “Hey, Joe, what’s going on?” The problem with these cultural changes we’re suggesting is there is no system for keeping them in place so they go away.
Jonathan: Ah, but there is.
Andrew: Right? The guy who reads the latest David Allen book or the latest something book and decides that he’s going to bring minimum viable products and customer development to their business, they do it for a week and there’s no process that keeps it locked in the next week and the next month and the next year.
Andrew: So, what do we do about that?
Jonathan: So, that’s why I launched Refound is to address that very problem, which is peer accountability and mentor accountability. You have to volunteer for it. You have to say, “Hey, I want a system for myself. I want a method for a cultural development for staying on top of these issues, for surfacing gossip before it becomes gossip.”
That’s what the Refound community is about. That’s the “Good Authority” training is all about, that this is something that I saw, this phenomenon over and over again of leaders who really well-intentioned, people wanted to change things. There’s a reason why people buy all these leadership books. They know somewhere either just below the surface or deep inside, they know they’re not doing right by the people who work for them or the business could grow more, there’s more potential.
Our system is all about accountability for CEOs with each other, but in a way that’s different in the sense that we don’t just work with CEOs. We work with multiple layers of teams. I don’t trust you, Andrew, when you say the culture is great. I wouldn’t trust me if someone said, “How’s the culture at whatever?” I’m not trustworthy. I’m the CEO. I don’t work there. Everybody else is a much more reliable source of what’s going on.
So, we have an amazing group of clients how have said, “I want to know what’s going on. I want my people to have a forum–my VPs, my managers, my product managers, I want other people talking about our culture change project and not just me because I don’t want all the responsibility for that because I’m the one person who doesn’t work here in the same way.” So, that’s what our business is.
Andrew: So, what you’re saying is that you then bring them onto a call on a regular basis to see are you sticking with this new idea.
Jonathan: Yeah. We poke and we prod and we’re tough. That’s not just me. We give people, we give CEOs the kind of accountability that’s really, really difficult for CEOs the kind of accountability that’s really, really difficult to find on your own and in some different ways.
Andrew: What if I wanted to do it on my own? Let’s suppose I’m taking this away from our idea here. Let’s say I’m trying to think of another… Customer development is a really big topic, right? You want to talk to your customers. You want to understand what their issues are. You want to understand how you can improve.
You read a book about it. The book tells you to talk to them more often. You say, “Great. I’m going to talk to them more often.” You know I constantly want to do this. I need a way to stick with it. What’s the process that I would use if I’m not part of Refound, if it’s not a management thing? What do I do to allow myself to keep on track with this new idea that I read?
Jonathan: There are some tactical things that you can do, but I think that there’s something that’s non-optional in the sense that you have to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth. Whether that’s a mentor that you know from school or it can’t be a friend. It can’t be a family member. You need people who are outside of the system that you operate on a daily basis that there’s an agreement between you and this other person, “Hey, I want you to tell me the things you don’t think I see.” I want that. I want it once a week at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday.
Andrew: Someone outside of my company to tell me?
Andrew: How would they know what’s going on in my company?
Jonathan: Because they listen to you. They see the patterns and the themes that if you and I talked–if you and I talked every week, you could do this for me. You could say, “Jonathan, we’ve talked three times in the last month. Every time we talked you mentioned something about this one person on the team. But we haven’t really talked about that. What’s going on there?”
Andrew: I see, like a one on one mastermind.
Jonathan: One on one and it’s also really popular to hear from other CEOs. Sometimes when you’re hearing it from a coach or a mentor, that has its limits also, where it’s really helpful to hear it from other CEOs. So, for me it’s a combination. You can do this on your own. But a combination of a peer group–it’s like Weight Watchers or AA. There are some really beautiful things about those models, right? There are three kinds of authority. You’re in a peer group.
You also have like a meta structure. There’s a whole organization. Then you have a sponsor. There’s like the teaching authority. You have a sponsor. Then you have your peer group. You have to weigh in. I think they don’t do the weigh in anymore. The new weight watchers, they don’t do that anymore. But it’s like it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village for us.
Andrew: Do you do that once a week with someone else?
Andrew: You do?
Andrew: Who’s your person?
Jonathan: We do that as a team. I don’t have an outside person in my world right now. We do that as a team. I have two other trainers. We do that on a round robin basis with the guys on my team.
Andrew: What are you doing? What’s different? What is an issue? What are the questions you ask each other?
Jonathan: Well, we challenge each other. My business partner and I, we just had a pretty knockdown, drag out, the most raw conversation that I’ve ever had with a business partner. It was inside of the context of we really trust each other and we were on the same page. They were things I hadn’t said early enough, things that he hadn’t said early enough and we just let it rip.
Andrew: What didn’t you say early enough?
Jonathan: There were some–let me see if I can say it succinctly. I felt as the majority owner of the business that I was holding too much of the future vision and he wasn’t holding enough of it and he was leaning on me too much to do that.
Andrew: By holding you mean you both know the vision but you’re the person who’s acting on it more?
Andrew: I see. You want him to act more on this vision even though it’s your vision and he’s not and that’s what you want to talk to him about.
Jonathan: Right. Well, we’re both owners. Our ownership percentages are different. But I wanted him to feel like–I know he does in his best moments–that, “Hey, this is my thing too. It’s not just Jonathan’s thing. But I hadn’t been as real time enough with him as I would have liked to have been. So, there was a little bit of resentment that had built up and we were able to talk about it and clear it out.
Andrew: All right. I should talk about my second sponsor, which is HostGator. Man, they just keep buying up these ads because everybody, apparently, who’s listening to me is starting up a new site of HostGator hosted platform. I noticed Refound is actually on WordPress. You guys launched this new business, right? You installed WordPress. You’ve got the WooThemes’ Sensei theme, which is a really good one, very versatile theme that you’re running your whole business on.
That’s it. That’s how people can find out about your book. That’s how they can find out about and sign up for your training. That’s how they can read your blog post. WordPress is so freaking simple that way. Anyone out there who wants to teach anything should, at the very least, have a simple website that does that, that shows what they’re about, what they offer and frankly puts a price for people to do coaching sessions with them.
I remember my wife for a while there, Jonathan, she was blogging about how companies could have a social mission because that’s her vision for the world. One day, we just got home on a Saturday. I remember sitting on the couch and we said, “Why don’t you just add coaching right now. Put three different options for coaching and see what happens. So, we went to PayPal. We got the PayPal buttons. Today I think I would just use Stripe, but it doesn’t matter. We said, “I’m offering coaching. What do you need coaching for? Here’s how to buy it.”
I couldn’t believe it. People started freaking buying it without her saying what it is. It’s because she kept blogging about how companies could have a social mission. People kept finding her articles. Some of them went to her site and signed up for coaching. As a result of that site and other things, she ended up getting a job at Yahoo for Good where she runs their corporate social responsibility division. It’s all because she had a site where she was writing on a regular basis and she added a link for people to pay for consulting.
I keep emphasizing this. For anyone out there who’s got a business, who’s got a site where they’re teaching anything, you should just put a link up asking to take on coaching clients. I used to be against it because I thought, “Who wants that job of just making $100 an hour. It’s not worth it. It doesn’t scale. It’s not exciting. It’s not the big business.” But what I’ve learned is that it’s nice to start getting revenue early.
The other thing that I’ve learned is that when you do coaching with people one on one, you really start to understand their problems. You really start to understand their needs. They’re paying for coaching so they’re going to be brutally open with you. And whatever their problems are, it could be solved often with the coaching call, but often you’ll discover there are new products you could create to solve those problems for them and that becomes a scalable business.
If you haven’t started, I really urge you to go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. They’ll give you 30% off if you sign up using that URL. They’ll let you setup your site using WordPress or so many other platforms using, like that, one click install. Once you’ve got that, you can install a theme that way that Jonathan did. You could started the way that my wife did by adding PayPal buttons or Stripe buttons, so easy, and just keep growing and growing from there–HostGator.com/Mixergy.
If you hate your hosting company right now, you should switch to HostGator. They will make it super simple for you to migrate. If you’re on WordPress, they will migrate for you. Really, that’s amazing that they will do it for you. Then you’ll get their uptime, which is amazing. You’ll also get their 24/7, 365 tech support. They’re always there for tech support. And I’m grateful to them for sponsoring–HostGator.com/Mixergy.
I’ve got your book here in front of me, Jonathan. I’m turning to page–at least in my version it’s page 74–about a guy named Marcus who worked for a company that did all kinds of–excuse me, a well-funded startup writing apps for wearable technology like the Apple Watch, which I happen to be wearing right now. He had a problem where they had open office space. I thought open office space was like the dream solution. Michael Bloomberg brought it into city hall in New York when he ran New York City as mayor. But Marcus had a problem with it. What’s the challenge that Marcus had?
Jonathan: Well, it didn’t surface for quite a long time. But what ended up happening, there was issue below the surface below the company where women at the company were feeling treated poorly by one senior manager in particular. They were keeping it to themselves. They were stuffing it. How that relates to an open office culture was that they literally didn’t have a safe space to go and talk to somebody about what the issues were. It wasn’t just this one manager.
Credit to Marcus as the CEO–he was willing to listen and say, “Really? What’s happening? How is it that women are being treated poorly by this guy?” It brought out a really rich conversation where multiple women on the team got to speak up about what was going on. And then ultimately what surfaced was that they just didn’t feel safe. Part of the reason they didn’t feel safe was that everybody was all in the same space. They literally, the CEO didn’t have an office. So, you couldn’t knock on the CEO’s door and say, “Hey, Marcus, I want to talk to you about something.”
So, in this zeitgeist moment of open offices and collaboration–there’s a guy out now who has a whole rant about anti-open office space. I think there are a lot of good things about open office space. But there has to be structure around that. I think what was happening in their culture was people were feeling way too much pressure and there was actually way too much communication happening and people didn’t have the room.
We need room to think. When there’s constant chatter around us and it’s a very social office, there’s a good to that, of course, there’s a spirit and aliveness that can be there. But I’ve seen this happen multiple times where the room for creativity, where people just need that clear headspace–yeah, you could put on headphones. That’s something. That was missing. People literally didn’t feel safe to talk about the underlying dynamics.
Once they did, it was this massive healing moment for the culture, including for this manager, this guy, he had no idea how women were feeling impacted by him. He is an amazing guy and he’s now being like, “Oh my god, I don’t want to be that guy. That’s horrible. I’m married. I have daughters. I don’t want to be that guy. What am I doing?” By surfacing this conversation, everybody got a chance to grow.
Andrew: As you’re talking, I’m listening and I’m searching to see who this Marcus is and I have a good idea of who it could be, but I can’t say for sure. So, is the big takeaway from our conversation that you need to give people room to complain, to disagree? Is that it? If I do that and take nothing else away from this conversation, have I gotten closer, much closer to being the leader that my team has been waiting for?
Jonathan: You’ve gotten closer, but I want to go one closer, which is to focus on the things that you normally ignore. What I mean by when you see tension between two people. When you see somebody who doesn’t respond to emails in a timely way, when you see somebody kick the can in a meeting and not own something you think is theirs, when you see somebody make a mistake and not take personal ownership when they give them blanket ridiculous non-apology of like, “Oh, I take full responsibility for that,” which is an absolute guarantee that they aren’t taking full responsibility for it.
That’s how you become the leader your team is waiting for, by talking to people and being like, “Hey, I just want to point something out here. I see this tension between you and Greg. Am I reading that right? What’s going on?” In an open-handed, open-hearted way, give people room and space to share what’s on their mind and heart. And then trust that if you do that, the solutions will present themselves. You don’t have to have the answer, you just have to ask the question.
Andrew: If I see that somebody is screwing up like that?
Jonathan: In the subtlest, smallest, micro-behavioral ways that you notice, that you care when you see somebody coming in late or it’s maybe harder with a virtual team, but when you see somebody who’s persistently late, say, “Hey, I noticed you’re late. Is there something going on? Is there something going on that you want to talk about?” Making room for people to be human–there might be really good reason. There might be something going on in that person’s life, where they have the experience you actually care.
This is what I experienced with leaders. Leaders are generally–there are exceptions–but a really caring, well-intentioned, smart, very willful, very passionate people but we don’t express that care. We don’t take the time because we think, “I don’t have time for that.” You don’t have time not to do that.
If you add up all the time you spend managing around people just talk to people. Just be honest with how you feel. When somebody does something that’s frustrating, tell them. Don’t let it boil over and then three months later let them go or give them a shitty assignment because you waited too long to speak to them about a pattern when you saw it emerging.
Andrew: I see. You’re saying don’t confront them even directly.
Andrew: But ask a question about it. So, if they’re not showing up on time, it’s, “I noticed you haven’t been coming in on time, what’s been going on?” And then if they tell you, “I just have trouble waking up,” how do you change them at that point? Do you just ask them a question like you really care and what you really care about is the ultimate outcome, which is them showing up.
Jonathan: Right. You’ve got to focus on–we may not have time to do it today–the four impacts. We’ll use that example, showing up late. How does showing up late impact their teammates in a negative way? How does showing up late impact the customer in a negative way or stakeholders or vendors? How does showing up late impact their boss, you, in a negative way?
Most importantly, how does showing up late impact them in their life? I guarantee you 100% lifetime money back guarantee that if you help somebody find an issue like this at work, it is happening in the rest of their life. This happens every single time. When you take the time to show somebody a behavior that’s holding them back at work, it is holding them back in their life because they do it the same way.
We inhabit relationships the same way, even though it’s different content. The way we show up at work is the way we show up in life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people say, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re telling that to me. That’s exactly what my wife says. That’s exactly what my friends say. I really want to work on that,” and helping people making those connections.
Andrew: I don’t remember the story really well, but it sounds like something you did with Cheryl. She’s the social media person who you kind of made a project of. Now I’m understanding why you were sweating the small stuff with Cheryl. What happened with Cheryl?
Jonathan: Cheryl was one of the classic, really creative, good technical worker in her mid-30s. I was kind of overlooking things for a while. She was on my team for a while. When I started to notice, I started to pay attention was the way she was impacting her teammates with changing scope last minute and kind of like that idea of being the person who is always bringing up a counter proposal instead of only when it’s really merited and always needing to be a rabble rouser.
She’s what I would call a provocateur and just not being clean and clear on boundaries and commitment and coming to something on Tuesday and then having an excuse on Tuesday at 3:00 on why she needed two more days. I overlooked it for a really long time. Then I started to sweat the small stuff and say, “Hey, it’s not the end of the world, but when you change this thing in Asana in a project, I want you to put yourself in the shoes of your teammates for a minute. How do you think that is for them?”
I said it friendly. I wasn’t energizing a whole bunch of authority. She said, “I never even thought about it. I didn’t think about it.” It was all these things. So, I named the way she was showing up in meetings. The way she would dominate the table with her ideas and not make space for others, all these kinds of things, sweating the small stuff over and over again until Cheryl came to me and said, “Oh my god, you’ve been driving me crazy sweating the small stuff.”
We didn’t use those words at the time. “But I get it now. This is how I am in my life. This is what I do. I keep defaulting to I’m a creative person, just let me do my job.” How often have you heard that, “Just let me do my job?” “I realized that I’m not a good teammate. I’m not being a good part of the team. This is true in my friendships. This is true in my marriage. I want to change that. thank you so much for being a pain in the ass with me about it.”
Andrew: But how do you get, Jonathan, someone to that point and not to a place where they start to feel like you’re nitpicking them, that you’re constantly picking at these little things that they can’t do to their job because of you.
Jonathan: Yeah. The key element is in your approach, in the patience and the presence to say, “Hey, I want to talk about something with you and this is a theme that I want to work with you on. You’re doing great work. That’s not what this is about. When you pull out Illustrator, the technical work you’re doing is great.” But this is something I would say to people all the time.
I would say, “Let’s say your job is 100 point scale. It’s not 100 points of what you do in the technical work. Let’s say that’s 50 points of it. The other 50 is how do you relate with your work. That’s how I want to relate with you about. Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you see that?” “Totally, I want that too.”
You empower people by showing them, inviting them into a conversation about how growing as a professional is in their self-interest. It’s what they want. Everybody wants that. Everybody good wants to grow. They want to get better. They don’t want to get better at making better graphic design. They want to become a better person.
Giving yourself permission as a leader to start a conversation with them about that before they make a whole bunch of mistakes and say, “Hey, part of working for me,” it’s in the hiring process. “Part of working here is it’s about doing exceptional technical work. But it’s not only that. It’s also about becoming a better teammate, becoming a better human being, making a bigger impact in your community, whatever your community is for you. Are you onboard with that? Do you want to work at a place like that?”
It’s about having that be the agreement from early on. Then you can come back to them and say, “Hey, remember what we talked about early on. This is something that I’ve been noticing that I want to give you an example of something that I mean by that. Are you up for hearing that?” “Yeah, totally. I’m really excited to hear about that.” And so on.
Andrew: I see. I can even see doing this after you hire someone.
Andrew: This is what working here is about, being a better person, having a better impact, not just doing a few tasks you’re supposed to be doing every day. Are you on board with that? I’ve noticed there are a couple of places where you’re not being a supportive enough teammate and I want to know about why. I guess I wouldn’t ask it that way. I’d say, “I’ve noticed you’re not showing up on time. Is there something holding you back. I’ve noticed you’re not turning your work in on time. What’s going on with that?”
Andrew: Here’s the problem with that. The imposter syndrome–we talk a lot about the imposter syndrome when it comes to talking to customers, when it comes to talking about your product because you know your product is not perfect. You know it’s not the way you envision it. But when it comes to talking to your employees, I feel like the imposter syndrome also starts to go off.
So, who am I to tell somebody to showing up on time when I might not show up on time tomorrow? Who am I to say to somebody they should turn their work in on time when god knows there was something that was going on that kept me from turning my work in on time. So, how do you become a leader when you know you’re imperfect in specific areas where you’ve hired people to be good?
Jonathan: Yes. That is exactly how. I love that you brought that in. The imposter syndrome, we deal with that all the time with clients, like, “Well, how can I hold him accountable for that? I do the same thing.” So, the way that you do that is transparency, actual transparency. Say, “This is a bit awkward because I feel like this is an issue I struggle with a little bit. It’s highlighting my own need to work on that to honoring my commitments more. So, I feel like a little bit uncomfortable about saying that, but I can’t not say it because I’m the boss.”
Andrew: Can I say it the other way? What you’re saying is, “I have to keep improving in this.” What if I know I’m never going to be the person who’s going to show up on time? One of the things I like is the flexibility of showing up late. Can I say, “Look, Cheryl, I need you to show up on time, largely because I know that’s not an area where I’m good. The reason that I need you to be here on time because I’ve hired you to be that responsible person that will show the rest of the team how we should be working.
Jonathan: I think you can and you can’t. I think you can absolutely and should own weaknesses or choices. You say, “Part of being a business owner for me is I like the flexibility of being able to show up whenever I want. That’s the upside for me.
There are all kinds of downsides and all kinds of things I’ve got to worry about, keeping the lights on. That’s my choice. That’s something that I’m never going to be great at if you think about it in that way. I just want to be upfront about that. But I have roles where that’s a really important part of the role. Most of the other roles are like that. Just having a conversation about that–and I think it’s incumbent upon you to set the example.
So, maybe it’s about consistency. Say I show up at 11:00 every day. If showing up at 9:00 is not an option and you want to go kite boarding or whatever it is, you say, “That’s how I do it. My work day starts at 11:00.” There’s all kinds of room in there. What people need is, “Why do you get to do it that way?” I’m the owner is a good reason.
But are you working on that? Are you making your choice–let’s say it’s about showing up late–do you do it in such a way that impacts people in a negative way or do you say, “Hey, this is just the reality. I don’t come in until 11:00. So, don’t expect an email from me before 11:00.” That’s fine. As long as you’re inhabiting your choices where you’re not setting one expectation and delivering another, then you’re fine.
Andrew: Okay. So, it’s either I show up on time. I need you to be here on time or if it’s not what you’re good at, owning the fact that that’s not what you’re good at but you have other things you’re doing well and you need this person to get good at this because that’s part of their job.
Jonathan: Here’s an example. My focus is on the brand/marketing/delivery side. That’s what I do. That’s my strength–generating blog posts, creating webinars, what have you. My business partner is a financial whiz. I’m not a financial whiz. I’m okay at it. I know how to read financial statements. I know how to make sound financial decisions, but that’s not my strength.
I need him–I see myself as forever wanting to get smarter and more sophisticated when it comes to the financial side of the business, but I know that it’s not my strength. I know I’m never going to be that kind of CFO persona. I’m okay with that. I can own that. That’s not my strength. But I need somebody else and I need to be able to rely on him to hold that part of it. That’s true with other members of the team with the guy who runs my marketing and what have you.
Andrew: That makes sense. I think we’ve covered a lot here in this conversation. For me, people can go and get your book, “Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Has Been Waiting For.” And of course they can see your site at Refound.com. I don’t think you link to it from your homepage, but you do have a blog at Refound.com/blog, right?
Jonathan: Sorry. It just cut out for a second.
Andrew: I was just saying that you guys also have a blog you don’t link to–oh, you link you it under articles. I was looking for the specific word blog. So, if anyone wants to read more about management, your style, your approach, it’s at Refound.com/blog or just click the articles link. Did I lose you completely, Jonathan?
Jonathan: No, I’m here. It just cut out for a second.
Andrew: And the two sponsors for this interview are HostGator.com/Mixergy and Toptal.com/Mixergy. I’m grateful to them both for sponsoring. Thank you, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Thanks so much, Andrew.
Andrew: Cool. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, everyone.