3 Ways You Could Be Killing Your Company

3 Ways You Could Be Killing Your Company

By Laura Gallaher, PhD, LHEP™

Summary Points:

  • Self-Deception 1: You say people are the most important asset to you, but you’re not willing to put your money where your mouth is
  • Self-Deception 2: You think your budget is stopping you from professional development, but it’s fear
  • Self-Deception 3: You think you can’t justify the expense to others – part of you doesn’t fully believe in it
Listen to his interview

In this episode, I talk with Lee Odess, VP at UniKey Technologies about their bold decision to invest heavily in their leadership development, culture, and team cohesion. Odess describes what drove their decision to overcome the fear associated with self-improvement and self-awareness, their commitment to defend the investment to their board, and the impact it has had on him personally as well as the team. In part 2 of this 2-part series, I talk with Odess about Roy Johnson, a talented engineer who went from being a self-described “troublemaker” to a reliable, effective “right hand” and somebody I describe as the poster child for self-accountability in the organization.

Check out this episode!

All humans suffer from self-deception, but I’m just going to highlight 3 of the ways that fooling yourself could lead to the downfall of your organization.

1. You say people are your most important asset, but you’re not willing to put your money where your mouth is.

“Our most important asset is our people.” How many times have you heard this, and felt like it is an empty sentiment?

The leaders at UniKey Technologies have said it – and they back it up with their actions.

I spoke with UniKey Technologies former COO, Lee Odess, about this:

“I take great pride in the desire for the organization to succeed…I think it’s also a duty of the organization itself to invest in its people. They spend a lot of time in the office, they spend a lot of time at work, even out of the office, we should be investing in growing them as individuals as people, as well. If you’re not doing that, you’re somewhat of a one trick pony – so you can be extremely technical in embedded, but impossible to work with…you become ineffective. If you have all these ineffective roots in the organization, it’s going to die.”

If people are the most important asset, then you want to take care of them, right? Grow them, develop them, help them flourish. “Upgrade” them, if you will.

Phil Dumas, Founder and President of UniKey Technologies, hired Gallaher Edge in 2014 to work with him, and as the organization has grown, our involvement with the company has grown as well.

Odess took over Human Resources (and sales, and account management, and many other things) when he joined the organization, and he made the choice to expand the development opportunity company-wide. I asked him to describe what they do to invest in their people and he spoke for nearly two minutes, listing off their investments:

“We’re not just talking the talk about investing in our people, there’s not many organizations that I know that have the schedule filled with these things…
We have group sessions, we have a full calendar every single month. We work with the leadership team on topics… almost sequential, on the development of them. After that, we meet with the entire company…so the leadership team is getting direction and feedback and training; it’s then solidified with the overall organization …they feel supported, it’s a real program. We also do 1:1 office hours, so every month they can go in as they like, if they want additional help and additional work, they can seek it themselves. And then we meet as an executive team. We also have 1:1 coaching as an executive team. We have quarterly meeting with the leadership team….and there are workshops throughout the year that we support by sending people to them, or we highly recommend that they go…..”

Just as I was about to ask my next question, he quipped:

“Other than that, nothing.”

And then I laughed loudly, as I often do.

Ask yourself what you have done lately to develop your people. One of my favorite stories is the conversation between the CEO and CFO:

CFO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave?”
CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

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2. You think your budget is stopping you from professional development, but it’s fear.

Sometimes leaders don’t specifically value leadership development or don’t understand that focusing on the culture of the company is directly tied to the bottom line. But a lot of leaders do understand that and believe it.

So, what about the leaders who believe that leadership development would improve not only their organizational culture, but their organizational productivity? Sometimes they don’t take action, either.

It is easy to point at budgets and say “We don’t have the money for that.” But the truth is, it is all about choices. I can tell you that I don’t exercise because I don’t have time. Or I can make the time to exercise, and then I do it. Those are my choices.

So, what might cause a leader to recognize the value of leadership development and culture building, but still choose to not move forward?

Odess puts it best when he says:

“I think even before it gets to the ROI conversation, if I was to speak to why people wouldn’t necessarily do this, it’s probably more of the fear, than anything else… The fear that things are going to be exposed, that they probably deep down know are there…when you start figuring out why it is the way you interact with other human beings, it’s personal. So, you bridge this personal side into the business side. It’s like the biggest joke, that it’s not personal. It is personal.“

Really effective, solid leadership development today focuses on building self-awareness of the leader. And according to Odess, that can be frightening for leaders, even subconsciously: “It’s scary because it’s not a math problem.”

Investing in building a culture and leader development means that things will change. And people don’t specifically fear change, but they do fear loss associated with change. So subconsciously, leaders may be procrastinating and avoiding moving forward on creating the change they want in their organizations because they’re not sure what they will lose in the process, but they may lose something (e.g., control because now they’re delegating, their self-image as they become more self-aware, etc.).

Leaders often overestimate their anticipated loss while also underestimating all that they stand to gain in making real change. Change can be scary. Change requires courage.

3. You think you can’t justify the expense to others – but, in reality, part of you doesn’t fully believe in it.

When you put together a budget and you choose to allocate resources to invest in your people, especially when you’re investing in the so-called “soft” skills, do you question what your board will think? Or anybody else that you have to answer to?

Odess: “If {the board} is looking at it, they see this as a line item…instead of hiring a software developer, they’re doing this, or whatever the trade-off is… They’re going to question it, and then they have to defend it. And unless they really believe in it and understand it… Every day is a hard…you’re fighting all day long, so do you want to fight about this with your board? They might just {avoid it} to not have to deal with it. But at some point, you’re going to deal with the effects of it, whether it’s inefficiencies, and it’s organizational …chaos….When people question it, basically say, yeah, we’re committed to doing this to make ourselves more efficient, and we believe this is the way to be more efficient.

I mean, the truest test that I have is people that I have worked with prior that actually work now with me here that say, ‘Man I wish we had this at our old company, because we would be more effective; we probably would have succeeded better over there.”

Odess’s message is to believe in what you’re doing wholeheartedly. Commit to it, and get your whole team to back it up. And maybe start with a small investment to demonstrate the importance and the value, and then everybody will be on board.

“I was sitting in an interview the other day, and hearing somebody else tell it as a perk to the organization that we do this, and then the reaction from the person we were interviewing told me that it’s part of the fabric of the organization… That’s what I wanted. I wanted it to be– we are an organization that not only demands excellence out of you technically, but we will help support you emotionally and psychologically to help you grow as a human being.”

I have absolutely loved working with the team at UniKey Technologies, and felt particularly amused, and maybe weirdly proud when I found out that I had become a verb there…as in: “I’m going to Dr. Laura you here…” before paraphrasing, encouraging the use of “I” language (for self-accountability), or encouraging co-workers to “Get curious, not furious.”

Summary: If you are a people-focused leader who is committed, courageous, and convicted about developing your workforce – don’t wait another day, Start now.


Served as the Chief Operating Officer at UniKey Technologies. Formerly Vice President of Marketing and Enterprise Sales for Brivo Systems and Brivo Labs, which was sold in 2015 for $50mm. Brings 17 years of management, marketing, and sales experience with large, mid size and small software and hardware manufactures. Previously established several startups in the DC metro market, most notably energy + light + control llc, a custom electronics design, installation and integration firm.

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Also published on Medium.

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