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Listen Now: Why Performance Management is Not Working

What if you never did another performance review in your life? Would that make you happy? It pleases most people, research has shown that just about everybody hates the performance review process – employees and leaders alike!

In this episode I speak with Barbara Stankowski, CEO of AMTIS, Inc, about how she refused to implement a performance review process, yet focuses and invests heavily in helping employees improve performance – listen now to learn not just about her approach but tangible examples of how she makes this work while AMTIS has nearly doubled revenue in two years, and has received so many awards I don’t have the space to list them here.

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I am so excited for this episode. I talked with Barbara Stankowski, CEO of AMTIS, Inc. last year about a subject that most leaders hate: performance appraisals. So – here’s what’s really cool about Barbara’s company, AMTIS – they don’t do performance appraisals. Yes – you heard me – they don’t do them at all. What? How is this possible? This interview is packed with brilliant and actionable insights about how Barbara has chosen to run her company, AMTIS – and by the way, her company has nearly doubled revenue in 2 years, and AMTIS has been honored on Annual Inc’s 5000 list 6 times. Barbara has received more awards than I can list here, but I promise to link to the impressive accomplishments.
I am a huge believer in getting RID of performance appraisals, and I face a lot of resistance to it. I was hired by Disney in 2014 to help them manage the change away from performance appraisals, and I’ve brought the same ideas to my clients – and I always face resistance.
What you’ll hear in the interview today is how Barbara knocks down every piece of resistance I throw at her (that I hear from other leaders – I totally agree with what she’s doing). From fears of “How do I let people go without a history of performance appraisals” to “How do we make decisions about raises or promotions” to “How do I motivate employees if I can’t reward them with a good performance rating?” – She handles them all.
Even though some other CEO’s call her a Pollyanna and think that she “doesn’t get it” she just calmly replies: “I think they don’t get it.”
This is a powerful interview that you’ll want to listen to more than once – and we also have the full transcript and shownotes on the website – just go to GallaherEdge.com/podcast to find Barbara’s episode.
Let’s get to it – here is my interview with Barbara Stankowski.
Laura: So, hi Barbara. Thank you so much for being on the show. I would love to ask you to introduce yourself to our listeners.
Barbara: Well thank you, Laura. I’m Barb Stankowski. I’m the president and CEO of AMTIS, Inc. Um, AMTIS has been in business since 2007 and we focus on government services across an array of, of functional areas. And it’s been quite a journey.
Laura: It’s been an incredible journey. You’ve had growth like I can’t even keep up with.
Barbara: Well–
[Laughter 00:00:29]
Barbara: –it looks that way now.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: But for the first five years, not so much.
Laura: Okay.
Barbara: So, I always tell people, you know, you have to have the stamina and the persistence to get through about the first five years because it seems after that you’ve got the traction–
Laura: Uh huh.
Barbara: –and the recognition, name recognition, and the past performance and things go quite well after that.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: But the first five years are really hard.
Laura: Wow.
Barbara: And plus you do everything for the first five years.
Laura: Right. Wearing all those hats.
Barbara: Yeah.
Laura: Okay. And I can’t even count how many times you’ve been recognized, you know, in this community and multiple communities for growing such a great company.
Barbara: Well, it’s, it’s been fun. We, we had kind of an a-ha moment. Our HR director, Kyle Keefe, just on-boarded the last two weeks of September 21 people.
Laura: Whoa.
Barbara: It took us five years to get the first 21–
Laura: Oh my gosh.
Barbara: So, so you make–
[Laughter 00:01:20]
Barbara: –those comparisons to say, “It’s unbelievable.”
Laura: That’s incredible. It’s like, oh, and then just in one batch, another 21. That’s so cool.
Barbara: I mean there were times I never thought we’d get to 21.
Laura: Yeah. Oh, I can imagine. That’s so exciting. Um, so I wanna give a little context to our listeners. The main thing I really am excited to talk to you about today is, uh, your performance management philosophy and approach. So, you and I connected, um, when I, I gave a talk for one of the CEO groups that you attend and I was talking about, you know, leaders as coaches and how that is a way to truly change and shift performance of the employees. And, uh, my memory is that it resonated with you quite a bit because it was very in line with this philosophy and approach that you’ve been championing here for years now. Is that your memory as well?
Barbara: [00:02:07] It is. It is. And, um, so I come from, um, a long history of work. I started this company when I was 58, so I had been in the workplace for a very, very long time. Spent 28 years on active duty in the Navy and then worked for small, women-owned businesses, um, as a consultant and a senior leader for several years before starting AMTIS. And, um, in that process I did a lot of work teaching leadership, facilitating leadership sessions, facilitating strategic planning, and all of those experiences really began to shape my thinking about how you build a corporate culture that allows people to come to a place to do great work,–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –um, to have the tools and the resources they need to do that work, and to be cheered on and recognized for that effort. And so my goal, as AMTIS began to grow, was to say how, how can I use this, this company as kind of my, my incubator to test out whether I can integrate, um, all of these leadership learnings into some kind of cohesive system to create a great place to work?
Laura: That’s a heck of an incubator.
[Laughter 00:03:25]
Laura: Look what you created as a result. Okay. So, so tell me about what you noticed regarding performance management in, in –you said 28 years?– of experience before starting this one.
Barbara: Well, 28 years in the Navy, coupled with–
Laura: 28 years in the Navy and then–
Barbara: –so a total of 38–
Laura: Oh, gosh. Okay.
Barbara: About 38 years of experience. So, you know–
Laura: Okay.
Barbara: –I’m older than dirt, so–
[Laughter 00:03:44]
Barbara: –you know, I have a lot of, a lot of experiences over that time but, you know, performance ratings, performance, um, appraisals were something that were part of, of life in the Navy–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: [00:03:58] –and in those other small businesses. Um, I was in–involved with helping the Navy train, um, total quality leadership back in the 90s with Deming. And Deming was a proponent, right, for the annual appraisals on performance. I did not contribute to improvement.
Laura: Right.
Barbara: And, so, starting from that framework and looking and trying to understand what really makes people engaged, I’ve read and looked at the data from Gallup Poll and familiar and often teach, when I teach leadership courses about the, um, the myriad of grim data–
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: –about how engaged the workforce is. And so the question is: Why are they disengaged? Why have they felt fairly untreated? Why can they come to work and spend eight hours and be dispassionate and then go out and run a girl scout troop or run a church program or, and be engaged and excited? Why can’t they bring that enthusiasm and excitement to work? What makes the difference?
Laura: And so, how would you summarize, then, the approach and philosophy that you use here as a result of your cumulative experience and learning?
Barbara: I, I be– I became a firm believer that performance appraisals were not, um, the way to evaluate people, determine their pay, determine bonuses. I think that, you know, certainly Gallup has said that people don’t leave companies, they leave their supervisor.
Laura: Absolutely.
Barbara: And so I think the most important component is the relationship of, of, um, team members with their supervisor or manager. And that conversation should be frequent. They should be encouraging. They should help people develop. They should identify when performance is not up to par. Um, I think very often you see a great increase in coaching, external coaches coming into companies. Why? Because I think supervisors have not been trained or comfortable giving constructive feedback to people about their performance and they allow people to languish, um, not performing.
Laura: [00:06:12] Mm hmm.
Barbara: And non-performers impact the rest of your team adversely.
Laura: Absolutely.
Barbara: I’ve certainly seen that in government spaces over the years where, you know, the non-performer gets promoted or the non-performer gets moved to a corner and gets their salary and does not contribute to the mission.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: Um, not a good solution. And why? Because people didn’t have the courage and the gumption to address the performance or behavior problem.
Laura: Yeah. And maybe they don’t have the skill or the knowledge. They don’t even know what it is they’re supposed to say or do to actually bring about a change.
Barbara: Right. So, easy to say, “Good job, Laura.” But harder to say, “Laura, your performance yesterday in that particular workshop was not up to par. I’d like to talk to you specifically about the things that, uh, I was disappointed on–
Laura: Right.
Barbara: –in your performance and your conversation with the client.”
Laura: So many fears come up for us in conversation like that. You know, something like that, it seems so simple to just say that. It’s straightforward. It’s direct. Especially if expectations have been set, we can just, let’s have a conversation about it. But so much goes on for us as individual humans where we think, “Oh my gosh, but they’re gonna– they might think this. They might feel this way towards me. Maybe they’re gonna be angry. Maybe they’ll leave. I don’t feel good. Maybe they’ll look at me sideways.” Just all this self talk–
Barbara: Right.
Laura: –that gets in the way of having a very productive conversation about real performance.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: Alright, so I want to go back to what you said about performance appraisal. So, uh, just to make sure we’re all kind of speaking the same language, you’re talking about a traditional process where, perhaps annually, leaders decide to rate each employee. Maybe it’s a one to five scale or a one to three scale.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: And so they take, okay for the whole year, we’re gonna give you a number. We’re gonna put you in a bucket. You’re a three out of five this year.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: [00:07:58] Which translates, by the way, as like a C.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: Most of us don’t like that.
Barbara: Right.
[Laughter 00:08:04]
Laura: Most of us–
Barbara: We like to think we’re exceptional and–
Laura: Yeah. Of course.
Barbara: –we do great work. And then, when the organization then imposes a restriction on how many people can be great–
Laura: Yep.
Barbara: –so you have some people that you can allow and make feel good and say, “You do great” and then the other ones you have to say, “I’m sorry, Laura. This mo– I only had this many in the queue that–
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: –I could rate great so you’re good this year.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: Or you’re just barely good.
Laura: Mm hmm. Or, “You know what? You were exceptional last year so–
Barbara: So you’re only–
Laura: –we’re gonna spread that around.”
Barbara: –only gonna be good this year.
Laura: “We’re gonna give the exceptional to somebody else this year.” And like, yeah. So, okay, so tell me about your experience with that in the Navy or–
Barbara: Well, so now talk about disengagement.
Laura: Oh yeah.
Barbara: You know. You have someone tell you you’re just average.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And your work is average even though maybe you’ve really worked hard and thought you were contributing and then you think, you know. Um, so I’ve seen that kind of behavior, um, in my years in the Navy and certainly most of my time in the Navy was serving in short commands with the mixture of military and civilian government employees and contractors. And it was always interesting to observe the people and the fact that you can have non-performers who non-performed and never got any feedback and they were probably rated average over somebody else.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: It was just a mess and it never, in my mind, never in any way did that, uh, performance appraisal do anything to improve performance.
Laura: Right.
Barbara: Now, it may have made people, some, feel good because sometimes that evaluation also resulted in some kind of financial bonus and so that added to the competition.
Laura: Yup.
Barbara: It added to the– I’m beg– “Laura, I like you but I want that money.”
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: You know? It, it created– it didn’t create an atmosphere of good teamwork and cooperation and get along. It was, “How can I look better than Laura so I’ll get that bonus this year?”
Laura: [00:10:04] Right.
Barbara: And so it was something I found, um, when you really looked at it with honesty, not useful. And so when I started AMTIS, the one promise I made is we would never do performance evaluations of any kind.
Laura: Okay. And that’s quite a promise. So, I want to learn more about the evolution of that. And so, you have uh-, an executive team, a leadership team–
Barbara: I do.
Laura: –that you work with. Uh, so, something tells me that they were not just all completely on board, gung ho with this philosophy like you were right off the bat. True?
Barbara: Well, again it evolved. Because for the, for the first five years it was kind of me. Right?
[Laughter 00:10:43]
Barbara: You know? And my CFO. And so there was not a lot of structure. Um, we just didn’t do them. Um, but then as the company began to grew there was a need for organization and structure and policy. And so, my HR director, Kyle Keefe, and I began to get together to talk about, “Alright. Here’s my vision.” And I think that when you start to look at a lot of the results from Bersin and all of the other studies, there’s agreement with me in my opinion that performance appraisals do not generate, uh, best work. At the same time I was also doing a lot of teaching of the Ken Blanchard materials. And, um, I, I became a believer in creating a great company and that the core was communication. It was providing feedback. It was coaching. It was setting goals.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: Knowing people. People knowing what the expectations were, what a good job looks like.
Laura: Yup.
Barbara: Helping them understand that so they could be superstars. And I would love it if everybody in my company was a superstar.
Laura: Absolutely.
Barbara: And I don’t have any minimum number. They can all be superstars. I want to hire people who are excited and passionate about what they do and I want to reward them and sing their praises.
Laura: [00:12:00] Yes. So tell me more about how you do that, then. Without the, the formal performance rating evaluation system.
Barbara: So we have, we, we documented what I call our performance, our performance management strategy. And it says there’s a requirement for supervisors and managers to set goals with their employees, to coach and mentor members of their team against those goals for satisfactory achievement and performance, that a, a component of, um, the performance management strategy is goal setting. It’s coaching and mentoring. And the other piece is development. So, we do individual development plans. I don’t care, uh, whether– I, I want people to be the best they can be in their chosen profession. If you’re an I/O psychologist, if you’re a structural designer, if you’re a records manager, if you’re a courrier driver, if you’re a scanner/printer, be the best.
Laura: Yup.
Barbara: And what are the requirements you need to be the best? Are there certifications that make you stand out in your profession? We provide 2,000 dollars a year for development and it doesn’t need to be college courses. It can be, um, I want to take an online class. It can be I, I ‘d like to listen at lunch hour to Ken Blanchard webinars. Or whatever. But identify what it is they want to do to– it may be that I just want to learn to listen better. Okay. Let’s have some practice sessions on how to listen better to improve your performance as a, as a project manager or as an instructional designer. But pick something to work on.
Laura: Absolutely.
Barbara: Every year, to be better. And the last part is rewards and recognition. We’re all about applauding and celebrating success. Um, we do everything from giving out gift cards to, uh, we have Emmy’s. We have “AMT-ees.”
Laura: AMTIS*.
[Laughter 00:13:54]
Barbara: They’re the little IKEA wooden mannequins that we paint in different colors and we, we give them for, um, length of service awards but we also give them for special achievement.
Laura: [00:14:06] Okay.
Barbara: So it’s our “AMT-ee” awards for, for performance. Uh, so we do fun things to, to recognize that, um, but the, the barrier is we expect great performance. And everybody in the company gets profiteering at the end of the year. So, for however successful the company is in terms of net profit, everybody on 31 December gets that percentage in their paycheck.
Laura: Excellent.
Barbara: Of their salary. So, it’s kind of commensurate with their contribution based on where they are in the organization.
Laura: Okay.
Barbara: So, and are, are there some bonuses? For some people who’ve really gone above and beyond that level. There are some additional bonuses for, um, people who’ve taken on extra responsibility, done multiple jobs, those kinds of things. But again, they’re not based on performance appraisal, they’re based on input and observation and feedback from managers that, you know, somebody has turned something tremendously around with, with a client.
Laura: So it sounds like a lot of this is about trading out quantitative with qualitative. So it’s giving you feedback on, on how you’re doing and how you can improve. Um, feedback and guidance and coaching on this area. “I know you want to develop on this here.”
Barbara: But it’s also achieving the goals that have been set.
Laura: Right. So that’s what I wanted to ask you about.
Barbara: If your an instructional designer and you have products due, you better have those products due on time. And if you consistently miss those products or they’re of poor quality or they don’t meet the customer expectation, then that’s a different conversation. And it’s a conversation about whether or not you belong in this organization long-term if you can’t contribute in a positive way.
Laura: So, can you elaborate a little bit more–
[Phone ringing 00:15:48]
Laura: So, can you elaborate a little bit more on some of the examples of goals that an individual employee might have?
Barbara: [00:15:59] It would be better to ask my VPs who do that, but, but certainly for example our program manager for our largest contract in Washington had difficulty with, um, he moved up from a task order to managing the entire contract, a hundred million dollar contract–
Laura: Wow.
Barbara: –uh, with multiple task orders. He continued to operate as he had in his previous job, which is typical. Right?
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: You do what you did that made you successful in the last job, thinking it’s gonna be successful in your new job. Well, it was not so. He had– we spent time coaching on the fact that your customer is not our company leads in each one of these task orders. Your, your customer is the contract manager and the contract specialist. And they are the people you deal with and they will coordinate with you on dealing with the customer for each one of those task orders. You don’t go directly to them and you’re not managing, you’ve got people managing those projects. Your job is to manage the contract and the perception. So, we set up a plan for how he was going to meet with that customer on a regular basis, the kinds of conversations they were going to have, how he was going to improve his relationship with the project managers that were now members of his team because he was not managing one task order but multiple.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And, and then working with him to see that he achieves those goals and we were successful in we went from a minimal C- par in our evaluation the first year to a glowing one the second year which was an indication of his great success–
Laura: Excellent.
Barbara: –in turning the program around.
Laura: Okay.
Barbara: And, uh, in fact, just gave him a bonus in his check to say thank you for the huge effort because he was willing to learn.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: He was willing to change his behavior. He was doing– he was willing to embrace the fact that he needed to do things differently. And he’s exceptional now. And his relationship with, with our, uh, contract representative and the contracting specialist is awesome. And they– you know, he’s learned you don’t go run off and do things without informing them first.
Laura: [00:18:11] Yes. Communication.
Barbara: So, it’s all about the communication but that’s just the example of someone who moved into a senior job, was struggling, we set some goals, talked about how there had to be a new strategy implemented, and he was incredibly successful in learning and doing that. Now, um, there’s a, a VP between me and that individual and, um, that VP for Washington area operations has spent a lot of time behind closed doors coaching, talking about strategy, working with him, um, but it was a great success.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: I didn’t need a performance appraisal to know–
Laura: Right.
Barbara: –that it was a turnaround. It was a change in behavior. It was a great success and the customer was happy.
Laura: Yeah. So, I love this example so much. I mean, part of what you’re describing is setting clear expectations and goals in terms of his behavior. So, what is he doing differently? What is it– a day in the life look like now, in this role, given all of the changes? And then in terms of is this working? Is his performance changing? I mean, you’re able to look directly at the results in terms of how the customer feels about the work that’s being delivered. So, I, I think that’s a really important point. Sometimes leaders get it into their minds that if I don’t give this person a number then how can we possibly gauge success or improvement? They overestimate how “objective” it is. I’m putting air quotes on objective, you guys can’t see me do that but how objective it is, but in reality, you’re –in this example– you’re talking about more of a real result and outcome, which is that customer satisfaction with your work and your service.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: So. Powerful.
Barbara: And, and we have a, have a, have another situation with, uh, um, we had to let a program manager, in another activity where we were supporting a organization doing employee development and we had a team there and a program manager who was not performing, um, we let that person go. Uh, hired somebody and set the expectation that, that this, this is a customer who wants us to come in and help them be better than they are.
Laura: [00:20:15] Mm hmm.
Barbara: And help challenge them and contribute to their team. Um, this was exactly the right program manager and he has gone in there and, you know, once the result of that behavior and that goal setting, we got four times more on our task order for this year than we had last year.
Laura: Wow. Wow.
Barbara: You know–
Laura: Huge result.
Barbara: –we’re hir– we’re hiring more people. The, the team, uh, ran a webinar for the client last week and got raving reviews. The customers stood up and personally thanked, in front of everybody including her bosses, the AMTIS team for their performance.
Laura: Excellent.
Barbara: Um, to me, that’s the kind of feedback I want.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: And what I want to do is cheer on reward and recognize and, again, it’s picking the right people for the right job, giving them the autonomy to do that job, coaching them and setting goals as you need to–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –but allowing them the freedom to also go do that job–
Laura: Yes.
Barbara: –without micromanaging. Unless they’re in trouble–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –or unless they need assistance, um, to do that. So, you know, we have an awesome team. I, I, I don’t, I don’t do proposals, I don’t do business development anymore. The things I used to do, I don’t do because I have a staff that does that. You know?
Laura: That’s how you grow.
Barbara: When Irma hit, um, I was without power in the office. It came back up the day after Irma. My mother, uh, was taken to Emergency and passed away that week.
Laura: Oh gosh.
Barbara: We had, we had 10 proposals due. I was not in the office. All that got done.
Laura: Wow.
Barbara: So, to me, that speaks to trusting your team,–
Laura: [00:22:02] Mm hmm.
Barbara: –believing that your team has, knows what their job is, can do the job, and they don’t need you to tell them how to suck that egg. They are perfectly capable to do that. If I’ve not hired the people who can do that job, then shame on me. I need to go hire somebody else.
Laura: So it’s true empowerment, what you’re describing.
Barbara: It’s not abandonment. It’s empowerment.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: They’ve been taught what the expectations–
Laura: Yes.
Barbara: –are and what the work is and they’ve been given the freedom, once they have the skill, to go do that job.
Laura: I love that.
Barbara: And, and I think it speaks, um, you– one of the things we talked about was what was the reaction of my staff to this. And when Kyle and I first worked on formalizing this idea of these four components, goal setting, coaching/mentoring, individual development, and rewards and recognition, no appraisals, there was pushback. Uh, I had one senior, uh, leader who said, “Oh no, no, no. This doesn’t work. I’ve been in organizations all my life. We’ve always done them. How, how can you tell? We need to do it and, oh, by the way, we’ve got the expertise. We can build the great system.” And I said, “The problem is not the system. People have built hundreds of great systems. The problem is in the implementation.”
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: “And the implementation is never as advertised. It never works as advertised. And, um, this is my company. We’re not gonna do that.”
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And so there was a lot of resistance. Today, I would say that individual is the biggest proponent.
Laura: That’s fantastic. I love when that happens.
Barbara: Yep.
Laura: So, tell me about some of the, um –well, I have one actually that I want to pose to you. Then we can talk about others.– One reason I hear leaders resist this is how can I ever feel safe or justified in making the decision to let somebody go if we don’t have a formal system? And you’ve mentioned that your company has made that decision to let people go for poor performance. How does that fit in?
Barbara: [00:24:05] And when there’s poor performance and it needs to be documented, we do document it. Coaching sessions and improvement when the performance is sub-par. It becomes part of the record.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And so then when you have to take action to remove somebody, you have it. It doesn’t– performance appraisals were never the thing that determined somebody’s departure. It’s whether or not you’ve done the counseling and documented the counseling and created that record to justify that.
Laura: And what I like about that, too, is that it’s independent from the happenstance timing of a performance management appraisal system. So, you deal with the performance issue when it come up. It’s not like, “Well, ratings are happening in four months. Maybe I’ll deal with it then.”
Barbara: No.
Laura: It’s happening now. Let’s deal with it now. So, there’s still documentation that occurs so you still do your due diligence in that way. The coaching has happened and so there’s still, you know, paper trail from a legal perspective. I always caveat, “I’m not a lawyer.”
[Laughter 00:25:06]
Barbara: But the HR–
Laura: It’s important.
Barbara: –you know, that’s part of the HR role is to be sure that that’s happening. Um uh, when there’s fear that it’s maybe a contentious discussion, HR will sit with the managers so that they can have that conversation together.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: The goal is it should never get to that. You should be able to, to talk to someone about, “This is not the right fit.”
Laura: Absolutely. So, I was hired by Disney a few years ago, actually, to help them manage this same kind of shift. So, Disney’s obviously been around for a long time. They had very much fallen into the very process-driven from the industrial age of performance ratings. It’s a manual system and they wanted to move away ’cause they’re discovering the same thing in the research. This is not actually how you drive performance. And one of the key things that we discovered in that process, especially for leaders, to adopt this new mindset is, is actually separating out what does it look like as a leader to coach an employee for improving performance and helping them grow versus somebody that you might characterize as a, an underperformer or somebody whose performance is subpar. So, separating those two things I think was really helpful. Because it becomes a different process.
Barbara: [00:26:21] Right.
Laura: And if you try to apply the same process in both cases, then of course neither will be as effective. So, it sounds like, to a large degree, that’s part of what you do here. If it goes down that path then you do the documentation. HR is involved. Et cetera.
Barbara: And what you want to do is do it soon enough so you can salvage someone and make them successful.
Laura: Yes.
Barbara: And I don’t know of anyone who would object to somebody saying, “Laura, I really care. Your success and my success are tied together and my goal is to help you be successful. Here are the things we need to do together.”
Laura: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Barbara: As opposed to, “Laura, you really screwed up. Let me, you know,–”
[Laughter 00:27:03]
Laura: Right.
Barbara: But I mean, if you’re– if they know that you’re there to help them and you are sincere in your desire, then, then it’s about learning together. It’s not about throwing you under the bus if you do something wrong.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: It’s let’s uncover what’s wrong–
Laura: Yes.
Barbara: –and let’s figure out how to fix it.
Laura: I love that so much. It gets to the importance of recognizing that every situation is co-created. Right? So, it doesn’t have to be, “Okay. You’re completely screwing this up. What’s wrong with you? You know, you’re failing. You’re not meeting expectations.” It’s, “We’re in this together–”
Barbara: Right. And you may be failing because I failed to show you what a good job looked like.
Laura: Yes. Right. It’s a conversation. So, I want to understand why I’m seeing this behavior when what I want is this behavior. And you may bring up things to me, as a leader, and I go, “Oh shoot. I didn’t realize that that wasn’t clear. Oh my gosh. I didn’t realize I wasn’t supporting you in that way–
Barbara: Right.
Laura: –that would have enabled you to be successful. Cool. Now I can move forward in that direction.” So that’s perfect. I love that co-creation.
Barbara: [00:28:01] So, so we’ve also tried to include, um, some training. I bring all my site leads. Again, we’re a very distributed company. We’re in 20 different locations across 12 states. So, how you– so, part of my challenge has been thinking, trying to think through “How do you create a culture across this kind of distributed domain?” Um, and I bring my site leads in once a year and we include one day of training, um, whether it’s, uh, situational leadership or challenging conversation but their focused– our coaching essentials– they’re things focused on helping them understand how these concepts support them in implementing this performance management strategy.
Laura: Excellent.
Barbara: Because they all tie in and they all relate. And we always start off by “Here’s our performance management strategy. Here’s where we’re gonna focus today. And here’s where it applies.” You know. We’re gonna talk a little bit about goal setting. Or we’re gonna talk about how to do redirecting conversations–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –how to do “praisings”. We’re gonna practice. We’re gonna write “praisings.”
Laura: Excellent. So, you’re equipping them with the skills that they need–
Barbara: Exactly.
Laura: –to carry out the culture. I, you know, I, I’d mentioned– so, I had remembered that there was, um, geographic, uh, –what’s the word I’m looking for?– dispersion?
Barbara: Distribution.
Laura: Distribution. So, you know, geographically, you’re all over the place with this company and that makes it even more impressive to me that you are not relying so heavily on a process driven approach to performance management. Because I think that’s one of the reasons why leaders might want to lean on them even more. They say, “Well, how can I make sure, how can I make sure these conversations are happening, you know, in these different locations if I don’t have a process?” But I’m sure you’ve witnessed, I know I have, the workarounds. So, I’ve worked internally, um, for, for large organizations and I’ve seen what that can look like. “Okay, we’ve got a process. So, there’s some boxes to check. So I can fill out an evaluation form and it’s that time of the year so let’s have a conversation.” But, in reality, what happens is the leader maybe fills out the form or, oh no, even better, the leader tells the employee, “Hey. Can you just write your evaluation for me? Just write it up. Write how you think you did. Cool. Copy, paste. Now it’s on the form. Oh, I’ll leave it on your chair. Sign it for me. Get it back to me.” So, you’re signing the thing that said, “Yeah, we had a conversation. Sure.”
Barbara: [00:30:21] How did you know that’s how my evaluations got done in the Navy for the last few years?
[Laughter 00:30:24]
Barbara: Exactly right.
Laura: I was watching.
Barbara: Exactly right. Exactly right.
Laura: Yeah. And so, people sometimes want to rely on process in lieu of genuinely building culture, genuinely creating buy-in, giving leaders the skills they need to have the kind of conversations that you want the process to drive home. So, I, I want people to, uh, be aware of that. That there are lots of ways to work around the process. If people don’t buy into it, they don’t believe it, they don’t think they know how to do it, they’re gonna figure out a way just to check the box, no matter what kind of process or structure you threw at them.
Barbara: And, and I also think it takes a huge commitment from the leader. Um, you know, I don’t love to travel but I travel. I go to all those locations. Um, I think it’s important that I know the people who work for me. Not just the senior people, but all of the people. And talk to them about what they do. And celebrate them. Um, I think that that’s part of the culture. We just did our second employee survey. I, I use a tool called Waggl.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: Which is really a crowd sourcing tool so everybody sees the responses. First time I did it, it was a little nerve-wracking.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: I used seven of the questions from Gallup Poll. Um, and, and then the question was “What would you like to tell Barbara about what’s working or not working?” So, the first year we got it back, we did pretty well on the seven. The, the two areas that I was disappointed we had a 68 or 70 percent ranking was in somebody– “my opinion counts at work”–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –and the other one was “someone cares about my development.”
Laura: [00:32:00] Okay.
Barbara: So, we spent time this year again working to, um, reinforce the performance management strategy. Doing some webinars. Again, the training last December. But again, trying to, to push this idea of culture, about learning, about individual development plans, about the staff here is here to support the people in the field. I believe that it’s your people who help you grow and generate a revenue. Um, that if the people are engaged and excited and are taking care of the customer, then growth and prosperity comes. Um, so we did it again this year. We got a 20 percent increase–
Laura: Wow.
Barbara: –across the board in almost everything we did. And again, all of the comments can be seen and voted on by all the participants. So it’s not a monkey survey where HR takes the results and tries to figure out what’s important. The constituents decide what’s important. The top 10 all talk to the quality of the culture of the company.
Laura: That’s fantastic.
Barbara: And so, to me, that’s, uh, that’s a measure that tells me that what we’re doing is the right thing.
Laura: And I love that so much. And I haven’t seen the results from the second survey but I remember–
Barbara: I’ll share it with you.
Laura: I would love that. I, I remember seeing the results from the first survey and there was the number one top voted response. Right? So people can see the qualitative comments and if they like it or agree with it, they vote it and so it rises to the top.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: Do you remember what it was for the first year?
Barbara: It was about the– it was about the culture.
Laura: It felt– so, I’m probably gonna look this up and–
Barbara: Okay.
Laura: –record it in later because I thought it was so beautiful but my memory is that it was very much about “We want Barbara to know how much we value and appreciate what she’s doing for us here with the culture.” Like, it was, it was incredible. You know, people, they know this and they feel this with you. It’s so genuine.
Barbara: And so we have 225 people and they know me.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: [00:33:58] I mean, that’s what’s important to me. Um, you know, every time we add a new site I think, “Oh. There’s another holiday party in another location. We’ll have to start in October.”
[Laughter 00:34:08]
Barbara: But, but I wouldn’t miss them for the world.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: Uh, and we do whatever the group would like to do in whatever location. We have opportunities where we support both the EPA and CDC in Atlanta to bring those groups together so they get to know each other and there’s a little more synergy. Uh, we bring all the groups together in Washington, together, so that they can get to know the broader sense. Um, bringing all the site leads down to Penn– to Orlando once a year is, is what– because they get to see the bigger picture of what the company does and who we are. And to get to put faces with names and know who’s back here supporting them. Um, so all of– important in essence.
Laura: Yeah. So then we’re connected to the, to the company and to the people and I love that. So, absolutely, it’s about the commitment from the leader.
Barbara: I, I love the quote that says, “Your culture is defined by the worst behavior that you allow.” And so that resonates with me. And the problem is, when you see bad behavior, if you don’t correct it at the time, it festers.
Laura: Yep.
Barbara: So I think it is, it, it encourages you to take the right action early if you want to be the keeper of this culture that you want to create.
Laura: Absolutely.
Barbara: And I think the other part is that you have to, uh, for example, looking at your performance management system. You also have to look at your other policies and your regulations, your decisions and your actions and ask, you know, are the aligning? Are they aligning with the culture and the stated mission? Are we being consistent? Because as soon as your inconsistent, the members of your organization know.
Laura: Yeah. Oh, they feel it.
Barbara: They feel it–
Laura: Credibility goes down.
Barbara: [00:35:54] When, when I was on, when I was on active duty in the Navy and I went to Major Command I went through a training program before going, a leadership program, and one of things we had to do was write our leadership philosophy and what our plans were for command. And when I went to command I published that document to my entire organization. And then I used it as my guide to grade myself. So, in that part of the thing, I talked about what was important to training and development. And when I would make decisions on the budget and I would cut training in development, those are the inconsistencies, right, that make this, this wording, this policy, um, this philosophy worthless.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: If you don’t marry with the money and the actions and the commitment. Um, so that was a huge lesson to me. I used to drive home, you know, one day a week it would kind of be, “Alright, how am I doing? What’s my, what’s my report card? How am I–
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: –doing in being consistent with the things that I set up as being important?”
Laura: Excellent.
Barbara: “Am I being true?”
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And there are times I had to go back and correct–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –because I wasn’t.
Laura: And that was based on a qualitative comparison of looking at your, your choices and your behavior compared to the way that you said you wanted to be. Not based on a, a number or a rating.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: Right? And I’d love to talk through a couple more of the areas of resistance that I know I experience when I speak with leaders about, uh, getting away from the traditional performance management rating system. Um, one of the things I hear is “This is a way that I can motivate my top performers. My top performers love it when they get a five out of five. They love when they get rated ‘outstanding’ or ‘distinguished.’ If I take that away from them, then their motivation is going to drop.” Did you experience that type of resistance?
Barbara: No, I don’t think so. I think I found some relief. I mean, typically in organizations people, uh, people will go individual VPs in different functional areas or program managers and what you find is, in reality, many of those program managers really don’t control the ability to generate profit because, our profitability of the project, because it’s the senior leaders who are making decisions about overhead and GNA and where we’re spending money and, you know, you can drive up your rates and there’s nothing that program manager can do about it. They don’t control those decisions and so that’s why my goal was about the company being successful.
Laura: [00:38:27] Mm hmm.
Barbara: And I know that there are contracts that will never make a profit because we bid them specifically to get in the door.
Laura: Uh huh.
Barbara: Or we bid them specifically because it was low cost technically – but we wanted the customer and we wanted the employees to fill our base. So you make those kinds of decisions. You can’t hold somebody else accountable for generating a 10 percent profit margin when you’ve made these decisions.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: So, so the goal is how do we make, how, how do we balance across all of the contracts and projects of profitability and we set a goal for profit, for NET profit at the end of the year. And the goal is how do we work across all the 45 contracts we have, as prime, to reach that goal?
Laura: So, I, I want you to say more about that. Specifically, what your describing are these, these goals that are companywide and so, regardless of the specific contract that people might be working on, they know that they’re– they share a common goal. And so, can you speak to what you’ve noticed around how traditional performance ratings negatively impact collaboration and, you know, unhealthy competition can emerge?
Barbara: So, so, so when you think about individual functional areas being responsible for certain profitability, um, they’re not gonna reach across the stove pipe to their, their person next door or at another functional area to help them because they’re in competition with each other to drive up the profitability of their individual areas. Um, what we have are some contracts that cross lines of our functional areas and what I want are for people to reach across those stove pipes to support each other. So, um, my VP for Professional Services has a contract, um, perhaps that requires, um, trainers and instructional designers and curriculum developers and graphics people. And over here I have training and evaluation where we have in-house people who are experts in training and evaluation. I’d like for this group to know that they have reach-back and a greater capacity, uh, to assist the client than just those people on site.
Laura: [00:40:38] Mm hmm.
Barbara: And I think that adds value to our proposal, to our pricing, um, but they have to be able to talk and work together and reach across the aisle and say, you know, “Can we use one of your– can we use your PhD evaluator to come over here and help?”
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: “Well, absolutely you can.”
Laura: Right. They’re incentivized because they all care about that common goal.
Barbara: Right. So, I see a collaboration. I also don’t have individual business developers. My, my leaders do operations and business development because I’m– I believe that, um, if you sell it and you know you have to deliver it, you, you sell things you can deliver.
Laura: Yes. Absolutely. So there’s built in accountability there.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: Okay.
Barbara: So, each functional area does their own business development. They find opportunities and they will sometimes find something that crosses the functional lines and they come together to work that proposal to decide what past performance to use.
Laura: Excellent.
Barbara: Um, so I, I like when I look at how the company functions. I like what I see.
Laura: I love that.
Barbara: [00:41:50] And I’m very content with it. And I still coach and mentor my VPs to, um, to support the culture in the way that I want it to culture. I want them to be, um, uh, role models. I want them to understand the importance of their position and their influence as, as leaders in the organization. That it’s not just my responsibility. It’s also theirs.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: And that their behavior and their performance and their vocabulary and their actions, um, are watched by everybody on their team.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And they are role models, whether they want to be or not, and they need to take it with great seriousness.
Laura: Right. So be intentional.
Barbara: Mm hmm.
Laura: Okay. So, tell me about the dynamic that you want to avoid, and it sounds like you are avoiding, by not having this whole idea of performance ratings with quotas and we can only have so many of each of these. What, what have you seen or noticed that you knew you did not want to have here?
Barbara: Well I didn’t want their perfor– I didn’t want–
[Laughter 00:43:02]
Barbara: –any of that system.
Laura: Well any of that.
Barbara: And we, and we, and we, and we don’t have that. Um,–
Laura: So we were talking earlier about how if I know that there’s a quota and only so many people can get ‘distinguished’, then I might be somewhat motivated to, uh, make myself look better than you.
Barbara: Sure.
Laura: Some of that dynamic. Can you elaborate on that?
Barbara: I, I, it’s just typical in looking at, um, in the government Navy system with appraisals, you know, you’re always wanting to look good to the boss.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: I think it leads to behaviors of people taking credit for things that they’ve not done.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: Um, for placing blame so that they look better. I think it creates a, um, a terrible culture.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: Um, you know, here, you know, bad news doesn’t get better in time. Um, there’s never yelling and screaming ’cause something screwed up. There’s never yelling and screaming ’cause we made a mistake. I don’t think anybody’s afraid to come say, “Oh darn. I screwed up. You should fire me.” I mean, they’ll come to me–
[Laughter 00:44:08]
Barbara: [00:44:09] –I really screwed up, you should fire me.” I said, “No. What did we do wrong? How do we fix it?”
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: I mean, that’s the answer and the more that they get that response from me, the more they are able to give that response to their, to their peers and teammates.
Laura: Excellent. Um, so another area of resistance that I hear from leaders, um, that want to cling to the more traditional way of doing things is about decision making. So when it comes to personal decisions like raises and bonuses and even promotions, deciding, um, “Do we want to put this person into a higher level role now?” A lot of leaders have it in their mind that they want to depend on the numbers, the ratings. How do you handle or manage that? Or what’s your response?
Barbara: I, I think you need to know your people. And I think you need to observe their performance. And you know, you know by watching and observing and watching their teamwork, whether they’re a team player, whether they have fire in their belly to do the job, whether they’re passionate about it, or whether they come sit in their cube and do just the minimal and go home at closing time every day, you know that without any numerical data. Or your supervisors should know that because they should know their team. They should know their team personally. And they should know their strengths and weaknesses because they’ve had continual conversations with them. They’ve been coaching and mentoring them. They know who the bright stars are.
Laura: Mm hmm. And so tell me about, about that here. So you mentioned earlier that you wanna have a whole company full of superstars. So, I would imagine some leaders might push back on that and go, “Okay. Really? Do you really have everybody contributing equally? Don’t you have some people that truly are higher level, you know, higher performers? They have better output or more output?” How do you respond to that in terms of the choice you’ve made about ratings?
Barbara: [00:45:59] Well, I think, I think that there are people who are not motivated to want to move to the next level. But they may be great at their chosen profession.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And that be a great instructional designer but they don’t want to be a program manager. Okay. That’s fine. But for the person who’s go the fire in their belly, who, in their individual development plan, has gone out and gotten their PMP certification–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –who has continued to learn, shown an interest, asked to shadow somebody who has a program management job, they’re preparing themselves to move to the next level. And if you’re working on the individual development plan and you’re having those conversations with the people, you know the folks who have the aspiration, who are the talent and the skill and the interest in moving up.
Laura: Mm hmm. I like that. I think, for me, it comes back to that idea of being qualitative and not quantitative. The vast majority of the time, no organization is making a decision on promotion or, or who to let go based on numbers. It’s still, “Let’s talk about it. What do we see? What do we notice?”
Barbara: So, so we, so we have some new work coming in. We have some project manager positions opened. Um, we encourage everybody on the staff who’s interested to apply along with folks outside. And the goal is to find the very best–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –to fill the position.
Laura: And of course, uh, you know, one of the classic things that happens is we might look at somebody who’s outstanding, um, they’re an outstanding performer in what they’re doing now but may not have the right skill set to move into a higher level position or a different position. So, even if we rate them, which obviously we don’t do that here–
Barbara: Right.
Laura: –even if we were to rate them as outstanding in that job, that doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about how they’re going to perform at a higher level–
Barbara: Right.
Laura: –or in a different role.
Barbara: And, and it’s similar as my initial example of an individual we took who was a top performer for 10 years in one particular task order and moved him up to be the contract manager, responsible for multiple task orders. Um, the success that he had for that 10 years as a awesome program manager for that tax quarter did not make him successful.
Laura: [00:48:12] Right.
Barbara: Um, but what was the difference? He had the fire, the interest, and the ability and the desire to learn.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And that was very clear from the very beginning, that he sought out, um, coaching and help, um, he was collaborative, he wasn’t defensive, and he was willing to learn. And he did a huge turnaround. And he, he is absolutely at the next level and he knows it. But he knows that we also supported him–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –helped him, coached him, um, so that he could be the success that he is.
Laura: So, I imagine there’s a lot of gratitude and loyalty and appreciation–
Barbara: Absolutely.
Laura: –in both directions.
Barbara: Yes.
Laura: Awesome.
Barbara: And that’s what you want. You want people to be winners and successful.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: And you want to help coach them there so that they– I mean, I still coach people who are some of my first employees here in the company who’ve gone on to do other jobs. And, um, you know, one of them is now starting their own company. They come and we spend an hour together once a month. Why? ‘Cause I want her to be a successful business owner.
Laura: Yeah. Excellent.
Barbara: Nothing better.
Laura: Yeah. That’s so awesome.
Barbara: So, you never burn bridges, right?
Laura: Oh, never.
[Laughter 00:49:22]
Laura: Oh, my gosh. This world is way too small for that. How things come around. Do you talk often about this, um, philosophy and approach with other CEOs?
Barbara: I do. A lot of them think that I’m a Pollyanna.
Laura: Uh huh.
Barbara: And, um, that I obviously don’t get it. Um, I think they don’t get it.
Laura: Right.
Barbara: Um, and I think there’s a difference– I didn’t, I didn’t start this company just to make money or to make money. I, I started it because I love what I do and I wanted to create a place where other people could love what they do. And I thought that if we could do that, we would be successful and, as a byproduct, we would make money. And so we’ve had consistent growth. Um, we’ve grown in the last five years, doubling and tripling every year. Um, you know, we’ve gone from $1 million to breaking $26 million this year to–
Laura: [00:50:17] Wow.
Barbara: –200 plus employees. Uh, prime contractor on 40 to 50–40, 45 contracts. Um, I think that’s pretty great.
Laura: Yeah. That’s pretty incredible.
Barbara: And people like being here. You know, if we have a contract that ends and we can’t keep everybody on board or move them or have other work for them, they hate leaving.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: And I say, “Keep in touch. Because if we win the next piece of work – come back.”
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: But they leave with respect. Um, one, one of the things I also found objectionable is, so often, when someone is being removed from a job because it’s downsizing or they’ve lost a contract, they come in with the box and with the security people and say, “Pack up your box and let me escort you out.” How disrespectful.
Laura: Very dehumanizing.
Barbara: Right. Why would you ever do that to somebody who was on your team? And so, um, I did have folks here who, who terminated somebody in the organization that way.
Laura: Oh.
Barbara: And I said, “Look. Read my lips. That will never happen here again. We will never do it that way.” “Well, well how do you– can you trust them? How do you know–” So the next time– next year we knew we were gonna end a contract, we didn’t have work, I said, “Okay. We’re gonna write a letter. We’re gonna tell them that this contract ends on the 31st of December. We’re gonna give them two weeks’ severance. We’re gonna pay them their profit sharing, if they agree to continue. We’re gonna do this in November so they can plan, so they can look for work. And we’re gonna promise them their profit share and two weeks’ severance as long as they continue to complete their work at a high level.”
Laura: [00:52:04] Mm hmm.
Barbara: “Um, and then we’ll celebrate their contribution and pat them on the back and wish them well when they leave.”
Laura: And how did it go?
Barbara: Just perfect.
Laura: Excellent. I love that so much. You are so impressive in your commitment to this idea because what I, what I’m hearing throughout this conversation is every reason that I’ve heard a leader toss up for why that wouldn’t work for us or well, we couldn’t do that or well maybe if not for this– you have so many of those, you know, “challenges” or obstacles with the geography, with the fact that it’s contracts and so work can come and go, sometimes in big chunks and you don’t let any of that stop you from completely executing on this belief, this philosophy, this approach and it’s working.
Barbara: It is.
Laura: It’s so awesome.
Barbara: I believe it’s, I believe it’s working and, you know, I’d love for you to talk to some of the people who weren’t so sure it was gonna work in the beginning who–
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: –who are avid supporters now–
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: –and wouldn’t want to work anyplace else.
Laura: I would– let’s actually, let’s do that.
[Laughter 00:53:10]
Barbara: And, and, and they’ve also grown in their leadership role and in their, in their guts to be able to take the necessary steps to be honest in their appraisal with an employee and to be able to cut them loose when they’re not the right person for the job.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: And that’s really what you want in the organization.
Laura: I would say, um, I think you get it.
Barbara: So– but I love my team. And I love the men and women who work here. I love my company.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And I think it’s about caring and it’s about people treating people like human beings.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And there are times when you have situations that you need to take care of because, um, you need to hold people accountable. And if they don’t behave appropriately or if they break the rules, you need to take the appropriate action.
Laura: [00:54:04] Absolutely.
Barbara: But you need to do it swiftly.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: And you need to do it humanely.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: And you need to do it in private.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: But you need to do it.
Laura: Yeah. I love that. Because this, this idea of, “Is it Pollyanna?” or “I care about the people, I love the people”– sometimes people think that means that you don’t create accountability in others. That you don’t make the tough decisions. But that’s not at all what you’re advocating for. In fact, it makes it easier to do that.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: Because you know that you have shown up. You have done everything that you know of and can think of to do your part, recognize your own contribution to any kind of situation and if it’s still not a good fit, it’s just not a good fit.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: And you don’t need to be disrespectful or stop caring about them as a human being just because they might be separating from the company.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: So yeah. Don’t ever burn those bridges. I love that.
Barbara: It’s never know when you’re gonna need them.
Laura: I know.
Barbara: And you know, and, and some of those people might go off, they might grow and learn and come back and be superstars.
Laura: Absolutely.
Barbara: People can change and grow and learn.
Laura: Is there any specific moment, for you, where you remember having a “Alright, I’m definitely changing my philosophy, my worldview, here”?
[Static 00:55:22]
Barbara: Well, I think, um, that there are multiple moments–
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: –that have taken me on this path. Um, I can remember the talk here, um, when a company upstairs had been part of a merger and people who had been there for many years were given the box and escorted out. And, um, the feeling and the, the conversation and chit chat, you know, in the office as they watched those people leave, um, it breaks my heart. I mean those are folks who gave years to that prior company and were treated terribly, which just, again, set an example of things. We will never do that.
Laura: [00:56:14] Yeah. Okay.
Barbara: How in their right minds would they think that was the right thing to do?
Laura: Yeah. What advice, um, or tip would you give to a leader who really wants to take a lot of this, a lot of these ideas, this approach, this philosophy and really start to implement it within their own company?
Barbara: It takes time. And it takes just consistently working to that end. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: I look now at what we have built. It’s been a 10-year journey.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: Um, it’s a 10 year journey of trying to set the example and demonstrate how it works in coaching, um, I don’t know how many times I’ve picked up the phone, um, to coach one of my, my next level or group on something that they did or they called and was abusive to one of the staff members here or, you know, I didn’t wait. You pick up the phone and you say, “You weren’t, you weren’t very nice in your tone in talking with Sarah. You don’t talk to anybody in the company in that tone of voice.”
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: You don’t do it. We don’t accept it.
Laura: It’s–
Barbara: But there are so many places where they would just ignore that.
Laura: Yeah. Yeah. It goes back to that line that you said earlier. Um, and I remember you said it, too, when I met you when you– a couple years ago, whenever that was. That culture is driven by the worst behavior you allow. And that’s, that’s really it. That’s a wonderful way to sum up so much of what this is about. Real-time accountability, consistency, and just knowing and believing that this consistency will pay off and it will create the kind of team and culture that you’ve always wanted to create.
Barbara: [00:58:06] And the leader has to be the one to demonstrate that example. And, you know, there are many days I drive home and I say, “Hm. I didn’t do so well today.”
Laura: Mm hmm.
Barbara: “I need to fix some things when I go in tomorrow.” Maybe there’s an apology I offer because, you know, I didn’t behave in the way that I would like to hold myself accountable.
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: What you find is the more senior you are in the organization, the less feedback you get.
Laura: Yup.
Barbara: The less likely it is somebody’s going to tell you you’ve screwed up. So you have to, in a way, self assess and take a look at your own behavior and say, “Hm. That really wasn’t so good. That wasn’t the best of Barbara.”
Laura: Yeah.
Barbara: “Um, you need to go fix something” or “You owe an apology” or, um–
Laura: Well it reinforces an idea that’s really important to me which is it’s about recovery not perfection.
Barbara: Right.
Laura: So you can’t expect yourself or anybody else to never make mistakes or never step out of alignment. It’s how quickly can I notice this for myself? How quickly can I–
Barbara: Right.
Laura: –recover in whatever way, apologize and do it differently next time?
Barbara: Right. And how do you admit, “Yep. I’m wrong. I messed up.”
Laura: That happened.
Barbara: Um, you know, how do I fix what, how do I fix this?
Laura: Excellent. Is there anything else that you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Barbara: It’s a whole lot more fun working in this kind of environment than doing annual performance appraisals.
Laura: Oh, I’m so sure.
[Laughter 00:59:29]
Laura: I don’t think anybody looks forward to those performance appraisals.
Barbara: I can, I can, I can remember sitting in a hotel room and trying to fill those out. To me – to death.
Laura: Oh, man.
Barbara: And I think, “Oh, this is ridiculous.”
Laura: Yeah. People dread that whole process. So, it’s also a lot more fun. I like that.
Barbara: Yep. So, we try to have a good time. You know, we spend a lot of time at work. It ought to be a place that we come with joy in our heart.
Laura: I love that. Thank you so much, Barb, for being on the show and sharing all of your experience and wisdom on this.
Barbara: Thank you. Great fun. Thank you for having me, Laura. I really appreciate it.
Laura’s Outro
You want to listen to it again, don’t you? So many great insights from an accomplished leader who is genuinely crushing it by actually putting people first. Like I said, the full transcript and show notes are on the website at Gallaheredge.com/podcast. And hey – I know you know other people who could benefit from listening to this episode – share it with them – and if you’re a fan, then please go to iTunes and give us a 5-star rating – it’s the best way for others to find the show, and I want to pass these messages on to as many people in the world as possible. Take care, and we’ll talk again soon!

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