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Building Community by Leading Change: LinkedIn Live with Curtis Strategy

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  • The 3 biggest issues Eric sees organizations struggle with right now (13:32)
  • The #1 reason why everyone needs to engage in strategic planning (17:57)
  • The 5 tenets Eric uses to lead organizations through change (21:59)
  • Advice to executive directors who are worried about how to start the conversation around change with their teams (29:28)
  • Transforming a club mentality into a true association (10:39)
  • How to support and manage rapid growth (38:16)
  • How to get CEOs to fully embrace the change needed for the organization to grow (40:40)
  • The correlation between employee engagement and member engagement (42:36)

Video Transcript

Justin Bieganek: Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining us today. I’m Justin Bieganek. I’m the founder of Mercury Creative Group. We grow brands. We are the branding experts who bring clarity and purpose to teams to propel their organizations forward. Over the last 24 years, I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with a lot of leaders as they’ve transformed their organizations. And it’s what I’m doing in these LinkedIn Live events, is bringing those leaders to talk about how are they building community? What are they doing? What are they up to? What are the challenges that they’re running into? So, I wanna connect my community to your community. I wanna highlight their story, their strengths and challenges, and share their transformations both on themselves and in their organizations. So this is interactive for our guests with us, please go into the comments and share what brought you here today, what inspired you to join us.

And also, as we go along, just interact, toss us questions, make comments, anything that strikes you, and what is maybe a top takeaway. Feel free to toss that into our comments as well. A little bit of logistics. So our first 30 minutes, Eric and I are gonna have a conversation. And again, feel free to interact with us. And then after those 30 minutes are up, we’re gonna move to question and answers. So that’s where we’ll take your questions and have a conversation around those questions. And they’re for both of us, both for Eric and I. All right. So I love to bring my people together and build our community and add to our community. So, I want to welcome Eric from Curtis Strategy. I’m gonna give you a little intel of how I know Eric and what I know of him.

And then I’ll let Eric introduce himself. So, Eric is a strategic thinker. He’s a careful listener, and he is super committed to what he does. When I say committed, he’s committed to the people he works with first, but really committed to their transformation and their growth and their change. And he knows that working with those individuals really will transform the organization. So today you’re gonna hear from Eric and I about leading organizations through big change. You’ll also get to hear what a supportive and trusting leader Eric is and how he leads his team and his clients through that change. So a fun fact, Eric started a rock climbing business in 2006, and both Eric and I started our businesses without actually working at an agency or a consultancy. So you can call us silly or strategic, or a little bit of both. So from rock climbing, Eric, to leading change with Curtis Strategy, share with everyone a little bit more about you and the organization.

Eric Curtis: Sure. No, I appreciate it. And thanks for the invitation to be here. Excited to talk and looking forward to some questions. So how did it start with rock climbing? Well, I was in the commercial real estate business or banking business, and realized that I was quite unemployable and I needed to, you know, start my own business. I think it started there. And that coupled with my passion for mountaineering led me down creating a business plan to open up an indoor rock climbing facility. And I launched that in 2006. And as a result, wound up getting interviewed by the Boston Herald Newspaper back in 2008, when the market collapsed, particularly around how small businesses were impacted by what was going on in the economy and what we were doing.

And as a result of that, I wound up receiving several, well, quite a bit several dozen emails from different business owners. But one of them stood out the most, and that was a chief operating officer of a fairly large YMCA who had a member retention problem that he thought our business model would be able to solve. So I wound up doing 20 hours of pro bono consulting work while I was running my other business. And it moved the needle so much on their member retention that I wind up getting referred into dozens and dozens of other YMCAs. And that led me into the nonprofit space. And then I quickly realized as I started my consulting firm in 2008, but I was still doing both, business number one and the consulting business, that I needed to pick because one, the consulting business was really taking off given the impact that we were making.

So in 2012, I exited my other business and went both feet in with the consulting firm, and that’s when things took off. And, you know, we went through maybe some of the things that you experienced, Justin, with organizations going through change in transformations is kind of iterations of growth, right? Where at first when I started, you know, having not worked for a consulting firm before, it’s, you know, what’s our identity? Who are we, what do we do? And it started out by telling people that, you know, we’re management consultants, and nobody really knows what that is or what they do. and so we had to work on becoming more refined in our messaging, which evolved into strategy. And then over the years what materialized was us working with more and more different types of nonprofits from 501(c)(3)s to fours, sixes, eights, tens, twelves, fourteens and the list goes on.

And really right now what we do is we focus on kind of core areas of strategy from strategic planning to mergers and affiliations to organization design. So most of the things that would be relevant to a CEO or board of directors. And then we are primarily in some of the top nonprofit spaces. So health and human services, higher education, associations, one of our biggest biggest sectors that we work with, foundations as well as credit unions. So we try to diversify across a wide sloth of different organizations that we work with and particularly focus on, you know, those strategy and services to clients.

Justin: Take us back to the first YMCA client. What was it that you did or, or help them through to increase their membership or just to, to get a boost in engagement? What was it?

Eric: So, when we here help us with retention, member retention, employee retention or engagement we,  our mind immediately goes to organization design as a service. And so organization design for us is dissecting how things serve a member and pull that apart to determine what needs to change in order to improve that. So, for example, one of the projects that we did, we mapped out the journey that a member takes to and through a YMCA that had seven locations. And we wound up, you know, determining that one of the biggest points of contact, and we’ll call it membership sales, as well as customer service, was the front desk. But the front desk person was usually somebody that they hired from high school or college, and was the least trained person in the organization with the most important job.

So we elevated the status of that position, and then we took all the detractors, things like phones and emails and things like that. And we centralized the phone service to move all distractions so they could be fully present and engaged with their members. What that enabled them to do is bring people into the organization with a higher level of attention and care, but also as they moved them to either showing them the programs and services and the membership that was available to them, they were more present during that, we’ll call it business development sales cycle. And so their ratio of sales went up. And then once they became members, we talked about, well, how do you keep them busy? Because if it’s not an intentional strategy for keeping people engaged and busy, they will tend to leave and you’ll suffer from attrition.

So what we wind up doing is we created what we call a Buy-Buy Matrix, right? Where we would say that let’s say a particular program, like a spin class, we would identify what are the two to three other classes that somebody was likely to take. And so that we were able to train the instructors as well as use, you know, some taxonomy with websites and stuff like that, to create that as a solution so that when someone is finishing a programmer service, they were able to be offered something that had a high probability of keeping them engaged and moving them to another service or another program.

Justin: So you, what stuck out to me was attention and care. So paying attention to the people from what I’m hearing, was that not being done before, or was it just more as our members were a number and they weren’t a person with unique needs that needed something?

Eric: Yeah, I think it was, you know, as, as people came in, they weren’t tracking where they were coming from, you know, so conversion rates on marketing so to figure out where that was going, but then when they had them physically present in front of them, they, they weren’t, like you’re saying, they weren’t tentative to what they needed, and they weren’t spending the time. So we figured out a way that the front desk could make handoffs to these other folks. And we built an entire new org structure around that. So from the structure of how the entire organization was designed to the way the branches and the association functioned together and how they supported each other, as well as to changing roles and responsibilities, job descriptions, and what that looked like, and then going through a year-long training process to move people into that system. And that was kind of our first exposure to a large project where we were able to drive significant change to move the retention needle about 7% in 12 months, which was a few million bucks. So you know, it’s better to retain the people that you have because it’s less costly than going out and trying to acquire new. And that was the premise by which they wanted to, you know, achieve some outcomes and results.

Justin: How long were you involved with them?

Eric: So, our organization design projects typically are 12 to 24 months, depends on the size of the organization. In this case, we were there 24 months. The first half was the organization design project at a high level, and the second half was the training component. And then some, some small other things that we were doing in org design that weren’t part of kind of their core service.

Justin: So, Eric, there’s a comment from Mary Kate saying, looking for tips on taking an association that has a club mentality to a true association. If you wanna tackle that now, I would throw that out to you, or we can come back to that, but I wanna put that into your thinking cap as we go along. So do you wanna respond or,

Eric: So, if I’m understanding the question, Mary Kate, it’s moving from kind of like the, we hang out together and we talk shop versus an association where we can really prepare the membership and support the membership for the future. And so we see that quite often. And, you know, part of that is looking at the strategy of the organization, but part of it is looking at the change – that level of change typically would start with the board of directors. So, for example, if I’m looking at changing the culture of the organization or the value proposition that we have to members, maybe that’s moving it from, we get together and we commiserate around things, or we talk about, you know, what’s going on in each other’s world to stay informed to, we are gonna build benchmarks for the industry.

We’re gonna build, we’re gonna bring research forward for the industry, right? That we support. We’re going to conduct member assessments, salary, benchmark surveys, things like that where you’re putting products in place and you’re putting services in place that members would get value from, and you can allocate those dollars for. Now, the good part about doing something like that and building that level of professionalism, is you can create a significant amount of education off of that as well, right? So if you have benchmark reports, not, you know, maybe you’re blasting those out, or standards reports or certification strategies and things like that. If you’re putting those things together, right, that’s gonna professionalize the organization. That starts with strategic planning. The change component really starts with the organization design. What’s the capabilities that we need to drive that? Do we have that? What do we need to do differently internally? And that starts you kind of moving in that direction.

Justin: I would add to what Eric’s saying that it’s culture and it’s working from the inside out on what are the core values and what do we want to do, and how do we wanna help these individuals that are the ideal members for us? And I guess I get a little sense, Mary Kay. It’s almost like growing up the organization, moving them up the line a little bit. So I hope,

Eric: And Justin, I think that last part was really good. The maturing the organization or professionalizing the organization, and just as I went through iterations of growth, you know, with our firm and just learnings and things like that every organization does. And that might be the next step in the game to be able to do that. Starting small is a good idea as well, right? Trying to tackle too much, especially given the capacity needs these days can be a big challenge.

Justin: Absolutely. So is there anything you’re hearing from your clients in the industries that you serve right now that is just like, wow, I just, you keep hearing this, you keep hearing this, that you’d like to share with our audience?

Eric: Sure. And they’re actually, they’re the same themes across all the sectors we serve, whether it’s credit unions, health and human services, or associations. So number one is the advancements in technology are moving so fast that it creates a lot of uncertainty in, well, either buying decisions or what we need to be for the future or the things that we need for the future. But that technology advancement and that technology investment is so important because it is relevant to being able to grow. Managing at scale is typically done with more advanced, more sophisticated systems. So we are seeing that happen pretty significantly as a result of the technology advancing. One, there’s a lot of jobs in the market in the tech space, but there is a workforce crisis and shortage going on that’s not gonna slow down or stop anytime soon. That’s gonna be ever present. And that’s kind of theme number two that we’re seeing. And so using technology to alleviate some things around workforce or just the general shift, right? So think about, you know, Justin, what you do from, you know, what was marketing like 20 years ago to what’s digital marketing like today? They’re probably very different. And so, you know, do you have digital marketing experience? Because the only way people are getting discovered is getting through the digital noise these days, right? With the right brand, right message, right channels. And then lastly, the big thing that we’re seeing is significant consolidation, mergers, affiliations. We were seeing that trend escalate pretty heavily in going into 2019, but once 2020 hit, that went through the roof exponentially in terms of the demand of services that we were seeing, the amount of mergers that we were seeing that were out there, whether there be associations or health and human service agencies, et cetera.

And part of the reason is because of the advancements in technology or the cost of workforce, right? So if we all go in and move from a geographic model where maybe we were state based or regional based or national based, we’re now all in the same competitive pool, right? So a state association and the national association on an education front digitally would be competitors because there’s no geographic boundaries anymore in that digital space. So technology pushed towards consolidation, and then the cost of workforce is really pushed towards consolidation because the price tag on, you know, employees and getting the right talent and things like that is going up. And so the larger the organization, you can justify higher salary points that allows you to compete in the market. So those two things are really what have been forcing a lot of the consolidation, in fact, the next five years, I think it’s gonna just keep speeding up and continuing.

Justin: So share a recent win with all of that knowledge that you and your team have, would love to share with this group.

Eric: We just worked with one of the largest associations in Texas. And they have 18,000 members and do have multiple, that’s a lot <laugh> a lot of members, and they have multiple different entities. And we supported them in doing their strategic plan which, you know, to their credit was very ambitious, but they were very, very driven to make the changes. And the CEO is incredible, just an agent of change and a very strong leader. And she was able to come in and start implementing some of that change. Part of that was consolidation of some of the entities. And so we have been working on trying to merge a bunch of their 501(c)(3) subsidiaries, which we successfully did last year. And now are looking at doing some restructuring of other things that they’re doing. And so our biggest win was achieving a step one of the mile major milestones in that was in their strategic plan on consolidating some of their entities.

Justin: So share your number one reason people should be doing strategic planning. And when I say people, organizations, businesses, even families, couples, individuals, why is that so important?

Eric: Well, so there’s, there’s usually an idea of what, where we want to go, or maybe it just needs to be flushed out a little bit more. And the value of strategic planning is bringing clarity to that. And the bigger value is bringing a whole bunch of stakeholders onto one same sheet of music, whether that be the board of directors, the leadership team, the staff, other partners, affiliate members, et cetera, right? Because they can all be engaged in the process. So it brings people to the same sheet of music and it sets the charge going forward, which helps create accountability into implementation. And usually what we’ll see is we’ll see CEOs within their first two years of being new CEOs or changing into a new organization go through the strategic planning process. And it’s specifically for that reason. They’re a new CEO, there are new relationships, and there’s a great way to bring everybody to the same sheet of music while building relationships. And that’s the planning process. So that’s the key ingredient as to what it’s used for. And then the secret sauce is just, you know, in the implementation and keeping the, you know, drive that forward.

Justin: So I’m gonna change it from building community to building an orchestra, cuz right now you’re talking about getting everybody playing the same sheet music and performing amazing music. My last question and then I’m gonna go into the five tenets of change. What is a current challenge year faced as a leader that you’re really leaning into right now?

Eric: Yeah, so a lot of challenges because again, we’ve been growing so much but the, probably the biggest one has been finding the right talent and workforce. Because we went through, I think you said it earlier, like identifying your values and your culture. Our team went through that several years ago to identify, you know, who we were and what we wanted to be and what our values and culture should look like. And as we did that, we got a better understanding of the type of people that we wanted to hire or to be a part of that team. And so the hard part is just, you know, finding those individuals that matched that. And, we had some huge success at the beginning of this year, bringing on two new team members. And so we continued to grow there. But that’s been a challenge, but it’s also been a blessing that we got really organized around how to do that.

Justin: Yeah, I think, again, coming back to the inside and determining your core values, cuz that’s how you can hire and find the right people, cuz they’re going to align with those same values. And going back to strategic planning, if you don’t do that and you don’t sort of set that direction and set those values, you’re just, you’re gonna be all over the place.

Eric: Yeah. It gives you guardrails. It’s super helpful.

Justin: Absolutely. So Eric and I talked a little bit about how we basically take organizations through change. For us, it’s brand transformation, for Eric and his team, it’s organizational change. And they’re primarily working with the teams internally to really understand what is this organization all about? What is this brand all about? Bringing that clarity and then aligning the internal team before you even go out to the world or go out to the marketplace or start to do the things that you need to be doing to help those clients or those members. So I was requesting Eric to like, what are the things you do or is there something that you do that you just kind of follow? And he shared with me his five tenets of leading organizations through change. And I’m just gonna cue up the first one and the first one is capabilities. So, Eric, talk to us about what capabilities are needed for transformation, for change, for leading those organizations through change.

Eric: Sure. So our change discussion is really born out of really two things. One, coming off of strategic planning and then actually wanting to implement the plan, right? And so in implementing the plan, you need to figure out what change we need to bring forth to do that. And then we just merged, or we just affiliated, you know, with another organization and we have to go through that same process. What’s the change we want to bring about to create this newness, this new entity? So the first tenant is, you know, capabilities. And that’s looking forward to say, if we’re gonna implement this plan, what capabilities do we need that we don’t have? Right? Is that a type of job function? Is that a type of you know, whatever that may be, how do we bring that into the organization to ensure we can achieve what we have? And that’s also a little bit disruptive as well. But we help organizations figure out what those are as part of assessing kind of where they’re at now in comparison to where they want to go. And we can identify what will be the missing pieces capability wise to fulfill that.

Justin: So then that leads to structure. So talk about what’s your definition of structure when you’re taking organizations through change.

Eric: Structure’s a biggie because this is where, and the third one, this is where people can experience the most amount of change personally, right? Is if we’re gonna implement something, do we need to be redesigned in a specific way, reporting structure, the design of the organization? Does it follow what we call the core process in relationship to the customer or member journey? And what does that need to look like? And so that’s where we’ll get into identifying what new capabilities are needed and where they fit within the structure. And then, are we optimized or designed the right way to fulfill on what we need to do?

Justin: So you’re screaming alignment and efficiency and effectiveness.

Eric: Efficiency’s a big word with change. 

Justin: Talent. We’ve been talking a lot about workforce, that’s a big challenge for you and everyone out there right now. So how does the core values, optimizing the talent, and all of that, play a big role?

Eric: One thing that we hear at the start of a lot of our org design projects is “we don’t have the capacity to do that”. We don’t have the bandwidth, overwhelmed, et cetera. and when we – 

Justin: Coming to resources again, and people, or – 

Eric: People, yeah. The talent to be able to do it. And what we’ll do is, as kind of part of this tenet, we’ll assess the staff and what they’re doing, and we’ll use an exercise that we have called our job PAK exercise and PAK stands for Purpose, Activities and KPIs, key performance indicators. and you know, in doing that exercise, it’s a staff assessment tool, but really what it’s designed to do is bring three things: clarity of the job function, accountability and performance. And so we want to increase the level of performance. And part of the way we do that is figuring out how to create role clarity. Because a lot of people, as you know, they’ll start a job and they start with an initial job description, and then over time, five years, seven years, their job evolves. But no one went back to look at – is that one position, is that two positions, are they clear on their role? How are we measuring that? 

Because, you know, you’ve heard the saying, what gets measured gets managed. And so understanding how those things work together, and as we pull that apart, what we’re able to do is identify the strategic values of going back to the structure piece of layers within the structure, but also to support staff in their performance and management and managing their teams to performance.

Justin: I keep hearing clarity, clarity, clarity in this conversation, everyone. So who’s ever listening, please, please note that. So next up is systems and processes. So to me, both are unique and we could talk for days. We talked about, you could write process down on a napkin, but it’s then getting that process implemented is the difficulty. What systems and technology solutions should be? How do they play a role?

Eric: Sure. So it goes back to trying to change behaviors, right? You know, if you try to change somebody’s behavior, it may work in the short term, but it doesn’t work in the long term. And really the systems that we use today govern our behaviors, right? Especially within business, because they either are the process or the system that we interact with towards some outcome or some methodology. And so looking at the types of systems an organization uses, enacts changes behaviorally or procedurally to ensure that you’re, you know, capturing the right things and doing the right things. It’s also what enables you to work, you know, operate at scale more effectively. If you’re using legacy outdated stuff and your competitors are, you know, have a better LMS platform and which has a better user experience and digital experience, like, how are you factoring those things into part of your strategy, systems plays a huge component of that.

Justin: And you just mentioned process a couple times. So talk about now how, how does process layer into that?

Eric: So process is very different. what we do, and we really call it core process, right, is we look at the member journey as how they engaged. And there might be a couple core processes that an organization has. You think of like the user experience almost. It’s dissecting the steps of that process to understand who’s responsible, what data is captured within that part, that step of the process, what system manages that information. and so understanding kind of some of those core elements from each step that helps us link back to the structure. Cuz those things kind of moved in tandem with each other, right? It really helps us pull apart and diagnose how to rebuild something. And so when we’re looking at doing something different, if you don’t strip it down to figure out how it’s currently operating and what’s going where, then it’s next to impossible to figure out how to rebuild it into something new that will be of higher value.

Justin: And how do you bring all that together? How do you, you know, make,

Eric: Yeah, so these five tenets typically operate, some run in parallel. It depends on the project and what we’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes we’ll start with the process and we’ll start with the talent piece first, and that will evolve to structure. Or we’ll start with capabilities. It really depends. They’re more modular in how we work with clients in relationship to these five things. But the outcome that we’re trying to get to is the change an organization wants to make, right? Because once you have a strategic plan, it’s all nice, but at the end of the day, it’s a sheet of paper that brought everybody to the same sheet of music, but it’s just a sheet of paper, right? It’s then using that to, as an excuse to say, we went through this process, we did this, we have to drive the change. We have to have some tough discussions about these five areas.

Justin: Excellent. How would you, what advice can you give to executive directors that are maybe new to an organization and they’re opening up a, maybe a can of worms, like what could they do first? How, what, what can they think about?

Eric: So that’s an interesting question.

Justin: That’s a lot of, that’s probably, alot to unpack as well. 

Eric: No, in fact, I just had this conversation yesterday with an organization that was trying to merge. And as we dug more into the merger, the can of worms just got bigger. I think what needs to happen is you need to create a message around the urgency that you’re seeing and the implications for that, right? So starting to script a message at what’s at stake if nothing changes with our association, you know, with our nonprofit, cuz if we do nothing, then we’re gonna get more of what we’ve got. And so what is at stake there? And starting to script that. So you can message that with the board, you can message that with the senior team. You can message that when you’re trying to implement the change to revert back to say, listen, these are the things that happen if we don’t do this. So we all have to rally and try to get through it. And that messaging is gonna be key.

Justin: So we see that a lot where it’s, the fear gets in the way of the opportunity. So really having that growth mindset and setting your eyes to the future state, the outcome, and knowing that it’s gonna be messy.

Eric: I mean I’m totally empathetic with CEOs that have to go through a lot of change because it’s them that has to do it, right? The board’s not gonna do it, the staff’s not gonna do it. They have to drive the change. That might be staffing changes that might be, you know, disappointing or challenging conversations that might be bringing in newness, which brings in unknowns to the organization, right? Things like that. None of that’s easy. It’s really hard. But if it’s done in an orchestrated manner, to use your analogy, <laugh> then it really tends to be more effective. Right? And in some cases, clients will bring us in to support some of the difficult moves that they need to make because the size and scope of their transformation may be huge.

Justin: What one piece of advice could you give right now to any leaders out there that might be experiencing a big transformation or a big organizational change?

Eric: I think, you know, I’ll, I’ll just speak personally for me, when I’m going through change, and maybe this will be good advice, is that I tend to ask for help when I don’t know what to do. And so reaching out to trusted circles that I have or you know, advisors that I have, that can support anything that might be unknown or very big so I can start getting enough understanding of that issue so that I can either tackle it myself or start to think of the solution to tackle it.

Justin: I couldn’t agree more that four letters in help is a powerful magical word. And the minute you actually say that to somebody, they stop cuz they want to help. We just, naturally, as people want to help. So thank you for that. Name a person you would like to thank because they’ve changed you or they’ve helped you along your journey.

Eric: Oh my goodness. One single person? I can’t name one that’s that…I mean, like, in my world, I would thank all my staff. And the reason I would thank them from Carolyn to Barbara, to Deb Nell, to Terrell is, is because they’ve, you know, elevated the game of the company and in turn have elevated my game. And they’ve been wonderful to work for, and like I say, I tend to work for them. And a result, they’ve really led us to a wonderful place. And so I have so much gratitude for everything that they’ve done along with our clients, but we wouldn’t be where we are without the team.

Justin: That’s beautiful. I think my team knows the same. So it’s, and that’s kind of comes to building community. Everyone you work with each individual and you help them and mentor them and grow them and be there and support them, it’s amazing what comes back. So that’s, I think for me, a really key thing to build a team, build a community, is helping them. Supporting them, and just trusting them. Get the hell out of the way. You know, it’s like they’re fully capable. Just be there as they need you.

Eric: Exactly.

Justin: Eric, there’s some questions, but I wanna get to a couple things for Eric really quick. If you could learn a new skill, what would it be?

Eric: If I could learn a new skill, I would wanna learn how to play the piano.

Justin: I was gonna almost say that. Like, do you wanna be an orchestra, right? Not, well, you kind of are.

Eric: I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano, apparently. I always come up with good excuses why not. 

Justin: Last show you’ve binge watched?

Eric: My favorite show being a little bit of a sci-fi geek would be the Expanse on Amazon Prime.

Justin: Hmm. I haven’t heard of it. Note that everyone. What’s your best habit?

Eric: My best habit is that I wake up at 5:00 AM and crush two hours of work and two cups of coffee. And I get more done in that two hours than the whole day. So that’s my secret sacred time. And it’s probably the best thing I do each day.

Justin: All right. Let’s flip it. What’s your worst habit?

Eric: It’s the same. I email my staff at 5:00 AM in the morning <laugh> which sometimes is received fine and sometimes others not. But I will say in emailing some of my very large successful clients a lot of the CEOs are up at 5:00 AM doing the same thing, and they tend to respond within two to three seconds. So that’s also a nice little little tip.

Justin: So let’s talk about how much you trust your gut instinct.

Eric: I think my gut is kind of just an alarm, right? Like, did I do something wrong? Do I need to pay attention to something? Is this an opportunity? I’m very cognizant that, you know, I might be getting upset about something or related about something and my gut tries to tell me that, and then I try to get a balanced perspective of what it’s trying to tell me. So it’s more like an alarm system that I try to listen to and diagnose. But everybody knows in their gut when they did something, you know, they made a mistake or something like that, and their, you know, their gut flips upside down. Nah, I probably shouldn’t have done that.

Justin: I think that speaks to intuition too, and the feeling like you, you get to get into your client’s head so much and your teams as well, so you know them and you can sense when things are on or off. So follow that gut. What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made? And let’s change it to the best, most recent mistake you’ve ever made.

Eric: Thank you. Thank you. The best, most recent mistake I’ve ever made. So one of my team members and I are working with a client on a merger, and we had both CEOs and their executive team in a room. And we’re talking through the deal structure and then as we always bring the bearer of news the change that’s gonna need to happen to enact the merger. And that’s, you know, dealing with things like staffing and redundant staff and duplicate staff and things like that. And so you know, they were really struggling with some of the decision making around that. So I might have got a little bit more amplified in terms of being persistent to try to drive timelines. As a result of doing that the CEO and I wound up having a really kind of heart to heart conversation because I pushed too hard.

And as a result of pushing too hard, which was against their culture, but it was against their culture in a productive way, right? They wanted to make sure, you know, everybody had a place and that they were doing right by their team and stuff like that, which was great. But at the end of the day, decisions still needed to be made. And as I pushed the CEO, because I was being the kind of the opposite persona to them, it led us closer together in a way that really allowed us to have a solid bond relationship between, you know, client-consultant in that she knew that I was never gonna pull punches, that I was gonna deliver, you know, the hard decisions, the tough decisions that needed to be made. And so the way and manner in which I might have went about that might not have been the best in terms of, you know, paying attention to the room, but at the end of the day, it brought us much closer together because it forced a conversation that needed to be had.

Justin: You learn from it. And I’m sure they did too as well, but that’s, as change agents, that’s what we have to do, is deliver that information that they already know, but they don’t want to hear. So, it’s getting them to help move in the right direction, and sometimes we need to push or pull.

Eric: Absolutely.

Justin: I wanna go to questions and Sue Ellen, you had sent one up earlier. Here it is: how do you support or manage rapid growth? This is, could be a really big topic, but Eric, do you have any thoughts really quick on how to manage rapid growth? And I would, let’s formulate with your team.

Eric: Yeah. So I’m to make the assumption that rapid growth comes with rapid cash flow. And so if rapid growth comes with rapid cash flow, I like creating a margin in that for cash reserves, for if that rapid growth declines or something stops it. So that’s kind of my safety net for risk management. But once I have kind of that momentum where we’re growing really fast, it’s to ensure that you know how to hire the right people so that when they do come on, they’re more productive and less disruptive, right? So, yes, you wanna manage rapid growth, but you really want to go slow to go fast on the hiring process because you can hire two people to handle the capacity in the right way and the wrong way. And try not to rush that is really important because, you know, I think a lot of organizations have grown really significantly.

I know a lot of associations that had huge success during covid where they were like the sole voice and resource for a lot of their members to go through on, you know, how to get PPP money or, you know, whatever that may be. And so their value proposition went up, but as a result of that, so did the phone calls, so did the inbound traffic and things of that nature. So if revenue is going up, cash reserves, hire the right way, and hire the right way is determining what capabilities do we need, what positions and talent do we need? Did we scope the position correctly to not interfere with any others within the organization? Then go to market for the hiring once you know the type of candidate that would fit the culture of the organization. And I know that might be a little painful, but all that can be collapsed within a few weeks time frame to be able to do, we’re not talking months here. That can get done really in a short period of time. And that will enable you to go to market to hire to absorb some of that growth or capacity needs.

Justin: Sue Ellen, I would also add communicate, communicate, communicate to your existing team and your vendors and your partners. And going back to what Eric shared earlier about ask for help, ask everyone for help or whoever you can that could help find you a resource or take you kind of get you up out of that mess. And I think as you, I’d call you the Mayor of Duluth, as you’re running the deck, you probably don’t have rapid revenue either, or that’s lagging. So again, really relying on your network and your community for some help along the way. And just overcommunicate. We have a LinkedIn user – “what’s the biggest issue, hurdle to overcome with employees, Eric, to get them to fully embrace change that’s needed for the organization to grow?”

Eric: I’m gonna flip that question. What’s the biggest issue and hurdle to overcome with CEOs to get them to fully embrace the change or drive the change? Right? So I think there needs to be an understanding that you know, when you’re going through this change, you’re creating the urgency. You’re maybe building a team to talk about what the plan’s gonna be to drive the change, whether that’s out of strategic planning or out of reactionary to something. And then in doing that, you’re gonna start implementing and executing. And it’s the CEO or the leader of that department that has to hold the individuals of their team accountable to driving and leading that change. 

The reality is there might be certain people that aren’t coming along for the ride. And you have to have that conversation. But if that’s not the case, then you just have to keep pushing them. And like Justin just said, deliver the message to say, here’s what’s at stake if nothing changes, right? Like, we might not be relevant in the future, we might not be able to compete against our competitors who are advancing faster than us. And I say competitors because a lot of associations will be competing with each other, if not already.

Justin: Yes. Gonna go to one more question. Maya, on culture. How does employee engagement shape member and community engagement, have you seen any direct correlations?

Eric: 100%. Right? The culture you set and how you treat your employees comes first. That translates to how they treat your members and engage the community. And so that tone is set again by the CEO, department leader, et cetera and identifying what that culture is ahead of time can be very useful. You know, for example, one of the values that we have as a company is always be learning, right? Our clients demand that we understand their markets and sectors in depth, that we understand the services and, and new capabilities that they could have in depth. And so as a result, we must always be learning. And so that’s one of the things that we bring. So identifying what are some of the cultural statements or value statements that you have and starting to make sure that that’s real, right?

And not just, you know, words on paper. And as you start to embody those things, that trickles down to the team. And then that trickles down into the members and how you engage them, the types of events you have. Now, the hard part, again, we’ll get back to this, if there’s anything contrary to that within the organization, that needs to be dealt with because you want to avoid anything that’s toxic to what you’re trying to achieve from a culture standpoint because it can ruin where you’re trying to lead things, to lead people, lead the organization towards.

Justin: I think that comes back to leadership again, that’s building the teams and setting vision and supporting them. Cuz exactly what you said, you support them, they’re gonna support their member or the client or the customer tenfold. And they’re gonna come to you with solutions and ways to improve things and kind of moving right up the ladder then and being that next leader within your company.

That’s gonna wrap it for today. I have a little bit to close. I want to thank everyone for being here. The questions. This will be recorded and live here that you can watch anytime you want. So please share it out with your community, with anyone that you felt could really get some value from this. Eric, how could they connect with you, if they would like to reach out to you?

Eric: Sure. I’m on LinkedIn or they can go to our website and reach out to us through our contact page or directly you know, through LinkedIn. Friend me on LinkedIn and reach out.

Justin: Yes. And we’ll post that in here too. So lastly save the date for our next interview. I’m gonna be interviewing Rebecca Waggoner. She’s the executive director of Quorum. I had a really fun conversation with her earlier this week, setting up our next interview. And she doesn’t use the word community, she used the word village. So she’s building the Quorum Village, so that’s our LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce. And she really kind of shies away from Chamber of Commerce cuz it is a village, it’s a community that she’s building. So there’s some really fun things that she’s talking about creating this unique space for that community. So join us on April 26th, 12:00 PM Central Standard Time right here on LinkedIn Live. 

So thank you everyone. Eric, I appreciate your time, all of your smarts and your conductor and orchestration! Have a great, wonderful rest of your day everyone. Thank you.

Eric: Thank you!


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