Lance Bell isn’t shy about his company culture. He went on camera with me at RetailNOW to discuss “Living and Managing by Principles.” The website for his company ServingIntel (formerly known as POS Partners) dedicates nearly 1,200 words to the org’s purpose, core values, and core principles. And he hosts an annual Christmas meeting near the Chicago VAR’s headquarters during which employees from California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, and as far away as the Philippines converge to celebrate, communicate, strategize, and learn.
I had heard about the ServingIntel/POS Partners culture but had never experienced it until Bell invited me to host an Accountability Workshop as part of the 2018 Christmas Meeting. I arrived four hours prior to the scheduled start of the workshop, and the 40 employees in attendance graciously allowed me to sit in on their discussions.
Here’s a glimpse into what makes ServingIntel tick in hopes you can apply some of these ideas. I’m not going to divulge any company secrets here. This is just some of what I observed (integrated with my own thoughts on culture-building):
- When building a team, I look beyond the résumé and pay close attention to several other attributes. One of them is “spark factor.” Is the person high energy? Do they speak with enthusiasm? Are they happy to engage with others? After being in the room just five minutes, I could see that ServingIntel’s “spark factor” was high. People laughed easily and were willing to share personal stories with their colleagues, many who they were meeting for the first time.
- Bell asked everyone in the room (including me) to share one amazing personal experience and one amazing work experience from the past year. Team members talked openly about births, engagements, beating cancer, and kids going to college while also highlighting significant sales, Net Promoter Scores, new initiatives, and technology expansions. While the employees impressed me with their openness, I also noted that the ServingIntel management intentionally created this situation. I mean, what should an employer care if a salesperson’s daughter just earned her driver’s license? Well, if it’s important to your people, then it should be important to you. Care for your people as human beings, not just as workers.
Terry Bacon wrote in the book What People Want: “We (humans) are an astonishing blend of chemical and electrical impulses, histories, drives, conflicts, intentions, biases, hopes, joys, frustrations and fears – and when you put us together in teams or organizations that interact with a complex environment over time, the dazzling array of behaviors, attitudes, and relationships is nothing short of stunning.… Creating a great workforce is partly about selecting people with the right attitudes and potential and partly about how you treat them once they are on the job.”
- The theme of the Christmas meeting was “One Love,” and that had nothing to do with Woodstock or Bob Marley. Bell explained, “We are one team, coming together to better love all we serve in 2019. How can we love our folks better?” A ServingIntel team member added, “Love is action. Love is what you do with what’s inside.”
- Since reading The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack, I’ve been a proponent of open-book management. ServingIntel clearly lives that philosophy, sharing with everyone in attendance the company financials at a fairly detailed level. The team talked sales, cost of goods sold, expenses, gross margins, recurring revenue, forecasts for next year, and the general economy. Several PowerPoint slides included screen grabs from Excel spreadsheets so everyone was exposed to the actual numbers, not just someone’s interpretation of data.
- The group conducted a candid year-in-review discussion that highlighted both accomplishments and headaches affecting the company. Bell labeled the two categories “Amazing” and “Annoying,” and he assessed both outside influences and internal execution from the past 12 months. This wasn’t a fluffy “you’re great – no, you’re great” back-slapping session. Everyone concentrated on what could be done better. (Personal note: I’m hoping my Accountability Workshop doesn’t make next year’s “Annoying” list.)
- Some management teams overvalue their own thinking and discount ideas from front line employees. ServingIntel clearly values the team’s collective wisdom, and I saw that firsthand during the customer service brainstorming session. COO Daniel Brown divided employees into groups of 4-5 and challenged them to list activities from the past year under two categories: WWW (What Worked Well) and EBIf (Even Better If). Across three 15-minute segments, the employees focused on installations, post-installation/support, and procurement/payments, and each team presented their top three ideas for each category to the group.
You’re probably wondering what ideas they came up with. As I said at the outset, I’m not here to spill company secrets, but I can share these nuggets where the customer service team plans to improve:
- Set clearer expectations with the customer. Spell out in writing in advance what could be an issue.
- Clean up the customer handoff between business development and customer service.
- Don’t over-rely on post-installation surveys generated by the PSA software. Those do not replace conversations and face-to-face business reviews with customers.
- Proactively check-in with the customer one week after the installation. “Call them before they call you.”
- Share ongoing product training details with customers. Don’t dump all the information up front when customers are too new to consume product nuances.
- Reduce hoops; minimize unnecessary back-and-forth internal communication before action takes place.
- Brown then led the team in a discussion based on my recent blog post about the book The Anatomy of Peace. The talk centered on how we can all be better listeners so we can serve each other better. When’s the last time you and your team paused to talk about being better servants?
- After lunch, I conducted my Accountability Workshop (which you can read about here). I don’t want to make a narrow point here about accountability; I want to talk broadly about investing in professional development for your team. As Geoff Colvin writes in Talent Is Overrated: “The scarce resource is no longer money. It’s human ability. Companies are under unprecedented pressure to make sure that every employee is as highly developed as possible. The economy is increasingly based not on financial capital but on human capital. The abilities of the people in an organization — much more than traditionally important factors like economies of scale or patent protections — determine an enterprise’s success or failure. Today’s best young employees (millennials) consistently put continuous professional development at or near the top of their criteria for choosing an employer.”
I bet you’re nodding now after reading that. However, most VAR and ISV organizations are not intellectually stimulating. Rather than offering opportunities to learn and rewarding curiosity, the typical organization leaves inquisitive employees to find their own ways to learn. Employees aren’t told which skills will be most helpful to them and certainly aren’t told how best to develop them.
ServingIntel’s Christmas meeting – and the education that goes along with it – sends a message to every member of the team that they’re worth the investment.