Building a workplace culture to nurture top talent with Eric Harkins
In this episode of our productivity podcast Get More Done, we talk to inspirational business leader Eric Harkins who runs GKG Search and Consulting. Find out how he helps businesses attract high performers while cultivating fun at work.
The YouCanBookMe team
Prepare to hear some avant-garde approaches to the workplace in this productivity podcast.
You’ll find out how to attract top talent and create a workplace culture that enables them to thrive. You’ll know the real questions to ask at interviews to ensure you employ the right people to breed success.
Most importantly, you’ll realize that work should be fun and find out how great leaders make sure Monday morning doesn’t suck.
Hear how Eric Harkins uses his 25 years of top-level experience in corporate America to cast an astute eye over what - and who - creates a workplace culture that's both a fun space and a success.
Listen in to discover the three rules every company leader and entrepreneur must follow to thrive in today’s fast-moving business world.
You can find Get More Done on:
Listen to episode 12:
In the episode, “Building A Workplace Culture To Nurture Top Talent,” we discuss:
- How great leaders make sure Monday mornings don’t suck by creating an awesome workplace culture
- Leadership expectations and development
- Eight simple questions to ask of the leaders in your company
- Three magical rules every business needs to succeed:
- it’s perfectly fine to have fun at work
- poor-performing employees won’t quit by themselves
- assholes will always be assholes
- How to get, keep and grow talented leaders
- How to assess whether candidates are the right cultural fit for your company (and why this is more important than focusing on their resume)
- The importance of building relationships at all levels of the organization
- How to treat new employees so they feel valued
- The truth behind people quitting managers, not jobs
As you know, ask any leader what their job is and they'll tell you, ‘Oh, I'm a director of finance.’ ‘I'm a manager of HR.’ Ask any leader, ‘Hey, what do you do to make sure Monday morning doesn't suck?’ And you get this really interesting reaction. So the takeaway is I think companies underestimate how much value there is by setting an expectation of, ‘if you are gonna lead people, these are the things that are important to us.’ That's what lead is all about.” - Eric Harkins
I also used to say there are three lessons I've learned along the way. Lesson No 1, it's okay to have fun at work. It really is. Contrary to popular belief in some companies, it's okay to have fun at work. Lesson No 2, poor-performing employees don't quit voluntarily. We all wish they did, but they don't. But the most important lesson, which became lesson No 3, assholes are assholes. They don't change. And that's all about who you allow to be a leader in your company.” - Eric Harkins
“I always talk about the whole performance management umbrella being very fluid and it shouldn't be just a review or just when you're so frustrated with somebody you’ve lost any interest in letting them be successful. Again, you just want them gone. It starts during the interview process, what you are doing as a company, in every single interaction, including the very first conversation with a potential candidate to tell them why they should be so lucky to work at your company. Here's what makes us special.” - Eric Harkins
“Most people don't lie on their resume. I look at a LinkedIn profile. If they've held these jobs, they know what the job is. I need to figure out if they're gonna be the right cultural fit. And if they lied on their resume, we're gonna figure that out within the first month or so. And then we'll address it if we need to. But most people's resumes are correct. So take it at face value, focus more on the cultural fit.” - Eric Harkins
“I have a quote in the book, it's a Steve Jobs quote and it's, ‘Listen, if you wanna make everybody happy, don't become a manager, sell ice cream.’ It's a great quote. But what I also try to help leaders understand is having difficult conversations, holding people accountable, firing people. You don't have to be an asshole to do any of that” - Eric Harkins
“I think 20 years ago, the mindset, and probably the reality, was, ‘Ben should be so lucky to get to work here.’ Today the good companies are realizing that the real focus is, ‘we should be so lucky to get Ben to work here.’ And those are two different things.” - Eric Harkins
Meet today’s guest, Eric Harkins
Eric Harkins is a man with a mission - to make sure Monday morning doesn't suck. His philosophy is simple but he's learned it the hard way during his 25-year career in corporate America. Eric worked for some good leaders, but says he was lucky to work for some really bad leaders along the way. Now he’s sharing his experiences with other businesses to ensure they can create the right workplace culture where top talent will thrive.
From his experiences, he has devised three golden rules for all businesses to follow if they want to successfully attract top talent. Have fun. Realize poor performers won’t quit on you. And an asshole will always be an asshole.
He started GKG Search and Consulting to help organizations Get, Keep and Grow - GKG - the best leaders and talent. He’s also written his first book Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Morning Doesn’t Suck: How To Get, Keep & Grow Talent.
Productivity resources to explore
- Eric Harkins
- Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Morning Doesn’t Suck: How To Get, Keep & Grow Talent by Eric Harkins
- YCBM Twitter
- YCBM Forum
“Building A Workplace Culture To Nurture Top Talent,” full transcript
This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity and readability.
You are listening to Get More Done, a YouCanBook.me podcast. I'm your host, Ben Dlugiewicz. Each month YouCanBook.me helps millions of people all over the world save time by automating their scheduling of meetings. We wanted to explore other aspects of productivity. So each episode we will talk with entrepreneurs, consultants, managers, and business leaders to understand how they're helping their team and clients level up, use automation to scale, and essentially do more with less. On this episode, I caught up with Eric Harkins. Eric is the president of GKG Consulting, a firm that specializes in helping businesses attract and retain talented employees. After his 25 years of experience in the recruiting and human resources space, Eric has written the book, Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Morning Doesn't Suck, a guide to building great workplace culture. In our conversation, we talk about how companies can build a culture that high performers want to be a part of. Enjoy.
Welcome back to Get More Done, the podcast all about productivity, doing more with less, and just crushing goals. Today I'm sitting down with Eric Harkins, author, speaker, and president at GKG Consulting. So Eric, welcome to the podcast.
Hey Ben, it's great to be here. Really looking forward to the conversation. I know it's gonna be a fun one.
It should be a good time. Excited to dig into everything you've been working on. So we start these conversations with an icebreaker question to break up the nerves a little bit and just to get more comfortable. This may be a bit difficult to answer, but if you had to sing karaoke right now, which song would you pick and why?
Boy, I wouldn't really wish that on the audience to have to listen to me sing, trust me. I always think I sound great in the car and my family reminds me I don't. I think the last time I sang karaoke, I got the crowd going with some Neil Diamond, Sweet Caroline. So I'd probably stick with what I know.
Yeah, that's a crowd favorite, a little Neil Diamond classic. Yeah, that's right after a couple of drinks everybody's good at karaoke.
Everybody knows Sweet Caroline. And you can have some fun with it.
Tell us a little bit more about your book. It’s a big hefty title. Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Morning Doesn't Suck. What motivated you to write this book?
So many people are like, “Hey, when did you start working on it?” In a former life, I was leading HR at a company and I finished a meeting one day and somebody from the team came up and said, “Hey, Eric, have you ever thought about writing a book?” And I really hadn't. It wasn't a bucket list item, not something I thought I'd do. I said, “No, why do you say that?” And he said, “You've got all these funny stories, but I also learned a lesson. You’ve had this bunch of experiences. And I think it'd be a good book.” I said, “All right, whatever.” I didn't do anything with it. Probably two months later, he stopped by my office and he said, “Hey, how's the book coming?”
I said, “There's no book.” And he said, “There's a book and, and you need to write it. Just write me one chapter.” I did that. I wrote a chapter and it was fun actually. And then I didn't do anything for several years. Then my last job in corporate America, before I started GKG, I was the head of HR for a retailer that had 1,100 locations in 47 states. So I was on an airplane a lot. I had time on my hands and I started writing and putting it down. Then I decided to start my own consulting firm and decided to finish the book. It's been a really cool project, Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Morning Doesn't Suck. Probably 10 or 15 years ago, I came up with it. I was talking to a leader and I said, “I don't really care what your job title is. If you're a leader of people, as far as I'm concerned, you really only have one job and that's to make sure Monday morning doesn't suck.” It kind of stuck and I've used it ever since. And now we're having a lot of fun with the book.
Yeah, totally. What do you hope is the big takeaway for all the managers or really anybody reading the book?
I spent 25 years, as I like to say, getting my butt kicked in corporate America, but I worked for fortune 50 companies. I worked for privately-held companies. I worked for family-owned businesses. I worked for private equity backed companies. So I had all these really cool experiences. And what I learned is that companies don't set an expectation for their leaders on how they want them to show up. All these companies are spending time working on their values and they're working on, you know, “We're gonna be the best place to work,” but it falls apart when you have bad leaders. One of the tools that we talk about in the book is this tool called lead and I've used it at several different companies.
Now I use it in my consulting practice and it stands for leadership expectations and development. It's eight simple questions that you ask of the leaders in your company. You do that, especially all the way upstream, like in the interview process, “Hey, if you're gonna join the company and work here, let us tell you what we're gonna expect of you.”
I think setting that expectation to get everybody in alignment because not thinking about that could be a detriment to your team and their growth and their potential for sure.
It makes conversations around performance, both high performance and underperformance really easy and it's not personal. We talked about bringing energy and enthusiasm to work every day is one of the bullets of lead. You know, you're walking around here like you're having the worst day of your life every day. You're a leader. Talk to us. Let's have that conversation. What can we do to help you bring a little more energy? Then it's not personal. You point back to these sets of expectations because we've let you know, that's what we're gonna look for.
So there's no surprise and it is saying, “Hey, you're not abiding by the thing we agreed to.” In your book, you also talk about your three rules. What are those three magical rules?
I'll preface this to your audience that I do use some adult words as I like to say. So brace yourself here. But having a lot of fun with the three rules and really they started out as lessons and in the book, I talk about how throughout my career, they kind of morphed into rules.
I love having the conversation. I do a lot of speaking and every now and then somebody will ask me, Hey Eric, what's your definition of an asshole? And I always tell 'em, “You know what? I actually don't know what the definition is, but I know who they are.” And every company I ever worked in and when I'm doing a speaking engagement, you can just see the heads nodding. You know, as soon as I say lesson No 3, somebody popped into their mind. And whoever popped into your mind is the person we're talking about that you need to address at your company.
Right. I don't know what it is, but I know when I see it. Exactly. Yeah. That makes total sense. People aren't gonna change. They're not gonna fundamentally change who they are. I mean, they can learn new tactics, new things, but at the core of themselves, right?
That's the second part of it. We are who we are, such as the type of person that treats people poorly, or doesn't want to get to know your team. I use the analogy in the book. Why do some people walk by the receptionist, if they have one and if they're in an office without even acknowledging them and other people stop and say, “Hey, how was your weekend?” They get to know them on a level. Some people walk by that piece of trash that's in the middle of the hall in your office. Some people stop and pick it up. That doesn't mean you're an asshole, but just we are who we are. We do what we do. If we value relationships and one of the eight questions that we ask with lead is “Do your leaders build relationships at all levels of the organization?” That's all about, do they show as much support and gratitude to the lowest level person in the company as they do the CEO? Because there is no difference. They're both contributing to the end goal. It's some simple concepts, but the three lessons which now we talk about are rules. They are so real. Have fun. Don't let underperformers show up and don't let bad leaders lead people. I can promise you, you can create a culture where Monday morning doesn't suck.
Brilliant. And in your consulting group, the GKG stands for Get, Keep and Grow essentially the talent. How are you helping your clients do that?
I was lucky enough to be the head of HR at three different companies throughout my career. At the end of the day, there are only three things that we need to help the business with getting talent, keeping talent, and growing talent. If 95% of our conversations are focused on those three things, everything else is gonna fall into place. So GKG does a number of different things. We start in the middle, right? A typical engagement is about, “Hey, if you're not gonna keep people, if you have the wrong leaders, we're gonna come in, we're gonna use this tool called lead. We're gonna assess all of your leaders.” Then, based on that, and this is the hard part, it's easy to say, “Yep, I wanna do that assessment.”
It gets real when you start doing the assessment. But if you do an honest assessment of the leaders in your company, you have to have two different outcomes. You are gonna identify some leaders who are not going to be part of your future, but you're gonna identify leaders who are gonna be a big part of your future. So at that point, the ‘get’ and the ‘grow’ come into place where we do have an executive search practice where we do a lot of search work. We do that separately too, just retain search. Then we do executive coaching and some transition services for those leaders who are high performers and for those leaders who have to figure out what they're gonna do next. And so it's really to let us come in and be your partner in the leadership assessment, identifying and addressing where you have gaps and continuing to focus on your high performers and helping them excel. So ‘get’, ‘keep’, ‘grow.’ I started the company, technically, two years ago this month. It's been a really awesome experience and we're having a lot of fun helping a lot of different companies.
Wow. Happy birthday to GTG. That's awesome to hear. When you say that I think of that scene from Office Space where the Bobs come in and they're like, “Tell me what you actually do?” When you go in there, do you get some flack from managers? Were they, like, “I know I'm kind of a dick.”
It's really interesting you ask that because I can typically get a pretty good sense of whether the person is threatened? like, “Who are you? Why are you asking me these questions?” If you're confident in who you are, if you're an engaging leader, you should be excited to talk to anyone. I would guess in most cases that's how it shows up on a daily basis. Like, I'm having a meeting with the team and my boss or some other leader walks in the room, and instead of saying, “Oh, hey, cool, Ben's here. Come on in. What's going on? What, you know, what can we do for you?” It's, “This is my team. Why are you here?” And so there is probably a little bit of a correlation, but what I find more often than not is we sit down with a CEO or a senior leader and we start assessing their team. And there are eight questions that we ask. We get to about question four and you can see the lightbulb and sometimes the lightbulb is, “Holy crap. Ben really is a high performer for us. He's doing all these things.” Unfortunately, more often than not, it's, “Oh boy.” And then I'll always say, “Yeah, we still have four more questions. So we're, we're not quite done yet.” We kind of know what we need to focus on.
Yeah. Makes total sense. And previously we had a guest on just talking a bit about the culture for recruiting and retention. So what are some ways that you've helped your clients or you've seen other companies improve their culture?
One of the things I like to talk about is the concept that performance management is not a one-time event. A lot of people, when they hear performance management, they think of two things - the annual review process or what do we do about underperformers.
Here's what makes us different. Here's why Monday morning doesn't suck at our company. And then you hire them. What are you doing during that onboarding process to make that connection to the brand and the story? So many companies hire somebody and they say they're coming in with eight years of experience. They know what they're doing. So, welcome to the team. Here's your computer. I'll meet you for lunch. Here's your work. And they're writing code within two minutes of starting. What if you took a day or two and actually told them everything there is to know about the company. What's important, what we stand for, the leadership values, etc. You have to wait a couple of days before they start, but when they start, they're so much more embedded in what they're trying to accomplish. And I think the miss is that companies don't take the time and recruiters don't take the time during the interview. They jump right into these interview questions. Tell me about this. Tell me about that.
I'm either a really good or a really bad interviewer, but when I interview someone, I probably talk 75% of the time. And the candidate talks 25% of the time, because I'm trying to gauge if they are a cultural fit. When I ask them a question, what's their reaction to that question? So I'll ask candidates, “Hey, you're a leader. What have you done throughout your career to make sure Monday morning doesn't suck?” And if they're confused by the question threatened by the question, and don't want to answer the question, I got my answer. They've probably never heard that question before, but if they're like, “Huh, that's a really interesting question, here's what I try to do.” Then we have this really engaging conversation. Spend less time, assume the resume is right.
So building culture just starts from the people you're bringing in. And making sure that they're jiving with everything you got going on.
So I mentioned my last corporate experience. We were a retailer. We ran 1,100 retail locations and we were in a very enviable position because we were a company that came together because a private equity group had bought four different companies in this space. Our job was to consolidate them into one new organization. That included opening a brand-new corporate headquarters. In every single interview, we talked about two things and that was lead and the three rules. Well, they were lessons at the time. And that was the experience where they became rules. I would sit and I would say, “Hey, if you're gonna join the company as a leader, here's what we expect of you. Create a culture that high performers want to be a part of, bringing energy and enthusiasm to work every day.”
I won't read all eight of them. Maybe we'll get into that later, but I would ask these eight questions and then I'd say, “Hey, if you agree to do that as a leader, here's what we agree to do together. Believe that it's okay to have fun at work, accept that poor performing employees don't quit voluntarily and believe that assholes are assholes and they don't change. So we're gonna have fun. We're not gonna let poor performers work here. We're not gonna let bad leaders lead people. Let's see what that company looks like.” And it was the greatest corporate culture I've ever worked on. Within nine months of opening a brand-new corporate headquarters, we were voted one of the top five places to work in that city and we hadn't even been there for a year. And in our first 12 months, we had 0% voluntary turnover.
Now we made some bad hiring decisions. We had to get rid of some people. We didn't have zero turnover in total, but people who joined and then left said, “This isn't what I thought it was gonna be” - 0%. And those are the things I'm probably most proud of. So what we're trying to do now is take that, because we saw that it can work and help companies say, Hey, don't underestimate the value of setting up that expectation on the front end. When your leaders know how you expect them to show up, then they can self-select and understand that bringing energy and enthusiasm is all about that. If not, then this isn't the right place for them to work. As simple as this sounds since it’s another shameless plug for the book, if every single leader really truly believed that their job was to make sure Monday morning doesn't suck, workplace culture would look a lot different in this world.
On that, how to have fun at work, how are some good managers able to do that while still getting things done?
I try to keep things as simple as I can. I don't think it's that complicated. I think the easiest way is to hire high performers and let them do what you hired them to do. I think it gets confusing or it gets muddied when, you know, you will never create a culture that high performers want to be a part of if you let poor performers show up every day. I have this concept of address the one or lose the nine, and my belief is on every team of 10 people, you've got one person who's just not getting the job done. Doesn't mean they need to be fired, but they're just not getting the job done. Might end up being fired but if you don't address that behavior, you're gonna lose the other nine people.
Three of them are gonna walk across the street to your competitor. Three of them are going to model that behavior, whatever that behavior is, and three of them are gonna quit. They just never give you their notice. And every company has employees who quit them, but they still show up every day. I always ask a leader, who's your highest performing person in this department and they say, “Billy.” What if every single employee was as good as Billy? Well, that's not realistic. Why not? Well, that's not really even possible. Why not? Like, yes it is. There's more talent available right now than we've ever seen before. The only reason you don't have high performers in every position in your company is because you don't have the courage to address the underperformers and that's it.
I would like to believe that people who worked for me over the 25 years who were high performers would say something like, “I thought Eric was a good boss,” or “I'd like to work for Eric again,” or whatever. And I think if you asked people who were not high performers who worked for me, if they thought I was a good boss, they'd say something like, “Nah, I didn't really care for him that much.” I don't think that's arrogance. I think that's leadership. You have to be okay with both of those. Because if you spend 80% of your time not addressing the underperformer, your high performers will eventually leave you in one way or another. And so the best way to have fun at work, to make sure Monday morning doesn't suck, is to hire people who know what they're doing, get out of their way, let 'em do what you hired them to do.
But most importantly, don't make them work with people who aren't getting the job done because they log onto Zoom or they walk into the conference room. They're like, “God, I really like Ben, but I cannot believe that Mary still works here.” Everybody knows Mary needs to go away. She's disrespectful. She always hijacks the meeting, she doesn’t get her job done. And day after day after day, it keeps you from having fun. Right? Then you're like, “Well, I don't know. I thought this was gonna be a fun place to work, but it's not really that great.”
I think that those people can be very poisonous to a group, even just a department or a company. And like you said, people just start modeling that behavior and that becomes problematic for those high performers because they're like, “why am I doing all this great work when the rest of the team's not.” I was expecting you to say the fun of a pizza party, but what you said is more insightful.
Funny you say that. I worked at a tech company that was a really fun place to work. We used to do a lot of tours and people would say, “How do I create this?” I would always tell people, “Listen, we had cool things, right? We had beer in the break room, we had free pop and we had you bring your dog to work. All these things that made it this cool place to work.” And in departments that had a great leader, it was a really cool place to work. And in departments that had a bad leader, it was not a great place to work. And it didn't matter that you had free pop and it didn't matter that you had beer in the break room and I didn't care that I could bring my dog anymore.
In fact, I stopped bringing him because I don't even like working here anymore because of the leadership of that function. And so I love to have the conversation of having fun at work is about pizza parties and half Fridays and going to the ball game every Wednesday. It isn't. It is about making sure that your leaders know how to create a culture that high performers want to be a part of. And then you can either give free pizza away every day or not. And if you do great, but the employees aren't gonna stay or go because of the pizza they're gonna stay or go because of who their leader is. t
I think that's a very simple takeaway, but that's giving those high performers room to do what they need to do and getting more capacity around them for sure. It makes total sense. What should companies be on the lookout for to spot these bad measures?
Again, in the book I talk about, “Hey, use this tool lead as it's written.” I've used it in four different companies that were in four different industries - publicly traded, privately held, whatever - or come up with a set of expectations that are better or that you like better for your company. It doesn't matter what they are. And so you establish, “Hey, here's what's important to us in a leader.” Again, mine are very simple. I'll read them really quickly because they don't take long to go through. Right. And these are ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. So if you're listening right now, think about an employee or a leader, whoever just came to your mind, and answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. As I read these, the first one is do your leaders create a culture that high performers want to be a part of? Do your leaders bring energy and enthusiasm to work every day?
Do your leaders support the direction of the company with no hidden agendas? Do your leaders build relationships at all levels of the organization? Do your leaders manage the performance of their team? Are your leaders decisive and make a tough call when it needs to be made? Do your leaders consistently deliver results and do your leaders help the company grow by developing people? Now nobody's ever heard those and said, “Wow, you know, Eric, how'd you come up with that? That's really revolutionary.” It's like, “No, it's super simple.” But I will tell you whether the CEO or the leader that I'm talking to thinks this person's an asshole by definition or not. Listen, there are some great tools out there - StrengthsFinder is a great tool, Myers-Briggs has been around forever - built by PhDs with science behind them.
Mine is just 25 years of watching different people behave in the corporate setting and saying, “What are the things that really good leaders do?” Because it's about the connection to people instead of who I am from a DNA standpoint, it's a different set of questions. I encourage everyone to obviously either reach out and I'd love to help you or get the book or think about what we expect of our leaders. Then ask yourself, do all of our leaders do this right every single day? If not, then you need to address it. Challenges. You have 10 leaders that you assessed. Four of them aren't doing it. Three of them are kind of doing it. Two of them are really doing it great. But a year from now are those four still there? A month from now are those four still there? That's the real value of saying, “ I am not going to tolerate bad leaders anymore.”
You have to have those tough conversations and really just do that foundational understanding to really get the company to a better spot.
But if you're honest and genuine, have respectful conversations and have a tool like lead to say, “Hey, Ben, you know, for three months now we've been talking about building relationships at all levels of the organization. You know, Tom has tried to get on your calendar 14 times and you've canceled on him, help us understand how you think you're building relationships at all levels of the organization when you keep canceling with the key people that you need to meet with,” then it's not personal, it's, well, what's the answer?
That doesn't mean you have to have these screaming matches. People always think terminations are gonna be this huge blow-up and they're gonna come across a desk at me. And it's almost never like that, especially if you've built that relationship as a leader and you've had those consistent conversations. You're giving feedback, both good and bad, daily, weekly, and monthly. It sounds kind of simple and it is. The whole point of the book is not to overcomplicate this thing called leadership. It's just not as hard as so many companies make it sometimes.
Setting that expectation and having that consistent feedback, then it's not a huge surprise because you're like, “Hey, we have talked about this.” That makes total sense. Now there's an old saying that always pops up that people don't quit jobs, they quit managers. So how much truth is there to that?
Honestly, I think there is 99% truth to that. I think there are some rare situations where somebody actually has a really good relationship with their boss and that they just had an opportunity that their current company couldn't offer them or a relocation or “Hey, my spouse is moving, unfortunately, I gotta leave.” Most of the time it is about that. What blows me away is if you look at any kind of workplace survey over the last 10, 15, 20 years, No 1 used to be pay and now pay is somewhere like three, four or five, depending on the survey. It's not the reason people are leaving. There's another saying that I wish I would've come up with, but I didn't, that culture eats strategy for breakfast.
I think that is so true too. And I think those two are very similar. If I'm a high performer knowing I have all these options, why would I work somewhere where there's no energy or enthusiasm? Why would I work somewhere where the senior leadership team's not engaged? Why would I work somewhere where the senior leadership team walks around looking like their dog died every day. What's going on at this company? How come nobody's excited to work here? Right. One of my favorite sayings is a fish rots from the head, meaning it starts at the top. Your senior leadership team has to be the one who is setting that tone. Every level of leadership has to be the one setting that tone for the organization. I think companies have to understand this whole conversation about the Great Resignation.
I love it. I don't think it's a Great Resignation. I think it's a mass exodus of poor leadership that I'm just not gonna tolerate anymore, I have too many options. And if I told you four times I was taking the afternoon off to go to my daughter's dance recital, you called me six times and texted me four times while I was at the recital. We had talked about it. I'm just not gonna put up with that anymore. I don't have to. It all comes together, right? Quitting companies, not their bosses, not companies and culture eating strategy for breakfast and the fish rots from the head, I think they're all the same conversation. I think we're starting to see it in this Great Resignation. Again, I have my own take on what that really is. What's really taking place right now.
What is really taking place?
Like I said, I think it's this mass exodus of not tolerating bad leadership. For whatever reason, maybe I felt like I had to, or I didn't have a lot of choices or whatever. I also love the conversation about these multi-generations in the workplace causing all the problems. We have people who are 22 and 62 working together and that doesn't work. I've never bought into that because I think people want three things. When they come to work, they want a cool place with cool projects and cool people. I define that in the book as a cool place, it's a brand or it's a product, or it might be the office if we're back in an office that there's something about it that makes me proud to say, “Hey, I work here.”
I like wearing my t-shirt on the weekend and people ask me, “Hey, do you work there?” Cool projects make me proud. That's about the work, right? Is the work engaging and rewarding? Am I recognized for my contributions? Do I see myself spending several years here if I want to? Then cool people have to be the company's commitment, not to let assholes be leaders. Again, I try to keep things super simple. So I love to ask leaders, “Hey, tomorrow, just ask one of your employees. ‘Is this a cool place with cool projects and cool people?’.” You don't even have to define it for them. Let them define it for you. But I think leaders get really good conversation and really good feedback and actionable feedback. If you ask those three simple questions and the answers are ‘no’, ‘no’, and ‘no’, what an awesome starting point, right? Well, now we know what we need to focus on. So let's start working on it. Right.
Burn it all down. Start again. We talked about high performers, so how else can these companies attract high performers apart from culture and apart from hiring good people? Now it's a really competitive landscape out there for jobs and a lot of people available to work. What are some companies doing to attract those top performers?
So how are you approaching the interview, press, whatever? What a high performer's gonna wanna know is, “Why should I work for your company? I have four interviews today. You tell me.” That goes back to this. Imagine if you went to an interview and the interviewer said, “Hey, let me tell you what we do here to make sure Monday morning doesn't suck. Right? We have three beliefs. It's okay to have fun at work, poor-performing employees don’t quit and assholes don’t change.
You spell out that this is what we take very seriously. But I think the really important part, and there's a whole chapter in the book around it, does your candidate experience match your employee experience? And what I mean by that is you sold them on a dream and a vision in the interview. They're three days in a week and they got to peek behind the curtain. Now does it hold up to what you told them it was gonna be? And that breaks down in a lot of companies. So, you told them, “Hey, yeah, this is a great place to work. We do all these cool things.” Four days in and their new boss hasn't even talked to them. Walked by them six times in their first three days and didn't even acknowledge that they were there. It's like, “Well, this isn't a great place.”
I just started and I don't even know where the bathrooms are. My boss is just walking by me without even checking in. This is fairly controversial and I get into some really spirited debates about this with people and that’s you can't teach somebody to be a good leader. I think you're either a good leader or you're not. That doesn't mean you can't learn and grow as an adult or change or take feedback, but you're either the type of person who will make a new employee the priority so that their first week, month, quarter, is an incredible experience. Or you’re the type of person who's gonna show them where their desk is. You can't teach that. We are who we are. It kind of goes back to that conversation.
Yeah. And having that connection between what you are saying is happening and what is actually happening. You can be like, “Here are our values,” but nobody's doing that, nobody's living up to that. So then you’ll just be hitting the road. With the clients you're working with, how are you all leveraging automation? Are you doing any automation to help them do more with less?
Our main focus at GKG is coming in to make sure they have the right leaders. And a lot comes out of that. Sometimes it's software that they could add or a process they could improve or a program that you know has been successful at other companies. But I have another chapter in the book, Start With The Leaders, and our belief at GKG is, “Listen, we can help you fix anything.” I mean, 25 years in corporate America, lots of different experiences, I've seen a lot of things, happy to leverage all that, but only if you're willing to start with the leaders because that’s where it breaks down. Automation's actually a great example. Do you know that many companies spent millions of dollars integrating Salesforce, they have 362% turnover in their sales organization and Salesforce doesn't add any value because it's a tool that nobody's really using the way it's intended to use.
I had a client who really wanted me to help build a new onboarding program. I said I was happy to, but we have to assess the leaders first because if we spend a month, two months, three months, building this awesome onboarding program, but your leadership team isn't gonna support it, embrace it, foster it, then it's wasted effort. I made the mistake of doing that first in my very first consulting engagement and then saying, “We'll go back and do the leaders.” Exactly what I was worried about was gonna happen, happened. And I just said, “I'm never gonna do that again.” So now I'm, I'm happy to say, “Listen, if all you want is the program. I'm not your guy. I know a lot of people who are, let me send you some names, happy to refer somebody. If you wanna start with your leaders, then build the program, we can help you have a world-class onboarding program.” So that's, I guess, our niche or our focus. We start with the leaders because everything else is dependent on that.
Start with the people, then get the programs and processes in place because then it's just good money after bad money. For sure, So speaking of you personally, I mean author, now a president of a consulting company, doing a podcast, a great leader’s lead. How are you managing all that?
It's been quite an awesome journey. I dreamed about taking this leap and doing my own thing for, I say, 15 years. If I'm honest, it's probably the entire 25 years that I was in corporate America and I always had a reason not to. This is gonna sound a little corny probably, but there are all these inspirational messages out there and stuff you see on Instagram, Facebook, whatever, and it’s “Do what you love.” You'll never have a bad day kind of concept. And I'll tell you I'm busier than I ever was. My biggest job I had in corporate America and I'm having more fun than I've ever had. I used to have a framed print in my office that said, “Do what makes you happy.”
It's such a simple concept. If we all just do what makes us happy, the stuff we spend most of our time worrying about isn't gonna seem so important anymore. I also have a great team. I've got some people that are absolutely a big part of this and I couldn't be doing it without them. And so, you know, team effort and having a lot of fun. I think also when you're really focused on something that you're passionate about and that you've seen work, accepting that not everybody is gonna be interested in it and that's okay. But I think the time management is just coming from a pure place of my goal, my dream that we are gonna change workplace culture one Monday morning at a time.
And that is not an easy task and there are so many bad leaders out there that need to move on to their next life's adventure. I don't think I'll ever be done with it. There is no ending point to it. So the challenge is like, “You know what, let's see how much change we can influence.” The companies we've worked with so far that have immediately seen this change because of the leaders that they either acknowledged were the right leaders and they've really invested in them or the leaders that they've acknowledged have been doing a lot of damage, they finally had the courage and the stomach to address them instantly. Within a week, within two weeks, it feels different. The engagement of the team is different and in a very short period of time, the results improve.
So it’s a lot of fun. One of my sayings is there's nothing more rewarding than helping somebody you lead achieve one of their goals. As a consultant, there's nothing more rewarding than helping a client you're working on improve their performance or achieve their goals. And so it's really been a very cool experience.
Awesome to hear. So what’s next for you? What's on the horizon?
A couple of people have said, “Hey when's the second book coming out?” And I said, “Well, it only took me eight years to write my first book. So I'll get back to you on that.” But right now we've got some great clients that we do a lot of executive search work for again. So cool to make a connection between a great leader who’s got this awesome skillset and a company that has an opening, then it comes together.
So we're doing a lot of search work. We're doing a lot of consulting projects around lead and having fun with the book. I do a lot of speaking engagements, so I'd love to come and speak to your company. Somebody on LinkedIn referred to the book as a two glasses of wine read, and I took that as a real compliment. So it's not a long book. You'll get through it in a couple of hours. I didn't wanna write a 400-page business book because I don't think people ever finish those. It's a fun read and I use a lot of naughty words and some things that hopefully will make you laugh, but, hopefully, you'll learn something. I'd love a chance to come in and, and work with any company on assessing their leaders and really have a lot of fun when I get a chance to be a keynote at a big event and, and just spend an hour talking about how to create this culture that leads to a Monday morning that doesn't suck. And we have a lot of fun in our speaking engagements too.
We'll be sure to put links up to the book. So any managers or leaders listening to this right now, pick up the book, fix your culture, make sure Monday doesn't suck. Have some fun at work and it'll be great. So, Eric Harkins, thanks so much for being on Get More Done. Pleasure talking with you. I hope you have a good rest of your day.
Yeah, you too. Thanks. Cheers.
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