The COVID-19 pandemic may have impaled our businesses, but that does not mean that we can’t still strive for growth. The best way to do that is by adapting to the current situation, which loudly calls for remote work. In this episode, Jesse Cole chats with Robert Glazer, the CEO of Acceleration Partners, about how he is leading his company during these uncertain times. He shares with us how he has been maintaining a close-knit culture and then highlights the critical role communication plays as well as teaching speed to your company. Looking forward, Robert also shares his thoughts on how the current situation will change the future for businesses.
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Leading In Uncertain Times With Robert Glazer
We welcome back Bob Glazer, the CEO of Acceleration Partners, named as one of the best places to work. He was at top episode, episode 165. If anyone’s prime to handle the virus in the craziest time, it is you. I wanted to check in and see what you’re doing differently. I’ve seen one of your posts and you called this wartime. I want to see how you guys have evolved.
I am thinking about you, I hope you guys are doing well. I know this threat hits you directly, but you still got the same outfit on and in the same scene so keep it going. It’s been a crazy time, but we had a couple of things work in our favor. Probably it’s more out of luck, but we were already set up fully for remote work with all the security protocols. Even in the training and systems around it, a lot of people have been forced into it. They don’t know how to do onboarding and the other stuff so we were fortunate in that respect. We also work in online marketing, helping to connect supply and demand on a partnership on a performance basis. Nowadays, people still want to grow but budgets are slashed, that model is fairly attractive, but we’re not immune. We’ve got partners in the travel space and other spaces whose business has come to a halt. We have other people who are doing great, but they are out of products. It’s been crazy and chaotic. It at least felt like years.
You’ve become an expert at working remotely while everyone’s still figuring it out. We’re doing our daily lunch calls and happy hours and trying to have fun with our group in a different way. What have you been advising companies to be able to connect, while people are working remotely?
I have been asked to do some webinar and we wrote an article. A lot of the reason why our people chose work from homework is because they have families or kids and they wanted that flexibility. No one was prepared to work from home with a 1 and 3-year-old hanging off of them. That is different. You can see the ages of people’s kids is a big difference. Mine are all over ten and they’re much more self-entertained. My sister’s got an eighteen-month-old and he can watch a movie, but he doesn’t sit still. That’s tough. The three main things that we’ve been advising most people on first is to keep a schedule. Put all that stuff in your calendar. Schedule a meeting and break time because the environment is not going to change at all.
It’s important to put those changes in like, “This is when I’m going outside. This is when I’m going to eat.” We say to make everything video too. Even if it’s a five-minute chat with someone, use video as the default so that you can see their face and understand the reaction. The one positive change that this has made for us, and a lot of our clients over the years was we’re on video, but they’re not. They want to call in, but they were uncomfortable. It’s getting everyone over 40 comfortable with video. I would say to use videos at default for five-minute calls, keep a real schedule, then create some actual distance between your physical workspace and your home.
People struggle with the boundaries. If it’s an office, do your work in there. Don’t take the computer out and make it clear to your family or the people that are with you that when you’re in there, it’s work time. When you’re out there, it’s not. If you’re in an apartment in New York City and it’s a card table in the corner of the room, that’s still a workspace. With that, a lot of people need a virtual drive to and from work. You need to decompress. I struggle with this normally. If I shift from 6:00 podcast right to dinner without five seconds to break down, it’s hard. We grab the dog, take him for a walk and have that time. I would encourage people not to bring the technology into their bedroom. People say they will work more if they don’t create that separation.
We tried to do walks after each call. Unfortunately, I’m the only one working at the stadium. I walk around the field, but everyone else will walk separate. It has been helpful. I’ve got a question in regards to culture. You’ve been known to have a great culture. It’s different when you’re apart. What are some of the practices or things that you’re doing to build that close-knit culture where everyone knows they’re there for each other?
We reinforce our values a lot. We reinforce our vision and where we’re going and there’s a ton of communication. The values are what drive it in terms of, “These are the behaviors.” We only have three core values, own it, embrace relationships, and excel and improve. Everyone should be able to say them as fast as I said them without looking down at some index card or some rubric. We talk about those all the time. That’s how we want people to behave and we try to reinforce that. To me, a great culture has a clear vision, real values, and it has goals and targets that it’s trying to achieve in service of the vision, but it’s meeting those by being true to the values. That’s the core three. I would say it’s modified by consistency and clarity.[bctt tweet=”Great cultures have a consistent and clear vision, as well as targets and values.” via=”no”]
Great cultures have a consistent vision, targets, values and have a clear vision, targets and values. It’s the ambiguity that causes a lot of things. I say this a lot and our team crunches the data. In some of our client service roles, we took about 1.7% of the people that applied would end up with the job. We are a great culture for a specific type of person that we’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out who works well in that. It’s like colleges. There are big, little, liberal arts, city and specialized. They’re not all the right fit for the right person. You go around, take a tour and try to figure out which one you’ll like. We think we’re a great culture for people who share our belief in remote work, our values. We want to be in client service in certain things. That does not mean that’s right for everyone.
The last time we hired full-time, we did an ad that said, “Do not apply for this job unless or why you shouldn’t work for us.” We interviewed everyone on our staff and said, “Who should not work for our company?” We had all them saying all these things. I was going the opposite like you and I love that. We talked about where we’re going, the vision. This is interesting to me. Everyone has a plan. Sometimes they don’t share it as much, but at wartime, it sometimes changes. It’s more of a short-term. Days feel like weeks and weeks feel like months. I feel like it’s been a year since this all started. How has the vision changed? I’ve heard Pat Lencioni talk about this, a rallying cry and we shared that with our people of where we’re going. Has your vision at all changed or how you’ve communicated it?
It is interesting because I am used to living in the long-term world and thinking about all of our decisions from a long-term perspective and not being shortsighted. I’ve had to completely inverse that. For a lot of businesses that can’t figure out the 90 days, there might not be a long-term. We’ve reoriented ourselves. There are different needs. There’s marketing. Almost everything can’t be business as usual because it would be tone-deaf. It wouldn’t work. We’re very short-term focused these days, but the balance on that is, how do we feel about this in the long run or when we come out of it? It doesn’t deviate from our core values. We had a discussion with our team where a brand who’s got some real fundamentals, can they pay us in 180 days? How do we handle that?
They have been good partners. We think that there’s a huge opportunity coming out of that. We can take a two short-term approach with that. That’s the balance that we’re trying to manage, but it requires adjusting to a speed that most of us have never managed before and therefore, it requires a lot of communication. The one thing is if you’ve heard feedback from team members. I’m not sure everyone acclimated to what was going on in the world early on and realize how severe it was. I think they were a little in a bubble around that, but saying, “You told us X two weeks ago and now we’re hearing this two weeks later,” We’re like, “It’s two years. “
That’s the one thing we’ve been honest and direct with people around, what we know and don’t know, what we’re dealing with and, “Here’s what we know as of today,” but something could come at us tomorrow that changes this. Early in this process, we were honest with people about what we thought the severity, impact and depth of this was and that people should buckle up. It was a little traumatizing for our employees because we were being honest with them. We were talking about what we were looking at with the tools on the table, depending on how bad it is. No one knew whether 50% of their clients were going to leave in a week. Think back when knife was falling, I don’t think anyone knew that.
What happened was their spouses, partners and friends all started to get laid off, furloughed, blindsided. They hadn’t heard anything and we got a lot of feedback from people afterward. At first, they were like, “Why are you torturing me with all this reality?” We then started hearing from people that they appreciated that and they understood it. Their partner has no notice, no communication and they are blindsided. I feel better without approach. It follows this Stockdale Paradox of, “We’re going to get through this and it’s going to be the defining moment of our company. There is a future. However, it’s not going to be pretty and I’ll give you realities that we all have to deal with.”
It’s tough, the call that I had to share the financial situation that we were in and got to not letting anyone go. It’s hard. I go, “We only have a little bit of a runway. Here’s where we are at. There are no gains. There’s no revenue.” It was tough, but I feel sometimes sharing that and the transparency is the best thing to do. The clarity sometimes isn’t clarity of exactly what’s going to happen. It’s the clarity that, “We don’t know, but we’re going to keep talking to you.” I’m sure that’s the communication.
There may be some things that I have to do in the short-term that aren’t pleasant but I need a job for you to come back to.” I think a bunch of leaders are going to struggle during this is you need a rubric there. I said this to my team, “All the easy decisions are gone. Those are things that seemed easy in the old world. Every decision now is difficult. It’s harder now.” If you look at where the countries are, if you don’t make hard decisions, soon you only have hard decisions. These doctors in a hospital in Italy deciding who gets a ventilator. If you don’t have a rubric, if you don’t have a core set of values to decide who gets a ventilator and you wait and both people don’t get it, that’s not a great outcome. We came out with a core set of five principles during this crisis and they are hierarchical. We shared them with people and we said, “This is our operating rubric and it goes in order. If we have to choose, there’s always 1 over 2 or 2 over 3, but you can apply any test decision that we make to this rubric and this is how we’re going to hold ourselves accountable.”
For us, we always kept it simple as “fans first” but you’re right, sometimes that can get more complicated. You need to have a little bit more details.
Right now, fans first could bankrupt the company.
Fan first is refunding every single person and the reality is Major League Baseball is not doing it. They’re getting ripped apart left and right. We’ve made a commitment to do it. We’re going to give other options than credit.
You could get creative and go to fans and say, “We can do this.” I’ve seen some businesses who’ve taken a hard-line approach and then some had said, “You can do this, but it’s going to hurt our business and we’d love your support in this.” It’s how you do it.
One thing you talked about a few times is speed. This is something that a lot of companies haven’t done until now. How has speed been a part of what you do? How do you teach speed in a company?
I don’t teach speed. You teach that making the decision and maybe not being right is more important than not making the decision at all. It’s that ventilator analogy of, “I know this is messy. It’s not as perfect. Remember excel and improve excellent. This is not as fully thought out as we would normally do, but if we don’t do something, it’s going to be worse,” with whatever that genre is. It’s a decision-making thing that people have to get used to. Some costs and realizing that whatever I thought was true on Tuesday is not true on Friday. Back to the Stockdale, what’s the reality? Address the reality and deal with it.
People that are struggling in this personally and professionally, they’re living back in January. They want it to be January like, “If we only had done X or Y,” or whatever. That doesn’t help you at all. It’s this thing that Jim Collins discovered, which is to be positive and optimistic about what comes next, but there are realities that you have to deal with. Ignoring those, I think that some of the most optimistic CEOs are going to lead their companies off the cliff because they’re going to, “I don’t want to lay off anyone,” as their revenue is plummeting and soon, there’s no company for any of those people to come back to.
You’re killing me a little bit somewhere on an optimism. That’s my word for the year. I’m that optimistic leader.[bctt tweet=”Some of the most optimistic CEOs are going to lead their companies off the cliff.” via=”no”]
You can have the optimism, that’s the harder part to teach. I said this because she was asking me. I was like, “You can have the optimism as long as you have the realism.”
You have to balance it. One thing that we’re asking is, “What would it do to kill our business?” This is potentially killing our business. I’m talking to a lot of live sporting events, live events, and they’re like, “Eventually we’ll be back.” We’re asking the question, “What type of experience could we deliver that would be better than an actual live Bananas experience?” That is hard because everything’s built-in that for us. That’s the question, and then how quickly can we get 1.0 out and then 2.0?
I’m guessing that’ll be a huge part of your business. A lot of things that people are saying in retail are, “This is speeding up the process of Darwinism in retail for the guys who been dying slowly for five years. They’re dying faster.”
It’s making you diversify and looking at different opportunities. We’re seeing it as a win, but we’ve got to get to it. The key is the speed. I don’t know if many people have described you as a futurist, but I think you look into the future of what leadership is. You are ahead of the time. I don’t think many companies can be the best place to work by being completely remote, which you have done. I’d love to see out of this, what do you see in the future that is going to change? We talked about the new normal, but what do you see is going to change that we should dig in on now?
I wrote a piece where I looked at it by generation of what I thought was going to change. I’m happy that it goes through that a little bit. You want to link to it as a Forbes article because there’s a whole bunch of things that will change depending on the rubric. For Boomers, you’re going to see more coming online and more getting comfortable with some of these tools, shopping and delivery. It’s going to make them more of an online presence. They maybe wouldn’t have watched an online video thing before, but they’re set up on Zoom and they’ve been to a Zoom birthday party for one of their grandkids and otherwise. It’s a way to become connected. That’s a big change for Boomers.
The much-unheralded Gen X, as I said, they have been through three catastrophes, the beginning of career ten years in and then prime of career. I think those that get through it are going to not want to go back to war. They’re either going to think about what they want to do. They’re going to be forced to change or not change. A lot is going to go into teaching and coaching and otherwise saying, “I’m retiring after I get through this battle and we’ll move on the next one.” The Millennials are interesting. They’re going to flip a little bit towards security. The job-hopping is unfair to put on them because the system is changing. There was no long-term employment and they’ve been able to move on and do something different. They’ve also all been sold this college thing of going to college and all will be great and they have a lot of debt. You’re going to see the Millennials a little more focused on security and stability, which is something that they have not valued and a little more on savings. That may change how they purchase.
Gen Z, which is in the work, is going to cause the bursting of the Higher Ed bubble that we’ve been expecting for a while because they’re not going to take on the debt. They’re going to see their parents’ savings had been damaged. They’re hearing from the Millennials that, “The $200,000 that I did and went to get this degree and didn’t know what I want to do and I had a loan is crushing me. I can’t get married. I can’t buy a house.” Because of this, all the learning that’s being given away for free around the world and all that stuff, it’s going to change education finally. The Harvards and these guys, they’ll always get their people, but I would not want to be an overpriced liberal arts school without an endowment. It doesn’t have a strong value proposition. Most of my students come on debt financing because I think we’re finally going to reach that point.
What’s one quick win that if you’re a leader that you could do differently to build success in this environment?
One quick win is probably to improve your communication ability, both as a group and on one-to-one. You’re probably having to communicate a lot more so you’re going to get a lot of real feedback around what you can do. One of the things I’ve learned by mistake and other people is we’ve operated on a rubric of no promises. Particularly with the speed, we’ve been careful to not make any promises because things are changing too much and you set yourself up to let someone down for the wrong reason. It’s hard. That’s the thing that you’re like, “How do you be inspirational, motivational or not making these promises and guarantees?” In a lot of businesses, whether they get the loan or not is going to be a huge difference. It’s dangerous to say, “I won’t do this,” or “I will do this.”
You can’t guarantee anything. I get asked, “How’s Opening Night looking?” I said, “We will have an Opening Night, I’m just not sure when it’s going to happen.” You’ve become such an amazing communicator, Friday forwards every week, you are consistently communicating. That’s something that you’ve done great with your team, with the values and I appreciate you sharing so much. A lot of people need more wisdom with people that are doing it every day like you. Thanks for coming on and sharing.
Thank you. I am happy to join you at any time. I’m excited to see what you innovate too. I’m guessing even when the baseball starts back up, you will have figured out a more multimedia experience or something that you’re light years ahead of your competitors.
We’re working on it. We’re testing things every day. I appreciate you and you have great stuff as always. Thank you.
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