Leadership + People: Episode 18 - Carla Meine - Part 2 of 2

In this episode Carla Meine expounds on the need to hire great people and how to use measuring, proper management systems and technology to help them succeed. She explains how letting people go was a favor to them and the company, as well as the hiring process she used to find those who had not only the education but the skills, beliefs and heart necessary.

Show Notes

  • How networking and surrounding yourself with the right people can provide support and learning opportunities [01:18]
  • The ways that social media platforms can better connect customers to you and each other [04:54]
  • Becoming a ‘customer obsessed company’ [07:36]
  • Measuring success in ourselves and employees [09:34]
  • Why shooting the ‘dogs’ at the bottom and unleashing the tigers at the top, encourages the herd to move forward [13:34]
  • What it takes to make it as a small business: vision and great people [14:52]
  • Let go! Set your priorities and then allow other skilled employees to take the lead [18:25]
  • Techniques to sift through those who know how to interview, to find those who really have what it takes [20:34]
  • Systems for managers to be accountable for their teams while mentoring individuals for success [22:26]
  • An attractive company for potential buyers goes beyond the money. It needs excited employees, great technology and expertise [23:55]

Show Audio

Show References

  • None of Note
Podcast-Episode-Art-18

This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: January 23, 2018

Show Transcript

[BEGINS] 00:00

Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies.  And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

HOST – JESS LARSEN: Today we’ve got part 2 of our episode with Carla Meine.

GUEST – CARLA MEINE: “I used to say I could just have great people and I would build an amazing company. But what I learned is now you have to have great technology to support those people or they’ll leave.”

00:40 JL: Carla, thanks for making time.

CARLA MEINE: Thanks.

00:42JL: So in part 1 if you missed it you should really go back and hear about all of her journey and inventing O’Currance. The inbound…

CARLA MEINE: Call center yeah.

00:50 JL: …call center. Very successful exit. Investors 20x their money. And then building Ideal Shape and now selling that.

CARLA MEINE: Yep.

01:00 JL: Let’s talk about that for just a minute.

CARLA MEINE: Ok

01:03 JL: Ideal Shape. You know in our last episode we talked about, you know it was a whole different business environment…

CARLA MEINE: Right.

01:05 JL: …now that social media existed and things like that.

CARLA MEINE: Right. Exactly.

01:08 JL: What about making connections? Like networking in the business environment. You know you’re such a successful business person already.  But you are starting something new.

CARLA MEINE: Right.

Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

01:18 JL: What …you know, now starting this business, who did you want to go meet? What kind of connections were you trying to make when you’re CEO of this next business?

CARLA MEINE: Well I think it was the same thing as with the call center business. Even though it was a different business and it was online, I think those things where different. I still wanted to connect with other CEOs because it’s a lonely position. I mean, even with my investors you really can’t talk to your investors about a lot of different things. There was only so much I could do, only so much I could do: I could talk with my husband. You couldn’t talk with your VPs and that group about really somethings that are difficult at this. And certainly can’t say “man I’m really struggling”. You know if you ever got to that point. So I always was the one to seek out other CEOS. And then we would have these great conversations about “oh yeah!” I remember one time I was set up with Marilyn Tang in a chamber meeting for mentors. And she’d been in business 30 years and she ran warehousing where they, you know, they design warehouses. I thought I can’t really learn a lot from her. What can she… And I spent that year with her. We’d meet once a month for lunch and then we’d go to a meeting at the chamber. And that was one of the best years. Because I would say “ well, I’m really struggling with this”. “Ah yeah, that’s easy”. You know. “I’ve been there done that”. And she’d be telling me stuff and I’m like “Ohhhh”. “Don’t worry”. “Don’t get upset”. You know. “Don’t do this”. “It’s not worth it”. And things like that. And so I was like; okay I need to meet more CEOs. These are the people that I need to spend time with just because we get it. You know there isn’t a CEO that you meet, that you have a conversation with, and that you don’t go “oh yeah I’ve had that”. “Thanks for sharing that with me”. “That was so great”. “That’s just what I needed to hear”.  

03:26 JL: And how did you meet Jeff Rust and the whole Corporate Alliance folks?

CARLA MEINE: They came and suggested that we go to our business … I can’t even remember. It was so long ago. It was back in the O’Currance days. Then we started up with them and Ideal Shape. And that’s when it was really beneficial. Because we actually bought in not only to the C Level but got some of our employees in at the mid level and entry levels and really started using the network. But I have to say, some of the people that we met through Corporate Alliance have been really key in our success to the business. So it was a great relationship.

04:10 JL: And we talked about O’Currance growing from you know initial 10 staff…

CARLA MEINE: Yeah.

04:15 JL: …to the 600 before you sold it.

CARLA MEINE: Yeah.

04:17 JL: What at Ideal Shape-what did that look like?

CARLA MEINE: So we just had our family working for us. There was five of us when we started. And when we sold we had over 100 employees. And in an online business that’s a lot of employees. And we were outsourcing most everything. By then we were outsourcing the shipping and packing and all of that, because that had gotten too big and we were selling, you know, 10,000 a day customers. So it was big.

04:47 JL: So for-lets say, there are business owners or divisions owners listening today who wish they had… could grow their customer base to 10,000.

CARLA MEINE: Yeah.

Social Media’s Role in Customer Lead Marketing and Reviews

04:54 JL: What do you feel like are some of the lessons on sales and attracting customers that you couldn’t have learned if you hadn’t had done this yourself?

CARLA MEINE: Oh lessons on sales. I think. Ok for me I’m always about operations. And so I think how you do a great job of selling, is you deliver. So for me our customer service had to be stellar. And I was always about getting the package right out. Answering the customers questions immediately. Helping them to understand how the product worked. And if they had a problem with the product, replacing it or exchanging it or just giving them a refund. I felt like that’s the way you grow your sales space. Because, especially in this industry, online fitness. It’s a big time referral business. “I’ve had success” “How much weight have you lost?” “Oh my gosh!” “Look at you”. “Oh yeah. I’m doing Ideal Shape”. So our son ran the marketing side of it. So he did place the ads that got people interested. But what happened is if your placing ads on social media you better have a decent social media presence with people who are talking good about you. So when people would read, see the ad and then they go to Ideal Shape and they look at our customers and see how many are complementing us and how many of them love the product and thought it was great and how many thanked us for our great customer service. And all the things- we had a group answering social media right away. And on top of it. Then people ordered. You know they said “well I’m going to try this. My friend is doing it or so and so is doing it. I’m going to try it”. So I think the reason that the social media marketing was so effective- Initially we started with Google marketing. And that was working for a while. But really what really launched us, was learning how to place facebook ads. And then doing facebook private groups where people were in them and they could talk about things that their friends wouldn’t see ‘em. They would post before and after pictures, which you could never get them to do in an open group. So things like that we did that gave our customers a save place to have those conversations and find a support group . Find a group of people that were positive and up-lifting. Because it’s a tough thing especially when a lot of them were trying to lose over 100 pounds, 150 pounds. It’s a lot. So…

Becoming ‘Customer Obsessed’

07:36 JL: You know it’s an interesting topic: customer service. Right. I can’t think of a CEO or any kind division leader I’ve ever met who thinks they have bad customer service.

CARLA MEINE: Right.

07:46 JL: But yet there’s those people who are like, you know, you hear about Jeff Bezos of Amazon, buying Zappos…

CARLA MEINE: Mmhmmm.

07:54 JL: He saysI get weak in the knees when I find a customer obsessed company”. Right?

CARLA MEINE: Yes.

07:58 JL: And I mean people love to tell themselves how good they are at customer service. Then every once in awhile you meet people who are like deeply empathetic, consistently thinking: what it’s like to be my customer. Trying to get everything faster. Any thoughts for people to do a self assessment of “am I drinking my own kool aid; I’m good at customer service?” Versus am I… would I really fit in with customer obsessed?

CARLA MEINE: Right.

08:25 JL: Right? [laughs]

CARLA MEINE: Well now you’ve got Google reviews and Facebook reviews and all that. So you get pretty good feedback. Like if you want to find out how you are doing go to your social media platform and just watch the feed. I watch the feed all the time. I would have it running on my computer as I’m doing other things. And I’d kind of watch and if something happened  negative, man I’d… But the funny thing is somebody would make a negative comment like “I don’t like this chocolate chip mint shake mix” you know. Our customers would jump in and they would go “it’s great!” “I love it!” “Try this!” “Try that!” We really don’t even have to jump in on this one because we got all these customers jumping in. So you get a sense because if your customers don’t do that and your getting that kind of message on your social media and reviews you’re getting instant feedback. And recognizing if somebody makes a negative comment; there are 50 people that didn’t bother. You know. So take it at face value because someone had the guts to make it. You better look at it and say “what can I do to fix this?”

Finding and Encouraging Success with Systematic Measuring

09:34 JL: You know it’s so interesting this idea of; you can’t manage what you aren’t measuring.

CARLA MEINE: Right.

09:37 JL: Right. And yet in a lot of organizations, senior executives, there’s a little bit of, like, nobody wants to get shot for being the messenger…

CARLA MEINE: Right.

09:47 JL: …on bad news. Right?

CARLA MEINE: Yeah.

09:49 JL: So having something like this where having a feedback loop that is…

CARLA MEINE: Yeah

09:53 JL: That it’s… your… Nobody’s jeopardizing their job to let the boss know we’ve got a problem.

CARLA MEINE: No.

09:56 JL: Right?

CARLA MEINE: Exactly.

09:57 JL: Which ideally you’ve invented the kind of culture where that doesn’t happen.

CARLA MEINE: Yeah.

10:00 JL: And in reality politics are politics. And not all your managers are as good as you hope they are.

CARLA MEINE: Exactly.

10:05 JL: Right? Buts it’s interesting how many parts of life, if we would just measure it. Right? If we would… I think people try to have the self discipline to measure, instead of building a system that will measure for them.  

CARLA MEINE: Right.

10:17 JL: Cause then I procrastinate and then my willpower falls down and all of a sudden I’m not measuring. Right?  

CARLA MEINE: Right. Exactly. And it’s not easy. I mean a lot of times setting up metrics is a lot of work. But it does… once you set them up and you manage them accordingly, it’s actually an easy way to manage people. But a lot of people struggle with setting up the metrics and figuring out; what is it that I’m going to measure this person on? And how am I going to do that? And I say, go to the person and say; “Ok, I’m going to measure you. What do you want to be measured on?” Start there. And then say, “Well those are good ideas but I also want to measure this and this and this”. And they’re like, “well how would you do that?” Then we come up with this idea. And then we set some goals and we start from a place of: let’s help make you successful. I’m not trying to make you not successful. I’m trying to make you successful. So let’s make you successful. Let’s set you up to be successful. And then: uh oh! You’re slipping here or here. If you give immediate feedback, it’s loving concern. You know, I care about you. People respond really well. I mean they really do want to do a really good job. It’s rare. Every once in a while you have somebody that got through the interview process, heavens knows how, that could care less. It’s like, who hired this person? [laughs] How did they get in this company because they really don’t care and they can’t be here anymore. And I’m quick with letting people go. Because I- My feeling is, I’m stopping them from being in an organization that fits them better. So if this isnt working out….And we’ve tried the “here’s our performance improvement plan and see what we can do”. And watch them not make any move toward success, I go, “You know what this isnt working. And it’s not working, it’s not just working for us it’s not working for you. You need to find a place where you can be successful. You’re not being successful here.” And people are like “Yeah you’re right. I don’t really like it.” Or I mean I  rarely get the person that goes “Ahhhh! What?! You’re letting me go?” You know. They know it’s coming.  We’ve set it up so that they already- I always say they fire themselves. I don’t fire anybody. Most people walk in my office. And I didn’t do a lot of the firing later in the years I had people that did it. But when I did, they’d go, “you’re firing me aren’t you”. And I’d go, “No. You’re firing yourself”. And they’d go, “Yeah. You’re right”. I mean, yeah. It was pretty typical. People always knew. And I always turned it around. You fired yourself. I tried, I tried everything I could to help make you successful. But you know what? It’s not a good fit. That’s ok. Some where else is a good fit for you. And go be successful. And tell me about how great the next position is for you. I want to hear about it. Cause we’ve got to cut you loose so that you can go find it.

13:10 JL: I love it. It’s interesting. I think about whether as small businesses or whether as a CEO over a private equity fund. So many of my thinking, I’m being nice by keeping people around, was a terrible choice. Kills everybody else’s moral. Why are they still here when they’re acting like that.

CARLA MEINE: Right.

13:30 JL: I think i’m being nice. Really I’m just avoiding conflict.

CARLA MEINE: Right.

13:34 JL: You know.

Shooting the Dogs and Unleashing the Tigers

CARLA MEINE: Well you know I told you about Paul Beard. I remember the biggest thing he taught, one of the biggest thing he taught me was he taught the analogy where you have the dogs, the bottom 10% of the company, and then you have the herd which is the 80% in the middle. And then you have the 10% tigers at the top. And so he would say, “you unleash the tigers and you let them be hugely successful because you’re tying them down with all theses rules that.. you let the tigers perform, they really go for it. The herd goes “Wow look at those guys. Oh that’s ok we still have these dogs down here. We’re ok”. And then you shoot the dogs and get rid of them and then the herd goes “wow wow. They shot the dogs! Oh man!” And they start to improve because the herd improves when there’s no dogs below them. And they see the tigers taking off. So that’s what Paul Beard taught me. It’s been true. It’s been true. My whole career I’ve found numerous times that I’ve improved performance by getting rid of the people that are dragging everybody down. And then unleashing the tigers that really perform.

14:52 JL: I love it. Ok. Next I want to ask. You know there’s so many entrepreneurs, of a small business, and they want to become a big business. Right? And there’s so many that don’t make it. When you think about… when you think about the ones that could have, that don’t, what do you think people are missing? What do you think people are not doing? Those small businesses that could become a big business but they don’t.

“If I Can See it, I Can Make it Happen”

CARLA MEINE: Well, first of all they are missing vision. I think you have to have vision. I typically find if I can see it, I can make it happen. So I try to say “ok what can we do next? What can we do to improve to become better? To become successful? You know more… whatever it is? And so they might be lacking vision. And the ability to see. They might be lacking the ability to surround themselves with great people. I’ve known a lot of entrepreneurs and they struggled with hiring people better than themselves. And you know, they want to keep everything. They want to do it all. They struggle with letting things go. So my philosophy has always been- ok hire somebody who is better at this than I am. Let it go. And then I can go over here and do this more. A really good example was my husband, when he came in the call center business with me he said, “why are you still doing your bookkeeping?” Well I said, “you know we have all these friends who have companies that got embezzled from. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen.” “You know what. You’ve gotta find a $12 an hour person to just do the bookkeeping. Put controls in so you can be out selling more.” And I go, “I know.  I need to do that.” But that was really hard. So we had this great conversation and I finally did it. It was the best decision I ever made. You know- get that book keeping off of me. And then I was out and selling. And we doubled the business that year. And so it was a good lesson. I thought I was really good at it but I found a typical entrepreneur holding on to certain things. So as the years have gone on, I’ve gotten way better at letting things go. But I do meet a lot of entrepreneurs that can’t let things go. So even if they hire a really amazing person they usually can’t work with them. They cant handle that they are so much better than them. So ego probably gets into it or something like that. So those were the things. You have to have vision. You have to hire great people. Let things go. And you do the things you’re really good at to help build the business.

17:41 JL: So thinking about this idea of… You know, I think about one of my mentors. He used to talk about… He’d grown up in a family of entrepreneurs. His dad had a convenience store, gas stations and stuff.

CARLA MEINE: Uh-huh.

17:54 JL: And he’d say like, “you know son you have to- you just have to know that when you leave the store the staff are going to do a worse job than you would’ve…

CARLA MEINE: Sure.

18:02 JL: …if you’d stayed”.

CARLA MEINE: Right

18:03 JL: But the trade off is you get to have dinner with your family.

CARLA MEINE: Sure. Yeah.

18:07 JL:  You know. So how does somebody walk that balance beam of abdication where it becomes a free for all and people are making choices that aren’t right for the business…

CARLA MEINE: Right.

18:20 JL: verses micromanaging. The company isn’t growing. The guy at the top, the gal at the top is a big bottleneck.

CARLA MEINE: Right.

18:25 JL: Any thoughts about how to get on the balance beam in the middle?

Setting Priorities While Allowing Others to Take the Reigns

CARLA MEINE: Well, you have to set it as a priority. So you have to say ok this is a priority to me. So I want to have family time. I want to be able to not be always at the business. And when I had a call center business. It was 24/7. We never got a day off. It was really easy to work a lot. So you gotta set that priority and then really it’s back to just hiring great people. Because if you hire great people and then you manage them, they really will do a good job even though it may not be the job that you would do. For example; Mrs Fields Cookies would come into the store. And she’d look at these cookies and go, “I would never serve these cookies”.  You know, she would just like lose it over the quality of one tray of cookies. The rest of them look great but this one tray. She’d be like, “when I ran a cookie store”, you know, “the cookies always looked like blah blah blah”. And then I’d go, “but you’re the owner Debbie. You know, they’re not going to run it like you would”. “Well they should”. You know, and she was just so adamant. And it was really hard to help her see. We’re doing a great job of hiring people with what you’re giving us to pay them and everything. But they’re never going to treat it as their own. That’s why I always put in commission programs, so they always made more money when the company made more money. Bonus programs. And I even did stock option programs. Every company I’ve sold, our employees, long term, high level employees always did really well. Because I was always more successful when I did that any way. So giving up a percentage of the business to those people, giving up part of the bottom line to those people always paid big dividends. So I’m a strong believer in that one.

20:20 JL: I love it. So thinking about this idea you know you look at the labor market right now. You know, there’s a lot of help wanted in our state.

CARLA MEINE: Right now, just for this year [laughs] you know.

20:34 JL: But besides paying a little more, any other philosophies on getting good people? You know how do you know the difference between someone who interviews well versus somebody who’s actually going to…

How to Hire the Right People From the Beginning

CARLA MEINE: Well I have a philosophy about that. I do scenarios. So people have learned how to interview, but they don’t know scenarios. Like I’ll set up a scenario customer service. Ok this is what the customer calls you and says. You don’t know our policies. How would you handle this. Cause I want to know how they believe. Right? What they think. Not what they think I want to hear. And you do- I do 10, 15, 20 scenarios by the time I’m getting to the- depending on the level. And for the most part I find out I’m hiring their talents, their skills, their abilities, their heart. I’m not hiring necessarily their education. I want to know who they really are. And are they going to be a good fit for our company. So I do that. And so first off I think it’s a good interview, the ability to interview well, and then listen to what they’re really saying. And then the second thing is, once you get them in, is matching them up with a good manager. And then helping that manger help them to be successful. So I always made them come in. So a manager had to come in and buy off on a person. So they had to say “Yep I want them on my team”. I would say “Ok, now your job is to help make him successful because you wanted him”. So really the person had to be a super bad match to not make it. Because we’ve tried everything along the way to set them up to be really really successful.

22:26 JL: What did that look like? Your manager mentoring.  What did that look like at your companies, of them making sure somebody is successful? Is it back to measuring and having conversations about…?

Manager Mentoring

CARLA MEINE: Yeah so they had teams and so we- the person individual had metrics. But the team also had metrics. So the manager, was managing… was their performance bonuses, their commissions, you know, promotions were all measured based on how their team did. And we didn’t look at individuals in that scenario. We looked at their team. So if they had one bad apple and they kept them and it dragged the team down, it’s like, yeah, you shouldn’t do that. You’ve got a team to support here. And you’re dragging down the whole team by keeping that person who just has a bad attitude for whatever reason. So they did get through the system. And they were hired but…. No. We measured… I don’t know too many positions in my company I didn’t measure. I’m just really vigilant about that. I think everybody does better if they know what the measurement is. They understand it. They agree to it. And they know that every week we’re going to meet about it.

23:47 JL: Yeah. Thinking about this idea of vision and leadership and I know we’re about done and out of time with part two of the episode.

CARLA MEINE: Ok.

What Makes a Company Attractive to Potential Buyers

23:55 JL: Maybe this is a good question to end with. When you think about leading the kind of business that is attractive for somebody else to buy.

CARLA MEINE: Yes.

24:00 JL: Right? Do you have any thoughts about this? About building the kind of company that’s attractive for an exit?

CARLA MEINE: Ohhh. Thats a good one. We did a few different things. And I didn’t manage- I didn’t push this one as much as my husband did. Was having amazing technology. I used to say I could just have great people and I would build an amazing company. But what I learned is now  you have to have great technology to support those great people or they’ll leave. Because they won’t work with crappy, oh I guess I shouldn’t have said that word-[laughs] Crummy technology. They just won’t stay there. So he built systems and processes and programs to help support really great people. So they had this great environment to work in and great technology. And then it was attractive to investors because they came in and saw the cool technology that we had developed and the way we manages it. And then they met our people. And the bottom line is, they’re looking at numbers. They’re looking at how fast have we grown the business. How successful have you been at managing your costs. And what’s the bottom line. And what was your growth rate over a certain amount of years. So they are all still what.. what gets them excited are the numbers. But when they come in great technology and great people are what usually seals the deal, I’ve found. This last group that bought us, they came in from England. And they approached us through email actually. They had seen our business. So David flew out there and gave them all the information on our business. But what sealed the deal is they came out in July and met all our people. And then they were just blown away by the level of expertise in our field. But mostly how everybody was so excited to work for our company. And really positive. So that’s what really sealed the deal.

26:02 JL: That’s great. That’s great advice. Well thanks for spending so much time with us.

CARLA MEINE: Yeah. Yeah. I’m glad. It was great. Thank you.  

[END] 26:10

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