Leadership + People: Episode 24 - Scott Johnson - Part 2 of 2

In this episode, we learn from Scott Johnson of impeccable skills in creating a scalable business that is consistent from leadership, to sales, to customer.

Show Notes

  • How to take what you know from book learning and create greater knowledge with real life learning [03:42]
  • Two principles to keep you from losing control as your company begins to scale [06:32]
  • The importance of having a point of view of the world and being able to articulate why you’re doing what you’re doing [06:59]
  • Enhancing company identity by hiring within your company values [07:17]
  • Using company values to inspire customer satisfaction [12:59]
  • Realizing the strategic role that HR leaders can have in their organizations and allowing them to take hold of their company’s shape [14:45]
  • Strategic action being lead by HR [18:00]
  • Using people analytics to describe the emotional health of an organization [20:10]
  • Overcoming the status quo with “the three b’s” [21:17]

Show Audio


Scott Johnson - Episode 24 - Part 2of2-2

This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: February 27, 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 device they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

JESS LARSEN – FIRST LAST: Today is part two of our episode with Scott Johnson.

SCOTT JOHNSON – FIRST LAST: “If I could give anybody advice it would be look, on day one, sit down and articulate how you believe the world should look and function – that’s your point of view, as it pertains to your product and second of all, how are you going to deliver that to the world?”

00:45 JL: If you missed part one, please go back and hear about how co-founder and CEO of Workfront, and now chairman, built that up to a very significant organization and now the new business, Motivosity and the ability for co-workers to give each other money [laughs] which is a pretty great idea, in shaping culture. Scott, when we were ending off in part one of the episode, where do you think–why do you think it is so hard–you talked about this idea of getting more dialed into what really matters in life versus ‘are you on the cover of this magazine’ or ‘how rich are you’ and this kind of stuff, why do you think that is such a challenge for humans in general and ambitious leader types, specifically?

SCOTT JOHNSON: I think it’s probably harder for ambitious leader types. We like to win, right? I like to win at everything I do. It doesn’t matter if it’s a contest for holding your breath or…anything. If you can turn it into a contest and win, that’s sometimes how we’re wired. And as a business leader, if you’re wired that way and you wanna win, it’s really tough to also be able to sit back and roll with the punches and not get overly wound up about how people perceive how much you’re winning. So, yeah, I’m sure it’s hard for everybody but knowing, sort of, the competitive nature of a lot of entrepreneurs and business leaders, that’s even tougher for them.

02:34 JL: Yeah it’s interesting, that external scoreboard, right? You know there’s Tim Farris in his book – I think it’s the Four Hour Work Week – it’s making money we don’t need, to buy stuff to impress people we care about. [SJ: Yeah!] And you think about how much of your life you can use up on that, when you could be backcountry snowboarding, right? [SJ: Amen! Yeah, exactly [laughs]] For everybody that doesn’t know, Scott is a very active snowboarder and is about to go to the motherland, up close towards Canada to ride the Selkirks. I am a little jealous, not gonna lie. So getting back to folks who are trying to lead an organization and help their people really deliver on their potential – you talked about, you know, as you went from a business of 0 to 1000 staff, the inflection points along the way, what are some things that you feel like you wouldn’t have learned, in any other way than actually doing it yourself?

SCOTT JOHNSON: You know, you want to learn from other people’s mistakes and other people’s perceptions and I think there is a little bit of a gap sometimes between book learning and actual, real learning that happens in real life. And if we could all learn from book learning, we all, I think, would be doing a lot better. We talk to CEOs all of the time, about culture and trust and driving better results and they all know the right thing to do, like they’ve all read that a million times, they’ve listened to the business books, you know, they read Forbes, whatever. And they’ve heard these things, they know book learning and that yeah if they behaved a certain way and did a certain thing, that it would bring good results, so then why haven’t they already done it? And it is sometimes, you have to be smacked upside the head, to shift gears a little bit or to be willing to shift gears and take action on something. I’m in that same camp. Probably virtually, everything I know by heart is probably because I have experienced it. And there’s a ton of stuff I’ve read that I’ve learned intellectually but probably, you know, haven’t had maybe a painful opportunity to drive it home.

05:21 JL: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, the whole ‘knowing what to do, isn’t enough’, right? Paying the price to get enough meaningful repetitions in [chuckles] [SJ: Yeah] actually, you know, build skills, you know, figuring how to build at least enough skills to get that determination in, enough discipline to get into a masterful enough routine to get into enough to do it repeatedly. And unfortunately for me, how many times that it takes doing it wrong, painfully [laughs] to actually have that discipline to start doing it the other way, right? [SJ: Yeah] Any thoughts on how to invite your staff to want to do that? I mean, when you start getting a large organization, like you have done in the past, which I am sure Motivosity will grow to You know, you’re trying to have influence with folks that you not necessarily have personal interactions with…can you talk about, you know, both the business platform Motivosity has and how it helps with that and any other theories you have about helping, helping it scale?

SCOTT JOHNSON: Yeah, so I would start–I think there are two things that are really hand in hand, two principles that can help you not lose control of things as the company starts to scale and your sphere of influence starts to get maybe diluted by a bunch of other factors by an institution and those two things are; first of all, as the leader, you have to have a point of view on the world, you have to be able to articulate why you’re doing what you are doing and you have to be willing to stay true to that, even if, it’s not a revenue driver. The second is that, you have to be able to articulate the uniqueness of your team, your values. And I’m not talking about–I hate company values that are integrity…because how do you recognize that in the workplace? Like, okay thanks, you didn’t lie to me yesterday – that’s table stakes. But really meaningful kind of attributes of who we really are as an organization. For example, you may be building the kind of company that you really want open sharing of ideas and you want people to feel like they can chime in and contribute. And, so that becomes, one of your values, is ‘hey we are one of these team spirited organization’. Well great, now you bring in your rockstar, who has come from a big company and it’s all about them show, when they join the company, and instantly what you’ve done is, you’ve hired somebody who is not a fit with what you’ve said you are. And, if you allow that to happen, what it’s going to do is kind of destroy your company identity. And, then at that point, that’s when people start to feel ‘hey this isn’t what I signed up for’, ‘this isn’t who we are’, ‘this isn’t who I am’, and now you’ve got kind of this mismatch and there’s nothing inspiring going on anymore. And so, if I could give anybody advice, it would be – hey look, on day one, sit down and articulate how you believe the world should look, and function, that’s your point of view, as it pertains to your product. And second of all, how are you going to deliver that to the world? What does your team look like? How are you going to behave? What kind of, what’s your team personality? How do you describe that? And you need to be very willing to hire to those values and fire because someone lacks those values as well. And you need to be able to very clearly articulate your point of view. And what I’ve found, as you do that, those things kind of act as amplifiers to your voice and you don’t have to have such direct impact with everybody anymore, because everybody kind of gets it and their in lockstep with you and it makes it a lot easier.

JL: Yeah, yeah it’s interesting thinking about that phenomenon, especially in sales teams, I’ve heard it referred to as ‘toxic numbers’. Where you get somebody who comes in and they get, they’re getting such good sales, that it’s so tempting for management not to let them go but they’re kind of wrecking the company [laughs] by the bodies that leave in their wake. You know? And, it just takes a lot of guts to not give into the temptation of ‘this guy makes me look good because we are making the numbers’ you know? To have the faith, we’ll be better in the long term–even if you know you’ll be better in the long term, there is such a temptation it seems like to take the guy whos making the numbers now and we’ll figure it out later or we’ll change it later, you know?

SCOTT JOHNSON: Right, and you know get back to if that boss, if the boss is someone who is taking themselves way too seriously, they’re not going to get rid of that person. They’re going to deal with the toxic numbers because they’re motivations are outside of where they should be.

11:22 JL: Yeah, well, let’s talk about this as it does come to sales and attracting marketing and stuff. You know, there’s the Richard Branson quote about you know ‘take care of calfs so well, take care of your customers without slaughtering it’…somewhere along those lines. For starters, who is an ideal customer for Motivosity?

SCOTT JOHNSON: So, our target sweet spot is companies who are 150 to 3,000 employees. You know, we kind of bleed a little bit outside of that on either side, but really it’s companies whose employees are knowledge workers, whose work environment is somewhat collaborative, and typically, it’s companies that are growing and companies that are caring about their work environment and are willing to do something about it.

JL: Yeah when it comes to helping your team, whether it’s marketers writing something to attract them or sales people talking on the phones like that, or whether it’s customer service people talking inside the company that need to have that consistent interaction that the feeling the customer is getting from you guys is consistent, right? What does that look like? Do you have a formal training program? Is it–what does that look like to help your folks be in the right headspace of caring about what’s going on in your customers life, or stuff like that?

SCOTT JOHNSON: Well, it starts with one of our company values which is; ‘care about the customer’. Ok, so everybody cares about their customer but for us, what that really means is, we pretend that we have only one customer and that customer is you. So, if you’re a customer and you’re asking some stupid question for the 15th time, you get our full attention, you get our full respect and we’re gonna still proactively reach out and make sure that you’re getting the value that you want out of our solution. And for us, what it starts with, and I know, it can be tempting sometimes to care about certain companies and care about the important customers but, and sometimes it can be a bit inconvenient, especially if it’s after hours and a customer has a question, our team is gonna look at that and say ‘look, we only have one customer and it’s these guys so let’s take care of them with a smile on our face, cause that’s why we’re here’. Beyond that, you know, we really try to develop a system that is focused on delivering value to a customer and building that into all of sales materials, and customer success materials and training and our approach to get people into the product and recognizing value.

14:45 JL: Yeah, and let’s talk about this for a minute; who is it, in the company, who is likely buying from you guys? Is it HR? Is it–[SJ interrupts].

SCOTT JOHNSON: Well, ultimately, it’s almost always HR and sadly that’s because 92% of CEOs outsource culture to HR.

JL: And so, thinking about that role, right there’s–you know, as a generalization, there’s a lot more women in that role, as my experience, you know our consulting firm works a lot with those folks, right. And a lot of times, what their results are, what would be like to work here, versus some of their colleagues, their metrics change right, —– GO BACK HERE

The same language as the other folks around the table, of an excel spreadsheet, in my experience, tell me if you see it differently and I don’t know if you find this but I feel as though there are a lot of constraints on them, as you know, do everything but we’re only gonna give you this much budget. A) do you see their roles like that at all? And b) how do you work with them in the way that you do see their role?

SCOTT JOHNSON: Yeah, so, a) that has definitely been their role. You know, I suppose if you are trying to pick something to sell those to, HR would be one of the hardest places to start because of what you just described. But that said, times are changing and look at what’s happened in the workplace, even in the last year. There are definitely some bad examples, you know, some kinds of trends that have blown up and gotten front page attention, that have highlighted bad cultures in the workplace. But, more importantly, CEOs, executives are starting to realize that something needs to be done differently in order to attract and retain top talent, and part of that is because, millenials need to see things differently and they’re at work for a little bit different reason, than say the boss’s generation that came to work. And so, some of the things, some of the ways that companies are organized, don’t have as much splash anymore. And so, there’s really an opportunity for HR leaders to be strategic in their organizations and come to the table with ideas that will shape the future of the company and impact its ability to compete in the marketplace. And I’m not just talking about talent. When your employees are happy, and loved, where they are, and feel a sense of belonging and loyalty to it, that bleeds over into customers and customer relationships and customer satisfaction and when they’re willing to, you know, not wanting to stick it to the big man, their willing to share ideas that help the company lead out in thought leadership and innovation. And of course, when retention goes down and productivity goes up, it goes straight to profits on the bottom line. So there are three ways that the company wins and all of that is very strategic action that is now being lead by HR. And so what we do is, we go in and work with HR leaders to help them put together this pitch for the executive team, where they actually look like heros and they do something that six months into it, everybody at every level of the company is thanking them for their vision. And for us, that’s a huge win!

18:49 JL: Well and it does seem, you know, organizations like yours are putting some new tools in their hands that can help them maybe, earn some more of the respect they probably deserve. You think about, you know, you come from a marketing background, I consider myself a closeted marketing nerd, you know, you look at what’s happened in marketing automation and marketing tech, and you know, so much of it moving from, being an art, to more of a science, where you can actually track and know what happens instead of you know, guess, right? It does feel like there’s a lot of potential in HR and learning development of like, by putting in, people analytics–like I know you guys have that as part of your product–now things can become, you know, you can have much more tangible conversations and now they’ve got a number to bring to the executive board meeting right, we were this and now it’s this. [SJ: True[laughs]] Is that–I mean, what do you feel like the future of analytics is?

SCOTT JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, what you bring up is an interesting concept. I’ve never actually thought of it as a ‘hey now you have a number to bring to the board room’ but it’s true. It definitely does provide that. I think that what we’re really trying to accomplish with people analytics is finding a way to describe the health–the emotional health–of the organization, almost. And, you know, we’ve tried to do that in a lot of different ways, with different disciplines and so forth, but ultimately, what you’re after is, that organization where people are wanting to do their best and are wanting to do everything possible. And what ends up getting in the way, is usually ourselves. You know, we have managers who shut down initiatives because you know, they want to keep people focused on this or that, or you have all sorts of different dynamics that almost work to kill that spirit of enthusiasm and innovation inside the company. So, you know, we see it as just, trying to do battle with the way things have been.

21:17 JL: Yeah, what do you feel like is, you know and I know we’re kind of closing in on the end of the second episode here, but for folks who are in that. What do you feel like are maybe a couple of the biggest levers to you know, overcome that status quo?

SCOTT JOHNSON: When we talk, we’ve really identified–we call them the three b’s. And it’s three things that employees need to be–in order to, truly be engaged and loyal in an organization. And those three b’s are; they need to be trusted, they need to be visible and they need to be connected. And there really isn’t a lot that an employee can point to and say ‘I’m trusted as an employee’. I mean, what is it that you can do at your job that you don’t have to get any approval for, whatsoever, and most people say ‘well I can go to the bathroom’ but there isn’t a whole lot in corporate anything, that says ‘hey we trust you’ and so that’s the–that’s the first area that we really are focusing on and talk to HR leaders is something that totally breaks the status quo. And conversations will usually start with something like ‘how comfortable will your leadership team be, giving every employee $5 at the beginning of each month, and letting them give it to whoever they want, with whatever reason, with no approvals whatsoever. And it’s astonishing how many companies say ‘we actually have a problem with that’. And, the companies that are game to take this experiment and run with and to take that leap of faith and give it a try, it’s unbelievable what such a small thing can do in terms of moral and results. It’s actually mind blowing in how much difference it makes, because you just did the very smallest thing you could, that says ‘I trust you’. And, that effort is returned in spades. So I think that would probably be our first, first place, let’s buck the status quo by teaching you guys how to extend a little trust to your people.

23:59 JL: Yeah, no kidding. Well, um, this has been great, thanks for making so much time here. So maybe to close, what would be, just kind of your–on any subject, what would be your top bit of advice or your top advice that you’ve ever received for leaders today, trying to grow an organization? What would be your closing thought here?

SCOTT JOHNSON: Oh man, pressure’s on! For me, when I am building my–when I’m hiring, when I’m building a team, there’s only one question that really matters…and that is; ‘how passionate are you about our mission? Do we share–do we geek out on the same objectives?. And if so, everything else can work, but that would be my advice. Is make sure that the people, that you’re building your team with, make sure that they love the same thing, make sure that their reason for existence aligns with the reason for your existence as a company and if so, you’re gonna have a win on your hands. Never let anybody go because they weren’t smart enough to do a job. It’s always because of attitude reasons, it’s because they don’t love what they’re doing. I think that life is really short and we all should be doing what we love.

25:42 JL: [laughs] wise words right there, I think this is a good place [SJ interrupts].

SCOTT JOHNSON: Like, like, snowboarding! [laughs]

25:48 JL: Right? Especially in fresh powder, right?

SCOTT JOHNSON: Yes! It must be fresh powder.

25:56 JL: Ok, thanks again. This was great! I appreciate you making time for us.

SCOTT JOHNSON: Alright, well thank you! Talk to you later.
ENDS [ ]