Our guest is COO Alliance Member Mae Steigler, COO at Organifi.
It may seem difficult to achieve that fast growth if you just came from one business to another. Mae Steigler, COO of Organifi, shows it is possible as she talks about how she has helped lead the company into hitting Inc. 500 three times in a row. Starting from Fitlife.tv and transitioning to Organifi, Mae shares the lessons she learned and brought forward to the success of her current company. She talks about utilizing the Facebook community where she found the power of listening to your customer base for fast growth. Building from that, Mae also puts forward the benefits of being a feedback-centric company, listening not only to customers but to your employees as well.
Making Fast Growth Possible with Mae Steigler
Mae Steigler serves as the Chief Operations Officer at Organifi and is responsible for the alignment and development of people and processes aiming to improve everything she touches. Her background is in research and development in the agricultural industry. After graduating with a degree in animal science and nutrition, she passionately worked towards early education of illness in the dairy industry striving for positive change in animal longevity and decreasing the overuse of antibiotics. Her focus shifted to human nutrition that she entered into the health industry with a fascination in behavior change and positive psychology.
After meeting Drew Canole, the Organifi’s founder in 2011, Mae worked alongside him to build FitLife.TV, a health transformation, digital marketing and content startup. They built a community from several thousand to over 3 million on Facebook, digital membership and coaching certification program and a video content creating machine. In 2014, Organifi was launched and her previous CEO, Drew, was a co-founder. She was recruited and was instrumental in the company’s growth and build out new roles such as influence marketing, human resources and operations and then shifting from digital content marketing company into physical products and superfoods giant.
She has been providing invaluable learning as she grew the company. Currently as the COO, she has collaborated with her co-founders and team and they’ve hit the Inc. 500 three times in a row. I’m also proud to say that she is a member of the elite COO Alliance National Program. If you’re a second in command of your company and would like to apply for membership, please visit us at COOAlliance.com. This coming September of 2019, we have a special CEO, COO event and if either of those interests you, visit us on our website. Mae, welcome to the show.
Cameron, thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here. Thank you for that intro.
I’m tripping over myself. I started to stumble over my words because I was more excited to chat with you than continue on with the bio.
I’m happy to be here.
Give us a little bit of an overview as to what Organifi is right now, the scope, the size of the company so people can wrap their heads around it. It was even bigger than I imagined it was when we first met.
We’re based in San Diego. We are a superfood company. We formulate our own products here. They’re the highest quality USD organic, typically Vegan, plant-based. We’re starting out as more science nerds trying to biohack our own health and develop that into a full product line. We have about 55 full-time W2 employees and about 110 total employees.
When you started Organifi, was it a startup literally from scratch or did you migrate some of the employees over from FitLife.TV?
100%, technically, I’m employee number two. I was the first hire with the founder Drew Canole. It has been an incredible journey since. He was making basically YouTube videos before it was cool. He had 500 videos on YouTube a couple of years back and was blowing up that space before it was something that influencers now typically do.
Tell us a little bit about FitLife.TV and maybe less about the company itself and more around the learning that maybe you encountered in your role and then what learning lessons you brought forward into Organifi.
FitLife.TV was a test ground for content marketing, essentially learning the practice of giving essentially. We gave tons of free content. How we ran the business was based on our YouTube videos and was creating blogs and content around transformation. It was really focused on improving our community’s health. It was all around transformation and we ran these two videos series, Saturday Strategy and Mindset Monday. The Mindset Monday series is all around more psychology and changing beliefs patterns. The Saturday Strategy was all around more techniques and recipes and around health and wellness.
Running that company, what I learned from it was keeping the customer voice at the forefront. One of my first job was managing our community and our membership. We hosted live weekly classes with them. We were on the Facebook page. When I first came on, Drew had about 30,000 Facebook fans on a Facebook page called Juicing Vegetables. That was back when Drew was learning how to create a key term of interests that create a community. That blew up to three million over the few years. It was a fast growth back before we were essentially paying for that growth. It was a lot of content, a lot of communication and listening to our customer base and our community.
Those were the pretty early days for Facebook as well. Facebook had been around in the college market, but really came into the business world around 2010 or even a little bit later than that. How did you guys attract all those early eyeballs? Do you still carry some of those lessons forward now and in Organifi as a business?
It was totally different. Back then, we had a lot of free traffic and it was a whole different experience in the business realm on Facebook. That was what initially grew our company tremendously before the original algorithm changed a lot. We were experiencing free traffic. We were really using key terms and a lot of basics of content marketing on Facebook. It was the Wild Wild West back then. What we’ve taken forward is using Facebook as a primary. It’s still right now our number one paid channel. We do the most on Facebook in paid ads. It’s a slightly different way of doing things, but it’s still a primary focus and driver for our business.
A huge focus on our customer service is handling the comments of the ads. We do engage very highly with our customer base and are always looking to do more of that. At the COO Alliance, you had a great presentation about customer voice and customer activation of feedback. It was a great reminder to look at the value of doing that and how much you can learn from engaging with your customer base. For us, a lot of those ads are essentially the community base. They’re not customers yet, let’s say. The more we can engage and understand the obstacles to purchasing the product and/or the actual pain points that we’re solving with the product, as we see testimonials and those Facebook ads threads, the more successful we’ll be. We’re always trying to get better at that and of course I feel like we haven’t nailed it.
We’re stumbling as we go because so much of this is new. We learn either through our own experiences or through a little bit of R&D. One of the first early communities I’d seen on Facebook that really did well was Hal Elrod, who wrote The Miracle Morning. He and I co-authored The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs together and I interviewed his second in command Tiffany on this show. They do an unbelievable job with engagement in the community. Do you study other communities online or where did you guys gain in your skill sets to do that?
It was practice and in our own and having a membership that was based on a Facebook group. We don’t do that anymore. We don’t have our own Facebook group for our customers. We have a Facebook page for our customers. Essentially over the last year, we built a call center. We actually have an in-house call center in San Diego, which is very rare and relatively unique. This allows us to not only hear the conversations of our customers. It’s a hybrid CS and sales floor. We’re experiencing anywhere from more 800 to 1,000 inbound customer calls. That’s allowing us to really keep that conversation alive. We’ve transformed how we’re connecting with our customer base rather than maybe a closed Facebook group that’s a membership like we used to at FitLife.TV.
At Organifi, we are really seeing that conversation alive and well over the phones and really making that a coaching conversation. We wanted to tie in that original transformation focus we had with FitLife with more than just a physical product brand at Organifi and ensure that we’re not another Vega or something. Obviously, they’re incredible, but how are we unique from somebody like that? We are trying to continue that in-house product education and transformation education for our own employees. We do an incredible in-house leadership program that really focuses our team members on their own health and transformation. Giving them coaching and wellness education that they can really tie into the phone conversations that the CS team is having with the customers.
I want to get into the leadership program as well. Tell me a little bit about how did you get the download from Drew on his vision for the organization and where the company wants to go, both with the first business and then with Organifi? How did you get that information? Often the entrepreneurs have an idea of where they want to take the company, but they’re not quite as clear as they think they are with everyone. How did you get clarity to be able to then grow it for them?
Drew Canole is an incredibly strong visionary as most entrepreneurs are. He is the man that’s living in that reality now. Even back when we were working at FitLife, he was talking and breathing five years out. It was actually a really interesting experience working with him and having to recalibrate to realize like, “Is this real that we’re talking about yet?” He is very much a strong visionary that can speak in clarity to what he sees possible. On the employee side, one thing he did with me that I truly believe shaped our culture was he spoke to what he saw possible in myself as well.
As that second hire and the first person he was growing and working with to develop, he has one of his superpowers. Something that loves to cultivate and develop in our current staff and team is really looking at what are those gifts that we can speak to and see even before our employees really can recognize. How can we even speak those into existence, truly radically believing in them before they do? Drew did that for me from the very beginning and what he knew I would create for him and ultimately what we create with FitLife and Organifi.
That’s a massive, unique ability. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually even heard it articulated before from an employee about a senior leader in the way that he truly believed in me, even before we did our believed in employees before they did. That’s a really strong statement that is pretty powerful. It’s interesting when we’re raising children, a lot of what you have to do in raising kids is your raise their confidence and you raise their competence. You raise their confidence and their skills and the more their skills go up, their confidence goes up. The more their confidence goes up, their skills go up.
A lot of leaders really missed the boat on raising the confidence of their team so that when the employees are going to go through brick walls for them and try to figure it out and work harder. Instead, they almost have the model backwards where they’re trying to hold everyone accountable and manage them. Does this speak to the leadership program, the leadership development in people? Is that a center point on it?
It is a way that we keep a high bar and performance and excellence. We anticipate the best from every employee. It is truly the development, the investment in each employee, whether it be with our leadership program. Once a month we have a speaker come in and talk on different topics and a book club that happens every month. Focused development, treatment plans for an employee for development in the key areas of their own success. We do that with the anticipation of greatness for each of them. It’s eye-opening to see how much employees are held back by limiting beliefs of their own. When another individual can essentially come in without those and speak to those not expect it in a degree of expectancy but believe in it, it’s incredible what team members can do and rise to the occasion.
In 2014, Organifi was launched. Was it like mid to late 2014? Was it early 2014?
It was October.
You’ve only had three and a half years to go from basically two employees to 55 plus 110 contractors. How are you funded?
We’re not. We haven’t taken on any funding. I will correct you a little bit. In 2014, we probably had maybe five or six full-time employees. It was in 2011 that it was just Drew and I. Our current CEO, Djamel Bettahar, was brought on in 2013 and really launched Organifi with Drew in the company. He was our first legitimate integrator. He has moved into the CEO role completely accelerating the company doing an incredible job. He has an incredible mind, stepping into the visionary role and transitioning out of an integrator role. That’s really cool to see that transition.
You’re in the pure integrator role now, correct?
I am sitting in the COO seat. Djamel is in the CEO seat and Drew is the founder role. He operates as chief innovation officer and works with our leadership team to innovate essentially and applying that a very strong visionary skillset that he plays expertly too.
You now got the visionary and the integrator, terms that had been popularized from EOS’ Traction by Gino Wickman. A lot of my clients actually use those systems. In the COO role, the whole reason we even started the COO Alliance was to grow the skill set of the second in command. How do you stay on the same page as the CEO-ongoing? What systems do you have in place? What meeting rhythms? What do you guys do so that you and the CEO are always on the same page, always moving the company forward? You said he’s a great visionary. How do you get caught up on the vision constantly and how does he get caught up on the plans that are being put in place?
I appreciate this question. I feel that it’s something we’re always developing. I love continuing to update and develop our own meeting rhythm and how we run our operations. We started with traction. The framework of our company is Gino Wickman’s Traction book. It’s an incredible format for meeting pulse. We essentially do a daily stand up, a daily huddle at 9:00 AM every day with the managers and above. We go through our primary objective for the day. That’s our number one thing. I don’t know if you ever read the book The One Thing.
Our team read that a couple of years back. We’ve always done, “Here’s my number one priority.” It gets everyone on the same page and has everyone connect. We do have a bit of a remote team as well. At 9:00 AM we have a daily huddle. Everyone does their one thing that lasts about five minutes’ tops, maybe even less. Then we go over our company dashboards. We run through all of our metrics. It’s all visualized data. It’s a screen share. Then we typically will do quick company announcements. If there’s a birthday, we’ll sing happy birthday. It always sounds horrible because we have remote team members on Zoom and so it’s a nightmare and it’s hysterical and we love it. Any frontline announcements and new hires and whatnot are on there. Then we close out with a quote. That’s every day.
Then weekly, I meet with my CEO. Djamel and I meet. We do an hour and I break down the operation side of the business. He also meets with our CML, Amy Beaver, who’s incredible, once a week and she break down the marketing side of the business. Right now, we break it up in half and we run through my one-on-ones with my key direct reports. I have them fill out a weekly one-on-one assessment and then meet with them for an hour a week. We run through the dashboards and get an update on what’s working and what’s not, any obstacles or missing systems, you name it. It is built on the traction format. We have company rocks and a gigantic KPI board in the office that everyone updates once a week. We basically color code those for on track, not on track and below projection. It’s pretty visual for all of us.
DJ, Drew and I are extremely visual people. We need that visual indicator where we are and how we’re doing. We have a 3×3 TV wall that has all of our company dashboards on it that we go over on the daily huddle. That’s live all the time. Our call center, which is literally in the main floor, has their TV dashboards for their daily sales and call wait times and whatnot. We keep those front and center. Otherwise, it’s really hard to keep that transparency on what’s moving the company and certainly feeling over these quick four years, the feeling of being less in the business. It is a challenge to keep transparency and keep the communication alive. It’s always something we’re working on.
We also do what we call the hedgehog meeting. That may have been from Good To Great. We do a hedgehog meeting, which is once a week hour-long meeting with the C level team. We have a little extra time. We also do look at the level ten meeting format once a week from the directors. We have a pretty solid meeting rhythm. In the book, Meetings Suck, we try not to have that many and really focus on the most important ones, keeping them as short as possible. We do run a 90-minute level ten meeting which gives us a little more time to go over where we are weekly with each department. The 90-day calendar, we run through IBS which is essentially are issues, discussions and solutions. We finish with who does what by when.
You guys have really got the right pieces of the meeting rhythms in place too. It’s great to see it because I covered a lot of it in Meetings Suck and then also in Double Double. Gino did a great job with EOS Traction. You often don’t see companies really working that hard on the meeting rhythms. They are there to support the team and grow people and create alignment. I was coaching a CEO and he was saying that his daily huddle really sucks. He’s been running it for two months and nobody likes doing it. They’ve only got 30 people out of it. I’m sure there were times when your daily huddle sucked in and you guys had to do to unsuck them. What did you do to make them better? Tell us a specific example maybe when they weren’t working that well.
We definitely have been there and I think we’re there again. I’ll describe what we did previously and where we are now. A framework I like to assess why we’re outgrowing different ways of doing things is the book The Synergist by Les McKeown. We run that personality assessment with our team and it’s basically visionary process or operator synergist personality types. In the book, he describes these business phases. As you transition between business phases, the first one is a startup. It’s a fun mode. You go through this transition phase that’s rocky and a little messy.
Then you get to this predictable success mode. Then you maybe go through the rocky stage and you may fall into a treadmill phase, which is more bureaucratic, maybe a little stale. Then as the company dies, let’s say you do unfortunately go through the full spectrum. It’s something called a death rattle or something as the company fails. I look at these first three phases, startup, fun and predictable success. We teeter-totter between this fun in predictable success mode where we’re figuring out what we need to work at continuously, what would actually scale the company and what are the core processes that we need to tirelessly run and continue to improve.
It’s that curative process. We’re out of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what works, which is a bad startup mode. At each of those transition phases, we found that it was a little rocky. We could feel it wasn’t working. Our meeting rhythms are pulsing and our communications, even the software that supports us, the technology that supports us at each phase. We would address the elephant in the room. “We recognize this sucks. It’s no longer effective with what we need.” What we first do is I always ask for feedback. I did this. I was like, “Our level ten sucks. Our daily huddle sucks. What’s the value that each of you guys gets out of it? I’d love to hear from you first.” Normally I elicit feedback, find out truly what’s the values. The changes we make will preserve that value and potentially even amplify it.
I love that you’re actually recognizing it and having the discussions with the team and saying, “This sucks.” Quite often, the leaders try to get all defensive and say it doesn’t suck and they are defensive, maybe because they’re working so hard or they don’t want to be seen as being weak. The reality is everyone knows. It is like The Emperor Has No Clothes. Do you also let the team know that as a business, we’re going to be going through these bumps? We’re going to bob and weave and make it up as we go and everything we perfect now is going to be broken in a year? Do you let them know that in advance? How do you get them ready for this entrepreneurial journey that especially as you grow and start bringing in more and more people or people that aren’t quite as used to that entrepreneurial journey?
Our leadership team is focused on figuring out how to do that best, how to bring the team along for the journey. It does look like addressing the elephant in the room. Always being like, “Here’s where we’re at,” being comfortable not having the answer all the time. I feel that was a bit of maturing that a lot of us needed to do as we were learning how to run a business. You have no clue what we’re doing most of the time and so it’s being real about it. “We’re going to try this on.” I don’t know if it’s the answer. What I love is some feedback to find out how close are we, what’s working, what’s not. Being relentless and asking those questions, it helps.
We are pretty good about that. I don’t see too many barriers to asking those questions with any employee. We start that on a cultural level in the very beginning with new hires asking them, “What’s working?” What should we stop doing, start doing and keep doing? We start that conversation immediately. It has them thinking, “This company is open to feedback and they want to hear it.” It’s also real because with that new hire experience, they’re looking at the company from the outside in and they’re going to see stuff that we are completely blind to because we’re in it. It’s more of a cultural approach. It’s the norm to ask those questions. You asked how to get the team involved in it.
It involves, but also accepting that this is going to be normal. The bobbing and weaving and making it up as we go is part of our journey. Change is part of our journey.
It makes me think about change management. What do they call it now? There’s some new sexy name for it, industrial and organizational change or something. The fascination around it is the involvement with the team. Eliciting feedback, having them feel that they have a say in the change rather than it’s happening to them, what’s happening with them and for them. It’s a little bit about the positioning of the change. I love to geek out on change management techniques. One of my favorite techniques is if you have a problem employee, make them be the point person for the change initiative.
One of the reasons I started the COO Alliance is I’m in four masterminds myself. One of the groups I’m in is called the Genius Network. One of the other members and I were sitting and talking. It was Clate Mask who started Infusionsoft and we were we were sitting talking about the growth of our companies and what we’ve gone through and trajectory. I was referencing back to the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? days and he was talking about Infusionsoft’s really fast growth. He was saying that it’s very hard for employees to go through more than one double in terms of this headcount or the revenue size of the company. If you go from $4 million to $8 million or $8 million to $16 million or $16 million to $32 million, they can do that. It’s hard to go from $8 million to $16 million and $16 million to $32 million and stay in the role that you’re in now. It’s easier when we’re in the C level role because we can keep hiring smart people around us to take more off our plates and scale. How do you grow the mid-level team and not have them be out of a job as you keep growing a company so quickly?
The first being that we ultimately have found that some team members were best suited for startup mode. There’s a bit of rudimentary truth to that, that people performed best in different stages of a company. It may be that the way the company’s running has either an employee outgrows the direction of the company or obviously the company outgrows the employees with a unique ability. We have an employee alumni network. One thing we strive to focus on, I should say, is whenever we are looking at maybe no longer being the best fit for an employee. Our main goal with the exit interview or with even the initial conversation around it is really focused on the employee’s benefit. It’s like a unique ability to overlap with company need. We’re looking at, “Ultimately, is this the best for the employee?” We’re basically running through a bunch of transitions as the company grows, an employee that was best suited two years ago for their role are probably not experiencing the impact that they want to experience.
Similar to meeting pulses, we’ve increased the pulse of feedback on a weekly basis. Two years ago, we started doing quarterly reviews. We run scorecards too. What we found was we had employees make scorecards. We had a personal development section and an area where they write about the competencies of their role and how they demonstrate that. We would talk about that and their role specifically once every three months, which was totally not enough. We learned the hard way. We didn’t want to delay those review, lead that conversation for three months. That’s insane since we had been moving so fast. We then started, “Every month we have a conversation,” and this is basically to give you some context as managers with their direct reports. That was good. We’d be able to look at the scorecards once a month, which was helpful. Then hopefully have more of the feedback conversations once a month rather than once a quarter.
Are you using any software tools for that or is it just having direct conversations?
In 2018, we implemented BambooHR and that’s been ridiculously helpful, scalable, visualization of our performance reviews that we’ve never been able to really benefit from before. It was really helpful. We got a lot out of that and it’s made our review process so much faster. For our leadership team, I went through with that Drew and DJ. We looked over where our employees landed on a grid and it was so helpful to see it visually for both of them and quickly. It’s very digestible performance growth map department.
You guys ranked as the top company to work for in San Diego or one of the top. Do you measure your net promoter score of your employees, net promoter score satisfaction and then also on the customer side at all?
We run NPS on the customer side. We have two different surveys that run a course. We have CSAT based on that customer satisfaction from the actual customer service experience. Then we also run a post-purchase NPS. We’re looking at our next step, which is still based on API set up. It is going to be NPS per product line so we can get really granular and actually take more actions based on that. We run it on the customer side. Our NPS is run on a quarterly basis for employees, but we also have two ratings for our employees on their Bamboo HR side. Basically, it’s a percentage of our employees that feel highly valued, not valued. We do have that other employee metric that’s very helpful to manage by.
I love the NPS rating as well. We used it a ton at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? where we ranked as the number two company in Canada to work for. Our employee net promoter score rating was 93% and our franchise partners are around 98%. It was ridiculously high. We also ranked as the number two company in the country to work for. It happened to be that high and I liked the data point much better than an average rating as well. The average rating is a little bit misleading. In fact, the last COO Alliance event we had, I was disappointed. I didn’t think it was as strong. I didn’t like the content. I don’t think I’d really given it my all in terms of focusing on the agenda and I wanted more focused agenda topics.
This one was on reverse engineering and we didn’t really stick to it. Sure enough, the NPS on it came out at 69% whereas the past ones were always 85% to 90%. It hit me and I knew right away without even having a look at the written feedback. The average rating was 8.7 and that could seem like a good score but 8.7, 9.3 they all seem the same but a 69% or 90% or if 20% of the net promoter score, they don’t lie especially when you’re giving me the negatives. How often do you measure your NPS on the employee side?
We were doing it on a quarterly basis. Now with Bamboo, we can do it monthly. We are increasing that rating metric. We were coming much more into the utilization of data around employee metrics. We hadn’t done a lot of that. It had been based on a Google survey. I make a Google form and have the team make the NPS survey. It was pretty manual. Even our onboarding, we’ve got a 30-day questionnaire that they fill out. “Was the onboarding is what you expected? It’s right around 30 questions and they have a lot of room to drop in their own feedback. Then we do another one at 90 and a check in at 60. A lot of increased cadence of communication. That was what I was getting to previously is the feedback conversation is weekly now versus before we started at quarterly. Before that, we didn’t have anything. It’s that applying the meeting pulse mentality to our employee feedback. That’s probably one of the biggest levers because of the higher frequency you can get that feedback, the faster you can make changes and address issues.
All the companies that I coach, I’ve been trying to relay this message. I don’t think I’ve brought it into a COO Alliance event, but I’ll make a note to talk about it at one of the next ones. We really overcomplicate business and if we treat a company more like a really good family, when you’re raising children, you don’t want to do a quarterly review with your kid. You don’t want to wait weekly to give them feedback. You do it right away. If your kid does something great, you tell them right away. If your kid does something poor, you tell them right away how to change it. It’s the same thing. I want feedback from my kids when I’m being a great dad and when I could improve. Part of it is opening up the level of communication and trust. Then also really understanding that as long as the conflict is about an issue, not about the person, it’s not like you’re a bad person. It’s you did something cruel. You made a mistake or that you didn’t give it your best. Something broke and this is what I observed. Do you train your employees on being comfortable with accepting feedback and realizing that we all have areas to grow? How do you get them to accept that?
It does start with that onboarding eliciting the questions, we start having the exposure to our current culture that’s very open to feedback. We sent it at the majority of our company through a leadership training that was very feedback-centric, radical feedback you could say. That built our leadership team. They talk about culture being almost like the culture in yogurt or kombucha. The culture is the juice. That’s what they’re coming into. It stands out very much when someone is not open to feedback or whether giving or receiving. It is the cultural norm. It did take sending our team through a leadership development program which is ALA. It’s a leadership program out here. It’s similar to MITT or Landmark, you name it, any of those. It’s a great one out here in San Diego though.
We teach crucial conversations too. We touched on this a little bit into quick feedback. I’m on Entreleadership. It’s a great podcast put on by Dave Ramsey’s company. They brought on the author of Crucial Conversations and he had talked about that the best indicator for what he called company success and ultimately what will allow you to grow your company is what he called the lag time between when smart people identify a problem and discuss a problem. Let’s say an employee sees something that’s not working, how likely are they to bring it up? It goes on for a month or two or they ultimately leave without saying something. That’s highly dysfunctional. You nailed it when you said with your relationship with your kids, you wouldn’t wait weeks to tell them something wasn’t working. You tell them right away. How we look at the feedback and these conversations that are sometimes challenging because we’re bringing up things that don’t work.
As we approached that with caring, you care so much you want to bring it up. The saying, “To be unclear is to be unkind.” Be clear about what’s not working. Care so much about your employees that you will have that conversation directly because you want them to be successful that much. That’s more of a mentality that we demonstrate or practice. I truly believe it’s not really about the tools that you are giving your team. It’s that you’re doing it. We look at the areas that are dysfunctional in our business. The first question we’d like to ask is how are we creating that? The leadership team and the C level team because we are tolerating it. This is coming from us. It’s a little bit of radical ownership or whatever, but it always requires demonstrating that first. If we’re asking our team to be honest and take responsibility and give direct feedback immediately, we better be doing it ourselves.
It goes back to looking at what system is missing or what system is broken that’s allowing this to happen as well. It could be an interviewing system where we brought the wrong people in. It could be a review system where communication protocols or lack of training. A lot of entrepreneurial companies and high growth focus companies are really good at finding the things that are going wrong. It goes back to the basic One-Minute Manager and again, raising kids. If I constantly showed my kids every area they were screwing up, they just start to attune it out and be a little gun shy because they know they’re never going to do well. How do you catch your team doing something right? Do you put the systems in place as a company and its leadership team to catch your employees and celebrating all the good little things? What do you do?
We had to build it into our structure. We realized that some of our leaders are naturally great at positive reinforcement and recognition. In order to do that, an effective way for our employees, we actually have all of our employees take the Love Language Test when they first start. We understand how they will most appreciate being recognized. It’s awesome for your personal life, but it’s really fun to get to understand our employees when they come in. We have a discussion with them about their personality assessments. I love saying, “Is it quality time. Should I take you out to lunch if I want to appreciate you if we want our employees to feel appreciated? Is it sending you a gift or writing your card? Maybe showcasing your success in front of the team?”
That’s on the more personal level to answer your question. We really have that front and center and then we have them fill out favorite things survey when they come on. Their favorite restaurants, their ideal day, their favorite music or their favorite sports team. Managers use that as a way to provide gifts and provide recognition and value so it is personalized. Even our team members’ birthday presents and stuff, it’s pretty much always a gift card but it’s a gift card to their favorite online retailer or their favorite restaurant locally. We do try to add that. Giftology was an amazing book.
Giftology is an amazing book for sure. I’m a good friend of the writer. I’m glad you said you actually systemize it as well. It’s so important because we tend to see the problems to put the systems in place to find the good parts. I was telling a CEO that I coach about it. I said when you walk down a sidewalk and if you were looking for the cracks, you would see them everywhere. You could obviously look down and say that for each piece on the sidewalk, there are two cracks. There’s one on each side of it. You could also look at the sidewalk differently and say for each crack, there are also two good pieces of sidewalk on each side of it. If you look for the good parts of the sidewalk, you’ll see them. If you look for the cracks, you’re going to see them. We tend to be so focused on the stuff to improve and stuff to work on and what’s going wrong to fix it that we miss all the good stuff that’s happening every day. If we really can continually focus on praising people for the stuff they’re doing well, we raise their confidence level up to the point that they’re going to be so happy to get any of the constructive criticism they need to grow as well. Without it, they do tend to shut down at some point. It sounds like you guys are doing stuff really well.
It’s always a work in progress, but that foundation of positive reinforcement allows team members to open up to that feedback. Basing on what you said, we certainly see that. If you don’t have enough trust initially and knowledge that your manager is really here to support your ultimate success, that constructive feedback and maybe areas that you could improve on are a lot harder to handle. Because you’re questioning, “This person doesn’t want me to be successful.” Recognition and celebration are really important for our company. It’s something that over the last year we’re really focused on and building out. Every month we do all hands and we always have Zoom on for our remote team. In the office, we have each department head present on what worked, what we learned the last month and what the initiatives are moving forward. It’s a way for us to try to streamline transparency across the company and alignment. What we added to that is recognition. We always do team member recognitions. We do a celebration and to have that embedded so that it’s consistent and normal. I feel like it’s always a work in progress, but if you had a habit at least embedded, then you’re going to get it done.
Touch on the work in progress part. You’re an amazing leader, taking the company from a couple of employees up to 55 plus 110. What are you working on? Where is Mae Steigler a work in progress?
I’ve done some personal coaching that was really huge, which was more of understanding my core values. That was really important for me as a leader to get out of my own head and get out in my own way. If I’m leaving the company with a skewed filter, having my own self-limiting beliefs in the way, it’s holding the company back. That was huge for me. Working on yourself, working on myself was big. A lot of that looked like playing to my strengths as well. Trying to identify, “Where is my attention most valued at the company?” I like to grow some of the departments I oversee as when I was in that seat, what would I have most benefited from? Then creating it for those employees too? It’s almost like, “What if?” I’ve never been where I am now. I don’t know what’s going to work in the future. I don’t know what’s going to make the biggest impact right now for us. All I can do is continue to look at the numbers and work with the employees and develop them.
For our audience, I love you to leave us with one leadership lesson and give us a specific area where you’ve really grown and you’ve internalized that leadership lesson and something you could pass on to anyone in our audience.
The first thing was the practice. It’s actually from Seth Godin. It’s his book around shipping something.
I remember his blog post about it. It started the trend of a minimum viable product, which I call a minimum viable everything. It’s selling the damn thing.
Knowing that it’s totally fine not to get it right, normally you won’t. The most important thing is to ask for feedback. Once you create something, being open to making it better as you go and that has allowed us to move quickly, creating things and implementing fast. I think about the COO Alliance and how many golden nuggets every time I take away and think, “What’s the fastest way I can try this on?” and think to evaluate the impact of it and keep what works and let everything go that doesn’t. It’s maintaining the startup mentality in this now medium-sized company that I have the honor of sitting in. It is that mentality of shipping things, not being scared of being right. It normally won’t be and that curative process of eliciting feedback.
Mae, thank you for sharing all the insights and ideas. It’s obvious as to why Organifi has had the crazy growth that it’s had as well. You’re a spectacular leader and a great addition for the COO Alliance. I appreciate all the time you had for us.
Thank you so much, Cameron. It’s a great discussion. I always appreciate how much value pour to this and I appreciate you so much. Thank you.
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About Mae Steigler
Mae serves as Chief Operations Officer at Organifi and is responsible for the alignment and development of people and processes, aiming of improving everything she touches.
Mae’s background is in research and development in the agriculture industry. After graduating from California Polytechnic State Univ. with a degree in Animal Science and Nutrition she passionately worked towards early detection of illness in the dairy industry, striving for positive change in animal longevity and decreasing the overuse of antibiotics.
Later Mae’s focus shifted to human nutrition and she entered into the health industry with a fascination in behavior change and positive physiology. Meeting Drew Canole – Organifi’s founder in 2011, Mae worked alongside him to build Fitlife.tv, a health transformation digital marketing and content startup.
Applying her background in nutrition and research Mae gained priceless entrepreneurial experience as they built a community from several thousand to over 3 million on Facebook, a digital membership, a coaching and coaching certification program, and a video content creating machine.
Three years later Djamel Bettahar and Drew Canole launched Organifi and Mae was instrumental in the build out of new roles such as influence marketing, human resources, and operations. Shifting from a digital content marketing company to a physical product superfoods giant provided invaluable learning for Mae as she grew with the company. Her specialties are problem-solving, high emotional intelligence, people development and navigation of organizational change for business and team success.