Our guest today is Robert Glazer, author and keynotes speaker, as well as the Founder and Chairman of the Board of Acceleration Partners.
Robert is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for helping individuals and organizations build their capacity to elevate.
Under Robert’s leadership, Acceleration Partners has become a recognized global leader in the affiliate and partner marketing industry, receiving numerous industry and company culture awards. He was also named to Glassdoor’s list of Top CEO of Small and Medium Companies in the US, ranking #2. In addition to being a guest on podcasts such as this, Robert hosts the Elevate Podcast, where he sits down with CEOs, authors and thinkers to discuss personal growth and helping others live their best lives. He is an international bestselling author of four books: Elevate, Friday Forward, Performance Partnerships and How To Thrive In The Virtual Workplace.
A regular columnist for Forbes, Inc. and Entrepreneur, Robert’s writing reaches over five million people around the globe each year on topics that range from performance marketing and entrepreneurship to company culture, capacity building, hiring and leadership. He’s also a sought-after speaker by companies and organizations, especially on subjects related to business growth, culture, mindful transitions, building capacity and performance.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- How Robert ‘accidentally’ created a business that now has over 300 employees.
- Why you should never feel guilty about asking a happy customer to leave a review.
- How the company roles were realigned as they grew over time.
- Details on Robert’s new book, Elevate Your Team
- How Robert helped (then COO) Matt Wool in his growth on a spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical level.
CO Alliance Podcast – “Invest in your People with Matt Wool” (Episode 67)
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This is going to be a great episode for you. I finished talking with Robert Glazer. I’ve known Bob for many years. I used to coach Bob and his team for a couple of years. His COO, Matt Wool, was one of the founding members of the COO Alliance. He’s 1 of the first 3 members. They built the number 2 or number 10 company to work for in the United States on Glassdoor. Bob’s written three books. He’s the only CEO we’ve ever allowed to be on the show, and here’s why. He elevated his COO, Matt Wool, from employee number 2 or 3 up to CEO of the company, and they now have about 350 employees systemwide.
They built one of the best companies to work for in the United States on Glassdoor. Bob’s book is called Elevate Your Team. He’s going to talk about how they elevated their team, skillset, mindset, physical, emotional and spiritual capabilities and how they’ve always looked at growing their people and investing in their people to scale up the company. I think you’re going to love the show. Enjoy the episode and please share it with your friends as well.
Bob, welcome to the show.
Good to see you.
I’m curious to talk to you for a bunch of reasons. One is you’re brilliant. I’ve been able to follow your career, your business and scale, but you’re the first CEO that we’ve ever allowed on the show.
I appreciate that.
We’ll get into some of the reasons why because it ties into your book, Elevate Your Team, but also into your CEO, who was your COO for years and was one of the very founding members of the COO Alliance, Matt Wool. He was in Episode 67. I’m curious as to what got you to start the organization and even bring Matt into the organization. We’ll start a little bit with him, then we’ll go into some content for your book and then we’ll go back again.
I know you’ve worked with a lot of different agency folks over the years. I remember someone saying to me, “How did you start your agency?” I started to think about it and laughed. They were like, “What’s funny?” I’m like, “I have a lot of friends with agencies. None of them started them intentionally. They started doing some work for someone and they got good at it.” It’s the same thing. I started doing some work for a couple of companies in this area of affiliate marketing. This one company I was working with was called Tiny Print. It was a crazy growth story. I was like, “I think you have an opportunity to do this.” They’re like, “We don’t know how to do it.”
I built it for them. The company sold for $300 million to Shutterfly. People went around the valley. They started calling and saying, “That thing that you helped Tiny Print do was cool. Could you help us do it?” I did a couple of them, and then I hired one person and another person. That is typically how an agency goes. When one person gets full, you hire more. When we were about 7, 8, 9, 10 people, I was like, “This is a business.” Matt told this story. It’s pretty funny. Matt originally came to me as a business school intern when I probably had 2 or 3 people in 2008 where there were no jobs. This was The Great Recession.
I got a couple of business school interns, like qualified people, to come work at my three-person company out of my basement. Matt helped with a bunch of stuff. We had a great relationship. A few years later, when we were bursting at the seams and I was like, “I need help,” I called Matt and I was like, “Do you want to come to help me grow this thing? I think this is a real business. I need someone to run all the client services.” He was going through an existential crisis at his current business. I literally hit him on the right week. He joined and we’ve been teamed up ever since
That was how long ago?
It’s been many years now.
Over the years, as the company scaled, you’ve gone from literally accidentally starting up a company to having 300 and some odd employees now. It’s quite the accident. Well done. I’m sure the whole time has been quite easy. You knew what you were doing the whole time. I know your book is called Elevate Your Team, but how have you had to elevate yourself during those years?
We had coaches and a bunch of people. Every time you double the business, you’ll break half your people and processes. That happened. At some point, I decided I didn’t want that to happen. I was like, “How could we grow the business by growing the people?” The last few years have been growing the business irrespective of the impact on the people and you get new people if you burn them out. I think that playbook is probably gone for a while now because I don’t think you get anyone to work for you. There’s societal exhaustion going on. We wanted to do things differently. Every time the business doubles, you need to reevaluate, “Do I want this role? Am I willing to change and get better and do the work to do it?”
I had to go from doing everything to trusting other people and letting go. I’m sure we’ll get this eventually, but I would ask myself that every 2 to 3 years. I’d look at the role objectively and eventually, the answer was no. For a while, it was, “I got to learn how to do this. I got to learn how to lead, delegate and hire. If I want to qualify to be the leader of my organization and we keep doubling every couple of years, then I’ve got to elevate myself.”
In elevating yourself, did you have a line of sight to when you were going to elevate yourself to the point that you were going to move even out of the CEO role or did that happen because of the growth or the transaction would be?
It was a little bit of both. I realized that right out of the pathology, I liked the new and creative. We always joked that even in his different roles, whether it was VP of client services, president or CEO, Matt always ran the day-to-day business. He kept the trains on the track, kept the wheel, and I was out there working on what are we going to do next year. He was working on how does the business perform this year? It was a great tandem. As you’re smaller, those new and exciting things are a big part of the business. They are setting the vision and it’s almost more a lot of times on selling people on the future than it is about the present.
At some point, that calculus starts to change. When committed to, “I wanted the company to be the global leader in its industry, and to do that, we need to keep growing.” That’s what we were all motivated by. I was also objectively able to look at that and say, “If that means leading a seven-person leadership team, being in meetings all day, dealing with this compliance stuff and operations stuff, I don’t want to do that.”
It worked for a few years when I was the CEO, but Matt most of the team reported to him. There were some issues with that. I had marketing reporting to me and he had sales reporting to him. There were some conflicts we ran into. When we hired our last marketing lead, we decided to integrate that into Matt so that he could adjudicate the sales and marketing things directly. At that point, I was like, “I’m the CEO but I’m on a path to having no direct report. Maybe it’s time to call a spade a spade.” It’s probably not the CEO role anymore.
You guys did many things well at Acceleration Partners. One of the things that clearly you did well, which is often overlooked, is the titles. You didn’t give Matt the COO title early on in his trajectory in running the company. You gave him a VP title. It drives me bonkers when I see these twenty-person companies with a bunch of C-level people or an eight-person company and the founders calling themselves the CEO.
If you are not the CEO, if you don’t have an executive team that you’re managing and all the roles are performed by you, you might be the president. It’s hard to see yourself as CEO when you don’t have an executive team to manage.
Did you cognizantly keep him at the VP level for a reason to chase down the other titles or did you begin to put those titles, other roles and responsibilities in place?
Matt and I have a lot of differences. The one thing we both are is we’re not super title focused. In fact, my title was managing director for years. I always liked when someone found out the person running the company and had a totally understated title. We then started hiring some managing directors in other regions. It was confusing. I only even gave myself the CEO title once. It was confusing to other people. I carried managing director for ten years. Matt came in. He ran client services. He ran the delivery piece and then eventually, we elevated him to GM since that was what he was. I was missing one of the titles when you were talking about this earlier.
He became president and that’s when we started shifting around the exec team, and then he became CEO. I’ve seen a lot of people get in trouble with too big of a title. There are debates on whether we still have a need for a COO at the size company that we are because we have a chief client officer who oversees all the delivery of services. That’s a lot of what a CEO would handle if the core product is services.
Was there any realignment that you had to do with the organization as he moved into these other roles and took on more responsibilities? How did you approach that with the team to let them know and for you to step further and further away? What did you do there?
With each redoing of the executive team, and we hired someone at some point, I wanted that to be his hire. When we started replacing people that either left or as we grew, it became his hire at some point and call because he was building the operating team. What was interesting in the last thing is I had approached Matt, and this was two years before we did our transaction or before the transition. We were on a walk in London and we’re talking about his career trajectory.
I said, “I want you to be the CEO of this organization. I think it’s better aligned with your skillset, where we’re going and what I want to do. I’m already spending a lot of time writing, speaking and doing this other stuff. This is where I see it going.” We worked on a two-year transition plan. We were fully transparent when we were talking to investors and otherwise, and we can get more into that. Six months into it, we told our leadership team. We said the path is to take this to Matt to the CEO.
We knew that we were going to do it one year after we closed the investment. We felt bringing on investors and changing CEOs would be a lot of change for people at once. What we did is we started moving everything slowly. Matt started leading more of the company meetings. We hired a new director of marketing and reported to Matt. I basically went down to zero things. By the time we announced it in December, it was like the Keyser Söze thing. People were like, “What’s going to change?” We’re like, “Nothing because if you’ve been watching what we did the last year, no one reports to me anymore. Matt leads all the company calls. We did it all when you weren’t looking.” That made the transition pretty easy.
I do like that it was that two-year transition period and that you guys worked hard at it too. It wasn’t just to rip off the Band-Aid and do it. It’s dangerous when a CEO abdicates, dumps and runs away.
Matt had work to do. He was good about the feedback. We told him the things we had to work on. We got the feedback. He worked on those. It’s a different and bigger role. He did that. We probably could have done it a little sooner, but I think we were very intentional about it. People thought, and someone wrote it in some Glassdoor Review, “This is a figurehead thing. Bob’s going to be pulling the strings and all that stuff.”
People saw very quickly that I stepped out of the room and meeting. These were Matt’s calls and decisions. If you’re going to do something like this, you need to get out of the way and make it clear to people that they can’t have the kids putting the parents against each other. I knew for him to be successful, given that I had a big brand persona tied to the business, I would need to get out of the way quickly. I still joined the weekly meetings. I started our two-day offsites for the strategic review, but not the tactical planning day and made conscious changes so that people felt like it was different and it was his company.
You mentioned that Matt had to work on some stuff to elevate himself in that transition period. I know that at one point, he was involved in the COO Alliance. He was one of the founding members. He was in that for a couple of years. He was doing coaching stuff. What do you think he specifically did? Was it coaching and working with consultants and reading books? Were there some specific areas that he had to elevate himself in?
Some of it was endemic to the job and the role and the change. We worked with coaches over the years. He’s worked very closely with them. We worked with you and a bunch of coaches. There was a lot of reading. He started going to events. He started going to a lot of these things instead of me. He and I started a book club for six months before the transition. I picked the five books on leadership that I thought were impactful. We would read and talk about them. Some of it was also equally related to the role. His job was going to be to start setting the vision. A COO type of person is someone who is typically the visionary and gives them the crazy vision.
They’re the ones who figure out how it’s going to happen otherwise. Getting comfortable with putting big things out there, pushing the accountability down to the team, not knowing exactly how it was going to happen, but saying, “This is where we’re going. This is where we marched. You’re responsible for figuring this out.” I’m responsible for figuring it out. A couple of things that you lead to learn, and these are some of the reasons why I love Matt, but he is a carry your own bag, book your own plane ticket kind of person. He spends company money. I was like, look, “You can’t do this.” He started taking over my EA.
There were a lot of things where he was doing ten one-on-one calls with people. I’m like, “You’re the CEO of the company. I love that you’re running ten mentorship groups, but that’s not how you can spend twenty hours a month. You need to start thinking of your time differently. You’re the only person in the world that I would say this to, but you need to be fancier. Most people need to be less diva. You need to be more diva. I’m the CEO of a 300-person company. I’m going to buy the direct flight. I’m not going to deal with my ticket. I’m going to ask someone to change the hotel room for me. I literally wouldn’t tell anyone of this, but you need more diva.”
The other thing that was great about Matt and I had the same problem when I learned this was that Matt is very approachable and easy to understand. I learned it’s like the Disney rule. As the company gets big enough, you need to realize you are on stage and you are in costume. People take every joke and every word you say as gospel. I learned that the hard way. I pointed out a lot of examples for him of where, “Unfortunately, you have to be a little less casual.” I learned a lot of that stuff the hard way where you want to just be you, but you don’t realize how people take all of your words and stuff as CEO of the company when you’re trying to be the person next door.
I’ve been telling people for years that sarcasm doesn’t scale, either. Sarcasm is fine when there are ten of you, but sarcasm doesn’t work.
Maybe if you know someone really well, like if you are used to your team and they know how to read you, but other people don’t know how to read you.
You end up making a comment during a town hall, and the other 200 people have no idea what the heck happened up there.
There was some presentation stuff. I had this, particularly with video. A lot of leaders in our company have started seeing the filler words. I had to do this for myself. I say, “I want you to take that video and go watch it over and over again. When you watch it, you’re going to be uncomfortable, then you’ll probably realize why you need to stop saying that same sentence or whatever that crutch sentence is.”
We have a very learning-oriented company. Everyone’s good about feedback. We had someone on our team who was bad. We started highlighting the umming to people in calls and told everyone to raise their hand in the call if they started doing it to make them super aware of it. Everyone who elevates themselves into that new role will have development things to work on. It’s part of it’s endemic to taking on a new role.
I loved one of the examples that Matt had to get better at not knowing how to do everything. Entrepreneurs often have no idea how to do anything.
Ask everyone else to do it because they didn’t know how to do it.
I had a friend of mine who called himself a lazy entrepreneur. He opened up his head office 3,000 miles away from his home so that he couldn’t go into the office and see people. A couple of years later, he had 200 employees that were literally 3,000 miles away. He’s like, “I have an office of 4 people managing the 300 people in Winnipeg.” I’m like, “That’s genius.”
If it works, it works. Go with it.
You mentioned Glassdoor in passing, and you guys as a company ranked very highly for one or a bunch of years on Glassdoor, like number 2, 12 or something to work for in the United States. What were the top few reasons why you think that happened?
We built a good culture. We knew Glassdoor was important. We would not tell people what to write or otherwise, but we would regularly check in with people and say, “If you haven’t posted anything in a few years, could you leave an update?” We didn’t know if they did or not, but it’s an important metric and unfortunately, it’s totally blind and other people can do it.
If you sit around and as your company gets bigger, there’ll always be unhappy people. If you don’t have the happy people contributing regularly and you get the unhappy people and then what you see happens is there’s an unhappy review or a bad review and then the company jumps all over it and asks everyone, then you see nine great reviews and it looks like it’s trying to wash that out.
It’s important to have a regular program of asking people as they come in, “Would you leave a thing on there?” I always had that as a KPI. I can’t control what people say, but to ask regularly. There are a lot of companies out there that you’re seeing the reflection of the 5% of the company that doesn’t like it when the 95% of people love it. Happy people oftentimes don’t take the time to go post things online.
One of the things I’ve tried to do as a little system is any time I hear from an employee or customer that they’re super happy, I reply back going, “Thanks so much. I’m glad you’re happy,” then 24 hours later I go back and I go, “I was thinking about your email yesterday,” which I’ve already acknowledged and said I’m glad they sent. “Would you mind hopping on and here’s the link and leaving us a quick review? I’d love it if you would.”
If you’re pressuring people or doing stuff, that’s garbage. You shouldn’t feel any guilt around regularly acting people that are happy to tell other people that. You’re not telling them what to say. You’re just asking them to do it. We had a thing years ago, and then because someone wrote about this on Glassdoor, we haven’t done it in five years, but people still post because some angry person goes back and takes it from another post. We were submitting for a lot of awards, and it was exhausting. One time, we had a spreadsheet. We said, “If you filled out these things,” because a lot of them need company participation, “Mark it off, check it in and we will do a raffle. You can win an Apple watch.”
We were trying to thank people for their time because they had to fill all these things. People are paying for reviews. I was like, “It’s anonymous. I don’t know if they reviewed it. I don’t know what they said. They could have left a horrible review and won an Apple watch.” It’s funny in this narrative. We never told people what to say. We never pressured anyone. We just asked them if they felt comfortable writing one. They’re all anonymous. I have no idea who posted what.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking happy employees and happy customers to leave a review. You can’t leave that stuff up to chance.
You should probably set a calendar reminder and once a week, think of who’s an employee and a customer because now you’re spreading these things over every week or every two weeks rather than what inevitably happens is you get 1 or 2 bad reviews. Everyone goes into a fire drill. It looks like you’re trying to cover that up. You want to do that before you need to.
You got to bury the body in advance. I want to talk about your book Elevate Your Team. It’s funny. Every time I started thinking about your book, I kept thinking it was called Elevate.
That was my original book. This is the sequel. It looks very similar.
Your first book was called Performance Partnerships.
That was a marketing industry book, and then Elevate was more of a personal leadership development book.
In Elevate Your Team, I know you talked about four core areas. Do you want to touch on those?
Both books have the same framework. They just look at it differently. Elevate was, “How do you get better as a leader and develop other leaders by looking at spiritual, intellectual, physical and emotional capacity?” I saw that as the core of all improvement and personal development. Spiritual is not religious, but it’s what are your core values. What are your strengths? How do you show up?
Intellectual is your operating system. How do you learn, plan, execute and get better with discipline once you know what you want? Physical is more like it sounds. It’s your mental and physical wellness. We are the same person inside and outside of work. I was saying this before, we’re working at home, you are not a disorganized, exhausted person at home and you show up to be a super organized, energetic person at work.
These are holistic life skills. Emotional is how you relate to other people’s vulnerability, and how you interact with the people and the world around you. Elevate talked a lot about how to look at that as a personal development framework for understanding where you were out of line room otherwise and there’s a lot of feedback. This is great for leadership development. As I started thinking about how we built the organization because we committed to make people better holistically, like, “How do I make Cam better? He’ll be a better employee but a better father, husband partner, and more relaxed.” If your physical health is crap, your physical health is crap across all of your things.
I realized that we had been training across those same disciplines as an organization. We had been helping our leaders understand their strengths, weaknesses and communication styles. We had been building a whole learning culture of feedback, how everyone gets better, and teaching everyone better habits and financial literacy. We’ve been encouraging people to run races and pay for coaches and things they wanted to do, their goals and paying people to go on vacation and unplug from work. We try to have that.
We were also doing crazy stuff around emotional capacity. We had employees do TED Talks at our annual event, and then we had someone come in, Philip McKernan, you might know him, and he facilitated this thing called One Last Talk. We had four employees go up there and give their, “This is the talk if it was my last day on Earth that I would give.” A) There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. B) What happened after that in terms of employees having real conversations with each other and all this stuff? This goes through that framework from how you create an organization that has those same works on those same capacities versus an individual.
I’ve joked with Philip. I call him the person that I love to hate the most or hate to love the most. Whenever he talks to me, he ends up within minutes getting to the core of the real issue.
He looks into your soul and you’re hysterically crying within fifteen seconds of talking with him every time. I’ve had him on my podcast. Everyone says the same thing. I asked him straight up, “I understand you are good at your job and you figured out a lot of these things, but there’s something deeper in this. There’s some skill that you have where you see through it.” He was even saying that he reacts. He says, “People will say something, but their facial muscles tell something totally different.” He’s very gifted at what he does.
He’s crazy. I don’t think he just sees your soul. I think he goes in, rips it out, shakes it around, hands it back to you and goes fix it.
One of my team who’s the emotionally toughest person said, “He had me crying ugly in fifteen seconds.”
The other person who reminds me of him in a slightly different way is Warren Rustand. I’ve got Warren coming and speaking at our in-person COO Alliance event. Warren does the same thing to me, where I could be at the peak of my game and feeling the best about myself. I listen to his story.
Warren does it with stories. They’re different. They’re two of my favorite people. He does it with these stories about stuff he’s done, and Phillip looks right into your soul.
I want to talk about the growth that you did with Matt and then around those four areas. Matt, being a COO, were there some specific things that you helped him or he identified for himself around the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical?
One of the things that we all did as a leadership team years ago is this why training. It’s been super instructive. There are these nine why archetypes. They explain more than any of these tests. Colby and a lot of these things are work style, but what is the core way that you show up and bring in your core motivation? It’s at the root of almost every conflict when you dig into a conflict and the why stuff. Matt’s not doing vision boards and stuff yet. I haven’t gotten him fully all of his family all the way on board on that.
He embraced setting those big goals, looking ahead and putting it out there. On the intellectual side, we have a crazy learning organization. People are always teaching, mentoring and coaching. I convinced him eventually to get into OneNote or other things again that weren’t scaling. That worked when you were a 10-person company, but you’re not going to remember this stuff when it’s 100. He was running ten forum groups. He started manager forums and was leading ten of them at a time and was teaching the five dysfunctional stuff of the team. He got a lot into this, “We are a learning culture.” Also, we’ve always embraced a lot is we don’t want people working to death.
We want to have an outcome-oriented culture. What’s funny is the places that celebrate hero hours and all that stuff are rewarding inputs, not outputs. It’s very disconnected from the results. The fact that we were remote for long that we already had gone into this. We know our metrics and KPIs. Before COVID, people looked at me like I had five heads, “Your entire team is remote, all 150 of them. How do you know they’re doing anything?”
I was like, “Our clients run these programs. The programs have goals. We look at, “Is the program hitting its goals which meet our financial thing? Are the clients happy?” Everyone has, on balance, the same portfolio of work. Let’s say every account manager has 4, 5 or 6 clients. If this manager has all their companies hitting their goals and they’re all net promoter scores off the chart, and they’re working four hours and the other person is working, I don’t care.
In fact, I want to teach them what the four-hour guy’s doing.
They’re focusing on the one relationship that’s driving results and not that they figured out the 80/20. It was always very easy for us to measure what it could look like. As we got into hypergrowth mode, you and I talked about this before and started throwing more resources on things, it didn’t produce higher output. We’re in a great reevaluation now where everyone put more against things and realized the cost of complexity.
I’ve always believed that the leader’s core job is to grow people, elevate people, and grow their skills and confidence. I launched a course called Invest In Your Leaders. One of the core things I’ve noticed is that the learner controls the environment. The learner’s not going to want to learn until they realize that they either have a need or a desire to learn. How do you get your leaders in companies like Matt Wool, who’s doing well operating as president? How do you get him to want to learn to something and not take the feedback defensively or is that a natural thing for him?
We built the culture around teaching people how to get feedback. That feedback was about getting better. If you attack characteristics and people personally rather than trying to talk about the issue and how to fix it and make it better last time, that was always part of our culture. One of our core values is excel and improve. Whatever you reward, people will do.
When you’re putting out leaders and saying, “Congratulations on this promotion, Cameron has crushed Excel and improved. He’s taken all of our courses. He did this,” people start to see that the people stepping up and getting promoted are the ones that are invested in learning and getting better. If the company is growing 30% or 40% of the year and you’re not going to do any work to get better, you are going to be in a precarious position pretty quickly.
It works better to show, not tell. What people saw was like, “Maybe Matt was resistant to some of this stuff, but he started embracing this stuff, learning and got a coach.” They can see the results he was getting and like, “I got to do the same thing if I want to qualify for that role.” In a company growing it 20% to 30% a year for a decade, if people aren’t getting approximately that much better every year, they will be consumed by the growth line pretty quickly.
I’ve read and talked about how good leaders can only go through two doubles in the size of the company before they’re out of a job unless they’ve continued to double their skills. At what point do you know that the person can’t continue to grow? Do you get rid of them or do you move them into a role that they’re good, well-suited for at the skill level they have and the company scales, but they now stay stagnant and is that okay?
I have a graph in the book that was part of a shower epiphany. I won’t ruin the opening. That changed everything by showing how fast the person improves relative to the growth rate of the company. That predicts where you’re going to be in your ability. This is something I had to learn the hard way. If people are GWC or Get it, Want it and have the Capability, they can keep going. We have Sarah on our team who has hired an SEO copywriter and now leads a team of 200 delivery people globally as the chief client officer. Sarah’s a voracious learner and developed into an incredible leader and all of these things.
I know when people hit the wall and when they stop getting it. They stop wanting to do the work. What I can tell is that the best people that I’ve ever had on my team, you’re always giving them feedback. You and I’ll sit down for a quarter of the thing, “Here are the things you need to work on. We’re not talking about those next quarter. You go and work on those. You improve those and you make new mistakes.”
There are people who clearly don’t want the feedback and aren’t going to improve, and then there are people who listen intently and don’t improve. There are people who listen intently and improve. The second group is the worst. The first group is, “I get it. I hear it.” Three months later, we’re talking about the same thing again. As soon as I start to see the same issue and we’re not making progress, I sense that the end is near.
The second part of that question, I got advice on this. We have a group or division, and let’s say there’s a marketing manager in the head role to start, then eventually you’re going to need a marketing VP, a marketing director and a CMO. You might ride up a couple of those things, but it might be unrealistic that you can ride that fast. Your ego needs to let you step aside and be like, “I moved from analyst to director in two years, but the company needs a VP.” I think a lot of those people struggle when they’re homegrown and that person comes in. They should be a great role for them. They’ve been promoted twice.
I had a guy say to me, “I’m running into this.” I said, “What did you do?” He said, “I had to part ways with almost all of them.” Two years later, they would come back to me and say, “You were totally right. I was over my head. I couldn’t see it. My ego got in the way.” It’s 50/50. I had a friend who had a bookkeeper who turned into a controller and he needed a CFO. The company was growing a100% a year. He knew she was not the CFO. He made her the CFO and she made a $1 million mistake. That was his mistake. He says that that was on him. Just because she wanted it didn’t mean she had the capabilities to be a CFO. By the way, it’s unrealistic to think that even with miracle growth that someone could turn into a controller or a bookkeeper to a CFO in 2 to 3 years.
I had discussions with some leaders and followed some of the science of persuasion, where you sit down and convince them that they’re going to enjoy reporting to this new VP and getting more time from somebody versus the 5% of my time they’re going to get a 100% of getting to report to this new leader and grow with them.
They might not understand and we’ve said like, “You need a mentor. I don’t know enough about marketing to help you anymore, but if you see what happens when we hire a rockstar person that you can learn from, you’re not the CMO now, but you could be the VP of marketing who gets a CMO role elsewhere in three years.”
How do you decide or do you distinguish who your A players are and do you give more time to your A players than your C players? Do you have any thoughts around that?
We’ve done different things. I would run leadership retreats twice a year for our up-and-coming leaders, trying to get them leadership training and reps before they needed it. We also relaunched a whole thing like a HiPo program, like our highest performers and highest potential that are all identified across the company. They’re going to get special training and leadership access. One of the rules of that program was they didn’t belong to any team, which is interesting. If they’re tagged as this, then we are all responsible for making them better. If they’re tagged as one of the fifteen highest potential people in the company, you should not look at them from what’s available on your team but from what’s available on any team.
It’s hard when we know we’ve got these A players and we let them do their thing and then we keep working hard with the underperformers to grow them and elevate them without elevating the A players and it’s almost seems to be a shame.
We love to invest and train people. I was struggling years ago because we would hire in classes mostly for very similar jobs. You’d hire 10 people and 8 would be doing great at week 2 and 2 were totally struggling.. I don’t have the date on this, but I would tell you that if we statistically made a decision on how someone did in their first two weeks, I think it’d be 98% of the time. People start off horribly and people are like, “You didn’t train them right.”
I’m like, “Once you’re in that deficit, there’s almost no coming back.” Maybe you can’t do what we thought we hired you to do and our training is to get you to average. We made the decision years ago. We’re not going to train to get anyone to average. Training should be high potential and move them to the next level. I don’t want to retrain you for the job that we thought we hired you to do that you can’t do. As much as I want to invest in people, that feels like a bad use of limited resources.
When you went through this private equity deal, you sold the private equity or sold a portion of the company to private equity?
A portion growth investment.
When you did that, you mentioned to me before we started that they were happy to see that you had a solid second in command. Can you speak to that?
First of all, in the deal and all the details and stuff, the founder usually doesn’t know anything, but we were in the middle of that transition and said, “Matt runs all the day-to-day business. He’s going to be the CEO.” They were totally on board with that. When you have these deals, one of the fears of the private equity firms is that the founder is going to leave. They roll in a bunch of equity, but they don’t necessarily have to stay. They’re going to get bored or they’re burned out. Mid-market growth or private equity firms are not in the replacement CEO business. That tends to be bigger ones. They are betting on the team. That would be a worst-case scenario.
In the back of everyone’s mind, that’s an insurance policy. When the insurance policy already exists on the team, that’s very attractive to the investor. If they know that there’s a number 2 already on the team who could be number 1, I think that makes the deal and the company much more marketable because they’re always worried about founder concentration and founder risk. If what happens, something happens to the founder. They were totally on board and in some ways, it’s like, “We want the person who’s stepping up over the next five years who can have massive wealth creation and a life-changing opportunity to run the business.”
Before I ask you my last question, I wanted to first say thank you for investing in and elevating Matt. He and two others, Zach Obront from Scribe and Zach Morrison from Tinuiti, were the three founding members of the COO Alliance. It’s because you decided to put your money where your mouth is to grow him and you invested $20,000 in him plus some coaching and, “I didn’t know what I was doing.” Thank you for caring enough to elevate him. I want you to roll the camera backward in time and go back to like the 22-year-old Bob Glazer. I don’t know if you were Robert Glazer back then.
How would you tell yourself to elevate yourself back then, something that may be to be true nowadays, but you wish you’d worked or focused on it earlier?
Someone was reading my bio before speaking and I realized that every single thing that they had said was what I would call ACV or after core values. Coming out of a leadership thing with Warren many years ago, I was like, “I think I’m very values-oriented, but I don’t know what my core values are.” I went on this journey. I’m like, “I’m going to figure this out.”
Now I built a program and it’s a course. We train all our leaders to understand their core values because that’s becoming the authentic type of leader you want to be. I used to say this when I presented this to our team. When we all start leading, it felt a little bit like a patchwork quilt. We take the things that we like from other leaders. We try to do the opposite of the things that we hate. Some of it’s not us.
At 22, I was trying to copy the best practices of other people. After going through that process, I was like, “Here’s what I’m going to be. Here’s what I’m going to do.” When I’m going to hire someone for my team, I’m like, “This is why you’ll absolutely love working for me, and this is why you absolutely love hating working for me.” They’re fundamentally the same thing.
This is who I am. I can change a little bit and I can evolve, but I’m not fundamentally going to change. I would’ve made better decisions if I had had that clarity and conviction earlier. I would’ve done things that were more authentically me. I could see something that Warren could do, but it’s not us. It’s Warren. We try to copy it and we realize we’re leading by pretending to be a bunch of different people and not ourselves.
It is super authentic. Bobby Glazer, thank you much for sharing. I appreciate the time.
Thanks for having me.