At the heart of every business, when you put people first and think about the success of people collectively, the team will go ahead. Mitch Dodd, the CEO at Kintec Footwear and Orthotics, defines this as servant leadership. Following the Rockefeller Habits, Mitch has been able to keep the boat floating. Exercising his unique expertise of problem-solving and creating a growth culture, he worked his way up from VP Ops to COO. As Mitch dives into servant leadership and company culture, he also shares the learnings and the skills he’s been able to gather along the way, and how their team’s expertise has been the heart and key to their success.
Servant Leadership: Managing Teams Towards Growth with Mitch Dodd
Mitch Dodd is the Chief Operating Officer at Kintec Footwear and Orthotics, a company that provides education and health-oriented footwear to keep their customers active for life. Mitch has managed stores, overseen IT, marketing inventory and team development. After attending the University of Western Ontario for Kinesiology, he moved to Vancouver in 2001. For any audience who are in the US or worldwide, the University of Western Ontario would be considered the Harvard of Canada. Mitch started working for Kintec at the bottom and transitioned from VP Ops to the COO. In his position as second-in-command, Mitch exercises his unique expertise of problem-solving and creating a growth culture. Mitch is also one of the members of the COO Alliance. Mitch, welcome to the Second In Command podcast.
Thanks, Cameron. It’s great to be here.
Tell me a little bit about your transition. Over the years, you’ve played pretty much every role in the organization in your growth. How did you progress in your role and also tell us briefly what Kintec does as well so we could have a better understanding of the business?
The core of our mission is to help keep people active on their feet for life. Often people don’t realize how inhibiting foot pain, knee pain, back pain can be. Others that realize it and are trying to avoid it, we have tools such as footwear, orthotics and sports medicine products that help keep them trucking and keep them doing the things that they love. The heart and key to our success is our team’s expertise. Their ability to get to know each customer and make sure they provide a customized solution for each person. For myself, I started as a retail sales associate helping customers using my kinesiology experience. I never said no to an opportunity. Every opportunity that came up, I said yes. Any project that came up, I figured out a way to make that project successful to see the benefit for both the company and the team so that we provide win-win situations. That’s allowed me to continue to grow and oversee the whole operations.
What’s the scope of the operations just so we understand how many locations and employees, people understand what your span of control is like?
We have quite a complex business. Kintec Footwear and Orthotics, we have eleven stores in the lower mainland and two stores throughout the rest of British Columbia. We have a software and wholesale orthotics company called Kiwi Orthotic Services. That service is for professionals all throughout North America and lab claims as far as Korea. We’ve acquired a chain of pedorthic companies in Southern Ontario as a part of a strategy for growth in that area. They have nine corporate locations and five franchise locations. We have about 27 retail locations as well as the wholesale side of the business and a software company.
What’s the ballpark number of employees?
We have about 150 employees.
The real business, real growth, what was the size of the company when you started with them?
It’s probably $2.5 million. We would be sitting collectively with all the entities, approximately $16 million. We’re still learning their numbers.
Tell us a little bit about some of the learning that you’ve taken along the way. As you said, you’ve done every role in the organization. What learning and skills have you been able to gather that you have learned and lessons that you’ve internalized? Focus mostly on the operations, leadership, business lessons versus anything on the science side.
The real key is that people at the heart of every business when you put people first and think about the success of people collectively, the team will go ahead. What lessons are learning, finding great facilitators, great mentors, good business coaches, read lots of books, listen to people that are ahead of you and smarter than you. You have the ability to challenge their thoughts and make sure it makes sense for your business. We followed the Rockefeller Habits. We started on that process in 2008. Part of what I learned through that is just because the recipe is good, it doesn’t mean it’s the perfect recipe for you. You have to make it your own.
Tell us a little bit about that. I’ve been following Verne Harnish’s Rockefeller Habits for many years, as you have been. What lessons have you pulled from the Rockefeller Habits or his book Scaling Up? How have you iterated those to make them your own?
One of the most important things for us is solid huddle and meeting rhythm schedule so that you can hold people accountable and talk on a regular basis. We’ve adapted it to work well for us. Rather than daily huddles with our managers, they have three huddles a week if that’s the right rhythm. We’ve iterated that agenda many times to make sure that those huddles are effective, engaging and the people are learning and growing together. That’s the key to all of it is quarterly themes. Annual planning is an important thing. For many years, we’ve tried some of the theming. Eventually, that didn’t stick because at the heart of what we do, it’s delivering good customer service. After the sixth time of great customer service as a theme, it’s a little bit boring.
You mentioned the three times a week huddles that you do. Walk us through how one of your huddles looks like. How long it runs and who runs them? Give us the backbone of the system that’s starting to work well for you now.
For the store manager ones, our director of store operations runs those. Tuesdays are all about what are your plans for the week. What’s going well? What didn’t go well? What do you need to do differently? Wednesday will be a theme topic. Reports from marketing, reports from the lab, discussions on a variety of things around the company. Fridays are a little bit of follow-up on how the week went and what’s succeeded, what’s not succeeded so that they can learn from each other and hold each other accountable.
Who runs the huddles?
It’s the director of store operations.
It’s the same person who runs them?
That’s what it was about before. We often update things so it might’ve switched that they have multiple moderators. We found one good moderator that connected with the group, so we ran with that for a period of time.
How long do you run them for?
They are fifteen minutes and monthly we do an extended phone call.
Tell me about your annual planning process. How do you run those?
Everything was based around our painted picture or vivid vision. We have that already created and we bring in an outside company facilitator that helps us look at where we’ve been, where we need to go. We do that with our executive level. Once we’ve got a clear picture of where the company is going, everybody starts to break out into their individual. Marketing will have its own annual meeting. We have a managers meeting. Development days where we go through that with them, with pedorthic development days. We follow that concept throughout the whole company from the annual quarterly and just continue to break it down.
You talked about the splitting off into each business group. When each business group goes off for their annual planning component, what are they focusing on? What are they working on?
They’re working on how their business area will fit into the yearly goals and the KPIs that are required for their business area.
Do they commit those back up to the team?
Is there a sign off process at all at the leadership team level or do you just accept what they’re saying? How does that work?
It’s usually either I’m involved with it or it is coming back up through our regular quarterly meetings with our directors.
How do you keep visibility with those when they come back and say, “These are the metrics we’re going to be responsible, or these are the projects we’re going to deliver on?” How does that visibility stay on them? How do you work with them on them? How do you ensure they happen?
There are two methods. One, we have a clear roadmap document for executives. The next layer is on our sales dashboards and our reporting. We have an internal sales dashboard that shows us all of our KPIs and it provides good transparency. We have good one-on-one meetings with each director to make sure that they’re on point moving forward and not hitting any roadblocks.
When you’re working with each of the business areas, what areas do you oversee and which areas does the CEO oversee?
I oversee all of our directors. Our CEO is used well as a visionary and business development or construction related projects. I oversee finance, marketing, IT, stores.
Everything else rolls up to you, right?
Is there any area of the business that you love running more than another? Is there one that you’re more passionate about?
One of the areas that surprises me of how much I enjoy and grow is the area of marketing. We had a great director of marketing and the two of us were able to bounce a lot of great ideas as we pushed our marketing forward over the last several years. I’ve enjoyed the understanding brand and how a brand fits into the company culture and how important it is that your company lives its brand every day.
You talked a little bit about being heart-centered as an organization. Can you maybe tell us a little bit about your company culture and how do you live that brand every day?
One of the things that make us unique is that our owner is very customer-centric. He absolutely has a passion for us delivering remarkable experiences. We have over 950 plus five-star Google reviews at our eleven locations, which to me says we’re doing a great job and help make sure we live our mission of keeping people active on their feet. I have a passion for our team and growing each individual piece of the team. Being the servant leader that makes sure that we are here to support everybody to be in their best position so that they can deliver that experience to the customer. That combination of two strong passions puts our growth and leadership forward as a company. We spend a tremendous amount of hours on individual and company learning and development. Once a year, we shut our entire company down for the day to celebrate what happened the year before to provide some learning and growth and to look ahead to where we’re going to go and what we’re going to achieve the following year. That’s a big commitment from the CEO owner to close the entire company for a day and pay everybody to make sure we’re on the same page.
You mentioned the servant leader. You’re the second person who’s mentioned servant leadership to me. Servant leadership is one of the core tenets that Starbucks executive team focuses on. Walk us through what servant leadership means to you, how you work on that and how you instill that style into the organization.
Servant leadership to me, you’ve described it on a number of the podcasts or the number of the COO events where you inverse that work chart where the leader is there to support the people around him so that they are growing. They have the opportunity to make mistakes. They have the opportunity to learn from those mistakes. As a company, we strive hard at collaboratively listening. When we make a decision on the new route, it’s going to provide value to all levels. Not just an idea that the executive has that’s going to be difficult for the frontline to execute every day.
I’ve always built companies that way, but I didn’t know that would be servant leadership. I was asking because I was intrigued. I’ve heard of it over the years. I’ve never taken the time to dive into it. Talk about the CEO and COO. I’ve always believed that the COO’s job is to be that yin and yang to the CEO, to be that true partner. How do you get on the same page with the CEO in terms of the vision for the organization? How do they get on the page with you in terms of your operational plans? How do you stay in sync and work together?
Any relationship, it takes lots of work and it’s been an interesting and an evolving relationship over the years that I’ve been here and worked with Mark, our CEO, who is an extremely passionate person. I never have to worry about his vision because I hear about it often from him of where he wants to go. My job is to take all those wonderful ideas and make them into executable plans. Filter through the good ones to find the gems that we can execute on and that will see us growing sustainably for many years.
Do you talk about how you work on it? What do you do to work on that relationship? What specifically?
What worked well since I’ve transitioned into my role is regular meetings. I call him or we text on a regular basis, both being in Vancouver. It’s effective for that. Our owner is happy when A, the numbers are going well. That makes life easier, but B, when he was informed that he knows what’s happening. If he doesn’t know what’s happening, he starts to make assumptions. That’s when things can go off the rails in the relationship. You just have to have heartfelt conflict and debate. Make sure that you can both walk away with the best plan that is going to serve the entire company.
You are clearly in sync there as well. Have there ever been any hiccups along the way where you’ve had to rebuild with the CEO?
That’s with all relationships and it’s speaking your truth. Both of us are able to speak our truth to each other and have the respect of the talent that the other person brings. The more that we’ve understood what that talent is, the more that we can understand the perspective that the other person was coming from. Speak your truth, hammer it out, find a way to collectively work together.
You talked a little bit about the whole heart-centered side of things. Talk to us a little bit about that in the culture inside of Kintec.
As a company, our goal is to help people. We want to see people do more of the things that they love. If people don’t have a passion for helping people, they don’t fit. It doesn’t make sense for them to be here and help our customers that are in pain or trying to avoid pain or trying to achieve their goals. That’s the heart of everything that we do, it becomes reflective in everything we do. We try to carry that through so that our head office understands that their job is to support our stores. Our stores’ job is to support the customers. When we put that first we create wonderful success.
Are you seeing any impact on online commerce? I know Canada is a little bit slower than the US in terms of its migration over to moving away from retail to online. Are you seeing anything there or is your business largely immune-ish to that because people have to come in and have a physical side of their meeting with you?
We have a few facets to our company with the customer orthotics and the medical space. Certainly in Canada, the extended medical plans require people to have come in and seen an expert. That keeps us a little immune for now. We don’t kid ourselves. We think that technology will be coming down the line where people would be able to take a photo of their foot and print stuff out or come up with who knows what creative ideas will be coming down the line. On the retail footwear side of it, eCommerce is probably 1.5% or 2% of our business, but we’re there and we make sure we have an eCommerce site because we put ourselves in our customer’s shoes. Many customers would love to have our experience. They love to get the right shoe. When it comes to their next shoe purchase, they want it to be convenient. They don’t necessarily want to have to visit us again. We have that eCommerce space for those customers. We can meet them in their shopping needs.
You meet them in the middle. In doing this acquisition that you did with the group out of Toronto, it’s a different side of the country, complexities with geography, it’s three time zones away. You were exclusively operating in British Columbia. Now you’re operating in a completely different province, which has different business challenges. It has different political challenges. How have you managed that acquisition? What have you learned, the good and the bad in learning?
The biggest way that we’ve succeeded in is working on culture first. The new group had a different culture than we have. Everyone that we’ve interacted with the team, we’ve put their goal first. We’ve helped to make sure that they understand the big picture. That they understand the brand that we’re going to be building, how they can contribute to it. We’ve started with our learning and development centers there. The team is excited about that culture and they seem to be buying into it. It’s going to take time. There are going to be lots of struggles with it being 4,500 kilometers away because we’re not there on a regular basis. I’m back once or twice a month. There is a distance that has to be covered.
You talked about some of the challenges. What would have been a couple of big challenges?
The biggest challenge will be getting traction in a new marketplace. One of the bigger challenges is that the Ontario market has significantly more insurance fraud related to orthotics in terms of competition. There’s a lot of fly-by-night competition that doesn’t necessarily have our education and certification. That’s going to be a bit of an uphill battle that we, fortunately, knock on wood had to fight and we see as much.
You have got a strong brand in British Columbia as well. Everyone pretty much knows the Kintec brand in British Columbia. If I think back to why I know your brand, it was the radio ads. Has that been the key to building your brand and your strategy over time?
It’s a component of our marketing strategy. One of the things that made us most successful is trying to be everywhere. We have regular newspaper ads. We spend a lot of time on our blog posts. We spend a lot of time on our video strategy. We do over 100 plus community events through our stores every year where we’re in the local communities. We’re on the radio ads. We’re constantly trying to grow that brand and that brand awareness within the community.
How do you measure marketing effectiveness? What do you look at?
We look at every campaign. We look at sales that are generated from it. We spend a lot of time at our point of sale, tracking why every customer comes in. We care about that, whether it’s email, whether it’s Facebook, whether it’s a newspaper ad. There are things like a radio that are a little more nebulous. You’re never going to directly be able to attribute to it. If our overall growth is happening in sales, we know that it’s having the impact we want.
Do you have a fixed percentage that you continue to spend on marketing? Is that the basic and you just keep spending that percentage as you grow?
We normally aimed somewhere around 4% for the cost of our marketing. We measure every campaign. We measure our digital through SEO and optimization. We measure newspaper. We measure as much as we possibly can to know which campaigns are effective. Our marketing team has an annual roadmap. Every campaign is evaluated and we determine whether we keep it or edit, drop or repeat.
I wanted to ask a question about you said that you bring in an outside facilitator to run your annual planning meetings. Why do you do that? Is that something you think you’ll always continue doing?
When we started on the Rockefeller Habits in 2008, we used a business coach and that was effective for about two to three years. We started outgrowing. It was part of the time during the economic downturn where numbers were getting tighter and we have to question what we were spending our money on. Probably about 2012, we connected with another EO member. My owner is a part of EO and in the EO Forum. He has come in and done the business facilitation of the meetings. What he’s effective on is he’ll meet with our team and help the leadership team help us understand where we want to go the following year. When we do the actual retreat, he helps facilitate or guide the conversation so that the entire team comes up with one collective vision that is aligned with where the executive wants to go. It’s an effective way of pulling ideas out of ourselves and that’s the strength of having a good facilitator.
It’s not necessarily skill. Even if you learn the skill, it’s good having that third-party outsider who can facilitate the group, isn’t it?
Yes. I often facilitate our annual marketing meeting. Not because our manager can’t lead it up because I want it to be facilitated and have him be a part of the conversation, not lead the conversation.
That’s a huge skill set that a lot of companies miss out on. They think that they’re gaining the skill to do it on their own. They miss the opportunity to have that third party who can be there to guide everyone in a conversation in a much better way. It also removes a little bit of the bias as well where the facilitator can often get the more dominant and expressive people to stop talking as much and dry out some of the information from the quieter, analytical, amiable people as well.
I completely agree. I’m a big advocate of outside facilitation.
You talked about individual and learning development for the company as a big focus. Are there any core areas that you’re focused on growing the team if you think about the leadership team itself?
The one thing I want to see us do is codify our culture. We saw Michel Falcon speak at the November COO event. I loved how they codified every bit of their culture and knew exactly and systematized it. I want to see our team, our leaders to own that and live into that culture.
I’ll tell you when you’re in Toronto, you should take some of your key people in Toronto for dinner at Baro, Michel’s restaurant. It’s out on King Street. Have him spend a little bit of time with you, you will be blown. He’ll give you a tour. He’ll walk you around. He walked me through that place. He was hugging everybody, high fiving people. It was honest and authentic. He knew everybody by name. There were dozens and dozens of employees. He had the same kinds of interaction with a guy who was a doorman, a guy who was in the back washing dishes, a chef, one of the bartenders, one of the cute waitresses.
There was no bias on his discussions with anybody. He didn’t treat the cute waitress any different from the guy washing dishes or the doorman versus the chef. It was powerful to see how well he knew the people and his impact. At one point, I even said, “You just gave three girls a hug.” He goes, “Yes, but I gave all the guys hugs too.” I was like, “Are you not worried that any of the girls are going to call you out in the #MeToo Movement?” He goes, “No. It’s so authentic and it’s so me that they’d almost be upset if I didn’t give them a hug because I’m giving everybody a hug.” It’s part of their Latin culture in that Baro Restaurant. He crushed it.
I would imagine. It was on my list. I tried to go the last time I was there except that I was trying to go for lunch and they’re only open for dinner.
If you need an intro to Michel, drop me an email. I’ll introduce you to him so you can make sure that he’s there for you too. He’s a wonderful host, but he does display culture. It’s interesting you talked about codifying and culture. I’ve been saying for years that I’ve codified culture in a way that most companies don’t get it. Most companies think culture is about free massages and the Wii room and the perks. What does culture mean to you inside of Kintec? How do you think you start to codify it as you grow the organization?
Culture is how we live our core values every day. I’m doing a talk at this at our conference. It is the investment we put into ten days of full-time training for every new retail team member. It is the habit of meeting eight times a year to make sure they are growing. We not only do paint a picture for the company, but we encourage every team member to do their own personal painted pictures so that they can grow forward and ideally we can be a part of it. If not, we can support them in where they want to go, whether that’s physio occupational therapy, often in-house. We live it by making sure everybody is succeeding and growing.
I bet I know the answer to this question that you’re going to give and I’m curious. If someone is working with Kintec and their personal vivid vision is starting to show you and them that at some point they’re going to have to leave Kintec and go somewhere else in their career or for their life. How do you feel about that and what do you do with that?
I’ll give you a perfect example. Our director of marketing that had been with us for several years, he started in as an assistant and grew up to be the manager and then eventually took over as the director. He came to us because he wanted to open his own branding agency. We supported that. He was a part of the transition. We found he was part of the interview process. He stayed on and has worked as a consultant to bring the new person up to speed. We want to see Warren succeed and we want to see Warren do very well. It’s important because he was honest and truthful to us. We did it in a collective manner.
He’s probably going to become one of your biggest raving fans and advocates of the organization. I was telling someone that one of our roles as leaders because there’s been a lot of talk on Gen Y. The Gen Y is only loyal for six months to a year at a time and how do you keep them longer? I’m like, “Don’t try to. If it’s time for them to move on, help them move on so that they’ll be that raving fan.” It’s like raising kids. Our job is to raise these happy, healthy, independent kids who can go off and flourish on their own. It’s not to try to contain them so they can live at home for the rest of their life. God forbid, my two kids decide to live at home forever.
You never know when they’ll come back. I remember a couple of years ago that had been with us for close to ten years and his wife got a residency to become a doctor in Ottawa. Matt and his two kids at that time lived in Ottawa for two years. We supported him in that adventure and now that the residency is finished, he came back to us.
That’s the natural evolution. At some point, it’s just time for them to spread their wings and do their thing. You mentioned the ten days of training and onboarding. We used to do a lot of that at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. I remember we had a girl in our marketing team who was frustrated that we weren’t letting her start her job for a couple of weeks. I always thought it was critical. It sounds like you guys do as well. In what ways do you train these people and do you do anything similar at the head office side?
We often hire a lot of either undergrads or active people in the community to deliver the level of expertise that we want for data analysis and customer service. It takes at least ten days of full-time training to get them up to speed to deliver the experience that we want. That’s just a required part of what we do. With our head office, what we’ve been driving towards as people become onboard is that they spend time in the store. They shadow in our stores. They shadow assessments. They have an assessment on themselves. They get orthotics themselves. They understand what our customers experience every day, even for the people at our head office.
The last question I want to tie you into before I get you to leave us with a bit of a parting thought, you talked about how you live your core values daily inside the organization. How do you teach people to live the core values at Kintec? What are your core values there?
Our core values are being passionate about helping people, pursuing growth and innovation, building open, honest relationships, being an engaged team player and being active and involved. We find the people that fit our culture. We’re hard on our interview stage. We look for the right people. We make sure that they are living it and being a part of it. If they’re not, we have discussions around that and coach them up or coach them on to another opportunity.
You crushed the number one thing that almost everyone misses. It’s that you hire people that already live your core values. Herb Kelleher was the Founder of Southwest Airlines. They asked Herb Kelleher, “How do you get all your employees to smile as they do?” He goes, “We hire smiley people.” You can’t teach grumpy, negative people to be happy. You can’t teach people to live core values they don’t already live. You crushed one of the core underlying principles of codifying culture, which is you hire people that already live the core values. You also nailed your core values as a company. I’ve always said, “You want to keep your core values to four or five core values.” You’ve got five. That core should be very easy to understand. Simple phrases that need no explanation, and you nailed that as well. You are clearly doing all the groundwork and it’s paying off for you. If you had one lesson for yourself that you wish you’d known at a younger age when you were beginning in your real true leadership career, something that you know that you wish you’d known earlier, what would that one be?
I would say be hard on things. There are times where my gut has told me one thing and I’ve been soft on it. Those times always backfire. Whether it’s a higher promotion, a new project that somebody else wants to start and run with, or even the communication that you hear somebody else putting out. There are times where I’ll let that go. Those are the ones that always grow up and become a disaster later on. Trust your gut and be hard on your own decisions.
You clearly get it. Mitch Dodd, Chief Operating Officer for Kintec Foot Labs. Thank you very much for being a guest on the Second In Command podcast.
I appreciate it. We’ll see you at one of the next events.
It sounds great. I look forward to it.
About Mitch Dodd
Experienced Vice President Operations with a demonstrated history of working in the health wellness and fitness industry. Skilled in Coaching, Retail, Sales, Sales Management, and Team Building. Strong operations professional with a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) focused in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from The University of Western Ontario.