33. The future of work and building people teams | Ira Wolfe, Founder of Success Performance Solutions
In this episode we spend an hour with Ira Wolfe, the Founder of Success Performance Solutions to talk about building people teams.
In this episode we catch up with Marc Reifenrath, one of the original founders and the current CEO of Spinutech to talk about culture. We discover the three pillars Marc has built culture on and why. How to align your organization using culture and how to bring it back if the culture is fractured, and what Marc has learnt as a leader after 20 years of building and running his own business.
What first started as a business when he was only a junior at the University of Northern has since grown into an all-digital agency with more than 170 team members and locations in five cities (Chicago, Denver, Tampa, Des Moines, and Cedar Falls). Marc is passionate about culture and believes it has been -- and continues to be -- essential not only to Spinutech’s success but the success of their clients, as well.
As the CEO of Spinutech, Marc’s focus is building partnerships and solving problems. He gets better every day by learning from his team members, listening to a lot of podcasts, and consuming 30 to 40 articles and blog posts a week.
[00:00:00] - Marc Reifenrath
There's an old saying about the easiest time to fire somebody is before you hire them. The very first thing we have to look at is culture. They could be the most talented individual in whatever role we're looking for, but if there's a twinge of ego or arrogance, something that goes against the grain of our culture, it's an immediate nonstarter. We're not even going to discuss it and say, "Well, but they're really good at this. They're really good at that. It would really enhance the team's capabilities." Yeah, but that's a cancer we would let right in the front door and erode what we spent so much time and effort building.
[00:00:42] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to Episode 44 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future. It's brought to you by WNDYR for their blog Chaos & Rocketfuel. We release two podcasts a month featuring industry experts and thought leaders discussing how work is changing and evolving. The future of work is now.
[00:01:02] - Doug Foulkes
I'm Doug Foulkes. And this week with WNDYR's CEO Claire Haidar, we catch up with Marc Reifenrath, one of the original founders and the current CEO of Spinutech. Spinutech has grown from a university dorm start up over 20 years ago to a multinational digital agency with 170 team members.
[00:01:23] - Doug Foulkes
Marc is passionate about culture and believes it has been and continues to be essential, not only to Spinutech success but the success of their clients as well.
[00:01:35] - Doug Foulkes
As the CEO of Spinutech, Marc's focus is building partnerships and solving problems. He gets better every day by learning from his team members, listening to a lot of podcasts and consuming 30-40 articles and blog posts a week.
[00:01:51] - Doug Foulkes
Marc is a family man, and he enjoys golfing and travel, that's when he's got some time. In this culture-based conversation, we will discover the three pillars Marc has built his culture on and why, how to align your organization using culture and how to bring it back if the culture is fractured and what Marc has learned as a leader after 20 years of building and running his own business.
[00:02:15] - Doug Foulkes
But first, let's find out what Spinutech does and how they do it differently to other digital agencies. Marc, welcome to the podcast. So nice to meet you.
[00:02:25] - Marc Reifenrath
Nice to meet you as well. Thanks for having me.
[00:02:27] - Doug Foulkes
It's an absolute pleasure. Looking forward to the next hour. I like to start by just getting everyone on the same page. A president of and co-founder of Spinutech, you're a digital agency, you're working in a very crowded space. In your words, just tell me, what does your company do differently from every other digital agency out there?
[00:02:47] - Marc Reifenrath
It's a good question. When you try to differentiate between agencies, oftentimes that's hard. Nobody can name who the best is. There's no clear winner in that category. And so I think that you take it back to basics. And one of the things we have is that we do the things that a lot of agencies say they do, but we actually do them, and that means there's a very open ended part of that, but it's the way that we deliver, the way that we do reporting, the depths of which we go.
[00:03:13] - Marc Reifenrath
I think we just operate at a more sophisticated level than a lot of agencies, and we truly partner, which is a little bit cliché, a lot of people say that. But we do really dig in and want to understand the business and get to know it so that we can make more meaningful strategies and deliver upon those so that partnership needs to be both ways. And I think that partnership also starts with our team members.
[00:03:35] - Marc Reifenrath
We have a good partnership there, then that's going to create a good opportunity for a partnership with our clients as well. So that's a quick answer. Obviously, there's potential, a lot of layers we could go deeper there, but that would be my initial spot.
[00:03:48] - Doug Foulkes
Great. Thanks for setting us on the right track. Claire.
[00:03:52] - Claire Haidar
Staying with Spinutech for a second, and pretty much diving right into the core of what this entire conversation is going to be about, you're somebody who values culture massively. You guys have defined your culture through three words; collaboration, caring and family. What I'd love to hear from you is why those three. And how did you guys go about choosing or finding or discovering those three specifically?
[00:04:19] - Marc Reifenrath
Yeah. So this has been an evolution. I think culture has to be looked at as a living and breathing thing, and it evolves over time. When you're a 25-person agency versus 50 versus 100 versus 170 plus, those things have to change and intentionality has to become even stronger on what you pour into that.
[00:04:39] - Marc Reifenrath
And so this is something that evolves. And I'm a big believer in words matter. Recently, we went through a merger, and it was an opportunity to review all that. And so we redefined our core values and our mission and really hung on to some of those words.
[00:04:56] - Marc Reifenrath
And so I think that's just naturally who we are. And it's not like we're aspiring to be those things. It's really defining what exists, which I think a lot of people start with trying to set a target for their culture that they want to get to, as opposed to looking at where they're at and then evolving from there.
[00:05:16] - Marc Reifenrath
So I really think that's just a description of who we are and how we operate and how the team feels about it as opposed to an aspirational goal.
[00:05:25] - Claire Haidar
I like that a lot. Culture is a very big thing to us. One of the main lens is that Tracy and I look at culture, too, is very much through a behavioral lens. So like, what are our collective behaviors that make us who we are as a company? And as you say, that's always evolving because as people come and as people exit, those collective behaviors take on different shapes and sizes and nuances.
[00:05:51] - Claire Haidar
So I'm going to dive right into one of the biggest challenges that we as a company face. And I know we're not alone in that. Almost every single CEO and operational leader that I speak to struggles with this, and that's getting new hires aligned to that culture. It's one of the most important, but also one of the hardest things to do. So can you get really practical with us and actually share with us what you guys do with Spinutech?
[00:06:17] - Marc Reifenrath
Yeah. So there's an old saying about the easiest time to fire somebody is before you hire them. And if you're going to practice what you preach with culture, then the very first thing we have to look at is culture.
[00:06:30] - Marc Reifenrath
They could be the most talented individual in whatever role we're looking for, but if there's a twinge of ego or arrogance, something that goes against the grain of our culture, it's an immediate nonstarter. We're not even going to discuss it and say, "Well, but they're really good at this. They're really good at that. It would really enhance the team's capabilities." Yeah, but that's a cancer we would let right in the front door and erode what we spent so much time and effort building upon.
[00:06:58] - Marc Reifenrath
So it really starts with the very first team member interviews. We have a pretty good process where we run them through multiple phases. It eventually actually gets to myself. The only reason I'm talking to that candidate as a finalist is to do a cultural check up just to make sure that my gut check on it is really spot on.
[00:07:15] - Marc Reifenrath
And then to also let them ask me questions, because again, that partnership starts with each team member. And so we have to take that seriously to make sure that they're all in as well. I don't want somebody that's just saying, "Oh, I'm looking for my next move, and this feels okay." Well, but does it feel perfect? Are you really all in on this. And that mindset then sinks into the culture.
[00:07:36] - Marc Reifenrath
Now the first 100 days is super critical for every new team member. My goal for a new team member at the end of day 1, somebody is going to ask them, how was your first day of your new job? It's going to be their spouse, a parent, a friend, a roommate. Somebody's going to ask that question innately.
[00:07:54] - Marc Reifenrath
I want that answer to be, "Oh, my goodness, you would not believe the first day I just had." I want to blow them out of water because that's going to set the tone. And in that first 100 days, what are we intentionally doing to get that DNA injected into them of our culture as quickly as possible?
[00:08:09] - Marc Reifenrath
So we've got a pretty good roadmap for that. That technically, it starts throughout the interview process, and then we get into that first 100 days and then it works into a long term, keeping that individual ingrained in the team.
[00:08:21] - Marc Reifenrath
So there's a lot of intentionality behind it, but I think the biggest thing that you're asking is it starts with literally the first communication when they're applying for the job and make sure that they're aligned culturally. If they're not, it's a nonstarter.
[00:08:34] - Claire Haidar
Okay. Just to clarify, you're basically saying that the very first interview that you have in that process of sequence of interviews is a culture interview?
[00:08:47] - Marc Reifenrath
Yeah. The screening call is really just making sure that there's alignment on the culture mainly. And then they'll go into some other stuff about the role, but really, it's that culture check and making sure that there's no red flag.
[00:09:00] - Marc Reifenrath
So year to date for 2021, I think it's 0.6 percent of applicants actually get hired. And that sounds crazy but that's how cautious we are to make sure that we're hiring the right individual who our team needs on all levels.
[00:09:17] - Doug Foulkes
Marc, as always, Claire loves to dig deep straight away in these podcasts. I'm very much the layman, and I like to pull it back to basics very often. You've spoken about the Spinutech culture and what you're doing there. But as a founder of a company, just tell me, what is company culture? What makes it and what can break it?
[00:09:34] - Marc Reifenrath
Well, the people make it. And so what are those core pillars that you're going to focus on that then allow from there a little bit of variance. I think diversity and backgrounds and experiences are critical to a healthy culture, and you have to be okay with healthy conflict and constant feedback.
[00:09:54.470] - Marc Reifenrath
So you'll see on our website, and if you hear me talk, you're going to hear me say, get better every day. Get better every day is really the fundamental thing to everything that we do. And so we need lifelong learners and people that are willing to push and challenge each other.
[00:10:07] - Marc Reifenrath
The biggest thing about that that's uncomfortable for everybody, and I'll use a sporting analogy here. If on the first game of the year, let's use the NBA season, for example, 80 plus games. They make playoffs even more. Does the coach, when they see a player do something wrong on game 1, write it down and say, I'm going to talk to them about that at the end of the year so that we can get better next year? And do the players look at that and go, I'm not going to say anything.
[00:10:33] - Marc Reifenrath
He didn't know the play or she didn't know the play, I'm going to let that slide until practice or whatever? No, it's immediate and constant feedback. And that starts with the coach as well as the players, the team members. Everybody has to be upholding the culture and the standards of which we set.
[00:10:49] - Marc Reifenrath
And so it's getting that DNA inserted as quickly as possible and getting everybody to align on that and understand it. And you can't just say these things once. This has to be, you've got to beat that drum all the time.
[00:11:02] - Marc Reifenrath
The way I view it, my cup needs overflow to the next layer of leadership and so on and so on. I think a lot of companies fake their culture. So you walk around and they tell you all the things that their culture is, but when you look around, you can sniff that out pretty quickly that it's not what they say it is or what they think it is. And I want our culture to be very strong, and it reeks of what it is when somebody walks in and they're like, holy cow, what is different here?
[00:11:25] - Marc Reifenrath
And they can tell that culture is true.
[00:11:27] - Marc Reifenrath
And that's one of the best compliments we get during the interview processes. If they ask me a question that they've already asked five other people on the team, they'll say things like, wow, your answer is just like so and so. And that's perfect, it means we're all on the same page and aligned on what that means to us.
[00:11:43] - Doug Foulkes
So my next question, which is the other side of that, what happens when things fall out of alignment? How can an organization realign itself if the cultural definition is not right?
[00:11:53] - Marc Reifenrath
Good question. And I think that that's a critical moment in time for your culture, as well as how do you respond? Do you respond? And it's easy for a lot of cultures to ignore those things and say, we'll just keep pushing over here and try to make people see that. But you do have to address it right away.
[00:12:11] - Marc Reifenrath
And we try to tie our core values back to those things. So when we give recognition, tie that to one of our core values. So somebody might say, Claire did a great job at client XYZ of showing we over me or that we win together, we get better every day. She attended the seminar and shared it with a team. That's how we get better every day.
[00:12:31] - Marc Reifenrath
And so it's more about the encouraging and fostering all those things. And then when the negative thing happens, you've just got to address it right away. Like I was saying before, with the coaching example, everybody's got to give that immediate feedback.
[00:12:45] - Marc Reifenrath
And with a new team member, that first six months, they're learning what that is. And the team is the most critical part of helping them show the way of what that looks like.
[00:12:54] - Claire Haidar
Marc, I think the analogy that really stood out for me there when you actually answered Doug's previous question was the team assessment. And I think this is where employees and new team members, but even long tenure team members tend to sometimes forget that work is a mindset, it is not just a place that you go to. It's not just a space that you show up in a virtual sense. It is an actual mindset. It's like going back to an old school analogy. You're putting your uniform on and walking onto the pitch. You're showing up to perform at something.
[00:13:36] - Claire Haidar
And I definitely see a really high performing employees that that mindset is there and it's something that it's like they put their game face on through the day. And you see in your underperforming employees that very often it's that mindset that's lacking. They undervalue the value of a collective set of behaviors and how that actually enhances everybody's performance towards the end goal.
[00:14:08] - Marc Reifenrath
Well said. So I think a common mistake that a lot of cultures talk about is only the fun things and not the accountability side. And so we love to have fun, work hard, play hard. We live that in a very real way. However, we do have high expectations. We want high performance.
[00:14:26] - Marc Reifenrath
And so this is a conversation that often happens in the interview process. You think you can jump this high, I want you to jump even higher. And that lifelong learner that get better everyday mentality.
[00:14:37] - Marc Reifenrath
So we call people team members. Like I said earlier, words matter to me, and I don't care what other people refer to their employees or whatever else. But in our four walls or virtual walls, it's team member.
[00:14:49] - Marc Reifenrath
And what we say is team members come to be part of something bigger than themselves and accomplish things as a team. Employees come to checkboxes and check clocks. And so that's one of the first things we do is a rewiring of that terminology for people to say, when you're talking about people on our walls, it's team members.
[00:15:05] - Marc Reifenrath
And that's just setting that tone of the expectation that we are different, we have a different expectation, and it's a nice way to differentiate ourselves of how we view that and let people have some pride in their work and that mindset of saying, yeah, I'm a team member. I'm part of something bigger than myself. I want to push others. I want people to push me.
[00:15:24] - Marc Reifenrath
And our culture has done a great job of weeding people out that don't want that very quickly, which is that took me a while to realize that that was a good thing because you felt like you made a mistake, but then you have some pride in saying, you know what? The culture really eliminated that individual that wasn't the right fit. We made the mistake on the hiring side and the culture really fired them.
[00:15:43] - Claire Haidar
Yeah. I can't agree more with you there is that, to me, that's the two phases of attrition numbers. There is an incredibly large cultural component to that where attrition is actually really healthy when viewed through that cultural lens, because, as you say, if your culture is strong enough, you're actually reading those out that don't align, that don't fit and that aren't willing to collectively embrace those behaviors that become the end result, which is ultimately excellent for customers.
[00:16:18] - Marc Reifenrath
Yes. Back to the pro sports team analogy. At times, you will outgrow individuals and individuals will outgrow your organization. And those are good things. And so you just have to make sure that we're maintaining the best possible talent we can on our team. And obviously, you don't want any turnover.
[00:16:36] - Marc Reifenrath
But like you said, there's healthy turnover for both parties. And I always just say, I want any individual whenever they leave, to look back on their time with us and say, you know what? That's when I grew the most as professional and as an individual. So I want our culture to push them in all facets of their life to get better. And if they had to move on, I wish them the best. And you never know, they might come back at some point, too, when the stars align.
[00:17:00] - Marc Reifenrath
So you want it to be a healthy process for both parties. It doesn't have to be a negative thing. It can be a positive thing for all parties. Obviously, there's emotions at play there, pride and all those things, but it can be a healthy thing. And that's what you hope for the most with those situations.
[00:17:18] - Doug Foulkes
I'm just going to take a short break to mention our sponsors; WNDYR and Pattyrn. At WNDYR, they teach you how to work smarter using tools that enhance collaboration and identify unnecessary barriers, breaking legacy behaviors before they destroy your team's professional productivity and personal health.
[00:17:37] - Doug Foulkes
Pattyrn is their new product that identifies trends across multiple platforms; email, calendars tasks, video conferencing, workflow management. And it combines them to help each team member learn and grow as individuals, as leaders and in comparison to their peers in the marketplace Overall.
[00:17:57] - Doug Foulkes
You can check them both out at wndyr.com. That's W-N-D-Y-R.com. And lastly, just before we rejoin Claire and Michael, if you are finding this podcast of value, please follow us on your platform of choice. Remember, we have new content published twice a month.
[00:18:14] - Claire Haidar
I want to go down a little bit of a side part here on this one because I think this is one of the very often not spoken about topics, particularly in an outward facing like a podcast like we're doing here, because it's a sensitive topic, is that growth that you're talking about and that ability of an ex-employee to look back at their tenure inside your organization to go, that was a time in my career when I grew the most, when my boundaries were pushed the most, that doesn't always feel good.
[00:18:51] - Marc Reifenrath
Right. It's uncomfortable.
[00:18:52] - Claire Haidar
It's very uncomfortable. And the interesting thing about coming back to that culture actually being the falter is that in my experience, not just in our current startup, but in the three previous startups that I launched and exited out in some shape or form prior to this, it's been my consistent experience is that when you have a strong culture defined and you're having those growth conversations where you're encouraging the person to align to their culture in order to create better customer outcomes, they are very often painful conversations, because the premise of that conversation is your behavior at present is not enabling the team, it's not growing the customer.
[00:19:41] - Claire Haidar
And those are hard words to hear.
[00:19:44] - Claire Haidar
It's hard for me to hear those words when the board may be having that conversation with me or when my founder is having that conversation with me. So if it's making me feel uncomfortable and imagine the junior person who's in their very first ever career move, who's having to go through that conversation, it's hard.
[00:20:07] - Claire Haidar
And I think one of the things that I wish colleges and schools were better at prepping people is that mindset of cultural alignment and true collaboration, where it's a team that's pushing the customer goal forward is often very uncomfortable on an individual. And how do you embrace that discomfort, and how do you lean into it?
[00:20:33] - Marc Reifenrath
Absolutely. So a couple of sayings here for you. The biggest lies we tell are the ones we tell ourselves. So that's like setting ourselves up for failure in some regards, because we convince ourselves that what we're doing is right. And then somebody comes in and challenges us on that. And human nature is to defend your position.
[00:20:52] - Marc Reifenrath
So one of the things we talk about in our culture onboarding, so part of that first 100 days, I meet with every new team member and go over our culture and dig into that deep. And one of the things we talk about is with the feedback component. All you have to do is, one, every morning, check your ego at the door. And two be open to that feedback when you receive it.
[00:21:11] - Marc Reifenrath
And will you be defensive in the moment? Absolutely. That's human nature. We all will. However, when we reflect on it, you're likely going to come to grips and be like, you know what? They're right. Now, you also have to give it.
[00:21:23] - Marc Reifenrath
And when you give that feedback... So one, you have to be open in receiving feedback, you have to be coachable. But then two, when you give feedback, how are you giving it? And is it a personal attack on Claire, like about a personality trait, or is it I should start the conversation saying, Claire, in that meeting, I want to give you some feedback that I think will help you get better.
[00:21:43] - Marc Reifenrath
And then Claire should say, love, it hit me with it. I'm ready. Let's go. And then you provide that feedback. And so it's setting the terms of engagement for that feedback as well, so that everybody understands, I'm not attacking you personally, that's not where this is coming from. It's not meant to hurt you. It's meant to help you get better.
[00:22:01] - Marc Reifenrath
And if we both put that lens on, it can really change that dynamic of that conversation from me being tentative because I can feel you tensing up and getting defensive. So I intended to give you the full truth, but then I really backed it down and watered it down to about 50 percent of that. So that whole conversation changed because of that.
[00:22:20] - Marc Reifenrath
So it's putting the right boundaries in place and those rules of engagement for that. And then also when you receive that saying, "Okay, Marc, thank you for that feedback, now I have a challenge for you. Will you help me get better with that? When you notice me doing that, whatever it was, let me know, give me feedback right away. Or I want you to hold me accountable to get better for this." And then working on a plan together of, is that a weekly touch base? Is it an email check or just a chat, whatever it is, making sure that we're both committing to that because it's really easy to just dump that feedback on somebody and walk away and be like, I did a good thing.
[00:22:57] - Marc Reifenrath
I gave them feedback, but we all have to be committed to that process and making it better. And when you have that buy in from everybody, that's where some real magic can happen, I think.
[00:23:07] - Claire Haidar
I think what we... because we threw a lot of trial and error in WNDYR have basically developed what we call Infinity Sessions. And what the Infinity Sessions is basically our evolution of the very traditional annual performance management review where we actually have... we get the person to do their personality profiles, their work style profiles, their career planning, everything like that. So it's a deep introspective values exercise as well.
[00:23:41] - Claire Haidar
So they go through each of those exercises at the start of the year, and they position where they're going to be in their career for the year. And then each employee meets directly with their direct manager on a monthly basis.
[00:23:56] - Claire Haidar
And essentially, we actually have a slide in that Infinity deck where we like, these are the collective set of behaviors that we've defined already important to our culture. This is where you're aligning or not aligning to them right now.
[00:24:11] - Claire Haidar
And then also through the lens of that person's, 30, 60, 90 days, so what does their next month look like? The next 60 days, the next 90 days? What are those activities that they're really going to have to be focusing on and what behavior shifts in alignments are they going to need to make because the work itself is stretching them? Or perhaps in some cases, it may be a stretch of really boring work, but really critical to customer outcomes. So how is that going to impact them?
[00:24:39] - Claire Haidar
And I think what we've seen very interestingly because we're actually literally going through an evolution of this right now in the company is when we were a majority millennial and gen Z organization, so gen Z in the form of interns, and the majority of our full time employees were younger millennials, the Infinity program was an absolute hit. They really embraced it, really enjoyed it.
[00:25:07] - Claire Haidar
Over the past few years, we've gone through an interesting evolution where we actually have much older people in the organization right now, very tenured, very experienced people. And they're actually pushing back on the Infinity Sessions in a very interesting way in that they are moving back into their comfort zones of this used to just be a yearly performance review. Why are we doing this on a monthly basis?
[00:25:33] - Claire Haidar
And Tracy and I are finding ourselves having to reeducate an older generation of people who were comfortable with the way things were before and actually helping them to see and understand the benefit of that cultural alignment and how much it can actually do for them just on a personal level, completely outside of the company.
[00:25:54] - Marc Reifenrath
No matter where you came from, there's a little bit of a rewiring and reeducation, because unfortunately, society teaches a lot of poor cultural corporate culture habits, and people tend to accept things that I don't think are acceptable.
[00:26:10] - Marc Reifenrath
Part of this is making them understand that they need to hold everybody accountable to a great culture. So I was talking with a new team member recently, and I said, "How are things going?" And she said, "They're going amazing." I said, "What can I do to help make something better? What's the big problem on your plate?
[00:26:26] - Marc Reifenrath
And she said, "Oh, man, there's nothing." I'm like, come on, there's got to be something. She's like, well, my past job, it was so bad. It's just so easy to appreciate what we have here. And I said, listen, you got to put the bar a little higher here. Come on. And I talked about the rewiring.
[00:26:42] - Marc Reifenrath
And people tend to get comfortable or accepting of those bad habits of their organizations have. And one of the things is we can't let that mediocrity mentality sneak into our organization. Complacency, right? That's a huge evil thing that can enter your organization.
[00:27:00] - Marc Reifenrath
So it's just rewiring every new team member. And when they understand that that's true, they get very excited about it because it is different. And yeah, other people say these things, but they don't actually do it. Well, we do it. And so then they're like, okay, I thought when you said you had work life balance, that's what everybody says in the interview process. I just thought you were saying that because that's what everybody says. But no, you really have it. It's like, yes, of course we do.
[00:27:24] - Claire Haidar
Yes. I also want to play. I don't want to spend all my weekend thinking about you and working with you.
[00:27:30] - Marc Reifenrath
Right. And I don't want you either. That's not healthy for any of us.
[00:27:33] - Claire Haidar
Exactly. Yeah. So I think Marc, without directly asking you the question, you actually have answered it. And I wanted to delve into, how do you evolve a culture?
[00:27:44] - Claire Haidar
You started the conversation with us by saying, culture is a living, breathing thing that needs to evolve. And I think you've just answered it there. It's that rewiring of every new employee that comes in. But also that, coming back to that false analogy of that constant coaching that happens from the sidelines to align the team to that goal.
[00:28:11] - Marc Reifenrath
I think the only thing I would add to that is, what's the worst answer somebody could give you of, hey, why do we do it that way? The worst answer is that's the way we've always done it.
[00:28:20] - Marc Reifenrath
And so I always tell people if you hear that, raise a flag. Raise it really fast and really high and really loud, because that's likely an answer that means it's not the best way we could be doing it.
[00:28:32] - Marc Reifenrath
So I think we've done a good job for 21 plus years now of constantly changing. That's part of that cultural thing, too, is we didn't realize we had a culture until 2007 or 2008-ish.
[00:28:47] - Marc Reifenrath
And then we looked around and were like, I think we've got something cool here, let's help define it and foster it and grow it. And what that culture was 12, 14 years ago is much different than it is today. But the roots are still the same, and you just expand on that and continue to make it better.
[00:29:07] - Marc Reifenrath
What does the team need and want? So back to office has been a hot topic lately, and I think that's a big part of culture. It's also a threat to the culture.
[00:29:15] - Marc Reifenrath
And so everybody's evolving to that. There's some companies that are forcing it, and that's creating a little bit of a riot scene on the team member side if you were to force that at an employee side.
[00:29:24] - Marc Reifenrath
So we all have to redefine these things and figure them out. And the last 18 months has been a huge pressure point on all of us for culture because it has to get redefined.
[00:29:35] - Doug Foulkes
Staying with culture, I've read that food plays a central role in Spinutech culture. My question is, how so? And I certainly want to hear about Waffle Wednesday and Marguerite Day.
[00:29:47] - Marc Reifenrath
Yeah. So first of all, it's important to understand that I love food, I love eating. I mostly plan my days around when I'm going to eat, and then everything falls in around that. But I think that when you break bread with somebody, it changes the conversation. There's a more intimate, personal level that you can go to.
[00:30:07] - Marc Reifenrath
So I think that's important to do with team members, with clients, with partners, whatever. It makes the difficult conversations easier. And so Waffle Wednesdays, when we were more in the office, that was a way to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and things like that. Margaret Day, whether that's Cinco de Mayo or whatever. This actually parlays into what we are calling our return to office plan, which is no forced option, but it's 75-100 reasons a year for people to come into the office. A lot of those are going to be related to food. It could be a potluck, a dress up day, a training day.
[00:30:43] - Marc Reifenrath
But food will always be a part of that.
[00:30:45] - Marc Reifenrath
Now we're not in the office, so how does food still play a part in culture to try to mimic some of those things that we used to do "in real life." So we had an all company meeting in May, and some people came to the five different locations, but the majority didn't. And so we sent everybody an Uber Eats or a Grubhub gift card so they could have something delivered to their desk for that meeting. So, in essence, we were still eating together.
[00:31:10] - Marc Reifenrath
Some of the teams have been doing breakfast together or coffees together virtually. And so how do you still tie that in and try to make that work? But food has definitely always been a central part.
[00:31:23] - Marc Reifenrath
Years ago, when we were a smaller team, it was easy to bring in birthday treats and celebrate that way with people. But again, I think food just really changes the setting and the tone of conversation. And so it's a critical part of the culture in that sense.
[00:31:38] - Doug Foulkes
Yeah, it makes 100 percent sense.
[00:31:40] - Claire Haidar
Marc, I have to laugh and share with you when I saw that Doug put this question into the questions, because Doug and I compiled a conversation together, and he put this question in. Classically, Doug would put this question in because Doug is an absolute foodie. He's their family chef. And so I wasn't surprised to see it there.
[00:32:01] - Claire Haidar
But I also rolled my eyes a little bit because in the early days of our company, when we employed quite a few younger millennials, there was a saying going around in the company, culture is like burgers and beers, burgers and beers.
[00:32:15] - Claire Haidar
And there was this group of millennials that just kept talking about these damn burgers and beers. And I used to get so frustrated with them because, yes, food is such a critical piece of the culture, but it is not the culture. Like beanbags and foosball tables are not the culture either.
[00:32:35] - Claire Haidar
And so there was this little mini group in the company that used to go off with their burgers and beers. And they were on this mission to define the culture and who we were like, no, you know like, no bullshit guide that we have, that's the culture.
[00:32:51] - Marc Reifenrath
I love that. You just said something I think it's really important. You said something that food is not our culture.
[00:32:58] - Marc Reifenrath
One thing that I've said recently is our office used to be where we came to do work, now it's a supplement to our work. And the office is not our culture, it's something that can enhance our culture at times. And so same with food.
[00:33:14] - Marc Reifenrath
Sometimes it's important to define what your culture isn't like you said, because people can evolve it in the wrong way. And so we don't want to be an organization that's just happy hours and drinking. That's not our culture. That's definitely not our culture, but a lot of cultures can turn into that. And they think that that's the only time that a cultural event can occur. And so making sure that there's a lot of diversity in what you're doing to foster that culture from an event perspective as well.
[00:33:44] - Claire Haidar
Yeah. So true. Moving on to, I think, something that is really core to you guys as an organization, and it's also something that you guys are very proud to share on your social media on a regular basis is your mission is simple, get better every day.
[00:34:02] - Claire Haidar
You've shared a little bit of with us in the conversation so far. But I really want you to dig into this with us. Practically, how do you and the team actually do this on a daily basis?
[00:34:14] - Marc Reifenrath
Yeah. So get better every day. That means you get better for yourself, your teammates, around you and your clients. That's the simple mantra. Notre Dame football, they've got the... When the day is, there's a sign that they tap before they enter the field. This is our mental sign, we're going to tap every morning trying to take steps forward as opposed to treading water, steps backwards.
[00:34:33] - Marc Reifenrath
How do we do it as an organization? We're getting better at that every day as well. But something that I'm super excited that we kicked off in May is what we call our GB24, Get Better 24.
[00:34:44] - Marc Reifenrath
And we were billable service organization, so we try to allocate roughly 34 hours a week of billable time to each team member, and this varies depending on your role in the organization, but that's the rough number. That leads roughly 24 hours a month that's nonbillable. I think those are the most critical hours of the month.
[00:35:03] - Marc Reifenrath
And then we delineate two of those a week to getting better. And that's not a peanut butter spread of, everybody's going to do this training or this opportunity. It's what does Doug need? What does Claire need? And you're working with your manager, your direct reports on what they need to get better at. That could be presentation training. It could be certifications for different platforms that we're partnered with or work on. It could be a lot of different things.
[00:35:29] - Marc Reifenrath
But the point is that we're setting aside designated time for every team member to enhance themselves and getting better every day. And so if you think about the power of that over the course of the year, we're investing roughly $15,000 per team member at our current billable rate to do that.
[00:35:47] - Marc Reifenrath
And that's not counting the hard cost of training and stuff like that. But one of the biggest things that I think every team member in the interview process is asking is, what do you do to invest in your team? This is what we're doing.
[00:35:59] - Marc Reifenrath
And so we're building out that resource library. We're going to have internal conference days where we'll go to our partners and have them speak and you choose the track you would want to go on. But the most important part of that, from my perspective, is the team collaboration after that.
[00:36:14] - Marc Reifenrath
So building in time for the team to talk about what they've learned and how they're going to deploy that on a daily basis with themselves, the teams that they work on, and so on. It's a hard thing to live out. And this is a big mentality thing that everybody has to be that lifelong learner mindset.
[00:36:32] - Marc Reifenrath
And so I sent out a weekly video. I close every single one of those videos with #getbettereveryday. And that's the drum we're going to beat. And it's a fun thing when you hear people state and feedback, Claire got better every day by blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's in annual reviews. It's in the constant feedback that we have in our shoutout channels and our live sessions. And that's exciting because that means the team is bought into it.
[00:36:56] - Marc Reifenrath
And it's hard to not get bought into, in my opinion, because who doesn't truly want to get better? And if you don't, that's a really strong sign you're not a good fit for us.
[00:37:05] - Claire Haidar
I'm now moving completely away from Spinutech specifically and culture. And I want to ask you a question about you as a leader. You've been in the same industry for 20 years. You're president of the same company you cofounded as a kid in your [inaudible 00:37:19]. It's fair to say you've grown up a bit.
[00:37:23] - Claire Haidar
If you were to talk to other leaders out there, unlike a lot of people, you've been at this the same thing for 20 years, and that gives you a very unique perspective. What can we learn from you?
[00:37:38] - Marc Reifenrath
Yeah. Starting when I was a junior in college, obviously very green, learning a lot on the job, just the hard knocks. That's what you learn from it.
[00:37:47] - Marc Reifenrath
I think you learn the most from your failures than you do the victories. When you're winning, things are easy. But when you fail, you are forced to reflect and look at what did I do. We have to ask yourself hard questions, and that's where you have to be cautious not to tell yourself those lies.
[00:38:03] - Marc Reifenrath
And so it's just all the hard knocks over the course of 20 years. I'm by no means perfect. And I'll tell the team, listen, we all have to be the TSA, see something, say something, and that goes for me as well. And so I need that constant feedback as well on how people need to be led and what they want.
[00:38:21] - Marc Reifenrath
One of the things I've learned, though, is my gut is really good. And so when you fight that feeling and don't trust it, and then you regret it, you remind yourself that. And I've probably gotten way better from, let's say, those first five years of not trusting it and making the wrong decisions to now having a ton of trust in what my gut tells me and then acting on that.
[00:38:43] - Marc Reifenrath
I probably used to be slower at making decisions because you were so cautious of failing that you would pause and not make a decision. And that's the worst decision you can make is not making decisions.
[00:38:53] - Marc Reifenrath
So I believe I am much faster to make a decision now, even if it's not the right decision, and being okay with that. And so what professional athlete is perfect all the time? As CEO, we're not going to be perfect all the time, and we have to be okay with that. But a quick decision, a fast decision is much better than indecision. And so teams want that as well.
[00:39:15] - Marc Reifenrath
One of my favorite questions to ask a team member when I'm sitting with them that reports to me is, what do you need from me? What can I help you with?
[00:39:21] - Marc Reifenrath
And letting them know that I can get my hands dirty, I probably used to not think of it that way, but I want to help every person and pour into them as much as I possibly can. So even the leadership role, obviously, when you start with two or three people and then 10 and then 20, now 170, my day to day has changed as well. And I'm adapting and changing to that constantly as well.
[00:39:45] - Marc Reifenrath
But that's part of the fun from my perspective is, one, I want to be the best leader that I can be. And two, that is going to change constantly, which is tough. Change is tough for everybody. But I embrace that and look forward to just pouring into the team as best I can.
[00:40:02] - Doug Foulkes
Marc, we've actually shot through our time together. I've got time, really, just for my last question, I'm going to go back into the cultural space.
[00:40:10] - Doug Foulkes
As you have just alluded to, you've been doing the same thing for 20 years, but basically, you've gone from a post.com startup to a multi state company to Google Premier partner to one of the top 500 US fastest growing companies to now multinational. So how have you kept that culture intact as you scaled up?
[00:40:30] - Marc Reifenrath
You can't create a culture, set some guideposts and say, all right, here it is, now we're done. You have to, every step of the way, really foster it and push on that and keep people aligned to that and defend it. And that's one of the things we tell every new team member, too, is you have to protect the culture and really foster it. It doesn't mean that it can't change and evolve. We love that feedback and those ideas, but there are certain areas we're just not going to change.
[00:40:58] - Marc Reifenrath
But if you just want to leave it alone, it's going to turn into something not great. If you want to make it great and keep it great, you have to invest in it constantly.
[00:41:08] - Marc Reifenrath
So we have team members that are dedicated to that. I always put a bunch of my time on it as part of the merger. That was one of the things that I said to Kevin, our new partner, of saying, hey, this is nonnegotiable for me. I need our own culture. I need to be the champion for that.
[00:41:24] - Marc Reifenrath
And so that's how passionate I am about it. That's why I still want to do the final interview with every team member, which is a little bit crazy at the size we're at. But that's how much I care about it and want to protect it and make sure that we're fostering it.
[00:41:38] - Marc Reifenrath
So it's an investment, but I believe it's one that will pay off really well in the quality of team members that we have. And that's the feedback we get from our clients that we interact with, too, is they really... One of the best things we hear about our team is, man, they're just smart and really kind. That is just such an awesome compliment to hear from a client, one of our partners, whatever that there's a very consistent feel from our team. But that's also taken a lot of very intentional effort to make sure we don't let the wrong individual slip through that could change that.
[00:42:12] - Doug Foulkes
I mean, in essence, it's such an important part of what you do. You have to be hands on. You can't pass that off to someone else.
[00:42:19] - Marc Reifenrath
Right. And when you have a leader that is that passionate about it, I think it's easier for people to fall in as opposed to saying, okay, these are the things that we say our culture is, but leadership doesn't follow the same rules.
[00:42:32] - Marc Reifenrath
The best way to get the team to buy into it is seeing that the whole leadership team is also 100 percent bought in on those values and the way that we view culture as well.
[00:42:41] - Claire Haidar
Marc, one of the things that I can share because you guys are a customer of ours, I can definitely share with you that we've actually gotten similar feedback. One of the things that we found very refreshing working with you guys as a customer has been your team's forthrightness.
[00:42:58] - Claire Haidar
We have a very forthright culture. You heard me allude to our no bullshit guide. Be forthright in your willingness to praise people, but also be forthright in your willingness to show people on the team where they can be better, because it just helps everybody.
[00:43:14] - Claire Haidar
And it's so refreshing when we meet a client company who works in the same way because we actually do find it very difficult to work with companies who don't share that same forthright culture, because naturally, there's a cultural tension there, there's a nuance in the two cultures that don't necessarily align very well. So, yeah, what you've just shared, you guys definitely are living and breathing that.
[00:43:37] - Marc Reifenrath
That's great to hear. Thank you.
[00:43:40] - Claire Haidar
Okay. That brings us to the end of our conversation.
[00:43:43] - Marc Reifenrath
It was great. I really enjoyed this. Thank you very much.
[00:43:46] - Doug Foulkes
Marc, so did we. If you're ever in doubt as to the importance of a strong company culture, well, now you know. We hope that you've enjoyed this podcast. If you have, we would appreciate that you follow us on your preferred platform and share with your friends and colleagues.
[00:44:03] - Doug Foulkes
Just a reminder. For more information about WNDYR and their new product, Pattyrn, you can visit their website. That's. W-N-D-Y-R.com. And so as always for me Doug Foulkes and Chaos & Rocketfuel stay safe and we'll see you soon.
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