Brandon and I had a chance to sit down with Jenny Vandehey, the SVP of culture and experience at First Onsite. She has such a fresh energy and perspective she brings to the industry and to First Onsite. Here’s a few takeaways from the chat- but be sure to listen to the full show next time you have some road time or a coffee in your hand.
Lead with “We”
When you listen to the full episode, one of the things you might notice with Jenny, is how often she speaks with we language. In fact, I checked the transcript for the show, and “we” is said over 350 times during the episode. That’s almost 6 times per minute throughout the show.
Over the years, this has been a common theme in leadership books, podcasts and a hallmark of leaders I admire.
I love how Jenny talks about this throughout the show. Virtually all of the language she uses is collaborative- she defers to the wisdom of the employee often. Rather than evangelizing her vision for First Onsite’s culture and experience, or parroting a message from the leadership team, she’s always asking what employees need and want, or reflecting what others in the company have shared.
Jenny is more the conduit. She’s facilitating the conversation, not dictating the agenda of it. You can tell it really is about “we” for her. She’s creating a container for conversation in the company, not just declaring what the vision is from the leadership team.
There’s something incredibly powerful about inviting our people to co-create the business with us. It is the language and desire of the generation coming up. It’s no longer enough for us to “give people an opportunity”- Millennials and Generation Next want to be a part of creating that “opportunity.” They want a hand in it.
Jenny has a deep background in marketing and design. Most of her time was spent designing and crafting brand messages and imagery that connects with customer audiences. And one of her frustrations being in that world, was not getting to experience or affect the actual customer experience. And she often saw how the external story didn’t quite match the lived experience of employees or customers.
Now, of course, she gets to help lead that alignment at First Onsite.
Integrity is not something we say about ourselves or our company, it’s something that is chosen and lived, moment by moment. We forget that sometimes. It’s about alignment.
As leaders, we have to routinely ask ourselves, “what is real about our company right now?” Is there any daylight between what we’re saying about ourselves, and what our employees and clients are actually experiencing.
In order to keep a pulse on this, we have to regularly spend time in the field, one on one with customers and employees alike.
First, share with them who/what we’re trying to be as a company, and ask them how closely their experience aligns with that. Stay curious. Ask follow-up questions for clarity. Follow up after the fact. Thank them for their input, let them know how important their feedback is to the company.
Again, what is real about us? Make this question a routine part of your leadership conversations. How do our employees and our customers’ lived experience of us match the conversations and stories being sold in the field.
Create Clarity Around Your Values
“What are the behaviors that we need to live the values we declare, and achieve the business results we’re going for.”
No doubt, your team knows what your core values are. You may even have them on the wall of your training room or on your sales materials. But do they understand your values? Do they understand what it looks like, within your business, to actually live those values on a day to day business, within their role?
If “Quality” is one of your core values, what does that look like for your sales reps? Or your team member that’s doing AR/collections? When you start applying your values to every area of your company, that core value might start to feel a bit abstract, or even irrelevant if we don’t take the time to explain the connection to our people.
What are the core behaviors that create the core values we talk about? Without corresponding core behaviors, we don’t really don’t have core values. We’re just left with aspirations, or worse, empty words on the wall.
Protect Your People
We often don’t think about “protecting our people” as a function of accountability.
One of the purposes of accountability is to protect the larger team that is working toward a common goal. It can be difficult to consistently hold people accountable because talent and labor is so scarce.
However, what is the impact to the rest of our team when we fail to hold someone accountable for bad behavior or performance. How does that affect the experience of everyone else on the team? What if we lose some of them because of our inaction?
This might be one of the most challenging things we all face right now. It’s hard not to give way to desperation brain, both when we’re hiring and trying to fill vacant positions, but also when we learn we’ve got the wrong person.
When you’ve got a player on the team that’s not a “We” player, or simply can’t live up to the standards or expectations you’ve set for them, give their full impact on the team some real consideration.
We tend to fixate on the job-level tasks they accomplish, the workload or files they’re managing for the team. We hyper-focus on the hole they will leave in our roster. We fail to fully connect with the negative impact they’re having on morale, the stress they’re adding to other team members by not pulling their weight literally or culturally, the impact it’s having on our reputation with customers they interact with.
Don’t underestimate how much your people watch, and draw conclusions about the things you don’t do. If you as the leader don’t deal with bad behavior or poor performance decisively, what message does that send to your downline leaders? And what does it say to the rest of your team about the standards you have at your company, and the veracity of your core values?
Wrapping Up and What Next?
I think what I found most inspiring about our chat with Jenny, is that much of the work she and her team are doing, and the overall focus that First Onsite is applying in their business- it can be imitated by small restoration companies.
It just starts with giving it attention in your business. Connect with your people one on one. Regularly. Ask them how their experience lines up with what the company is selling to the public. Demonstrate to the team that your core values matter, by acting on them. Protect your people by removing folks that don’t live the values. Quickly.
Start with these four behaviors and go from there. Your people and your customers will tell you what comes next