Recently I had the opportunity to interview Robert Glazer from Acceleration Partners for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.

Robert Glazer is the founder & CEO of Acceleration Partners, a performance marketing agency, and the co-founder and Chairman of Brandcycle. Recently his company, Acceleration Partners was honored as one of Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work in 2018, ranking #4 in the SMB category. He’s also the author of Performance Partnerships: The Checkered Past, Shifting Present, and Exciting Future of Affiliate Marketing, which was published on May 2017. It became a global bestseller in global and direct marketing and was a highly recommended read by Entrepreneur, Forbes, and Huffington Post.

Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?

Robert Glazer: At Acceleration Partners, we have created clear, well-developed core values that serve as the foundation for which we hire, recognize and reward our team members. We live and our core values, Own it, Embrace relationships and Excel and Improve every day. 

Owning it means being proactive and taking accountability for outcomes, even when variables are beyond our control and ambiguity is present. It means being confident and accountable for everything we do and holding our teammates accountable as well. 
Strong relationships in both our personal and professional lives contribute greatly to our success. We focus on long-term outcomes, meaningful relationships and genuine connections with our clients, team and partners. We believe in relationships built on trust and that quality relationships allow us to achieve more.

Finally, we are always focused on continuous improvement, a love for learning and pushing outside of our comfort zones. We strive to get better in everything that we do each day both inside and outside of work.

Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”

Robert: To engage your workforce today, I strongly urge to focus more on leading instead of managing. I’ve found that most employees are looking for coaches who can help them develop and make the most of their strengths, to add value for the company. This is especially true when it comes to millennials, the largest generation in the workforce.

Leading a productive team entails letting go of daily operations to focus on setting a clear strategy and vision — the “why” and “what” — and getting comfortable leaving your team to manage the “how.” Millennials value flexible work environments, a sense of purpose in their work, and a transparent company culture. These are all core principles at Acceleration Partners and are combined with a high degree of accountability. We’ve created a flexible work culture which allows everyone to lead a meaningful work life, spend time with their loved ones and chase their personal pursuits. We’ve actually found that it has led to improved overall productivity, reduced stress and lower turnover rates. 

Millennials prefer meaningful work over maximizing compensation. They like working for companies that have a clear mission and they want to know how their work contributes to the overall goals of the company by connecting their outputs to measurable results. Our open book management style is a good match for this. 
Being transparent helps employees understand how their roles connect to the overall goals of the company. By aligning their efforts with the broader mission, they will more clearly see the value they add which drives them to be more engaged and confident in their work. They also understand that with increased responsibility comes clear accountability and expectations.

Krish: What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why.

Robert: Leadership has a prominent role to play in shaping a company’s culture. Employees value a well-defined company culture that is consistent and lived out every day. By focusing on growth and creating a meaningful place to work, leaders can truly build and nurture a strong company culture.

Develop Core Values that Matter

Core values are fundamental to a building a strong company culture. By engaging your employees in the creation of your company’s core values, they feel more connected and empowered. Core values are powerful when they are the foundation of how a company hires, recognizes and rewards employees.

At Acceleration Partners, our core values are integrated into everything we do including our interview questions, performance reviews, weekly shout outs and end of year awards. Our employees know them by heart and live them every day. One of our core values is Excel and Improve, and as part of that we encourage our employees to set both personal and professional goals for the year. This past year, I decided to share my personal goals with the company on our Excel & Improve Slack channel. This inspired more than half of our employees to share their goals publicly, many of which were setting them for the first time. Not only did the goal-setting and sharing experiment lead to an exchange of ideas and a shared commitment to achieving them, it also helped team members gain new insights that enabled team members to work better together.

Hire the right people in the right seats.

For many companies, recruiting and hiring the right people takes an extraordinary amount of time and investment. Developing the right hiring process is worth it in the long run. We look for team members that embody our core values and really know how to work as a team. And once we’ve made a hire, we have a comprehensive onboarding process that educates and trains them on the social and performance aspects of their job, so they understand what’s required. This sets new employees up for success by making them feel welcomed and prepared for their new role.

Create a culture of continuous feedback and safety

Consistently seeking feedback can help you assess how employees are feeling about their job, other team members, the leadership team, and any concerns or issues they have. It also leads to important ideas and innovation. Every week we send out a one-question survey via a tool called TiNYPulse to every team member and anonymous responses are provided to the management team. This allows company leadership to closely monitor the pulse of the organization and be in tune with the environment and any issues. Employees can also send out “Cheers” to their peers which recognize them for their hard work and make them feel valued. We also hold regular Start/Stop and Continue Session where we ask employees for feedback on things we should start and stop doing at our organization. We also hold hub feedback sessions twice a year in each of our core cities to give feedback to management and an open town hall where employees can ask anything of the CEO in real time directly or anonymously. The key to getting real feedback is creating an environment where everyone feels safe to share their honest opinions knowing that it will never be used against them, we have made Acceleration Partners a very safe place.

Develop a culture of transparency

For many companies, company financials, sales deals in progress and operational developments are held in strict confidence by the top leadership. At Acceleration Partners, we share this information regularly on our bi-weekly all company call. We encourage our team members to ask questions about developments at the company and the leadership team takes the time to answer and invite further discussion. When a company’s leadership is transparent, it fosters a culture of trust empowering employees to be more open and honest about their work. Moreover, they feel comfortable discussing areas where the company can improve, and employees are able to help solve problems by understanding better where they can contribute. Last year, we shared a short-term cash flow problem we were having with the team due to our growth and some of our account managers proactively worked with clients to shift to quarterly prepayment which was a tremendous help during that time. This made a bigger impact than anything we had done at the leadership level.

Build Capacity with Professional and Personal Development

Smart companies invest in the personal and professional growth of employees. In doing so, they nurture a culture of continuous learners, innovative thinkers and motivated leaders who inspire others to reach their goals. This helps build their capacity holistically and makes them higher performers both inside and outside of work. Not only are they happier and more fulfilled, they are also better equipped to meet the challenges and needs of our business as it grows. The ROI on this type of holistic growth has been far above what job training alone would yield. I, strongly believe in creating a place where people are excited about coming to work each day, a place where they find both their work and their relationships with colleagues rewarding, and a place where people can see themselves adding value for many years to come.

At Acceleration Partners, we offer management training and leadership skills via our AP Fellows program. Through our leadership development activities, we’ve learned that there is a lot of overlap between leadership and management, and that we need to help our employees find a balance between their current role and their potential future opportunities. Not only such training programs help team members feel more connected to one another, but also feel invested in the growth of the company. They are also better able to round out their abilities with skills that are critical for success in every type of endeavor, whether that is work, relationships, or personal growth.

To mark our company’s 10th year anniversary celebrations last year, and find new and personalized ways to incentivize our team, we introduced ‘Dream Management Initiative’ at our company’s annual summit. A big part of the company’s mission is goal fulfillment and balance outside of the office, which is why they strive to create an environment that champions motivation and empowerment outside of solely financial incentives. Continuing with that culture, this initiative was introduced with the purpose of providing employees reach their lifelong goals — whether it’s learning how to fly a plane, writing a book, learning how to play guitar or taking a trip to a coveted destination. We chose 10 reoccurring themes from the life goals shared and set the stage for making them come true. Some of these things cost us little to no money and they may be remembered and appreciated forever. For e.g., If I gave someone a $1,000 bonus, it would be forgotten as soon they cashed the check, there is no lasting memory to it or association to the company. I realized no one remembers a cash bonus they received five years ago but I still remember a trip my wife and I were given seven years ago and now have a lifelong memory.

Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?

Robert: Many companies struggle to create healthy, high-performing work environments. Many times, culture is considered the “soft stuff” but in practice it’s just as critical to the organization’s health as the legal, financial and technological elements. It’s up to the company’s leadership to create and cultivate a thriving workplace culture. A healthy company culture is often created by establishing strong core values, cultivating respect among team members and holding people accountable.

Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?

Robert: One mistake start-up founders tend to make is to pursue growth at all costs, without a clear vision or purpose beyond the growth itself. By failing to create a culture that is meaningful and rewarding, they risk burned out, unhappy employees who feel overworked and undervalued and this leads to very high turnover. We’ve seen a few startups nosedive when their leaders have failed to transition their passion for the company’s product or service into a sustainable business that can support their rapid growth. These companies often succeed in the short term but struggle to achieve long-term success. In my opinion, work-life integration is key to achieve professional and personal goals. Unlike work-life balance, integration recognizes that we can never be perfectly in balance, and it’s a matter of having quality experiences all around that fit together. To maintain sustainable company growth, start-up founders need to illuminate their vision for others, commit to their company’s values, show respect for themselves and those around them, and hold their team members accountable. Also, it’s extremely crucial to remember that a successful business is much more than a great product. Every CEO/Founder should equal attention to business of the business (BOTB) — all the things that help your business run. A successful company’s one where the entire team of people is equally invested and works together to create sustainable excellence.

Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?

Robert: Young CEOs often mistake busyness for productivity. It’s important for them to understand that productivity is not about creating a monumental to-do and goal list and trying to do as much as possible, it’s about separating the important from the urgent and understanding what not to do. The difference between getting more done and getting the most of your life is also knowing what not to do. A few years ago, I created a “Stop Doing” list which has allowed me to focus on the things I needed to let go and build a more productive and fulfilling and professional and personal life.

Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?

Robert: In fall 2013, I attended an Entrepreneurs’ Organization event in Buenos Aires, Argentina with my wife, Rachel. We participated in a spousal track session by Ridgely Goldsborough — an author and serial entrepreneur, on discovering your “Why.”

In his presentation, Ridgely explained that we each have a Why — a core purpose that underpins everything we do across our business and personal lives — and shared the archetypes of each of the different Why’s. He discussed how some are born with their core purpose whereas others develop it through early, formative experiences (both positive and negative). We might have many different “how’s” — how we live our lives, how we do what we do — but there is only one Why for each of us.

Later that day, I chased Ridgley down and asked him to help us discover our Why’s. After a few tries, we determined that my Why/core purpose is to find a better way and share it. This explains my behavior as far back as the age of six when my mom would ask me to clean my room and I’d rearrange it instead. It also explains my leadership style. As reflective of my Why, I’m deeply passionate about finding a better way of doing things and sharing it with others. I also have a passion for helping individuals and organization build their capacity to be and do better in business and in life.

This culture is reflected at Acceleration Partners. When I built this company, I didn’t want to just build a successful company that provided high-value services to clients. I also wanted to build a company that is built around strong core values and that’s committed to changing the work-life paradigm. I wanted people to feel fulfilled both inside and outside of work. This is a key reason why we’re a 100% remote work culture. We’re a global company with over 100 employees and everyone works remotely from home. Our performance-oriented culture lets employees spend their time with loved ones and chasing personal pursuits while still engaging in meaningful work. Whether that means they work from home, share a workspace or deviate from the traditional 9-to-5 schedule, we measure their value through results, not desk hours. To accomplish this, everyone needs to be clear about the goals and what’s expected of them while remaining accountable to outcomes and values.

Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?

Robert: My advice would be to approach your manager and have an open and honest discussion. I would recommend you share your concerns and lay out some different strategies/solutions that you think will help make you feel successful. A good manager will value your honesty and appreciate that you are addressing your concerns. If your manager is not receptive to feedback, that may be a sign that it’s not going to be a fit in the long run as it will be hard for you stay engaged. By providing transparent feedback, you’ve the opportunity to earn your manager’s trust. I think it’s also really important to focus on what you can control and not focus or blame outside forces.

Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?

Robert: A few years ago, I decided to send inspirational note to my team each Friday morning with a leadership theme, quote and related tip/article around personal growth. The responses were overwhelmingly positive to the point where people told me they looked forward to it each Friday and sent it regularly to family and friends. Several other leaders I shared it with began to do the same and had the same result. I decided to share the notes more broadly and Friday Forward was born. Today, with great word of mouth, more than 35,000 people from every continent receive my Friday Forward newsletters. Every entrepreneur has the power to create more productive employees by improving their capacity in all aspects of their lives. My Friday Forward messages are aimed to be uplifting and inspire positivity.

A note to the readers: Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization. If you learned one thing in this interview, please share this with someone close to you.

A special thanks to Robert Glazer again!

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  • Krish Chopra

    2x entrepreneur and founder of NP Hub. Let’s discuss leadership, scaling, and relationships to serve communities that need more support! In ATL

    Krish Chopra is the founder of NPHub. He believes in two truths: everything is a learnable skill and real leadership involves caring for others. Krish’s mission is to better support underserved communities and he and his team are currently serving the nursing industry so students have more resources to graduate on-time. He’s also contributes to major publications such as Forbes, Fast Company, and Inc., and has been featured in a dozen more.