How has your relationship with your staff changed as the company has grown?
Joe: We've been doing this for 15 years, so we've tried every way to manage, run, own and operate a business with other humans. And so, it's been a social experiment. Can we have people over and have some drinks and hang out and just be ourselves, or do we need to separate church and state and really keep everybody at a distance so that we don't break down that barrier and fraternize with the help kind of thing?
What’s worked best?
Joe: At this point, we’ve spent a lot of time with our staff in and outside of work. We just recently went on a Disney cruise with our fractional CFO and other staff people. We go and do things outside of work, and our staff they do things together and go on little trips and little excursions and kayaking and camping and stuff.
We don't necessarily encourage it and it's not written anywhere that, hey, we want everybody to love everybody and hang out with one another, but we certainly have the culture created that everyone enjoys one another. The crew that we have now is really a family.
Joe: The culture of the business has really been changed a lot over the years, to the extent that we have friends that work for us. At times we’ve tried a military-style chain of command, but that didn't really work.
Today, with Beth's mentality and training from the ER of how to quickly ask questions, assess problems, and give decisive answers as to care that needs to be taken or things that need to be done — we very much handle our business in that same manner.
It’s not a dictatorship, but the team needs direction and leadership. That floundering around, pitty-patty-cakes and stuff doesn't work. We've tried that, too.
Ha ha, what do you mean by that?
Joe: Being like, let's have a meeting about it and let's get this person's input and let's get that person's input and let's not step on anybody's toes. Then, now let's have another meeting to discuss the feelings of these four or five people. Then now let's have another meeting and we'll rein in those four or five people… Blah, blah, blah in the weeds so many times. Now we're just more decisive.
Are there things that make that decisiveness difficult?
Beth: It's never easy. Decisions have to be fair for everyone in the company. You wanna do nice things, create exceptions, or help people out when they're having a hard time. But at the same time, you have to give everyone the same opportunities. And so, I guess it's kind of hard to strike that balance. You have to create standard procedures.
When you're trying to grow, you're often presented with these new situations that you hadn't had time to think about. Then you make a decision, and you go down that path, but maybe there's a roadblock there. Then you have to turn around and come up with a new plan.
Can you give an example of a time something just didn't work out, so you needed a new plan.
Joe: I mean that's every day… for 15 years. [laughter]
How do you deal with it when you make a decision and the team's not necessarily on board?
Joe: I dunno, let it drag out until they eventually comply and give in? [laughter] Honestly, we put so much thought and effort into what we do, we generally don't have an issue. When we sit down and relay to the team all the angles that we’ve looked at — and we've developed that trust over years with a lot of these people — they know, we're not trying to screw 'em over.
But it definitely had to be explained to them and laid out to them, how it's gonna work. And for them to trust the process.
Beth: Our management team members feel they're able to articulate what issues they're seeing, and that we try to take every problem seriously.
How do you vet folks and figure out what you need? And make sure they fit with the existing team?
Joe: We started doing personality indicators like Meyers Briggs. It was really interesting the first time we had all of our staff do it.
Beth: We haven’t put anyone in a management position based on the results, but we take that personality test after hiring to better understand where people are coming from and what their decision-making process is. Then you understand, oh, “Billy” is a thinker. That explains why he's so quiet all the time. So, when he comes with an idea, he’s really, really thought about it.
Some are people we know personally; others have been with the company for a while, and we help them get training to develop management skills.
Joe: Hiring a recruiter in-house was huge. We've got two owners, four managers and people trying to hire for certain positions. And what is that costing our company in focus taken to go through interviews with people? We needed somebody that can find good people, bring them to the table, vet 'em out. Then we have a final meeting and hire 'em.
You can't afford an HR department if you've got 10 or 20 people mm-hmm yeah. It just doesn't make sense to have an HR department. But now that we're on the other side of this fence and we're hiring, we've hired about 18 people in the last year and a half with her using all kinds of strategies to find people that we never did. We would just simply put an ad on indeed.com and hope for the best.
Beth: We've retained these good people by expanding our vacation policy, increasing PTO hours and allowing the people that can work from home to do so. We’ve added health insurance. And this year we did an employee appreciation where we paid people to take a Friday off and float down the Saluda River and have lunch. So yeah, open communication and giving back to the employees.
What else have you learned about hiring management?
Joe: It's interesting at times, seeing how good, or how much positive impact a really good employee can have on a business. I think our biggest paradigm shift in the way that we think about staff is that we used to only hire $15- or $18-per-hour people. And you can find some hard-working, good people in that range.
However, they will only accept that low pay because that's the best they can do. In reality, we've got the need for people that make $60,000-$80,000 a year in management positions, because they're good enough to deserve that.
We used to try to find them at that hourly range and try to train them to produce at that higher level when we really should have hired that $80,000 person to start with, so we would already be productive enough to make their payroll check. We hamstrung ourselves for so long being focused on this less than $20-an-hour price range employee.
What had stopped you from paying more?
Joe: Well, we just didn't think we could afford it. At the end of the day, what you really can't afford is the $15 an hour manager where there's always turnover, mistakes and headaches.
We were kind of the testing ground for a lot of younger management track people coming out of school or in their thirties willing to make $60,000 grand to try to manage something.
And now that we offer full benefits and 401k and all these things, the flavor of people that we attract now is completely different. Everybody always said as soon as you can do full benefits, you'll find better people. Honestly, it's 100% true. The people that are attracted to full-time employment with benefits are the long-term thinkers.
Somebody who wants to turn down health insurance to make a dollar more per hour isn’t the right person for us for the long-term play that we've got for running and growing this business. But I would've never known that or thought that had we not offered full benefits.
How did it feel to spend more money on personnel?
Joe: Well, it was really hard at first, but then when me and Beth started seeing our workload actually decrease because of hiring higher caliber people, that's when it really hit me. I feel like I've got well-paid staff that have good heads on their shoulders that can make 80% of the decisions and come to me with 20%, allowing me to focus on the business as a whole and go from working in the business to working on the business.
What about pay raises?
Joe: We don't have a structured pay raise thing. But we don't nickel and dime either. Most of our pay raises are $1 per hour, not some hokey percentage of whatever. Me and Beth will occasionally review everybody’s pay, and if we've got a rock star, they're getting a bonus or a raise.
What killed us previously was giving raises at the six-month review time. Then they would get pissed off if they didn't get a dollar raise in a review. And it's just like, whoa, whoa, whoa. We never said that everybody gets a dollar raise at every review. We do pass people over at times for being just okay.
It’s really weird. You would think that giving raises boosts morale, but when it's an expected raise that is not offered, you talk about really killing somebody's drive and passion to continue working hard.
Where do you find the support you need as leaders? Do you have peers who can relate to your experience?
Beth: There are other husband-and-wife owner couples we connect with. They’re in different industries, such as cryptocurrency and printing. It’s fun. There's obviously camaraderie with other entrepreneurs, other founders, but then there's this extra dynamic of not only do Joe and I have to work together, but we have to live and raise a family together.
Joe: And it does not have to be in the same industry. We have found great value in spending time and developing some of these relationships with others to discuss commonality, common problems with staff and pricing, and what to do with money.
Have you tried formal entrepreneur groups?
Joe: I've tried, yeah, I've tried to be a part of some like CEO groups, but for the most part, I'm just now in my personal life getting things settled where I can have time for a structured meeting or get togethers. It was really hard for me before. I probably could reinsert myself into some and find value now.
Whenever we've been able to travel and spend time with friends that happen to be business owners, it's just worked out better. But none of this is by design. Beth and I are both just lucky to be with one another, to have found a little business that we could run together.
Right now, we’re on this whole other level. Our growth is exponential. It's like the proverbial snowball on top of the mountain. We're already halfway down the mountain and have gathered steam and critical mass that our snowball has got big. But it's just through the care that Beth and I have given to create the culture that the snowball can hold itself together in the momentum coming down the mountain, and not fall apart.