Eric Zakovich: Creating Great Places to Work
What does it take to create a great place to work? Why is it important? What impact will it have on leadership, employees, customers, everyone? Listen to our conversation with Eric Zakovich of Employee Strategies and find out.
Here's what we're discussing in this podcast:
- TEN7's and Employee Strategies creating a great place to work
- Eric's journey to Employee Strategies
- The TEN7 shrink
- Creating effective mission and values
- Research, data, theories and science
- Confronting organizational pain and conflicts
- Trust makes a workplace great
- Measuring results
- Overcoming management resistance
IVAN STEGIC: Hey, everyone. You're listening to the TEN7 Audiocast. I'm your host Ivan Stegic, and this is episode 20 of the podcast where we get together every fortnight to explore technology business and the humans that direct it. This week Eric Zakovich principal consultant at Employee Strategies an organizational development and Improvement firm is on to talk about their mission to create great places to work Eric welcome to the TEN7 Audiocast.
ERIC ZAKOVICH: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here, and number twenty congratulations on hitting that number.
IVAN: Thank you. It's it's taken us a while to figure it out, but I think I think we're doing okay. So Eric you grew up in Wisconsin and made your way to Minneapolis by the University of Minnesota. Why Minnesota?
ERIC: Well, there's a really easy answer to that. There's this deal called reciprocity where they give you the same state tuition rates as in state, but all kidding aside that was certainly a factor the economics of it. But also Minneapolis as a region or a city was just a really attractive place to live and work in they thought maybe I'd like to stay there. Maybe I'd like to live there. It seems like the kind of area that I might want to make my home, so that was attractive. When I went off to school. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Logic to me said that you know the bigger the university the more options the more places to go the more different kinds of people you'll meet, the more companies that might be in the area to make a career. That guided my decision to come to Minnesota, and I pretty much stayed ever since
IVAN: And what was the focus of your work? What did it end up being because you just mentioned that you didn't exactly know so how did that evolve?
ERIC: There's a couple things that interested me in my time at school. My major ended up being political science. What I wanted to do with was actually be a lawyer, which wouldn't have suited me in hindsight and something in the pit of my stomach about a month or so before I was you know scheduled to start law school told me don't don't go, so I withdrew and needed to find a job. You know that left me kind of unsure what to do with political science, but backing up a little bit about what what interested me in that major it really is all about how do groups of people how in a big, in a in a political environment, and then in the national or in a state any sort of governmental organization, how do you get decisions made? How do you get groups of people to work together? How do you make things better? That was what kind of drew me to that arena or that area of study. It was it was really how to get groups of people working together and that guided my way here.
IVAN: And you certainly work with different sized groups of people in your everyday work with Employees Strategies. Tell us about your first job out of college. I know that it wasn't at Employee Strategies. I know there must have been something between right?
ERIC: Right. Oh. yeah. Yeah for sure. You know the first one I would probably mention in there's a connection to Employee Strategies, I took a contractor job, so if you ever heard Manpower. Again, I this is this is in the time where I didn't know what I wanted to be at went down to Manpower, and I said, I just I just need a gig. I need something while I figure this out. I got assigned and I know if it was luck, fate, you know just chance. I got assigned to a position at a local utility, well there my assignment basically was in HR, and I saw this group of people whose job was to you know train leaders help them and their teams improve, help the organization the organizational systems like performance management and succession planning. You know hiring and staffing those kinds of things that you know design them in a way that you know intentionally guides the organization in the direction that it wants to go. I saw this team and I thought, that's really interesting that kind of work. I didn't know that was a job. I frankly I didn't know that was a career I could even pursue. This is back in the 90s when they didn't have classes in college that told you that helped you explore and figure that out, and I just never figured it out. So I was I was lucky in that regard that I happened to land there. One really cool thing I think about people in my profession is they really value human development, education, learning. So when somebody raises their hand which I which I did and said hey, I want to learn more about what you do, and how you do it. They were really inviting and welcoming and brought me along to things and let me shadow them gave me things to read lots of things to read lots of things to do and eventually got an opportunity to kind of consult with them, and that was really my first break into this industry
IVAN: And the person that you shadowed and that you worked with was that Jay, or was that someone else?
ERIC: You know Jay was one of many, we had a team, it was around seven or eight really experienced consultants. If you ever seen a movie where there's a crack team, there's like a demolitions expert, and there is the person who is like Kung Fu expert, the knives person, and you know person who can break into anything. This team kind of had that make up where it had people that were specialists. Yeah, yeah all different areas of expertise. Jay had a whole wide variety of things, but beyond Jay a number of other mentors. They each took a crack at teaching me what they what they knew just a great place to learn and grow.
IVAN: So Jay is the founder of Employee Strategies, and I met you through TEN7's work with Employee Strategies. I like to think of Employee Strategies as many things, but usually when I think of you guys, it's the first interaction that we had with you from a business-to-business. I think of you as the company shrink.
ERIC: I'll take that as a compliment.
IVAN: Definitely a compliment. So I met Jay Forest through the office that TEN7 was sharing. This was in 2010, and I understand that you met Jay through the job you had at Excel. Started working at Employee Strategies as a consultant. So now you're part of the Employee Strategies team. What is it that Employee Strategies actually does? I know what your mission is and maybe you could talk about that as well.
ERIC: Really, we want to make great places to work. Put another way is that we believe that bad jobs kill people slowly. You know it rather painfully. You know how working someplace where you don't feel, where it doesn't fit you can be stressful, can impact your family, impacts your health. So ultimately we want to solve for that and make every workplace a workplace that people feel welcomed and valued and like they can contribute their all. That is the purpose. That is the mission of our aim. What we do is a couple of things. We often work with leaders, just one-to-one coaching them guiding them through changes they want to make. Usually that starts with asking a lot of questions and learning from them. We'll also work with their teams, help them learn new habits, institute new practices or systems that are going to improve their work environment and their ability to produce the results they want, you know in a way that is right for them. I guess you know, living their company values. So often do exercises helping teams explore and understand what is it that they really value? You know so those are two of the sort of biggest things we do with teams. We also do some leadership development and coaching leaders, but training leaders doing 360s with leaders so some assessment. That's kind of the big buckets of work that we do.
IVAN: I know the work we did with you to hone in our values and our mission was invaluable, and we refer to those everyday in our job, and how we develop our company so that certainly was incredibly helpful. I didn't know we needed that help. When I first met Jay, I didn't think we needed any kind of help at all. I mean I think we were at about three, four employees. And I knew that Jay existed, wasn't kind of sure what his company did, but then we developed a problem. There was an internal issue that we had that we needed resolving and the first person I thought of was Jay. So I called him and became a client of Employee Strategies. Question is how do you convince owners of companies of the value that Employee Strategies has without there being a problem that company actually needs to solve?
ERIC: That's a really great question. If we can get to the bottom of this, I think our sales will take off.
IVAN: Okay good. Yeah, I get a cut please?
ERIC: Great. There has to be something there. No organization doesn't have a challenge. Whether you're growing so fast that you can't keep up with your customers' demand, and you know maybe you can't attract enough talent, or you're not growing fast enough, or you're not able to sustain your business. Maybe there's internal pain points like you've got employees in conflict, or you have some alignment problem. Maybe you're focused on too many things and nothing's getting done. There's always something some reason that we start working with a client. If everything is perfect, which really in reality if we're all really honest with yourself, there's nothing that's perfect in any of our either personal lives or organizational lives. We don't have something, we're not able to help. We can't convince the client. Our roll is more to understand what the clients needs are and try to help them understand. Like you said you didn't know that you wanted to clarify your values, but we started working together, and we asked you some questions about what they were. It was hard to sort of wrap your words around, or articulate it. The result you got clear of that, you can make all sorts of changes within your team.
IVAN: So prospecting for new clients is then inherently difficult because you can't just send an email, or have a phone call or cold call with someone and say hey you should hire us. You really have to depend on the network and the relationships you have and you need to have an element of trust so that someone will believe you that you can help them. How do you prospect for clients that don't know they need you?
ERIC: It's a great question. Most of our business comes from our relationships that we develop with people and it's rarely the first conversation we have with somebody. We're always having coffees right. We drink a lot of coffee. I've developed what I'd say is an immunity to caffein. It has no discernible effect on me at this point. We're really interested. curious, and we love meeting people and to do this work you have to really enjoy people and all parts of them. You know you're meeting with people that are sometimes in just a ton of pain typically not physical, but they're experiencing a lot of pain in their organizations, and perhaps, they express that pain to a colleague who says you know I worked with Eric or Jay or Employee Strategies, and you should talk to them. They help me think about my pain, and you know valuable conversation I had with them or I did some work with them, so those referrals that we get those are the thing that leads to most of our business. It's really word-of-mouth. We're not the kind of business that could put up a billboard or put our face on the bus stop or really any other way.
IVAN: And you of course your work. It's not all touchy and feely and that's one of the wonderful aspects of your company that I appreciate. It's in tune with the humans that work for us in our team with their emotions, but your work is also based on research, on data, on theories and science that has proven results of the many years of organizational development. How do you balance those two aspects in your company, but specifically targeted towards the needs of your clients. So I imagine you have different clients with different needs right? Maybe I like how do you balance that?
ERIC: Absolutely. You know the first thing we do is we collect a lot of data. You probably recall we did some surveys with friends with your customers got input. We asked you a lot of questions. We asked your team a lot of questions when we would get together with them to understand the situation so that we can apply that science. We're living in an age where there is so much social science, behavioral economics research out there that can be applied and like in many scientific disciplines sometimes the information that's coming at us is contradictory or confusing. You know eggs are bad. Eggs are good, right?
IVAN: Eggs are bad. No, yolks are good. No, the whole egg's bad.
ERIC: Eat turkey eggs. I don't know. For us you don't getting clear on what are those principles. What are the things that we can distill that makes sense to us that we believe in that we have about this work, and what makes teams humans work well together. We have a few things that we often draw upon. You know a few data points that are backed up by lots of science. One thing just to point out is an example, foundational to every organization that we work with to improvement is increasing trust no matter where they're at. And trust might be the you know the source of the problem of trust might be different for different teams, so it could be people don't share information about themselves. They're all overly private leaving questions about people's motives or their you know their intentions for the business, or you know personal motives or perhaps people don't follow through on their work. So they can't be trusted so to speak to do what they say, so we work with teams on all sorts of you know reasons why there might be lack of trust, but you know common thing is effective teams trust one another and they are able to talk to each other and have productive dialogue. They have conflict actually.
A big challenge that I think a lot of leaders have is engaging in conflict productively. When we want to avoid it we think conflict is bad when conflicts in and of itself isn't necessarily bad. It's just two people having a different view or different opinion on things, and once we can help leaders and teams learn that they're much more equipped to be able to lean into that conflict and resolve it so they can move forward with whatever it is that we need to move forward on.
IVAN: So one of the components of a great place to work that you just talked about is trust. What else makes a place to work great?
ERIC: Well trust makes it makes a team great. I think there's a number of factors probably that weigh in there. I think people being clear about results that you need or where we're headed. Direction. What kind of results we need to get as an organization. What are we really shooting for? Having clarity of goals or purpose. Those pieces are really foundational. Otherwise, it's just a group of people getting together and nobody's really sure and where we're headed so you can't really work together. So I think you healthy organizations have clarity of what results they're after, and they're able to work towards them together, so that's something I see as well as trust, ability to have conflict. Healthy organizations have high levels of commitment or engagement. They have people who are not just interested in showing up every day. They're interested in making it better, so I did another kind of thing that I look for in the organizations that I work with and what's the percentage of people that are interested in improving the situation whether it's improving a process and improving your product, improving the customer experience, improving speed, reducing costs. You know increasing the volume of sales. If you've got people that are focused on making it better that is that something that's a signal to me that you've got a great organization.
IVAN: So let's say that there is a leader out there who is listening who really wants to make sure that that person's company is a great place to work and is concerned about their employees and decide that they want to work with Employee Strategies and with with you Eric. And they talk to you, you ask them a lot of questions. Can you take us through kind of what the process would look like after someone's engaged with you, and then how do you measure kind of what the results are?
ERIC: We have a proven process we call it. We have an approach that we use. We use it in the client. Client uses it along with us because nothing we do, we don't come and fix your culture for you. We come and work on your culture with you. Client involvement in the solution is essential. The first thing we would do we sit down and we'd have a conversation about your organization what you see as the problem. We often call this the presenting problem. Sometimes what we see as the issue isn't actually the issue. To use an analogy, I might be experiencing some leg pain, and I'm a runner and I've experienced leg pain before but when I see you smiling because I know this is it involved for you. But that might actually be caused by an injury to your back. Logging too many miles or not focusing enough on your core, and so sometimes we need to do a good diagnosis, and that's our really our first step. So talking to the business leader is the first step, but we love to collect more data. Part of our process is serving the team or the organization. Sometimes it's doing some interviews or focus groups to learn more. Dig in on some of that data a little more. Sometimes it's doing even observation just things that we're seeing. When we're there with the team so that's really the first step. The second step is for us to make sense of that information. We have a team of us. It's not just me and Jay there's six of us, so we all sit down and look at that information together and try to dissect and analyze it.
We have benchmarks and things that we are usually comparing this team to, and we synthesize that information in a way that makes sense that creates sort of a story in our mind. We feed that story back to management. You know here's what we think is going on. Here's the problems we see. Here's the opportunities we see. Here's what's really working. Here's your strengths. Does this makes sense to you? So we have to check it out and validate it with leadership or management. It's not just our opinion it needs to jive with their own view of things. You know that leg pain, you're experiencing might it be coming from your back? I've had an injury there before you know so we can get better information when we partner with management to do that analysis in a way. From there, we usually have some suggested improvement areas. That could be a lot of things. Sometimes employees don't trust the organization that they work with or others in the organization because they don't feel cared for. Perhaps it's even the physical environment they're actually working in tells them that nobody cares about you. Sometimes it's we don't know why we're coming to work every day and creating these widgets. We don't know what the purpose is, so we recommend clarifying your purpose or your values. I don't know what's expected of me. That's a question sometimes that comes up. We're not clear. We're just here doing stuff. There's a lot of things that it can be, but we'll suggest improvements. It might mean training leaders, it might mean working with management, coaching leaders, it might mean coaching the team or helping the team see more productive behaviors. So there's a variety of solutions. And as a follow-up we usually measure again. We ask those same questions that we asked at the beginning again to see did something change, did things get better? And beyond that are we getting better results? Anything we do should should result in either lower turnover, and we improved employee retention or key employee retention, it might be stronger performance measures, it might be increased safety if your work environment where that's a concern. Might mean generating more sales or some other some other business measures, so yeah, we'd like to see some real improvements beyond even just the predictive measure of people are more engaged here.
IVAN: One of the steps you mentioned was taking this synthesized data that you've looked at as a team and bringing it back to leadership or to management and saying does this make sense to you. How do you deal with resistance that you get from management?
ERIC: You know sometimes there's wisdom in that resistance. You know sometimes there's a reason for it, perhaps this is a big shock to management. One time we put our put our lessons learned on Blast. If you ever seen Bob Ross you know Bob Ross. Because he sometimes says what a happy mistake. And so we had a happy mistake once where you know we we sat with a client, we were pointing out so many problems that they had we didn't acknowledge all the great things going on. We're so focused along with management. We're hired there, and we want to we want to point out every opportunity for improvement, so sometimes overlooking some of the strengths that an organization has can be a point of resistance. So what's the wisdom that's there? Is it that we haven't acknowledged their strengths? is it that we didn't get the data right or something? Let's check that out. Sometimes it's this is change. This is very personal to leaders. Think they've done something wrong and that might not be the case at all, so to help them to see the data as this is a point in time something we can change if we want to and are committed to it.
IVAN: I want to such gears just a little bit. I love that we're talking about what you guys do, and how you help people in their work environments and leaders. I want to hear a little bit about the day-to-day in the life of Eric Z. What does it look like?
ERIC: Good question. A day in the life?
IVAN: Yeah, a workday, you start out and run 10 miles in the morning, and then you go to work, and you run another five for lunch.
ERIC: Oh right. I wish. My body wishes that that was the case too. A day in the work life, it's a really varied day. It can be a lot of things. In any given day I might be connecting with talking with three or four clients helping them with an issue, but a typical day might mean well pick up a couple days from last week just to give you an idea of a typical week might be a better better view. One day this last week we did a series of 360's for an organization. This is a leadership assessment, then they get data from their direct reports from peers from their boss, and how they're performing as a leader, and it's a humbling experience. Something we do is we sit down with those leaders and help them interpret that data one-to-one over about an hour and a half. The therapy sessions you talked about. One day I did five of those for an organization.
IVAN: That must be draining for you.
ERIC: It can be physically exhausting. But it's such impactful work. You walk away from each of those conversations filled with sense of excitement for that person because they've got just a couple of things that they might need to work on that might make a big difference for them, and probably for their teams too. So really impactful to do that work. But that was one day this this past week. I did I did just that for a day. Another typical day might be facilitating a team retreat, so I had a day this last week where I was with a group of eight leaders from an organization. And we planned out their goals for this next year, and not just their organizational goals, but their team member goals their call center, so what do team members need to do to meet those organizational goals, and then what do they as leaders need to do to help their team members meet those goals. Mapping that allows to making sure it's all aligned and that the team is in agreement. So that they can be committed that was the purpose of that retreat. I facilitated a retreat one day. Other days might be connecting with some prospective clients to understand their their needs. Oftentimes there's follow-up work from that like a proposal and you know somebody might ask me for proposal so articulate what I heard them say, so those are some examples of typical moments in my week. It's really varied. It's usually pretty exhilarating.
IVAN: What you described seems like a lot of interaction with other people in real time in face-to-face. I was going to ask you what your favorite part of the day or week is but I think you may have just described your favorite parts. I can't believe that you don't sit down and do some email and instant messaging and slack and so on as well, so can you pick your favorite part?
ERIC: I think it's those team sessions. Yeah, I love those because there's a number of reasons why. One, you know the end of the day usually you've accomplished a lot. They're intense so the intention anytime we do a team session is to essentially like a practice for a team. You know the game is when they're out there serving customers or you know leading employees through a situation like that's the game. You know these are practice and so it's practice how we engage in conflict or practice how we talk to each other. We don't use that word like, hey we're here to practice, but that's really what's kind of happening. So helping a team, essentially coaching them through the practice, helping them see how they're showing up and correct the behavior in the moment in a way that they can they can see it, and they can make that change when they're in the game. That's that's some of the most exciting kind of thrilling work that I think I get to do, but you're right. There's emails to follow up on there's you know invoicing that you know we need to like check our make sure as right. There's all sorts of we call it the suck it up buckos. It's just you gotta suck it up and do suck it up and do it. Yeah of the you know everybody has to do.
IVAN: In addition to the mission in the values that we established as a company when we worked with you, one of the valuable things that came out of the sessions was this idea of above-the-line and below-the-line behavior. And it really helped crystallize what's cool and what's not cool to do at TEN7 right, and it allows everyone to be the policeman of those values within our company. Have you done that at Employee Strategies?
ERIC: Yeah we do.
IVAN: Did you do it with another company, or did you do introspection and apply your own processes to yourselves?
ERIC: We have a saying we like to eat our own cooking so we anything we are asking our clients to do typically we've done it on ourselves, and we've had to wrestle with it which is really hard to do to sort of step outside. Yeah, you almost feel like a bit of a Jedi. It's like reach out and so we have we have done that we have gotten clear. I really like your description of what's cool and not cool. What I like about above the line below the line it's a to just check your behavior in a really simple easy easy way and so it keeps teams working together effectively. Sometimes those personal slights can build and snowball and if you got a short hand like you know they that's cool or not cool, or that's below the line, you can head it off before things snowball. We've done it on ourselves, but perhaps you're giving me a good idea that maybe we from time to time in may benefit us to get some outside help.
IVAN: I recently started working with an executive coach. It's amazing. The kind of perspective you can get when you talk to someone who altruistically wants to help you but isn't invested in any kind, in any shape in your business and doesn't have the internal perspective of employees and team members that that they would. I was kind of curious about if that's even possible for a company like yourself. I love the description of eating your own cooking because that's that's kind of exactly what we try to do. We're not going to launch a new site with new technology a major change unless we've done it for ourselves first, and it kind of sounds like the way you were describing the work you've been doing for yourself.
ERIC: Yeah, I have to acknowledge it's really hard to do it on ourselves because it requires that we are both like guiding ourselves and participating in you know a discussion that might be uncomfortable. It is hard. It is challenging it can be done, but it requires a lot of you know big investment of your own of your own effort and time.
IVAN: I feel like we're almost at the end of our Audiocast, but I wanted to give you an opportunity to say something, ask something, you're looking at notes. Now I'm a little worried.
ERIC: I have about five things on my list. One of the things that I enjoyed most about our work with you was how it seemed like once you discovered your personal and team why statement, how that seemed to almost set you on fire in a positive way like it really gave you a Northstar or something that clarified something for you or at least that's what it looks like to me. It seemed like when we when we talk about it. I'm curious. What was the what was it like to figure that out, and how did that impact the way you saw your business and the way you started to run your business, and I know you've made a lot of changes over the last couple years. Yeah, the really exciting to watch and learn about, so I'm curious how you see that changing you?
IVAN: Before we started working with you and as we started collecting data, I was concerned that we would get the mission wrong even though I didn't know what that mission was. And I wasn't sure that it was even possible of like articulating what we were about. But through your methodology through the data that you took through the analysis through the discussions that we had with you that I had with you, there was certainly an element of trust that was built up and I thought to myself well, I'm going to trust the data, and I'm going to trust what comes out of this. When the statement came out, and it wasn't something that your team said was our statement, and it wasn't something that I said was our mission, it was something that we collaboratively came up with, I realized that everybody had invested in it and valued it and believed it. The statement itself, which is by working together we can create incredible things really resonated with me, and I think that's why it fired us up. It covered the collaborative aspect of everything we do.
And it didn't only refer to the collaboration between ourselves as a team, but with the team that we were working with which whoever the clients were whether they were partners that we were working on a project together or a client who was actually paying the bills. And it also didn't limit us to just a website it it allowed us to build things that were maybe relationships or maybe they were websites, maybe there were something else. And once we had that guiding star as you called it really allowed us to kind of focus on what brings us together every morning and allows us to continue working together, So I think it was I think it was the fact that you helped us identify what our mission was and I felt like you got it right. Like we got it right. I think that was the fiery part.
ERIC: I loved hearing what you said there. Your mission has collaboration in it. It's in the words, but also the way you got there was collaborative. Every single team member contributed to that so the way you got to your mission was living your mission. I suppose that makes sense, but it's kind of amazing to hear that as I think about it here. So another thing that has really impressed me about your your journey over the few years I've gotten to know you is this leap you've made to having a distributed workforce. It's amazing, to go from you know the office that you guys had which was really cool, by the way. I loved the light that hung over the conference table with the Super Mario. You've taken this huge leap of faith where you almost have to have more trust than your traditional work environment because you can't see what people are working on. You can't walk past somebody's cube and see if they're Facebooking or something, which is for some managers listening in it might be one of the biggest fears is how will I monitor people are really putting in a good effort. So I'm curious about how did you get to that place where you could have that much trust in your team? How did you was that journey like and was there a moment or moments where you said, okay? I can I can take this leap.
IVAN: My team has a great deal of trust in me and what I do, and I'd never feel like I've been questioned in anything I do. I think part of it is they deserve the same amount of trust in the work that they do. I often say we're all adults we all have a reason why we work. Partly, it's to get paid so we can get our own bills paid, but part of it is to create something and we do that and we have a process where it's a collaborative goal and a collaborative creation. At the end of the day, I think the days when, if you remember that show Office Space when boss dude with the weird glasses walks out to Cube Land and visually surveys the area to make sure that everybody is there, and that's a measure of work production, those days are gone. If that's still occurring my opinion is that management and those leaders aren't truly grasping what productivity and what engaged workforce really is. I remember the day when I decided we were going to become distributed. It was the day I had a conversation with one of our developers who said you know I feel like I can get a whole lot more work done when I'm at home. The commute is you know eating away time I don't really want it to eat away. We've already tried working one day a week two days a week at home as a team, I would like to try doing it 24/7. I have to admit I was a little nervous and when I thought about why I was nervous, I realized that there really wasn't a reason to be.This guy was to be doing the same thing he was doing at his desk in the office. At home. He was probably going to be happier because he wouldn't have to fight finding parking downtown Minneapolis, setting up, walking in and doing the same thing over in the evening.
And honestly we have the tools that can bring us together, and I think being able to give that trust to one person and then realizing it that it's the same across everyone was instrumental. I don't know what part of the brain makes you still cling on to the past in certain you know like for fear. Maybe it's a fear response. Consciously I knew that this was what we were going to do I decided that we were going to do that. I kept around the in-person meetings to still have kind of face-to-face meetings and presence. It's not necessary for work or servicing our clients and for servicing our professional development. We have tools that can help us do that, but there is something about being together in a team environment that physically in presence is still necessary, and I feel like we we do that now, on a fairly regular basis. It's maybe once a month. I don't know how that's going to change over the next year. I do know that other distributed companies all have at least one annual retreat. Everybody goes and attends and it becomes a little harder when you're at 50 or 60 employees to do that and so what ends up happening is they have two retreats a year where specific teams that are maybe functionally similar end up having their own separate retreat, and they're still valued of being there in person. To answer your question, I think it has to do with trust you have to be able to trust your employees and and it's a respectful thing to do especially when they have that amount of trust in you.
ERIC: That's great. I have one more question. I don't know if we have time.
IVAN: We have time, we can make time.
ERIC: Okay, so you have four values that came out of some of the work that we did, and I'm curious how those evolved over from working together in a you know co-located work environment to this distributed environment. Have people had to shift how those look or how those sort of evolved there have some become even more important as you move to the distributed workforce, so you've got honesty, mindfulness, sharing and speaking plainly. Are there some that more or less involved in in terms of either their importance or how they were demonstrated.
IVAN: We established these values about three years ago. We became fully distributed officially about a year ago. So we've had about a year to live with our values in kind of an officeless environment. And we checked in with you guys earlier this year to see if we needed values 2.0 or values 1.1. And what we decided was these values work for us. They're still what we believe they're still how we live our lives at work, and they're still the guiding values of our company. I think that the values we chose are still appropriate and they don't seem to have changed, but we we didn't decide that we needed something else or we didn't decide that we needed to take one away just because we became officeless and distributed. I focus more on the first two mindfulness and honesty than I do on the second two, which are almost a part of the first two so sharing and speaking plainly could be thought of as being a mindful thing to do when you're talking to clients or talking to your fellow co-worker. I think you do need to have honesty when you're working at home alone, and you do have to be mindful of your time because you can get distracted and you can get logistically and tactically mindfulness at home when you're distributed you have to be more stringent about it. And an honestly you have to be honest you have to be more honest when you're at home and not in the office because you're saying I'm checking in. And are you checking in? Well we trust your checking in you're there you're working. And so I think I don't think our values have changed. I think I probably focus more on the first two and it'll be interesting to see how the next year evolves. Maybe the distributed officeless environment will have us add or tweak, but not so far.
ERIC: It's really interesting to hear. And we didn't have another client that made a change like this in their values. To hear that your values have endured suggests to me that you really you really got them right. There's not a right or wrong with what values and organization picks. I guess what would be wrong would be if an organization picked something that's inauthentic to who they are. I've walked into you know big big corporations where they have their values kind of plastered on the wall, and they're always things like it's always collaboration, or interacting with the the customer, service to the customer, it's always a lot of those things in those couldn't be the right things or they could be just words that they picked. And to hear that these values have endured for you is it's just exciting and I'm enjoying kind of following your journey here so congratulations.
IVAN: Thank you. We couldn't have done it without you guys, you guys have been great, and I'm I'm looking forward to 2018 and to everything that's in store for next year.
ERIC: Thank you. I am too.
IVAN: Well, I do think that unless you have more questions which I loved by the way. I love being able to do this backwards and forwards. It's been wonderful, and so unless there's that I think that actually does bring us to the end of this Audiocast. Eric, thank you so much for sharing your insights today with us.
ERIC: Thank you for having me. This was a lot of fun.
IVAN: Please visit us at TEN7 and keep an eye out on our blog for future episodes. This is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.