On this episode Josh talks with Darren Virassammy, Co-Founder of 34 Strong and Host of the Leading Strong Podcast. They discuss some techniques and things to keep in mind when building a great culture in your company.
You have the power to create the workplace culture that you have envisioned, where people are engaged, valued for being valuable, and play to their strengths. 34 Strong Co-Founder Darren Virassammy leads the team that serves alongside you to make that a sustainable reality, whether you lead an army of one, or large organization.
In today’s episode you will learn about:
- How important is company culture?
- What’s more important, employees or customers?
- How to transform cultures through strengths?
- How to make any workplace great?
Narrator: Welcome to Cracking the Cash Flow Code where you’ll learn what it takes to create enough cash to fill the four buckets of profit. You’ll learn what it takes to have enough cash for a great lifestyle, have enough cash for when emergency strikes, fully fund the growth program, and fund your retirement program. When you do this, you will have a sale‑ready company that will allow you to keep or sell your business. This allows you to do what you want with your business, when you want, in the way you want.
In Cracking the Cash Flow Code, we focus on the four areas of business that let you take your successful business and make it economically and personally sustainable. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning, and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable and allow you to be free of cash flow worries.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. You’re at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. My guest today is Darren Virassammy. He is from a company called 34strong.com are actually 34 stronger. Their web address is https://34strong.com/. Darren has an impressive guy. We just have a great few minutes talking about music. That’s not what we’re going to talk about today. Today, we are going to talk about how you create a great culture and a great company. Let’s bring Darren on.
Hey, Darren, how are you today?
Darren: Josh, I’m doing well. Thank you so much for having me today. It’s an honor to be here.
Josh: Well, I had a really fun conversation with you before. I’m looking forward to this because I’m sure we’re going to have some interesting opinions. Tell me, culture, important, not important?
Darren: Obviously, we’re in the business of creating great places to work. Culture is absolutely critical to organizations to businesses. When we’re thinking of our companies, no matter how big or small, it’s absolutely critical that we are taking care of the culture. Because here’s the thing, when we’re thinking about it, Josh, culture is going to be there. It’s not something that we can just pretend like it doesn’t exist.
You can either choose to create it by intention and design or just accidentally as it comes together. It’s kind of like the lifeblood that flows through your organization. People are really critical. We’ve got to take care of that lifeblood to make sure that we are connecting in the way that we want to our customers. A lot of times we’ll think of our brands. We’ll think of our brand is our external facing brands, what our customers see.
We’ve got to think about that from the internal facing brand of what the employee experience is like, because, listen, if we try and squeeze a tomato and we expect to get orange juice that’s never going to be the case. I mean, you know that. It’s very simple. We understand that, but yet, in organizations, big or small, we’ve seen it, where we go through and our employees aren’t geared up, aren’t set up. The culture is not right and then we’re wondering why we’re not getting the results with our customers.
Our team is the first face and the first experience that many of our customers have so it’s absolutely critical. It’s the lifeblood of what can keep us going organizationally.
Josh: I actually think it’s the most important things. The number one thing you have to work on to build a sustainable business, in my opinion. Let me go down a little bit further and down that rabbit hole, how important is having explicit articulated values with clarifying statements to build a great culture?
Darren: At 34Strong, we think it’s critical. Here’s the thing, the process matters because just in creating those values, Josh, you can actually go through a process that is very collaborative that creates a safe space for people to be what we’d like to call confidently vulnerable. Then pack that it’s very simple. People can be confident where they shine and where ideas go and be confident in where they’re blind. The areas that they don’t show up quite as strong, but other teammates might.
When we were building our values many, many years ago at 34Strong, one of the things that we got into was the process of actually involving the team and just seeing what were words, what were statements that really seemed to matter to us. We had somebody actually facilitate that process. They actually threw different words at us put them out there. We all got to pick and kind of rank and it built together. That exercise in and of itself, fully embodied the values that we created many years ago that are still living through today.
It’s not my values as one of the founders or my business partner, Brandon Miller, not just his values, it’s our values. That created that sense of buying and it gives us something to reset to on a regular basis. We end every single one of our meetings stating those and the encountering statements that go along with them. I think it’s absolutely critical.
Josh: My experience is without clarifying statements, values are sort of useless because no one knows what you actually mean. I used to play this game. It’s actually a Tony Robbins exercise I stole from him. I knew Tony before he became Anthony back in the early 80s when he was first discovered. At any rate, he used to do think call the picnic game where we get people in groups of eight or 10.
He’d say, write down the first 10 words that come to your mind about pick and now use that with money and investments and vending and a bunch of other words that I know everybody in the room thinks, say no, haven’t write down their 10 words and then compare the list to see how many all have the same word on the list. What do you think the usually answer is?
Darren: For the 10 words that they write down?
Josh: Yeah, how many do you think they all have in common?
Darren: Maybe like two or three?
Josh: Use zero or one? It’s a really low number. So after doing that exercise a couple of times I figured out, I said, without clarifying statements, saying what they mean, these value words are kind of useless. Now, the other thing I want just have a little conversation with you about, you and I might have a little bit of a disconnect here because in a private business, I kind of encourage the owner or owners to get their values straight, put clarifying statements around that and then the rest of the company needs to adopt those values because I’ve just never had good luck with doing the shared experience values thing because often I find the owners their values are left aside.
Darren: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. So when we actually got to that point in our company lifecycle, we had strong values from us as owners. So we had those as a starting point originally and then wanted to give the team some ideas on how to build around that.
When we talk about creating great places to work, Josh, when Brandon and I started the company, it wasn’t about just going through and doing a team building session to your point about culture being the most important piece of the puzzle. Just like you can’t go to the gym or eat healthy on January 2, and say, “Oh, great, I checked that box for the year.” Wouldn’t that be nice? I mean that would be nice.
I mean, to take care of health and well being that would be incredible, but we can’t do that. It’s what we do on a regular basis that’s actually going to allow that to transpire and make that a reality. When we’re thinking about culture, when we’re thinking about these values here, I think we actually are on the same page because we lead with that. What I was getting at is creating a great place to work doesn’t come in just doing a team building day and checking that box.
It’s actually creating it for the long term and for Brandon and I, one of the big values that we connected on was the impact that transforming workplaces had not on people in their work experience only, but what that meant in the ripple area. How were people going to go home if they were employed at an organization where their leaders saw them and value them for being valuable.
They got to play that, how much better were they going to show up at home, to their families, to their spouses to their children? How much better could the next generation be if they’re waking up later on in life and saying, “Hey, Mom and Dad went to work and work was actually a powerful experience where they came home empowered.” What does that do for the long term? That was a piece.
We anchored on a lot of those elements up front. Then it was actually years later that we actually really sat down with the team built on those types of principles and allow us to kind of come up with our shared values of strong spirit, courageous heart and grateful attitude which completely embodied everything that we did for the longer arc of when Brandon and I first started and getting the team by it. I do agree with you on that.
Josh: Yeah, actually, I think we are in the same place because what we did I establish the values. Then we put together what we call the pillars. The pillars were things I kind of that support the values. One of our pillars was you are the expert at your job so act like it. That was supporting our value of personal responsibility. By the way, when we said you are the expert at your job and he act like it then meant the supervisors had to recognize support and identify that they weren’t the experts. The person doing the job was the expert which means they need to ask and not tell.
Darren: Gosh, I think that’s so important, Josh. In the work that we do, one of the pieces that we focus on is play to your strengths, focus on what’s right. It’s easy to get caught up and think that, “Oh, we’re just going to focus on the goods about me and everything that’s right with me.” That’s part of it, but part of owning your strengths is owning who you aren’t. The things that, “Hey, that’s not the area that I do things well. I really do need Josh’s help. I really do need these other team members help to partner.”
Together we’re actually greater than the sum of our parts just at the hallmark of what we did is great African proverb if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far go with others. It plays right in that line as being the expert in your respective role.
Josh: That’s a very, very important point. I mean when I do seminars, I will always ask this question. What’s more important— because I’m always curious about the answer. This has always been the same every time I’ve asked it which is, what’s more important to work on your strengths or to work on your weaknesses? Owners give one answer. Employees give the other answer. I find this fascinating. Who do you think does what?
Darren: Interesting, I would say that the owners might say, work on your strengths, but maybe it’s just because of the work that I get into and employees focus on your weaknesses.
Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve come to a conclusion why this is true. Owners are in control of their destiny, but employees are not. As they have weaknesses, their managers often told them, “You need to work on your weakness because you’re not very good in this area.” We go so much faster, if we work on our strengths all the way through our company. We build teams which have different skill sets in different abilities. We have respect for those who see the world differently than us. If we do, we have great organizations.
Darren: So true, I always like to say our differences really are an advantage. I’m in the Sacramento area. We’re close to San Francisco. I actually grew up in the San Francisco region not in San Francisco, but in that general Bay Area region down there. That Golden Gate Bridge, I think it’s a visual that many people can relate to. It’s a suspension bridge.
It’s got the cables, Josh that are pulling in different directions. It creates that tension. Sometimes what we lose sight of is the fact that it is pulling in these different directions. That’s what gives strength and rise to the bridge to allow it to sustain. A lot of times, we’re very much looking at things through a different lens, but somebody else might be seeing a blind spot of ours and that gives rise and strength to the best idea and the best path forward for the organization.
We can get passionate about that instead of arguing with, “Hey, I’m right, you’re wrong, my idea is better than going through.” We’re not arguing with each other. We’re actually using those times of disagreement and disconnect to actually strengthen the connection, to actually build the trust on the team because I can share my perspective that I know is going to be totally different than yours. You can share yours as well. We might not see eye to eye, but we’re both passionately looking to get to the best idea or the best outcome. We are aligned on that that allows us to have that dialogue in a much, much more healthy fashion.
Again, you can’t just do that by checking that box by saying, “Oh, yeah, we had a meeting or we had a team building session. We did it on the first Wednesday of August. We’re good. We don’t need to do it for another three years.” It’s our habits that become our reality and become our culture. Those are the shared habits of the team.
Josh: I have another question for you, what’s more important employees or customers?
Darren: I think employees lead to the customers that we want to have and want to create. I imagine you’re familiar with Mike Michalowicz’s work, author of the Pumpkin Plan profit first. We’ve probably connected through Mike. He’s got his big conference going on right now Profit Con.
Josh: Mike and I are actually pretty good friends.
Darren: Me as well. He’s a great guy. When we think about that and he talks about in the Pumpkin Plan the importance of weeding out your bad clients, having a no jerks policy. That applies to your clients. That applies to your employees. So if we really focus on getting our employee peace right, that’s going to help us attract the right clients and be willing to say, “No, you can go be a pain in somebody else’s ear.”
Dealing with somebody else because we’ve had clients that we’ve worked with as a business that we were seeing what they were doing to our organization in our team. It wasn’t actually beneficial for us. It wasn’t beneficial to our operations to how we were serving our other clients. It’s easy to just get stuck in that trap of any client as a good client. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s focus on getting that employee equation right and a lot of the client stuff ends up taking care of itself, not to say there won’t be challenges on both sides of that, but that’s a critical piece.
It will also show your employees that you have their back that you trust them and they’ll feel safe coming to you if there’s been clients that have maybe acted, maybe they don’t hit one of those immutable laws that might talk about the Pumpkin Plan. Maybe they’ve been a complete jerk to deal with. We don’t want to deal with that. It could be holding us back from much better opportunities.
Josh: My feeling is that my employees are only going to treat our customers as well as I treat them. That’s one of my mantras in the world that I live by. All you got to do is look at companies where people are treated well and companies that are not treated well and the ones who treat their employees well are ones you like to do business with.
Darren: That’s right. I agree with that wholeheartedly. That is so critical. That’s an important mantra that I’m 100% in alignment with.
Josh: Cool, cool. What else about culture would you be focusing on if you were to come into my company?
Darren: One of the things that is very simple to start off with is the fact that we can get so caught up in thinking that we’re setting clear expectations and that we’re focusing on this. I’m telling my team what to do. I’ve got a team of 10 people. I may set expectations very, very clearly as a leader. What do we oftentimes find? Josh, we often find that it feels like we’re playing a game of telephone. I remember playing that as a kid. I whisper something into your ear and it goes around the whole classroom.
What do we end up finding? That 10 people have heard 10 totally different things. So a big point in this whole cycle of culture building just a great place to start is looking in the mirror and asking how effective are we at setting clear expectations. If that’s a place that we’re struggling with, when we’re leading a team, there’s a deeper root issue that is very likely there.
There’s a number of things, but one of the simple questions that we can take the time to ask is how do you best learn. Asking that question of each person that you need to work with that you’re setting expectations with is critical. Some people, you tell them what you want and they need to talk it out. Others, you tell them what they want, they might need some time to process it think, maybe do a little bit of research on it, whatever it might be.
Bottom line is people are going to have very different learning styles. When we set expectations as owners, as leaders, it’s easy for us to fall in the trap. Well, I set clear expectations which are set clear expectations for? You set clear expectations for yourself. The way that I would do it, that’s not always the same way that somebody else would do. When we can learn those pieces, we can start creating little shifts in the cadence of how we present information. I give you an example of this, one of my team members, our chief of staff at 34Strong worked with her for many years.
Absolutely incredible human being, Aaron Harrison and I’ve known with her, if I’m putting an idea out there or some direction with her of where I think I’d like to go and I want her feedback. I know she needs some time to ruminate on that. I’m intentional about instead of pushing us right to a decision in that first meeting that we might have most of the time when we can have the time to present this and just say, “I really want you to think about this. Let’s reconnect on this tomorrow.
I’ve other team members I work with. You present it now and they’re ready to jump because they need to learn by doing and kind of going through it.” It’s a totally different style. We never asked that simple rudimentary question and that’s a starting point. When people feel like they are going to have clear expectations set for them. What happens? Trust is strong. If I’m not feeling as an employee, Josh that I know what’s expected of me, do I trust that I can be successful? No, that starts to erode trust in the team, in the leadership in going through.
The final piece that I’ll say on that is the second question that you asked on that— again, number one is how do you learn best? Number two, what are the ways that you’d like to be recognized? We oftentimes overlook the power of recognition and the fact that people like to receive recognition very differently. Feel free to push it ask give me a time that you’ve had great recognition that you’ve really enjoyed that’s really resonated for you.
Because when we are able to figure that piece out, what do we do? We close the loop. The more it wins that we create for our team, the more wins that we’re going to have because they’re starting to see that cycle going through. That’s a simple place people can start if you’re wrestling with that and that will get the momentum going for culture building and trust building within your team to strengthen that culture.
Josh: You’re speaking to actually there’s two things I want to talk about. One is delegation, the other is recognition. What you were speaking to, for most of that was the most important skill a private business owner can ever learn is how to be an effective delegator. What you are doing, you’re giving a really nice description of some of the really subtle things of delegation and why everybody I’ve ever met in my life has been a crappy delegator.
The first 10, 15, 20 times a try. It’s a learned skill. Nobody’s got it naturally. The second thing is and we have a lot of blue collar business owners listen to this podcast, and they have a lot of blue collar people working for them. If you were to go to their workers and ask them, how do you like to be recognized? They most likely would give you a blank look and end up saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever been recognized.”
I learned this my vending company. I’ll tell you the story real fast because it’s a good one in my opinion. I was walking through my office one day and my controller says to me says, “Tell me congratulations.” I said, “Okay, congratulations for what?” She said for my anniversary, I said, “Oh, great, how long have you married for?” She said, “No, you idiot, my anniversary here.”
This is when I was being the worst manager of all times. I went around and asked three or four other people who can do what they started because I don’t know what day of the week it ever is. They all knew exactly the date that they started. I said to myself, that’s a big deal. So we started recognizing people every quarter on their anniversary and doing a whole bunch of little things for them along while they did that. What I learned was that many of our people had never been recognized in public for anything in their entire life. This was the first time it ever happened.
Darren: It’s so true. In the blue collar world, I should share that I spent 10 years in construction before founding 34Strong, so near and dear to my life experience— I was a superintendent out in the field building homes out here in California. Then on the commercial construction side, I was project manager that did projects all across the US. So very familiar with that and it’s so true, because we get stuck Josh in the check the box mentality. Here’s a tip for the blue collar leaders out there, the blue collar owners. I know that we have our punch list. I’ve got my list.
We’ve got things and we are wired to get things done crossed off the list. We’ve got deadlines. We’ve got things breathing down our neck and going through that. One simple technique and I literally had to do this as I was working through from being so execution centric as a leader. It was I had to put on my to do list every week or every day, even people, I put people down on my to do list. You know why? It gave me the permission because in my brain, I needed to cross something off list. I’m going to tell you, “Hey, thank you.” That’s not doing anything. I need to get a wall built. That’s what we need to focus on today. By just pausing to do that, you know what it did?
It gave me the permission to cross that off my list as if I was doing something until that habit was built. The turn of our teams that I started seeing was they realized that there was that connection especially in blue collar organizations when I was in the field and when I was in the office. There’s always this push back and forth and this tension that could be there. When we’re not providing that recognition, we could very well be missing the boat.
Some people like that public recognition. Some people just want a quiet, thank you. Even the way that you thank them can be very, very different and what’s really, really meaningful for them. So spending that time you’re absolutely right, people might go through and they might think like, “Oh, geez, I never thought of that.” You can start your team thinking about that and then showing them that you’re paying attention just by asking that question, say I’d like to know how to better recognize you going forward. Because the work that you’re doing does matter for building homes, I’m just going to use that for building homes, “Hey, the fact that a home gets completed is a big part of what keeps your company in business. Your work is absolutely incredible as the plumber, as the carpenter, as the framing foreman, whatever it might be.
Josh: Darren, unfortunately, we are out of time. You are a fascinating guy. I bet your company does really good stuff. How would they find you?
Darren: Great place to find me everybody is at https://34strong.com/. You can learn a lot more about what we do there. You can learn a little bit more at me personally at my own website also https://www.darrenvirassammy.com/. We have our own podcast as well called Leading Strong. We get very, very nuanced into just some of these technical pieces and ways that you can grow your leadership skills, right in alignment with a lot of things that we had that expectation setting piece there, Josh, so one thing I’ll say about that is there’s a free download on 10 key questions you can ask as a leader to set better expectations, better delegate with your employees. It’s right on the homepage, really encourage people to go grab that and check that out.
Josh: Great. Thanks, Darren. I have an offer for you. I actually have a request first. Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please go to wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Please give us an honest rating and review. It’s really, really important to help people find us.
For people who’ve been around me for a while if you’re just listening the first time you’re going to find out that I am obsessed with creating an academically and personally sustainable business that leads to your company being sale ready. Now, you have to understand something. Sale ready does not mean you want to sell your company. It just means you got your company in shape that others would want to buy it. I’ve written an eBook on how to get your company sale ready.
It’s really easy to get and it’s free. You go to https://sustainablebusiness.co/saleready. It’s https://sustainablebusiness.co/saleready. This is Josh Patrick. We’re with Darren Virassammi. You’re at Cracking the Cashflow code. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to Cracking the Cash Flow Code where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?”
If you’ve liked what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 extension 102, or visit us on our website at www.sustainablebusiness.co, or you can send Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening and we hope to see you at Cracking the Cash Flow Code in the near future.