DTL 005 | Mark James | Dare to Leap

Organizations are Losing Productivity, Here’s How to Fix It with Mark James

Mark James is the Founder and Consultant for Performance Advisors Group and is certified in Marketing Performance Measurement by the Chief Marketing Officer Council. It’s no secret Mark is a numbers guy and the numbers don’t look very good for a lot of companies who want to get the most out of their team. Mark shares some interesting stats on employee engagement as well as how to fix this productivity gap problem.

Organizations are Losing Productivity, Here’s How to Fix It with Mark James

Welcome once again to Dare To Leap podcast. It’s your tiara wearing leader here, Kathy. And today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Mark James. You guys! This is my first male, my first guy to interview on a podcast and he even knows it and was willing to do it. Can you guys believe that? I just want to tell you a little bit about Mark before we let him do any talking. So, Mark, has just blown me away. We had the privilege of talking about a month ago and I immediately was like, I have to interview you on my podcast. Mark has many, many things that he does. He is actually a certified CMO, Chief Marketing Officer, counsel in marketing performance measurement. And I will tell you, that alone just saying that scares me, cause I know that means numbers!

I know that is important to my business. I’m still getting my brain around, actually welcoming them into my business. And he uses that to help companies evaluate their marketing efforts and reliably measure the results. And that’s why, yes, I am getting my brain around these kinds of numbers. He is also an accomplished business advisor with over 40 years business improvement experience and don’t we all love the idea of having our businesses improved? He is the founder and president of Performance Advisors, a group incorporated, where he specializes in workplace and channel performance, change management and customer loyalty solutions. He specifically helps B2B companies eliminate barriers standing in the way of growth and are so important. Competitive advantage. So, Mark, welcome. Thank you so much for being here today!

Thank you very much, Kathy. And I have to say I’m honored to be your first male participant. In fact, I would say I can be your male diversity officer, in terms of the representation. You’re happy do that, but no, I’m honored to be here.

Let’s put an acronym to that. M male, M D O!

And I’ll be happy to do it.

Oh my gosh. Thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

And thank you for that introduction. You had even me impressed. I’m going like wow. I knew all that stuff.

Yeah. And I didn’t even mention that you also have a finance degree and an MBA. Are you an overachiever Mark?

Not like my daughters, but I hopefully where I needed to achieve in life, I’ve done it. I know that I had great parents and a great upbringing, classic Midwestern values. So I think those have served me well. So, to the extent that achievement is important in life. I’m a big believer in that. And I certainly am a believer in an abundance mindset, especially in the world. And when you run a business, having an abundance mindset is perhaps the first place where you can establish a differentiation versus one of your competition. So, I try to embrace those kinds of things in terms of how I approach business and life in general.

I have a list of questions to ask you, but I can’t go onto them yet because you just hit on a topic that I love – the abundance mindset. So, could you talk a little bit more about that for people who really, I find that there are a lot of people who don’t quite grasp what that really means and how it can be beneficial to your business?

Yeah, the concept is relatively simply, or let me put it this way. There’s no need to overcomplicate it and make it a big psychological study or would try to put too much complication into what it really means. An abundance mindset basically says that, you always look for opportunities in everything you’re presented with. Even in, especially in, times of crisis, that we’ve all unfortunately had to endure in the lab over the last several months, there are always opportunities that exist. And so, the abundance mindset says that I’m going to look for opportunities rather than trying to stay in fear and frustration and overwhelm state of mind. So, think of abundance mindset as the opposite of being fearful or being frustrated or feeling overwhelmed. That’s the way I would describe the definition.

I love that. Thank you so much for sharing that. I know it wasn’t one of the things that we talked about, but wow, that is just something that I love. You know, just to tell you something personal about me, I’ve been building a business since 2001, and I’ve built several different businesses since then. And I would get stuck at a particular level of revenue and I would stay stuck there for a very long period of time. And I was doing everything that my coaches and all the experts told me to do, and still I stayed stuck at that. And then I did some mindset work on that abundance mindset rather than a scarcity mindset and boom, my business tripled in one year and then doubled the next year. And literally that was the only thing I did different. Does that surprise you?

Oh, no, it doesn’t surprise me. And in fact, it speaks to an important, critical success factor in terms of an abundance mindset. It’s hard to have an abundance mindset if you don’t have goals. So, having goals and goals that are realistic certainly, but are also designed to take you out of your comfort zone, which it’s human nature to remain in comfort zones. In fact, the work I do in change management is all about helping organizations and people face with change to overcome the resistance to change because that’s the number one barrier to successful change, especially in organizations is the fear of the resistance to want to change. So, part of how you address that personally and also within organizations is have goals and have goals in mind that force you to be a little uncomfortable, to take you out of your comfort zone, but it’s okay because if your goals and your direction and your vision are right where you want to be, and you know that to get there, you’re going to have to rely on people and things around you, and you treat others as you want to be treated yourself. It’s not that scary because people will want to help you people. We all, I think, love to be around other people who are successful and have that mindset as opposed to being around somebody who’s constantly in the frame of mind. And if we had the choice where we’d rather spend our time. So, when you have an abundance mindset and positive looking forward in our stretching and taking yourself out of your comfort zone, you’re going to find a support system that you’d be amazed exists.

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Yeah. Oh, you’re, you’re so right about that. And one of my favorite quotes, I literally have it framed and I carry it in my car. I know that might sound weird that I have a framed quote in my car, but it is where I used to start getting those fears of, Oh my gosh, what am I doing? What have I gotten into? So that’s why I started carrying it. And “if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

Oh, well said, yeah. They’re not big enough. Exactly. Now that’s well said. I have to remember that when myself, I’m always looking for new quotes, I have developed a bit of a reputation for being quote boy. So, if I throw some out here during this conversation, but no, well, they help, they help put context in our lives and what we do.

Thank you so much for that. So now let’s take a step back and I would love for you to tell us a little bit so that we understand who you are and where you are about your business and where you’re physically located and anything like that. You want to share about your business and yourself?

My business is all about helping B2B organizations get rid of those barriers that get in the way of growth and competitive advantage, and also find those hidden opportunities that exist in any organization and with how that organization goes to market. And that quite often comes down to helping with the performance of people, employees, distribution, channel partners, and even people upstream and in a value chain distribution set situation, and then also helping to find opportunities to improve the processes that people use to get their job done. A lot of the performance issues that exist in organizations typically are in those two areas. And two of my favorite statistics that I quote Human Capital Week has done research, and they have found that in a typical organization, only 42% of the people in that organization, the employees even know what the company’s values, mission and vision are.

And if you understand, or if we accepted values, mission and vision are sort of the voice of the business and the customer, think about how difficult it is. If over half of your employees don’t even know what those are in terms of delivering that expected experience at that waste is telling the customer. Related to that on the process of the operational side of the business, you can have very engaged, enthusiastic people. They know what they’re doing, they get the values, mission, vision, but if they’re slaving under really bad processes, that’s going to impact a performance as well for the organization and the customer experience, and then stunts growth and competitive advantage in terms of being able to sustain those things. A couple of statistics, as it relates to that in a typical organization, the conference board has found that nearly two thirds of employees are only one third as productive as they could be simply because they don’t understand what they’re being asked to do.

The implication there is that there is a huge communication challenge and employees are always asking five questions. And those five questions relate to having the right answers for their behavior. What is it you want me to do? How should I do it? How am I doing at it? What’s in it for me? Or why should I do it? And then lastly, where am I going? What’s my future here? And it’s up to leadership in an organization that clearly in real unambiguous terms answer those questions so that employees can understand answers to those because those are the things that impact their behavior directly. And back to processes. If they’re encumbered by processes that are overly burdensome, then they’re not going to be successful, even if they have the answer to those questions. Second statistic, as it relates to that in a typical organization, 50-75% of the activities that the employees perform add zero value to the outcome.

So, imagine what can happen to your productivity and the customer experience and growth and advantage if you can eliminate those things that add no value. And what are the things that create those non-value activities? A lot of it has to do with redundancy, a lot of redundant steps that just could have creeped into the way the businesses operated over the years. It could be politics or silos that have developed competing interests, lack of direction or confusion. For instance, if people aren’t grounded in the values of the organization, and they’re not clear in the mission, then activities can creep in because people will make it up as they go. And that’s just human nature. So if you’re not providing good direction as a leader or an order of a business, you create a situation where your processes can kind of get gummed up, so to speak.

So those are the areas I work within a business to help in that arena. And then related to that, I also help with change management, helping through the process of change and change is something that most organizations struggle with a manufacturer or a provider of services in the B2B world. They’re really good at what they do. They make a great widget, they provide a great service, but when it comes to the managing that the process to change and change is really more of a journey. It’s not a process, per se. It’s not an event. You have to manage change properly. And a lot of it has to do with overcoming resistance to change, making sure you have people aligned in and onboard for the journey, that you’ve got a specific plan because change won’t happen. At least desire change won’t happen on its own.

You have to actively manage it and you have to communicate like crazy with your various audiences with employees, especially during a process of change behind by a merger and acquisition or restructuring, you need to especially be in touch with your customers because they’re going to be concerned and nervous about what’s going on. Because of these things that I’m seeing with this company, that’s providing me services or products, and also understand that, more than ever, you should be in touch with your corporate customers during the process that changed because the competition out there makes no blood in the water. And, it raises the possibility of more competitive temptation on your customers. So those are the two areas. The third area, then finally is what I call precision marketing, helping organizations use good data analytics about their customers’ interaction with your products and services and the marketplace to get the right message to the right customer at the right time at the lowest possible cost.

And that’s where my certification by the Chief Marketing Officer Council comes into play. And I should make one clarification there. I’m not a CMO, per se. I am certified by the CMO council in their model and framework for marketing performance measurement. I use that to help organizations, vet their marketing efforts or the plans, and then more importantly, they help them measure, and have reliable results to prove up that their investment in their marketing is in the right places. And it’s getting into the return they’re looking for. So, that’s my story. I’m sticking to it. And I won’t go any further. That’s probably enough for your audience.

Mark. That was amazing. I’m going to tell you right now, that was probably five minutes at the most, and I just learned so much, and I could talk to you all day long about each and every one of those things. And I do want to circle back and ask you a couple of things. One is when you said the percentage of people that do not know the company’s values, mission, and vision, and that you really need to communicate that. And I know this could probably take a really long time to answer, but any quick tip that you could give any best practice or anything like that, on how to even begin to communicate that in a way that people really get it, because I will tell you, I am struggling with that myself.

Yeah, it’s a communication issue primarily, and the responsibility for communicating those things lies with the ownership or leadership of an organization. That’s where the responsibility begins. And so, it’s the responsibility of leaders and owners to make sure that clearly there is a set of core values that are defined, and there’s a mission defined that are based on those core values. And then there’s a vision. And by the way, a mission and vision should be developed only after you develop your core values and your core values as an organization, as simply, I refer to your core values as your DNA. It describes what you stand for, what you believe in. What’s not negotiable in terms of how we do our business and what we’re going to do to help our customers. And once you’ve got a lock and you’ve got a baseline of good core values, no more than four to six, and be careful about using platitudes and corporate buzzwords, it’s gotta be genuine and believable stuff.

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Then you develop your mission statement, then you develop your vision statement. So that’s the baseline. And that’s the first thing that leadership needs to do. And it makes sense to involve the employees in the organization in tweaking those or defining them if they don’t exist now, but it really comes down to a communication issue. And it’s a combination of making sure that those things are clear and unambiguous and they’re constantly communicated and constantly reinforced. One of the things I talk about when I do some workshops for clients, I talk about their two allies you have as a leader or an owner in a business, your two allies, our allies are what I call 2 undeniable truths of human behavior. First of all, what gets talked about in this world is what gets done.

And also, in this world, what gets measured is what gets done. So, the more you talk about your mission, your values and your vision, the more people are going to incorporate them and think about them. What does it say? What gets talked about is what gets done. So it’s not a matter of putting out there, checking the box and saying, okay, now we’ve put them out there. And assuming everybody knows what they are and understands them as living them every day. It’s a never ending process. It’s sort of a passion of mine right now. I’ve seen so many organizations where they regard their values, mission, vision as well. We kind of have those things or we check the box and we publish them and we have great flowing words, but there’s no effort made to reinforce those with the employees, with distribution channel partners and with customers. So it’s a never ending thing. And if you’re going to live them, you have to live them, which means you have to communicate them. And you have to keep talking about it.

That really makes sense to me. And I’m taking that to heart. I will tell you because, I can see how repeating them over and over again, making them very clear, understandable, all of that. And I know exactly how to do that. Now that you’ve said that it’s so interesting because often I think, Oh, I’m not going to know how to do whatever it is. It’s going to be complicated. And then when you said that, I’m like, Oh, I know how to do that. That’s what I needed to do.

Yeah. Think about it in these terms, when it comes to those things, practice what I call the 13 actual whatever your current cadence now in an organization with how you’re communicating to people about what you expect of them, how you’re answering those five questions, what should I do? How should they do it? So, on and values, mission, vision, especially if you’re communicating at X. Now you should take that cadence and that frequency up by 13 fold, because it goes back to the old notion in the old days when I was a kid growing up and in college, I was told that in order for people to remember something, they have to hear it eight times in today’s world. And I don’t have psychological research to back this up other than just anecdotally had to go late. It’s more like 13 times now because we’re all so bombarded with information and stimulus out there in the world every day that you really have to take it up a block beyond the eight to 13 fold.

I totally agree with you. My background is also in marketing and I often have said that exact thing, you have to touch somebody at least eight times. And now if I say it accidentally, cause it’s been in my brain for so long, somebody goes, yeah, it’s a lot more than that. Now. I’m like, Oh yeah, you’re right. It is. So, tell us where you are physically. And is this your office? Tell us about this.

Yeah. Well this is the world headquarters right here. As you see behind me. My old interior decorator, so I don’t claim to be an expert!

It works for me. It looks good. It does.

Thank you. I live and work in Yorkville, Illinois, which is a far Western suburbs of Chicago. We’re about 50 miles West of downtown Chicago. I grew up in a small farming community, just West of here. Every chance I get, I try to put the name on the map because nobody even can barely pronounce the word much less know what it is. This small farming community in Illinois, I was born and raised there. And when I was born, and it was a long time ago, certainly after Lincoln was shot. So, I’ll let you figure out the years, but at that time, it was 700 people in the town.

And my parents were the first people in town to have a private telephone line. When I was probably about five or six years old, my dad who had grown up in the south side of Chicago, couldn’t stand the notion of everybody listening in on a party line, you know, the Mrs. Kravitz listening in, so to speak. So, he insisted as soon as the general telephone company in that area offer private telephone lines. my dad and mom were the first people in town to have a private telephone line. So, the bottom line, I’m being long winded here, but I grew up classic Midwestern values, small time. My parents were business owners. They owned and operated a jewelry store for 54 years before they ultimately passed on. And, everybody in this world should at one time or another, have a retail job because the wheels of commerce don’t begin to turn pretty much until somebody buys something at retail or in the B2B world, they are supplying stuff that ultimately goes into that retail world.

So, everybody should have a retail job, at least once in their lives. I learned a lot from working in my parents’ business and was taught a lot of things. So, that’s where I live now. Yorkville, Illinois, world headquarters is right here in the house. I run pretty lean because of my outsource resource model. I don’t need to have an office. I don’t want an office. I don’t need to have that expense. And if I’m on the street, I’m going to be at a client’s place of business. That’s where I should be when I’m not in the office.

Well, you have just said exactly where I wanted to head. Tell us about your outsource resource model.

Sure. My career includes a lot of corporate stops in the corporate world. I was in the oil business for nine and a half years out of college, in sales and marketing positions, what was also in the securities industry. And then I was in the incentive and motivation business. And that’s part what I do this today. I can architect incentive programs for clients to improve the behavior of salespeople or safety or productivity or improve the loyalty of customers, which is where that customer loyalty piece comes into play. Based upon my observations, working in the corporate world, I developed the notion that when I started my own business, I had had created a really large group of people. I call them my consortium partners, and these are people that are really good at what they do.

And as one of my colleagues would say, we can trust each other with our livelihoods. So, when I started the business, I decided I don’t need to have a lot of people on the payroll. What I want to do is I want to take these people where they have ability. And when there’s trust between us, those are the two criteria. And I’m going to build a business around the model where I’m going to call on them, because I know they’re really good at what they do. They’re people in organization development, learning, and training, capabilities, data, and analytics, marketing things in terms of social media or other mediums, all sorts of people with those kinds of backgrounds. And I’ll bring in exactly who I need for a given client situation no more, no less. So, my differentiator because of that is I’m able to save anywhere from 15- 75%, overhead costs versus a lot of my large competitors, the big consulting firms.

That’s a pretty big percentage.

It doesn’t mean to say that what those organizations do isn’t good, they do good work, but their business model has a lot of people sitting around to be deployed. And every customer is going to pay that overhead, whether they’re using it a lot or not. So, with my business model and the outsource resource model, as long as I’ve got people where there’s trust between us and they’ve got that resident ability, I’m going to bring in plug-in people, exactly what I need for a client’s need. No more, no less. And that’s how I eliminate the overhead. So, that’s how I run the business and assert certainly virtual assistants, which is your world, is a part and parcel of that. And you’ve got some really classy, great people that I can tap into as part of my consortium partnership.

Yeah. And that’s how Mark and I actually met the first time is he was wanting to, what did you call it? Make your bench deeper.

Oh, yeah. With this business model, I’m always looking for bench strengths, because people can move on and there’s always somebody else that’ll come along, even in something like organizational government learning and training, they’ll have a different approach or a slightly different philosophy or attitude about it, where it might be actually a really good fit. So, I’m always looking for bench strength, and the bench strength doesn’t stop with just the stuff that I do and I provide. But I also like to have bench strength with people and their capabilities for things that I don’t do. So, when I’m in front of a client, how I can also add value to a client when a client is looking for a fractional CFO to run their business because their current CFO went away. I don’t do that kind of work, even though I have a finance degree, but I have people I can tap into and call and say, Hey, I’ve got an organization here that could use your fractional CFO capabilities and I’ll make the introduction. So, that’s part of my bench strength as well as just to be a resource for my clients, whether it literally directly relates to what I do or it doesn’t.

I love that model because that is also the business model, how I run my business and really how I train the virtual experts to run their businesses and be able to work for people like me and you. And so it just thrilled me to death. I talked with you and found out you don’t have any actual employees, right?

I have a couple of people that will come in and out as on a part time basis, but for the most part, it’s 100% outsource resource model for all those reasons that I cited. And it eliminates a lot of stuff that I don’t have to worry about. I can manage the business as it relates to the clients, as opposed to having to manage the business from the standpoint of employees and so on. And, the relationship is very important. And that trust element is key. We need to be able to trust each other with our livelihoods. And for me, from my standpoint, nearly all the people that I use at one time or another, whether they’re virtual assistants or people with organization development backgrounds or whatever. Quite often I’m putting them in front of my client.

So, my brand and my reputation is on the line. They’re representing me and the assets of my organization, my image, and my reputation. I want to make sure that they’re going to represent those things faithfully, and they’re going to take a professional approach like I do. Cause at the end of the day, it all reflects on me. So I’m very, very selective and careful, but there are just some really cool people out there that really are smart at what they do. And they have the ability and they’ve earned the trust factor.

So, I just want to talk for just a minute, and I know most people are going to know this, but every once in a while I run into this question when people are like, well, they don’t really think about the difference between an employee and what we’re talking about, which is a 1099 independent contractor. So, an employee that’s a W2, right. And a 1099, that’s a W9. Correct?


That’s kind of how I try to tell people, matter-of-factly, and then of course, there’s all of nuances that go in there also, but that’s kind of just the bottom line to me. Any other way you like to describe the differences?

No, that pretty much describes it. I know that my advisors, my legal advisor, my CPA, but guys over the years that a lot of how it might be looked at is how do you direct their day of that person you’re working with? So, you have to take that into account a little bit, but here’s the other thing, and this is based upon experience I had, and I’m not going to play lawyer here, but I’m going to tell you about an experience that I had when I had it. When I had another business in the past, where I was using a combination of employees and I had consortium partners in the state of Illinois, at least at that time, they were very aggressive about looking for places where people were not paying the unemployment dues stuff.

The only new department of employment security came in and examined the people I was working with. And the lesson I learned is that there was no question. My employees that are in my employees and we were doing withholding and we’re paying the unemployment insurance for those people. But the state insistent that I had these condition partners that were also considered employees and we challenged it my lawyer and I challenged it and we took it all the way to an administrative law judge. We ultimately lost because the all state law judge it’s like a pack court. They never rule in favor of, at least that’s been my stories, but here’s the lesson learned. A number of those people that I was using, they were sole proprietors and or they were doing their business under their social security number. So what I would advise a small business or a business out there, if you’re going to embrace this kind of business model, and you’re going to use virtual assistants, make sure that they are established as a business, they have an EIN number, not a social security number, and that you’re billing them, or they’re billing you as a business because, I got to imagine other States, may be the same as Illinois, you might get crushed.

Oh yeah. Other States can be much pickier even than Illinois, quite honestly, these days. So, yeah. And as a matter of fact, that’s one of the things that I teach in my program is while it’s not the virtual assistants or what I call the people, I train our virtual experts. It’s not their job to make sure that the person that hires them is making sure that they go with what the 1099 rulings are. But if you want to be a really good consortium partner for, in someone like you, you’re going to know that and be cognizant of that and make sure that relationship remains in that way. And like you said, it’s a partnership. I’m not an employee and you have to be really clear on that. Another thing that I always do, and I’m sure you have processes or a lot more processes in place than I do, but when I decided to hire somebody new before we even begin working together, I make sure I have their W9 in place. And that they are a business and all of those types of things, because I don’t want to be surprised later on.

Yup. You have to set those expectations up front. And also, I shouldn’t make it sound like I’m trying to skirt unemployment security laws.

You know what I was thinking when you said that Mark, I thought I just paid my unemployment for myself. They’re not missing out on anything. A lot of unemployment.

Yeah. They get paid. And I know I’m not suggesting that people cheat the system, but if you know somebody that is an outsource resource, that is a supplier to you, and you’re not controlling their data on a 40-hour week versus like a typical employer, if you’re doing things. As a matter of fact, they’re coming in and you know what, I’m not controlling their day. Other than that, they’re going to give me work over a certain amount of hours. And very rarely if ever, does anybody put in 35, 40 hours a week on a project for me. So, I wanna make sure in case the government’s listening.

Me neither. Yeah. In fact, what you’re talking about, Mark is exactly what the IRS wants us to do. And so that’s really good advice for everyone. And thank you for sharing that. And by the way, because of the industry that I’m in and because I train people on this, I do really stay on top of those issues. I try to stay on top of them U.S. wide, because they do vary by state. So, while I’m not a lawyer either, I thank you, because I could never figure out how to be a lawyer. It makes my head spin. I do read up on that and try to stay up on any new legislation that comes through. And the good news is, in my opinion, the world is, and the U.S. is going more and more to the remote virtual team like you have, what do you think about that? Do you see it headed that direction also?

Oh, I agree. Yeah. I don’t think organizations are gonna entirely come back to having as many people coming into an office every day as they used. In fact, I’ve had some conversations with people in commercial real estate, and they say that the traditional office in a big downtown area like Chicago, that’s gonna bring in hundreds of people that day, at least for the time being for the future. That’s not going to be the case. And even if we assume that COVID is going to go away completely and knock on wood, it will eventually, and we’ll get it under control. I think it’s going to have altered the way in which businesses operate in the behavior of people. And they’re are advantages even to an employer to have your people working remotely.

Think about this for a second. What, in fact, are the things that can cause performance issues for people in an organization for the organization is the stress. In fact, stress causes 1 million lost work days every year in America, because people are stressed on the job and think about one of the things that causes stress before you ever get to work. Especially if you live in a large metropolitan area like Chicago traffic, it’s the traffic and the commute, whether you’re in a car or in the train or anything else, there’s stress involved in that. And so people arrive at work they’re stressed and the water cooler talk for the first half hour around the water cooler for a lot of people as, Oh, you wouldn’t believe the traffic today and the Kennedy or the Eisenhower was yet again, an absolute impasse.

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And, so those things in no small way, have an impact on productivity and mindset. And again, stress is a huge drain on productivity in organization. So, think about how you eliminate at least that element of stress by allowing people to work virtual. Now, there are trade-offs. You have to make sure that people are remaining engaged and you have to help them manage and organize their work from wherever they’re working. Typically, it’s going to be probably at home, help them to understand that you’ve got a job to do, but also give them the benefit that a doubt that there may be distractions during the day that they have to attend to. They’re there in the middle of something and somebody at the front door or the kids come home early from school, because one of them is sick, as an employer.

You’re going to have to be prepared for those kinds of situations and understand that those things are gonna happen cause they can happen to any one of us. So, you have to work through an understanding of needs, support your employees and give him the benefit of the doubt. Clearly as somebody is taking advantage of it, you have to deal with that. That’s an HR issue with, for the most part, as an enlightened leader or business manager, you need to understand that those things are going to happen in the world with a virtual workforce or a workforce that’s more virtual. So, I think those things are all going to be part and parcel going forward.

No, that was exactly what I wanted to know. So, you’ve talked a little bit, the benefits of having a remote or virtual team, whether employees or independent contractors. Any other benefits that you haven’t mentioned or any negatives, any cons on having a remote?

Yeah, no, that’s a great question that the benefits, as they say, I’m able to eliminate overhead. I can precisely match what a customer needs – no more, no less. It makes a little easier for me to manage my day. I don’t have to worry about managing employees and the employee issues per se, because those people, when I’m not working with them or I need to bring them in, they’ve got their own deal and they’re doing their own thing and they’re off in their own world. The other advantages, again, it simplifies how I operate the business. A downside, which is always manageable, is you’re not face to face with people it’s as if we were all in an office as employees. But, I think that that’s become less and less of an issue because the technology we’re using now, they have this podcast. I wish I would have had stock and zoom a long time ago.

Oh yeah. I know. I was like, why didn’t I buy that?

So, it could be Skype. It could be just a conference, teleconference, you’d get all sorts of capabilities, being able to collaborate with the various software and applications like Google sheets and all those kinds of things. Those are all productivity enhancers that make it easier to work remotely and virtually. The downsides, there are some challenges to it, but they don’t bother me and get as much as I was already working virtually before all the stuff that we’re incurring where accounting now happened. There was literally no adjustment for me because of what’s happening.

Yeah. And I feel very fortunate to have the same situation. What do you think was holding people back, holding businesses back from going a little bit more remote work for employees or independent contractors, and how might that have shifted now that they were forced into it?

A great question. I think that there it’s a two part answer. One is, the existing paradigm, the way business has always been done. And I think the other motivating force for why it was encouraged more in the past is a sense of control on the part of the employer. I’m concerned about my people not being as productive. If I let them work from home now, enlightened leaders and business owners, they don’t get stuck in that part of the equation. But I think that is my sense is that those are the two factors of the paradigm. It’s the way you’ve always done it. And, a need to have a sense of control over your people.

I read somewhere that a lot of managers who, and I liked that word enlightened too, who haven’t seen the light yet. They were concerned because they couldn’t see their employees anymore. And if they couldn’t see them actually at their desks working, they didn’t have that sense of control that they were actually.

Yeah. Now, there is software that exists out there that allows an employer to actually, for those who are heavily relying on a laptop or computer, allows the employer to peek in and see, are you key stroking? And have you not doing anything on your computer for a matter of minutes? So there’s that big brother stuff. I call it big brother stuff. And I can see where there’s an application for it in some places, particularly if you’re a highly regulated industry, what do you need to make sure there’s compliance? Or, there’s, a production demand that requires things that happen in real time to support that. I can see that, but if it’s not necessary, don’t be big brother.

Yeah, exactly. That adds unneeded stress. You talk about stress, I’ve heard a lot of people share with me that that is the situation and most of them ended up quitting those jobs where they oversaw them at to that extent.

Yup. That’s right.

So, do you have any other tips? You’ve shared a few already? I really appreciate it. Do you have any other tips on how to manage a remote team?

Yeah, I would say, a couple of them I’ve already touched on one is, you’ve hired employees to work in your organization. You’re trusting the assets and the reputation and the brand to those people, give them the room in the space, assuming you’ve trained them properly and you’ve selected them properly. Give them the space and give them the sense of responsibility that they’re going to do the job for you as opposed to micromanaging them. So that would be probably my first and foremost tip. Clearly, if you have someone that’s taking advantage of it, that will show up. Eventually you’ll be able to tell you need to deal with that and do all those things that a good HR best practices would tell you, you need to do. And also from a legal and technical standpoint, but for the most part, if you’re going to entrust your organization, and its reputation, to your employees, then do so, let them do their job and give them support and help them and understand that there may be distractions because working in reverse working virtually is going to be different than being in an office.

So be of help and support as opposed to being big brother, if you had to choose between the two, aside of being supportive and coaching your people, rather than merely managing them. And there’s a difference between coaching people in a work environment and managing, and in fact, in many organizations, 90% of managers that are put into a position to be a local supervisor or manager have no formal training whatsoever in how to coach people. They know how to manage, but they don’t know how to coach. And you bring the best out of people when you provide an environment where you coach them and give them the opportunity to let their strengths come through and do what they do best and help them along.

And if here’s another tip I would to offer. And his is true for people that are working in an office as well as virtually. When we fail, when we make a mistake, we make it quickly. We learn from it and we move on just as quickly. We don’t dwell on it. We don’t look for someone to blame. We don’t look for them. That’s part of that abundance mindset pivot and move away from that kind of a mindset fail quickly. Let’s learn from it and move on just as quickly. That may be my best tip that I can offer right now.

That’s a great tip. It’s also something that I really live by. That is what I train the virtual experts on in my program. I try to drill it into their heads over and over and over again. And it is what I want anybody on my team to do, admit it. And here’s what I actually teach. I say, okay, so you’re working for a client, let’s say I was working for you, Mark. And a mistake occurred. And I really felt like it was a result of something you did or did not do. I teach that I should not say to you, Hey Mark, this is not my fault. This is yours. You did XYZ instead. I should say, wow, I’m really sorry that happened. Here’s my recommendation on how to prevent it in the future and my recommendation on how to fix it right now. Are you in agreement?

Yeah. Now that you touched on something. If you think about some of the best coaches in the world, when they do a leadership coaching, they focus on, with their clients, on think about conversing and having dialogue and asking questions that are how and what questions, how can, how could we do this differently in the future? Or what can we do differently in the future? Or what could I have done to help you to avoid this from happening again? Move away from looking to punish someone, miss the other thing to understand, too, as a leader and as a manager where we all don’t live in the Vatican, we’re all fallible. We all make mistakes. We’re not perfect.

I’m not, but I have a Tiara and I’m a princess!

You have your Tiara, and that gives you some protection, but no, you’re not invalid. I’m sorry to ruin your day. No, we all make mistakes and we will make mistakes. But here’s the interesting thing about it. And this is back to that abundance mindset concept. Again, I’ve worked with a lot of organizations and I’ve been around the survey research world as well. And what I’ve found, even with large organizations where it’s a complex product that the customer is buying and the customer’s investing millions of dollars in that product or service. I’ve seen research that shows that customer satisfaction is actually higher when something goes wrong with the product or the service and that then provides an opportunity for the manufacturer or the supplier to actually fix the problem.

When you’re given that opportunity and you can fix the problem, your satisfaction scores with your customers is sometimes, even is often higher than if the customer has a perfect experience and nothing ever goes wrong. Ironically enough. And what that suggests to me is that everybody understands conceptually that mistakes are gonna happen. None of us are perfect. And at the end of the day, I know as a customer, I’m going to be taken care of even when stuff goes wrong. And so the abundance mindset would say, Oh, we’re going to panic because something went wrong. We have to look for someone to blame. We’re going to throw Joe under the bus because this is our biggest customer. And they’re spending millions of dollars when he can’t afford to lose his customer. So we’re going to sacrifice somebody for that. Wrong thing, own it, learn from it. It provides an opportunity to make it right. And when things really go wrong, the best thing you could do is just figuring out how to be part of the solution. I’ll have you be part of the picture. That’s all you can do.

Yeah. I love that so much. So, we’re going to get ready to wrap up here. So, I have two more things I want to ask you. One, is there anything else that I haven’t asked you that you want to share on any of these topics that we talked about or anything we didn’t even talk about, but you feel like would be important for our listeners?

Yeah. One thing I would say to add to everything I’ve mentioned so far is that there’s a lot of discussion right now about what’s going to happen with the world going forward and how are things going to be different, the new normal, so to speak, which I’m getting tired of hearing to be candid. Normal is what it is at the time. What I’ve been telling my clients. And what I tell prospects is that there just happens to be a time right now to do something you should always be doing with your business. Anyway, it shouldn’t take a crisis for you to go back to the basics of your business. And there’s actually a quote. In fact, I have it on my screen, but I’m just gonna read it off to you.

It’s a quote that I’ve been quoting and it’s actually a quote from Albert Einstein, his three rules of work in terms of going back to the basics and history walls rules, “a work of this out of clutter, find simplicity from discord and find harmony. And in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”. It doesn’t necessarily take a crisis, to always be looking at your business and find places where you can get rid of clutter. Back to what I said at the top of our conversation, look at your processes to see where those activities that you’re doing and your people are being forced to do that do nothing to the final outcome and get back to getting stuff that maybe kind of gunked up the works and simplify things. Find where there’s discord that has grown into the organization because the politics or silos or competing interests and get back to a sense of harmony. And then always be looking for opportunity cause they always exist where there’s a crisis or not. So that would be my recommendation. And you don’t need COVID or a worldwide pandemic to do that. You should always be looking at your business and think about those street with three principals, with three wills and work. So that would be my parting comment today in that.

Thank you. I love that. And I love Albert Einstein. His hair is much like mine. I kinda model my hair after his.

Well, you look better in a Tiara than he would have.

Thank you. So, Mark, I’m sure that others listening in are just like me going, Oh my gosh, this guy is a fountain of wealth plus fun. So how can people get ahold of you if they’re interested in finding out if hiring your company would be a good fit for them, something they need?

Yeah. A couple of ways to contact me. My email address is MarkJ@performadvisors.com. My number is (630) 882-9107. Also, I welcome people to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn at Perform Advisors. So, you can find me there or just search my name, Mark James. There are a lot of Mark James in the world, but you’ll find the Mark James related to perform advisers would be the place to find me there. So, any, and all those are the way to go. I would encourage anybody who wants to even just ask a question. And another thing I should point out is that my philosophy for the most part this year, especially because of what’s going on, is not so much focusing on a commercial transaction right now is just trying to be of help to people and being of service does that. And that’s part of that abundance mentality, give to receive. And, the commercial return will come to me or anybody else who practices being of service will be beheld. So, you’ve got a question don’t hesitate to call me or contact me. I’m not going to turn the meter on and charge. Pro bono work.

So, Mark. If somebody is listening to this, because I know I have been like this myself, I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, this guy sounds so amazing. I doubt that my business would be a good fit for somebody that he would be willing to work with. Can you tell us a little bit about your ideal client and who those people are that might be a really good fit for you?

Yeah. Happy to do that. My primary focus is in the B2B world. So B2B manufacturers or those that provide a service. Size-wise, it kinda is a wide range. That typical range is five to 10 million in annual revenue up to a billion, but there are always exceptions because, there are startup organizations that can use my help just as easily. So, don’t be so concerned about number of employees, or the revenue size, other than being in the B2B space and having some sort of critical mass as far as the business. I probably am not a good fit for instance, for a local bait tackle shop or a hair salon, just to be transparent about it.

Yeah, no, that’s exactly what I wanted to know. So, thank you. And I love that you’re that specific. I want those numbers, I want that specificity, and many people aren’t willing to give it, so thank you for doing that. I really appreciate it. And there’s one more thing I want to point out, that you are the first to do, and it’s probably not surprising that you’re the first to do this on my podcast, since you are the first male. You are also the first person to use a sports metaphor. And I’m assuming that I’m saying that correctly, with the deep bench. Oh, can you tell, I’m not even sure what a sports metaphor is!

Yeah, no, that’s a sports metaphor! You passed the tests! And also, the comment I made about fail quickly and move on and learn from it. It actually is from a football coach for a Big 10 school several years ago. He said, we fail quickly and they move on.

So, I did not know where that came from, and I have used that quote a lot. And you know, it’s so funny Mark, because I’ve had a male coach, a business coach. It was actually a sales coach that I worked with for awhile, and he kept using sports metaphors and I didn’t understand them. I really didn’t. And I kept having to ask him to explain them to me. And he’s like, all right, I’m gonna have to come up with metaphors that work for you. What do women use for metaphors? And I’m like, we like food, celebrities, tiaras and makeup and glamour. And he’s like, Oh yeah, I’m not going to ever be able to come up with any of that.

Well, I’m glad you mentioned that, cause that’s a word to me as a piece of advice, I should make sure that I don’t get too far field with analogies. They may not fit for the ultimate audience.

Yeah, yeah, no, you did not. And I actually love that phrase that you were using. And I just wanted to tease you a little because I really value you being our first male podcast guest. So, thank you so much, Mark.

Well, again, I’m honored and I appreciate the opportunity and I really enjoyed the conversation and always willing to be of help if you ever need it.

Thank you so much. And by the way, all of the links that he talked about today will be on the show notes. So, you can go there and click that and look for his contact information there also. Bye everybody.

About Mark James

Mark James | Dare to Leap Podcast | Kathy Goughenour

Mark is an accomplished business advisor with over 40 years’ business improvement experience. As the founder and President of Performance Advisors Group, Inc., he specializes in workplace and channel performance, change management and customer loyalty solutions that help B2B companies eliminate barriers standing in the way of growth and competitive advantage. Professional accomplishments include:

  • Business model that yields 15-75% cost savings to clients
  • Grew client revenue from $175 million to nearly $500 million, at 60:1 ROI
  • Achieved $18 million profit increase for a client from improved service operations

Mark holds a Finance Degree from the University of Illinois and an MBA from the University of Dayton.

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