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People as Your Organization’s Competitive Advantage

Marc Reigenrath, CEO and Cofounder of the digital marketing agency Spinutech, recently met with Jonathan Westover on the Human Capital Innovations (HCI) Podcast to discuss why investing in your people is beneficial to your company, and how you can implement some of those practices yourself.

Marc talked about starting a company with the mindset that your employees are your most valuable asset. Dr. Westover added, “If you want to continually add value to the market, it's not enough to just have good systems and good technologies. You have to have good people with the creativity and the innovation…” that allows you to get ahead of your competitors. Marc also talked about how Spinutech “... didn't come from corporate America where we maybe tried to adapt to what we thought should be done. It was more about let's do what we think is best for us and build a place where we want to work at as well and have fun.”


Another key part of their conversation was discussing how you can maintain those practices that prioritize employees as the company grows. Marc talked about how you need to “... highlight and acknowledge and celebrate people…” that work both for and with you. He also mentions “that it has been so critical for our growth to [...] ingrain and embed [prioritizing your people] into the DNA of the organization." Additionally, he said, “It may be harder to prove that out on paper, [... you get] way more than the investment than you would put in it to…" when you put time and money towards your employees.


You can listen to the full episode at innovativehumancapital.com/podcast, or anywhere you listen to your podcasts, just search “HCI Podcast”.


See the full transcript of the interview below:


Welcome to the Human Capital innovations Podcast. Thank you. Excited to be here? Yeah, it's a pleasure to be with you today. You're joining us from Iowa. I'm Self of Salt Lake City in Utah and today we're going to be talking about people as your organization's competitive advantage. As we were talking in the pre interview, I'm all about a people centric organization leveraging the capacity of your people to help the organization succeed and to add value and bring out value to the marketplace. And I think most people would say, yes, that's important, but what people say versus what they do and the policies, practices, procedures put in place within organization sometimes tell a different story, right, or might push different types of outcomes and perhaps even what the intended outcomes are that you're shooting for. So we're going to unpack this and explore together today how we might be able to leverage our organization's people, the workers and employees, from freelance to gig workers that might work on projects with your organization to parttime fulltime staff and employees to help your organization succeed. As we get started, I wanted to share Mark Spyo with everybody. Markis the CEO and Cofounder of Spin UTech, a full service digital marketing agency with 150 plus team members across the US. In that capacity, he understands firsthand how critical a company's culture is to achieving and maintaining success. And that's tremendous that you have such a distributed team across the US. I'm sure that will play into some of what we're talking about today and as you're sharing examples from your own organization, before we dive on in, anything else you would like to share with me or my audience by way of your background or personal context and then we'll get started. Yeah, so I think a unique chapter or beginning to this story is that we started the business when I was a junior in college. So a lot of this knowledge or belief system that we have on how we approach culture and core values was really formed over time by ourselves as well as influenced by many we came across over that journey. We didn't come from corporate America where we maybe tried to adapt to what we thought should be done. It was more about let's do what we think is best for us and build a place where we want to work at as well and have fun. Yeah, well, I love that and that's great. You have that self awareness. You want to work at a place where you want to be and so of course, you want it to be a place that others can find success and fulfill their potential as well. I think that's fantastic. And it's one thing to kind of have that mindset and that commitment early on when you're in the founding stage. It's another thing entirely, I think, to stay committed to it when you start going through the scaling process. So I imagine when you're in those early days as a co founder of Spinutech in college, I'm sure you had hopes and aspirations that you would get to where you're at today. But you were a long way off from that at the time. Right. So how are you able to maintain that kind of value system, that kind of a desired culture, even while going through that scaling process? So when we started, first of all, in 2000, when we started, I don't think that this was the conversation nearly as much as today. People weren't talking about corporate culture. Core values were more a poster on a wall and maybe in a handbook. So for us, it's been this slow burn to get louder and louder and louder. They've always been there. For us, it's always been the same belief system, the same core value set. Fundamentally it's been worded differently. But we've realized over time that it has been so critical for our growth to be louder and ensure that it's a live culture and core value system. Because if you don't have that for us, I'm very confident we wouldn't have been able to grow and scale like we did if we didn't have that and make it just a threat of the DNA, of who we are. It would have stunted our growth because we would have undoubtedly had other problems and challenges if we weren't so purposeful and intentional about all those things. Yeah. So how did you maintain that purpose and that intention and how did you integrate it and mechanize it throughout the organization? Because, again, lots of organizations have great mission or vision or value statements or they have nice affirmation things on the walls. A lot of companies say those things, but a lot of companies don't actually do them or they unintentionally do things that actively undermine what they say they want what were like some of those mechanisms or systems you put in place to try to help, to establish and then sustain that kind of a culture. Yes. Great question. So live core values, live culture is so critical, which is what you're getting at. But for us, the way that we've slowly baked it into just the essence of how we approach every day, it starts in the interview process. So we hire, fire, lead, manage, solve problems with our core values. That's a very simple framework that everybody can understand and grasp. You attack the problem, not the person. And the problem typically is where's the misalignment with one of our core values when we're hiring it's, do they align with our core values? We're asking questions to try to see if there's any differences or do they have an ego? Are they a ladder climber? One of our core values is we over me. We want team players. We're trying to dig at is there a misalignment? Because the sooner both of us find that out, the better it is for both of us. Because if that individual, all the talent in the world gets in but is misaligned, they're not going to last. Our culture will really push them out pretty quickly. And so it's not an offensive thing that they don't align. It's a favor for both of us. So it starts in the interview process, then we roll into we've hired you, you're getting on boarded. We have a first 100 days process that we put everybody through. It's tight, it's great. It reinforces all that. The whole purpose is to get them knowledgeable about how spinitech approaches digital marketing, but also it's injecting the DNA of our core values in our culture as quickly as possible. It's very intentional the way that we approach the day on our Slack Shout out channel. It often times, I'm going to say 99% of the time will include a core value or core values that the individual or individuals displayed in something. They did well. John did great with client XYZ in the pitch and really displayed we over me when he pitched in. He had a lot going on, blah, blah, blah. That happens. We've already had two of those pop up on the slide channel today. In our team meetings monthly that we do with the all team, we have a list of them that we go over of kind of shouting out different individuals and then we open it up to the floor. We've got 170th team members today and they are spread out literally across the whole US. We're in like 30 states of employment now. And so in the virtual environment, it is an opportunity for everybody to say, hey, so and so did really, really great at this. I just want to give them a shout out for that. It was really great. And they displayed this core value. And so those are just a few things that are just kind of ingrained in our thinking, ingrained in the way that we approach every day and week and month. Yeah, I love those examples. They're good, tangible examples of really what anyone can be doing. And again, it's not just enough to espouse these values and just share them occasionally. It has to be ingrained and embedded into the DNA of the organization. And so having opportunities to highlight and acknowledge and celebrate people that are living those values consistently, that's super important. Finding ways to build it into the process of recruitment. From the very early stages of job design, to recruitment, to the hiring process, to onboarding, to performance, ongoing performance management, coaching and mentoring, to career pathways and development, ongoing training, learning and development, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It needs to be ingrained into all of those different pieces. And I know that may sound like a whole lot of work, and I suppose it is, but it's well worth the time, because when you invest in your people in this way, then you optimize the system. You optimize the people, and you help them achieve at a higher level. They maximize their potential and achieve at a higher level. And that's going to drive other forms of success and growth for the organization. So, on the one hand, HR gets a bad rap a lot of times for being a cost center where you dump budget and it goes to die. And it's a sinkhole of constant budget, right? Well, if you're not clear on your objectives and you're not clear on your assessment and evaluation of the different initiatives and programs that you do, then maybe it is a sinkhole. But if you're actually thoughtfully and strategically investing in your organization, in your people, then it's not a cost center. Look at it in terms of ROI. Look at it in terms of you invest for every dollar invested in your people. What is the positive outcome? And when you can demonstrate that, now, I know I'm preaching to the choir because you're nodding and you believe this and you live this, but for anyone who's listening, who's like, well, this sounds great, but how do I get the CFO to sign off on this? How do I get the budget for this? Start to show little wins and start to demonstrate the ROI. Speak the business case for your investment in your people, so that it moves away from being this kind of mentality of, we're just like a warm, fuzzy, we love our people. That's great. But the C suite executives, they probably, in many cases, aren't going to care about that argument quite as much as they're going to care about the ROI argument, the impact argument, and what's it's going to do for the bottom line of the business. Now, the truth is, it's not mutually exclusive. Like, you can demonstrate the ROI and the bottom line impact, which proves the business case that will get people on board. And simultaneously, you are reinvesting in your people. And you can do it because of the human case, because of just your desire to treat people with dignity and respect, to show them you value them, to reinvest in them, etc. So, not mutually exclusive. They can go hand in hand. We do need to learn how to speak that business case so that we can convince those who might be skeptical. But ultimately, as we do that, that becomes the leverage point for really, truly successful organizations. And I think particularly as we move, we continue to move into the future of work in the knowledge economy. This is the type of people we need, right? We don't need people who just show up and do repetitive work. That's all going to be automated, that's going to be AI, machine learning. Advanced robotics is going to take over most of that stuff in the coming years. So our competitive advantage as an organization is leaning into the humanness of the people on our teams and the things that they bring to the table that can't be easily replicated by AI or robotics. Right? I've got like 50 comments. I'll try to keep it to a couple here. We're in digital marketing. We do lead generation really, really well. I'm in a national forum with other agency owners and Dolly, there's a lot of automation for design. Dolly is one of them. There's several platforms. But the debate was like, oh my gosh, is the future of our industry dead? What are we gonna do? And my comment back to them was, listen, Henry Ford invented the line, made it more efficient. And then robots came in in the 80s or whatever and started replaced that. And my point to them was we as agency owners have to focus on owning the strategy. There will always be a cheaper way to push the button and pull the lever and that's the commoditization that's happening in our industry. But what we should own is the strategy and that is people that is smart humans. And the other thing I would say is we're in a new era of leadership, need and style that is slowly starting to evolve and that is leading the whole person. Because we've had a rough several years and schedules are different, work styles are different. We have to meet people where they want to work, meaning they want to work from home. Cool. Let's manage a person to their job and their role, not their location. They shouldn't have to come into an office to perform it. For some roles, sure. But we got to make sure that, holistically, they're in a good spot. If they're not, you're not going to get the best out of them from a business perspective. So back to the sunken cost of HR. We call it talent. It's our biggest asset. Our people are by far our biggest asset and we need to ensure that we're maintaining them and keeping them healthy on all fronts. If we're not, we will lose money, but we're also losing out an opportunity for those individuals to be bought in as well. So I think now more than ever, treating every person as a human, ensuring that they're in the best place possible, investing in them and you're going to get a great ROI on that. More so than having high turnover or not caring about these things, saying it's a cost center, you can get an easy R line. This every team member that leaves it costs at least their salary. So you really got to make sure that you're ensuring the success of your team which is going to help ensure the success of the business. Yeah. Excellent. And you think about other forms of capital, other assets within an organization, whether that's the intellectual capital, the property plan, equipment, the financial assets, name any of the things right. And in all those other cases we actively try to maintain them, sustain them, reinvest into them. And I think about equipment for example, that's a necessary business expense. We have to have good working equipment. So we're going to upgrade them as needed. We're going to continually calibrate them and do quality control stuff. And we're going to make sure that when there's a new patch for the software that we get it. And we're constantly doing that for all these other areas. Of course, why wouldn't we do that for the human capital, the people assets within the organization that really are the difference makers for the organization being long term sustainable contributors to the market. If you want to continually add value to the market, it's not enough to just have good systems and good technologies. You have to have good people with the creativity and the innovation to drive those product offerings or service offerings out to the market and to have the customer care to make sure that they're adopted and the customers are taken care of. And you have a good positive customer experience. You know, we get it right. We're talking about this. My guess is most people tuning in today get this. The question is can we get beyond getting it and recognizing it and nodding our heads and saying yes, this is important to let's actually take a good hard look at what we're doing in our organization. Celebrate the successes, the things that we're doing well, but let's also be willing to take that good hard look and acknowledge when things aren't going as well as they should be and then put in place a plan so that we can start to change things a little bit. So the question the audience is going to be saying is well but it cost money. To your point, well what's the cost of doing all this? My question I would flip it to the exact opposite is what's the cost of not doing it? That's the bigger cost. It may be harder to prove that out on paper, but I promise you it is way more than the investment than you would put in it to actually do it. So you shouldn't look at it as a cost. It is an investment. So something we've done what is almost every person in the workforce today want, especially the younger audience. They want growth opportunities, they want a career path. We have developed what we call our GB Eight. It's our get better aid. It's the 8 hours a month that we are allowing each team member to set aside time for self development. It's over $15,000 a year in time to us for each team member. And it's not a peanut butter spread of like, everybody takes this one training. We have some of those, sure, but it's really about as a leader. Me sitting down with you, John, and saying, all right, tell me, what do you think you need to get better at this quarter this year? We chart that out, we talk about it. I'm coaching. I'm helping you achieve that growth goal so that no matter what, if you're here a year or ten years or 20 or a month, did we help you get better? We can feel good about that. The team feels good about that. It makes them better. It makes the team that they're on better, and it makes it better for their clients. That helps the business. So, again, it's an investment, but I think it is something that is a competitive advantage for us. There's nobody that disagrees with, oh, I wouldn't want to do that. There's no client that's going to say, gosh, I don't want you investing that time in your team to make it them better, which makes us better. Everybody's going to go, yeah, I want a piece of that. And so that is something our first core value is. We get better every day. This is one example of how we live that core value with actions, dollars, time, all of those things. As I'm thinking about the good examples and the not so good examples, in my own personal work experience, I can think of, again, usually wellmeaning, well intentioned individuals. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and be generous, and I don't think most people wake up thinking, how am I going to screw over my people today? How am I going to exploit them, take advantage of them, et cetera. That's not how most people think. And they get up. They want to do right by their people and their teams. They want to run a successful organization. They recognize the value of their people again. So it's not a matter of intention, I don't think. I think it's more of, do you actually know how to do it? Do you have the skills to be able to do it? The maturity, the commitment, the tenacity to stick with it, to continue to work at it over time? Because it's not like a quick thing. It's not something I can say, oh, today I checked my box. I invested my people. I'm done for the year. It's a constant investment. It's interesting, as you were talking about all of that too, I was thinking one of the things, in addition to the whole cost center idea that you hear a lot of people talk about, I also hear often I'll hear executives say something like, well, the average employee doesn't even stick around very long. So if I have turnover and the average person is only going to stick around for a year. Why would I invest in them? Because it's just wasted investment. Because they're just going to get training or whatever, and then they're going to leave and I just lose all that money. And so they use that as a justification to not invest into their employees. How would you respond to that kind of an argument? Well, I can give you some great stats on that. So we made it ten years of zero turnover. We still have our first four team members from 22 years ago. Not all of them started day one, but from those first years, preco bid for the longest time that I can remember. And we measured it, 95% retention rate. We closed last quarter to 95% retention rate. Now, we all had the great resignation to reshuffle whatever. So we were still below industry averages for us for normal times. So while that was painful for us, it was still way better. My point is, doing these things, you won't have the conversation of they're only here a year. You're going to have conversations like, how do we reward somebody who's been here five years? How do we make sure that we're pouring into them? Because, man, they're giving us a lot. So it's, again, just flipping the lens, the script, the table, whatever, and thinking of it differently. And if you have people that are leaving in a year, you got to look in the mirror and you got to tell yourself, okay, we're clearly doing something wrong, and you got to talk to those people. I'm a big believer. And you just got to have conversations. And now more than ever, as a leader, no matter what level in the organization you are, talk to your team, talk to your people, you got to be boots on the ground. You got to get in the trenches and understand, because one, as a leader, I've got to say things at least seven times, and I've got to say it many different ways. And I'll tell you this, you also have to say now more than ever what it isn't, because people will fill in those gaps very quickly, but how do you know that everybody's on the same pages? By having conversations. Later today I have a meet up with Mark or a six month check in. It's part of that first more than 100 days, but it's kind of the final part of it, of me just checking with them and saying, all right, did everything we say in the interview process and onboarding process live up to be true? Here's a great story. A couple of weeks ago, and I used this in our all team with his permission, I asked him that question, and a new gentleman was like, you know, you guys talked about work life balance and harmony and 40 hours work weeks, and you do this and you do that. It all sounded great. But I gotta be honest, I wasn't sure if that was really true. And that's always offensive to me because, like, we wouldn't lie, but everybody says those things. To your point earlier, and he said, I was doing an onboarding with a new team member where I was meeting them and I was bragging about all those things. And it clicked with me. Like, it was this full circle moment where I realized everything that I was skeptical about was true and I was defending it. I was telling this new team member how great it was, and he's like, it was such an amazing moment of it all coming together. And I always tell people in the onboarding process, I spend an hour with each new team member in onboarding doing a culture and core value overview. One of the things I tell them is, listen, the point of the first 100 days is I want you to become a defender of our culture and our core values as quickly as possible. That's going to happen over the course of the next few months. It's going to be different for all of you when that clicks, but it's going to click and you're going to know when, and that's an awesome place to be in. So those are all reasons why you should invest in it and why you shouldn't be having conversations about the question should be more about how do we reward people who have been loyal to us and been here for so long? Yeah, and when I talk to executives like that and that's the way they frame it, well, why would I bother investing in people that are just going to leave in a year? I'm like, guess what? You're not investing in people. So that's why they're leaving in a year. You are assigning your own fate. I mean, it's a selffulfilling prophecy. Of course you choose to not invest because you feel like it's just a sinkhole. And because of that, people don't feel valued. They don't feel invested in. They don't see a career pathway for them in your organization. And of course they're not going to stick around. Who wants to stick around in an organization like that? So it's like a no brainer. And again, I'm not suggesting bad intentions. I'm just suggesting, as you are, that we need to look at it from a new perspective. We need to flip the paradigm here. And when we do, then we start to see, oh, my goodness, look at the ROI, look at the positive impact of what we're doing, and then it becomes a nobrainer. Like, of course we're going to be doing these things. Of course we're going to be investing in these ways. Well, Mark, this has just been a really great conversation. I know at the time I have to let you go here in just a minute. But before we wrap things up for today, I wanted to give you a chance to share with the audience how they can connect with you, find out more about your work, your team, and then give us a final word on the topic for today. Yeah, so I'm very active on LinkedIn, so you can find me, Mark Marc and then Reifen rats. It's a hard one. R-E-I-F-E-N-R-A-T-H on LinkedIn. I'm happy to follow you back. I talk a lot about culture, core values, and then what we do at Spinitack with lead generation through digital marketing. You can also go to our website, spinitcheck.com. Final thoughts on this. Like I said, we are in a new era. It should be a focus for every leader and you've got to pour into it, because if you're not doing this, I would question, where else are you spending your time? Invest in this. It will pay dividends to the bottom line. It's a different score card, it's a different metric, but I promise you, it will preserve profits, if not grow them. And you're just going to have a cooler, happier workforce, which is a great thing as well. So, as always, happy to talk about these things with anybody, because you hopefully can tell I'm very passionate about it. But we are in a new era and we've all got to just kind of split the script and put a new lens on it as we move forward. Perfect. Thank you, Mark, and it's been a real pleasure. I encourage my audience to reach out, to get connected, find out more about what Mark can do for you. And as always, I hope everyone can stay healthy and safe. They can find meaning and purpose at work each and every day, and I hope you all have a great week.

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