As a firm scales, bureaucracy creeps in and slows the growth trajectory. Culture is a substitute for bureaucracy, and it allows a boutique to retain its identity as it scales. In this session, members will learn how a founder built a powerful culture with a fully remote work force, and how it led to outstanding business results.
Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Pro Serve podcast, a podcast for leaders of thriving boutique professional service firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community focused on the unique needs of the boutique Preserve founder. My name name’s Greg Alexander. I’ll be your host today. And on this episode we’re going to talk about culture. Culture is one of those things it’s tough to define when you see a good one. You can almost taste it. There’s a direct relationship between a healthy culture and outstanding financial performance, and it’s particularly important in a professional services firm for the obvious reason. These are people driven businesses and boutiques in particular because they’re smaller professional services firms. There’s a heightened level of need for a healthy culture because it’s a small group of people. Couple of bad actors can make a real big difference. And in contrast, you know, those that are living the values can have an exponential impact on the business. So we have a role model with us today is he’s a member of Collective 54. His name is George JAG Uscinski. Did I get that correct?
George Jagodzinski [00:01:37] You nailed it, Greg.
Greg Alexander [00:01:38] Okay, very good. So, George, would you introduce yourself and then tell us a little bit about your firm?
George Jagodzinski [00:01:45] Sure. Sure. So, George Jackson, scheme managing partner at activity. And Greg, this is going to be a test because we just did our messaging yesterday the first time out. See how it goes. Right. So we’re a tech consultancy that’s built different so that we can build better. We help our companies succeed by addressing their toughest and most meaningful technology challenges, everything from e-commerce to back office modernization, application development or cybersecurity. We build, we integrate, we design, and we deliver strategy.
Greg Alexander [00:02:13] You nailed the man. That was fantastic, right? Did you guys.
George Jagodzinski [00:02:16] Start for today?
Greg Alexander [00:02:17] Did you do that internally? Did you hire a marketing agency to help you with that?
George Jagodzinski [00:02:20] We hired a marketing agency to help us out.
Greg Alexander [00:02:22] Yeah. Yeah, that’s probably why it went so well. So a little plug for our marketing members. All right. So the reason why you’re on the show is because you have this thing called a blame free culture. And it’s almost branded, in my mind that term. Blame free really jumped out at me. So let’s start there. Explain to the audience what that means.
George Jagodzinski [00:02:45] Sure. Absolutely. And I guess I’ll start with it’s it’s one part of our overall culture. There’s a there’s a lot more to it. But for me, it is it’s really stepping into challenges with curiosity rather than frustration and anger. Myself, I’ve gone through this journey. Personally. I think my wife’s going to get a kick out of this, this podcast, because even a simple act of asking where I misplaced my water bottle, you’d think I was accusing her of grand larceny just in the tone of asking a simple question. And so, you know, we’ve gone through this internally for a long time, saying that we’re transparent where there’s trust and there’s there’s blame free. But I’d say we’re now in iteration 2.0 of that, at least speaking for myself, whereas I used to just kind of bury the frustration and I’d use blame free language in addressing a problem. But when you can truly and this is through lots of therapy, Greg, which I’m a big advocate of, is is if you can take those because it’s perfectly natural to feel frustration and anger about a problem that you encounter. But if you can, you can tell that emotion what to do, you can accept it and let it move on. And then you could shift to curiosity and then really dig in. Then it truly becomes blame free because there’s always a myriad of circumstances and reasons why things happen and 99.9% of the time, it’s not because someone’s a bad actor, it’s because of the situation that they were in, the information that they had at that time.
Greg Alexander [00:04:07] Now my team tells me you have a 98% employee retention rate, which is best in class by a mile. Connecting the dots here that the blame free culture contributed to that. Is that true? And if so, how exactly?
George Jagodzinski [00:04:24] I think it is. I think it’s an overall you know, when you’re in a place of trust and there were, you know, that you’re not going to be blamed for something. It’s comfortable. And part of what we call the integrity way is that the journey is as important, if not more important than the results, both in the way that we work internally, in the way that we work with our clients. And I find that it allows everyone to sleep better and just really come to work energized and comfortable. At my favorite moment at our culture is because what you said earlier, people talk about this quite a bit and it’s hard to nail down really what a culture is. There’s always this moment a few weeks in a few months into when someone joins where they’re like, either see it directly or someone lets me know that they said it like, Oh, they really do mean it. You know, they said it, everyone says it, everyone has their values listed and everyone says that they’re going to have this culture. But it truly does happen. And, you know, I, I think that the way we make it successful in our culture is first and foremost as a leader demonstrating it. So we’ve had some big challenges where, you know, I’ve gone in and I’ve demonstrated at a blame free approach and I’ve heard, you know, months, years later that that was really valued and that, you know, that makes them happy to come to work.
Greg Alexander [00:05:37] You know, when I first heard Blame Free, I had some negative thoughts that went into my head, which shame on me, but I’m being authentic. If I wanted to say, well, how do you drive high accountability in a blame free environment? So address that for me.
George Jagodzinski [00:05:53] Yeah, it’s funny because when I was going through my journey to I would say I know that were blame free it just in confidence of my partner. But at the end of days something went wrong. So wasn’t someone to blame, you know. And I think it comes back to that just a competitive nature that where you want to win, you know, you want to do better and so on, that someone has to have been to blame for this. And I think that you can you can still be accountable without blaming, you know, and and we also we have common language here where some will say, hey, I own this and, you know, that’s not going to happen again. And as someone says, I own this and this isn’t going to happen again. And we learn from that and we become better. All the all the best. Right. And and that’s where I come at it from a curiosity perspective is, all right, you are accountable for this. Now let’s make it better. Let’s look forward. Blame is about looking backwards. But really, if you want to grow as a company and as people and you’re always looking forward, and how do we do this better?
Greg Alexander [00:06:46] So that’s a good distinction. Blame is backward looking, you know, capturing those learnings and moving forward. That’s a really good distinction. You know, another thing that jumped off the page at me in terms of some of your benchmarking data is that you have 100% client renewals. That’s incredible. Did this unique culture that you have there contribute to that, and if so, how?
George Jagodzinski [00:07:09] Yeah, So so to give clarity to that point, that’s last year to this year. So that’s not over the past 20 years. That would be insane. I’d love that that number. But from last year to this year, that was still good. And I think what it is, is I mean, we’ve had clients, we have one Fortune 500 sports apparel company that’s been with us 15, six years. Our government client has been with us over a decade now at this point. And we’ve had CEOs, CEOs bring us into companies that go from one place to the other to the other. And I think a testament to that truly is that, you know, valuing the journey over the results, you know, we have a team of people who are they’re driven to deliver. They always do the right thing no matter who’s looking, and they’re team players. And what we find is when we plug our teams into our clients, we not just get the work done, but we elevate their teams and they’re comfortable with it. One of my favorite moments is, especially in technology consulting, you’re sometimes dropped into a situation where you’ve got teams that are just butting heads. People are unhappy. They’re, you know, they’re they’re kind of they’re blaming each other back and forth. Right. And one of my favorite moments with our clients is where we can not only get them over that hump, but getting their teams working better together, because in my mind, those are people that are now going home at the end of the day that are bringing a lot more positivity rather than negativity to the dinner table. And that brings us a lot of joy. And I think that doing it in a transparent way, I’ll use one example for you is we had a gentleman join with us quite a few years ago. He came from another consulting agency not to be named and about three months in we had one of those moments where he said, Hey, I’m used to navigating this. What’s true versus what should I tell you versus what should I tell the client? And I’m always so busy playing that dancing game, right? And he’s like, This is so weird. There’s really just only one story that we’re talking about and we’re all on the same page and it helps people sleep better at night. And I think our struggle, quite honestly, from a from a marketing and branding perspective is so many firms out there say that they work like this, but so few, I think, actually do, because not only is it is it is it difficult, but to operationalize it at scale. But. Comes even that much harder. And when our clients actually experience it, it’s this best kept secret that they just want to hold on to.
Greg Alexander [00:09:30] You know, the community is also told me that your superpower, if you will, is that you’re able to do this in a fully remote environment. You know, the everyday you pick up the newspaper and there’s big companies for some people back to work and there’s a debate three days, four days, two days. What is it? You’re fully remote. So how are you doing this? And describe that superpower for us.
George Jagodzinski [00:09:51] Yeah. So we just celebrated our 20th year this spring. Congratulation had the whole company. Thank you. Had the company together was fantastic. And yeah, we were remote since day one and it was viewed a little bit weird at that point. You know, people couldn’t wrap their heads around it like, so you don’t have an office at all. People are working wherever they want to be. And it’s been it’s been interesting. Even pre-COVID, you started to see more acceptance. But then during COVID, you know, the big shift. But I think for us, it’s forced us to address culture head on right from the beginning and think about what trust is and and and not just do an okay job at it, but really be fantastic, best in class at how we do it. And even then the logistics of that. We’re a big believers in Patrick Lindsay and his writings and he talks a lot about the team norms. You have need to have very clear team norms and you have to be very, very intentional about that when you’re remote. And I was quite honestly, I was worried a little bit when when everyone started shifting to remote, I thought we were about to lose this competitive advantage that we we had because we’re able to find the best talent wherever it lifts you. We’ve had the best. It’s iOS developers that they they live in a house in Lake Tahoe, right? And, you know, they’re getting their skiing in, but they’re also cranking out the best code you could ever imagine. You know, or we’ll have a, you know, a designer that’s hanging out on a beach in Miami. Right. But they’re designing some of the coolest stuff you’ve ever seen. But what I’ve seen with the this shift that’s happening now is, well, first of all, I think a lot of people are kind of messing it up the hybrid and remote work. And then, you know, as I’ve I’ve thought about it, I think there’s something to be said for that. We we did this in an intentional way from the start because of our belief in people and how we we trust and value them versus as a reaction to what’s happening around us.
Greg Alexander [00:11:43] Yeah, I agree. I mean, I’ve been doing it for 20 years way before anybody else was doing it. And because of that, you have all that institutional knowledge, so you do it well. Many of the firms these days doing it for the first time. I mean, so any time you do something for the first time, it takes way too long. You screw it up, you make mistakes, you know, and then you move down the learning curve and eventually get really good at it. So I think it is a strong competitive advantage for you. And what I found interesting was your strength is your culture, this blame free culture, but it’s origination was you’ve been remote from inception. You had to be really good at culture because your org model was a distributed workforce. Sometimes when people work, you know, central, they can kind of blow culture off a bit because they can get where they need to be, maybe through micromanagement, supervision, brute force, whatever you want to call it. But you guys didn’t have that choice. You had to be really good at it from the from the get go. So that’s a really interesting thought. Okay. Well, we’re out of our time here. I want to direct the members of Collective 54 to pay attention to when the meeting invite comes out for George. This gives you your opportunity to double click on his story. It’s a private session, as you know, and you can ask questions directly of him that go in much more depth and we’re able to cover in a short podcast. So check that out. If you’re not a member and you think something like that might be interesting to you, we do that every week on Fridays. We call it the Friday rule model session. Go to collective 54 dot com, You can fill out a form and one of our reps will get in contact with you. And then if you want to expand beyond this subject, this is one of many things we cover. I’d point you towards a book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional services firm written by yours truly, Greg Alexander. You can find that on Amazon. But with that, George was great to have you today. Thank you for being a contributing member to our tribe. We’re better for it and I wish you the best of luck as you move forward in your blame free culture.
George Jagodzinski [00:13:36] Thanks, Greg. I appreciate it.
Greg Alexander [00:13:38] Okay. Take care. Thank you.