Creating an Amazing Employee Experience with Dan Foley at Curate Partners

When you lead a company that has an amazing employee experience, you get more than just happy people. The employee experience shapes how they think about their work, their co-workers, and leaders. Creating an amazing employee experience drives company growth too. Today’s guest is Dan Foley, Founder, and CEO of Curate Partners. This company was ranked #20 in the 2018 Inc 5000 List. Dan shares the reasons why creating an amazing employee experience matters. He also gives you a way to improve your employee experience.

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Dan Foley: The Transcript

Target Audience: Dan has over 23 years of experience in the human capital space, having served as the President of the US division of the world’s second largest staffing company from 2008-2013. Previous to that, he was CEO of Sapphire Technologies North America from 2002-2008, taking the company from $200 million to over $500 million during this period. Sapphire Technologies was voted a Best Places to Work 6 consecutive years under Dan’s leadership. Believing strongly in giving back to the community, Foley was awarded the Franklin Delano Roosevelt award in 2011 by the March of Dimes for all his charitable work. Dan also sits on the Advisory Council for the Home Base program, a collaboration between the Boston Red Sox and Massachusetts General Hospital which helps returning veterans deal with the invisible wounds of war, including TBI and PTSD. Dan graduated from Boston College with a BA in English.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Dan Foley: [00:00]
And then the business that we’re in simply, you can’t win without having the right people on the team. So that is incredibly important to us. And for some businesses, it’s not their core competency. It’s not what they focus on. It’s, you know, we’re in the people business. So if we can’t be better than our customers, our competitors that keeping people retained in our organization, then shame on us. You know, this is where we’re the experts in the talent game.

Gene Hammett: [00:30]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: [00:47]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you and before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to so you can get the 12 principles. And I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align with each individual episodes. When you subscribed to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can, you can tune in to the date that means the most to you.

Gene Hammett: [01:29]
When you believe that your employees are critical to your success, you treat them differently. You treat the culture of the company differently than those that believe that the employees are just there to get the work done. If you really believe that employees are the most important assets inside your company, today is a great episode for you because I’m sitting here with Dan Foley. Dan is with trade partners and they’ve grown in an astronomical rate. Number 20 on the INC 2018 list growing at over 10000% over a three year period and the revenues are up to about 12 million. I’m looking down at my notes to make sure I get those numbers right, but I wanted to make sure you understood why they are growing so fast and it’s not because of the metrics and the strategies of growth. It’s not necessarily because of their business model. It’s because of the importance they put on the people. They really talk about people first and that’s one of the most important things I love about this interview is we talk about some of the common misnomers of leadership and about why putting people first is the right strategy today, tomorrow, and will always be the right strategy if you want to create a company that has a strong foundation of people. So here’s the interview with Dan Foley with Curate Partners.

Gene Hammett: [02:50]
Hi Dan, how are you?

Dan Foley: [02:51]
I’m great, Gene, how are you doing today?

Gene Hammett: [02:53]
I am fantastic. I’m glad to have you here at the podcast. This is Growth Think Tank. I would have to talk to you about, you know, what does it take to grow the business to engage our people, to lead that kind of growth. And I’m really impressed what Curate Partners has done. Tell us a little bit about the company and about who you serve.

Dan Foley: [03:19]
Yeah. Thanks for having me. The company was founded about five years ago. I have five veterans that had all worked together for between 15 and 20 years. We had had a lengthy career in it staffing and recruitment business and what we saw was that corporate America was going to be going through all kinds of changes in the technology areas of their organization. So things like moving from a waterfall environment to agile, we saw opportunities in artificial intelligence, machine learning. We saw how important data was going to become to cut consumers into customers. So many of the large organizations in today’s world struggle to implement these new paradigms into their business model. And we thought there was a great white space for a consulting firm to come along and to be able to bridge the gap between legacy business models in this new paradigm of digital transformation. So we really work on helping companies bridge into digital transformation through the use of analytics, through the use of data, through new product launches. We have essentially three product lines. We do retain search for executive-level people that need to help drive that change. We put together temporaries who help work on the projects and we can actually put together a project team as well.

Gene Hammett: [04:44]
Awesome. Well, you work with a lot of companies that are growing as well. They might not be growing as fast as you, is that true?

Dan Foley: [04:52]
Oh, I’m sure. But you know, we’ve had a good run on our first five years here.

Gene Hammett: [04:58]
When you think about your level of growth and your client’s level of growth, you’ve got, you’ve got both perspectives. The employee experience is probably got to be pretty high on the importance of getting that right. As, as companies continue to meet market demand and continue to grow. Would you agree to that?

Dan Foley: [05:17]
100%. In fact, the company was almost founded on that concept. I think personally there’s a very linear relationship between employee engagement and company growth. And so when we started the company and my partners feel the same exact way we felt it was an inside out strategy we had worked with many of the people who work at our company now for years. We knew who the good ones were. We knew that they valued having leadership that was truly focused on the candidate or that the employee experience. And so we are extremely focused on that. And you know, our belief is that an employee leads to a true belief in the vision of the company and to the mission of the company. And from there they’re extremely focused on executing for our customers because they really want to stay within the organization. They want to grow within the organization. And I think it just allows us to execute better than many people in our space.

Gene Hammett: [06:18]
So I want to make sure that everyone’s kind of on the same page and aligned to this idea of employee experience. So what do you think of the core elements of employee experience?

Dan Foley: [06:28]
I mean from the simplest standpoint, I think one of them is just to employees believe in the vision or the mission of the company. Do they believe in the leadership of the organization? Are they interested in growing with the organization? Are they, are they interested in helping develop the organization? Those are all the things that I think we’re interested in terms of employee engagement. And we frankly want to hire the best people that we possibly can and we want to give them an environment in which they never want to leave. And our hope is that we can create an environment where everybody wants to get in and nobody wants to leave. And we think if that happens, you get exceptional growth as a result.

Gene Hammett: [07:13]
So you kind of moved into this whole retention and that really is, I think, the cornerstone of employee experience is retention. Why do you think so many companies I would imagine you don’t have this problem, but why do you think so many companies struggle with retaining, retaining talent?

Dan Foley: [07:30]
Yeah. I think it’s partly because maybe they’re not giving enough credence to the importance of the employees, which is kind of crazy because there’s no question we’re in a war for talent and in the business that we’re in. Simply, you can’t win without having the right people on the team. So that is incredibly important to us. And for some businesses, it’s not their core competency. It’s not what they focus on. It’s, you know, we’re in the people business. So if we can’t be better than our customers, our competitors, that keeping people retained in our organization, then shame on us. You know, this is, this is where we’re the experts in the talent game. As someone once said to me, you know, you don’t want to go with the financial advisor who needs to take a bus to come see you. You know, so we need to make sure that, we’ve got the talent acquisition game right in our own backyard.

Gene Hammett: [08:25]
So they call that walking the walk. Right. Walking the talk you know, I don’t know how familiar you are with my research, but I’ve talked to over a hundred leaders just like you in the last probably a month before that I talked to over 300leaders in the last two years of inc 500 level companies. And I asked them one question as a leader, what’s more important? Employees or customers? What would you say to that?

Dan Foley: [08:52]
Yeah, you know, I think we talked about this before and if it’s to cliche, I’d say both. As I said, we started with an inside out strategy, which is employee engagement. The company name curate comes from the Latin word for the care. And when you translate it into the English pro now it means one who looks after souls. And I think that’s how my partners and I view our leadership that it should be servant leadership, that we don’t look at it like people come here to work for us. It’s almost like we’re trying to create an environment in which we work for them. I think having said that, we also built the organization from the customer Lens. And what we looked at was we started the business is what drives a customer crazy about organizations that we compete against and let’s design an operating model that gets rid of all the friction. And so I think when we’re selling to customers we were able to use our decades of experience to eliminate all the pain points and to build a model that just eliminated that and the results kind of speak for themselves.

Commentary: [10:04]
Dan just talked about servant leadership. Do you really know what servant leadership is and are you really walking the talk of servant leadership? If you are, then you know that it’s making sure that you’re removing the barriers for people to grow themselves. Now, one of the mistakes I see people make when they believe they’re going approaching servant leadership is that they’re willing to solve problems for their employees. But I think servant leadership really is something you should look at because it’s not about solving the problems for them, removing those roadblocks. Because I can see how that makes sense. But servant leadership really at the core is about how that person’s growth. Are they growing in their confidence and courage level so that they can handle what comes up because that truly is serving them to the highest level because they’re growing as a person? Think about that is you think about leadership. One of the things I work with my client’s od is really helping them understand the style of leadership that is best for them and their company and in different modes of growth. How to, you know, really figure out where to show up as a leader in how to show up as a leader. And that is really critical. So if you have any questions about that, make sure you reach out to me now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett: [11:21]
Well, I take a hard stance on this and, and you know, I understand that it’s a hard question between employee first or customer first because it takes customers to grow the business. And if we don’t have that it’s really the employees are pointless and vice versa. But I do know that when you say the word care about people, if you if they feel cared for, they’re going to want to care for the customers.

Dan Foley: [11:44]
Oh, 100%.

Gene Hammett: [11:45]
And so I think there is, I think it edges out that. So the way I kind of phrase it is employee first, but customer-centric.

Dan Foley: [11:55]
Yeah. And I think that’s probably a good way to describe us. Well, when we started the company five years ago, the first thing we did on day one, the very first thing we did was my partners and I, we sat in a room and we said, how do we want to be perceived and who do we want to become when we grow up? Then we weren’t really talking about strategy or marketing, we were talking about the core values of our company and what we’re going to be, the things that we’re going to differentiate us. And the very first thing we came up with was people first. And what that meant was we were never gonna let numbers dictate. Whether someone had great performance, we were going to default to the employee first. And that we were gonna build an employee-centric organization. To this day, we have the curated eight, we throw out our core values on every single invoice that we send out. We put in all our employee handbooks and it starts right with people first that we are in the people business. And if you don’t know how to take care of people and provide a forum in which they want to work in, you may as well go home.

Gene Hammett: [13:00]
I think that really does align with what most of the INC leaders. And the reason why I love what I’m doing with this podcast is that so many people believe in people first. But the funny thing is the numbers with this, this group of people is astronomical. You know, you know, your growth rate was number 20 on the 2008 list or 2018 list, I’m sorry, over 10000% over three years. Currently, you know, two years ago or 2018 your revenues were like 12 million-plus and I’m sure they’re higher now, right?

Dan Foley: [13:32]
Yeah. Suffice to say almost two x that.

Gene Hammett: [13:35]
So you know, when you put people first and you don’t focus on the numbers, all of a sudden you get the numbers so it becomes the byproduct of the right core values and the right culture. When you think about, you know, growing your business now, you know, I mean are you always in the meetings talking about put people first or are the numbers also a part of that conversation?

Dan Foley: [13:59]
I think, you know, talk is cheap, right? And employee sees through that. I think people first is really in our actions is how do we behave and act as a company? You know, I talked earlier about employee engagement really revolves around getting employees bought into your strategy, to your mission, to your culture. And I think the other thing that we’re always trying to do is to build trust with our employees and trust with our customers. That to me is the holy sacred ground is when people believe they develop trust. And when everybody has trust, when customers have trust in you, when employees have trust in you, you get to this sacred ground of growth that’s off the charts. It’s better than any kind of market growth because it’s so hard to replicate and it really revolves around employees and customers believing, trusting in you. And that’s what we’re trying to get to almost every day.

Gene Hammett: [14:56]
Dan, I’d love for you to share with us some of the strategies you have of, of creating a great employee experience that we could learn from.

Dan Foley: [15:05]
Yeah, well I think that you know, the first thing is, are our importance that we put on it in the recruiting campaigns. We tend to ignore skills when people come in and we look for character. We’re looking for hardworking people who are competitive and who are full of values and want to grow. And it doesn’t hurt to kind of have them have a desire to better themselves financially each and every year. From there, we want to help develop people into how they grow with the organization. We have a fairly ambitious charter to expand the business and you know, our hope is that through our growth we’re going to keep opening new offices, opening new business lines, opening new product lines and growing, developing and promoting these people who have been with us. And I think then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. More people see growth. More people want to get in on it.

Commentary: [16:05]
That’s a powerful statement there. Ignore the skills and focus on character. Think about that. How often are you looking at someone’s resume and seeing if they have the skills to do the work that needs to be done for that job? I’ve made this mistake many, many times before. I’ve actually let that lead the process. But many of the Inc5000 liters like you are really understanding that culture fit is so important. So you want to understand the values of that person. You want to have a sales or a recruiting process that actually lets you tune in to what is important to that person. Because if your values aren’t aligned, then they won’t be connected to the mission the way you want them to be. And eventually, they’ll become disengaged. Eventually. They’ll leave the organization are worse though, actually. Take a paycheck and stay in the organization but not really help you move forward the way you want to. You don’t want that. That’s very costly. So if you have any questions about, you know, really what that culture fit is and how do you change it? I’ve got a few tips I could share with you. Just reach out to me, [email protected]. Now back to Dan.

Gene Hammett: [17:15]
And I hear that a lot. I mean, is there anything specific you’ve done within the development of people that you feel like makes it, makes it all work for you?

Dan Foley: [17:24]
You know, we’ve done some things. For example, we felt this was kind of leading-edge about five years ago. And I think there are more companies. We don’t have a PTO policy. Our policy is if you need a vacation, you take one. And I think we treat people like adults. And if you’re, if you’re tired, if you’re burnt out a little bit and you need some time to recharge the batteries, we support that 100%. I think we’re also a little bit unique in the industry we’re in is a very metric-driven organ, you know, industry and we’re actually not, which runs probably counterintuitive to what most people think, how we track metrics because they’re important. But we believe that some companies take this to an extreme and start to make decisions just based on metrics. And that to us doesn’t align with a people-first culture people first core values system. And I think people resonate with that because, you know, some have worked for competitors and they’ve come here and they’ve seen, there’s a little bit of a different mindset. But I also think we try to serve them incredible leadership every day. I’m the CEO of the company. All my partners, we sit out on the floor the sales and recruiting floor with all of our employees. We’re in the thick of it with them. We don’t sit in the offices and have them come in and see us and tell us how they’re doing. We’re helping them develop each and every day and gain new skills from our experience in the business. So those are probably just a couple things that I think of.

Gene Hammett: [18:56]
Are there any mistakes that you could share with us that you made in the, in the early journey of this that you had to turn around and get right?

Dan Foley: [19:03]
How much time do we have again?

Gene Hammett: [19:06]
Well, I know it hasn’t been perfect, but what stands out to you?

Dan Foley: [19:09]
Yeah, there’s that expression. If you a perfect, I couldn’t afford, you know, I think the biggest mistake I think we made was when we opened up the company, we had a really nice office in downtown Boston that was really expensive and we thought we needed that to be credible. And I think we found out shortly thereafter that we really didn’t need it. And that probably prevented us from hiring some people kind of early on when I think if I had maybe kept the cost structure down when we first started the company we probably could’ve grown a little bit faster. But, you know, in the overall scheme of things, it wasn’t such a big deal. And, you know, of course, we’ve made other mistakes too. Of course. I think we, we struggled a little bit with what our go-to-market strategy was when we first started. I think that that’s probably pretty normal. And you know, we had some identity issues because we were getting pulled in some different ways. We’ve kind of battled through all those things and you know, no regrets on where we’ve been.

Gene Hammett: [20:14]
When you think about like the evolution of culture in employee experience, where do you see it going?

Dan Foley: [20:21]
Rephrase the question a little bit for me in terms of what you’re looking for.

Gene Hammett: [20:26]
Well, I’m just kinda curious like what are the trends that you really think that we should be paying attention to? As we’re trying to take care of employees and put them first.

Dan Foley: [20:35]
Well, I think you can’t probably emphasize enough how important it is to attract and retain the right, the right skill sets to your organization, whether that’s at curate or whether it’sour clients or our competitors, frankly. And so I think companies should be paying an incredible amount of attention to this. And like I said, it’s our core competency, so for us, it’s a big deal. I think we continue to look at what are the newer things that we can offer to people that’s gonna put us in the most favorable light as we recruit against others in this war for talent. So I’m not sure that I have all the answers on where we’re going to be, but I know this is, if you provide the right culture, if you develop your people, if you treat them incredibly well, you’re going to attract a lot of people to the company and you’re going to do just fine.

Gene Hammett: [21:32]
I want to ask you one final question and this kind of gets to the heart of people. I was once in a room before and I had mentioned this a leadership team and I’d mentioned the importance of caring for your employees. And the CEO said you know, what, can you care too much? And I asked for more information and it kind of gets an idea of like he felt like he had been taken advantage of sometimes. So what do you think, what do you say to the question? Can you care too much about employees?

Dan Foley: [21:59]
I think you have to be mindful of the fact that it is a business and that you don’t want a mentality where this is the country club that you come to every day. And I think there is a fine line thereof, if the business isn’t taken care of, you really can’t take care of employees in the future. So you do have to run it as a business. We haven’t found that line yet was caring too much has negatively impacted or we found, you know, the inversion point for growth. So I’ll let you know if we get there, but right now I think we’re doing our best to create that environment and but we’re also trying to, you know, run a professional business here and I think our employees totally understand the difference and it’s never been a problem for us.

Gene Hammett: [22:49]
I remember one of my responses back to, to this individual experience and it really was if you took care out of your workplace, what would you have? And he didn’t have an answer for that. And I’m not asking you to answer it today because I think that it really is a slippery slope into non-relevant because people will immediately check out mentally. The worst thing for them to do is not to leave the company. It’s to stop working and still collect a paycheck. Right.

Dan Foley: [23:21]
The expression, you know, it’s more detrimental to our company when they quit and stay.

Gene Hammett: [23:27]
Yeah. So I really appreciate you sharing with us the importance of employee experience and some of your insights, what you’re doing and I really appreciate these whole people first that you guys are standing behind even in the face of an industry that’s focused on metrics that really is impressive to your growth. So thanks for being here at the growth think tank.

Dan Foley: [23:50]
Thanks so much for having me, Gene.

Gene Hammett: [23:51]
Wow, what a fantastic way to dive deep into the mind of someone who’s growing really fast. Dan and I talked offline. Really just love the importance that he puts on people. And you probably believe the same thing too. If you’re still listening to my voice after all this time, you know, and people are the most important things. So I would love to connect with you about what you’re getting out of this podcast or what you’re getting out of from Growth Think Tank. And if you have any questions, make sure you email me [email protected]. If you have someone that you can think of that would love this conversation, make sure you introduce them. Tell them about what value you’re getting from growth think tank, and that would be fantastic. As always, lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


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