Growth is more manageable when you a solid foundation that guides the company, the people, and the decisions. One element of that is having a values-driven organization. The company’s core values allow people to make decisions and coordinate action for a shared future. When you have a values-driven organization, you have guides for the people to operate with limited oversight. My guest today is Kurt Luidhardt, Co-founder of Prosper Group. His company was ranked #466 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Kurt shares the hidden cost of not being a values-driven organization. We look at how to make values a more significant part of working together. Discover how you can create a values-driven organization.
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Kurt Luidhardt: The Transcript
Target Audience: Kurt Luidhardt is a Co-Founder at Prosper Group. The Prosper Group Corporation specializes in online strategy and telephone voter contact for Republican political candidates and conservative organizations.
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.
A fast-growing company might think this is we’re just going to move fast break things, and we’ll come back later and fix these problems. And it doesn’t really work that way. It doesn’t. In my experience, it goes from, like, maybe a very small problem or you think it’s a small problem to crisis company, wide, very quickly. So, I guess what I would say is, don’t underestimate the costs of some of these things just because it’s not easy to put $1 figure right by it.
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of 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 [1:00]
The foundations of business many times we set them and we hope that they’ll carry us through all the tough times and through all of the growth and the challenges we have to face as leaders. And as organizations. Those foundational elements are really important. Sometimes we lose sight of how important they are. One of the things we’re going to talk about today is being a values-driven organization. values, become common guideposts become a way to reduce friction across communication lines, a way to align people together. If you don’t have values in your organization, you’re missing an opportunity to create the kind of culture that you’re really proud of. Values-driven organizations have a higher retention rate, and they are there to serve you and serve your employees. Today our special guest is Kurt Luidhardt. He is a co-founder of Prosper Group. Prosper Group is a digital marketing agency for political campaigns. I want to share with you some of the really important pieces to put your core values front and center. And we talked about why he only has three core values, what those values are, how he uses them on a ritual basis, why peer recognition is important. We also talk about the core elements of growing as a leader. When you listen to this podcast, make sure you prepare to look at your own values, look at how you’re using them. And are they really creating a values-driven organization? Here’s the interview with Kurt.
Before we dive into the interview, I wanted to remind you that you can actually get a tool that I’ve been working with clients with for the last couple of years, I’ve refined this tool. It’s gone through several iterations. Now we have it completely automated, you can actually go online and fill out the leadership quiz. To get the leadership quiz. Just go to theleadershipquiz.com that’s pretty easy, right? Theleadershipquiz.com You will get when you do that you will answer a few questions, you will see where you rate based on the core principles of fast-growth companies. If you’re ready to grow your company or you want to see where you are, then make sure you go to theleadershipquiz.com inside it, you will get insight to where you are, understand where you want to improve. And you will get them mapped into the 10 areas that are most specific to fast-growth companies. Again, go to theleadershipquiz.com and you can get that right now.
Gene Hammett [3:29]
Hi Kurt, how are you?
Kurt Luidhardt [3:30]
Gene Hammett [3:32]
Well, you got a big smile on your face. Glad to have you here at Growth Think Tank. I want to give you a chance to tell us a little bit about Prosper Group. How would you phrase what you guys do?
Kurt Luidhardt [3:43]
Well, Prosper Group one of the largest digital marketing agencies in the country focused on working for political campaigns and causes we’ve been doing it for just shy of 15 years now.
Gene Hammett [3:58]
Well, I know that we’re on we’re recording this as we’re hopefully coming out of COVID-19 shutdowns. I got to ask given that you work mostly on campaigns and whatnot, have you had much of an impact from the business?
Kurt Luidhardt [4:15]
Well, political candidates are a little wary of campaigning to proactively or looking like they’re taking advantage of a crisis in any way. So it’s changed the way they want to communicate with the public. And then, of course, many states have pushed their elections back and or change they’re the rules of the game. And so it’s changed for many of my clients, their entire strategy for victory here and just as just a few weeks.
Gene Hammett [4:49]
I’m gonna be honest with you, I don’t watch a lot of news right now. It’s not the most positive thing going on, but I can’t remember a time where I’ve seen little Less political than right now.
Kurt Luidhardt [5:03]
Yeah, well, all it means is it’s all being saved up. And then when we get a little closer to the general election, it’s going to come in a big way. So you won’t be able to get away from it soon.
Gene Hammett [5:17]
I will trust that that will be what’s happening. Kurt, you have made the Inc list before and you really grew fast number 466. You’re over 17 million in revenues. I’m sure you’ve grown since then. One of the things I love to ask is, you know, besides having fast growth, what are you really proud of there at Prosper Group.
Kurt Luidhardt [5:41]
I’m really proud of the fact that we have very high retention rates for our employees. And overall, what I would consider being a really positive culture that encourages that.
Gene Hammett [5:57]
You know, is that the first time I’ve had a leader come in and talk about their retention rates. And when you think about that, why is that so important as the company has grown fast?
Kurt Luidhardt [6:08]
Well, I think I learn, really learn and then reread learn the same lesson all over again, and that is that my product, because of the work rain is essentially my people. And whereas if I were selling cars, I’d be trying to tweak the engine to make it better or, or provide, you know, a better experience for the drivers. But for me, it’s, it’s about the quality of the people that I’m putting in front of my clients and their ability to do the work can do it well. And, and the key to them executing well is the experience that they have. And so if I can retain them longer, they’ll get better over time. They’re more familiar with it. And frankly, the money I’m willing to spend on training them providing more resources. And I keep relearning the lesson that there’s really no amount of time or money that can be spent. It’s too much to make that better.
Gene Hammett [7:11]
Kurt, one of the things that we talked about earlier is the reason why the company is growing so fast is that you have a really high focus on some of the foundational elements of the business in general in the culture. And one of those things is value. So tell us, you know, why values are important to your company?
Kurt Luidhardt [7:30]
You know, I think that they, when we articulated them for the first time, and I think they already existed in some respects, but we hadn’t articulated them. It really helped to establish an identity for the company and for the people who work for us. And it reduced friction and has contributed to growth because we find like-minded people and when we’re involved in a lot of cars market I think you need to find people who are motivated by that in it. And so having an established set of core values that you’re looking for really helps to really help us to propel forward.
Gene Hammett [8:16]
How many core values to have Kurt?
Kurt Luidhardt [8:19]
Gene Hammett [8:20]
Okay, let’s go. Let’s go through those three. Can you rattle them off? I know you can remember.
Kurt Luidhardt [8:24]
Yes. Yeah. So you know, we’re looking for people who are willing to be a mountain climber, which for us means the ability to cross over obstacles to look at challenges with enthusiasm and find a way to, to, to solve a problem or something for a client. to strive for excellence. It also means to have that kind of keen attention to detail and desire to do their job well that comes out in the form of Producing excellent work, and then to leave their ego at their door, which I think has two sorts of meanings for us. One is a little bit about how we represent ourselves to the public where we’d like to be the behind the scenes marketing agency that gets the work done for our clients and shines the light on them, not on us, but also for our employees. That means that we’re looking for unselfish individuals who never say things like, this isn’t my job, or why did they do that? or this isn’t worth my time.
Gene Hammett [9:35]
Why are core values so important? Did you learn this through other work or just something that you wanted to make a part of your company?
Kurt Luidhardt [9:44]
There was a moment about seven or eight years in when we hit a spot where, where my wife and I who founded the company together, realize there was a lot of sort of friction. Maybe just growth from infant to adolescence or what have you was creating problems for the company and we realized we never really articulated to our employees, what was expected of them. What we cared about and what sorts of behavior was should be encouraged. And so that’s why then we went hunting around for Okay, what do other good and successful companies do and stumbled across? You know, business, a whole group of business books by Pat Lencioni, which I’m sure who I’m sure you’re familiar with, and we’ve stolen a lot of his concepts for the to create organizational health within the company.
Hold on for a second. Kurt has talked about hitting friction. Have you ever felt friction inside your own organization? Maybe it’s because the meetings aren’t running effectively. They’re not. You’re not getting the things done the way you want to? Well, sometimes you haven’t to slow down to speed up. What I mean by that is you got to step back and take a different perspective around what’s going on. Kurt shares a story about how he did that. And him and his wife moving this business forward, you had to slow down to speed up. I’m putting a spotlight on it right now. Because I want you to see for yourself if you’re feeling friction, just pause, take a look around, see what you haven’t seen before. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned. Or maybe there’s something you need to do before you move forward. I share this with you because I want to see you grow as a leader. Back to Kurt.
Gene Hammett [11:38]
Absolutely. So let’s dive into the steps here. And I’m not going to talk about how you came up with them because they think their individual journey, but I want to talk about how you reinforce them. I call this operationalizing the values have you heard that term before?
Kurt Luidhardt [11:54]
Yes, I have.
Gene Hammett [11:56]
What does operationalizing the values mean to you?
Kurt Luidhardt [12:00]
Well, for us, it means that every step of the employee journey, we want to incorporate our values. So you hear about them in your interview. And we also have several things that we’re looking for when we interview employees to help identify folks that we think already reflect those values. simple tricks, we’re always, always trying to invite a potential employee to criticize their former co-workers or employer. And that’s usually a good way to weed out people who won’t fit with are leaving their ego at the door value. And we have a pretty I think, even for relatively entry-level employees a fairly arduous interview process, you’re going to at least do four interviews. And one of them will be with multiple, multiple future co workers.
Kurt Luidhardt [12:57]
We call that the culture interview and that When their current employees meet with a potential new employee, they focus a lot on culture and how they, how they want to exist in the workplace. So that’s an important part of our authorization to operationalize the values. We also do a once a month recognition where each co-worker can each employee can nominate another co-worker for representing one of those values. And one thing that’s not highlighted is a value of ours, but seems to come out on its own we have a pretty fun culture. So those recognitions also tend to be a little tongue in cheek. But that gives our employees a chance to recognize each other for striving for excellence and leaving their egos at the door etc.
Gene Hammett [13:55]
I love the fact that you have engineered this peer to peer recognition because that probably has a lot to do with the collaboration and working as a team. Is that fair to say?
Kurt Luidhardt [14:07]
Yeah, well, it certainly, it reminds people of the values we care about and it gives. And you’re absolutely right. It gives team members a chance to, to be acknowledged and that to get those kudos and I, we get a lot of good feedback from employees about that. As well as the interview and then the initial onboarding process, I think, where we spend a lot of time on each. By the time you’ve been through our onboarding process. If you’ve not had four or five different people talk about the values. Something’s not right.
Gene Hammett [14:45]
Well, I know that this is a very important piece. Do you do anything with onboarding with values?
Kurt Luidhardt [14:52]
Yeah, so they hear about it. They will, they’re the first time They will hear about it as with our talent acquisition team member, who goes through them, explains them, and then has the new person. brainstorm how they think those values will apply to their new jobs. So they get in front of the whiteboard and go through that exercise together. That’s a strong start, they should hear then specific feedback from their supervisor on how they’re how he or she thinks that the values how they should represent those values in their job.
Kurt Luidhardt [15:38]
My wife and I have two separate sessions with each new employee, from intern to VP level where we, we tell the company’s story, our origin story, if you will, and we incorporate the values into that origin story. And then I repeat them again. Sometimes I do this one alone, sometimes Chris and I do it together where I go through Sorry, but what I call a strategic look at the company and talk about our strategy for-profit for prevailing in the industry and how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors. And we also talk about values there. So they hear about it a lot. And then I hope and I’m, and I think I feel pretty good that they see that in the way we run the company, definitely leaving the ego at the door, sometimes we, I think, go even a little too far there and fail to tell our story effectively. And then they also see that striving for excellence as well as their desire to be as well as mountain climbing directly from clients, because we give them a lot of both of those values are appreciated by our clients. And so I think staff gets to see the consequences of living by those values from the feedback they get from clients.
Hold on again. Kurt just talked about putting values in the origin story, I think this is an excellent tip for you. Because if you really did do the work to come up with your values, and you figured out that they came from somewhere in your origin story, why not highlight them? Why not let that be a point of reinforcement? Because we remember stories. If you put the values inside that story, give a good chance for your employees to remember it. Or maybe it’s even your partners or customers. Go back and look at your origin story. See how your values really do make sense to put in there and tell it in a new way. A little fresh attitude around sharing that origin story. Back to Kurt.
Gene Hammett [17:41]
You probably made it one or two mistakes, just one or two. any mistakes stand out as a defining moment where you had to evolve as a leader.
Kurt Luidhardt [17:56]
Well, you know, I was thinking about that, and it’s hard not to to To think about it in light of this sort of surprise, out of nowhere, pandemic slash, economic downturn slash shut down. And, you know, one of the things I think we’re working through is, you know, as a high growth agency, it’s easy to think that all problems are solved by more bodies. And then when we see out of nowhere, clients, you know, reducing spending, etc, then I think, well, man, maybe we hired too fast. We’ll see if that’s the case or not, I don’t know if we all go back to work and everything returns to normal or not. The other thing I am reflecting on right now is and I, we’ve made this observation before. Also, I think, as a marketing agency, it’s been an easy trap for us to fall into to say yes, to work that we probably should have. Just let somebody else do it. Take on a client that wasn’t going to be particularly profitable, either because we were, we had an aggressive sales goal, we might have a need to or just didn’t want to say no. So those are, those are mistakes, I think, to go back to my relearning, I kind of relearn those lessons from time to time.
Gene Hammett [19:20]
Well, I appreciate that because sometimes we have to go through this process of unlearning so that we can actually move forward. I want to wrap this interview up with a chance for you to maybe whisper in the ear of a leader who hasn’t put the attention to values that you have. What would you tell someone if you’re sitting down across from someone that’s got that some of that friction going on? Maybe they’re just not communicating the way you would want them to? What would you tell that leader?
Kurt Luidhardt [19:53]
The hidden cost of not having a value-centric or just straight up strong culture is much higher than you think it is. And a high, fast-growth company might think this is we’re just going to move fast break things, and we’ll come back later and fix these problems. And it doesn’t really work that well. It doesn’t. In my experience, it goes from, you know, maybe a very small problem or you think it’s a small problem to crisis company-wide, very quickly. So, I guess what I would say is, don’t underestimate the costs of some of these things, just because it’s not easy to put $1 figure right by it.
Gene Hammett [20:52]
Well said, Kurt. I appreciate you being here on the show. And thanks for sharing your wisdom.
Kurt Luidhardt [20:58]
Yeah, thank you for inviting me.
Gene Hammett [21:00]
I love talking about values really important piece to those foundational elements of a business. When I asked Kurt about this question about values, and he said, there’s a hidden cost and not being a values-driven organization, I thought that if something I should put a spotlight on right here, there really is a cost to it. Even though you can’t measure the return for values, if you lack an adherence to the values in the workplace, the hiring, the onboarding, the leading, developing firing people, then you miss that opportunity because I’m here to share with you the core elements of fast-growth companies and values is something that happens across so many of them. I’m actually very surprised to hear a fast-growing company that doesn’t have the rigor to their values.
Gene Hammett [21:48]
So today, we share this interview with you, to trigger you to really put more focus on your own values. My work is really inspiring me to share with you content like This to be able to share with you all the details it takes for you to evolve through your leadership journey. In fact, I work with leaders that want to evolve beyond where they are today. They’re already successful, but they know there’s more impact that they can make. There are more people to develop, there’s more growth that they have yet to obtain. If that’s you, make sure you reach out to me, [email protected]. I love to work with leaders that are going through the defining moments of their own journey. I help them get really clear about who they are and how they move forward. Some of that strategy, some of its mindset, I think you need both. When you think about your own growth, do you just push it aside? Just get the work done? Or do you really take time and pause and say how are you growing? I love sharing these interviews with you. Hopefully, you enjoy taking them in. Hopefully enjoy sharing them with someone that you think would appreciate interviews with fast growth founders. And make sure you keep coming back listening to more episodes.
Gene Hammett [22:58]
As always, leave 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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