Scaling Culture As The Company Grows with Brian King and Matt Kueker at Kenway Consulting

One aspect of growth that is often overlooked is scaling culture as the company grows. When you add people to the mix, you have to intentionally shape how you want the culture. My guests today are Brian King and Matt Kueker at Kenway Consulting, an IT strategy and technology solutions provider. Kenway Consulting was #4495 on the 2019 Inc 5000 list. We look at the key elements of scaling culture as the company grows.

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Brian King and Matt Kueker: The Transcript

Target Audience: Brian King is the Founder and Board member at Kenway Consulting. He is a technology professional with twenty-five years of performance history in the development and management of information systems, organizational structures/strategies, and corporate culture. Matt Kueker is the CEO of Kenway Consulting. A technology professional with 24 years of exceptional performance history in the development and management of information systems and business processes.

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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.

Brian King
I started the company that I always wanted to work for. And the hope being that if I was true to that and stayed true to that throughout leading the company, that others would want to work here as well. And then we talk a lot internally about wearing the employer hat. And the employee hat known the employer hat is you want everyone in the company to think like an owner. And the employee hat is something that I and Matt and other members of leadership have to remember to wear as well. Every decision we make, we want to make sure we’re wearing that employee hat and thinking what it means to them.

Matt Kueker [0:32]
We’ve done a great job over the years of showing that are people that make great ownership in our culture. We don’t just read and say follow us. If this is your company, like help us we take a break and build part of this house with us. And I think once they saw that that was still going to be the case. Everybody rescue pretty easily.

Intro [0:55]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get instant 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 [1:13]
Your company has a culture whether you’re intentional about it or not. What I’ve seen for fast growth founders, CEOs, being intentional about your culture actually pays off in the long run, but also in the short run. Your culture is the defining element of how you work together, how you solve problems, how you create value, how you create revenue, all of those things come back to culture because it’s all because of the people. The people are the business. When you think about that, then you actually lead from a different place. You no longer just manage the work, you lead the people. One of the things I’ve noticed about culture is it gets more difficult as the company scales up. So how do you scale culture as the company grows? That’s our core message today. We have founder Brian King, we have the CEO Matt Kueker. Probably misspelled mispronounced that. I probably mispronounced that. But with Kenway Consulting, they were on the Inc list last year they have over 50 employees over 12 million in revenue. One of the things I like about today’s interview is, you know, the depths we go into, what does it take to put as much intention on culture as necessary to create a business beyond the founder, that when the founder actually steps aside, that the business would continue, and maybe even be better off because of it because of that foundation is so solid. What are the core elements of that? Well, that’s the core of today’s interview.

Gene Hammett [2:42]
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Commercial [3:12]
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Gene Hammett [4:05]
Hey guys, how are you guys doing?

Brian King [4:07]
Doing great Gene.

Matt Kueker [4:08]
Pretty well, how are you?

Gene Hammett [4:10]
I’m fantastic. excited to have you on the podcast here to talk about growth, leadership, and culture. Before we kick this off, I’ve already let the audience know a little bit about both of you at a personal level as leaders and what we’re going to talk about today, but I’d love for you to tell us about Kenway Consulting.

Brian King [4:26]
Sure, Kenway Consulting is it’s an IT management consulting firm, we do a lot of work in the IT strategy, space, and quite a lot of work in the technology solution delivery. So application development, as well as all things data, you know, helping companies turn their information into insights.

Gene Hammett [4:46]
Fantastic. Well, you’ve made the inkless recently and really impressive to see companies that have a strong growth rate and put an emphasis on their people. There is a correlation there. Why do you think, you know, strong cultures create more growth inside of businesses.

Brian King [5:07]
Well, I heard early on in my career that people don’t always work for companies, they work for people. And when I started Kenway, after a long career in, in big consulting, an expression that I use to a lot of colleagues was that I started the company that I always wanted to work for. And the hope is that if I was true to that and stayed true to that throughout leading the company, that others would want to work here as well. And we talk a lot internally about wearing the employer hat in the employee hat. You know, the employer hat is you want everyone in the company to think like an owner. And the employee hat is something that I and Matt and other members of leadership have to remember to wear as well. Every decision we make, we want to make sure we’re wearing that employee hat and thinking what it means to them.

Gene Hammett [5:57]
I love that concept. You know, makes Us get really clear about this. If you’re not watching on video, there’s Brian, who is the founder. And you brought in Matt is the CEO. How long is have you been here, Matt?

Matt Kueker [6:11]
I just celebrated my 14th anniversary Ken way yesterday, according to all the LinkedIn, congratulations I’ve been receiving over the last 24 hours. And I met at Accenture and I worked for him there for a number of years, and I was the second employee to join him at Kenway 14 years ago.

Gene Hammett [6:32]
I love that story. Did I work at Price Waterhouse Coopers before that Coopers and Lybrand you guys remember back that far?

Matt Kueker [6:39]
Oh, yeah.

Gene Hammett [6:42]
Well, I am excited to talk to you guys today about you know, culture. One of the things that we were doing some research on you is the importance of culture has had as the company has scaled up, you guys are over 12 million revenue. And you really have, you know, built a strong team. What have you learned about the journey of scaling up to culture?

Brian King [7:06]
Sure, you know, one of the things that I think I’ve noticed over, you know, having colleagues have started their own businesses and, and just seeing older founder entrepreneurs, you know, approach retirement is oftentimes companies are very good at what they do like their core competency. But it’s oftentimes the owner that is the steward and the leader of the culture but they’re not always very intentional about scaling that culture and positioning the company to thrive culturally when the owner entrepreneur steps aside so early on in Ken ways, days, I was very intentional about making sure that we had a documented set of core values a documented mission, and that we spend a quite a large amount of time at monthly and quarterly meetings, focusing on our principles, focusing on our values, living them out sharing examples of difficult situations where they were put to the test. And making sure that we’re not just talking the talk, but we’re also walking the walk. And then regarding scale is just making sure that leadership, key leadership, recognize it as a major part of their expectations is the steward of the culture. So that if and when I stepped aside or other leaders step aside, the company is positioned to continue to scale and make culture the priority.

Commercial [8:26]
Hold on for a second. Did you hear what he just said? That you must be intentional about the values of the company? Well, what he means by that is putting it front and center and not just knowing the values, but living the values, having every employee understand their context of really living the values, what they mean inside, the decisions that they’re facing the decisions they have to make, what they do when things aren’t going right. Those values should give clues and guide them to how to make decisions to move beyond this, even when you’re not in the room and especially when you’re not in the room. So what do you do to make that happen? There’s a lot of key things that you can do. But I can tell you there’s five core areas that you want to make sure your values are a part of. One of them is hiring. The other one is onboarding. The second one is and leading the finally developing and exiting those values can play a role in each of those five elements of a company. It’s some some of the work that I do with with my clients. I want to make sure I share that with you today. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [9:28]
I want to ask your question specifically around that. You had to at some point figure out you got to bring in Matt, as a CEO, what were the things that triggered that decision?

Brian King [9:41]
You know, some of its personal some of his profession from a professional standpoint, Matt deserved it. You know, he had been with the company long enough and had exuded excellence in his work as well as excellence in his stewardship of the company and stewardship of our culture. That frankly, he deserved it. from a personal standpoint, I too was looking for an exit strategy not necessarily to leave. But I wanted to be in a position that when I did want to leave, or at least, you know, stepped down as in terms of the volume of work environment responsibility, that we had that right succession plan in place. So we actually named Matt, Managing Director, two and a half years ago. So he was essentially functioning in that key lead role. We shadowed each other for about a year, year, and a half. But he’s been executing as the day to day wonder of the business for the better part of the last two years.

Gene Hammett [10:38]
Matt, what was the most difficult part of that transition as it relates to culture?

Matt Kueker [10:45]
I think the most difficult part of the transition-related culture is that Brian and the leadership team, you know, coming behind them, it’s done so much to make culture as he mentioned, the number one priority of Kenway. And I think our employees today They’re very serious. And I think the biggest challenge I think we got over it relatively quickly was the fear of what’s going to change with Brian moving into this, this newness at the time. You know, Brian, we’re still CEOs managing director or what does that mean? And we got over that. And then when Brian moved on to be founder, board member, Scottsdale Phoenix market lead and Matt CEO, what is going to change? And I think we’ve done a great job over the years of ensuring that our people take great ownership in our culture. We don’t just lead and say follow us. This is your company, like help us we, you know, take a break and build part of the talent with us. And I think once they saw that that was still going to be the case. Everybody rested pretty easily.

Gene Hammett [11:52]
Would you add to that, Brian, is that the hardest part for you? As you were letting go of the reins,

Brian King [12:00]
You know, I’m going to cop out on my answer and say that I really didn’t have a very hard part. You know, I had the pleasure of working with Matt for a number of years before he joined Kenway and had the pleasure of being his supervisor for the last, whatever, 15 and a half-ish years at Kenway. And he was absolutely ready. You know, I write, I write letters to employees at the end of every year, thanking them for their contributions that year. And I’m sure Matt has saved hopefully all of them, at least a few of them. And one of the things that I communicate to Matt regularly is how easily I sleep at night, knowing that he is running the business. So honestly, I really haven’t had a difficult time in this transition. I think I had more difficulty fearing it thinking about it than I ever have had since implementing it.

Gene Hammett [13:01]
Well, I can appreciate that a lot of people resist letting go of the day to day and bringing someone on board. But when you have the trust that I think you have and Matt, because you’ve been doing this for more than a decade, it makes it a lot easier. I wanted to transition a little bit back into the culture. What are the things that you focus on to to really have that connection that employees really crave right now? I know, it’s not just about beanbag chairs and free cokes and sodas and stuff like that. What are the things that you guys focus on?

Brian King [13:37]
Yeah, our culture is deeply philosophical. We have a couple of core guiding principles. I mean, we’ve got like 23 of them and no one commits them to memory, but we all know them conceptually. And there’s a few core ones that I think are integral to our everyday business and what employees really gravitate to. One of them is we focus on the means and not the outcomes. And there’s a lot of companies and a lot of philosophies out there that speak to that, like focus on what you can control, which is the means and focus less on the outcomes. It’s amazing the number of companies that actually focus on outcomes. And that in turn, then leads to, I think, less than optimal means. So when you’re focused on revenue as an example, and you have a lean quarter, you might then have salespeople incented to sell things to companies that they don’t need to sell more of something than a company means. Similarly, if you have a lot of attrition, you might end up having recruiters incented to hire people that aren’t deserving of being hired, just to reach numbers, right.

Brian King [14:50]
So that’s, that’s what I mean by a lot of companies focus on outcomes and not means. The other guiding principle that I would just hearken to is we have one that says to always under all economic circumstances do what is right, even if what is right might lead into less business or lower revenues. And that’s another one that, you know, it’s it’s sort of a subset, if you will, of the means overall comes philosophy. But it’s to do what’s right even when, you know, a customer might be asking us to do X. And we might know in our heart of hearts, that doing x is not what’s best for that customer. And what the customer really ought to be doing is why and we need to, in a diplomatic way, educate the customer as to why we don’t want to do X, Y, we think we should do y and that we want to be a part of it with them. We want to be a part of that solution with them. But if they do insist on doing x, and we’re convinced that x is wrong, we step away. And I think a lot of our competitors would welcome that revenue and we would, and that goes a long way with our employees because they see us walk that walk, it’s not just talking. We’ve done it before. We you know, in And 17, our largest revenue client ended up in a situation where they were asking us to do something that we just simply didn’t believe in. And we walked away from the client completely, and they’re not a client of ours anymore. And that was our largest revenue client. And in 2017, just a few years ago.

Gene Hammett [16:16]
When you think about the cultural side of the business, and you think about your focus as leaders inside this, what are the things that we would see you do? What comes to mind first?

Matt Kueker [16:32]
Yeah, culture and stewarding it permeates everything we do and every system that we’ve implemented within our company, we have a corporate goal related to culture to be the employer and employees of choice for all everyone. We have corporate objective KPIs, we measure Cultural Health Survey against the baseline, we measure our attrition rate and I think training Parents he is a huge part of how we make sure employees understand and have that that high touch, as well. We’re sometimes brutally transparent. You know, everything Brian and I have in our leadership team, as around the company is available to our employees. And we invite questions, opinions, and comments to be shared through monthly town halls, one on ones, etc.

Commercial [17:24]
Now, hold on for a second, something that he just said I want to put a spotlight on be the employer of choice. If you have a business based on people, which you probably do, you want to make sure that you have the right people. And one of the ways that you create the opportunity for the right people is you be the employer of choice, which means you create an environment where people can excel, you create an environment that people are proud to be a part of, and share with others that are like minded, being the employer of choice. This happened to one of my clients who wanted to be the premier agency in Atlanta, Georgia, not just for the clients, but for the talent that he needed. To serve those clients, and we work on that for about 18 months, and he’s really smiles today as a leader because he knows he’s the employer of choice to get the best talent, and he has the best clients. Because of that, I just want to remind you of that, and give you an idea of what you could be doing and shooting for, if you’ve already hit all of your other goals, be the employer of choice for the talent that you need for the next phase of your business, back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [18:28]
And anything counterintuitive, that, that you’ve noticed that it takes to create the kind of culture that is a competitive advantage?

Brian King [18:38]
You know, I’ll say one thing that I think is counterintuitive to most businesses is being willed to make short term decisions that have a negative effect on the bottom line and having a faith and a confidence belief that it will work out in the long run. You know, one of the expressions I use a bit probably a bit too often is I need to pass the pillow test and the mirror test. Pillow test is can I sleep at night mirror test is do I like what I see when I look in the mirror. And I think a lot of decisions related to some of the stuff that I was alluding to like difficult client conversations, difficult employee conversations, we need to make sure that we’re taking actions that we can sleep, and we can look ourselves in the mirror. And they happen more often than you’d like. And just having worked for a different company that I think was a bit more focused on outcomes, you know, before I started Kenway I see what sort of residual effect chasing $1 or chasing an outcome can have on employee morale. And I feel as though employees know that we not only just have their back, but we have the back of what is right. And it’s it’s something that a lot of times He’s struggled with and it’s something that I’m extremely proud that we put that as a huge priority in everything we do.

Gene Hammett [20:06]
I really appreciate you talking about that you want to add something that Matt,

Matt Kueker [20:09]
I say something counterintuitive that I learned and it was so typical challenges and scaling cultures. As leaders, we need to let go. We need to trust the cultural stewardship that we’ve provided. And growth is an example. The first day of every new employee Can’t wait, Brian and I spent half the day with them. And Brian goes through the history of why he started the company. And you know, when I joined and key milestones that shaped our culture, and we later on that are the first you know, 360 days, and when someone is ready to take a leadership role and can weigh a lot of times that impact our culture. We can then trust that we can let go, trust the foundation that we’ve laid in our governance structure that they will run with it, do something great well within our culture and not only stewardship but making it better

Gene Hammett [21:00]
I’m going to give you one of those layup questions here. And then I’ve got a hard question for you. The layup is, you know, you’re in the IT world, right? There’s a lot of skills that they’re required for the different elements of your business, I’m sure there’s hardware skills and software skills and database skills and application, all of this stuff. But then there’s also this, this, the other side of hiring the right people, is a culture fit. How do you guys look at that skills versus culture fit?

Brian King [21:33]
Yeah, that’s kind of an easy one, because we’ve covered it a lot. So it doesn’t lay up. You know, in classic consultant forum, I’ll describe a matrix with four sorts of four quadrants, you know, and you’ve got the folks that are deeply culturally aligned and deeply skilled, you know, what do you do with the simple, keep them, retain them, reward them, you know, promote them, etc. Then you got your people that are aligned, but have a lack of skills? Well, what do you do with them? You know, my thought is to hire them, train them, coach them, help them climb the learning curve on what it is can we do? Obviously, there’s another easy one, what do you do with people who aren’t culturally aligned and are very skilled? You know, don’t hire them. And if you accidentally did let him go, the hardest one is what do you do with people who are deeply skilled but not culturally aligned? What most companies do is they keep them because they think it’s really important to have people who are really good at what they do that can we let them go. We will not retain people no matter how good they are. If they’re not culturally aligned.

Gene Hammett [22:40]
When I said I wouldn’t give you a hard question, I actually call this the impossible question. And I found that it’s not so impossible for fast growth leaders. I never know where someone’s going to answer this. So I’ll just be blunt. But as a leader of a fast-growing company, what’s more, important to your customers or your employees?

Brian King [22:57]
Neither. Okay, what is it Neither doing what’s right is what’s most important, okay? There are times when you have a situation at a customer, where the customer is upset about something. And when we dig in and understand the facts, we realize that the customer is wrong. And therefore, we have to communicate back to the customer in a very diplomatic, in fact, based on the emotional way, our findings, and oftentimes that might result in a very upset customer because we’re telling them essentially that they’re wrong and that we did a lot of research and here’s why. The same can be the case with employees, you know, you might have an employee complaining about a situation or a client and you realize that the employee is not alone. So every circumstance is unique, every situation is different. What we just try to strive to do is uncover what’s right, and move forward from there, and it’s sometimes the employee sometimes the customer.

Gene Hammett [23:56]
Alright, so over 500 interviews No one’s ever said. It’s neither So you’ve lived there, but I, it makes for good, good interviews because I’m not lost for words on this, but I want to kind of give you context. fast growth leaders will say that its employees 94% of the time, especially in a world where they’re expected those employees to think for themselves to serve their customers in the frontline, they want to make sure that they feel taken care of that they feel empowered and that they feel like owners, and the whole company is able to put the company, the customers first through that kind of sequence, which is different than a lot of companies. I’ve actually interviewed some very high powered CEO is a very large multi, you know, investor-owned kind of companies. And they’ve said, No, it’s got to be customer first, but 94% of the time, founders and CEOs will say its employees. Are you surprised by that?

Brian King [24:52]
No, I mean, I there’s two expressions that I think you hear it a lot of companies It’s as an older gentleman, maybe I’ve heard it more in, in the 90s than I have in this day and age where I feel like the demographic has helped change things, but two expressions that you used to hear a lot, the customer is always right and the customer comes first. You’ll never hear that said at Kenway. However, nor will you hear us say that the employee is always right and that the employee comes first. Right? It’s it I have a very high degree of confidence that from a Kenway cultural standpoint, the right answer is neither. To me, the right answer is whatever is right. And when I fight, I don’t mean revenue is what helps us retain more clients to me, right is right in an ethical moral sense. Not right as in, you know, chasing dollars.

Gene Hammett [25:48]
Well, I appreciate everything that you’ve said about scaling culture, and really excited to have you guys here on the show, and share your wisdom.

Brian King [25:57]
My pleasure.

Matt Kueker [25:58]
Thank you.

Gene Hammett [25:59]
I just Love conversations on scaling culture as the company grows. So when you think about the core elements, have you been very intentional about your own culture and about your leadership to shape that culture and as the company grows, what has to change, because here’s the thing, it does change. You can’t just leave it, you don’t set it and forget it. Culture is a living, breathing element. And it has to be nurtured. It has to be shaped it has to be watched over. And your job as a leader, in my opinion, is to make sure that people feel that connection and feel taken care of feel empowered. And all that happens with some of the keys that we have today. If you want to know where you are, as a leader, make sure you get the free training that we have to give you the insight to be a stronger leader more influential. To create a team of eight players just go to gene Hammett comm Ford slash training. When you think about growth, you think about leadership. Make sure you think about Growth Think Tank, 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.


GTT Featuring Matt KuekerGTT Featuring Brian



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