How to Create an Effective Remote Team Culture in Today’s Uncertainty with Art Saxby at Chief Outsiders

You know that team culture is essential to long-term company growth. Given the pressure of COVID to work from home, you may be thinking about leading an effective remote team culture. It takes intention and creativity to have an effective remote team culture. My guest today is Art Saxby, CEO of Chief Outsiders. His company was ranked #3775 in the 2020 Inc 5000 list. They have been honored on the Inc 5000 list seven consecutive times since 2014. Chief Outsiders provides marketing strategy to mid-market companies. They have had a mostly remote culture from the start of the company. Join us today to discover elements of an effective remote team culture that you can ethically steal.

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Target Audience: Art Saxby runs the country’s largest strategic growth implementation company focused on mid-size businesses. We build Engines for Growth at privately held and private equity held mid-size companies. Our focus is on helping midsize companies grow via implementing major growth initiatives in strategy, marketing, and business management in a way that will continue to drive top-line growth long after we are gone.

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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.

Art Saxby [0:00] We have to switch some priorities because as leaders, we have to do more to keep our people together now than we ever did before. So maybe you need to add another meeting this week, maybe you need to extend that meeting half an hour. But if keeping our people together and connected is important. It’s just it. Where does it fit on the priority list? Yes, I sat there. And we have an hour-long staff meeting twice a month nationally. And I’ll tell you, it’s all these are C level executives, they’re not going to log in for an hour-long meeting if it’s a bunch of fluff. And yet we took 20 minutes to go through those pictures. This time, we don’t normally it goes through like five. This time was really important when we are celebrating something but if the people in the organization do drive the organization, we have to make time for those people, and right now, they’re feeling disconnected. They’re sitting alone in an apartment. They’re stuck, you know, with a trying to educate it. You know, an eight-year-old You can’t sit in a chair still, even if they’re sitting in a classroom and they’re dealing with that. So they need social release and fun. And if we provide that, that builds that, yes, I have friends at the office. Yes, this company cares about it.

Intro [1:15] Welcome to grow 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 [1:32] Now that everything has changed about your way of working together, that you have to think about what you’re going to do to shape the culture in a remote world? Yes, today, we’re still struggling with COVID, unfortunately, and the numbers are not getting better. And so what’s going to happen with your workforce? Do you want to continue to kind of patch it together or do you want to accept this new reality and lead with intention and purpose around creating a culture in a remote world that works in today’s kind of uncertainty. Well, today, our special guest is Art Saxby. He’s the Founder, CEO of Chief Outsiders, they are a CMO kind of for hire business, they really do. help companies grow in a different way than me. So I partner with them to bring you this episode to really create something that would be useful for you as a leader of a remote culture. Today’s remote workers feel disconnected, they feel, you know, like they would love to have more people available to them or more conversations in a different way. Collaboration is a little bit harder, and micro conversations almost non existent unless you’re really intentional about it. So what we’re going to talk about today is some of the things that get in the way of a remote culture that really does work and some of the things you can do to actually improve that as a leader and I will let you in on a clip Your job as a leader is to own this, this culture and shape it the way you want and make sure that it is working for the company because if it doesn’t work, then the people will either not show up and not really give their heart and soul into the work or they will go somewhere else and give their work to someone else. So you take your pick, you get there, do it a front or pay the price. Before we jump in the interview with art let me go through one little thing that I want to make sure that you’re tuned into if you want to create a team of a players I’ve got a free training that goes through the the big mistakes that you’re making, just go to, you can get those mistakes, you can figure out how to fix them and take your leadership to the next level. Just go to Now here’s the interview with Art Saxby.

Gene Hammett [3:50] Art, How are you?

Art Saxby [3:51] Very good.

Gene Hammett [3:52] How are you doing this morning? I’m excited to have you here. I’m doing great. Still got my beard from the summer vacation. When you think about coming on the show, I’d love for you to tell us a little bit more about what she by outsiders does. We’ve had Karen on the show before, but I know you’re you being the CEO and Founder, you probably have a little bit way different way to describe it.

Art Saxby [4:14] You know, I’d say, our role is to work with midsize companies. And we’ve often found that sometimes the best-run companies have the hardest time growing because growing a company is very different skill sets than running a company. And in today’s market, it’s really a question of how do you design and build a commercial engine, get that engine running and going, most of most midsize companies can’t afford to hire an executive-level vice president marketing. They don’t need that skill set forever. So we go in as a part-time member of the CEO’s management team, we have 75 chief marketing officers full time on staff, and they often work with a company one to two days a week over six to 12 months to create and implement significant growth, challenge growth. You know, initiatives?

Gene Hammett [5:01] Well, I know it’s a big part of what companies are struggling with now, what used to work and the area of live in-person conferences, and all the marketing that went with that. We’re having to rethink it. I’ve had clients are rethinking it. I really appreciate you being here. We’re going to be looking at some different aspects behind the remote culture. I’d love for you to I know you’re working with a lot of companies, you’ve actually run a remote company with 80 plus employees for over 10 years. When you think about remote culture, what are the first things that come to mind as where people get it wrong?

Art Saxby [5:38] You know, I, I believe that its basis culture needs to be you know, embedded is part of the strategy. Peter Drucker was the first one who’s least credited with saying culture eats strategy for breakfast. Well, I’d asked what do they have always told us was the most important meal of the day? breakfast? Yeah. So the The company’s strategy needs to actually be feeding the culture. When when I started this company, I looked and said, you know, what do I read? What’s the business strategy? What do I really want to be great at? What does the company need to be known for? And, and it had to do with the people in the company, loving what they’re doing, and, and being able to do what they love to do supporting each other. So from the beginning, we said, our business strategy was to create a company in a culture that attracted the world’s greatest marketers because we help each other do the best work of our career, surrounded by people we’d love to learn from. So our only long term competitive advantage was culture. But I was also looking at a situation where well, everyone is always going to be remote from the beginning. And now we’re up to 75 people, but they’re all working out home offices all across the country. So we had to figure out a way to keep a tight organization, not because it was fun or cool, but because it really works. was our business strategy.

Gene Hammett [7:03] So what are some of the things that that are people are getting wrong and today’s remote culture aspects?

Art Saxby [7:10] I think we need to think about it in two ways because right, we’ve had a sudden change, and a lot of people are forced to go remote. I think there’s the the professional side and the personal side. The professional side is is how can people, how can we, as leaders, help our people do what they love to do? How can we help them be successful, there’s the business side, whether that’s that’s tools, techniques, whether that’s, you know, meetings and and the pace of staying connected, the tools to get things done, and a lot of people have focused on that, and we can always talk about that. But the other side is the personal side. For an awful lot of people in our organizations going to the office was part of their social circle. They had friends at the office. You To say, if you didn’t know, customer employee surveys, one of the key questions was to ask, do you have a friend at the office? If a person said yes, I have a good friend at the office, there’s a high probability they stay with your company?

Art Saxby [8:12] Or if they say, No, I don’t have friends at the office, there’s a high probability they won’t be there next year. You know, does my boss have my back high probability they’ll stay versus they won’t. Those are more, you know, emotional things about friends and camaraderie and socialization. And when you suddenly rip everyone apart and say, you know, you’re working from home, and you know, I’m, I’ve got two grown daughters, and they’re both sitting in apartments alone, working from home for four months, you know, they start to lose the connection. So I think while we’re doing a lot of things to keep people connected from the business side, we need to be sure we take time to keep them connected on the social side. And the little more fun stuff, not just because we want fun things or we want to be the fun boss, but to keep our employees and keep them coming. connected, they have to feel emotionally connected, not just professionally.

Commercial [9:04] Hold on for a second, he said something really interesting. He said in a survey to customers, you want to make sure that they believe employees that their boss has their back. So let me ask you a question. What would your employees say? If you ask them that question? Would they do you know, 100%? They would say that with all of the direct ports you have, maybe you do have 100% there. But you know, with 100%, that all the people that are in mid level management, their frontline employees would respond back as their boss has her back. Because if they don’t feel like they have their back, then they don’t feel psychologically safe. And it really is an issue as the company continues to grow. This whole question about this, the boss have your back is something that will allow you to clue into what’s going on in a sense of safety. And that really does impact growth and impacts the culture and shapes whether people stay or leave. Now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [10:00] Now one of the things that I feel like a lot of leaders are missing touch with is we’re not able to just kind of stroll the halls and you know, walk around and have conversation Say hi, maybe even share, you know, a moment at the coffee machine or the drink machine or you know, just really check in maybe even some micro conversations, a lot of that stuff has is gone. How do we how do we replace that? Or how do we think about that in this new remote culture world?

Art Saxby [10:30] You need to purposely make time for it. One of the things that we’ve done for years again, since our people are remote, but I really need them to like each other, to know each other to work together. We start every every staff meeting with photographs of what I did on my summer vacation. And we have our staff meetings nationally twice a month but people send in pictures of here’s where I wanted to vacation, me and the kids in here so and so’s graduation and you know, at the baseball game or you know, so for four years, we started every meeting with let’s talk, let’s get to know each other’s family and be able to share in the fact that someone’s kid just graduated college, someone actually got to go on a vacation. We were continuing that now, obviously, where it may be you’re locked in. But then we’re we’re coming up with other reasons for people to send in pictures and share. Early on in the crisis.

Art Saxby [11:23] We said, I sent out a thing I took a picture of myself in my my business attire, as I am now, in my little exercise shorts that I’m wearing now, bare feet, standing in the front yard with a sign that said, evacuation zone one and said, you know, we want to keep focus on safety. So we’re calling a fire drill. No matter what you’re doing, no matter what you were, leave the building, go and take a picture of yourself outside of the building. So I know you made it to the fire drill, you know, station, and we had, you know, about 80% of people responding and they send in pictures or they just they walked out and they’re there with a cup of coffee standing in the backyard. And you know, some for dress up or more dress and it was just it was just fun to share pictures of each other. This last week we celebrated our 1,000th climate. So we said we’re having an ice cream social in the break room. Everyone come on down to the break room we’re having ice cream.

Art Saxby [12:15] Oh well break rooms actually my kitchen and you literally live in a different state. So I’m sending you $1,000 No, all that 1000 pennies. Everyone got 10 bucks and said go buy an ice cream, get a picture of you eating your ice cream and send it in and we’ll start to share it at the next staff meeting. And the staff meeting we had literally you know, 40 pictures of people with their kids nice cream, some great big giant things with you know, sprinkles on some very nice, you know, very nice prim and proper, you know, frozen yogurt and other stuff. But it was it was an opportunity to share me and my family. And what I was doing one guy sitting there with a cigar. You know an ice cream cone and someone else’s at the gym. Make opportunities so your people can share who they are with each other.

Gene Hammett [13:07] Art one of the things I hear back from people because I really do talk about this being intentional, but they will respond back to me when I say that we should be getting personal in our meetings, is, you know what, we have a limited amount of time for meetings we have, we have to get really down to business right away. We don’t really have time for this personal element inside this. I know that that’s short sighted. But what is your response to someone who’s who says we just don’t have time for that personal stuff.

Art Saxby [13:36] It’s all where your priorities lie. It’s what my high school band director told me when I couldn’t get my uniform clean. And I showed up missing, you know, part of the uniform said art, it’s all where your priorities lie. If you’re, we have to switch some priorities because as leaders, we have to do more to keep our people together now than we ever did before. So maybe in To add another meeting this week, maybe you need to extend that meeting half an hour. But if keeping our people together and connected is important. It’s just it. Where does it fit on the priority list?

Art Saxby [14:13] Yes, I sat there. And we have an hour long staff meeting twice a month nationally. And I’ll tell you, it’s its fault. These are C level executives, they’re not going to log in for an hour long meeting, if it’s a bunch of, you know, fluff. And yet we took 20 minutes to go through those pictures. This time, we don’t normally it goes through like five, this time was really important when we are celebrating something. But if if the people in the organization do drive the organization, we have to make time for those people. And right now, they’re feeling disconnected. They’re sitting alone in an apartment. They’re stuck, you know, with a trying to educate a, you know, an eight year old who can’t sit in a chair still, even if they’re sitting in a classroom and they’re dealing with that now. So they need the social release and the fun and if we provide them that builds that. Yes, I have friends with the office. Yes, this company cares about me.

Gene Hammett [15:06] Are you seeing any impact from leaders personally scheduling more one on one meetings through through zoom or something like that inside this world? And if so, where do you kind of see that fitting into the overall culture? Kind of shaping process?

Art Saxby [15:24] Yeah, I definitely do I normally try and do you know what, again, with 80 people in the company all across the country, I’ll only see them face to face twice a year. Even my number two is is an Austin, I’m in Houston. He’s three hours away, and we see each other on zoom almost every day, but the other folks and they’re all working accounts and this and that I’ll only physically see them twice a year. So I normally try and schedule one to two, one on ones a week. And because of schedules, I end up with three or four a month. Well, I’ve doubled up that list of I’ve got to be doing more and more and more and more. They’re busy.

Art Saxby [15:59] So they Again, they don’t always they fall off the calendars, you know, the client stuff comes first this and that but more and more and more we need to put make it a priority and reach out. And when I have a one on one with someone you know, it’s it’s not a business review. You know, it’s, it’s Tell me what’s happening in your life. You know, how’s the culture going? Are you feeling connected? Are you feeling you know? Are you getting support from your peers? The one on ones for me have always been, you know, what are we doing right in the culture? What need what do we need to continue to build? How do we make sure we’ve got as tight a culture when we’re at 300 people as we did when we were at 30 which is you know, versus 10. So the the one on ones shouldn’t necessarily be straight business. Yes. I always do take time and I look up their their stats before the call. So I know if you know this is a rock star. This is someone who’s struggling, this is whatever. But I do really believe we have to make time To connect so that they feel we care about them and not feel connected.

Commercial [17:05] Now hold on for a second Art said this conversation one on one is not a business review. Well, a business review is where you talk about the work, you talk about the output, the milestones, the client, the relationship. What this is a chance for you to connect with the person at an individual level, what’s going on in your life, what’s going on in your world? Where do you want more of how is the culture supporting you or not supporting you? Where could we improve? You ask that kind of question and allows you to tune into people. If you want the exact questions that you can actually ask. In these conversations, we call this a steak conversation. All you have to do is go to a special free gift I’m going to give you it’s called, S-T-A-Y And you can get those questions and it will give you kind of insight around how to have these state conversations that are really important to help you shape the culture and build a culture of people that are really working together. In full alignment, so just go to the back to the interview with Art.

Gene Hammett [18:07] I think a lot of people think that one on one time is just a chance to tune in to what work is going on what the client situation is. And they rarely take a chance to really tune into the person at an individual level. And what this reminds me of is a lot of times I have to talk to my clients about this and said, you know, at some point time, it’s not just about managing the work, but it’s about leading the people.

Art Saxby [18:33] Exactly.

Gene Hammett [18:34] When you think about that, what does that mean when it comes to a remote culture in today’s world.

Art Saxby [18:40] The remote cultures can work very, very well. If the the people in the organization are allowed to do what they love to do. Now, quite often, when someone’s doing what they love to do that mate, that’s often the thing that’s the highest value for the employer. You know, when I get People on the right assignment. And they’re doing what they love to do. I mean, it’s released the house, they are, they are delivering value like crazy, this is their thing. So you need to understand that learning what they really care about will help them perform better. But it’s if you can’t stick your head in the office, if you can’t pull together in the conference room for five minutes, it’s not their job to stay connected to the company. It is the leadership team’s job. So yeah, some of my one on ones with my management team, my direct reports, you know, those are business reviews, okay, what’s going on? What’s going on? What’s going on? But then there’s a different meeting, that’s, you know, Okay, tell me what’s happening with the family. How are you dealing with the COVID thing? You know, are your kids going back to school? I do that with the rest of the organization that, you know, aren’t my direct reports.

Gene Hammett [19:53] You’ve said this a couple of times. I want to make sure we put a spotlight on this but you talked about you know, a great culture really is when People are doing what they love to do. How do you as a CEO, you know, tune in to that and and really do it? I mean, is it pretty? Is just asking them what do they love to do? Or is there some other way you found to reach them?

Art Saxby [20:14] It’s for us, it’s part of the company and the challenge. Imagine everyone who works for us as being a vice president marketing and one or more large operating companies. So every one of them whose last job was vice president marketing at&t, or Web MD, or ADP or, you know, 75 of them, all of them, their resume could say the exact same thing. You know, grew share and Brandon said, but I started out when they join the organization saying, you know, we’ve never had anyone in the company like you might be the 10th, SAS software person we have on the team, but no one like you. Now our job, your job is to figure out what is different than you versus those others? Because why should we put you in front of this client instead of them? So it’s, it’s a two part challenge. It’s a challenge for them to figure out what are what makes them unique and special and luster recognize that they are unique and special.

Commercial [21:09] If you happen to be listening to this on YouTube, make sure you subscribe so that you don’t miss an episode. Give us a thumbs up really helps us with that YouTube algorithm. We really love to get more of this content in front of the right people and it cost you absolutely nothing to give us a thumbs up, subscribe and hit the bell notification button if you want to be notified the next time we drop a video. Now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [21:33] I want to wrap this up art with I always love some some counterintuitive wisdom, something that’s a little bit unorthodox. What comes to mind when you think about you know really creating an effective remote culture that is unconventional

Art Saxby [21:48] Firing people.

Gene Hammett [21:50] All right.

Art Saxby [21:52] I hate firing people. I’m a conflict avoider. That is not not what I do. Early on in the country. Somebody that was probably six of us. And and you know, we’re a small management consulting company just getting going almost zero revenue. And we got this guy through a connection of a connection, who had been the Chief Marketing Officer of one of the 10 biggest consumer companies in the world. He had been the the chairman or the the head of the Africa group for this company. And he had basically stepped back and retired and he was working for us. And this guy was like, really, really smart. Really, really strong. And boy, does this resume mean something when you got this little tiny consulting company, but I realized that every time we’re in staffing, we’re discussing things, you know, the things he was saying was absolutely right. And yet, it always felt like an argument. And I was like, you know, why is it that I’m agreeing with you and it’s feeling like an argument.

Art Saxby [22:47] Why is it as soon as he starts to start speaking, the air gets sucked out of the room and everyone quiets down? Why are you know? And you ended up you know, it was difficult, but I ended up having to fire them. When I went to the organization and said that I was afraid they were all going to go, you’re an idiot, we’re leaving this guy was our, you know, our ticket to fame. And they all said, Oh, thank God, finally, Oh, my gosh, you know, if we had a bunch of people like that I wouldn’t stick around. He was so smart. He had to be the smartest person in the room. We’re now we look for people that are so smart. It’s such an incredible experience. They don’t have to be the smartest people in the room. So the few times I’ve had to fire someone who was a really good business performer, who had a really great resume was really smart, really, but they were wrong for the culture. I it was hard. It was hard. It was hard. And every time I did it, the organization came back and went, well, finally, gosh, we knew that guy wasn’t a fit the first time it’s like, well tell me.

Art Saxby [23:45] So believe it or not, I mean, we hear it a lot. But you know, hire slow fire fast. But firing someone because they don’t fit the culture strengthens the culture. Especially in the leadership team, the organization will look and see I don’t hear what the CEO says, Who do they have in their inner circle? Who do they keep? That’s what they really care about. And if they really care about someone who delivers great dollars and is a complete jerk to work with, that’s who they want around. Where if they say, you know what, we’re building a company of people that we a company we want to belong to, and they’re willing to move someone out because they’re disrupting it. The organ says Organization says, that’s what they believe.

Gene Hammett [24:31] I really appreciate you saying that, because I think a lot of leaders have that resistance to letting go of people they wonder, especially high performers, because they wonder the impact it’s going to have, but it is an important decision to make that there really is no level of performance that that over you know, supersedes keeping that person there if they’re toxic. So I really appreciate you being on the podcast, sharing your wisdom on leadership and culture.

Art Saxby [24:57] Thank you. I’ve enjoyed a Gene.

Gene Hammett [25:01] But a great interview, I love talking about leadership and culture with someone who’s done it before, but also see so many varieties within other companies. He works with a lot of companies that I work with, and are really it has a lot of insight around what does it take to lead with intention, that remote culture, and today’s uncertainty. So when you think about all the things that are necessary for you, as a leader, there’s probably a lot of things on your mind. You’re maybe not sure exactly what to do next. I’d love to help you figure out what that is. One of the things I’m really great at is helping you figure out what is the biggest thing that you can do as a leader to grow the company and it probably has something to do with your own leadership and culture. What’s missing? What is that missing element? I can help you do that. All you have to do is reach out to me, [email protected]. When you think about leadership, you think about growth, make sure you think of Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage. I’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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