Leaders Embrace Transparent Communication with Bill Spohn at TruTech Tools

Creating a fantastic experience for your employees and partners is done with intention. Some of the keys to this are transparent communication and an open environment. Today’s guest is Bill Spohn, Co-founder of TruTech Tools. His company was ranked #4643 on the 2019 Inc 5000 list. We look at why they open up the financials. They also train their employees to understand the financials. Transparent communication is one of the key drivers that Bill says has impacted the company’s continuous growth.

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Target Audience: Bill Spohn has been one of our most consistent participants at the Habitat X conferences. As the president and CEO of TruTech Tools, he’s also a widely respected expert on combustion testing, wireless tools, and other technologies.

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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.

Bill Spohn
If you don’t think people will be amazing, they won’t be. So you need to have the right framework because they will condition the way you speak to someone, what you expect from them, sort of the patient you have with them. And then just let let them come up with new ideas, and maybe an old idea that needs some kind of conditioning, but some new ideas.

Intro [0:22]
Welcome to Grow Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host, my name is Gene Hammett, I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moment of are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:39]
Communication is a critical part of your success inside the company. You want to make sure that you’re honest, have integrity, but also transparent. And actually, one of the things I’ve learned from fast-growth companies is the importance of transparent communication. When you think about it, you’re creating a team that’s connected to the mission of the work and serving the customer. They want to feel that sense of transparency, they want to be included inside of conversations, they want to know where we’re going. They want to know the financials, they want to have transparent communication where feedback flows effortlessly. We’re here with true tech tools, co-founder Bill Spohn, Bill talks about the importance of transparent communication in a fast-growth environment. He talks about how failure is necessary, opening up the financials and what you must do if you decide to open up your financials. Inside this conversation. We talked about leadership to the next level. If you are going to the next level, as a leader, you want to be more visionary, be more effective. When aligning your team together, make sure you check out the free resources we have a gene hammond.com if you want a conversation with me to talk about what your path is. Just go to start your journey on my website genehammett.com. Now, here’s the interview with Bill.

Gene Hammett [1:50]
Bill, how are you?

Bill Spohn [1:52]
I am great today, how are you Gene?

Gene Hammett [1:53]
Fantastic. excited to have a conversation with you about leadership and culture of a fast-growth company. I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about you in the intro, but tell us about TrueTech Tools.

Bill Spohn [2:06]
Sure, we’re an e-commerce store that serves a technical consumer. The kind of consumer we serve is one that does work on heating and air conditioning systems as well as diagnosis problems with building performance, how buildings hold on to heat, lose air, air leakage, that kind of thing. So somewhat technical audience. Some people like to call it Hpac contractors would be the common term.

Gene Hammett [2:31]
Well, I know that this is the heart blood of who we are as a society as these people that keep our warehouses safe, keep them heat sensitive. And we’ve been through a lot with this COVID thing. When you think about business, you would mention it’s actually had an increase in demand for your products. What is what do you think that increases from?

Bill Spohn [2:56]
Well, we think because we’re totally eCommerce business, we have 15 employees, and we serve about 60,000 customers across the US and Canada. We believe it’s because it’s been a little bit harder to buy at a brick and mortar store, the kind of products that we sell, we also think we’re getting there was a little bit of a law about a one month low between the middle of March and middle of April. And we think that would might have been due to people just trying to figure out how to react. And then even like myself, you just kind of like what do we do getting out of this mental funk. We think people start to rise out of that by mid April, all at different timeframes. And then there’s also, you know, some of the stimulus money, some of our customers are actually they buy their own tools. So their contractors are individuals. And we think the stimulus money may have caused them to get the favorite tool that they want to get after a while. But just in terms of metrics, for the last two weeks of April, in 2020, compared to 2019, our sales volume order is up 60% six, zero percent.

Gene Hammett [3:58]
Love it. I can appreciate you taking the time out to be here with us to talk about leadership and culture. This, this podcast really is centered around founders, your co-founder their true tech, when you think about you know fast growth, I know you’re proud of growing fast. But what else are you proud of there with your team?

Bill Spohn [4:20]
I think it’s a way that we can all talk together. It’s communication really, it’s in a transparent open environment. We do focus on our customers, employees and vendors sort of equally These are three groups of people in my coat, my coat, my partner, now General Manager, Eric, he and I like to say we want to be amazing to these three groups of people. We don’t just want to serve them or pleased them. We want to be amazing that they actually think like wow, I wasn’t expecting it. Lets customers employees and vendors so we really try to focus on the people.

Gene Hammett [4:53]
Well, I love this concept of being amazing. Did it come from something in your experience? Or how would you say that that has really come to shape? who you are as a company?

Bill Spohn [5:06]
Sure, I’ll say I mean, it’s sort of the reward you get when someone says, what you’ve been trying to do all the long, I have vendor called this morning. And the vendor was a new vendor, new employee with the vendor, he’s very experienced in the market. So he knows a lot of stuff. And he said, I just got to thank you. This is a refreshing call. He said, I don’t talk with my other customers this way. He said You were talking about things that are just so expansive and forward. And I’m talking with people in marketing and sales and the general manager of the company, and you guys just bring it all together. And I’m like, I’m ready to cry. You know, he said, what I’m trying to do with this company?

Gene Hammett [5:46]
Well, I know that transparency is something you mentioned. But you also have what you would call an open environment. What is that.

Bill Spohn [5:54]
So we do share, profit, and loss data with our employees. We have, we just moved, so we haven’t set it back up again. But we had a display that would actually show the traffic, the real-time traffic from Google Analytics, in a display in the common areas all employees can see actually like who’s in our store because it’s a virtual store. So we set it up so they can see who shopping what pages they’re on, and sort of tie in their activities to an actual customer that’s being served on our website. We also do a profit-sharing, and their profit sharing, we feel it’s important to I like people understand the quote, unquote, money machine, how the company makes money, where it goes, and how they can get a cut of it, based upon activities that we have. So they can understand the economics of running the company, I’d like to think of anybody can balance a checkbook, they can understand how to run a company in a basic sense.

Commercial [6:51]
Hold on for a second bill just talked about how the corporation makes money, and how important that is for your employees to understand how the corporation makes money. One of the things I’ve seen across many of the leaders here that embrace this sense of transparency, is you don’t want to just expect them to understand the numbers, you want to make sure they actually get it. And so one of the things that you can do is when you’re having conversations with them, ask questions about what are the specific elements that are moving from month to month, take a look at why some of these are moving, ask the questions of them. So you can coach them through it, not just tell them about it or present the numbers, you want to make sure that they truly understand it. Because that’s the key to them feeling that sense of ownership that you want them to have just another little bit of advice about how to engage people so that you, they really want to be hungry for the information. So they understand how they can grow as leaders and as entrepreneurs, when the time comes back to the interview with Bill.

Gene Hammett [7:51]
I’ve had a lot of leaders kind of put give me pushback on this transparency, that of opening up the financials too much. Have you seen any negative sides to that, as you have a group of people together that may not understand the financials as well as, as you do?

Bill Spohn [8:09]
I think it’s working on getting them to understand and I also have this concept of you got to try, you don’t know how it’s going to be Steve, how well it’s gonna received or if it’s received correctly, but you got to try. And then just listen, you know, pause, listen, and I mean, listen in the room and the environment, but also listen to the impact and the overall company, see, how are people reacting to this? You know, and then check in with people, you know, one on one and just say, what did you think about that? I do that a lot. After meetings, go back to someone say, what did you think about that?

Gene Hammett [8:42]
So why do you have that little moment after a meeting with someone who was in the meeting?

Bill Spohn [8:49]
I think it’s just a little bit of call paranoia. But just did I get the point across. I also I listened to one of your other guests talk about not trying to be the smartest person in the room. And I really, I’m taking that as a fault of mine is I try too hard to be the smartest person in the room. And I put objective effort in since listening to the podcast to change the way that comes about. So part of it is being humble and listening saying did I get my message across?

Gene Hammett [9:19]
I remember an episode years ago, maybe like a little over a year ago, where and I don’t know which one you listen to, because that comes up quite a bit. And these conversations, but he had said it was a relief for me to realize that I hired the right people. And I didn’t have to come up with all the ideas that I would truly trust my team to come up with the ideas. Does that resonate with you?

Bill Spohn [9:43]
That does and it’s another concept I uses. If you don’t think people will be amazing. They won’t be. So you need to have the right framework because that will condition the way you speak to someone, what you expect from them, sort of the patients you have with them. And then just let let them come up with new ideas, and maybe an old idea that didn’t need some kind of conditioning, but some new ideas.

Gene Hammett [10:10]
I want to put a spotlight on that for a second, if you don’t think they will be amazing. They they won’t be. I get that right, right. Yes. So is that your way of saying that you’ve hired people because you thought they were smart that they were a good fit for the culture that they would add value? So you come in with a with a high dose of trust, saying, I’m going to expect that they’re going to be amazing for the company?

Bill Spohn [10:34]

Gene Hammett [10:34]
Is that fair?

Bill Spohn [10:35]
That’s fair. And it’s also not to be disappointed if you can’t figure out, you know, why something didn’t play out? Well, if it didn’t play out, well, there’s a mistake and error. You know, nothing’s irreversible. In the work we do. You know, we’re not doing brain surgery or rocket, you know, space space flights or anything like that. So there’s always a chance to kind of recollect and figure out what went wrong if something did go wrong,

Gene Hammett [10:59]
Is that your way of saying you have a very healthy relationship with failure and learning from those mistakes?

Bill Spohn [11:06]
Yeah, I just wrote this down yesterday, my notebook, I’m going to read it to you. It says, let’s learn how to fail on this. This is a conversation here with my co-owner, American, we were talking about something new we’re getting into. And we just kind of joke, let’s learn how to fail on this. Because that’s the way we’re going to learn how to grow on this.

Commercial [11:26]
Now, Bill just said something really interesting. He said, let’s learn how to fail on this. Because when you think about your leadership, you want your employees to be okay, with the right kind of failure, you can’t fail in all aspects of customer service, you can’t fail all the time. But there are certain elements inside the business that failure is okay. And actually, failure is the path forward. You probably know this at some level, but you want to make sure that your employees feel safe to fail and the right way, you want to create boundaries around that so that they feel safe. So they’re not going to lose their job. But you also know that they’re doing the right thing. And they’re thinking for themselves, they’re empowered in a way that makes them feel like owners. That’s the key here. That’s part of the reason why I do these interviews is for people to feel like owners, even when they don’t have a financial stake in the company. Back to Bill.

Gene Hammett [12:16]
I love that when you What do you think triggered you to write that down and make that a part of the mantra moving forward?

Bill Spohn [12:25]
I think it was just we know, we can’t be perfect. We know we can’t collectively even collectively have all the right ideas. So let’s let’s we also talk about perfect is the enemy of the good. Where you got to recognize my name, first name is Bill, My nickname is overkill bill. Because I tend to plan to so many things out. Eric tends to have more of a gut reaction, quick, quick, knee jerk reaction to things quicker. But we’re trying to marry those two things together and get to like 80-85% level, then let it go and learn how to fail. I know you’ve heard this before. But true. partners that work well together have different kind of skills and perspectives on life. And that’s what you’re trying to describe is is that different perspective? Absolutely, yeah. He’s become more analytical as we work together the last 13 years, 11 years, and I become more, kind of let it go. Let it try it out. Let’s get feeling kind of thing.

Gene Hammett [13:29]
I wouldn’t go back to this be amazing kind of concept. Because I think a lot of founders in your position would love for the team to go beyond just the expectations beyond the normal standards of this. How do you encourage your your team to go beyond the normal.

Bill Spohn [13:47]
We actually have. This came up kind of early in our life as a company. We came across this video which talks about giving the pickle it’s it’s a little short little video, it’s you know about a dozen years old, even older than that, where they talk about just going that extra mile and not being stingy with what you have for on the customer’s behalf. And just think about, we talk about that a lot, we just say give them the pickle. And people know instantly what that means. And however we do have one of our core values is in order to to continue to serve, we have to stay in business. So that’s kind of the backstop on how many pickles we give, if you will or how far backwards to bend over.

Gene Hammett [14:34]
Alright, so you have some boundaries about about how far they can be amazing because it would be an amazing experience if you gave away $100 gift card every time someone ordered from you. Right. Exactly. So but that doesn’t make good business sense, especially if your order volume is below 100.

Bill Spohn [14:49]
Right? Yeah. So we have to stay in business to fulfill our mission. So we can’t go out of business people really like us. They should be willing to pay for the value we bring.

Gene Hammett [15:01]
You have talked about core values through a couple of different pieces of this be amazing and stay in business and all the elements behind that. What would you say to a founder who hasn’t put the kind of attention to core values as they could on their business? They think it’s a little fluffy.

Bill Spohn [15:18]
Yeah, so I had to search for this. There was a course I took, which encouraged people to do this. And I always thought it was important. And I had to search around ask a lot of questions. And basically, they said, audit the outstanding activities that people do for your company. So when they’re amazing, or when something goes really well, or when you get good, complimentary feedback, jot down what value caused that to happen. And from that list, and basically think about all the people in the company when they do well, the composite of that is your core values, because that’s actually what you have in the company right now, with the people you’ve hired, or working with you.

Gene Hammett [16:00]
So it’s auditing the outstanding activities, that’s pretty easy to do. Like, you know, a customer calls up and said, this is the reason why you’re so excellent to work with. And your team is so excellent. But you said map it to a core value, just define what that core value that made that happen.

Bill Spohn [16:16]
Right demand, map it to a core value, work on the words, the mechanics of the words, like our first core values, be prompt, honest, clear, and helpful communications with customers, employees and vendors. So I think, you know, that’s sort of what we’re talking about today’s a, you know, clear communication. But that is our top or our first core value. And I think it’s probably because I felt in my career before I was running a business, that those things weren’t happening. And it’s like, darn it, I’m not gonna let it happen in my company. Those are the things that bugged me.

Gene Hammett [16:52]
So I know there are certain steps you’ve taken, you talked about having an open Profit and Loss within the company talk about, you know, openness around failure, what are the steps have you taken that really had an impact to the growth of the company,

Bill Spohn [17:06]
I want to mention one thing, we talked about the the COVID, the pandemic going on. So it really put me into a really weird funk. But I felt like I had to keep communicating. And one of the things that came out was, don’t lose track of who we are, don’t stop being who we are as people, individuals and as a company. And when I put together a contingency plan, I communicated that clearly to the senior managers and to the employees, that we didn’t have all the answers. But we were doing things that we felt were important. We’re putting our heads together and doing things that are important, because for a while there it was, you sort of didn’t know which way to turn or at least I didn’t know which way to turn being very honest.

Commercial [17:51]
You haven’t really listened to this on your phone or on a website. Do you know that we have a YouTube channel? Well, if you want to get special content that we only put on YouTube, make sure you go to genehammett.com/YouTube, subscribe, make sure you never miss an episode so that you can become the visionary leader that you really want to be and that your team deserves. Go to genehammett.com/YouTube, back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [18:14]
Well, I’m glad that not only is it helped, you’re seeing that increase in revenue through this last few weeks. And compared to what it was last year. I want to ask one more question of you, Bill. You know, as a leader, we’ve all had some defining moments. We’ve all had moments where we’ve had to challenge our own perspectives or beliefs around leadership. Can you remember something like that and share a time with us that you had to challenge those beliefs?

Bill Spohn [18:41]
I think, probably going over this hurdle of sharing the books with the employees, and not knowing how there was going to go over, you know, did they feel like, Oh, actually, I want to make sure that customers employees know and sometimes even customers know, sort of our ratios, you know, our margins and things like that, because they have a really high top-line dollar value, but they have a very high cost of goods and expenses, ends up, you know, being, you know, the single-digit percent at the bottom, but it looks really big at the top. So when people understand that there’s, you know, how the money is made, and just trusting that they were going to is going to receive correctly, or received, you know, appropriately.

Gene Hammett [19:26]
Well, I appreciate you having the courage to share that journey with us today. I want to ask you one final question. How do you continue to evolve as a leader,

Bill Spohn [19:39]
I have a pretty high level of curiosity. And I pushed myself into new areas like I pushed myself into podcasting. In 2017. I was invited in, but I pushed myself into it. It was something new, I had to learn. I didn’t have to do it. But something I wanted to do. That’s why you see this fancy mic here. If you’re watching a video So I use this sort of innate sense of curiosity to do to understand problems, business problems we face. And to look at problems by reaching through my network and also looking things from different angles. I always call it like a 3d view on a problem. Look at it from both sides of the equation from if there’s different people involved, put myself in their shoes, that kind of thing to, to really be asked the questions to continue to ask the questions.

Gene Hammett [20:29]
Well, thanks for being here, sharing some of the things you’ve learned as a leader with our audience. And thanks for just taking the time to share your wisdom.

Bill Spohn [20:38]
Really, thank you for the opportunity. Gene, it’s been excellent. Look forward to hearing more about your podcasts and video interview.

Gene Hammett [20:44]
That wraps up another amazing interview here at Growth Think Tank. Bill talks about a lot of the necessary aspects of transparency. One of the things we didn’t get into is the need for courage when you’re being transparent, because you have to have the courage that people will use the numbers that you give them for the right thing, they won’t use it against you. You also have to have the courage to give feedback and receive feedback. And when you think about your job as a leader, you’ve got to have more courage than your people. If you have any questions about your path to evolution, make sure to check out the free resources at genehammett.com where you can find out more about being a visionary leader, building the right team and even optimizing your time. Just go to genehammett.com. When you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of 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.


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