Recognizing Employees To Feel Like Owners with Jonathan Keyser

Why would you want to show appreciation for your employees for doing their work? The simple answer is recognizing employees is something great leaders do consistently. The problem is recognizing employees is not something that is happening enough. I talk to executives consistently about how proud they are of their people and rarely are they taking the time to show that appreciation. Today’s guest is Jonathan Keyser, Foundering Member at Keyser. Inc Magazine ranked Keyser #2941 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. We look at the importance of recognizing employees, even if they are not doing something fantastic. Jonathan shares his perspective on recognizing employees and what it does to the overall culture of the organization. Great leaders will share praise privately and publicly to signal to others what they expect.

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Target Audience: Jonathan Keyser is named “The Commercial Real Estate Industry Disruptor” by USA Today, Keyser is one of the fastest-growing independent commercial real estate firms in the country, serving companies globally across a wide swath of industries; and a founding member of EXIS Global, the largest independent commercial real estate organization in the world exclusively representing corporate end-users.

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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.

Jonathan Keyser
From my own personal reinvention, I used to be ruthless, you know, miserable, but ruthless. Now I’m different. If If I can change, anybody can change. So this shows you one, how you can do it right. And then how you can create an organization that embodies the culture that you want to find. And ultimately, for me, what I’m looking for is I want people to join this movement that I’ve created or become part of the right, because like, we all collectively work together and do good for others, we succeed by helping others. Notable mantra, giving a shout, receive, that’s what we’re all about. That’s what we’re up to. We’re looking for an organization that joins the movement. And again, I think there are not enough examples out there of organizations that are doing this and how they’ve done it. Which is why really,

Intro [0:48]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insights from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host, my name is Gene Hammett. And I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [1:06]
Recognize employees, for the workplace, not just with the money that you pay them, or the bonuses and all those extras, but you’re really acknowledging what they contribute to the organization. Recognizing employees to feel like owners is a very important piece to the puzzle of a culture. And the reason I say feel like owners if you haven’t heard my messages before, is fast-growth companies really want to create a place where people feel like owners, even if they’re not, and today, we have a very special guest. It is Jonathan Kayser, he is the founding member of Keyser, it’s a commercial real estate company that has a very different perspective on this, we dive into the details inside the interview. But what I like most about this is Jonathan is very clear about what he stands for and about how he engages his team. And we talk about how they reinforce that through recognizing employees. We look at all aspects of this, some of the crazy awards that they give, why they give them how that works. Before we get into the interview. If you haven’t already had a chance to download the mistakes that are commonly made by leaders in there when they’re trying to scale their companies. Make sure you go to and we’ll get you not only the mistakes but how can you fix them? How do you truly understand what they are and move forward as an organization? We highlight some of the details inside there that are often missed. So make sure you go to and here’s the interview with Jonathan.

Gene Hammett [2:32]
Jonathan, how are you?

Jonathan Keyser [2:33]

Gene Hammett [2:35]
Excited to have you on the podcast to talk about growth and leadership. Tell us a little bit about your company Keyser.

Jonathan Keyser [2:42]
Sure. So I have a little bit of an unusual background. I was raised a Christian missionary kid in Papa New Guinea of all places. And I was taught by my parents to love and serve and give and help and pay it forward. But the problem was when we got back from overseas, I realized that we were poor. And I didn’t like being poor. So I got into commercial real estate, because I wanted to be rich. And as I got into commercial real estate, I realized really quickly Wow, this is a cutthroat ruthless, take no prisoners industry. So I became ruthless about that’s what it took to be successful in a ruthless industry. But I was miserable. And I was misaligned with my core values. And then 15 years ago, I went to a conference and I’m sitting there and a guy gets up, he starts talking about succeeding by helping others and I was fascinated. And long story short, I reinvented myself. And today we’ve built the largest firm of our kind in Arizona, one of the fastest-growing in the country around this idea of success by helping others succeed.

Gene Hammett [3:42]
Well, I appreciate you telling us that. So it’s a commercial business, what specifically do you do in commercial real estate.

Jonathan Keyser [3:50]
So we represent tenants of commercial real estate space. So office tenants, industrial tenants, healthcare or medical tenants, retail tenants, and we help them with all elements of their commercial real estate needs. If you think about traditional commercial real estate firms, all the big names, and acronyms that everyone knows, they primarily represent landlords, developers, and real estate investors. So they’re on the supply side of real estate. We represent just the demand and help them but what’s even bigger about our firm is this mission, this message of succeeding by helping others and proving that even in arguably one of the most cutthroat, ruthless industries in the world, you truly don’t have to behave that way to be successful. And we’ve built our organization, we built Kaiser around these 15 property principles designed to create a culture of self asserts.

Gene Hammett [4:42]
I love the focus on culture. And again, I’m a little bit familiar with commercial real estate because my mom’s was 27 years in the industry. And you have combined these aspects in your early childhood to create this unique experience. As your industry?

Jonathan Keyser [5:00]
Yeah, it’s not for the faint of heart. We’re not for everyone, right? We’re looking for those people who truly don’t want to be ruthless, but feel like in the past, the platforms, the industry culture that they’ve been in, have not given them the ability to flourish and be supported by doing the right thing. So it’s, it’s this mindset of what if you didn’t have to be ruthless looking, we all know how to love and serve. This isn’t some new concept. But the question I’ve always had is, why do we act one way at home. And we know that that works at home, because that’s what we do at home, and with our families, and our friends and our societies, etc. And then we get into the business. And we somehow feel like we got throw all that out the window, and we got to go fight for ourselves and scratch and claw our way to the top just to get ahead. And so what I’m saying is integrating those two things, right, and saying the same things that you do at home, if you do in business, you can create extraordinary success doing it.

Jonathan Keyser [5:58]
The problem is no one knows how. So why I wrote this book, I wrote a book to show others how they can for themselves, create a commercial or a, a culture of self service. This isn’t a book about commercial real estate. This is a book about how any business leader can create a culture of selfless service, not just so they can feel good about it. But so they can actually be successful is what I’m trying to connect for people is selfless service, giving and serving others without any expectation of direct return, and monetary success.

Gene Hammett [6:31]
So this makes me think about investing in your employees. How do you invest in your employees in a way that that it probably eventually hits your bottom line? Your success metrics? How do you invest in your place now?

Jonathan Keyser [6:48]
What do you think about traditional commercial real estate firms, it’s fill up the seats, give them a phone book, you know, 80% of them fall out, and the ones that survive, they stay? Right? our mindset is we want to really invest in our people. And we want to number one, make sure that we’re only bringing people in, that actually care that actually wants to serve other people. So the first thing is finding those individuals that want to do business the way that we want to do that. And then it’s serving and loving internally, right? I mean, if your mindset is, hey, we’re a company that’s based on self-service, and you’re not trying to serve as much as possible to people in your organization. You’re full of shit, right? And so the key is, how do you be authentic about who you really are.

Jonathan Keyser [7:32]
So it’s not just messaging, where you’re actually loving and serving your people, investing them, growing them. And guess what, sometimes you’re gonna grow them and empower them and train them. And they’re going to go spread their wings and do something else great because you were involved in there, in their growth and in their empowerment, but we find it the people that are looking, they’re hungry for being part of a culture like we’ve created, they wouldn’t go anywhere else. And this is such a special place in case we braid it. And the key is keeping it that way, which means continuously reinvesting time, energy, effort, love, and service in the people that are around.

Commercial [8:10]
Hold on for a second, Jonathan just mentioned finding the right individuals. When you think about hiring the right people for your organization. It’s not just who can do the work, who has the skills, who has the talent, and it’s how they fit inside the culture, how they really will contribute to the overall organization? And will they matter? And will you have the right process to do that? And when you think about the process of finding the right individuals, do you have it dialed in? Have you tried some new things? The reason I asked you this question is that this is one of the most critical elements to getting a business to move forward. Often people kind of just done what they’ve always done. I want to encourage you to go beyond just what you’ve always done to find what works for you, in this new age. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [8:58]
You’ve thought a lot about the employee experience. I know that you had to combine these things together but give us some of how do you actually go about developing this employee experience that’s amazing.

Jonathan Keyser [9:12]
Sure, well, if one for everyone, it’s different, right? And fair. I’m not saying I have all the answers because I don’t I’m learning to I’m on a journey. But what we’ve done is we’ve created 15, core operating principles, and they all tie together and I highlight them in my book. And it’s how we’ve created a culture. So it’s this idea of, Hey, everybody gets Yeah, we should like have fun. But when people think of culture, they think of ping pong tables and Xbox and beanbags. It’s like no, that’s not culture, culture is creating an organization that empowers its people, supports them, and gives them the tools they need to be successful. And again, every organization has a different culture. Everybody is looking for something else.

Jonathan Keyser [9:58]
So for us, we have to Like, for example, one of our principles is never punished mistakes. So when somebody makes a mistake, it’s empowering them to feel like hey, one, we don’t want to repeat mistakes, because if you repeat mistakes, you’re not learning. But if you make an honest mistake, you’re not going to get crucified. And Kaizen does kind of a high five smack you on the go, Hey, all right, let’s get back to the game versus this sort of like, Look what you did. Let me put it in front of all your team members, etc. So that’s one example. Another example is we try to be 100% coachable, so we teach our people to be 100% coachable, so guess who has to be one hundred percent coachable more than anyone else, me and the other leaders in the organization, right. So you actually have to live the things that you teach. And so I think that’s the hardest part for most leaders, is they say they want culture. They say they want this amazing culture, but they’re not willing to do themselves personally, the things that they expect their people to do, they’re not willing to be transparent, they’re not willing to be vulnerable, they’re not willing to be wrong, they’re not willing to go above and beyond for others, they want to be the king or the queen of their castle. And so it’s this idea of the only way that you create this extraordinary culture is by the people that are in charge, if there’s even such a thing as a very flat organization, but the people that are the leader, so to speak, actually living that behavior.

Gene Hammett [11:22]
Now, you referred to these 15. I didn’t catch the name that you put to them. Is this your…

Jonathan Keyser [11:27]
Core Operating Principles.

Gene Hammett [11:29]
Okay. Yeah. When is this different than your company values?

Jonathan Keyser [11:37]
Yeah. So think of it as, as a lot of people talk values. And guess what, they’re all the same seven, you know, integrity, teamwork, compassion. And it’s all nonsense, right? So it’s like, nobody even knows what they are. Nobody knows. They mean, they’re like borrow from each other places. And most importantly, don’t live them. So what we have is we have 15, well-articulated behavior role dictates. And when I say dictates, it’s a self-imposed dictate, everybody that joins Kaiser has to opt-in, they’ll sign an agreement, that they’re going to memorize the principles and agreed to live by them as much as possible.

Jonathan Keyser [12:14]
Now, these principles are aspirational. So no one is perfect with that, right? Like me included, I fail at them daily. But it’s a journey towards that selection. The first one is we serve our partners, clients, and each other fully selflessly completely. And only involve ourselves in projects, activities, and conversations that can truly add value to another individual, we are known by one-word service, and we live the statement, it’s not about me. So again, it’s, that’s one item, there’s 14 more of those. And so the idea is they all blend together. And when we speak at team meetings, or when we get everybody together, we go through those in the beginning, and we talk about them, and people can raise their hand and say, Hey, here’s where I was this, or here’s where I wasn’t Principle number seven. And here’s, here’s what I did about it. And so this idea of, we’re all collectively, that’s the target.

Jonathan Keyser [13:07]
That’s the goal. And we’re all working together towards that goal. And everybody has, you know, some people have challenges with ones that others are easy for, and vice versa. So we’re all imperfect humans working together. But what binds us together is this one, the mission, the mission of our company, the mission of Kaiser is to change the business world, yourself a service, and prove that you don’t have to be ruthless to win, right. So that’s our mission. And then these 15 property principles come together to create a very distinct culture that’s unique to us that we created, we decide and we reinforce, and then people that are attracted to that are drawn to that. So we try to be very magnetic in the sense where there’s a lot of people that that are like, you know, like traditional ruthless brokers, they make fun of us. And I completely respect that because we’re not what they’re looking for. They just want the traditional cutthroat environment. But for those who are sick of that, they are looking for something different. We’re like a breath of fresh air. And that’s why I’ve had so much interest in it.

Commercial [14:10]
I don’t know if you caught what Jonathan just talked about was signing an agreement. One example I’ve seen in this is a company called a fiasco, I’m going to hold up their culture book, but it is a way that they communicate what they stand for, as an organization. This book is very small, less than probably 50 pages, get some pictures in it, it tells the story but also tells how we work together what’s really expected of you. One of the techniques that James, the CEO and founder of the company uses is they get employees to not only read this but sign an agreement saying this is I understand what we stand for as a company. And they’re invited to come along this journey, but they sign to do that. When you think about your process for bringing on an employee, do you have them sign anything other than an employment agreement or a nondisclosure agreement or any of the other things that protect you? Do you have them Find something that lets them commit to working with you in a way that you expected them? Just an idea for you as a leader of a fast growing company. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [15:10]
You said something, Jonathan, I want to put a spotlight on in the meetings, you do this every meeting, you do this occasionally. How does that work at a detailed level of how you bring in these 15? core operating values?

Jonathan Keyser [15:25]
Yeah. I mean, not every meeting, like, Hey, we have a meeting or talking about this specific client or this specific opportunity. Because it typically takes us about 10 to 15 minutes to really go through them. That’s if it doesn’t turn into an hour-long conversation, but sometimes it does. But every time we get together as a community and have like we have, you know, regular team meetings, that’s the first thing that we do, is we go through that. So when we’re all together, we go through that and remind ourselves of what we’re committed to.

Gene Hammett [16:01]
Do you go through all of them? Or do you do a two or three?

Jonathan Keyser [16:05]
Oh, all of them.

Gene Hammett [16:06]
Okay. And is this a chance for discussion? Or is it a chance to prepare people to peer to peer recognition, or all of the above all the above? When you think about the peer to peer recognition side of this, what is the benefit that you’ve seen? I know, there’s got to be some really clear benefits of, hey, by the way, Cindy did a great job with this, I watched this happen, or she really supported me through something I was stuck on. Tell me more about that peer to peer part.

Jonathan Keyser [16:37]
Yeah, I mean, we love to, we love to give credit. And we love to give credit in ways that may not be typical. So I think what some people are numb to, is a marginally authentic, if not completely inauthentic praise. It’s like, oh, let’s hear it for Suzy, and everybody’s rolling their eyes. But that’s traditional cultures, right. And so for us, what we try to acknowledge is legitimate things. And we have these very unique awards. So like one award, for example, is the courage to disagree award. And so the courage to disagree award is when somebody within the organization stands up and takes a stand for something that they believe is in violation of one of the principles. And the person that wins the word most often is one that does it to me or to somebody else’s in a leadership role, right? It’s like standing up for the company, even when Jonathan Kaiser, you know, has a small brain fart, and forgets what he’s up to, which happens, right, I’m not even remotely close to perfect.

Jonathan Keyser [17:42]
So, you know, when when we award people like that, it reinforces that we want people to stand up for what matters, we had a, we had a team meeting where there was a group that there was a couple of guys that we wanted to bring in and recruit, and there was some mixed sentiment on it. So first of all, we don’t bring anybody on board, unless everybody’s on board wants to provide an opinion. So we provide an opportunity for everybody to have a say, it’s not a perfect science, but it works pretty well. And we had a situation where we’re having this discussion about this one, one team or team member, couple team members that were really interested in joining our firm, and I actually had a good feeling about him, I thought, you know, I think these guys would be great, I think that you know, provide a great role. And to have our founders basically just put their foot down and said, This is not our guy, he’s not one of us. And, you know, and not only did I not get pissed, and, you know, berate them for undermining my recruiting. At the next meeting, we had him get up and, you know, gave him the award and everybody applauded.

Jonathan Keyser [18:49]
So it’s just an example of, of that another award is, is the selfless service award, someone who just serves somebody else within the organization within Kaiser. Without looking for gain or praise or compensation, or anything that just goes above and beyond, we have a number of things like that, again, use these to try to reinforce culture. And in the beginning, we did everything all the time. But then we realized, you know, what, it sort of diminishes the special nature of these awards. If they’re given out every single time we get together, which is what I was doing because I was trying to acknowledge people so much. And so now when somebody gets one and it sits on their desk, like it’s a physical award, right, it sits on their desk and it reminds them and everybody else that comes by of what they did. So again, there’s the what I tried to do Jean is I tried to take everything that I learned as bumps and bruises along the way, from my own personal reinvention of use, I used to be ruthless, you know, miserable, but ruthless.

Jonathan Keyser [19:50]
Now different. If I can change anybody can change. So this shows you one, how you can do it right? And then how you can create an organization that embodies the culture that you want to embody. And ultimately, for me, what I’m looking for is I want people to join, this movement that I’ve created are a part of the right, this idea of, we all collectively work together and do good for others, we succeed by helping others succeed, you know, the whole mantra, give me a shout receipt. That’s what we’re all about. That’s what we’re up to. And we’re looking for other organizations to join us in the movement. And again, I think there are not enough examples out there of organizations that are doing this and how they’ve done it, which is really why I wrote the book.

Gene Hammett [20:34]
I’m gonna give you a couple of quick questions here so that we can wrap this up. I really love what you’re sharing with us, Jonathan, what is the frequency of those awards? Now that you know, you’ve decided not to do them every time you got together? So what is that frequency?

Jonathan Keyser [20:49]
It varies based on the award. Sometimes there’ll be a situational, right? So the courage to disagree, you don’t want to sit on that for 90 days, or, you know, so so we’ll try to do them sort of on as-needed basis, every couple months, every two to three months, we’ll give them out again, so they maintain their they’re their specialness.

Gene Hammett [21:07]
So is this a trophy that gets passed from hand to hand? Or do you get to always own? Why?

Jonathan Keyser [21:12]
Yeah, it gets passed from hand to hand. And, you know, you always remember who had it. And we have little notches in the wall where, you know, people can see who won past awards, etc. But also, I think there’s this idea of, as an organization, we also want to be acknowledging beyond just giving awards, right? So we’re, we’re constantly trying, like, when I get good feedback on a team member, I try to send it out to the entire email list, especially in today’s world where we’re all 14. And I like to say, look, you know, congrats, great job, right. So giving, giving, kudos, giving praise. You know, we’re a very supportive environment. And, you know, one of our principles is in love.

Jonathan Keyser [21:50]
We hold each other accountable through authentic, honest, and kind discussions, so we don’t pull punches. I have very direct conversations with people. People are very direct conversations with me. It’s not like we’re sitting around like sugarcoating everything. I mean, we have a FET. But it all has to come from a place of love. And even just yesterday, so I guess he’s a perfect example. Yesterday, I was buried, and I had a call with one of my very, very valuable team members. And I was grumpy with him. Like, I was like, come on, dude, your limited time, right? You didn’t say, well, that’s justifiable. Jonathan, you’re like, you’re in a rush. And whatever it’s like, call it back afterward and say, Hey, dude, I’m sorry, I was kind of a dick. I wasn’t trying to be that, I’m sorry to meet you that way. You don’t deserve that. And he like it meant the world to him. Right. But it’s like, we, I don’t know how many people are willing to do that in today’s environment. And so that’s what we’re trying.

Jonathan Keyser [22:44]
We’re trying to bring a more conscious world. We’re trying to bring more conscious leadership, actually. So one of my good friends, John Mackey, started the conscious capitalism movement and is the founder of Whole Foods. He’s writing a new book, and he highlighted our firm, very honored to be in it. And it’s called conscious leadership. And it comes out in September, it talks about the dramatic need in today’s world for more conscious leaders. And so that’d be another book that I suggest that your listeners, don’t pick up once it’s, I think it’s September 15, is when it hits.

Commercial [23:14]
Let me break in here for a moment. If you’re listening on YouTube, make sure you thumbs up, if you like this content, subscribe, and hit that bell notification button to make sure you don’t miss an episode of Growth Think Tank and do it now.

Gene Hammett [23:26]
One last question on this. Jonathan, you had mentioned the hiring process for the company. I know there’s probably a lot of things to it. But you had said 100% agreement. So that means you kind of have a rule that when they interview with four or five people, all of those people have to give that the Yes, this is a great fit, right?

Jonathan Keyser [23:45]
That plus one. So yes, everybody that actually interviews them for sure. But then we try. And again, it’s not a perfect science, there are different dynamics. But we try for every person to create a group, we call it a group interview. And it’s packed. It’s like once they’ve already gone through all the filters, and they already have the three to five yeses, then we just get them in a room or get them on a zoom call. And everybody has a conversation with them, ask them whatever they want.

Jonathan Keyser [24:15]
People can opt-in or out. But if you opt-out of that meeting, you can’t come back and go, Hey, I don’t like this person, because you didn’t have the chance you didn’t take the opportunity on the front. And so we’ve had situations where they made it through that first couple of filters. We got them into a group meeting. And then I got a couple of calls offline saying I don’t think this person is right for us. And I’m very glad that we said no to those decisions. But yes, strike. That’s another way to make people feel like it’s their company, right ownership of it. Like our company. It’s like there’s no, I’m sure that’s not true. There’s very little bureaucratic BS. It’s people that want to step into opportunity. They’re given all the opportunity in the world, right, and sort of like you can flourish as much If you want to flourish, or you can just chill and you can but you know, we’re always trying to help people become their better selves. We hire a coach for people so they can go in and get personal coaching and improvement. So everything for us is about empowerment and betterment of the individual. And we believe that by doing that we’re creating better people that are going to be out serving people in the community.

Gene Hammett [25:22]
Jonathan, really love you being here, thrilled that my team found you, and our research of fast-growth companies happy to share this book. Is it titled ruthless?

Jonathan Keyser [25:33]
You don’t have to be ruthless to win but it’s known as “the ruthless books” if you go to, and on the cover, as you can see, we just put the big word ruthless with a slash through it. Get out here. If you see that book, that’s it, but you don’t have to be ruthless to win.

Gene Hammett [25:48]
Love it.

Jonathan Keyser [25:49]
I was blown away that it hit number one on the Wall Street Journal last year, I couldn’t believe it.

Gene Hammett [25:53]
I absolutely love it. So thanks for being here.

Jonathan Keyser [25:56]
Thanks, Gene.

Gene Hammett [25:58]
Another great interview here on the podcast. I love talking about different ways to recognize employees. It really is an important piece to your leadership, thinking about how peer to peer recognition, team recognition, leader recognition, to reinforce the values that are most important to the organization of how you’re demonstrating them day in and day out. If you take that away from organizations and the rituals around, recognize employees, you really do miss an opportunity to bind everyone together and to create a path for growth. Because this is really important as the company matures. I love being able to have conversations like this with leaders. When you think about your own leadership. What is your next step? What is what are you really trying to create as a leader? Now maybe you’re working on certain projects and strategies, but I want you to think too, about how you’re growing at a personal level. My whole work centered around helping leaders to the defining moments of their own journey as a leader, getting them really clear about who they are what’s getting in the way of their next level success. I’d love to have a conversation with you. Just go to or you can email me at [email protected]. Do you think about leadership you think? Think about this podcast, Growth Think Tank, 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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