Every leader would say that people are essential. However, most would say the business is designed to make money. When profit is more important, it is impossible to put people first. The irony within the ranks of the fastest-growth companies in America is that these leaders know the importance of putting people first. Today’s guest is Eric Griffin, CEO at Mobile Outfitters. Inc Magazine ranked Mobile Outfitters #2736 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list, and they create mobile device accessories with 800+ retail locations. Eric shares his experience when employees feel like they are essential to the business. We dive into the strategies of people first in this interview. Discover how you can take your leadership to a new level by putting people first.
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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.
What makes you an entrepreneur is that you can do a little bit of everything. And there was a time when you did do everything because it was just you. And that’s your strength. And then there becomes this really pivotal moment where you need to not do not only not do everything, but you need to do only a very limited set of things that you were put on this earth to do. And that transition of building a team and and let truly letting go and delegating, a lot of goes never make. And it’s the thing that holds them back their entire lives. And if you don’t have great people have ever actually been there. If you have the wrong person, you can delegate it makes your life worse, and it can just be yourself. And I think that only makes it more difficult to truly go to the right people and let go of things. So everyone can be who they were and today.
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs in 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 growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [1:08]
Today we’re going to talk about culture. You know, culture is important. But you know, the culture is something that happens whether you’re intentional about it or not. What your culture is about the way people feel about the work, the environment, the mission that you’re on the values you have, how they interact with each other, how they listen, how they don’t listen, there are so many elements to culture, that you can’t just put your finger on one part of it.
Gene Hammett [1:33]
So today we look at putting people first. And culture really is about people. Our guest today is the co-founder of Mobile Outfitters, they had an astronomical growth to get on the Inc list. Recently, they were number 2736. I’d look at my notes. They’ve also been on the list five times in a row, think about that they’ve continuously had three-year growth rates, they put them on the list five times in a row, they’ll probably make six. And the goal of our guest today is to be on the list at least 10 times. When you think about putting your people first. What do you think about hopefully you don’t think about just ping pong tables and snacks and beer in the breakroom? But what you do think about is how you treat those people, the empathy that you bring as a leader, Eric talks about some of the details around why people first is so important, what culture means to the organization. And then he shares a ritual at the very end, which is a very powerful way that he really explains how it unifies people together something they do every week, make sure you tune in to this full episode. Now, I have mentioned this before, there’s a special offer if you haven’t gone ahead and taken advantage of this. There’s training I put together that goes over the three mistakes. If you want to create a high performing team, a team of eight players, you’ve got to understand these three mistakes, and you can fix them if you understand them. So when you think about getting that training, just go to genehammett.com/training, you can get it absolutely for free, they will show you exactly your path forward to continue growth to get out of this recession. Go to genehammett.com/training. Here’s the interview with Eric.
Gene Hammett [3:18]
Hey, Eric, how are you?
Eric Griffin [3:20]
Good Gene, how you doing?
Gene Hammett [3:21]
I am fantastic. excited to talk to you today about you know growth and culture at Mobile Outfitters give us an idea of what your company does.
Eric Griffin [3:31]
So we invent, manufacture, and sell a line of cell phone accessories and extreme detectors and skins for mobile devices. And we sell them through a proprietary network of independently owned retail locations around the world. We’ve got about 800 locations in 55 countries that sell exclusively Mobile Outfitters products.
Gene Hammett [3:52]
Love the whole idea of mobile and it’s a hot market. How do you keep up with all the quick trends and making sure that your company keeps growing?
Eric Griffin [4:02]
I don’t know. I think if I said I was keeping we kept up I would be lying. Yes, it is a very fast-moving industry, which is a blessing and a curse. But I’ve been kind of a gadget nerd my whole life our previous in a previous life. Dennis and I ran a company in the mobile industry. So we’ve kind of been in mobile our whole careers. So we’ve got a little bit of an edge because of that.
Gene Hammett [4:23]
I want to throw your curveball here. I didn’t prepare you for this. So if you can’t answer it, that’s fine. And the next five years, what’s the vision for mobile?
Eric Griffin [4:32]
I think most folding phones folding displays. I know everyone talks about it. And there were a couple of disasters last year. But if you just close your eyes and picture a phone the size of your iPhone that unfolds into the size of an iPad, and what that would do to the way you use your mobile device. Do you own a laptop anymore? Do you own a tablet anymore? What can you do on a device like that that you can’t do now? It’s going to flip everything upside down in a good way. And I think three years from now Apple starts to get into that game. And when Apple does a thing, everybody does it, and it becomes the next big thing. So I think that’s where you’re gonna see it head. And that’s a really exciting time.
Gene Hammett [5:11]
Well, the reason I asked you the question is that I know that as leaders, we’re in charge of having a vision for the company and for our people. Today, we’re going to look at not the products you sell or talk about mobile that much, but we’re going to talk about the people you had shared with my team, how important people are in the whole mixture of growing a fast company. Tell us what you mean by people are important.
Eric Griffin [5:37]
Yeah, I mean, people think entrepreneurs fail and recognize sometimes that your company is nothing more than a collection of people doing things. And so when you put in that perspective, the people become really important, they are the company. And you know, while individuals may move in and out that collection of people in the collection of things that they do is everything. And so I think there’s this interesting curse that I recognized maybe six, seven years ago that what makes you an entrepreneur is that you can do a little bit everything. And there was a time when you did do everything because it was just you. And that’s your strength. And then there becomes this really pivotal moment where you need to not do not only not do everything, but we need to do only a very limited set of things that you were put on this earth to do. And that transition of building a team and let truly letting go and delegating, a lot of entrepreneurs never make and it’s the thing that holds them back their entire lives. And if you don’t have great people, every entrepreneur has been there. If you have the wrong person you delegate, it makes your life worse than if you just did it yourself. And I think that only makes it more difficult to truly build a team of great people and let go of things. So everyone can be who they were meant today.
Gene Hammett [6:57]
I love the detail that you put into that. And I know that a lot of our listeners have been through this. they’ve been the founder, Chief cook, bottle washer, driving sales, driving operations, new ideas. And then as the team begins to grow, they begin to let go. But typically, it’s too late. It’s slower than necessary. When you think about your own journey, as a leader in those early days, what did you have to let go of to become the leader that your team needed?
Eric Griffin [7:31]
Well, I first had to let go of that principle that, you know, as a leader, I think there’s a false notion that you’ve got to have the answers. And that’s really not what being a leader is all about. And early days, you have to have the answers because it is just you and I think you wire your brain, kind of you set yourself up for failure by you know, I think letting go of the notion that I’ve got the answer that I’ve got to be the smartest person in the room. And understanding that as a leader, what all you really have to do is paint a vision of where we’re going, where, you know, where do you want to take your own company? What does it actually look like, not in vague terms and very clear terms, so you can see it, taste it? And then it’s not enough to just kind of put that out there and put it on a poster.
Eric Griffin [8:23]
Every day, you’ve got to drive that home, every hires you to make every activity you make has to drive towards it. Or else you’re just creating this confusing message of is where we’re going. But today, we’re going to do this other thing. And I think that discipline of saying no to a bunch of things that don’t align to your vision, having the courage to say, this vision I painted, this is where we’re going even though the data may say that that is a little different than I thought it was. It doesn’t matter, we’re marching forward. that’s easier said than done. But as a leader, that’s what your people need. They need to know, Hey, where are we going? They’ll figure out how you get there, but you need to tell them where they’re going.
Hold on for a second. Eric just said something that’s very profound. He said, there’s a false belief that you have to have all the answers. At one point time, inside your own journey. As a leader, you probably did have the answers. And even if you do have all the answers today, one of the best things you can do is to not share with everyone your answers. Because if you were the only person coming up with ideas, making decisions, sharing those answers with your employees, they will begin to understand that you don’t trust them and they’ll wait for your response. And your review of the work. You want to make sure you encourage them to have their own sense of confidence and courage. As a leader as a high performer inside this company. Your job as a leader is to build that up. Make sure that you’re not the one who has all the answers. In fact, it’s exhausting. If that’s what you have created in your workplace, back to the interview with Eric.
Gene Hammett [9:59]
One thing that I know that you have put a lot of emphasis on his culture. We haven’t talked about that yet. And it’s it’s certainly part of the people. But you had said something to me before we actually cut the recorder on you live and die by culture. Why do you say that?
Eric Griffin [10:15]
Well, for me, you can’t say people without culture, and you can’t say culture about people. So, you know, when we’re kicking around people in my head, I’m thinking culture, and we’ll take our culture in my head, I’m thinking about my people. I say that because I went through a really dark period, where I, the way I described it, it was me, Dennis in 20. executioners. And there was a culture, but we didn’t design it, it was just there. Because there were 20 people. And it was there by default, because of the people we had. And those people weren’t hired because of who they were as people, they were hired because we needed a job done, and they could do the job that needed to be done, which is not the right way to hire someone, that’s, that’s a robot, not a human being. And that place led us to a really miserable point in our lives, where we realized we didn’t actually enjoy coming to work every day. And it was like pure chaos, they’re waiting for us to tell them what to do next, which is like the weight of your world on your shoulders. And so we flipped that on its head.
Eric Griffin [11:18]
And it wasn’t until the business broke. Basically, our revenue got stuck was the first year we ever didn’t grow double digits. We grew by 8% or something which the rest felt like we’re going backward. And we said, okay, something’s not working. And at the same time, it felt wrong, it just coming into work and having every second, what next, and oh, we made this mistake. And it just felt like chaos. And that’s when we decided, you know, what, maybe we don’t know what we’re doing. And we started reaching out to other people that have built businesses before, who would have thought someone was out there that had done this before, you know, we were in our burn our 20s, late 20s, early 30s, actually, at this point, and once we started listening, we realized, you know, what, we were trying to be the people that do everything and just have people follow our command. And that’s, that is not the way you build a culture or a business. And so that moment really taught us, let’s do something different. Like that’s the culture can.
Gene Hammett [12:19]
I call that my work a broken leadership model? Right, it works to a point. But then there’s a place where you feel like, it’s we just can’t continue with this, this pace, this, the way it works, we need people to actually make their own decisions. And Sam, behind that. You’ve talked about some certain elements of culture, I’d love to just see your, you know, what are the key elements that you think as a leader, you have to shape to have a really high performing culture.
Eric Griffin [12:50]
So for me, there are three components, and then they have to be they have to come alive and everything the business does, particularly in hiring, because that’s bringing people in, they’re gonna carry out these things, but the mission, the vision, and the core values, which I think too many people get wrong, what those things actually mean, and what they should do. So getting them right, and not making the mistake that a lot of people don’t have core values in their company, or they do in there in the book. And if you ask 10 people, you get 10 different answers, which means you don’t have them. I think too many people, and we almost made this mistake, it wasn’t without a mentor, who would have made this mistake.
Eric Griffin [13:29]
You know, they’re like, are we need core values. So the leader or the leadership team goes into a room, and they bang out some core values. And then they come into the company, and they’re like, Okay, everybody, listen up. These are now your values, as if, like, that’s how values work. You’re gonna, like changing someone’s values. Because, you know, this is what we say, now you care really deeply about this town. So we didn’t do that. We did it collaboratively with our whole team. And coming up with those core values for us was Cornerstone, number one because it was defining who are we what are the things we actually care about? What are our values as a collection of people, and very naturally 50% of people were not a fit that we’re on the team? So they left, they either got fired, or they left on their own accord because I got very uncomfortable once we said, this is who we are. And they’re like, wait a minute, that’s not who I thought we were. So the core values and then the mission and vision. You know, for me, a vision is a big goal out in the future. It’s very clear, it’s a SMART goal. It’s time down, okay, by this date, we’re going to do this thing, and everybody knows it. And that’s the that surely is the leader’s role.
Eric Griffin [14:40]
I don’t think that’s something the whole company crafts. I think as a leader as I said earlier, you’re there to paint the vision and that’s where we’re going and that’s what a vision statement is. And then the mission is why you get up every day and do what you do. You know, what is your purpose? Obviously, it’s to generate revenue. And in some cases make money. But there’s a deeper meaning that’s sort of a side effect of what you actually do. And people need to know that because if you want people passionate about your business, they need to know Well, what’s the business’s purpose. And so having those clearly defined for me, there are three pillars.
Hold on for a second, Eric just talked about the importance of mission, vision, and values. And to some degree, you probably have all of those elements across your company. But here’s the challenge. If those are the most foundational elements of how you as a team come together, it really gives you the guidelines and guardrails to move forward. It really supports you through everyday decisions when you’re not in the room. And you want to make sure that you have them right. Want to make sure that you are living by them day in and day out. And part of this episode was about how to live by those issues to build the right culture. But ask yourself, are you truly living by the values of the organization? Are you truly living on you know, making this mission come alive? Are you living, the vision for this are you doing today that allows your company to receive tomorrow, I remind you of this because these foundational elements are something not to be taken lightly, and move on and focus on other important things. You live them day in and day out. Now back to the interview with Eric.
Gene Hammett [16:21]
I want to challenge you to go a little bit further with them. And you can pick anyone you want. What is something that you feel like companies are really missing the boat on? I know you’ve gone through a few mistakes, but let’s just highlight one of those?
Eric Griffin [16:35]
Companies meeting other companies?
Gene Hammett [16:37]
Eric Griffin [16:38]
I think too many companies, I think its core values. I think a lot of companies have a vision, or they have goals that you could say, okay, that’s their vision. I think a lot of companies have a mission. And even if they don’t have to say it, if he asked people, they know why they’re there, you know, they get a sense. And there’s some, there’s some consistency with what people say, this is why we exist. But I really, I don’t know the statistics team, maybe you do. But if yes, under companies, you go to their staff, you’ll go to the warehouse or go to the office and say, however, one of the core values is a company, I really think like one of those hundred companies, you’re going to get like consistency, and that the leadership team would even agree with a right. And for me, those core values are an absolute secret weapon, because you can hire people that know how to do a job.
Eric Griffin [17:29]
But if you’ve ever been in a place where you hire someone that’s technically really good at their job, but just isn’t a fit, and just causes conflict and just doesn’t get it or just doesn’t resolve things, the way that you would have resolved. That’s core values. And core values are not on someone’s resume, or I would love it if they were people actually knew their own core values. So clearly, a little resume, it’s not in their job history, it’s a thing you’ve got to sniff out, it’s who they are as a person, you’re not going to change it. It’s fully wired, it was there from their parents and grandparents and how they were brought up and who they interact with on a daily basis. And if you’re missing that, if you haven’t defined what your core values are, you can bet someone that’s a match, which means you just have a random collection of people that probably have different values, and you’re just going to get a really just an output for that.
Gene Hammett [18:19]
You know, I would say that it’s a lot higher if I had to go back and search on the Inc 5000 level companies. Because I talked to so many of them. And I’m actually fairly surprised if they don’t have values. But I will totally agree with you. It’s not the actual knowledge of the values. It’s do the people live by them?
Eric Griffin [18:41]
Yeah, the leaders, especially the leaders.
Gene Hammett [18:43]
Do the leaders tolerate? You know, anyone you know, getting out of line? Do they reinforce that? Do they celebrate them and reward and recognize people? When you think about living and dying by culture, those three elements are so important. What is necessary for you as the leader, to create a kind of environment for high performing teams like you have.
Eric Griffin [19:10]
So by living by that culture, you know, I think as leaders, we think we’re a lot sneakier than we are, you know, people know, people know what you’re thinking people know what you’re feeling people know what you’re doing when you don’t think they know what you’re doing. And so, if you let someone in your organization who you know, they’ve got this killer history, and you’re pretty sure that they’re gonna be the greatest salesperson on Earth, but you know, they’re not a values match. No, they don’t fit the culture. But man, I want that revenue. When you bring that person in the whole team knows. And what you’re doing is you’re, there’s cracks in the foundation, you know, the integrity of your culture is now starting to break. And if you’re going to make an exception, why wouldn’t your people make exceptions? Well, I know I should bring this thing up, but and then they’re thinking about that thing that you did, and they don’t that’s where I think a lot of cultures, you know, they break down, you have systematic things like what you saw with Wells Fargo when you know, all the fake accounts are getting created with it a goal. You know, if leadership points the ship, and it’s the opposite of core values, people gonna say, well, then why am I? Why am I listening to it?
Eric Griffin [20:17]
So I think the hiring, you’ve got to really, really look inside and say, this person I’m going to hire, yes, we’re here to do a job. But more importantly, they’re here to be a fit in our culture and to be a part of this team. Do they fit in that capacity, if they don’t care how good they are, you can’t hire them. I think that’s really important. I think equally important. You have to have the courage to fire people. If there’s a core values breach, I don’t care how much of an A player they are on the team. It’s the same principle, the integrity of your culture, you’ve got to be willing to fire that person and tell your team, this person was terminated. And it’s because they broke this core value, or there’s this cultural thing. That’s why they’re not here. And all that does is bond and unify everybody around. Okay. Culture is the number one thing here.
Gene Hammett [21:03]
You have talked about core values a lot today, and I won’t go through all of them. But how many core values do you have Eric?
Eric Griffin [21:11]
We have four things support, you don’t have more.
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Gene Hammett [21:23]
I want to ask you this. And this is a hard question. If you had to pick one value as being your favorite, which is the one?
Eric Griffin [21:33]
It’s not our question. So our first core value is to help each other and allow others to help you. And that’s a two way street on purpose. It’s extremely powerful. There are people in the world that love to help people. But when you offer them help, they feel insulted. They because some people help people to be the hero, and it feels good. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But in our company, you’re not, that’s not a fit. Because we had too many years at one point. And when people tried to help them, they got you to know, uppity about it. And you say I can’t do the job or whatever. And that was just toxic for us. Maybe it’s your me and Dennis our people, we help people not just to be the person that helped you. But to truly unlock everybody’s potential and take a step forward, and you don’t expect anything in return for it. And vice versa, if I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m gonna be the first to raise my hand and say, I’ve no idea what I’m doing. Let me go ask people for help, that has unlocked so much potential in our company. That is hands down my favorite core value.
Gene Hammett [22:44]
I want to give you one last chance here to wrap this up strong. What’s a ritual that you have around values and culture that you feel like you couldn’t live without.
Eric Griffin [22:55]
So we do a huddle. We do all company huddle every Tuesday at 930. And in that huddle, we give updates on the company and staff. But we ended with what we call appreciation. And while appreciation is not one of our core values, we have this little box in the break room. And we have a digital forum for those who work remotely. And throughout the week, you can appreciate someone else in the company for anything. And you circle a core value that resonates with what you’re appreciating. And then at the huddle, everybody reads their appreciations to the person that they’re giving it to we go around, and any week, there’s anywhere from like, six to 20, you know, depending on the week, and that is so powerful to every week, you know, it’s just reinforced, we are team, we help each other we have integrity with thoughtful we execute. These are the four core values. And these are the things that other people did that no one saw, it’s in a vacuum.
Eric Griffin [23:55]
You know, we had an employee by another employee a phone, on his lunch break, because her phone wasn’t working, she was getting super frustrated and saw a went out, they bought a phone and gave it to her for free. These are, these are two of our internal production team members. You know, it’s not like an executive where that’s not a big deal. And no one knew they didn’t tell anybody. But somebody saw it, and they appreciate it before the huddle. And now everybody can feel the energy and the values come alive in this company. And without that there was like, all these cool things are happening. But they were in a vacuum and no one knew about it. And then we introduced this appreciation thing. I think it really brought the team together and said, Now this culture is awesome.
Gene Hammett [24:38]
Eric, I’m glad I asked that last question because you just brought it home for us. Thanks for sharing your wisdom as a leader of a fast-growing company.
Eric Griffin [24:47]
Anytime Gene, appreciate you having me on.
Gene Hammett [24:49]
Another great interview here. love talking about people. We as leaders know that strategy is important metrics are important in the way we grow our business, but the people are The most important element, I really believe that leaders have to put a lot of intention around creating an environment for people to play at their best to work at their best. When you think about your job as a leader, yes, you have to keep the money flowing, you have to keep the customers happy. You really want to make sure you have the right people, and they are engaged fully. And they fully are committed to it and they feel like owners, my job is very easy. And my job is to help those leaders grow. When they get a little bit stuck when they’re not quite clear about how to move forward.
Gene Hammett [25:34]
I call this the defining moment of their own leadership. And I’ve been doing this for over eight years. If you have any issues, you know, there’s another level there’s another gear that you can slide into, but you haven’t figured out how to do it yet. Maybe you have to let go of something. I can help you with a phone call to get you clear about what you need to let go out so that you can reach a higher level of leadership and serve your employees and drive faster growth. Make sure you reach out to me, [email protected]. And when you think about this podcast, think about growth. Think about leadership, 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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