Way too many leaders don’t understand the importance of leading with core values. After hundreds of interviews with founders and CEOs, I can tell you those creating strong teams are leading with core values. Today’s guest is Damon Decrescenz, CEO at The Credit Pros. Inc Magazine ranked The Credit Pros #4626 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. Damon has lead them to six consecutive times on the Inc list. We look at the different strategies he has leveraged to leading with core values. Discover where you can make shifts to deepen your team’s focus on the core values and improve your bottom line.
Don't miss an episode. Subscribe to Growth Think Tank.
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.
Selection of who we are as people, when we start a business, it’s usually ourselves and a co founder, perhaps, usually businesses don’t hop into having 50 employees, they start small. But core values are there one way or the other, whether they be explicit or more than likely, implicit or implied. When we began trying to be explicit about what those core values were really reflecting on who we were as people, and why Jason and I started this company, and what we are trying to do for both consumers and for our team members, that allowed us to be able to get this stuff written to be codified, and get it on the wall.
Welcome to Growth 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. And I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [0:56]
The foundational elements of your business matter more now than ever before? Now, we’re going through some very uncertainty inside financial markets inside of job reports inside of probably strategy across your company, what worked two months ago, may not work today. And you’re probably concerned about that. But the foundational elements of your business are the most important piece. And when I say foundational elements, I mean, the mission, vision and values, and the values is something that people kind of do a checkbox and say, you know, we’ve got values, that’s good enough, let’s just move on. Let’s get the work done. I understand that thinking, but I urge you to slow down for a moment. And think about leaving with core values. What is real leadership around your core values look like? Well, you’re clear about what you stand for. You’re clear about the onboarding process who you hire, all because of the core values, you live them day in and day out. And you put a lot of focus and attention on those core values, and your people get it. Today’s special guest is the co-founder of the credit pros, they’re six Time Inc. Company six consecutive times, they, you know, recently their growth rates have slowed down because of they’re so big, they’re growing so fast, but they know the importance of those core values. That co founder is Damon DeCrescenzo. We will talk about Damon inside this episode today. One of the things I love most about this interview was some of the details he shares around how they live it, how they make it a part of who they are every day. Now, before you go, if you haven’t already seen the training around who you are as a leader, and how you really pushing for and building a team of A-players, make sure you go to genehammett.com/training. That training will give you free access to the three biggest mistakes that you’re making, help you overcome them, and actually give you some guidance to what to do next. Inside that training. absolutely free will give you the roadmap as a leader of what to do next, to keep your company growing consistently. Just go to genehammett.com/training. Here’s the interview with Damon.
Gene Hammett [3:02]
Damon, how are you?
Damon DeCrescenzo [3:05]
Wonderful. Thank you very much for having me today.
Gene Hammett [3:08]
Well, I know it’s been hard to track you down to be able to get you on the show. You have had tremendous growth with your company. And I’ve already shared some of those details. But I’d love for you to tell us about the credit shop or The Credit Pros. Sorry.
Damon DeCrescenzo [3:22]
All right. So The Credit Pros is was founded 11 years ago 2009 by my partner Jason and Jason’s whip-smart lawyer, I’m not a whip-smart lawyer that wouldn’t allow me into the law school even if I apply. But we began our company to be able to help people improve their credit scores so that they may be able to change their lives and in the process really wound up finding traction in being able to expand on a national footprint. And being able to find a way to serve 10s of 1000s of people all throughout the United States really make a difference in their life. And while we did that we built an awesome company. It’s really it’s been a blessing.
Gene Hammett [4:04]
So you’re in an industry that has a little bit of a stigma around it. There’s a lot of people trying to get you to pay money, but from what my understanding is they don’t really do much how have you overcome that?
Damon DeCrescenzo [4:16]
But it’s a very good question. And like all industries, there are bad actors. I got a bad haircut the other day. But it doesn’t make all barbers bad. The fact of it is people need help, and we believe in doing right by the consumer and full transparency. The challenge with that sometimes is these bad actors happen to get more press than the companies that are really going out of their way to be able to serve the user. also importantly in the work that we do with consumer credit, so much is based on the personal responsibility of the user. So Much is based on what they do, what actions they take self-empowerment, they feel, to be able to take control of their life. And if a consumer is not fully engaged, if a consumer doesn’t take full responsibility for their own actions, well, then sometimes there isn’t much that I can do or they can do or anyone else, for that matter, save a good priest into a shrink.
Gene Hammett [5:26]
Well, I appreciate you giving us some ideas about what your business is, you’ve been through growth over the years, you said six times six consecutive times on the ink list, walk us through a couple of the inflection points that you had to navigate as a leader through that growth.
Damon DeCrescenzo [5:45]
It’s obviously it’s changed over the years as the organization has changed. Today, we have about 140 people that work in the organization. And the vast majority of them don’t work in the United States, or the ones that do work in the United States, not in a central office, that in and of itself, that that paradigm shift to working with people remotely was was a challenge. But in the beginning of our growth, it was how do we keep pace? With growth? How do we meet market demand and still hold ourselves together? While we’re a smaller company, and certainly as we’ve grown, it’s become more messaging, how do we keep a consistent message from the top of the organization, which in my case, is our leadership team, all the way through the people that are working boots on the ground, to be able to serve our consumers? It’s challenging when we have three different levels of management in some cases for to be able to keep that message conveyed. And we leverage new technology by way of making mistakes in the past and learning from them. leveraging technology, but more importantly, leveraging our core values, leveraging what makes us unique as pros, together as a company to be able to maintain consistency.
Gene Hammett [7:05]
Damon, I know, we had talked about some of the key factors and the foundational elements that have made your company successful, you had thought that the values were a critical element. So why do you think values are so important to an organization?
Damon DeCrescenzo [7:19]
If I think back through the iteration process of our development of core values, it was one, when we started our company, core values exist one way or the other they are, they are a reflection of who we are as people when we start a business, it’s usually ourselves and a co-founder, perhaps, usually businesses don’t hop into having 50 employees, they start from small, but core values are there one way or the other, whether they be explicit, or more than likely, implicit, they’re implied. When we began trying to be explicit about what those core values were really reflecting on who we were as people, and why Jason and I started this company, and what we are trying to do for both consumers and for our team members, it allowed us to be able to get this stuff written to be codified and get it on the walls.
Damon DeCrescenzo [8:08]
What we found is, the benefit of this is that it allowed us to be able to speak a common language to be able to hire trained fire to these core values. And that did not happen right away. It did because it felt like a shirt that’s perhaps didn’t fit well, it was too tight when we go from an organization that had no core defined core values. And then, you know, a team comes from on high with the tablets and says here I bequeath the core values, and it’s unless it’s really well adopted by the team, unless it really rings true for the people that have to live it every day, it’s just words, whether it’s on the wall, whether they’re getting a bonus, because of it if they don’t feel it to be true, or if there is some friction between what they see and what they hear. And really, the core values don’t make a difference. And one of the important things about that is that when we started the core value process with 11 core values, we’ve since whittled it down to six. And I think we talked about it earlier, there are a few of our core values that are negotiables. And we’re passionate about what we do as an example. And then there are some core values that are nonnegotiables. Like we do the right thing, even when no one’s watching. And by way of non-negotiable core values, it’s really allowed us to be able to have a baseline of what is right and wrong and of what decisions should be made.
Damon DeCrescenzo [9:47]
The easy example is making a determination as to whether or not someone is the right fit for our organization based on an action that they’ve taken. Those that action meet our baseline of core values. Did they respect our clients as an example or another one of our non-negotiables, they respect our clients. If one of our team members, one of our pros, crosses that line, as far as we’re concerned, that’s our baseline of hiring, training, and firing, if they’re not a good part of our organization, we’re going to help them find a seat in another bus on another organization. But through that iterative process, it’s really served us well. And the reduction of it to our most basic core values of six is really served as well. Not having too many and not having it be too verbose is been helpful.
Hold on for a second, did you hear what David just said, values are a reflection of who we are. What happens as an organization but also happens at an individual level. One of the things I’ve done inside my business is work with leaders to actually define their own personal values to figure out who they are, it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done, because it is so fundamental to your transformation, your growth as a leader, do you know who you need to be to be the leader that your team craves? If you can answer that question, you know, your core values? If you can’t, you probably don’t go back to the interview with Damon.
Gene Hammett [11:12]
I think a lot of people know that it’s it has to go beyond the word on the wall. And in fact, what does that mean in a remote world? But what does what have you learned that makes you put the core values in the day today? Like, maybe it’s a ritual? Or maybe it’s something you guys do and sharing stories? How do you do that?
Damon DeCrescenzo [11:38]
So there are a lot of different ways that we do it. So as a leader, and again, this came through iteration it came through me personally making mistakes, and not repeating these core values are what’s important to me personally, by way of the organization that as frequently as I should have steps that we’ve taken, then this began a few years ago and has continued well, past what I have the capacity to do now is really been taken on by the team and is in every conversation in particular, particularly those that are with subordinates in a review with a subordinate or disciplinary action, or again, higher training and firing and bringing it back to a core value or more than likely multiple core values, repeating them ad nauseum to the point where you sound like a weirdo, really, it sounds ridiculous, or cultish, or whatever you’d like to call it.
Damon DeCrescenzo [12:31]
And we find that really, that is the most reliable way to let people know that this is really truly what we mean. In our organization, we’re pretty good at strategic planning, we have our B hag our 10-year goal, we’re in the middle of a three-year plan that breaks it down to a year. And then our quarterly set our monthly is we have our all-hands monthly meetings, which is interesting on teams, Microsoft Teams is what we use to do that. And then weekly goals, daily stand-ups, etc. All of them contain, in one way or another a reference to either directly or indirectly and more likely, directly a core value in our monthly all-hands meetings. And we have a contest who can get out our core values as quickly as they can. It used to be they get lunch with the leadership team now, and they get some other measure of gratitude and recognition because they’re more than likely not working somewhere close to us. But it is something that has been intentional. And by way of that we’ve really found success there.
Gene Hammett [13:37]
I really love the detail that you’ve put into this. I mean, you went through, you know, some high-level stuff and 10 year kind of focus and three-year strategies and all the way down to the day to day and how you recognize what mistakes have you learned around this, this really focus on core values that you’ve had to correct over the years? I know you’ve got to highlight a few. But I want to make sure that we put a spotlight on it.
Damon DeCrescenzo [14:04]
Yeah, okay. Here’s a big one. So. And again, this is my personal mistake. When the organization was the younger organization, we were smaller. And when we were really starting to just understand the importance of what core values meant, I made the decision to keep on our top salesperson in the organization, who we came to find out was not doing things in completely ethically, one of our core values gives we respect our clients. And we similarly do the right thing when nobody’s watching. So those two core values were violated but because of the fact that this was our top salesperson and because of the fact that Frankly speaking, I made a mistake and was looking at money instead of culture. I allow that person to stand up. And what happened was the rest of the organization knew that there was some breach of trust and that I had made the decision to violate my own standards by keeping that, and I lost the confidence of the team, as it relates specifically to the integrity of those core values. Having learned that lesson in the past, we’ve more than once had to layoff or move key people in our organization, including at another point in time, our top salesperson in the organization. And in every instance, where we made that decision to do that, while painful, in the short term, make no mistake, the impact the positive impact, with respect to the rest of the organization was near-immediate, and definitely long term.
Gene Hammett [15:59]
Powerful story. I will admit, this is not the first time someone has said that their biggest mistakes are not maybe not as big as but one of the core mistakes that they made was choosing a high performer over the culture. And when they corrected that they saw just tremendous results behind it. Anything else that you would add like you know, what you’ve learned about yourself through that journey?
One of the things I want to mention here is this story that Damon just shared about the top salesperson, this is something that happens a lot, you’ve got to look at the numbers of those people with a little bit of a filter, you got to make sure that they’re actually doing the right things, you’re actually living the values. Because even though you have someone who is producing tremendous amount of results, that could be toxic to the organization, your job as a leader is to make those hard calls, make the decisions to coach them up, or coax them out. I will just leave it right there for you to think about those people that really are great performers. But they aren’t really adhering to the standards that what you really expect of them. And you want others to be more like that being said, back to the interview.
Damon DeCrescenzo [17:10]
I yeah, that that. whether I like it or not, you know, all eyes are constantly on the leader and every decision, or in some cases, indecision is interpreted. And it was important to me too, because that interpretation wasn’t in many ways, in line with what my thought process was. But the people that interpreted my decisions, or in this case in decision, made their own determinations as to my why. And and some kind of right in some didn’t get it right. And what I learned is that being a leader requires over disclosure requires explaining until we have to explain again and then explaining some more so that the message is clearly communicated. And my actions are consistent with what my messaging is.
Gene Hammett [18:11]
Well, I know we’ve all been through that hopefully, you only have to go through this once or twice to really realize that those short term decisions really are have to be addressed. For the good of the greater company and the clients and the overall success of the company. Damon, you know, your journey of leadership has probably been one of many ups and downs, I’m going to curious how do core values fit into you developing the next class of leaders in your organization.
Damon DeCrescenzo [18:43]
This has been really great for us. So I have been blessed to and tons of people say it. But for me, it’s absolutely true. have a team of people that are around me, my leadership team that really rocks, and they rock because they understand very well. They live and breathe the core values. They live and breathe our company’s mission, our company’s purpose, which is to build an awesome company that changes lives. And important part there too. So they understand that the reason we founded this company is to build an awesome company that changes lives.
Damon DeCrescenzo [19:17]
The reason that Jason and I founded the company has nothing to do with credit, it has nothing to do with money. It has nothing to do with people, it will it has to do with building an awesome company to change lives. And every decision that they make is in one way or another in line with that and that’s been a learning curve for me as well. I’m sure that many of the leaders you have on your podcast, have the same problem that I do that letting go of the reins is a really, really, really big challenge. And it has been a really big challenge. But when we began seeing the the productivity of the team and when we when I I personally We begin letting go of the rings. It was amazing. And one of the ways that we indoctrinate through the people under those people is by really clearly defined this Opie’s and platforms to be able to get people trained in a consistent and repetitive way.
Damon DeCrescenzo [20:20]
So we’re not recreating the message that really has been critical for us to be able to get people trained. Starting very broadly, as an example, we use a learning management tool that is video content with some testing. And every person regardless of what they would roll, they may throw in the organization has to start there. It starts with who we are and what we do and why we do it. It’s video content that we’ve edited and is the same for every single person. It goes through our core values before it goes into what we do. And this way, we know that if every person who’s onboarded regardless of role, regardless of responsibility, has that same baseline of content that they’ve absorbed, that they understand foundationally, it allows us to be able to continue to build on it, where we’re all speaking a common language without having to retrain people individually.
You’re listening to us on YouTube, make sure you subscribe, hit the notification bell, hit the thumbs up and continue your journey of evolving as a leader.
Gene Hammett [21:22]
I remember once I had haushalt, say on the show before he wrote a book. And of course, I’d say he’s the co-founder of Ritz Carlton. And he talked about this exact thing that most of them miss that opportunity to create that onboarding experience that puts everybody on the same page, and really should be a day, possibly even two days long experience of not just getting your laptop and your phone extensions and all that stuff. But truly, who are we what do we stand for? What are our values? How are we going to live these values. And that becomes, you know, that real strong foundation sounds like you’ve learned that, probably through trial and error.
Damon DeCrescenzo [22:04]
You made a lower leverage technology to do it too. And one of the issues is, you know, as we’re a fast-growth company, we’re hiring people, people are being onboarded. When that process is being done that onboarding process by human, as it used to be for the however many 1000s of years humans have worked, it’s usually needed a one to one, or one to many. The problem is the words that are used, perhaps could be different in every one of those classes, if you will, every one of those onboarding experiences, whether it be the disposition of the trainer could be different from day today. And without that basic continuity, we find that there is some some ebbs and flows to the understanding of what people have about our organization. When we began leveraging technology effectively to be able to get those people indoctrinated into who it is that we are as a company, we found it a lot easier to build upon.
Gene Hammett [23:01]
So I really appreciate this conversation about core values and the importance of that how you actually live them, and really walking us through your journey, some of those mistakes. So thanks for being here, Damon.
Damon DeCrescenzo [23:14]
I really appreciate it. Thank you, Gene.
Gene Hammett [23:17]
What an amazing conversation around values. are you leading with core values? Are you being intentional about this day in and day out? Are you developing your leaders with those core values in mind? The reason why I harp on this so much is because it’s one of the most critical factors that you can actually control, you can actually shape this, you can build routine, you can really make it a part of who you are as an organization. And it becomes integral to the growth of the company, and the growth of every individual inside the company. I believe core values are one of the most important things that you can focus on that you actually will get payoff.
Gene Hammett [23:55]
Many, many folds for the effort you put into it. And when you think about your core values, I want you to also think about your own personal values as a leader, what really drives you? I find that leaders often don’t really have the answer to this question. Who do you need to be to be the leader that your team craves? Who do you need to be? You have that great if you don’t, I love to get to know you. I hope leaders that are in those defining moments of who they are as they continue to evolve to be the leader with their team craves. That would be great to have a conversation with you. [email protected]. That’s my email. Make sure you reach out. When you think about your job as a leader. It’s not just to get the work done. It’s to lead the people, 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.
A QUICK FAVOR
And lastly, please leave a rating and review for the Growth Think Tank on iTunes (or Stitcher) – it will help us in many ways, but it also inspires us to keep doing what we are doing here. Thank you in advance!
If you want more from us check out more interviews: