The OYT Coaching Series – Justin Bakes – CEOs Creating White Space

One of the biggest challenges that CEOs face when it comes to optimizing their time is creating white space in their calendar. It seems that no matter what they do, they have people that want to fill in any available time on their calendar with a meeting. Creating white space is really about making time to think. Scheduling back-to-back meeting may seem productive, but the CEO that lacks time to think is likely to miss opportunities. Today’s interview is with Justin Bakes, co-founder of Forward Financing. This company was #404 out of 5000 in the 2018 Inc List. Justin shares his top strategy for optimizing his time, which is improving his team meetings’ flow. We look at the updates he has made to his meeting framework that has expanded his leadership capabilities. Justin also agreed to share the coaching conversation we held that is all about creating white space. This is not in-depth coaching, but it will give you insight into the re-framing challenges of creating white space.

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Target Audience: Justin Bakes is the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Forward Financing, a fast-growing financial technology company providing working capital to small and medium-sized businesses throughout the United States.

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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.

Justin Bakes
As an entrepreneur, starting the business with two people and growing it to 200 people, I’ve been focused internally on business problem solving, problem-solving firefighting. And as we get new to the next stage, my role has to continue to evolve. And so that transition for me is what I’m going through right now.

Intro [0:19]
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, I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth, are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:36]
Optimizing your time is a never-ending struggle. In fact, you have to continuously do this. Because if you want to be the leader that your team deserves, they crave, you’ve got to make sure you are available for them when they need you. And if you’re stuck in the day to day, if you’re covered up with meetings, you are really struggling with overwhelm. It’s hard to be the visionary leader that your team really needs. Now, today, we’re going to talk about optimizing your time, this is a special series that we’re going to be offering to you to help you understand your time better. We’re going to be asking visionary leaders like yourself about what their number one strategy has been to create more time to lead their team to lead themselves and to also create space to think all of this is in this series of optimizing your time with the leaders of Inc 5000 companies.

Gene Hammett [1:30]
Today, our guest is Justin bakes. He is the CEO of Forward Financing. And they were a four-time Inc company. They were as high as number 15. And I think that was in 2013. But they are 2014, excuse me, they have created a FinTech company, Forward Financing that is really changing the game and many aspects of FinTech. So how do we get through this interview and a little different format today? Well, we start off with the big question of “What is the number one strategy that has created more time for you?” And then in phase two, we go into where are you working now. And I actually do a little bit of coaching for them. Now, I will say this is not your, the perfect example of coaching because I’m being respectful, to not dive too deep, and really get to the heart of these things as I would if we were talking one on one because it’s recorded, and it’s made available broadly. But what we talked about is probably pretty helpful for you today. And I think you want to tune in today if you’re struggling at all, with being in the day to day and becoming the visionary leader that your team craves. So with all that being said, if you have any questions about your own leadership, your style, your approach your time, we have a program that will really help you be you know, take your leadership to that next level. We’re going to tell you a little bit more about it a little bit later inside the program. But today, we bring you this interview with Justin Bakes.

Gene Hammett [2:53]
Justin, how are you?

Justin Bakes [2:55]
Great Jean, how are you doing?

Gene Hammett [2:56]
Fantastic is your second time on the growth Think Tank podcast. So excited to have you here to talk about what you’ve done as a leader and Forward financing. Give us a breakdown of what Forward financing is and what they do. Sure.

Justin Bakes [3:13]
Great. Great to be back. Thanks for having me. Again, Ford financing. We’re a US-based provider of working capital solutions to businesses throughout the US. We’ve been in business since 2012. And since then, we’ve helped about 25,000 businesses with working capital needs.

Gene Hammett [3:31]
Wow, that’s a big number 25,000 you were telling me earlier before we cut the recorder on you really drive your business and define it based on a purpose. What is that purpose?

Justin Bakes [3:43]
Sure, it’s really important to us, it gets all our folks behind it. But for us, what we do every day is to build a world-class FinTech company, so that our people and our customers can achieve their full potential. And that’s just something we want people to align with want people to run to work in the morning to do. And it’s been really nice for us. It’s something I’m very passionate about.

Gene Hammett [4:06]
I noticed a lot of Inc level companies are very purpose-driven. And so it’s really amazing to see that be a big part of how you’re growing fast. You’ve been an Ic list four times you made it as high as number 15. And to be able to continue that growth, you’ve got to be a pretty strong leader. I’m sure you’d agree with that. Right.

Justin Bakes [4:29]
I would say maybe a strong leader, I would argue is to have strong people around me. And a mix of that and make that that I think has been our recipe for success is the people that work at the company in and around me.

Gene Hammett [4:44]
Well, that’s another thing that plays out on the podcast. And, you know, we talked about the importance of putting employees first so that we can serve customers. So, as this title of the show kind of is around a series of interviews around optimizing Your time as the CEO, what has been the number one strategy that you have seen make an impact on your time to serve your team and grow the business?

Justin Bakes [5:10]
I think for us, the number one thing we implemented was, was it was a framework, a meeting framework, a lot of it came from the Patrick Lencioni death by meeting. But we’re very rigid and regimented around the framework that we do. So every Monday morning, we hold a weekly tactical meeting with our leadership team. It’s an hour-long, where each member goes around updates. And then the second half, we review quickly KPIs, and then we problem solve. Then the rest of the week, we do daily, 10-minute check-ins at 9:20 am. And that really gives me and the others on the leadership team, a sense of key accomplishments yesterday, and then what the plan is for today. And it really helps alignment. And so I think from a time perspective, effectiveness, that’s been huge for us.

Gene Hammett [5:56]
I’m kind of curious before you put that into effect. What was what did those meetings kind of look like? And why weren’t they as efficient as this new framework?

Justin Bakes [6:06]
They weren’t, they weren’t necessarily efficient, because they weren’t necessarily happening. The beauty of process and framework is it creates accountability and discipline. And when we didn’t have it, it was when issues arose. And they were almost at a breaking point, we were firefighting versus proactive around it. So the communication would happen, but definitely not as at the quality that we’re doing now.

Gene Hammett [6:34]
Well, I can attest that consistency is a big part of all of our lives as leaders and as people, we’ve got to be consistent at home, we’ve got to be consistent with our workouts, we got to be consistent with the way we lead people. But having meetings. Yeah, does help. It’s kind of like when I learned when in college, going to class actually helps.

Justin Bakes [6:59]
Well, it’s kind of like, it’s kind of like having meetings helps. But making sure that they’re effective is is the next stage. And so that’s something that we’re working on every day is assessing the meetings and making sure that they’re most effective because they’re expensive when you pull people out daily or weekly on them.

Gene Hammett [7:15]
Let me ask you one more question on this meeting framework. When you put it into place, I’m sure it wasn’t perfect the first time you probably pulling things from Patrick’s work and maybe some other people’s approach to meetings? How often are you revisiting the structure of the meeting so that you can continue to improve that? Or maybe you’re not doing that? I’m just kind of curious.

Justin Bakes [7:38]
Yeah, I think I always want to be improving things, and reassessing the cost to that is, is removing consistency. So we’ve really been consistent. I would say over the past two years with this meeting framework, we’ve tweaked with the time commitment, I will say, not everybody is a fan of saying that we’re going to have a meeting every day, every morning across the leadership team, it’s something that we had to get buy-in. But after one or two, everybody was excited to have it, we saw great success, so haven’t really changed. And I think we’ve benefited more from the consistency versus changing constantly.

Gene Hammett [8:16]
Alright, so that’s what has really moved the needle for the company and, and create more time for you. Now, you’ve got 200 employees, you’re continuing to grow, you’re continuing to, you know, push the boundaries to rebound from this whole COVID time. Justin, what is the one area of your life or your time that you’re struggling with right now?

Justin Bakes [8:42]
I think that for, for me the COVID. And we’re still in it, frankly, this time and COVID has been having forced me to be very internally focused, we’ve had to really focus on the business because our small business customers were the ones that were impacted the most by the shutdowns. They’re the ones that are struggling, and we’ve had to be there to help them get through it, which I would say we’ve done so successfully. For the most part. For me, the challenge is balancing between the internal focus in what I call building a world-class FinTech company and the role of a CEO which is to have your head up to be in the white space to have time to concept new ideas. And so that balance, especially now in a time of crisis is has been a struggle. And one thing I’m really focused on as we get to the end of the year and look forward is to really kind of adjust that balance so that we I am I do have my head up and looking forward and creating some more of that value for the business.

Gene Hammett [9:42]
So I appreciate you opening up and sharing with us that I think a lot of people listening in here probably had the same struggle of balancing the day-to-day with being the visionary of the company if I can put it in a short framework. Did I get that pretty clear?

Justin Bakes [9:58]
That’s well said.

Gene Hammett [10:00]
This is the coaching moment of this style of interview for optimizing your time. So I want to kind of change modes from being your, you know, the person interviewing you to to being an executive coach for a moment. I want to ask you a question around this, this specific struggle. Is there anything that you can put your finger on that, you know, that you should be doing that you’re not doing?

Justin Bakes [10:23]
Yeah, I think it’s one thing, it’s really focusing on external relationships. I’ve as an entrepreneur, starting a business with two people and growing it to 200 people, I’ve been focused internally on business problem solving, problem-solving firefighting. And, and as we get to a new to the next stage, my role has to continue to evolve. And so that transition for me is what I’m going through right now.

Gene Hammett [10:49]
We all have to evolve over time. It’s one reason why I wrote the book, “The trap of success” because I failed to evolve. And, Justin, when you think about evolving to the next level, and and and really those external relationships, what are you letting go of so that you can get there?

Justin Bakes [11:08]
I think it’s, it’s, it’s the need to, it’s the need to make all decisions. And I haven’t had to do that for a number for a long time. But it’s, it’s putting a framework in to know what decisions and what things that I need to be involved in, we call it the elephant type decisions, the small squirrels are things that I don’t need to necessarily be involved. And so defining that across the leadership team in the company, and that’s easier said than done for someone who, when starting the business in the first, you know, number of years was was the one making all the decisions. And so that’s one thing that I’ve been working on. A lot lately.

Gene Hammett [11:50]
How many people are on their executive team?

Justin Bakes [11:52]
We’re in a team of eight.

Gene Hammett [11:54]
Is that encompass all of your direct reports? Or do you have more people that report to you outside of that?

Justin Bakes [12:00]
So what we’ve been working on, so So take a step back pre-COVID, we had split the leadership team into one leadership team, but direct reports under our president, half and a half under me. And post COVID, what we’ve done is we followed we’re following the EOS, the entrepreneur operating system framework, they have a method where you the CEO is the visionary and the President is the integrator, we’ve moved the direct reports under our president. And so I have a direct line with our president and responsible for creating the ideas helping to the problem solving, and he’s responsible for making sure accountability and progress is being made across the leadership team. So we’ve recently done that transition, how recently within the past three months.

Gene Hammett [12:51]
Okay. And I love the evolution of that, because that’s one of the things that if you’re, if you’re accountable to leading, you know, that group of four, then that keeps you pulled into the day to day and, and less time actually doing visionary work and less time actually doing external relationships. You feel that probably.

Justin Bakes [13:13]
Agreed. And I and I think the other part is, is it creates a breakdown because you’re splitting the leadership team into to the benefit of having one person own and be knowledgeable and coordinating across the entire team. I think there’s a tremendous amount of value therefor coordination, nonduplicate work, and alignment. So we’ve seen that work really well.

Gene Hammett [13:35]
Now, I’m choosing my words wisely here, because I would probably if we were doing a private coaching session, I get a little bit more specific around the team, and how they’re performing and whatnot, but I’m being respectful of, of the business and what’s going on here. So I’m gonna I’m not gonna probe into that. But I want to ask, put the spotlight on you for a second. What must change in the way you approach the work to be the visionary that your company really deserves right now?

Justin Bakes [14:03]
Yeah, I think it’s to be disciplined in terms of making sure I’m involved in the right decisions and removing myself from the things that I don’t need to be involved in. And being in really being disciplined about that. And I and I would say we have a very high performing team. So I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the team, which makes it a lot easier. But again, it’s an evolution, and it’s a learning process.

Gene Hammett [14:28]
There’s a word that you’re dancing around that you haven’t said today. And so I want to talk about that for a second. You’re talking about letting people make decisions and letting go. But you haven’t said the word empower. Is that by choice, or is that something that that you don’t think about empowering your team?

Justin Bakes [14:47]
Well, I think I think that’s that, that’s assuming that with making decisions and elevating that’s empowering them to make the decisions that I think that’s the crux of it all. To have a high performing team to have a motivated team, they need to have a sense of responsibility, they need to feel empowered. They need to build self-confidence and, and if me as a CEO, and in making all those decisions, that development doesn’t happen, and the company does not continue to elevate. So that’s something that we are working on every day, it’s the feedback that we’ve all talked about, and problem-solving. And something that that I think is really important.

Gene Hammett [15:29]
One of the things that I found that gets in the way of empowerment is, is really this idea of failure. I’m sure that you’ve talked about this with your team about what failure is within the structure of your company. You may have even talked about why it’s important. If I asked you, What’s your relationship with failure, what would you say?

Justin Bakes [15:50]
Fear of failure? I would say that there’s a fear of it. And honestly, that drives me, that’s what would be if you asked me, what’s, what’s one of the key motivating factors? For me, it’s fear of failure.

Gene Hammett [16:08]
So the failure to is one reason why we don’t empower people is that we’re afraid that they will fail and that you could have helped them and, and been there to make it easier, make it quicker. Do you have any of those issues going on with your own leadership style?

Justin Bakes [16:24]
I think, again, that’s part of the transition, what I’m embracing and, and, and have the mindset now is failings, okay? Because it’s a learning experience. And, and none of the failures, they’re not going to get to a point that is going to significantly impact the company in a negative way. Those types of things I would be involved with our team across the team would be involved. And that’s the benefit of that communication cadence and meeting cadence. So failure on certain things, it goes back to the elephants and squirrels is on squirrels and small and medium things. Those are really great places for learning and development across the team.

Gene Hammett [17:06]
I want to go back to one thing that you said Justin, around your decision framework. A lot of the companies know that they either have a decision framework, that they’re empowering people to make their own decisions own the results behind that. But they haven’t put forth either the guidelines for that, you know, keep them safe, or they are missing something else. What do you think is missing to make that more clear with your team?

Justin Bakes [17:34]
Yeah, I think a framework is really difficult. Because especially in a growing company, you’re breaking barriers every day, you’re doing something today and tomorrow that you didn’t have to face or do yesterday. So a framework, in my view is is is is difficult, I think there’s a level of confidence and in the team and watching them succeed, so that they continue to have to feel empowered to make those decisions. So is there necessarily a framework so that someone can look in a document that they can say, Okay, this is a decision I can make this is not, no, that’s not the case. It’s, it’s really a walk, jog, run. And, and getting positive, getting momentum around that and having conversations around it, and, and, frankly, myself, and, and, and our president saying, okay, we’re okay with this decision, it might not be the way that we did it, we would do it ourselves. But being okay with it. And again, that builds a lot of confidence, motivation, empowerment.

Gene Hammett [18:36]
You know, that’s a pretty evolved leadership style to be okay with someone doing it a different way from you, and letting them kind of own their decisions behind this. And, and, and being okay with a failure, because failure is a part of the journey. And it’s not just, you know, a chance to learn it really is just the way we grow.

Justin Bakes [19:00]
Yeah, I would say it’s, again, in terms of things that I’m working on. That is a muscle, I’m working on something we’re working on every day, am I perfect at it? No. But I think the first step, and the second step is recognizing the importance of it. And that’s what we’re working towards. And I think that that honestly is going to be the reason for our success in the future is is that empowerment.

Gene Hammett [19:22]
Here’s the one final question this stream around, you know, addressing that balance between the day to day and the balance of being the visionary is, and this is one of those coaching questions that I want you to process this for just a beat is Who do you need to be the visionary that your team deserves?

Justin Bakes [19:41]
Who do I need to be the visionary in my team deserves? It’s a very deep question. think that maybe I’ll answer it in this way is what I need to be comfortable with. And and and is that Being involved being busy being in the middle of everything, I’m having that feeling that I need to be uncomfortable with not needing to do that. And let me maybe explain that a little bit better. Again, starting the company and growing the company, I am the center, I’m the hub and their spokes, really not in decisions and things come around me would come around as an early entrepreneur. Now being comfortable with not being the the hub for all the decisions being busy all day, having the packed calendar, being comfortable with that, and that transition is I would say, that’s, that is what I’m going through as a leader right now.

Gene Hammett [20:43]
You know, I want to paraphrase that for a little bit. And I could be wrong with this, but you need to be confident in your team.

Justin Bakes [20:51]
I would say, and I’m confident in the team, I would say, being in whitespace, having whitespace focused on external relationships, there’s not you don’t have a success, that to measure the next day, you’re not necessarily crossing something off the checklist and say, you know, revenues grew, or we hit our mark this month, or Yeah, you know, tomorrow, I guess being comfortable with having long term objectives. And having the successes come over the long term versus being focused on immediate results, that’s probably a better way to say it as a CEO, being comfortable in that environment, when I’m very used to growing a Fast Company and, and things are immediate, and goals are shorter term, being focused on the longer-term bigger things and being confident, comfortable with, with getting there.

Gene Hammett [21:45]
I love that. I want to wrap this up with just a little bit of questionings. On that whitespace, I think you’re exactly right. You can’t measure whitespace impact by immediate sales growth or you know, immediate hiring of that next key executive. But when you have to balance these things, when you think about creating more whitespace, how are you scheduling that? or How are you creating that space in your calendar?

Justin Bakes [22:17]
Yeah, I think. So what I’ve done is, instead of creating goals of what I’m going to accomplish with the whitespace, they’re very, a lot of it is unknown, what I’ve focused on is is creating a process and specific goals around things I am going to do in specific actions that I’m going to take focused on the process and having faith that the end result will be there, whether it’s it’s it’s relationships, certain relationships, and establishing those, whether it’s reworking my internal calendar, those types of things. So a list of those, and being confident and the successes of the process related things that will it have always resulted in positive end results. And so that’s how I’ve gotten comfortable with it, or I’m in the process of getting comfortable with it.

Gene Hammett [23:14]
Yeah, it’s always in a process, right. And I like the fact that you’re focused on the process. What is the one thing when you look at your calendar that you wish was different than it is today?

Justin Bakes [23:24]
For me, I like to think of things that give me energy and drain energy. Energy draining for me is a day when I am back to back to back calendar context switching. And, and it’s, it’s exhausting. And I feel like I’m not doing the company justice in that. And so I would say that’s the one thing that I’ve, that has been energy draining. And so that’s, that’s one thing that I’ve been working on. And frankly, we’re trying to do that across the company, because if I’m feeling that others are feeling that, and trying to promote that within.

Gene Hammett [24:06]
You know, it’s exactly that some of the things that I’ve worked in with my own life my clients are working with. And so I appreciate you sharing this journey with me in this little coaching experience, we would go much deeper if it was really a private one on one coaching, we get into the heart of this, but I wanted to get you more clear about this, this concept here. My final question for you is this. And I probably know the answers. It’s one of that kind of rhetorical kind of question but I just want you to be really clear about it. It is a challenge to be a visionary. And to be a part of the day to day and balance those The more you let go of the day to day and trust that the team is in you know empowered to make those decisions and your your your your president is leading the team the way it wants to and building the culture and it’s really doing all this without you The more you can Spend time being the visionary that’s a given. But if you’re not doing the visionary work, who is?

Justin Bakes [25:06]
Yeah, that’s the importance of it.

Gene Hammett [25:10]
What’s the answer to that?

Justin Bakes [25:12]
It’s not happening. You’re we’re, we’re in a, we’re in a firefighting mode and one foot in front of the other versus looking 123 years ahead. And, and so that’s that. That’s the importance of and what we realized and why we’re working on it.

Gene Hammett [25:29]
I’m putting the spotlight on that for a second because I’ve had many clients that have gone through this before. And they’re like, they’re really fighting with the need to be visionary, you can’t measure it as well. It feels like they’re not really working. Because they’re, sometimes they’re thinking like, I had a client the other day that says, You know, I don’t make time for myself just to sit on the back porch and think, and it doesn’t look like work, but it is the work as a visionary. And I asked him the same question, who’s doing it if he’s not doing it? And his answer is the same as yours, no one. So that’s how important it is. For you to create that space to be the visionary look out three years, look around the corners, look at your competition. And all of those things don’t happen unless you make that commitment. And you get that right.

Justin Bakes [26:17]
Very much. So.

Gene Hammett [26:19]
Well, I appreciate you playing with me here, Justin. Any questions you have for me before we can wrap this little session up?

Justin Bakes [26:27]
None at the moment. This has been great Gene, always appreciate your insight and time. So thank you for it.

Gene Hammett [26:33]
Well, let’s wrap up today’s message with this if you’re tuned in to see a little bit about optimizing your time. Today, we’ve been talking with Justin about his struggle with what really is the most important at this stage of the company, 200 employees, he’s building this team, they’re pretty optimized. And his job in this next vision of himself is to be a visionary and to let go of the day to day and step into a place where he can see beyond today, and look around the corner for this. And if you’re having similar struggles, I’d love to connect with you. I’d love to, you know, probe into what’s really going on into the heart of it. This is what I do for a living as an executive coach.

Gene Hammett [27:16]
So I remind you, that if you will have any questions around that, make sure you look up my website, you can find some free resources. But more importantly, you can actually get on the phone with me and have a chat about what’s going on in your world. who must you be to be the success you want in your life. 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.


The OYT Coaching Series with Justin Bakes



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