Handsoff Leadership is Not Lazy Leadership with Peter Ranzino at Learning Sciences

Founders love to get deeply involved in the company. However, there comes a time when you have to take a different approach. Modern leaders like to have hands-off leadership. Today’s guest is Peter Ranzino, President at Learning Services. Inc Magazine ranked his company #535 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. Learning Sciences, L.L.C. is a Louisiana-based learning and development company specializing in the deployment of web-based learning and management systems. Peter and I talk about hands-off leadership to empower the people. He shares how he approaches it so you can be a better leader. Discover why hands-off leadership creates long-term growth.

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Peter Ranzino: The Transcript

About: Peter is the founder of Learning Sciences, L.L.C. He has over 25 years’ experience in the design, development, and deployment of web-based learning environments. Peter has worked with various Fortune 1000 clients, governmental agencies, and smaller companies of all sizes. As founder and former President of a nationally recognized eLearning development company, he designed many of the company’s products and services including its proprietary Learning and Talent Management System that was later acquired. He also created the Multimedia Training Network, a web-based training network that was also acquired by a large corporate concern.

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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.

Peter Ranzino: You have to let important. You have to make sure employees not just understand your vision or understand your direction, but they need to understand where they’re at in the company as a part of that vision and direction. And once you’re able to communicate that, once they’re able to understand that and they will begin to own that job, they’ll begin to take more pride in their work is what we say. When we began working with just those three simple rules, you know, it made things simple. It was very easy to understand. And would it allow people to do what was the, say, this is my piece of the pie.

Intro: 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: Sometimes leaders that have a hands-off approach are thought of as. But let me tell you hands-off leadership is so not lazy because there’s a lot of work that it takes for you to create the space for people to grow for you to help them align to the strategy, help them understand what’s next for them. And it’s not just about what to do next. It’s about who they’re becoming in their roles. Every company I’ve talked to that understands hands-off leadership talks about the importance of people taking ownership. And you’re absolutely right because you want people to feel like owners inside their company. I’ve done hundreds of episodes, and this is one of the most dominant themes across the podcast. Is people feeling like owners? In fact, I’m writing my next book about this whole concept of inspiring people to feel like owners, even without financial tools like stock options and anything that revolves around money. You want people to feel like owners today.

We’re going to talk about hands-off leadership with the CEO of Learning Sciences. They were number 535 on the INC list. We are with Peter Ranzino, Peter shares his perspective of hands-off leadership and what it really has meant for his company, what it is and what it’s not. We look at one thing that’s really important, which is a failure. How important is failure inside of our culture? He says these words, I’ve never fired anyone from making mistake. Could you say the same? Because he wants to create a place where people feel safe, that they’re learning from those mistakes and they’re moving forward. We go through the depths of what it takes to create hands-off leadership inside this interview with Peter.

Let me pause here for a second. If you are looking to evolve as a leader and you really think about what’s next for you, but you’re not sure what is next. Then I can help you. I know exactly how to create the space for you to see the blind spots create a space for you to be challenged, and really help you get more clear about who you are as a leader. And what’s next, I’ve been doing this for more than a decade, and I’d love to serve you. If you feel like you’re a leader that wants to grow to the next level. You want to take your company to the next level to make sure you look at everything I have available at genehammett.com. If you want to have a conversation with me, go to start your journey and you can actually sign up for a little chat with me where we actually get really clear about what’s next for you. If you want a game plan, make sure you go to genehammett.com.. Now here’s the interview with Peter.

Hi, Peter. How are you?

Peter Ranzino: I’m doing fine. How are you, Gene?

Gene Hammett: Fantastic, excited to have you on the Growth Think Tank to talk about leadership and growth and all things that that really driven and been major company successful. Tell us a little bit about your work there at leaders, Learning Sciences. Sorry.

Peter Ranzino: Well at Learning Sciences, we’re a learning and development company. And our job is to take the learning needs of our clients and to be able to bring that to their employee base. So we have teams of instructional designers, web developers, IT folks that all work together to build a blended approach, to help fit that need at Learning Sciences. And, , we work in a variety of different markets industries from. Mostly in the information, entertainment, field to all and gas. And we do a lot of public agency, state agency type of work as well.

Gene Hammett: Well, that gives us an idea of what you guys do. I’m going to tell your curveball right off the top of the pitch here. What really irritates you about the industry you’re in that you could share with us, because I’m sure you guys are addressing that, but what irritates you about that industry?

Peter Ranzino: Ah, man, that comes from our a couple of different things. , what really irritates me about our industry is to be quite frank. There are, we’ve been doing what we do for a very long time. We started our first learning and development company in 1995. What we do have, and I think a lot in a lot of industries is you have a lot of what I would consider thought leaders. Right. And these are people who are putting on trade shows, putting on various different, types of presentations that are speaking to the client base and basically giving them a very high-level sale of what something should look like. And how something should work. We live down to earth. We live on the role of having to execute. We sometimes don’t have the luxury of having these big four thoughts of what something should look like because when we turn on a learning, okay. Oh, we turn on a system. We could be hitting as many as 20,000 employees in one day.

And so what happens a lot of time, people will go to these trade shows and they’ll get a lot of this forethought. From these forward-thinking folks and it’s not about execution, we have to execute. So what we have to do is talk them down off the cliff, so to speak, and bring them back down to reality so that we can actually execute their learning product. And that is the one thing that has always irritated me a little bit, , to be just blunt, honest with you is that you know, you get, you just have to talk the client down off the cliff at times and get them back down to reality. Of what’s real and what’s not because their job like ours is to reach this 20,000 employees. And you’re going to do that one time with one message. And so you’ve got to really get down to reality. So

Gene Hammett: I’ve never asked that question before, but something told me to ask you and I can see it light upon your face about how you address this. You probably have to live it day in and day out, but I appreciate you going through that. Yeah. I know you’ve asked me to call you Pete.  That’s okay. Right?

Peter Ranzino: Please.

Gene Hammett: So, Pete, you have taken the company through probably many ups and downs, but were recently the Inc magazine listed you guys as number 535, which is a big honor, , represents. Your growth over the last three year period. So it’s consistent growth. You didn’t have one contract that just took you over the edge. You’ve done this consistently, but we’ve also done some research into your company and we found that your style of leadership is a little bit different than most. You would describe that as hands-off leadership. What does that mean to you?

Peter Ranzino: Well, you know, again, we’ve been doing this for a long time and, I’ve learned through many different styles of management, in trying different things too, to try and reach success and, or at least the success that I want to have, you know, again, their variety of different leadership styles. I now kind of have grown into more of a hands-off leadership style. And I think that comes from a couple of different things. One early in my career, I was a very young entrepreneur for lack of a better way to describe it. I was very authoritative. I was very, micromanaging and I wasn’t really listening to the people that I was paying really good money for, I was really directing what they would do, no matter what they were telling me, I just wasn’t listening. And while we achieved results, we didn’t really achieve the results we could have if I would have quite honestly sat back and listened. And that was just some things I didn’t do. And so over time, as I began to mature more as a. As a manager, as a leader, I began to begin to sit back and to think things through. I began to sit back and to listen more. And so it’s something that’s grown over time. And so I’m in a position now where, you know, It can be described as hands-off management.

And basically, you know, some people take are negative to that approach because they think it’s lazy or they think it’s, you’re pushing off responsibilities down to your more management team and holding them accountable for what you should be doing. And that’s needed the case, at least not within learning sciences. When you start beginning to take a little bit of a hands-off approach, which you are beginning to do. Is providing the people around you with more sense of ownership. They begin to own their job more and not just to work their job. And if you can create that mindset, people will accept more responsibility and they’re going to produce better results. And so it also, what it does for you is it frees up my time and also frees up our management team’s time. To go after additional opportunities that we normally wouldn’t because we, before we were micromanaging so much, we stopped looking at the bigger picture. And so hands-off management to me is not necessarily undone the bridles and just take your hands off the range.

You’ve got to set metrics, you’ve got to set goals, you’ve got to set objectives like any company will, and that becomes your guy. You know, that’s, that’s where you’re, you’re, you’re monitoring what’s going on and it helps you to keep the train on the tracks, but it also allows your employee base to give them the freedom that they need to be creative. We work in a very creative space, you know, we have very resourceful people and you’ve got to give them the freedom to do their job. At the best that they can do their job, which they’re going to do their job better than anything I could tell them how to do. And so once I began doing that, that success that you began talking about, I began to see it clearer and clear. I began to experience bigger and better projects and clients began giving us bigger projects. So for me, hands-off isn’t take your hands off the reins, but it’s just loosening up the rains enough to allow your employees to do their job and to do it better.

Commentary: Peter just talked about being authoritative, being directive, being a micromanager. And now that wasn’t working in his early days of leadership, now, a lot of people don’t really realize. That they’re being authoritative. They don’t realize they’re directing people and they certainly don’t realize they’re being a micromanager. I’ve never seen someone who actually is a micromanager, raise their hand and say, oh, that’s me because we know it’s not good. But some of the things that get in the way of this is really understanding what does it take for you to be the leader that your team needs to be? You must be clear in the identity and your leadership model that it takes to move your business forward. Now, if you only have a handful of employees, maybe you can play a little bit more directive, but if your current trying to create a culture where people think for themselves and you really want them to be empowered, you want them to feel a sense of ownership that you want to make sure you shift your model. If you have any questions about that, make sure you check out some of the free content we have at genehammett.com. Now, back to the interview with Peter.

Gene Hammett: You said something inside there that I want to put a spotlight on Pete, it’s all own their job. What will we see inside your organization or meetings or whatnot that lets us know that your people really own their job? Is there anything that stands out to you?

Peter Ranzino: Yeah, I mean, and we’ve kind of have a, basically three rules within our company of how we operate. And so this kind of came from a hands-off approach. It kind of began to develop as we began to establish a hands-off approach. And that is we have three basic rules of how we operate our company. We deliver as promised we deliver on time and we deliver under budget. Those were our three guiding rules. So every employee that’s hired. They’re explaining that here’s your employee handbook. These is the rules of engagement. However, this is how we operate this handbook is what tells you where you get your hospitalization plan, where you get your benefits. What’s your days on days off, whatever that might be. That’s the legal side of it, but the reality of how we operate as a company, these are our three guiding rules. How do you do that? We’re going to leave that up to you. You are a part of the ecosystem here, and you have to reach your objective. We’re going to allow you, we’re going to give you the freedom to do that in any way that you do, as long as you reach those three buckets.

When you do that, you’re creating ownership. When you create ownership, you create empowerment. People begin to own their job. They, you have to make sure that employees, and it took me a long time to learn this. You have to let employees, you have to make sure employees not just understand your vision. Or understand your direction, but they need to understand where they’re at in the company as a part of that vision and direction. And once you’re able to communicate that, once they’re able to understand that, then they will begin to own that job. They’ll begin to take more pride in their work is what we’ve seen when we began working with just those three simple rules, you know, it made things simple. It was very easy to understand. And what it allowed people to do was to say. This is my piece of the pie. And these are the three things I have to concentrate on in my ecosystem. And so that I can deliver that back to the company so that we can help the company reach its objectives. And in doing so, especially when you work in a creative field like we work in, it gives people freedom.

It gives them freedom of thought, freedom to be creative, and freedom to even own their own stuff. You know, these are your objectives. I don’t really put a ton. I’m not a clock watcher. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re going to do it between eight to five, which you can’t. That’s what, another thing about our business, you can’t dictate creativity Monday through Friday eight to five, you know, I actually had an experience with a, with a young man, brilliant graphic designer, phenomenal coder, really smart guy. He came to me one day and he said, I really work better at night and I really worked better alone. Right. I don’t like coming in in the morning. I want to come in at night. Would you mind try and experiment? Would you mind if I came in after everybody left and I’ll work till the morning, whatever my assignment is, it’ll be on your desk every morning. Set your day. We’ll try. So we did unbelievably successful. He produced more work in less time than three other guys sit next to him. So it’s about giving people the freedom that they need, especially in our business, because they’re all creative, resourceful thinkers. So you got to give them that space to do that.

And so our three little guiding rules, while as simple as it sounds on paper, you know, it gets kind of complicated really, but what you’re doing is you’re giving someone. Accountability. You’re giving them their own responsibility. They’re taking their own responsibility for themselves and for the work that they’re going to produce. And it ties back into your team approach.

Gene Hammett: Pete, when you shared the rules, I kind of light up around this. Cause I think it’s, it’s a guiding principle. You’re setting expectations are so many pluses to this, but there’s gotta be times when this is impossible. Either client was, you know, a little bit difficult or something like that. So how do you handle it in a hands-off leadership approach when these things are being challenged? Let’s say, well.

Peter Ranzino:  A couple of things we talked about, you’ve got to set natural. So you got to set expectations, you have to set guidelines. You know, we have our, you know, we used to have these, long-dated production meetings every week. Right. We kind of eliminated a lot of that. So now we’ve done short interval meetings, like really time, 20 minutes, we have 20 minutes to get through this now. You know, the clock stops, we’re all home. And so it’s during those times where issues are brought up, that can be taken outside of the conference room and managed, and the employees know, and all of our developers now they’re on the team, you know, and I will tell you, everybody on our team has been with us for five-plus years. And so we all understand. Or everybody understands that if there’s a problem that they can go to the guy next to him, or they can go to their immediate supervisor, they can come to me. Whomever and talk about the issue. It’s a philosophy that that opens up the door to this that, you know, I’ve never in my career have ever let anybody go because they made a mistake, right?

Mistakes happen, you know, and as long as you bring the mistake, And as long as we just look at the facts of the mistake and not the emotion of the mistake, then we can fix it. Right. And so, you know, it’s, it’s an open door and it’s not just an open door. You know, my philosophy is you’ve got an open-door office and that kind of stuff. It’s just, we talk openly. If there’s a problem with a client because of the way that we work in such a collaborative work environment, if that client that’s hard to get along with, isn’t just hard to get along with, with one graphic designer or with one developer. The whole team is on that same project. They’re touching it and pieces and parts. Everybody knows there’s a problem. And then it becomes a collective, a collective way to manage that. Sometimes we have to intervene, meaning we’ve got to go have a very hard talk with that client and say, look, you’re standing in the way of your own success right now. This is how we see it. Those are very, very Jean, very tough conversations that we’ve had have. But at the end of the day, we’ve always been able to pull it off a real quick side story for a second, we had a really large corporation. I don’t want to name, but big boy, big, big fortune boy. We got hired by the guy that hired us and who is, who hired us and was a senior vice president in charge of that project for his company.

He was just some of the roughest guide into business with, I mean, he pounded us day in, day out, nothing we could do. Right. It was just bad. So I got on the plane, flew over. We had a long conversation, things got better, but he continued that, that same approach. And we finally delivered. And when we delivered, it was exactly the way he wanted it. He was extremely happy. And to this day now he’s one of my best friends.

Commentary: Nope. Hold on a second. Peter’s just talked about short meetings. No, I’ve been challenged a lot in my class. To create space for shorter meetings. Yep. You got to create space for shorter meetings because something gets in the way of the way you’ve always done it. You want to make sure that you’re challenging some of the things that you’re doing, what I’ve seen across many, many companies, is it shorter meetings are actually better, a little bit more often meetings instead of infrequent, you have more frequency in my team, we do a daily standup. We don’t do it absolutely. Every day. There’s some travel things that come in and play, but we do. About four days a week on average. And it really allows us to align around what’s immediately needs attention, what we’ve completed, and where we’re doing inside of the work that we’re doing. As we serve leaders like yourself. I share all this with you because I want you to challenge yourself to shorten every meeting you have. You can shorten your one-on-ones. You can shorten your team meetings. You can short your all hands. I’m not saying that we need to cut out things that are really important, but sometimes we let these things go much longer. And if we create the space and challenged to make them shorter, that’s actually better. You think about it. It takes a lot, a lot more time and effort to write a short email because you want to make sure you get right. You want to delete certain sentences. But you can’t just send out a long email all the time. Well, the same thing with meetings. How can you create shorter meetings so that you serve your people better and that you serve yourself by creating space for you to do the work that’s most valuable for you? Just a word of wise for you as a leader back to Peter.

Gene Hammett: Love that. I want to make sure we land this conversation with something because we talked earlier in the week about what we would be talking about today. And it was really this hands-off leadership, but there was something you said in there, you, you touched on it here, but you said to me before we learn through mistakes, I don’t know if you know this, but my next book is around. How do you get people to feel like? Without a financial stake in the company, it’s really easy to give someone, you know, ownership and know our profit sharing and whatnot. Those, those financial tools are available, but there’s many other tools we can use as leaders to inspire that feeling about ownership. But one of them is, is creating a place of safety that mistakes happen, and we learn through failures. I’m sure you’ve learned this the hard way. Tell us just a little bit more about why that’s so important to create a culture where mistakes are actually okay. And we are able to lead through them, not just avoid them.

Peter Ranzino: Well, look, nobody’s perfect. Right? And everybody is going to make a mistake. I make mistakes all the time. I may not admit them as often as I should, but I did it. I make them all the time. So everybody makes mistakes. It’s a matter of. The intent of the mistake can dictate how you’re going to manage it. You know, how it happened, why it happened. Typically mistakes are made within my business because it’s just a breakdown of communication. That’s all, it really is. It’s a right down to communication. You know, the client wanted it blue and somehow down the road. It turned into red and it turned into this whole mushroom mobile problem over something that was just a communicated mistake. And so are we taking something out of context because we deal with a lot of very delicate, confidential information at times, and we may take something out of context. And so we have to go back out and rebuild it. It’s not about the mistake, to be honest with you, it’s really about to take the emotion out of it. Take the embarrassment out of it. Let’s just stick to the facts. And then once we do that, we can fix it, and then we can all move on together, and then it becomes the lesson learned. And hopefully, that mistake does happen, but again, but if it does, it’s okay. You know, and we’ve got to let all of our people know it’s okay, everybody’s going to make a mistake.

Nobody’s perfect. Never let anybody go for making a mistake. I have had some very hard conversations with people who hid their mistakes. Right, because that just compounded the mistake and made it worse. Right? So those were a little bit harder conversations, but everybody makes mistakes and you just, you just have to live through it. You’ve got to work through it. And then you have to put in measures depending upon the mistake to ensure that the likelihood of that happening again has been home tonight. And, but it’s, it’s a matter of trust. You also got to have trust, you know, and that’s the whole thing about hands-off management as well. Gene, it’s trust. I’m putting trust in my employees that they’re going to go do their job, right? They’re going to put trust in me. Then I’m going to give them the resources and the tools that they need to be successful in their job. So we are in trust, back and forth. They trust that they can come to me or they can go to their immediate supervisor with a problem.

I trust that I can go to them. That I have a problem because I’ve got X amount of work that has to be done in X amount of time. And we remember, we deliver one promise on time and on budget. So it’s going to be strainful for a while. They trust that I can trust that I can go to them and present my management problem to them and ask them for feedback on how do we out manage this. They trust that they can come to me with anything and talk about whatever issues that they’re having. Whether it’s a production issue, whether it’s a personal issue, whether it’s I made a mistake, you know, and it’s just it’s communication back and forth. Keeping those lines of communication open and accepting the fact that nobody’s perfect. That’s, it’s simplistic in my minds.

Gene Hammett: Peter, Thanks for sharing your wisdom on leadership and growth. We really appreciate it.

Peter Ranzino: Well, thank you I appreciate it.

Gene Hammett: So I typically wrap up the conversation in this post-interview. , Peter’s listing in here, make sure I get it all right. But what I really love about this episode is about really understanding that hands-off leadership is not about being lazy. In fact, there’s probably a lot of work. He’s just focused on developing people, giving them the confidence, trusting in them, giving them this, this feeling of ownership. And if you really have to evolve as a leader, This is a more, difficult place to get to and your leadership model, but it is a very powerful place to grow the company. And in fact, what I’ve seen across hundreds and hundreds of interviews is that those leaders that have this kind of thing. And this perspective of leadership actually performed better than those that are micromanaging by far, because they’re no longer the bottleneck of the business. The people are growing in such a powerful way, and it really does help the business grow.

When I think about. You know what your next step is as a leader. I want to make sure I remind you that if you are looking to evolve to the next level, you’re not sure what that next step is. You might want to check out the fast-growth boardroom. It’s a place where fast-growth leaders from the Inc 5,000 are coming, have conversations to be challenged, to grow, to communicate together, to create a community of fast growth insights with each other.

And that’s at fastgrowthboardroom.com. If you think you’re a good applicant, make sure you have. We’ll check it out. See if it’s a fit. When you think of leadership, you think of growth. Think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage. Well, 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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