Innovation that comes from the top will be limited. Companies that can embrace forward-thinking at all levels will have innovation from everyone. Leaders that want more innovation must see the power of forward-thinking. Today’s guest is Steve Thies, CEO at Integrated Biometrics. Inc Magazine ranked his company #2043 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. They have made this list six consecutive times. Integrated Biometrics designs and produces the world’s most mobile and reliable FBI-certified fingerprint sensors. Steve gives his perspective on creating a workplace filled with forward-thinking. We look at innovation and how to inspire it across the organization. Forward-thinking is an essential part of how this company has continued to grow.
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Steve Thies: The Transcript
About: Steve Thies was the CEO of Integrated Biometrics. He is now a Board Member of Integrated Biometrics. He has more than 35 years of business management and leadership experience with an emphasis in operations; more than 18 years in C-level positions; more than five years in the biometric industry and is the past president of Purolator Products, Spartanburg Stainless, Spartanburg Steel, and Mark IV Automotive Aftermarket. He holds a BSME from the Missouri School of Science & Technology. He is a contributor to news outlets in multiple industries on the subject of identity and biometrics.
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.
Steve Thies: If you’ve got something that customers want, it’s most likely a result of having developed something new. So if you want to stay ahead of the game, you’ve got. , what they’re thinking about what their needs are. You’ve got to know what their future needs are. And you got to know the limitations that your customers are faced with with the current products and services that they’re receiving. So innovation is how you get there. I mean, if you, yeah, a lot of times it’s hard to do unless there’s a, you know, just a survival kind of instinct in the business. We’ve got to do something different to be able to win here. What can we possibly do that? Survival drive can cause you to create a shortcut. And get there quicker than your competition and create that sustainable growth that you’re looking for. So innovation is just, it, it’s just part of staying ahead of the competition and it’s part of, you know, anticipating your customer’s future needs.
Intro: Welcome to grow, 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: Do you want your employees to innovate? Do you want them to be forward thinkers? Well, today’s episode is just for you. If you’re a visionary leader who really wants to create more innovation across the company, and we have a few things that you can do to tune in to that today on this episode, when you think about innovation and you think about where the company is going. Are you playing at your highest level? Well, I think a lot of companies have room for improvement here. In fact, I know as a leader of a fast-growing company, it’s hard to always be thinking about innovation when everything is working at an okay level the way it is. But I really do believe that sometimes you’ve got to be looking beyond today’s levels of results or innovation, and really look at what you are able to bring tomorrow and to be able to rally everyone around innovation and being a forward thinker is all about today’s episode. We have the CEO of Integrated Biometrics or an Inc level company. They were number 1247 in 2020. And we have the CEO, Steve Thies with us today, he talks about the reason for innovation and really why it’s so important in today’s world. But he also talks about how you get there. And it’s not just one person or a department to do innovation. It’s actually a bottoms-up approach. We talk about the specific thing that he does inside his organization, culture that allows that to happen. We also look at what really is necessary to connect people through the difficult times of working remotely.
His employees are in 12 different time zones, so they always have remote components to their work schedules. And so what he’s been doing recently has been able to connect them together through small videos. The details are inside today’s interview. Now, let me pause for a second here. If you are a visionary leader or you want to be, then make sure you have what it takes and you’re showing up exactly the way you need to for your team. It’s not about what you’re doing, but it’s about who you’re being. That’s so important to be a visionary leader. And this confuses you a little bit. Do you want to know? Would allow you to step up to the highest level, make sure you check out my website, GeneHammett.com, where you can go to start the journey. Starting the journey to be a visionary leader is something that I have been giving to visionaries just like yourself, Inc level leaders. Those that want to be better, more effective. And all you have to do is go to GeneHammett.com and find your way to start the journey.
Now let’s go into the interview with Steve,
Steve, how are you?
Steve Thies: I’m good. Gene. I’m really good.
Gene Hammett: Excited to have you on the podcast. We’re going to be talking about innovation today and forward-thinking before we dive into that, tell us about, Integrated Biometrics.
Steve Thies: Sure. We’re a fingerprint sensor, manufacturer, designer, and manufacturer. We’re kind of a fast-growth company. We’ve been on the last. Well, prior to COVID, 17, 18, 19, we went, you know, we’ve grown about 70% for a year kind of flat this year because of COVID. , you know, what we do is we make a fingerprint sensor for governments worldwide use for enrolling people, in databases, you could be a, , could be a national ID database with, it could be elections. Of course, we’re not using those for elections here in the United States yet, but maybe someday. , and you know, you see governments worldwide mandating biometrics as a form of identity. , it’s really very, very popular, in all the developing worlds where people don’t have traditional forms of identity. So, you know, we, we, have about 75 employees. We shipped products to over 80 countries worldwide. , we’ve got, we’re a very virtual company, headquartered in South Carolina with a lab and, , R and D lab in Arizona, manufacturing and an execution arm in South Korea with some subcontractors in South Korea, Taiwan, and other parts of Asia.
We’re about 10 years. We’ve got a pretty extensive intellectual property portfolio. , we have, you know, our, our growth has been driven by our technology. We’ve got a new technology in the space that we’re serving, in the fingerprint biometric area. , we anyway, that’s a little bit about us, Gene. Want some more?
Gene Hammett: Well, I’m going to dive into some of your leadership and culture strategies that help you grow so fast. But I do have a question about biometrics and whatnot. At what point do you think that we’re going to have to, we can let go of the password, the traditional password, and have just by a metrics on our computers and on our smartphones, we’ll be looking at five years out, 10 years out.
Steve Thies: Yes. It’s a long way. I mean, you know, we still have spare tires in the trunks of our cars and cars had been running around. 50 or 100 years. And why do we have them there? We have them just in case. So passwords are going to be there for a long time. It’s, it’s more than five or 10 years, I believe. As long as you’ve got a device that you interface with your fingers and stuff, the passwords will always be there as a backup, for when you power down or when you power up, you know, the resets of your biometrics, won’t always be there. So they’re going to be there in a long time, but we’ll become more dependent on, on, on the, on the real biometrics and password over that time,
Gene Hammett: I’m just always curious about that. Cause I get tired of remembering so many passwords and I’m sure others listening in can agree with me. Steve, you had a chance to talk with someone on my team about, you know, what really are the underlying factors to you’re building a company that’s grown so fast, making the Inc list, consistent growth is what we really focus on here. You talked about innovation. and forward-thinking, why did those topics so important for a fast-growth company?
Steve Thies: Well, you know, if you’ve got something that customers want, it’s most likely a result of having developed something new. So if you want to stay ahead of the game, you’ve got. , what they’re thinking about what their needs are. You’ve got to know what their future needs are. And you got to know the limitations that your customers are faced with with the current products and services that they’re receiving. So innovation is how you get there. I mean, if you, yeah, a lot of times it’s hard to do unless there’s a, you know, just a survival kind of instinct in the business. We’ve got to do something different to be able to win here. What can we possibly do that? Survival drive can cause you to create a shortcut. And get there quicker than your competition and create that sustainable growth that you’re looking for. So innovation is just, it, it’s just part of staying ahead of the competition and it’s part of, you know, anticipating your customer’s future needs.
Gene Hammett: You look back over your history and, you know, I’m sure you’ve had other businesses or, you know, worked in other industries. Would you say that you were pretty innovative back in the day or is this something that you’ve really focused on through this current business? ,,
Steve Thies: you know, personally, I’ve always, I’ve always been pretty good at understanding what was the problem that was in the middle of the situation that we’re trying to solve. And I, this is my third, third basic career. I spent 25 years in the automotive aftermarket world and then another 10 in the automotive OEM world, and now 10 years in the biometric space. So, personally, you know, my, my personal success has been driven by thinking outside the box and just, you know, recognizing it’s not these aren’t strokes of genius. It’s hard work. I mean, you’ve got to, you’ve got to get input from a lot of places to come up with innovative ideas that are going to help you be successful in the marketplace.
Gene Hammett: We were kind of joking before we cut their recorder on today that if you had to come up with all the ideas yourself your company probably wouldn’t be where it is today, but, but the reality is these ideas are probably coming all across your company. They’re probably coming from, from people that are on the front lines, middle level, in my true and thinking that?
Steve Thies: Gene, you know, the whole, our whole company is, runs on kind of a 90-day cycle. , we, we autopsy what we’ve done in the last 90 days. And we look forward the next 90 days, what we need to do in everybody, all 75 employees in our company are involved in these quarterly planning sessions. So we’ve created a culture here of idea. , ideas are good. I mean, all ideas are good. Some are better than others is kind of what we use. And so it’s, it’s that, willingness to listen. , and not, you know, not making fun of, or downplaying anybody’s ideas because the best ideas come from the strangest places.
Commentary: Now, hold on for a second, Steve just said, all ideas are good, some are better than others. Well, when you think about all ideas are good. Do you have a way to listen to those on the front lines? Because I know fast growth leaders and companies, they believe that everyone can have great ideas. In fact, they do believe that others in the organization that have their finger on the pulse are on the front lines of customer service, sales, marketing, and even operations can create better innovations inside the business, but you have to be willing to listen to those ideas. You have to be willing to organize them. You have to be willing to do something with them. Every employee wants to contribute in a bigger way. If you give them the space, I study how people lead others to feel like owners. Well, one of the key ideas behind that is to see that all ideas are important, not just the ideas of the executive team. Back to the interview with Steve,
Gene Hammett: I want to dive into this 90-day cycle. , when you think about how you do that, is there a certain structure to that 90-day cycle that allows you to get the most out of it? Cause you’ve been, you’ve probably been doing this for a while. What would you share with us on that structure?
Steve Thies: Yeah, we’ve been doing it for about three and a half years. It dovetails nicely with our growth success and yeah, the structure, the structure is pretty straightforward what’s working. What’s not working. There’s a lot of prep works. You know, you come to the meeting with a list of things that have worked and not things that aren’t working and we can come out of the meeting with them, what we’re going to do about it. we, we, we start with the bottoms up. The lower part of the organization meets a week before the upper part of the organization. And then we bring that all together in it’s about a three-day event for our executive team that we, our leadership team that we spend every 90 days. And so it’s, it takes a week out of our quarterly process and it gives us our quarterly marching orders. And it’s a good process. It’s very thorough.
Gene Hammett: You mentioned something about bottom-up. I think a lot of organizations probably have similar kinds of things, but they do it pretty much at the executive level and they push those ideas down through the marketplace, but you’ve decided to start with the people that are on the front lines. Why is that so important to the business?
Steve Thies: The bottoms-up piece, the bottoms-up pieces. Just, I mean, if you tell people, you know, figure out how to make this work well, they may take a bad idea and make a bad idea of work. When, when the whole time, you know, somebody has got a better idea that, you know, the guys at the top haven’t, haven’t thought about, I mean, the real experts in any business, in any store in any service are the ones that are on the front lines, the ones that are putting things together, talking to customers or stocking the shelves or, or developing the code or interfacing with the, with the customers. You know you got to treat those, those folks with the respect that they deserve because they’re the experts. I mean, the further up you go in your organization, you know, maybe the broader your knowledge, but not, not this, the strength on the focus your knowledge.
Gene Hammett: Love that. That’s really so true, Steve, from all the interviews I’ve seen in my experience with my clients, I want to kind of go deeper into this whole idea of innovation. When you are encouraging innovation across the culture, what are some of the things that we would see in the way you engage with your team members, to make that innovation happen?
Steve Thies: Well, you know, I would say that, I’ve always been a student of, how to get people to, participate. , early in my life, a long time ago, I took a Dale Carnegie class, which is all about how to get people to like you and how to get people excited about their idea. And listening. I mean, listening skills, just, paying attention to people, meeting their needs, being a servant leader. I’ve, I’ve read a lot of books in my lifetime and you know, I’ve tried what was in those books. I tried Dale Carnegie when I was 25 years old. And guess what? It works. It works every time, you know, and people. That was really neat Steve, the way you worked through that situation. So, I mean, it’s, if you go at this stuff and you’re curious, I, I’m not, I’m not a genius. I just have worked hard. I’ve applied myself and, I’ve, I’ve learned to listen to others and follow the advice of others and they’ll help guide them, they guide the process a lot. But anyway, I’m a student, I’m a student of good leadership practice. And I found that it works.
Gene Hammett: Steve, when you talk about listing, I think a lot of leaders think they have good listening skills. , what’s a story that you could share with us about when you realize that you could listen at a deeper level and that really made an impact on the way you were leading your team?
Steve Thies: Oh, well, well, most recently, you know, we do, we do 360 reviews here at, at integrated biometrics and I, and I, I had one done on me and I still get zapped a little bit for, for not listening. , and, the idea that I could still improve as is strong with me, my team, that my team has said to me, Hey, Steve, you know, we’re going to do this. I gave you give me this. This is kind of the big X. They gave me this big X if they don’t think I miss listening. So, you know, I’ve taught my team to, provide me with visual feedback if they catch me, not listening. , and, that’s, you know, that only works. If your team feels comfortable blowing the whistle on the boss. You know, if the, if the, if you don’t feel comfortable blowing the whistle on the boss, well, the boss hasn’t given you the permission that he needs to. So I’ve given my team. They blow the whistle on me whenever they think I’m, out of bounds on, on listening, or some other things we have, we have another thing that I have a habit for ready fire aim, as opposed to ready aim fire. So we, we, we’ve got another slogan for ready fire aim, behavior to
Commentary: Hold on for a second. Steve just talked about the need for 360-degree feedback. I’ve had a lot of leaders want to have feedback from their team. They want to have a really solid understanding of what others are thinking about their own leadership about what’s missing, but where the gaps are. And the best way I’ve found to do that is to have an outsider come in like myself to actually ask questions and to be able to have these interviews with your staff. To be able to get to the heart of it because many times they won’t tell you directly, but they will tell from an external third party, someone that really wants to improve the leadership of the organization. And we’ll give you that feedback. I can organize it for you. I can give you some very specific things that you can do to improve so that you become a stronger leader. If you want to know more information about that and make sure you reach out to me, , check out the website, Gene at GeneHammett.com go to start your journey. And you can find out more about being a visionary leader. And at 360-degree feedback is something we can include in that process. Back to the interview with Steve,
Gene Hammett: I guess I’m kind of curious what is that? , when they, when they realize that you’re jumping ahead of the game there and doing ready, fire aim?
Steve Thies: We have a, we have a code word that we use. We use the word crocodile.
Gene Hammett: Okay. , well I love the fact that you’re creating a space for people to feel psychologically safe. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Google study around, what makes high-performing teams work and what they found was it wasn’t just talented people, but it was, a sense of psychological safety so that their ideas are shared openly. And people look at things and discuss these things. , have you thought about that intentionally for psychological safety or just something you picked up in your journey? ,
Steve Thies: You know, , I think, 360 reviews and peer reviews, help people, get more comfortable with that. Although we’re, culturally Integrated Biometrics we’ve got a large number of our employees who are from Korea, work in Korea and, and what works in America. Doesn’t always work in Korea. What works in Korea. Doesn’t always work in America. So the culturally it’s more difficult for psychological safety. It’s in the, in the [00:16:00] Korean environment because it’s very, hierarchial in the US here, it’s been easier with my team. , although, you know, you get personalities. , it’s not perfect. I mean, you’ve got to manage, you got to manage through where you got conflicts and, bring people back into the, into the camp if they’re outside the camp. And quite frankly, I’ve always said that peers will have more, more influence on their peers than bosses do. If the peers are all getting along, the peers will make progress happen. If the peers aren’t getting along, they’ll, they’ll, they’ll, they’ll send somebody off the island, you know, they’ll kick somebody off the island because just through their own behavior. , it’s, so anyway, I don’t know if that answers your question, Gene.
Gene Hammett: It does. I want to wrap us up with this, a couple more questions around forward-thinking because a lot of people understand what innovation is, but when you had mentioned that your company has grown so fast because of forward-thinking, what were the specific things that came, come to mind when you think about a culture that is forward-thinking?
Steve Thies: Well, again, it’s a, it’s an outgrowth of the 90-day planning process is what I would say. Then, the night 90 day, 90-day planning process forces you to think about what’s what you need to get done in the next 90 days. And then at the, you know, those quarterly sessions, we, we sit back and say, we spent just a little bit of time on 12 months out and three years out, you know, we, in five years out, we spend enough time on there to have a dream and have a vision, and to be thinking of always thinking about how we’re going to get there, how we’re going to get there. So the 90-day plan is a., great. So a lot of emphasis on it. , and, I would just say that I, you, you’ve got to, if trying to grow, you’ve got a goal, you set a big, hairy goal about where you’re trying to go. You got to think outside the box, how you gonna get there. , that takes, takes the whole team to say, well, what if we did this?
What if we did that? You’ve gotta be willing to start with new ideas, try them out. You gotta be willing to fail. , you gotta be willing to, see whether this was going to stick. You gotta have good input, from customers and from the industry needs, et cetera. So, I would say most of it’s, the attitude of, staying customer-focused and getting things done and, work working on the stuff that we know we need to fix. The what’s not working.
Commentary: If you happen to listen to this on iTunes or your phone in any way, do you know that we have a YouTube account? Well, we put some special videos inside of our YouTube account. If you want to be a better leader, if you want to be more visionary, if you want to create the time and space for you to think like a leader, then make sure you go to GeneHammett.com/YouTube where you can actually subscribe and you can get absolutely the best content out there for fast-growth companies. And the leaders that want to continue that growth, just go to GeneHammett.com/YouTube.
Gene Hammett: I want to ask you one more question here. And sometimes I get nervous asking this question, but a lot of fast-growth companies have a particular emphasis on the values of the company so that people and their employees know what’s important. Do you guys have what you, what I would call is like truly living the values of the company, or is that something that you kind of just, you guys know what to do and you don’t need to focus on the values as much?
Steve Thies: Well, we’ve, we’ve done the value assessment. , and you know, we have identified what we consider our three core values, which are, get things done, be personally accountable and be customer-focused and, those there’s a whole bunch of words behind each of those, further adjectives. , you know, when to get things done, you have to work through other people to be accountable. You have to have good integrity to be customer-focused. You have to be have good listening skills, internal and external customer focus. So we, you know, I, I do actually have, during the COVID year here, I’ve been doing, biweekly videos with all employees, every two weeks, five or seven minutes about what’s going on in a company with an emphasis on the values that whole time. So we have spent a lot of time communicating the values. I believe. When we, we, we are so customer focused when a customer calls us, it’s like, you know, w we’re all arms, all over that, all over that problem of, we got a customer issue, , and you know, people who don’t get things done, you know, they, they kind of stand thing. They kind of stand out to the group that kind of group, the group kind of self polices a little bit that way as well.
Gene Hammett: I want to just make sure this is completely clear to me. I love the idea that biweekly videos around what’s going on and having a focus on values. Is that a one-way kind of video experience that you create and then just broadcast? Or is it a live where they can tune in? Ask question. , do you guys handle that?
Steve Thies: We’re we’re at 75 employees. , in 80, we have, we have about 12 different time zones that we’re in. So when it’s eight o’clock at night in, in America, it’s 10 o’clock in the morning in Korea, when it’s six o’clock in the morning in the United States, it’s eight o’clock at night in South Korea. And I got, I got a guy in South Africa. I got, I got, a fellow down in Peru, so it’s a. Of course, it’s a one-way porch. I do take input from the team and respond to their questions. , and it’s, it’s very short. It’s five to seven minutes. It’s, you know, usually some spotlight on an employee or to some new development, the company, some customer news, the values it’s usually, I, I try to make it positive all the time. You know, a little bit of recognition for everyone, but it’s a, it’s a, it’s one-way communication.
Gene Hammett: I mean, I get it with that many times zones. It’s, not so traditional company to have 12 times zone. So I’m making it work for you and sharing what you believe on a consistent basis, I think is what you believe in. And that’s what connects people together. So, Steve, I wanted to just say thank you for being here on the podcast.
Steve Thies: Thank you, Gene. My pleasure Have a nice day.
Gene Hammett: So as we wrap up this podcast, if you’re listening in to this and you found some good ideas, maybe it’s the 90-day planning cycle, or maybe it’s the, I should be doing some 360-degree feedback, or maybe it’s just this idea about bi-weekly videos to connect people together to what’s going on in the company and reinforced the values. All of these are just small things that you can do to be a better leader. Now, one of the things that I would say that is important for you as a leader is to really understand who you are, how you’re showing up as a leader, and what’s missing. That’s what I do as an executive coach. If you have any questions, make sure you reach out to me at GeneHammett.com you can find free resources. I’d love to help you be the visionary leader that your team deserves and you think of growth and you think of culture. Make sure you 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.
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