Why Values Drive Growth with Steve McQuin at Farwell

Growth is a by-product of other things working inside our businesses. Those other things are not always clear to leaders. I have seen companies that make company core values a central part of the business grow faster than their peers. Values drive growth because they align people. Today’s guest is Steve McQuin, Co-Founder, President and CIO at FarWell. Inc Magazine ranked his company #4732 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. FarWell provides project execution services while being strategically prepared to manage and sustain change. Steve gives us his perspectives on why values drive growth. Discover the unique approaches they use to align people to their company core values.

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Steve McQuin: The Transcript

About: Steve is a driven leader, skilled at building strong client relationships and strategic partnerships. He understands market trends and has an eye for opportunity. Steve approaches change strategically to support FarWell’s clients’ initiatives. He simplifies complex situations to help leaders identify achievable organizational solutions. He’s our Chief Innovation Officer. In this role, Steve leads a team of ambitious advisors who use design-thinking to improve the way we work. As part of the Innovation Team, Steve helps to cultivate new services and solutions, operational improvements, and effective frameworks to enhance the efforts of FarWell and our clients.

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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.

Steve McQuin: We became much more narrow in focus, right? So it became a little easier to hire the right people. But that was also about the time we started really focusing on being intentional about our values. I think until that point, which is again, three, three and a half years in, you know, we started the company, always wanted it to be a place that Jason and I wanted to work for pretty laid back humble guys focused. We think on the right things for our team and customers. , but we had never really published our or articulated our values. , and we did that at that point. And once again, I think once we did that, things really changed for us, in a variety of ways.

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: Another episode on values. Why do we have so many conversations around the values of an organization? Its very simple values drive growth. When you understand how to leverage the values, it will help you select the right people, onboard them, help you develop those people, and even exit them out the door. A polite way that is more beneficial to the organization and to the individual than ever before. And that is the culture that you really want to be a part of. And those are the reasons why values are so important inside this. Oh, and by the way, it drives revenue. It drives profitability, it drives alignment. It drives customer satisfaction. It drives customer loyalty and employee loyalty. There are many other reasons and benefits behind values drive growth. But today in this episode we have with us co-founder of Farwell, Farwells a strategic company that does a lot of change management and process optimization. And we have with us, Steve McQuin, Steve and I talk about how the company was started in how they were not very focused and how they had to get focused in a part of that was really centering on the values of who they are and not who they hope to be the aspirational values.

So we answered the question inside this episode. , which is the better version of your values in an, I believe that it’s a hard one to answer, but Steve gives you his perspective and you can learn from that today. This whole episode is centered around helping you become a stronger, better leader. Now there’s many aspects of that. And many times there’s blind spots and things that get in the way of your own leadership. And I’m here to help you with that. If you want a game plan with me, you want to sit down and have a conversation where we really get to the heart of where you want to grow and what’s getting in your way, then just go to GeneHammett.com go to schedule your call and I’d love to support you through that growth. That’s all I’m asking for you to do is to check that out. If it’s a fit for you and you think I can help you get really clear about who you are and where you’re going and just go to GeneHammett.com. Now here’s the interview with Steve.

Hey, Steve, how are you?

Steve McQuin: Hey doing well, Gene.

Gene Hammett: Excited to have you on the podcast.

Steve McQuin: Yeah. Well, I appreciate you taking the time and inviting me. I’m excited to be here.

Gene Hammett: Well, you’ve made the Inc list we’ve already shared with our audience a little bit about you and what we talk about today, but I want you to tell us about the company. So tell us about Farwell.

Steve McQuin: Yeah, you bet. So we started, about eight years ago, my business partner and I, he’s the co-founder and CEO I’m co-founder and president, had worked for other regional consulting firms. We came up through tech and eight years ago. I had left my employer of about 14 years was looking for new opportunities. He was an independent consultant and ultimately, we had been friends and had worked together, you know, since the nineties and said, he said, well, why don’t you help me join? Or why don’t you join me? And help me take Farwell from an independent consultancy to a T right. Go beyond what I’m doing for my customers and build a team. So I was employee number one.

Gene Hammett: Well, that’s an incredible story. You guys have grown faster on the Inc list multiple times. And we’re going to talk about what does it take to get there? I know we’ve had some conversations with you and an offline. My team’s done some research around you and the company. What is, what do you think it takes to create a fast-growth company?

Steve McQuin: Yeah, great question. I mean, it helped, from our perspective and my perspective, certainly it helped to start with leaders that you have some trust in. Right.  So having one of your better friends, , be your partner. To start the company on a handshake deal, have confidence in it, give yourselves a year. Right? Hope that it all works out to pray. , that certainly clears the way, for any challenges that you’re going to have as you move forward. Right. Because you know, that trust is already there. People are working with the right intent. , and like most startups, I would say the first three years were just feeling our way into the market. We have built some relationships from our previous clients that we would take meetings with anybody that would take meetings with us. Right. Even though we didn’t have a whole big story, we had our reputations and our prior relationships. Right. We didn’t have a big suite of services. We didn’t have, you know. We have Jason. Right to deliver. And so, but within the first three years, opportunities came with those meetings and we were opportunistic. And when after things, and, I think what changed, three years in, we didn’t have sophisticated accounting systems, right? We didn’t have visibility to our financials here. We were going after all this business.

And we kind of had a wake-up call one day, Jason did his spreadsheet thing and was like, oh yeah, we need to stop doing a bunch of this stuff. Right. So that that’s, I guess that’s the first point back to your question is “Focus”.

Gene Hammett: A lot of businesses get in and they’re not quite sure what the model is and who they’re going to serve and what services really become this. It’d be much easier if we knew those things in advance. But what I’m hearing from you is you spent three years really figuring out kind of where you fit. Where you could provide value. And when you found that focus, walk me through just a little bit of the things that, that now you’re able to do that you weren’t able to do before.

Steve McQuin: Yeah. Great question. It was a pretty scary time, right? Because again, we didn’t have visibility until we did. And then what we did, you know, it sounds business bookie, but it’s like, Hey, we need to stop doing all the things we’re not as good at and focus on the things we are good at. It was almost like an immediate, I don’t know, it was like immediate lift off from that point. When we did that the distractions that had taken, taken us across, multiple customer segments, right on profitable business, all those distractions, not saying it was easy to kind of do that, but we had to do it quickly, or we were not, you know, we probably had three months if we didn’t make those drastic changes. Right. So as soon as we did that, though, we saw immediate improvement and then grow from there.

Commentary: Steve has talked about “Focus”. Now, this reminds me of about 20 years ago when I hired my first executive coach, I had about a million-dollar company and I was surrounded by people that weren’t getting the job done, but I had to move forward and I had to figure this out. And so I hired an executive coach, not because I was broken because I knew that I would figure it out faster with someone else. And her name was Linda. And Linda asked me a bunch of questions to help me figure out where my focus should be and how I move the business forward. And I remember one day I said, I had this problem and that problem, and this employee in this customer, and she sat back as many executive coaches does, and she’s not emotionally involved. And she said, who are your most profitable customers Gene? And that one question sent me into research mode that allowed me to understand how to change the business. Within two days, I had shut down 50% of the problems in my business, actually probably more like 80%, but 50% of the stuff I was focused on was no longer going to be a part of our, our plan forward. And Linda helped me do that. So this focus question really means a lot to me, because from that one question, I generated over $40 million and I’ve helped other clients generate hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. Just for that one question. Now your question might be a little bit different, but this is the power of coaching. And I’m going to share this story with you because it was a part of my life that made an impact. And it’s part of a reason why I am a coach today. Now back to Steve.

Gene Hammett: No, I know you had people probably when this was happening. So you had to align people to the new focused approach. Did you guys learn anything through that process of helping people align to a new direction?

Steve McQuin: Yeah. , I think some of it was, we had some people that weren’t part of the new direction, right. Because of the hard decisions we had to make. So we did have to take care of them too. And we did, we were able to help them find new homes, new jobs, right. And things like that. So, Really dissolve some of the business lines we were in. Right. That was part of the learning process. It’s like a, you know, maybe a little bit more cautious before you start spinning up things because there’s real, people’s lives at stake here. Right? So that’s one, one thing. The second though, is yes, we became much more narrow in focus. Right? So became. A little easier, to hire the right people. But that was also about the time we started really focusing on being intentional about our values. I think until that point, which is again, three, three and a half years in, you know, we started the company, always wanted it to be a place that Jason and I wanted to work. We’re pretty laid back. Humble guys focused. We think on the right things for our team and customers. , but we had never really published our or articulated our values. , And we did that at that point. And once again, I think once we did that, things really changed for us, , in a variety of ways.

Gene Hammett: Oh, values is a topic. We talk about a lot on the show and I’m okay with continuing that conversation because a lot of people don’t get really how important it is. And it really does touch many pieces of the organizations. Not just things we put on the wall and it’s a pretty thing. And we aspire to certain words, but values become to be a part of the way we live, the way we treat each other. We communicate, we, we engage way. We really create a culture that, that really puts personality in the company.

When you were finding the values, , did you guys do. The two of you, or did you guys involve other people inside the company to come up with the right values?

Steve McQuin: We involved some other leaders. I think we posited the goals and tried to keep it simple. I think it was important. Well, I think to us it looked, this is how the team has been behaving. Right? So these are the things that are natural to us, to your point. These are not things that are just on the wall when we never published values like day one or so, when we did collaborate with the team, it was like, oh yeah, that’s us. Right. So it’s very much less of a, how do we pick our values? And it was really much more about who are we, right. And who, who do we want to attract to spend time together? Right. I mean, that’s, that’s really what it comes down to. So, , now we haven’t gone. We’ve started to go down like behaviors associated with the values and, you know, haven’t gotten too deep on that, but I think the simplicity. It makes it easier for people to relate whether they’re joining the company or a part of the company. And it’s easy for us to call out examples. So those values.

Gene Hammett: I’ve just added the behaviors part to the work I do in helping cultures allowing together. Because sometimes when you throw out a value, it’s hard to really describe what that means. , I’d love to take one of your values that you kind of feel like really encapsulate you. What’s one that comes top to mind?

Steve McQuin: Yeah. Humility is I would say, you know, of the three, the one that we emphasize the most.

Gene Hammett: And so the behaviors that you, you see that align with that, walk me through what you see, align to humility.

Steve McQuin: Sure. , servant leadership, certainly right. We’re here to serve no matter what our role is. Definitely more team-based than the individual. Accolades, I think even professionalism in some way of, of, how you show up, don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room. Right? Objective. Sometimes not, you know, I would say we’re probably we’re passionate. Right. But we’re not overly dramatic. So, I think if you were to meet any one of our 70 team members today, you’d be like, yeah, That’s that easy to have a beer with, right. Smart people, but not, not, braggarts not egotistical, not behind me.

Gene Hammett: This is a perfect example. It was what I was looking for. And sometimes I never know where these things are going to go, but I’ve been involving this inside my coaching practice for the last six months as clients go, you know, how do we truly live the values? And one of the exercises. Is to be able to list those behaviors so that people know those are the guideposts around that one word. And I, I walked into a special kind of experience doing that. And it has been very powerful. When you think about, you know, the ways you’re using values as a company continues to grow. You know, one of those areas is hiring. What would you do? What would you say about the way you approach using values to hire the right people?

Steve McQuin: That’s a great question. And I do think it’s a, it’s a bit of a differentiator for a company, our size, certainly within our industry, within the advisory industry, we actually. A couple of years ago dedicated a function to employee experience. So we actually have an employee experience officer for this small as we are. Right. And they, that team has developed a framework from, when you enter our orbit too. When maybe you exit and become alumni that has the values all the way through it, touchpoints all the way through it. So we’re very clear and intentional upfront. And we have a hiring process that has a little bit of friction into it intentionally. Right. We have a lot of information on the hiring page. It steps people through before they apply. So they know what to expect. And, and we’re very clear about what our values are. And then I would say a secondary, you know, as the interview process starts, right. And this happen realistically before we even posted any of this. So this is where I think it’s important that when leaders choose their values, that really choosing who they are right. And who they want to be connected with. When I used to recruit for the, for Farwell, the first thing I would say to people is that we, you know, humility is one of our core values.

So, you know, if you like kind of high drama environments, there are some environments that are right. , hyper-competitive environments, right. With, even within the team and just that this place is not gonna be for you. It’s not going to be a good fit, right. You’re going to stand out in all the wrong ways. Right. So let’s just make sure. And then we, we always tell a story about it. It’s amazing when you do that and you’re very upfront, you know, you’ll get reactions. You don’t expect like arguments over how can humility actually be of value, right? Like what are you guys crazy? Humility. Shouldn’t be a value, right? Probably not the right place for you. Right. If you can’t make that connection, I get it. So, but yeah, I think it’s super important to be just totally upfront from day one and then follow it all the way through.

Gene Hammett: You said something really interested in there. I want to make sure we don’t miss it. You mentioned the entry point of an employee, which everyone understands that I’m sure there’s a lot of steps along the way as they develop, but then you call them alumni and that might be something of you did. By chance or intentional, but I feel like it’s an intentional thing with you guys. Tell me a little bit about what that means to you.

Steve McQuin: Totally. It’s an intentional, it’s actually part of our IEX process. So even if they’re not in an employee, they’re still connected with us. And I think that that, that concept when you work for Farwell when you hire Farwell, right? When you interact or you partner with Farwell, you get the Farwell network and that network doesn’t go away based on some employment status. , transaction, right. You’re still part of the network, right. So we joke about, Hey, you know, you never really leave Farwell, right. So you might be getting another job, right. Or a dream job, but you never really leave. , so it’s part of that. And part of being connected to something bigger wearing the Jersey, we, we call it. , and so, yeah, anyway, and from a practical standpoint, the alumni connect with us. In other ways, they continue to show up to some of our team events. Right. They can participate. And like really part-time stuff. So they might want a gig once a quarter. They might want to teach a class and have Farwell be, have it be under the firewall umbrella. So the brand continues to expand, even if they’re not, you know, full-time employment for a while. And it’s just, it just shows, I mean, we are. You know, we care deeply about our team and it doesn’t matter if they’re really here as an employee, I guess is the main thing.

Gene Hammett: See if I haven’t asked this question a long time and maybe I should get back to it because it’s such a central part of my own research. And I call this the impossible question and I have no idea what you would say, but as a leader of a fast-growth company, what’s more, important customers or your employees?

Steve McQuin: Yeah. That is a great question. And it is one that we as leaders, have actually, put a flag in the ground on. And it is our employees. So, you know, this came out of, I don’t want to say this was just a idea. Right? I remember attending a Vistage. I belong to the Vistage and a Vistage meeting with CEOs and they were debating this. Right. So. You know, if we didn’t have customers, we wouldn’t have employees. Right. Or, or our employees, our biggest assets, or, yeah. But we’re publicly traded. So we’re going to take care of our shareholders or our private money or whatever. Right. So that was a fascinating debate to me because it shows how hard it is when you plant the flag in real life. I mean, you can say these things, right. You can say your employees are your most valuable asset. But to me, when it comes down to brass tacks, when we say we’re an employee-first company, that means when things get really, really tough, let’s say somebody didn’t perform at a client, a big client, right. Or there was a mismatch at a big client.

Maybe it wasn’t our team member’s performance problem per se, but it was just, it just didn’t work. Right, but we’re going to back our teammate short, you know, if they are living our values. So that’s our go back to the value statement and being very clear if they were operating outside our values, which are humility, collaboration, countability. Well, that’s a different discussion. Right. If you were an account, you know, if you were accountable for something, a deliverable, something the customer expected and for not great reasons, you did not deliver on it. That’s different, but otherwise, those people are still on the team, right. And when you’re wearing the Jersey, you’re backing them. And that is not always easy. So you have to be intentional about what happens when things get difficult. And those, those decisions have to be made. Customer employees terrible.

Commentary: Steve talked about employees first. I want to give you another perspective of this, a whole employee first concept, when you have a business and you bring on people and you invite them to join the mission with you, you want to make sure those people feel taken care of, feel connected. They are, they’re really growing. They’re really a part of something special because if they’re not, then they’re going to give you a slice of who they are. They’re going to. What they can, what they feel justified to give you. But if you can put employees first in your organization, figure out what that means for you, develop them and really help them grow and include them, and have a sense of transparency. Have a mission that aligns everyone together. There’s many elements to this employee-first concept, you’re going to have the benefit more employee loyalty, more creativity, more innovation, and it will really help you grow the overall business and service the customers. There’s many other benefits behind it, but I want to put that in a spotlight for you today because really does help you understand the power of employee first companies. Back to Steve.

Gene Hammett: I really appreciate you sharing the detail behind that, because I think a lot of people misunderstand the question and I’ve sat down and been called wrong before I’ve had this debate with people that are very, very successful running publicly traded companies and say, it’s always gotta be a customer. And even when I got well, let’s back up here, I, you know, the way the question is phrased is leaders put employees first with the hope that employees then can put customers first. As the company has to deliver value to the customers. Long-term and you know, some people still go, Nope, you’re still wrong. But 94% of the people that I’ve asked this question for from the Inc 5,000 fast-growth companies under 300 employee we’ll go back to what’s an employee first and they can give me many different reasons. I appreciate you walking us through that.

Steve, I want to give you one last question. You know, we all have made some, some changes in the way we lead and how we engage with our teams. Can you look back on a moment when you had an inflection point as a leader and you decided to show up differently or, or do something differently that changed the way you lead?

Steve McQuin: That is a good question. Maybe that’s my impossible question. I think it’s some self-awareness, I guess, right. , well, I can’t, I guess I can’t answer this. So I have a very strong leader, that reports to me that, her name is Mel Gayle and she’s awesome. And, she’s our customer experience officer and I had this conversation with Mel recently and said, you know, if you read my disc profile, I am not a people leader. Right. Never signed up for it. , thought I could escape right. Started this company and it told Potter. That’s great that I’m not leading people and so forth. And I said to her, I said, you know what concerns me is that that’s my fault. Right. And that you’re not getting the coaching you might need. Right.

So basically the self-awareness to say, please tell me, as one of our senior leaders, are you getting what you need to be successful? Because I know I may not be that guy. Right. And she was very kind and, and, , complimentary and said, you know, I’ve been in positions before where I wasn’t getting what I needed and I appreciate you. Reaching out, but I’m getting everything I need from you. And I’m like, well, that might be a first, but that’s great. So that, that was one where I was concerned, I guess. So when you asked about a change, I thought I might need to make a change because I felt like I was not serving her in the way. And again, she was, she was kind enough to be candid with me and also, compliment me that, Hey, that might not be on your disc profile, but you’re doing all right.

Gene Hammett: Well, my hope is that you’ll continue to evolve. And hopefully see yourself as that people leader, because I think it’s hard in today’s world without having that inside of our toolbag to just listen and feel connected to people. No matter what level it could be. Someone that you’re managing to the side with your co-founder or it could be managing, up as you have boards that get put in place, or you manage down the pyramid if you will.

Steve. I really appreciate you being here, sharing your wisdom here on the show. Really appreciate it.

Steve McQuin: Thank you, Gene. Really appreciate it. It was awesome.

Gene Hammett: I typically do a little wrap-up here. So if you’re still tuning in, Steve’s listening to us, but you know, here’s what I take away from this. You want to make sure that your company is getting to the place of focus as quickly as possible. I know it’s difficult and no, it’s hard because you’re trying to get this idea off the ground, but “focus” is very important to this. I have a lot of clients who are in the 50 million. It still struggles with, you know, how do they focus from here. And if you miss these early foundational elements and see the benefit of it, it’s hard to do it later down the road. But the real intention behind this episode was really talking about the values of the company and how important they are and how they become a piece of every selection or every part that you do from employees that you hire, how you develop them, and how you exit them. Two alumni love this concept and appreciate Steve sharing it with me.

If you’re curious about your own journey as a leader. Make sure you check out the free content at GeneHammett.com. If you want a game plan where I can help you kind of identify what’s missing and how you evolve and how you truly become a great leader. I get asked this all the time. I’d love to help you. It’s absolutely free. Just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call with me and love to talk to you about your leadership and what the next step is. I’m not going to pressure you. I’m not going to sell you a thing, but I’m going to serve you to the highest degree possible because that’s what I do. And that’s who I am. 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.




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