Benjamin Jackson, Founder & Principal, For The Win

Scaling Up Services - 014 - Benjamin - Jackson

Benjamin Jackson, Founder & Principal, For The Win

Ben Jackson is the founder of For the Win, where he helps startups build just enough process to reach the next stage of their growth. Ben is the former Director of Mobile at Vice Media, worked on The New York Times’ mobile team, and has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Fast Company, among others.


[00:00:01] You're listening to scaling of services where we speak with entrepreneurs authors business experts and thought leaders to give you the knowledge and insights you need to scale your service based business faster and easier.

[00:00:15] And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.

[00:00:22] Alright welcome everyone.This is scaling up services. And today we're talking with Ben Jackson. Ben is with up for the win and he helped Series A and B companies start ups with their onboarding process around helping them scale with new hires.

[00:00:39] Previously Ben was at mass media and was director of mobile phones of the New York Times.

[00:00:44] The mobile teams written for The New Yorker The Atlantic Fast Company all some of my favorite publications. So I'm excited to speak with you Ben. Thanks for being on. Thanks for having me. So how did it start before we kind of get in heavy with content. Just talk a little bit about your background like how what's your story how you got here. How are you going to do what you're doing. What would help people kind of understand the journey you've been on.

[00:01:08] Yeah sure. The best place to start is when did I start building software. That's my background is as an app developer and an engineering manager. I started in 1991. I was about 11 years old and my middle school actually at the time had a really really great computer lab and a really really great computer programming intro. So I learned basic as a child and I've just been building software ever since then pretty much continuously I Koranda design agency for about six years after school and I worked at base I worked at the New York Times. And really you know most of my background across all of those roles was a consumer product. So I was helping design and build and grow these really really large consumer facing applications mostly for media companies here in New York. And I think you know at the time that thing that I saw really as a common thread across all those experiences was that wall these companies including the one that I ran myself they really took design seriously for the things that their customers dealt with. They didn't apply the same level of care and attention to detail when it came to the experiences of their employees had. And so that's really where the genesis for the wind was you know figuring out how to how to apply a really high standard of design and you know great customer experience for the most important customers that any business has know that people were keeping the lights on every day.

[00:02:33] And what are some of the things you find kind of different and things you find similar in terms of designing experiences for customers and end users versus designing experiences for employees. And what do you think drives some of those differences.

[00:02:48] Ultimately people are people and people have some very similar ways of looking at experiences you know that no matter if you're dealing with consumers are dealing with employees that have very little patience. You know I'm saying in the user experience literature would say that your users are drunk and they you know if if a drunk person can't use that thing that you're building then a person who's you know on Twitter and Facebook and you know getting thing by their e-mail and you know waiting for their next meeting in five minutes probably also won't be able to use your product. And I think that that really that's a constant no matter what type of user you're that you're dealing with when it comes to the employees and how designing for them is different from the consumers. You know the biggest thing that pops out at me is these people have a very very strong reason to stick around. Which is you're paying them. That is not enough to keep them around forever if you don't do a really good job. But I think you know a lot of companies it's difficult to justify investing in really great experiences for people who are already paying to show up to work every day now. And so I think a lot of the constraints that H.R. leads and executives deal with when they're trying to build a more robust experience for their people is getting those resources you know how do you marshal the resources for you know all of the different IRS tools you might need all of the different consultants coaches who you could bring in to really help your team excel when you know you're basically competing for resources with the product team that's driving revenue growth.

[00:04:18] It's a good point. I mean I think a lot of people do kind of have the mentality of look I'm I'm already paying their salary why should I have to invest more.

[00:04:26] I go you know they should just do they should do the stuff they should be engaged in. And I think it's a missed. I think it's a missed opportunity. I think it's also companies that do that well to compete more effectively in the market because they're creating essentially a better place to work. Not only that that's what people want. They want a great place to work. Yes they want to be compensated. Yes they want money. But you know motivation is only only goes so far when you talk about financial compensation. So these kinds of things really thinking about it I think are strategic.

[00:04:53] Yeah I agree 100 percent. And you know one of the big shifts that I think we've all seen in the last 20 or 30 years in the workplace is this idea that you know your workers are really actively choosing your company over the competition and you still need it. You know you get a job you stick around for 40 50 years get your watch collect your pension and that's your life. And you know that is absolutely no longer the case. And the flip side is that you know from the employer side used to be hired somebody and they stuck around until you gave them their watch. And that is absolutely no longer the case and you know when employees leave you it's unbelievably expensive. You know the estimates range from three months salary on the low end for the replacement cost all the way up to 300 percent of salary.

[00:05:41] These numbers kind of thrown around when you look at that what goes into that what are some of the things that you kind of factor in or that you had to get to those numbers.

[00:05:52] I think most people they look at replacement cost as you know cost of job listings more maybe headhunter fees and sometimes they'll factor in things like relocation expenses or having to fly someone in for an interview. But just that time from your employees if you push 10 or 20 people for your interview final that is 10 or 20 people times three to six employees times say 30 to 60 minutes per employee. Those hours add up.

[00:06:18] Yeah.

[00:06:19] And it's I think that's the key thing that you're mentioning here which is it's not it's not the time that you spend with that one employee or that one candidate. It's the time you spend with the nine people that you need to interview to actually hire that one. So it's the total cost of hire is actually pretty substantial.

[00:06:35] Absolutely. And you know that's without even factoring in the time the manager has to spend sorting those candidates and you know the in-house recruiters are spending time sourcing running phone screens. It's just it's a ton of time. Add that to you know the cost of having a position go unfilled over a series of months. All of the extra work that gets put on the rest of the team as they're picking up the slack and that impact on morale.

[00:06:59] No regrets. All right so we've got this kind of cost of hire. We've got retention. Talk to me about the wireless and assist so that's companies in general. Your focus is in this sort of unique area of startups. All right so you're getting involved a company has traction they've got a product service idea. They're looking to scale that. They've got another round of funding or two.

[00:07:27] What are the challenges that you see when people move into that that scaling phase above and beyond just the normal are growing a little bit here and there when people really go into this substantial scaling substantial growth mode. What challenges do they start to face the challenges are legion.

[00:07:45] It's incredible. I think the biggest one that I see is figuring out how to structure their team. You know I've heard stories in the past from some founders who grew really really quickly without doing a lot of work to figure out what jobs people would do. And one of the stories that I keep hearing is you know you bring in a bunch of people with this idea that just hoover up as many smart brains as you can and we'll figure out what to do with them later. And oftentimes what happens when you do that is people can't find work to do. No one quite knows what they're supposed to be doing on a given day. If everyone owns everything and no one really owns anything. So I think figuring out roles is really important. You know the other thing that I see really really often is on startups before they hit that critical milestone where they really scale and start to put these processes in place. A lot of the information people need is locked up inside the heads of early employees. You know I talk a lot with people about this idea that the lore is passed down the company lore is passed down through this oral tradition. And that that really doesn't scale. When you're you know pushing 30 or 40 people you know three are onboarding. You can't have the CEO sit down and spend an hour with every single one of those people during their first week and tell them the company started and all of the you know how we do things around here. It just doesn't scale. And so you know one of the big one of the big challenges that I see a lot is these companies they need to extract all of that information from their senior employees heads and you know they need to get energy and knowledge base and you know they need to set that knowledge base up so that when people come in on their first day they can just want them there and say look you want to have to ask me any questions. It's all really simple and laid out for you.

[00:09:31] So so I get the kind of skill set side.

[00:09:35] What are the biggest technical skills that someone needs to to learn as part of a new role. How do you deal with some of the cultural side of things.

[00:09:44] Because I always find that that is sometimes the harder challenge which is I can I can write up a job description and a set of eyes or a skill a skill set and certain domain knowledge and things and transfer that how do how do we transfer some of those less tangible aspects of culture.

[00:10:03] And this is the way we do things and some of the tacit knowledge around stuff any strategy is a white thing going back to what I said earlier about writing some of these things down.

[00:10:13] You know the first thing is if a company has an already codified their values you know put a stick in the ground said what we stand for and this is specifically how those values are expressed through behaviors. It's really really difficult to integrate people in their culture because the culture is just this big game Morcos cloud of stuff. So yeah I really think making sure that you're able to identify you know what are the behaviors that make someone successful Orcus company. And you know if we group those together you know do they what do we call those groups. Is it. Punctuality is it you know attention to detail is it being funny. No. Every company has their own values and they also you know you can only stand for so many things. So also understand you know what are the things you don't stand for are the things that are really important at your company. How can you keep people from focusing on the wrong things.

[00:11:04] Yeah and I think that's a really interesting point. It's something that I've found when I work with folks on values and we do have core values.

[00:11:11] I like to do something called anti values where for every core value we figure out what is that thing we're willing to give up. What does the thing that we're not. And it's that choice that saying we do this and we're willing to give this up. And here we're we're specifically saying we're not going to we're not going to focus on us to be able to get that and because of that tradeoff. I think a lot of companies get caught up in this. While we have all these great values but we really haven't talked about what we're not so that we you know it's kind of where everything is still. And I like that idea and the mention of like identifying those things that we're not and making that specific so that you get more power for those for those decisions that you've made.

[00:11:47] Yeah. And is it really helpful similar technique when you're when you're putting together what they call a brand voice for a company. You know you'll express that brand voice both in terms of attributes that represent it but then also attributes that don't represent that. So for example when I was putting together the brand voice for the when one of my adjectives pairs was cool was the positive. But then the big negative was not too cool for school.

[00:12:15] Got it. I like it. So you really kind of Dialang that with that intention is and how do you give them good examples of that behavioral. I mean do you actually get into like prescriptive behavioral definitions or notifications dramas.

[00:12:29] So those things really. I see it less as deriving the behaviors from the values and more the inverse. So really starting with the behaviors and you know letting the values emerge from the behaviors that people already know will make people successful at the company. It's really really hard to sort of shoehorn a set of values into a set of behaviors that already exist in your company.

[00:12:51] Yeah that makes sense. It does. I'm trying to figure out in terms of process that we're talking about kind of the hiring onboarding how much of you how much of this do you think is part of the hiring filtering process the candidate selection filtering process and how much of it is the onboarding training indoctrination process.

[00:13:10] So I actually don't make super a huge distinction between the hiring and the onboarding process. I see every touch point that you know a new hire has with your company as a really really important you know what they call a micro interaction. And so every one of those micro interactions from the minute that someone from your company Burts reaches out to them up until you get them an offer letter to their first day all the way through their first yearly review. You know all of those are part of one long employee journey.

[00:13:40] Interesting. Yeah I like that idea that it's it's not your your onboarding doesn't start when you've made a hire your onboarding starts when they first see the job description on your website. Now they did it again and they first interact with you thinking about it.

[00:13:55] Yeah and this is really and this is really heavily influenced also just by my training with user onboarding for consumer products. You know.

[00:14:02] Yeah they're good for me and that's a that's a big interesting shift in that perspective on us. And if you really think about this as look you really need to design the experience from initial point of inquiry not me.

[00:14:14] Well I'm going I'm going to think about it only once. I think you're right.

[00:14:17] Honestly I think a lot of the impact a lot of the positioning what's in an employee's head is already in there about the time they've made the decision to take the job.

[00:14:28] And if you absolutely if you haven't done the work to actually design that and make that intentional and making sure that's the impression that you really want. And that's the frame that you really want to work with. Once they're hired you're kind of at that point it's almost too late or you're dealing with the timber scent that you still have yet to be able to control which is a minor a minor stake and you absolutely have to frame things you know from the very very beginning and again you only get one chance to make that first impression and to set that framing straight.

[00:14:56] So what have you seen that works well or what.

[00:14:59] What do you focus on when you're working with clients on. So you're coming in. They've got a resourcing plan a talent plan around Ambros target. How do you start to break that down for them in terms of strategy in terms of what is the process going to look like. How do you focus.

[00:15:14] So first all jobs start with research and so really that involves me taking a look at all of the different touch points that they already had out there. So if they have a job site I'll take a look at that article and their like. They're crunched based profile. You know a lot of companies do not pay a lot of attention they're crunched based profile it makes them look sloppy. You know I will talk to some of the people who've already joined their company and you know figure out what went well what didn't go super well I'll talk to some of the managers that have brought people on their teams and talk about the same thing.

[00:15:45] How do I get this a lot which is what do you do with Glassdoor. Like how does that factor into things. I've got a lot of clients who call me like my Glassdoor rating is terrible what do I do. I mean I'm assuming this is going to be part of the research but how does this work.

[00:16:00] That's definitely part of the audit. And you know I think Glassdoor it's it's a hairy hairy place for everyone who works in people. But I see Glassdoor you know and this is also my consumer app developer background speaking but I see Glassdoor it's kind of like the app store. And I remember very clearly some of the one star reviews that I had to read back when I was making apps for Vice and for the New York Times they were they were deeply unpleasant things to read. But also every time I saw you know somebody complaining that we had lost their say articles or you know why do I have to pay for a cable subscription just so I can watch these videos. I thought to myself you know people don't bring it upon themselves to sign up for a site like Glassdoor or log in to their iTunes account and leave a bad review unless they're deeply deeply unhappy. It's not a thing people do to troll. And so I think you know feedback is feedback and all feedback needs to be at least considered you know you know with honest and open approach.

[00:17:04] All right so you collect all that data to do the tone of the audit. You do the assessment. And where do you go from there.

[00:17:09] Once you're working with a client so there's often a workshop day workshop is it serves a few purposes it helps us identify some of the existing trouble spots that you know we're all kind of aware of. It helps us map out that customer journey that the employee goes through and it helps us figure out you know how are we going to cover some of the high level goals for the onboarding and those high level goals you know most people leads well we'll break them down into what they call the forces seas so compliance role clarity clarity of purpose culture making sure that you know the culture is expressed and the behaviors that make up that culture or communicate clearly. And the final one is community. So building a support network around people and making sure that you know you can connect them to mentors hears they've got someone to vent to if they have a really really bad day. Does that make sense.

[00:18:01] And what are the I mean typically what do you see kind of common challenges or common situations.

[00:18:07] Think things that come up on a regular basis for you when you're doing the audits and you're doing the research first day set up is always a headache just getting a list of all the different tools and vendors that the company has in place and know how to access those things or request access to them.

[00:18:25] Number one headache that I see is literally like an employee shows up Day 1. Do they have the tools and the accounts and the organs to be able to at least try to be productive.

[00:18:37] And if you go one step deeper. Does the company know what tools they have access to events.

[00:18:43] So you know one type of problem is oh you know I need access to this thing and I don't know to ask an entirely different class and problem is oh you know well it's been six months and you know the spreadsheet that I've been using to track all of our clients is getting a little bit unwieldy and having them find out oh we actually we have a we have a CRM. Oh really. You know you me I could just log into sales force. Well it looks like I've been duplicating all these clients in my spreadsheet. So I guess I just wasted six months of your salary.

[00:19:12] So this is like finding situations where employees because they're not sort of good situational awareness of everything that's going on the company and the training kind of local local solutions to problems that have actually been solved by the company just don't know they haven't been able to.

[00:19:27] They don't even want to articulate it to say this is a problem that they have. Exactly.

[00:19:32] And so to show how do you discover those things and develop our processes around those things in front of the audit.

[00:19:39] Definitely part of the workshop making sure that you know all of those things and you need to be something with Kroger and workshop it may just be something that you know we send around the dock to everyone in the company if it's a small enough team and say hey dump everything that you're using into this stock you know we're going to audit all of our expenses and make sure that we've got you know no duplicate accounts and we're also going to make a list of all these things so the next person who joins doesn't have to run around for a week or two trying to figure out what tools we use.

[00:20:06] So there's there as well which I like there's actually sort of getting into the operational enrapturing operating procedures you know the technology using standards practices on the operations side to make sure that that already they haven't duplicated the things and you haven't created strains of of process. And actually online that stuffs before you actually start bringing people in it lets make sure the current process really works and that we're efficient 100 percent.

[00:20:34] Yeah and I'd add one of the things that surprised me with early clients that it really seemed super valuable is that you know this work it really opens up a dialogue with its about the standard operating procedures and oftentimes you know you've got these processes that were just put in place because that's the way things have always been done or someone brought them over from their last job and just put the same process in place and no one really gave any thought to it. And you know as soon as you get people to start writing these things down and say hey you know we're we're building a foundation for the future hires to do things right. All of a sudden there's an impetus for people to look critically at some of these things that they've been doing. You know every single day and say oh how do we do this better.

[00:21:14] Yes. It's almost done. And that gets into a continuous improvement kind of mindset of you know how do we make sure that we're sharpening the action that we're we're looking at how do we improve the way we're working not just kind of trying to crank more hours. I mean I would imagine that you've done a lot of aha moments where you getting some folks together you're facilitating that discussion of how do you do something and someone says Well that's the way you do it.

[00:21:38] That's not the way I do it. I mean you get that that kind of a pivot those are very very funny moments. Yes.

[00:21:44] That is a lot of moments in particular you know the research early on oftentimes it will surface some uncomfortable truths for leadership. And you know those typical conversations that we have early on out the research there are some of the most valuable outwits that people get from the work that I do.

[00:22:03] What does that conversation like with leadership early in the process like when you need to kind of set up for them or prepare them for when you kind of start this process.

[00:22:13] Well I start by setting expectations and you know to say look we're going to do some research. You're probably going to hear some things that you're not going to be super thrilled about. We're going to dig into problems and challenges. And you know I have never worked with a company where one of the challenges was not leadership. So prep yourself now. And you know when we get to that conversation by that point I have gotten a lot of data from their company. And you know if I'm telling them something that I think is happening inside their team it's because I've heard from their own staff in their own words you know how is this problem that thing. And I think it's it's rare to find a leader who you know when presented with quotes from their own employees will not get on board with change.

[00:22:57] I think that that that idea of it is almost like sociological research like you're going in there and actually just uncovering like an archaeologist going to uncovering what is currently there and just showing you that to leadership. And I think having that proof that kind of look this is actually what's happening and diffusers that kind of argument or that that emotional reaction to it and then actually can focus on solution around it.

[00:23:22] It's absolutely sociology. It's literally the same type of work that sociologists will do when they you know make home visits in rural villages in Africa.

[00:23:32] Now it's very data like that a very kind of data driven approach to the situation to finally find the areas that need improvement.

[00:23:41] So let's talk about kind of how you approach it from a business point of view. Like what are the factors that go into it and kind of costing us now you know costing the problem the work that needs to go into it.

[00:23:53] How do you frame it or how do you suggest leaders frame of that whole onboarding recruitment onboarding engagement process from an online point of view.

[00:24:03] So I actually have a calculator that I will send them where they can Puncheon you know how many heads they have today how many heads they have a year ago how many people left in the last year. What's their average salary and how many new people are they going to bring in over the next 12 months and with those five numbers I can get a pretty decent estimate of how much they're spending right now on replacement costs for employees to turn over.

[00:24:27] And I can also get a decent read on how much are they spending to ramp up these new hires who are coming in earning a full time salary but not yet full contributors to from that calculation is that been kind of a decision making point of hey we shouldn't actually do a whole lot of hiring now because we need to fix like we don't want to scale problems always always. You know I don't want to scale problems I want to skill success right. So I want to create successful situations before I start scaling a whole lot of the business.

[00:24:55] Is there a similar thing on the talents on most of the time when I talk to folks they are hiring. No matter what.

[00:25:02] There's nothing that's going to stop that interest to me not them that's going to stop them.

[00:25:06] Yeah they got that hiring plan they presented it to their investors. They are locked in and they're just scrambling to build the best possible experience those new hires that they can in the time they have with the resources they have before they get them in.

[00:25:18] So most of the work you're doing is that the train is moving. And we're singling out what do we need to do to smooth out the train ride as it's going. It's not due we should be accelerate the train is already on its path. The rocket is lit and you're you're on. You're going.

[00:25:32] Exactly. And the arrow iced up you know more than anything it's to be able to make a really solid financial case to the CFO to the board you know to all the people who are going to check their investments later and so they can say look you know we spent X on consulting services and this is what we expect. We've saved uncross in the first year that's how we expect that's going to compound over time.

[00:25:54] So for the work that you do specifically. Any any criteria that are important for you or companies you'd typically work for have certain characteristics.

[00:26:03] I would say they're hiring fast. Typically they're hiring at a rate of 5 to 8 percent per month. Shooting's is probably double within 12 to 18 months. That's fast. Other than that they typically have venture funding. It's typically been fairly recent. You know the venture funding cycle it's different for every startup that typically companies will raise every 12 to 18 months.

[00:26:26] And so what that means is if a company raised money maybe nine or 10 months ago by the time they talk to me they've probably gone through a lot of that cash and they're probably you know running up on another funding route. And so for me really the ones who are in this sweet spot. They closed around last week. They have you know a ton of jobs on their jobs page right now. They're going to post a whole lot more and you know they really want to build the welcoming diversity. But it's really really hard to do that when you're keeping the wheels on the bus.

[00:26:58] And is there ideally for you what's the best line. Is it just after they get the funding just before they get funding six months before they get funding like when in order to really kind of do the work and get the money spent a form of elimination just out of the funding.

[00:27:12] So know they'll need to have the resources to be able to invest not only in my services but all of the other infrastructure that they might need tools they need so they need to have cash in the banks so they can start investing in these things but it needs to be fairly soon after the funding because every time they hire a new person you know what they're letting kids in there that are otherwise slip away.

[00:27:30] Right. And if people want to get more information about you I'm out for the win. What's the best way to get a hold of it.

[00:27:35] So the Web site is MTW dot nyc. I am on Twitter at Benjamin Jackson. I'm also on Instagram at Benjamin Jackson for the win is on Twitter at F.T. WNYC and it's on Instagram at STW d o t NYC after that NYC but the DOT is spelled out.

[00:27:56] I like elde out and I will put all of that in the show notes here so people can click on those and get more information I'll put your bio and stuff on there as well. This is great. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much an absolute pleasure. Yeah. Thank you so much I look forward to keeping in touch on this. And thanks for listening. Check out Ben's stuff. Hello. Right where I was once I got old information. Now you've got a link to a calculator on your website if people want to check that out. I do know. So go to the website. Thanks again and thanks so much. I'm

[00:28:29] Listening to scaling up services with Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt. Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. This is a website that and feel free to sign up for the free newsletter