Leading Through Change
By Marty Parker
The last year has been full of change – for organizations and individual team members alike. We’ve all been forced to adapt the where, how and often when we work. And as leaders, many of us have had to learn new ways of leading.
I sat down with Dan Turner, president and CEO at Xperigo, to talk about how he’s managed to keep culture front and centre while leading his team through changes including a culture transformation, rapid growth and or course, a global pandemic.
The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the full conversation here.
Just a few years ago, the organization went through a pretty significant culture transformation. Take us through that process if you would, and what drove the decision that led to that change?
Well what drove the decision really was a business that had been around for almost 25 years at that point, and it had been status quo for many of those years. And so the business didn’t really change a lot except that the market around [us] was changing rapidly – so competition was increasing, the services and products that we offered were being commoditized, and it was really a tough time for Xperigo. So at that point in time, the decision was made to… we needed to push the reset button here. And by that, I mean, what kind of company do we want this to be to go forward? Not just that, but what kind of company do we want, not just to survive, but what kind of company do we want to have to thrive?
So we hit the reset button said, “Let’s try and build this from the ground up” in a way, and we took a look at all the things that we needed to do and obviously transforming our culture was number one on that list.
As we jumped into trying to transform that culture, there was a pretty good process that we went through to get there… The first step that we took was really asking clients, “What are you looking for in a partner?” And I think that was a great place to start because that’s going to be what’s going to drive our success going forward, for sure. We gathered a bunch of really great information on what our current clients were looking for, what some of our perspective clients were looking for in a partner, and that’s starting to mold the kind of company that we wanted to be.
But then we went and asked that same question to the people working at Xperigo at the time: “What kind of company do you want this to be for us?” This is an environment where we’re all going to spend a lot of time… maybe even more time here than we do with our own families, let’s make it a positive one. So what should that look like? So we started to get some feedback there, and as we started to collect all that feedback, we realized it was going to be very important that we establish a set of values and that those values be basically embedded in all of the things that we do going forward. And just establishing the values themselves, we tried to make sure that everybody in the organization had their fingerprints on it. So we made it a very collaborative effort. I think everybody at that point had kind of bought into what we were trying to do, and we created a set of values that… I think, what’s really great about them is that they’re simple, they’re easy to understand, and I think they’re easy to incorporate into your everyday life. And just to run through those really quickly, the five values that we embedded into our organization were pursue excellence, earn trust, drive change, know more, and have fun…
I always like to say, Marty, that there’s no magic formula, at least I don’t think there’s a magic formula to doing this. What I try to do when I’m thinking about culture and the things that we want to do to continue to foster a great culture, is to make sure that number one, we’re caring about people and number two, that you’re being genuine. And that’s some of the best advice that I’ve gotten earlier on in my career was to be genuine, be yourself, because anytime that you try to be something that you’re not, people see through that pretty quick. I think that any leader should continue to think that way. And we try to promote that within our organization as well.
So that’s been kind of the secret sauce, if you want to call it that, of how we’ve been able to build our culture to where it is today.
Now Xperigo’s also experienced some significant growth in the last few years. In fact, it’s tripled. So as a leader, how do you ensure that you can scale this culture that you’ve created and still be high performing without losing what makes your culture unique, and in fact, what it is about that culture that’s helped you get there?
When we expanded our operations out into Moncton, that was one of our biggest concerns because the Moncton site is now much larger than our original office here in the Toronto area. And so how do we maintain a culture that’s on the other side of the country, with more people having the opportunity to influence that culture? So we really thought through that one to try and figure out what can we do?
Of course, we had the branding of “life is better here,” and so we were hoping that through that and through our recruiting process that we would attract the right people. But beyond that… one of the things that we did is made sure that there was lots of interactions between the people that are in our Markham office versus the people that are in the Moncton office. And so there was lots of visits by leadership, of course. We went out there many times in the very beginning and we tried to do that regularly anyways. We did some cross-pollination where we had people from our Toronto office go out to the East Coast and spend time with our new team members there. We brought in new team members, particularly the leaders of that organization, into our Toronto office so they could get immersed and spend a couple of weeks with us. And on top of that Marty, we have a very documented process. We’re ISO certified, which is great and our clients love that. But we have a business management system where all of our processes get documented. And so we were able to lift and shift all of the things that we do that make us who we are and they’re able to pick that up in Moncton immediately…
But we still have that concern, Marty, as we move forward. I think we’ve built a culture that’s very similar in both locations. And as we continue to expand, how do we continue to make that happen? And we really try to do that through a lot of communication. We find lots of ways to communicate.
One of the things that can happen very easily (sometimes it happens between departments and sometimes it happens between locations) is where you start feeling like you’re a different team. And so I started hearing people say, “Well, I’m on the sales team, and the technology team and the Moncton team, and the Markham team.” And when I kept hearing all that, I said, well, I get a little bit frustrated when I hear people calling out individual teams within what I believe is one singular team. And so we created this thing that we call the X1 Task Force. And the X1 Task Force was formed for the purposes of breaking down silos, whether that’s department to department or location to location, and… putting in best practices and making sure that everybody’s cognizant that when we’re moving forward with initiatives or communications, that we’re doing it from a one team perspective. And I have found that that’s been really helpful.
It sounds like that’s quite a simple thing to do and how could that have such a big impact? But it has. And so that’s one of the ways where we’re trying to monitor to make sure, and that’s the singular mandate of that task force is to make sure that culture is the same for everybody. No matter how big we get, or how many more offices we open, it’ll be the same in every location. Not an easy task, but I think we’re doing a good job of it.
I’m curious to know what impact that the global pandemic has had on Xperigo
Obviously, it’s much harder to operate in this environment and revenue hasn’t been what it’s been in past years. We were in full blown growth mode for a number of years, and we’re still growing a little bit, but not like we were in the past. But really, the impact that the pandemic has caused have been all positive. And why I say that is it’s made us look at ourselves and our business in a much different light than we ever had before. When the pandemic hit and the first thoughts were, “How are we going to maintain the strong culture that we’ve invested so much in over the years?” “How do we keep that going when all of the tools that we were using – the in-person meetings, the social events where we all got together and went to a baseball game or had dinner together or whatever it might be – how do we do all those things that we thought were so critical to our culture?”
Basically, from the get-go, I challenged the team to, we’ve got to throw out that toolkit and we’ve got to come up with a brand new one. And so I challenged the team to come up with the various tools that would allow us to continue to thrive culturally. And the team got very creative and we found all kinds of new ways to do that. We doubled down on our focus on caring about people. And when we did that, we saw amazing transformation take place, even over and above where we already were.
And so when this pandemic ends, if it ever does, the thing that I will take away from this is that we have to keep doing those things. It forced us to do it because of the situation that we’re in with the pandemic, caring about people’s health, caring about their mental stability, caring about how much their job is wearing on them and are they burning out. They’re all things that you maybe considered a little bit before, but now we talk about it a lot and we put a bunch of resources out there for the team to access.
That’s the biggest thing that I want to take away from this is that when we get out of this pandemic, let’s keep doing that. And that just gets back to what I said earlier. This is just about caring about people and being genuine about it. And so, we’re doing it in a big way now, forced to do that because of the pandemic, but we will not let that subside when we get on the other side of this.