Invest in the development of your workforce. There is growing evidence that employees who feel their company is investing in their learning and development, feel more closely aligned with the company’s business goals. We recently shut the business down completely for two days to engage the entire staff in two days of personal and professional development. This is not an unusual event for Speakeasy and was greatly appreciated by everyone. The theme of the two days centered around “craftsmanship” and what it means in their life.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott S. Weiss. Scott is CEO and owner of Speakeasy Inc, a globally-renowned communication consulting firm established in 1974. In 2018 Speakeasy Inc worked with 5,000 executives in 15 countries from companies like EY, Accenture, Coke, VISA, Microsoft and Nestle. Weiss is the author of “DARE! Accepting the Challenge of Trusting Leadership” — the Axiom Business Book Gold Medal Winner and Amazon bestseller. He is a frequent guest blogger and has appeared in CEO Today, Forbes, Fortune, CNN Money, Inc., Investor’s Business Daily, and is a frequent guest speaker at conferences and on talk shows. Before joining Speakeasy in 1994, Weiss was an executive vice president at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. for 10 years. He also served as a senior vice president for Southmark CRCA for four years. Weiss is the founder and chairman emeritus for the T. Howard Foundation, a non-profit that promotes diversity in broadcasting and electronic media. He has been an Emmy voting member for 30 years and has served on the Board of Advisors of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Emory University Board of Visitors, and the Entrepreneur Organization of Atlanta. He was a founding board member of Start Up Atlanta, and an adjunct professor at the Georgia Tech School of Management. Weiss resides in Jupiter, Florida, with his wife Marci. They have three grown children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Over my 25 years leading at Speakeasy there are probably a hundred stories I could share. “Most interesting” is a big challenge, however, I will share one of my favorite stories.
I received a call from the CEO of a good size Silicon Valley tech company. He was prepping for the company’s annual sales meeting, 1800 salespeople all coming together for a 3-day conference.
The marketing team created a theme, “Moving at the Speed of Sound” based on the company’s accelerated revenue growth from the previous year. The CEO was to deliver the opening keynote from a stage with F22 fighter jet dioramas, smoke coming from the stage, and he would be wearing a pilot jumpsuit carrying his helmet coming on stage with the Top Gun soundtrack playing in the background!
The objective of the keynote was to motivate, inspire and set the stage for a successful year of double-digit revenue growth. He would go through “the numbers,” talk about success from the previous year, and close with thanking the team for their efforts.
As a client, he called me seeking advice because he was very uncomfortable with how this meeting was coming together. He had attended Speakeasy’s “The Leader’s Edge” workshop and he trusted my perspective as a result. Not only did he feel silly dressing up as a fighter pilot, but he felt the whole message theme of growing at the “speed of sound” was an exaggeration. They were growing, but not at the speed of sound! Moreover, he couldn’t get excited with the talking points and slides they were generating for him.
After reminding the CEO that he was the CEO, I advised him to use our framework to determine his message strategy and delivery for his presentation, and he agreed.
The first thing we did was an informal survey of 20 of the attendees coming to the meeting, from sales Associates to VP’s. We asked only one simple question, “What is the most important thing that you want your CEO to talk about at his keynote?” This helped validate their current reality. Much to our surprise, all 20 responded that he needed to address the comp plan. A new plan was put in place created by the compensation committee the year before, and it was impossible for salespeople to hit their numbers. Every one of them made less money than from the previous year as a result, even though the company was growing revenues like crazy. The bottom line, they were angry, very angry.
I delivered this news to the CEO, and not only was he unaware, but he was also concerned about addressing compensation as the opening keynote for this meeting. However, I convinced him it was such a big issue, he had to address it as CEO, and he had to own it. This was not an easy conversation, but he trusted me and agreed to take it on.
The result was we eliminated all the staging, in fact, the contract was canceled saving a ton of money. Instead, we created a message and approach focusing on authenticity, transparency, and humility.
He walked out on stage in khakis and a button-down shirt. The only thing on stage was a microphone with a spotlight, and on the very large video mag screen behind him, the words “A Different Conversation” were projected.
His opening for his talk was two words followed by a very long pause….”I’m sorry.” It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop (I was there). That was his “open.”
What followed was a message of his own for a very big mistake, and his commitment to change the plan so goals were achievable and using salespeople to create the plan taking it away from the compensation committee. He promised it would be in place in 30 days and he would personally oversee the process. His “close” was a simple sentence… “Please trust me to show you I will make this right…and thank you for trusting me to do so.” What followed was at least a 5-minute standing ovation and cheers from 1800 people that was deafening! The CEO came up to me at the first break and gave me a hug, which was completely unexpected!
This happened in 2004. Not only did the company have a very successful multi-year run after that meeting, but now 15 years later, executives who are still at the company, refer to that CEO’s “A Different Conversation” speech as the most profound pivot point in the company’s history that changed their trajectory to this day.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We help people every day discover their “inner voice” and help them achieve their full potential as a result, so the idea of “helping” is part of our daily DNA. We deliver at least 6–10 workshops around the world every week transforming the lives of individuals by helping them discover themselves through communication and how they can impact others as a result. It’s truly remarkable work and our full-time faculty of highly credentialed instructors are very special people who have the unique capabilities to guide individuals on their own journey of discovery.
Ok, let's jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I believe there is a growing disconnect between employee expectations and the reality of the effort required to drive successful business results. These employee expectations include; flexible hours, working remotely, working fewer hours, disconnecting for more personal time, compensation expectations, resistance to travel and working after hours, personal conflicts, and the list goes on. The “new workforce” wants to define their “work-life” in a way that is not always conducive to driving successful business results. Much of this “disconnect” is the result of poor communication from management or communication from management that is not transparent, which is why the “disconnect” exists resulting in unhappiness or frustration on both sides.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Clearly there is documented evidence between happiness and an engaged workforce that leads to increased productivity and profitability. Companies have been struggling with this reality for decades. I believe, however, what has been emerging recently is that “happiness” is not always defined as “flex time” and “ping pong ball tables,” and much to the surprise of many companies, happiness is more closely aligned with “engagement, values, and purpose.” This is a much more challenging paradigm for companies to execute. Capital spending on “cool offices” or HR changing “scheduling policies” is much easier than creating cultures where workforces are connected to the business as a result of “purpose.”
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Honest, clear, and transparent communication from the top. Absolutely the most critical. Recently I shared with staff a particular challenge we were facing as a company and sincerely asked them for help. I did this in a very vulnerable manner, demonstrating my own humility regardless of my title or position. I received phenomenal feedback in return, and a genuine effort coming back from staff to drive a solution.
2. Investing in the development of your workforce. There is growing evidence that employees who feel their company is investing in their learning and development, feel more closely aligned with the company’s business goals. We recently shut the business down completely for two days to engage the entire staff in two days of personal and professional development. This is not an unusual event for Speakeasy and was greatly appreciated by everyone. The theme of the two days centered around “craftsmanship” and what it means in their life.
3. Creating employee engagement through openness to ideation, innovation, and change, at all levels of the company. Valuable thought does not only from the top down. The Management Committee at Speakeasy works very hard to “listen” to all staff and acknowledge ideas. For example, this past quarter we put in place a new, fun, and creative incentive program created by a middle manager on our staff.
4. Creating a strong connection with customer satisfaction and work output. Every year as CEO I receive some 1500 direct emails from clients expressing their gratitude for their Speakeasy experience. I share these emails with all staff almost on a daily basis to reinforce our “purpose” and connect them deeply to the very people we serve.
5. Establishing the value of mindfulness and gratitude, particularly from the top down. This is a frequent topic of Speakeasy’s Management Committee and the importance of modeling and reinforcing these behaviors always. As CEO I am passionate about acknowledging the staff at every level on a frequent basis and the power of my favorite two words… “Thank You”. This leadership model has a profound impact on our culture.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I’ve had the privilege of discussing this topic with many leaders over the years and have been asked to speak about the topic. I believe the key to workforce transformation is grounded in “gratitude and trust,” two values that companies have failed to execute in an authentic way. Trust in particular has been compromised at every level internally with staff as well as externally with customers. My 2013 Amazon Best Seller and Axiom Gold Medal winner, “DARE! — Accepting The Challenge Of Trusting Leadership” provides dozens of examples where driving these values leads to higher profitability.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I am a leader that drives trust, transparency, and authenticity as my key style attributes through humility, and driving collaboration, resulting in a gratifying culture and successful business results with a purpose.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have had five very important mentors in my life that I have been connected to for over 35 years. All of them came into my life for a reason and all of them remain very important teachers. Without question, Sandy Linver, the Founder of Speakeasy who hired me in 1993, has had the most profound impact on my “becoming”. I apprenticed with Sandy for ten years while serving as the EVP of the company until she retired in 2003 and I purchased the company. Sandy spent that ten years “developing” me as much personally as professionally, resulting in a transformation I will forever be grateful for on many levels. She is an extraordinary human being as are the other “teachers” in my life.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I would define my “success” in three ways.
First, I have been married for 33 years to an amazing person who has contributed more to my life success than anything else without question. We have raised three incredible children who are all adults with their own success. The success of my marriage and family is and has always been number 1. It can’t be bought at any price.
Secondly, I have invested a great deal in the success of Speakeasy and the extraordinary staff who have made Speakeasy their passion and vocation. We have staff that has been at Speakeasy for over 20 years, and it is an absolute privilege to work with all of them every day. The mission? To make a difference in the world by helping the 5000 people we work with every year reach their full potential through their spoken word.
Third I have dedicated the past 25 years to the T. Howard Foundation, a non-profit I founded in 1993 that provides internship opportunities and development to minority students. The Foundation has grown significantly the past 25 years with great success, and recognition. The positive influence on the many young lives through the Foundation’s work has provided a gratifying opportunity to selflessly give back. It has been one of the most gratifying experiences and endeavors in my life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Good Enough Isn’t.” — Sandy Linver
I have strived to achieve excellence in everything I do by going the extra mile.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The power of trust and gratitude in developing and sustaining relationships of all kinds and the good that can be accomplished as a result.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!