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Growth Secrets from the For-Profit World
Episode 49

Growth Secrets from the For-Profit World

CI to Eye with Cameron Herold

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Erik and Cameron talk about the importance of hiring the right people to drive an organization’s success and the value of keeping employees happy. They also discuss how to spend your hours at work efficiently, and creating an internal company culture that is recognized externally.

Erik Gensler: So, Cameron, I met you when you spoke at the HubSpot conference. It must have been five years ago.

Cameron Herold: Wow. Yeah. It probably was about five years ago.

Erik Gensler: It kind of blew my mind cause I was at this place where my business was maybe ten people, maybe fifteen people.

Cameron Herold: Okay, (laughs).

Erik Gensler: And we were just starting to approach all of those critical questions that you provided these amazing answers for. It was one of these sessions where I wrote down basically everything you said, immediately bought your book, and I started (laughs) implementing everything immediately. And it’s so funny; in preparing for this interview, I went back and re-read Double, Double and looked at the things I underlined and they’ve just become so core to what we do as a company. So, I really do have to thank you so much for writing this book, you know, coming to the HubSpot conference and doing what you do because it works, (laughs).

Cameron Herold: Oh, it totally works. You’re welcome.

Erik Gensler: I think I was just introducing people to Double, Double that year. I’m glad it’s working for you.

Erik Gensler: So, I’d like to start out talking about the importance of culture and values. And so, our audience is nonprofit administrators, but I think the rules still apply whether you’re trying to make a profit or trying to, balance your budget and grow your organization and, talking about culture and the importance of it. So, just to start out, can you define “culture?”

Cameron Herold: Wow. Culture, I think, is how others external and, and those internal would describe your company. It’s how, it’s how they would describe you. It’s like how, you know, how you would describe someone as a person, right? I might be described as, as casual, sometimes serious but fun, you know, honest. So, it’s like, how I can describe myself but then how would you describe your company? It’s the same way. So, I think it’s how others external and internal would describe your company.

Erik Gensler: And why is defining that so important?

Cameron Herold: Well, it’s kind of like if you wanna drive word of mouth and you wanna drive buzz and you wanna build a brand, you have to almost put words into people’s mouths so that they will say what you want them to say. I had a mentor years ago who said that building a great company has to be slightly more than a business and slightly less than a religion. You know, you have to get into that zone of a cult. And I think that’s where, where probably a lot of it starts, is having people be able to just describe you to others.

Erik Gensler: So, that’s interesting because I think, when most people talk about culture, they’re thinking about the importance of it internally their organization but I hear you saying it’s also really important externally.

Cameron Herold: Yeah. So, if you think about, scaling any company, the external is, how would the media be describing you? How would your suppliers be describing you? What about potential employees? What do they already know about you? What’s the pulse?

Erik Gensler: So, you talk about culture, as well, as how it defines an organization internally and you talk about the importance of it; that it is so important that you should write your values on your office wall.

Cameron Herold: Yeah. And not just write them on your office wall, but you have to be really, really willing to live them, as well. And really what that comes down with is, like, are you willing to fire people who break your core values? Right? You know, ENRON had core values. They were probably posted. They were in their annual filings. They were on their website. But they didn’t live them. And I think the difference is, are you willing to live your core values?

Erik Gensler: And Particularly at the top.

Cameron Herold: Yeah. Right? It was 1993. I was working for a company called College Pro Painters and the VP was being really rude to one of the women in the office to the point that the “me too” era … Just, he would’ve been slapped hard, like, for what he said. It was just really ignorant and rude to this woman in the office and I called him out on it. I said, “Kevin, one of our core values is, ‘Respect the individual.” And he looked at me and he went, “Don’t ever fucking call me out on the core values!” and he walked out of the office and slammed his door. I’m like, “Oh, my god. I’m so getting fired.” When he called me into his office about fifteen minutes later and everybody in the office’s like, “Oh, you are in trouble.”

Erik Gensler: (laughs).

Cameron Herold: And, like, it wasn’t … It was like I was in trouble for calling him out and him getting mad. The fact that he’d been so rude to this woman wasn’t an issue at all. I went into his office and he said, you know, “Don’t ever call me out on the core values like that public.” I went, “Then don’t break them.” And that was it.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cameron Herold: It was dead silence between he and I. He had nothing to say. And 27 years later, we’re still really good friends. Like, it really hit him in the point that he couldn’t- he couldn’t argue it. And I think that’s when you know your core values as an organization are really strong. Like, I can still repeat … College Pro’s core values were, “Deliver what you promised, respect the individual, pride in all you do.” I mean, easy to understand. Willing to fire people who break them. Like, they didn’t need any clarification whatsoever. They didn’t form some fancy acronym. Right? Like, that’s your culture. And I think that’s where cultures start from, is it starts from the top. Everyone has to live it. You’re not just- it’s not just some fancy little marketing thing.

Erik Gensler: You also talk about how workspace and culture go hand in hand, and one of the things we took your advice on and we still live to this day, so, one of our values is openness. And, you know, we talk in a big way of, “There should be no physical barrier between employees or team leaders and the leadership team and by having an open workplace, we make some of that a lot easier. But you universally just say, “Offices are a no.”

Cameron Herold: Yeah. I say offices are no because it disconnects you from the rest of the group. So, as an example, Sam Walton, who built Walmart, sat on the floor with all of his employees. Michael Bloomberg who was the mayor of New York and was also built Bloomberg sat on the floor with the rest of his employees. Elon Musk sits on the floor with the rest of his employees. So, you can have lots of closed private meeting rooms, two-person, four-, eight-, sixteen-, 30-person glass-walled, no-blinds meeting rooms where people can meet, but to sit on the floor and connect with everybody else is really powerful. And you can put white-noise sound canisters in place and teach people to speak with respect and, you know, workstations are only three-and-a-half feet high, but that big, wide-open space connects everybody and the positives just far outweigh the negatives. I think that’s where everyone starts to feel like they’re working together on a team, is when you can hear the CEO doing calls once in a while and the CEO can hear you doing calls and even if you’re switching desks with each other, where people sit at different desks, I mean that builds huge community.

Erik Gensler: You also talk about the importance of creating a social environment, so, like, a sense of community.

Cameron Herold: I think what I like to do is really blend the boundaries between personal and business. I mean, this is now obvious, right? But I, you know, when I was building companies actively, um, you know, I, I built 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and College Pro Painters and Gerber Auto Collision, built companies that were pretty actively growing. I left twelve years ago, really right around- right around when Facebook was going to launch. So, we didn’t have social media and only with social media have we really started to become more open and vulnerable and just, you know, sharing everything and I think that is powerful inside of a workplace. I knew it was, intuitively, back then, but if I go back eighteen, nineteen years when it wasn’t that popular, I just decided to be more of an open book and to hire people who are more of an open book and as long as employees knew that I was supporting them in their personal lives, they’d go through brick walls for me and the company as well.

Erik Gensler: I love that. And, right, the … you also talk about looking at what somebody wants in their life, and working with them to make sure, if they’re a valuable, contributing member of the team, making sure you’re looking how the role fulfills their larger life.

Cameron Herold: Yeah, exactly. And I think not only how the role builds a larger life, but if I forget about their role for a second and if I remember that every single human is struggling with something right now, right? All of us, you included, me included, today are struggling with one thing personally in our lives, at least. Right? And I think we often forget that. And our role in a company, we often forget that people are human. And I think if we really really care about them as humans, we care about their fears, their insecurities, their joys, their dreams, their bucket list, if we really care about them as people and they feel that level of caring, they’re going to go through brick walls for us to build our company. And I think that’s where you really cross the boundary where, you know, back in the ’70s and ’80s, companies never did that. Right? Business was business, work was work. It was kind of like of the era that, you know, kids are to be seen and not heard. That just doesn’t play in this era.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. On that note, you talk about something that we’ve taken very seriously. I believe it’s a quote from your book, Double Double: “Giving only two weeks of paid vacation to people says you’re mediocre at best.”

Cameron Herold: Yeah. I would never let one of my kids go work for a company for two weeks’ vacation. You know, I’d never work for two weeks’ vacation and I don’t think that, you know, in North America, I don’t know who the heck started this, but it’s just a horrible, horrible idea, when you realize the rest of the world is largely at five or six weeks paid vacation. We’ve somehow turned work into being our everything instead of being, you know, work is something that we do to fuel our lives and everyone’s showing up exhausted and they’re working on fumes. Like, they’re literally- they’re kind of running on empty. So, what I try to do is give people five weeks’ paid vacation plus the government holidays and I try to get them to spread them out so they take a couple weeks in the summer and a couple weeks at Christmas and New Year’s and a couple, you know, week or so at spring. And I get them to spread them out over the three-day weekends and turn them into four-day weekends, and end up- they end up recharging themselves. They end up being much, much more- more focused coming to work. Our sick days go down. Our training costs go down. Our retention of employees goes up. Our recruiting cost goes down. People never quit. The media talks about how great we are as a place to work. And I think, again, if you think about what employees really care about, they care about having a good day’s pay that’s fair so they can cover their, you know, food, shelter, water, the basic needs. They care about having, you know, healthcare and they need free time. They wanna have time to connect with their family and their friends and themselves and I think we’re trying to, or the media try to popularize things like, you know, massages and the foosball table and the Wii room to play video games at work. Employees don’t care about that if they don’t have enough time to hang out with their family and friends. They don’t care about that if they’re not getting a reasonable good pay. They don’t care about that if they’re not getting basic healthcare coverage.

Erik Gensler: Well, I think my team can thank you for their five weeks off every year.

Cameron Herold: (laughs). Awesome.

Erik Gensler: (laughs). Yeah.

Cameron Herold: My whole thing with five weeks vacation as well is, it’s “use it or lose it.” December 31st, those days are gone and people go, “Oh, you legally can’t do that.” Guess what, by the time they get to December 31st, they’ve taken them all because every month I’m pushing them and coaching them to take a couple more days vacation.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Cameron Herold: By the time, by the time they get to December 31st, it was their last holiday. Like, there isn’t any to carry over.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Cameron Herold: Whereas most companies will be like, “Oh, I give unlimited vacation.” Yeah, but nobody takes it. The culture shift that it creates when they’re going, “Wow, my boss keeps coaching me to take time off.” People are like, “Who does that?” Well, great companies do that.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. That’s awesome, thank you. So, let’s talk about what makes companies great, and I think it’s the people. And how do you get great people? You get really great at recruiting. And I loved your story about duck hunting.

Cameron Herold: Yeah. So, one of my grandfathers owned a hunting and fishing resort and I remember being out duck hunting with him one morning and it was pretty cold and the fog was kind of rising off this Lake Nepessing and there were these ducks a couple miles away over the lake. And I remember saying, you know, “Call them in. Get the duck caller and call them in.” He goes, “Those are the wrong ducks.” I’m like, “(laughs). What do you mean they’re the wrong ducks?” “I’m not even sure if they are ducks.” And his lessons were, the first one is, you have to be really really clear what you’re looking for so you can tell from a mile away that, that these are the right employees. Like, what are the core behavioral traits on a role-by-role basis that you’re recruiting for? So, thinking about behavioral traits for each area is really critical. The next thing to think about that I learned from duck hunting is you put decoys out, these wooden or plastic decoys of the ducks, you know, fake ducks. You put them out to attract real ducks into your blind. What are the things that we’re doing to attract people to our company? Right? Your company website, your brand, your marketing material, your social media image. What are your employees saying about the company? Your company dress code, all the things that you’re doing to attract people into your organization and I think we miss on a lot of those. You know, if you went to, as an example, if you went and looked at your company website today and you looked at your “leadership team” page or your “about us” page and you read your bios of your employees, are they attracting people to the company or are they pushing them away? In most cases, we’re repelling people. You know, we would never write a Tinder profile that looks like our company-

Erik Gensler: (laughs).

Cameron Herold: … bio. But your company bio should look like your Tinder profile. It should read almost identically to it because that’s what gets people excited and energized and having fun, but we end up putting these boring photos of ourselves wearing a suit and tie or dress clothes, and having these boring bios, like, “I went to this university, and I do this.” Like, who cares? You know, so I think we … That’s what culture starts with, or, or kind of wraps around is this outside communication and inside communication and trying to attract people into our cult.

Erik Gensler: And having a really, really clearly delineated plan of the kinds of people you’re looking for.

Cameron Herold: Yeah, having it very very clear. When you’re really, really clear on what you’re looking for when you write your job postings at what you’re looking for, when you’re internal employees can state what you’re looking for, then everyone can help reverse-engineer that. Right? It just, it drives everyone in that focused direction. I was talking to a client that I’m coaching today over in Switzerland and they’re struggling with some, some key hires. And, they realized they should have been recruiting for these roles six months ago, but they didn’t have a plan six months ago for what they were looking for for the next eighteen months. So, I really like companies to think about, you know, for the next year or two years, what’s your org chart look like twelve months from now? What does your org chart look like 24 months from now? And how do you work towards that and reverse-engineer it? So, you’re always, you know, beginning with the end in mind and working backwards.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. We took your advice on that one too and it works great, (laughs).

Cameron Herold: (laughs).

Erik Gensler: Let’s talk about interviewing. I learned a ton about interviewing reading your book. So, how do you conduct an interview?

Cameron Herold: Well, the first part of interviewing is, interviewing is-and by the way, this is a key skill that most companies don’t teach their employees and it blows my mind. You know, you think about managers and leaders, they’re always interviewing and hiring people, and I would say 95% of them have never had a single hour of training on how to do interviews. So, how do you know that you’re getting good employees if you have no idea how to find them? So, interviewing is a balance of selling and interviewing and really selecting. I find that most interviewers sell too much, so I do what I call is the “reverse sell.” I’m constantly getting the candidate to sell me on why they’re a good fit for the company. I’m getting the candidate to sell themselves on why the company is a good fit. I will almost never sit and pitch them on how great my company is as a place to work because it really turns people away. They’re wondering what I’m hiding. So, I kind of reversed that process all the time. I also believe that most people exaggerate in interviews, that they’re never really as good as they say they are. You know, they’re not showing their worst, so I will dig in and find out their worst. And I come off very casual in interviews where I’m just sitting chatting with people, and all of a sudden they’re opening up to me and telling me stuff. So, I ask questions in very casual ways or I’ll kind of lead them on. I’ll, you know, I’ll say stuff like, “Oh my god, that must’ve sucked and what was the worst time at work? Tell me how bad it got.” I kiI kind of pretend I’m just sitting with a friend over a beer, getting him to chat. And because I come off in that, “Oh, gee shucks” way, people will open up to that. So, starting with that. I look at a lot of the gaps in a resume. You know, if people have gone from one job to the next, why did they leave the job? How long were they thinking about leaving their job? Did they talk to their supervisor before they decided to leave the job? Were they spending three months looking for the job while they were there? What was it about their current job they hated? What was it about the new job that they were intrigued by? And I can spend a lot of time on this, on the time in between the two jobs, versus the job itself. I’ll often ask for backup or data on things, as well. If people are are claiming they did well at something or hit certain numbers, they can often prove that and I’ll ask for some of that proof. And then lastly, I often try to pull lots of names of people that they worked with, worked for, had reported to them, that they reported to, people that they solved problems with, et cetera, and over the course of one or two interviews, I’ll pull together maybe a list of ten different people’s names and then I’ll ask them to get me phone numbers and emails of at least eight of the ten people. And more often than not, they’ll say, like, “I gave you my references.” I’ll be like, “Yeah, but I’m not calling those people. I wanna call, you know, eight of these ten that, that we uncovered the names for.” A players will give you ten out of ten. B’s will get you eight out of ten, and C’s will run away and hide and you’ll probably never hear from them again. Then I do what I call torque which is the threat of reference checks. So, I’ll just say to them, “Okay, John, if I called Bob and I asked Bob about this core value, when would he tell me you’d broken this core value? If I called Bob and asked him about core value number two, when would he tell me you’d broken it? If I called and asked about number three, if I called about this thing that you’re gonna have to do in your job,” and I’ll spend fifteen minutes asking the candidate what would happen if I called Bob about a number of things and then I would repeat the question saying, “What would Jason say?” and then I’d repeat the questions again, saying, “What would Kelly say?” And I will do the thread of reference check with what eight different people will say about all those areas. The A players eat that shit up. The B players are getting nervous, and the C players, again, will probably walk out of the interview.

Erik Gensler: Wow. (laughs)

Cameron Herold: But that’s when- that’s when you’re truly building an A-team. And that’s the difference between what … What most people think is an A-team is probably a B, and often a C.

Erik Gensler: I also love your talk about the power of the pregnant pause.

Cameron Herold: Yeah, the pregnant pause is one where you just … and I do it with kids, (laughs). I asked one of my kids the other day. I’m like, “So, what did you do when you were at your friends’ house the other night?” He told me. And I just looked at him.

Erik Gensler: (laughs).

Cameron Herold: And then he kept talking. And I went, “Okay.” I just looked at him. And he kept talking. (laughs) People don’t like that awkward silence, so they fill in the blank. So, what I’ll do is I’ll count to seven or eight in my head. And I’ll just- I’ll just pause. And when you count to seven or eight in your head, it gets so awkward, the person can’t help but fill it.

Erik Gensler: That’s really smart. And you also interview with a list of traits that you’re looking for in your mind. After the interview you go back and rank them on those traits.

Cameron Herold: Yeah, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there, right? So, what are the five core behavior traits you’re looking for in the interview and how do you rank against people? So, I will look for, as an example, you know, leadership, attainment, and tenacity might be three strong traits I would interview for and what I’ll try to do is, I’ll rate them on a bell curve where I’ll give … 40% of the candidates could get a three out of five and then I’ll give 20% of the candidates a two, 20% of the candidates could get a four, 10% of the candidates can get a one out of five, and 10% can get a five out of five. So, I will literally rate people against all of the other job candidates. So, you know, not everybody can be a five out of five. It’s impossible. And I need three different reasons why I would rate that person strong in that particular area.
Unless you know what you’re looking for and how to find them, people don’t often look for the right stuff. So, it, it starts with teaching people what are you looking for in the role, how do you define those traits, what kind of questions might you ask to rate people on those traits, and then enforcing a ranking so that you can have some decision-making. Again, this is where most companies don’t put a basic system in place, so they end up with basic employees instead.

Erik Gensler: Yep. And you can get all that right and kill it and do an amazing job at hiring and yet, often, or sometimes, someone’s gonna get through and you’re gonna realize that they’re not the right fit for the company and I think this is where a lot of companies and organizations get in trouble, where they’re too scared and they don’t have a system in place or it’s not socially built into the fabric of the organization that they need to part ways with these people. And I think one of the most impactful stories that is in your Double Double book is the story about one of your mentors who pushed you to part ways with an employee. Can you tell that?

Cameron Herold: Yeah. And two things: one is if you hire somebody who ends up in your company being the wrong person, or at some point ends up becoming the wrong person, it’s your job as a leadership team to debrief on what system was broken or missing that allowed us to hire that person, or what system was broken or missing that allowed us to get to the stage where we’re now having to let them go. I think we too often blame the person we’re firing instead of saying, like, “How did we let them get here? Like how did we let this happen?” and I think that’s where the true growth in the organization comes, is from being really introspective around that. So, the story you’re asking about was, I was having breakfast with a mentor. His name is Rob. We were having breakfast one Tuesday morning. We’re sitting at Denny’s and it was about 7:30 in the morning. He asked me if there’s anyone I had to fire and I said, “Yeah. I’ve got this one guy.” And he said, “What’s his name?” And I said, “Tyler.” And he’s like, “How long have you known that you should fire Tyler?” I was like, “I don’t know, six months.” He was like, “Why haven’t you done it yet?” And I started giving him all these reasons I hadn’t fired Tyler. And he looked at me and he said, “So, basically, you’re a chicken?” (laughs). I went, “Yeah, pretty much.” And he said, “When are you gonna fire Tyler?” And I said, “I don’t know. I’ll do it by Friday,” and he shook his head and said two things. He said, “First off, don’t tell me when you’re gonna get something done by. Tell me when you’re gonna do it. And secondly, Friday isn’t soon enough.” And I said, “Fine. I’ll do it tomorrow.” And he shook his head and I said, “Fine, I’ll do it today.” And he said, “What time today will you fire Tyler?”

Erik Gensler: (laughs).

Cameron Herold: I said, “I’ll fire him at twelve o’clock.” And he said, “Good. Call me at 12:15 and I’ll be there for you ’cause I know this is gonna be a hard one.” But he said, “You make darn sure you’re there for Tyler,” because he said, “Everyday for the last six months that you didn’t fire him, you crushed the will of a human being. You didn’t have the courage to act like a leader, even though you knew you should fire him, so every day, he thought he was gonna get fired. You guys picked on him and excluded him and didn’t invite him into meetings and kept showing him all the things he was messing up on and you actually destroyed the will of a human being, ’cause you didn’t have the courage to act like a leader.” So, he said, “Go back to your office and fire him, but then mentor him until he’s back on his feet.” So, I did. I Went back in and, um, fired Tyler that morning. I actually did it at 8:00 AM, fired another guy about an hour later, who I’d been stewing over as well. I just thought I might as well do two at the same time. And Tyler and I stayed really, really close friends. And um, yeah, I got an email from him years later saying, “Thank you for making one of the hardest business decisions of your career but one of the best one of my life. Thank you for setting me free that day.” Tyler and I stayed close friends. He started his own PR firm. I sent lots of clients to him who he ended doing work for at his PR company. No, we stayed really close friends. But it just, it wasn’t the right fit to stay in the company anymore.

Erik Gensler: Let’s turn to leadership. And you say, “The role of leadership is to align, support, and enable team members to do the work they were hired to do and leadership’s role is to not follow up or hold people accountable.” I think that’s very eye opening for a lot of people.

Cameron Herold: Yeah, I was asked by Fortune Magazine years ago and they said, “How do you motivate your employees?” And I said, “Well, I don’t motivate my employees. I hire motivated people.” And then I heard Herb Kelleher one time from Southwest airlines-he was the CEO and founder of Southwest-somebody asked him, “How do you get your employees to smile like this?” He said, “Well, we hire smiley people.” And I realized that we spend so much of our time trying to manage and hold people accountable and push people, that we shouldn’t have to be doing any of that. If we had the right people, they would be pushing themselves. They’d be doing the right thing, but we often, you know, we often just don’t work in that direction, right?

Erik Gensler: I couldn’t agree more and your goal is to set the tone, to set the expectation, to set the rules of engagement, and to coach and provide the guide rails.

Cameron Herold: Yeah. And I think if you, again, if you’re looking at building a great organization, you have to really really work at building a great organization. I think often we cop out and we just end up building an average organization and we think that’s okay. And then we spend the rest of our time complaining about how hard business is when it’s actually quite easy.

Erik Gensler: Right. I agree. You also say—this is something else I loved— good leaders race to conflict.

Cameron Herold: Yeah. That was something I learned at College Pro Painters 30 years ago, the whole race to the conflict was you just don’t sit and stew on it and I talked to a client that I was coaching a while ago, and they were saying they were doing an annual review of one of their employees. I’m like, “Those are stupid.” He goes, “Well, you have to do annual reviews.” I’m like, “No. You do an annual review with your kid?” He’s like, “No.”

Erik Gensler: (laughs).

Cameron Herold: I said, “What do you do with your kid?” He goes, “Well, I tell them right away if they did something wrong.” I said, “You don’t do a quarterly review with your kid?”

Erik Gensler: (laughs).

Cameron Herold: He goes, “No. I tell him right away if they do something wrong.” And I said, “And you tell them right away if they do something good, too, don’t you?” He goes, “Of course.” I said, “That’s what you need to do with your employees. You need to be- tell them right away if they’re doing something wrong and you tell them right away if they’re doing something that bothers you and you tell them right away if they’re blowing you away and making you happy.” So, that race to the conflict is how we would absolutely raise our children. When you take those basic what I call the “grandmother-isms” and bring them into the business world, you win.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I also love this, and this is something I had to learn the hard way, too, keeping a list of items for all of your employees rather than emailing them, but either do it in person but just save your list in one-on-ones so you can talk about them.

Cameron Herold: Yeah. Like, often we’re just caught in the urgent, especially because of the instant messenger and the SMS lifestyle that we’ve grown up in the last 20 years, we’re so used to just quickly pinging somebody, but it interrupts their day and people are busy being busy. Instead of sitting down and just adding all of those questions to a list and on Monday when you have your one-on-one with the person, going through your list, you realize that half of what you are probably gonna send a note or an email or a note during the week, even on Slack, is probably unnecessary and the other half probably could have waited. And then you also don’t have the back and forth, back and forth, back and forth of miscommunication.

Erik Gensler: Totally. I think there’s no worse way to communicate than over email. (laughs)

Cameron Herold: Well, it’s, it’s unbelievable how easy it is for, um, for miscommunication over email.

Erik Gensler: And it’s, I still have friends work at companies that don’t even have Slack and they’re just emailing back and forth and back and forth. It’s like, oh, it’s so ripe for, like, miscommunications, hurt feelings, all the problems, (laughs). “Real leadership is saying no instead of yes.” This one’s hard.

Cameron Herold: That’s the same mentor from College Pro Painters. Greg Clark is … He said it to me again recently, about three or four months ago. True leadership is about saying … We have just a million opportunities, but it’s about, you know, we only have three resources: people, time, and money. And how are we gonna get the best ROI, the best return on investment, on our people, on our time, and on our money? It’s only by saying yes to the critical few things and saying no to the important many. Right? And I think often, especially entrepreneurs tend to say yes to everything.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cameron Herold: We tend to start things in the absence of putting them into a system and voting on them maybe once a quarter.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I heard in a Tim Ferris podcast—it was Derek Sivers. His paradigm is, “It’s a hell yes or a no.” And if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. Taking a focus day once or twice a month. Can you talk about what that is?

Cameron Herold: And it’s actually become a lot more than once or twice a month now. So, a focus day for me used to be getting offsite and spending time where I would just work through work. You know, so I would go somewhere, and just crank through work. Now, for me, it’s finding one or two days per week when I work on my core unique ability areas and then finding one or two days a week where I work on my buffer work, where it’s just my busy work, all the stuff that has to get done, and then having one or two days per week minimum, usually it’s two full days that I call free days, that I do no work, no business periodicals, no business podcasts, no business books, no emails, nothing, and just have two complete 24-hour periods off to recharge the batteries.

Erik Gensler: I remember you saying you measure and track the number of days you spend not checking your email or having work communications and you track those on, like, an annual basis.

Cameron Herold: And if you figure that we’ve got 52 weeks and there’s two weekend days, that should at least be 104 days per year that you don’t check email at all. I mean, the reality is, you’re never gonna catch up. Like, none of this is always gonna get … You’re never gonna get it all done. Once you get it done, you’re gonna have more goals, anyway. So, it’s kind of like saying you’re gonna, you’re gonna be happy when you get to the horizon. Well, you can’t get there. You can’t catch up on it at night. Right? Like, the horizon-

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Cameron Herold: … keeps moving. So, I think we tend to lie to ourselves, “Oh, I just have to catch up.” It’s like, you’re never gonna catch up. You- what you’re doing is you’re avoiding your family. You’re avoiding your friends. You’re avoiding yourself. You’re avoiding the fact that you’ve become boring.

Erik Gensler:Mm-hmm (affirmative). You’ve written a lot about meetings. In fact, you have a book called Meetings Suck, and I just, I wanna ask a couple of questions on meetings and making them better. What are some ways to make meetings better?

Cameron Herold: Well, the Meetings Suck … So, this came for me when I was coaching a client I coached for four years, he and his leadership team. He’s gone from 60 employees up to 700 and he was saying that his employees were always complaining about how bad their meetings were and how much they sucked. And I said, “Well, has your management team ever been trained on how to run meetings?” And he said, “No.” I said, “Well, have your employees ever been trained on how to show up and participate and attend a meeting?” He said, “No.” And I said, “Then maybe meetings don’t suck at all. Maybe you suck at running meetings.” And he kind of laughed. So, the reason I wrote Meetings Suck was that every employee at every company would read it. It’s like a $12 investment. Right? If you’re not prepared to buy your employee a $12 book and sit them down and say, “Spend two hours, which is all it takes, spend two hours reading it,” that’s a huge investment on their time. But I’ll give you some basics. Every meeting has to start on time. Right? Now, that’s one of the ones that most people complain about. Well, the reason they always show up late isn’t because people don’t care. It’s not because people don’t think it’s important. It’s- the reason that people show up late for meeting tends to be that they book everything back-to-back. So, they’re on a seven o’clock until eight o’clock call and then they go from an eight o’clock to a nine o’clock meeting. Well, they don’t have any buffer built in. So, you can’t push people to build in a buffer, but what you can do is train people to finish every meeting and finish every phone call five minutes prior to the scheduled ending time and that way, you actually can walk down the hall, talk to your assistant, get a cup of coffee, and be exactly on time to start your next meeting. So, I’ve just kind of created that mantra that if you’re not five minutes early, you’re late, but we also finish everything five minutes early. We also just make sure that we have a rule that, “No agenda, no attenda.” Right? Like, if you don’t know what you’re covering and in what order you’re gonna cover it and how many minutes you’re gonna spend on each agenda item, you shouldn’t be allowed to book a meeting and invite people to it. People should be able to look at the agenda and look at the purpose of the meeting to say whether they’re gonna show up or not. So, just basic systems like that. So, a third of the book Meetings Suck is how to run meetings. A third of the book Meetings Suck is how to show up and attend and participate in meetings. And then the last third is what meetings you need to actually run a highly effective high-growth company.

Erik Gensler: So, I wanna close out by listing some of the things you end your book with. So, in Double Double you end with key lessons that you learned about yourself that you wish you had when you were doing the job, like at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? job. And, if I can just throw some of these out at you as prompts and you can respond to them. These are the ones that really spoke to me. Number one was, “Slow down. Do less.”

Cameron Herold: Yeah, so again, it’s about doing the critical few things versus the important many. Right? I think we have an opportunity to be doing lots, busy, busy, busy. Like, everybody’s busy, busy, busy. What are you busy doing? Like, are you actually getting impactful stuff done? You know, I remember John Lennon and Paul McCartney from the Beatles talked about … I think it was John said that he just- he just built a new swimming pool and it cost $10,000 to build a swimming pool. Paul’s like, “Whoa,” and John said, “Yeah, we need to write another big song so I can pay for my swimming pool.” So, the big joke between them used to be, “Let’s write a swimming pool.” They would sit down and they would just- they would write another amazing song that would give them the money to build another swimming pool. And I think we miss those opportunities to slow down and think about, what are the big impactful things I could do today to move the company forward, to grow the people, to get the best ROI? So, it is about slowing down and working on the critical few things.

Erik Gensler: “Don’t react.”

Cameron Herold: Yeah, I mean, this is one that we’ve heard a lot of in, you know, in the marriage counseling world and personal world. Right? Respond, not react. I think it also comes from just being a little bit balanced, getting some physical workouts and exercising so that you don’t react and you’re, you’re calmer. But I tended to take everything personally and react to the situation instead of thinking about it. I used to take things very personally and then realize, like, people weren’t actually against me. They just had ideas. And I thought, “Let’s just slow down on this, the ideas. I’ll be probably be okay.”

Erik Gensler: “Offsite meetings are valuable.”

Cameron Herold: Yeah, just disconnecting from your team, right? Get, getting a couple of your employees together and going offsite, going to a retreat, renting an Airbnb or a Breather space. And Airbnb’s made it amazing in that you can just get away for, even in the city, and, you know, spend the day together at someplace. You don’t even have to sleep there, but just getting offsite and working from some other area, it just kind of frees you up. It gets you out of the day to day, out of the distractions. You’re not seeing all the rest of the employees around, and you can just brainstorm the blue sky together.

Erik Gensler: Totally. We have Breather. So many around here. They’re great. “Accept criticism. Learn from it, but don’t obsess about it.”

Cameron Herold: Yeah. It’s like the pro athletee, right? You know, if you think about the pro athletes that still have coaches today. You know, they’re not gonna sit and beat themselves up over the things they have to improve on, but they’re constantly looking for feedback on ways to improve and I think we missed that in the business world, that feedback is the breakfast of champions. You just wanna be able to, to get those good lessons and grow from them and seek to understand and seek to get better at your job, but don’t obsess about it. Also, I think when you’re getting feedback, try to get the positive things you’re doing well. It usually balances it out. So, if I’m gonna get three things to improve on, I also wanna hear three things I should continue.

Erik Gensler: So, our last question is what I call our “CI to Eye moment.” And the question is, if you can broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams, staff and board of 1,000 arts organizations, which is our constituents, what advice would you provide to help them improve their businesses?

Cameron Herold: I think the big one is, just let’s not take ourselves so effing seriously, (laughs). Like, none of this actually matters. You know, none of us are getting out of this alive. We are all gonna die. I had somebody the other day, and I said, “What’s the exit for your company?” He was like, “I’m not gonna exit.” I’m like, “Well, guess what? At some point you’re gonna die. And at that point, then you have exited your company.” And he was like, “Ooh, I never thought about it that way.” Like, this is just what we do to make money. So, how can we have fun with it along the way? How can we have a good time? How can we treat people nicer? How can we help our employees and how can help our customers and laugh along the way, versus thinking this is everything? And then also, how do we get some balance into our lives so that when we go to our cocktail parties and hang out with our friends, we can talk to them about everything except work? Right? Instead of having nothing to talk about but work.

Erik Gensler: Well, Cameron, thank you so much for this. This was awesome.

Cameron Herold: Oh, you’re welcome, Erik. I appreciate it. Thanks for sharing this with me.

About Our Guests
Cameron Herold
Cameron Herold
Founder, COO Alliance

Cameron Herold is an executive coach, best-selling author, and founder of the COO Alliance. Cameron coaches leaders primarily in the commercial space but has valuable lessons to share with non-profit arts managers about leadership, recruiting, and managing teams.

Read more

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