Turnaround and team expert Annie Hyman-Pratt joins Sonia to talk about her work on the front lines of team-building and managing extraordinary people in the face of tough company challenges.
One of the reasons I founded my own company (with my wonderful business partners, of course) is that the way most companies approach their teams is pretty pathetic.
Micromanagement, out of control executive egos, poor decision-making, disrespect, bottlenecks, frustration … I could go on and on. Too many companies, both large and small, have cultures that are, very simply, broken. And broken cultures lead to poor business performance.
In the midst of all that, Annie Pratt isn’t afraid to wade in and make things right. She’s a master of organizational structure and smarter leadership habits — creating teams that are marked by respect and accountability. From her own family business (Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, where she managed their explosive growth leading to a successful sale of the company) to countless other companies, including many companies in turnaround, Annie has a perspective you won’t find in the usual business books.
While this talk is mainly directed at leaders, these principles will help anyone create a healthier, more productive, and more enjoyable culture within their company — whether you’re the founder or the receptionist.
Note: Annie is a real inspiration to me, and has worked with us to help nurture and grow the incredible culture we have at Copyblogger Media. I’d love to bring her back for repeat interviews. If that sounds like a good idea to you, will you let me know in the comments? Thanks a million.
In this 37-minute episode, Annie Hyman-Pratt and I discuss:
- How to coach accountability in your team members
- The cornerstone habits that will make you a better leader
- How to make yourself a leader among equals (no matter what official role you play)
- How to manage those difficult workplace conversations
- What to do in times of extreme work stress
- Keys to getting your team to care as much about your business as you do
- How to go beyond “feel-good” exercises and create real change
Listen to Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer below ...
The Show Notes
If you want to talk more with Annie about working with her on your business, you can connect with her at the site below.
Let me know what’s on your mind!
If you want to ask a question for a future episode, or just let me know if you’d like to hear more sessions with Annie, drop a comment below! (Scroll waaaay down past the transcript once it’s published.)
Annie Hyman-Pratt on Resilient Leadership: How to Build a Smart, Agile Business by Crafting an Incredible Team
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Sonia Simone: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone, and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I am a co-founder and chief content officer for Copyblogger Media.
I am also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.
I am really delighted today. I have a friend with me, Annie Hyman-Pratt.
Annie, good talking with you today.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Great to be here.
Sonia Simone: Annie is in a business owner’s group with me, and she’s one of those people who has a lot of expertise and a lot of real-world experience without necessarily a big platform or a bestselling business book to share with you. I am doing my best to nag Annie to get those in place, but it may take a while.
She is the CEO of IMPAQ Entrepreneur. That’s IMPAQ Entrepreneur. They specialize in business execution and rapid culture change for fast-growing entrepreneurial companies. She offers something special because, unlike the run-of-the-mill business advice giver, she has been there. She has been in the trenches leading a company through amazing twists and turns.
In fact, I would love it, Annie, if you could talk a little bit about that, about your experience with Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, because it’s a pretty cool story.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Sure, I’d be happy to. Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, my parents started it in the ’60s, and all during the ’60s, ’70s, and a lot of the ’80s, we sold mostly just pounds of coffee. The cups hadn’t kicked in. Then, during the ’90s, late ’80s, and early ’90s, the beverage revolution hit, and we were really well-positioned to take advantage of that.
At that time, I came back to my family business — I was in my early 20s — started to grow the business like crazy. When I came back, we had about seven stores and each doing pretty well volumes. Over seven years, we grew it to more than 70 stores worldwide with some overseas licensing, and each of those stores had grown so much in volume.
Then we got an offer from one of our overseas licensees, and we ended up selling the business at that time, which was a very opportunistic move. That growth period was so, so, so fun, but also fraught with all kinds of change, pain, and all kinds of things that we had to handle as we were going along.
Sonia Simone: I think that just gives you a perspective very few people have. You’ve been the leader of a little company, you’ve been the leader of a big company, and you’ve been the leader of a company in multiple kinds of transition. Navigating all those twists and turns is something you have given me some great advice on, given friends of ours some great advise on.
How to Coach Accountability in Your Team Members
Sonia Simone: I’m going to jump into a couple of questions, starting with, your thing — the way that I view your thing — is really about creating business cultures that work better because they’re more adaptable. They adapt to these stresses and pressures. Is there a key difference that you have seen between a company that can adapt to chaotic change or pressure and the ones that get stuck and start to sink?
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes. There’s a few things that I think make a really, really big difference. I’m glad you shared that I really like to work in the real world. One of the things about working in the real world is working with real human beings, like how human beings operate. That’s something to keep in mind as I share this next part.
It used to be that companies with super sharp leaders at the top, they could utilize a lot of authority and control and have what’s known as ‘cascading accountability’ — very much top down. People just take direction from whoever is above them and do what they’re told, and as long as you do that, it’ll work out. But today, change is so rapid. Like change in the external environment, things change so fast that a top-down approach, a controlling approach, is too slow. It’s just too, too, slow.
So we really need people at every level, not just leaders, but really everybody at every level to be able to know exactly what they’re going for and to be able to take action in direction of the result — basically, take actions consistent with results. We need to do that through an environment that’s all about alignment, agreement, and accountability, and developing collective behaviors that facilitate that culture.
Sonia Simone: There’s so much to unpack there. We’re going to unpack a little bit today, and we’ll come back and talk a little bit more about some of those things.
The Cornerstone Habits That Will Make You a Better Leader
Sonia Simone: Before we dive into specifics, it’s probably my own baggage — because anybody who listens to this podcast knows I have baggage about the corporate world — but it strikes me that a lot of leadership and a lot of business culture is pretty horrible. A lot of companies don’t work well.
Why do you think that is? Things like this very rigid, top-down structure that’s not flexible. It’s not fast. It’s not accountable, really, except in kind of a clumsy way. It’s so common.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yeah, it is. The cultures I see that are so awful, so to speak, are the ones where people get pretty entrenched in victim behaviors. That means where people within the company, they spend a lot of time in blame or in denial, judgement, or rationalization. They’re quick to finger point and criticize, but not so quick to step up and think about what they themselves could do differently to move towards the result.
Those victim behaviors, they’re something that, as humans, we do those. We fall into those loops. I know I do. Every day I have to think about when am I blaming something, when am I hiding from something, when I am denying that something is even happening to me, and pull myself back to a place where I can recognize really what’s happening and take action on it.
So the companies that don’t have an understanding of how their people are falling into these victim loops, then they can’t work with it to basically develop a culture that gets people out of that.
Sonia Simone: I think that a lot of leaders in companies, managers — whether high-level leaders or mid-level managers — they definitely see the culture. They definitely see the culture of everybody’s pointing a finger at everybody else and nobody will step up. I think they don’t always see the role they play in that, in creating that.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes, that’s right. Because in the moment, it’s a lot easier to just think, “This doesn’t really have to do with me. It’s not my fault. I don’t really have a part in it.” The thing that helps people get out of that the quickest is to really go back to, “What are we really going for here, and what can we all do together differently?”
Adding more blame or self-blame tends to perpetuate the problem while the problem still goes on. One of the habits of cultures that are so strong and good is for everybody to be staying out of a place of blame and judgement and going very quickly to, “What part of this can I own? What part is my part, and how can I be part of a solution here instead of ignoring or denying that I’m part of it at all.”
Sonia Simone: Right.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: It’s really about stepping up to, “What’s my part, and how can I contribute to getting a better result here?”
Sonia Simone: Yeah. A word that I know comes up a lot in what you teach in your workshops is ‘safety.’
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes.
Sonia Simone: From my experience in working with a little bit larger organization, that’s something that is maybe in short supply in a lot of organizations. A sense of, for example, safety to speak up and say, “I think we’re making an expensive mistake here.”
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes, exactly. That’s basically safe to risk, right?
Sonia Simone: Right.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Safe to go ahead and speak up when you see something that doesn’t seem like it’s working well or should be happening. It’s safe to go ahead and suggest new ways of doing things or solutions that might be better. One of the things about safety is that it’s not the same as comfort.
What ‘safety’ really means is safe to be uncomfortable and to risk and try something different. That could mean risk being more transparent. It could mean risk trying a new behavior that maybe you aren’t sure if it’s going to work out or not. Safe to take a political risk and speak up in a situation that might, in the past, have been a little bit less safe. That’s what we mean when we say ‘safety.’
Sonia Simone: Yeah, it’s such a key idea. I read a lot of business books, and I don’t see that spoken to as often as I think it should be.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: I agree. Unfortunately, I sometimes also see it spoken about when it’s framed in a way where safety is providing comfort, actually, not about providing an environment where people are safe to try something different.
In fact, I actually love Simon Sinek’s work, but he has a video out now that’s all about safety. He talks a lot about having people be very safe in their jobs, like safe that they have a job. The thing about that is that the external environment keeps changing, and people really know when things are going on that is going to put their job at risk, when things have to be organized in a way that is very uncertain about the outcome.
The kind of safety that we can provide, it can’t be a false safety. It can’t be a safety that ignores reality. What it is, is a safety to confront the truth and be able to risk in it — to be able to try something different and risk in a way where people are safe from blame, criticism, judgement, all those kinds of things that tend to put people right back down into the victim loop instead of trying to do something a lot more productive.
How to Make Yourself a Leader Among Equals (No Matter What Official Role You Play)
Sonia Simone: I don’t know if you are familiar with a book called Billion Dollar Lessons by Paul B. Carroll.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: I’m not.
Sonia Simone: It’s a little volume of schadenfreude, basically of terrible things that companies have done. It’s amazing how often it comes down to there were people in the organization who absolutely saw the oncoming train, and they had no way to get that communicated. They either tried to communicate it and they were hurt, or they didn’t try to communicate it because they know it was politically not astute.
Any of us in any kind of a leadership role, you could take a leadership role as a peer among equals any time we can step forward and just own our own insecurity enough that we can say, “It’s OK to tell me the truth even if I’m not thrilled about it.”
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes, right.
Sonia Simone: Because that’s hard.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Oh, yes. It is. And, “It’s OK to tell me the truth, and even if my first reaction is denial or blame or what not, I’m going to be working on getting myself to a good place with it.” Starting with good self-awareness for what’s even is at risk here, what people are likely going through.
How to Manage Those Difficult Workplace Conversations
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Frankly, the best way out of that lower loop, out of those victim behaviors is to start with a lot of compassion for what is happening. When somebody comes to me and tells me the truth of a situation that’s a tough one, like they just lost a major account — I’ve certainly had lots of people tell me that before — that has a very large impact on how we’re going to do for the quarter of the year, there are times when my first reaction is wanting to blame that person, going right to an interrogation, “What did you do? How did you lose it?” As in, it’s your fault.
I’ve had to learn how to hit a pause button. I really want leaders to cultivate this, getting a pause button and starting with sharing what’s happening inside you. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, this is a big piece of news. This is a big deal.” Give me a minute to process it and think about, so I can interact with you in a way where we can both think together where to go from here.
Sonia Simone: I like that pause button. I think everybody needs a pause button. We are an emotional kind of critter.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes.
Sonia Simone: We do react. Our first reaction is often not maybe constructive. Mine, often, is not constructive. Just being able to take that pause, take a breath, I like that. Just acknowledging, “OK, I’ve just taken in a big piece of news, so I need a sec.” Just let people know. I think if you’re just silent, that’s probably very intimidating, or creepy, or worrisome.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes. When you’re silent, the other person is assuming the worst.
Sonia Simone: Right, right. Like we all do.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes, like we all do.
Sonia Simone: I like that pause. It seems to me a key habit that you can put in place.
Are there any other habits that you would want to share that people can just start to do better with some of this? A lot of what we’re talking about is, it’s easy to see that would be a good idea, but we might not have the right framework or the right personal habits to make it work.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes. I have a couple of others that are helpful. In addition to hitting the pause button, there’s another habit that’s all about recovery or repair. Just because you have a reaction — and reactions run automatically. They are our hardwiring. There certainly have been lots of times when I’ve gone very quickly to blame or judgement or general freak out, causing a lot of fear in the person standing in front of me.
To pretend that’s never going to happen is just not even practical. So when I see that happening or when I’ve engaged in a behavior that isn’t working, so to speak, I very quickly then head to a recovery plan. For myself, I’ll go to something like, “Oh my gosh, this is a big piece of news. I think that was not the best reaction there. Let me take a moment and start over. Let me get myself centered and start over.”
Just something that simple of a habit is so, so, so useful. You’ll find that the more times you actually deploy the recovery, the better you’ll get at not falling into those behaviors in the first place. If you can’t hit the pause button, definitely go for recovery.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Then there’s another habit that goes with those two as well. It also kind of rides on what we were just sharing about — to articulate what you’re thinking out loud. What that means is, especially when you’re engaged in anything that’s high stakes — it’s either high stakes or highly emotional or just something critical going on — then it’s really helpful to articulate what’s going on inside your head.
It’s like, “OK, given all the information that you just shared with me, telling me that we’ve just lost this big account, let me tell you what I’m thinking about that. The first thing I’m thinking is that our revenue for this quarter is totally at stake. The next thing I’m thinking is that, because of that, now I’m worried about covering the sales department salaries. I’m worried about that part.”
Just start articulating what you’re thinking — you can articulate your feelings as well. In my example of I’m scared that maybe we’re going to have a difficult time covering payroll for this department, that’s a way for the other person to start seeing what’s happening inside my head. As I’m articulating my thinking, I’m much less likely to fall into the emotionality of it, to be driven by the emotions.
When we’re articulating our thoughts and feelings, we’re in a part of the brain that’s rationale, that’s logical, that’s able to connect to the helpful part of what we’re going for. Putting some process on it and just articulating what you’re thinking out loud — I do this a lot when I’m making high-stakes decisions. I’ll say, “Here’s the decision that I made, and here’s how I’ve come to it. This is what I was thinking as I was making the decision.”
It adds super important context for everybody around you to understand what the heck was going on. It also starts to set a wonderful example for other people to start doing the same. It’s also the most rapid way to negotiate because you start to share hidden pieces. Companies that have a habit of openly negotiating interests, where they’re able to share how they’re coming to how they’re thinking, it’s so, so, so much more effective than just gunning for your position.
Sonia Simone: Right. Especially because I think we have to get realistic about the fact that employees — we started off with this — you don’t just say, “Go do this,” and then they go do it exactly the way you wanted them to and make all the right decisions and all the right judgement calls. It’s big enough to ask them to do that, but if they’re doing that with no context, it doesn’t work. Companies kind of expect it to work.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: That’s right.
Sonia Simone: It won’t work.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Right, it doesn’t work. Context is everything these days. The outside environments shift so fast — the more people need context so that they can be good decision-makers in the moment. That’s what makes the difference between a great company and a so-so company — when people are confronted with challenges and they can actually make good decisions in the moment.
But to do that, they’ve got to have context. You can’t think up every circumstance that they’re going to be in. Sharing what you’re thinking and how you’ve come to your decisions or how you’ve gotten there, it’s one of the quickest ways to teach people to give them so much more context about how your part is. Then they’re going to do the same with you. You’re going to hear so many things that you had no idea were happening at a level or with things that impact a decision that you had no idea about.
Sonia Simone: Yeah. I’ve really, really seen that where the C-level of the organization is really struggling with some very difficult scenarios. You’re not sharing what’s going on, so their employees are all in a state of permanent panic. They’re not doing a good job because that’s not how to get the best out of people, and the stories the employees are telling in their heads are probably worse.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Oh, they’re 10 times worse.
Sonia Simone: Yeah. The reality was tough, but it wasn’t as bad as these stories. Then on top of that, there were great solutions available on the frontline that never made their way up because employees didn’t have that habit of letting their managers — and even on up to the C-level — know the real context of what was really going on. There were solutions there that just weren’t able to be seen.
I want to stress to people, I think that your approach could sound — and it may be the thing that you’re talking about in the Simon Sinek piece — it can be soft or fluffy or kumbaya, or “This is great if you’ve just taken $50 million in venture capital and you don’t know what to spend it on.” I want to stress that these are important habits, frameworks, and structures for very pragmatic, tough situations. This is not just a nice-to-have, fluffy Easter Bunny way to run your business.
Keys to Getting Your Team to Care as Much About Your Business as You Do
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Absolutely. One of the things about this approach that I think is so different than an autocratic approach is that, in this kind of approach where people are involved, people are accountable at all levels to take action that’s consistent with the results. When you have that kind of environment, you can be much more non-negotiable about the outcome.
Sonia Simone: Yeah, talk about that.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: What we’re going for here — especially because it has to take into account the external drive is what’s happening in the marketplace — the outcome that we’re going for is non-negotiable. This is the part that we have to get there. How we get there is negotiable. That’s where we need everybody’s help, but what it is, is not negotiable.
A simple example of that is when I work with a turnaround. I come into a company that’s losing a lot of money every month. We cannot sustain that. Again, unless you have just taken in $50 million dollars, then maybe you can. But for most business owners, you cannot lose millions of dollars every month and have that be OK or sustainable. We have to get action on it. The fact that we have to turn around this picture is not negotiable, but how we get there is.
That’s the part where we need everybody’s involvement so that the fastest, best, and most efficient solutions surface the easiest. We actually can’t get those to surface if we’re not sharing the real, honest truth of the situation to the people in it. Otherwise, they’re going to offer up solutions that are so far away from the reality.
I find this all the time where companies don’t share the magnitude of the situation because they’re really worried about causing panic, which I totally understand. I totally understand. When they do that, then people generally offer up solutions that fall so far short. They’re not very creative because they don’t really know what’s at stake.
But when you share the real truth and share such a strong intention of how we’re planning on dealing with this and how we’re going to keep you involved, then people have enough safety — again, not comfort — but enough safety to offer up real solutions that even include them making the sacrifices.
Sonia Simone: I think that’s really a lot to think about. It’s a lot for people to get their heads around.
I’m going to pause here and just remind people that the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer are brought to you this week by Authority Rainmaker, a carefully designed, live educational experience that presents a complete online marketing strategy to make your business and your marketing work.
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How to Go Beyond ‘Feel-Good’ Exercises and Create Real Change
Sonia Simone: Now let’s dive into some more of Annie’s insights. One that I am a total victim of — this is something I find very appealing — this myth of business, which is that, basically, if we all get into a room and share our values, then we’re going to turn into Zappos — it’s just going to happen for us. I’m guessing that there’s more to it than that.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Oh my gosh, yeah. There is. I love values. When I was with Coffee Bean, it was one of the first processes that we did, creating our values. We even had an acronym for it. It was HIROS — humor, integrity, respect, openness, and service.
Sonia Simone: Nice.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: I loved it. Then a year or two later, I was noticing that our values had become a little bit of a joke in the organization. Because things were really tense, humor was the last thing that we were bringing to it. As I was asking people to step up and deal with crisis after crisis because the growth was going so fast, our values became this thing of like, “Well, yeah, I wish we could do our values, but there’s just no way. It’s just not possible to do it here.”
Here’s the thing about values. The first thing is that they’re aspirational. They’re really up to interpretation for each person. How I see the value of integrity might differ than how you see the value of integrity. Certainly, the way I would demonstrate the value of service could be really different than you would demonstrate the value of service.
Values on their own are lovely, but they don’t provide any direction or any support for people in how they behave. What we really want are to turn those values into behaviors. If you’re embodying the value of service here at Coffee Bean, what does that mean in your behavior? How do you behave? What do you do to demonstrate that? Then turning that into collective behaviors, so everybody knows how to demonstrate service. Your values are basically your collected behaviors.
Sonia Simone: Right.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: The bummer thing is, if you’re a company that has a lot of victim behaviors going, then that’s one of things that shines through. That’s the thing that can make the values that you do have kind of feel like a joke.
Sonia Simone: Yeah. Your company’s values are much more what you’re actually doing than what you’re saying.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes. Much more what you’re actually doing. That’s something where most people think that changing the culture or getting people to behave differently is something that takes a super long time. We all recognize that behavior change is hard. I’m still trying to change my own behavior, which I’m constantly doing. It’s certainly not easy. It’s not easy.
But with a good amount of safety and with a strong articulation of expectations for how these behaviors should look, like what we’re really going for in behavior, you can get there quite rapidly — more rapidly than people realize.
Sonia Simone: That’s so fascinating to me because, for a long, long time, I have been preaching and teaching that your marketing is really everything you communicate to your customers or your perspective customers, but what you do communicates as much or more than what you say. People think their marketing is their web copy and their brochure copy, but it’s how your person answers the phone.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yes.
Sonia Simone: And how that person gives you change in the restaurant. It’s what people are doing. It’s how people drive when they’re driving one of your delivery trucks. That’s marketing, negative or positive.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Oh gosh, yes. Right. People’s experience inside our stores was enormous for that. We could deliver great drinks, but if the store was a mess, it’s not that great.
What to Do in Times of Extreme Work Stress
Sonia Simone: You have a lot of experience with companies in turnaround, companies in crisis, companies in panic mode. I’m thinking that there are probably some portion of the people listening to this right now are in an environment, an organization that’s having one of those hot moments where there’s a lot of stress or pressure. It doesn’t need to be that the company’s going down, but there’s something very stressful or pressuring in your department, in your organization, with a vendor. These come up all the time.
Is there some little chunk of advice you can give somebody — this could be an owner, it could be a manager, or it could be an employee — to keep themselves productive and keep that situation as healthy as it can be?
Annie Hyman-Pratt: There’s a couple of things. First, is just noticing your reactions to the truth of what’s happening. Kind of what we talked about just a little bit ago. When the news is coming in, to recognize what’s happening with you, but to not let that stop you from trying to seek the whole truth — trying to just get the whole truth of the situation.
Then the next thing, from there, is to really try to understand what’s important and focus on the outcome that you’re going for. That will really help keep you and everybody around you out of blame, criticism, judgment, denial — all of that. No matter where you are in the organization, you will be a huge support if you can keep helping to surface the truth and then helping keep people focused on the outcome that they’re going for. If I could come into a company that was struggling with a really difficult situation, those would be the first two things that I’m always looking to do, always looking to help them.
Sonia Simone: Nice. Alright, there’s a lot more we could talk about, but I’m going to cut it off here for a couple of reasons. One is I would like Annie to come back and talk to us again. If you would like Annie to come back and talk to us again, leave a comment and let us know.
If you are listening to this on iTunes, you can bop over to Pinkhairedmarketer.FM. That’s where you’ll find this show, where you can leave a comment and just let us know. What would you like to hear more about? What are some of the problems, challenges, stuck spots that you would like her to help out with?
You can also connect with Annie at ImpaqEntrepreneur.com. I will, of course, leave that link in the show notes, but it’s ImpaqEntrepreneur.com. It’s all one word. No hyphens or spaces or anything.
And, of course, your ratings and reviews on iTunes are very welcome, and they are very helpful. So thank you for everyone who has left a review and a star rating. If you feel moved to do that, I would encourage you to go do that.
I just want to thank you. I always get so much out of talking with you. I’m really appreciative of the time you’ve taken today.
Annie Hyman-Pratt: Yeah, thank you. I got so much out of it, too. Thank you so much.
Sonia Simone: It was fun.
Thank you everyone. This is Sonia Simone with the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. Take care, everybody.