Episode: Mike Harris

Summary

Mike Harris of Worksighted in Holland, Michigan joins the podcast. Worksighted is a Managed IT service provider that has appeared on the Inc. 5000 five times in a row.

Outline

This podcast is meant to provide value for leaders at growing companies like yours, I wanted to start off asking what your biggest failure has been in growing a company.

  • I”ll generalize at first and then get specific.
  • Our biggest failure is to sometimes fail to take a difficult action when we know we have a bad fit—like making a bad hire.
  • Not a lot of people know that Matt and I had a third partner for a while. We learned a difficult and painful lesson about who you bring on the team and making sure there’s a good fit, and then realizing that you’ve made a mistake. There’s a lot of companies that don’t survive that. There was a point where we had to part ways because our vision for the company was different.

Did that bring you and Matt closer, more aligned?

  • Matt and I are kind of a yin/yang and keep each other in check. To make this company happen we had to go in 150% after we let go of our other partner. It strengthened our bond to do that.

Tell me about you and Matt being aligned on things and how that translates to the company culture.

  • We always set out to build a company that we two as individuals wanted to come to everyday. we have done our best to lead the company in a way that we would want to be led.
  • We’re very open about what we have going on in the company. If we disagree, we disagree openly. It’s like watching your parents argue.
  • We have a ton of faith and trust in each other.
  • It’s about having a strong enough bond that there’s a good cushion of trust that you can fall back on.

Were you guys good friends before starting Worksighted?

  • we met the first day of college.
  • we had overlap in our programs of study, and that’s where our bond developed. Projects and fun.
  • Friendship converted into a really dynamic business partnership.

Where do you think is the source of some of the things you guys do as a company?

  • We’ve wondered before if we could replicate this.
  • We talk about “return on luck” a lot
  • We worked together at Johnson Controls after college. It was right at the top of the dot com bubble, and realized that there was a huge market in managed services for small and mid sized companies, and realized that we could make a business out of it.
  • How did we learn how to manage people? I learned a lot from my dad and his businesses. He led it like a human being and didn’t always make the decision that was best for him.
  • We lived in Matt’s parents’ basement at the start of the company, and they helped us understand what it took to be a good leader before we even had anyone to lead.

How do you make your employees excited and engaged?

  • We came into this business during a unique time—on the cusp between gen X and millennials. I’m an achiever, but I’m highly relational. One thing that sets us apart is that our people are highly relational. It allows us to have great client relationships that can be rare in this industry.
  • How does a company in a mundane field repeatedly outperform the competition?  For us it comes down to the fact that Matt and I are very passionate about seeing the people who work for us grow.
  • Employee number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 still work here and are still doing amazing things.
  • Our energy transfers from our employees into our customers. I like to think that we help our customers with their growth.
  • We’re standing out because we’re deliberate about what we’re passionate about, and everyone understands how they align to that. It’s more than just values. You and I can value similar things, but have a different set of beliefs. If we also have a similar set of beliefs we can work together with less management and more understanding.

How do you support the alignment? What structures and habits do you have to help your people grow?

  • There’re two layers. The bottom layer is the stuff you have to do to help a person do their task. Like training.
  • The layer on top of it is trying to make sure you understand what makes the employee tick. On a weekly basis we’re surveying our staff to get feedback on alignment with the company. Each manager is having weekly one on ones with their staff…asking everyone if they understand why they are critical to us.
  • Any employee here feels comfortable walking into my office and expressing their questions about what’s happening in the company. If you’re aligned, then it’s ok for people to ask questions and drive innovation.

Leaders should over communicate…

  • There are many times when I have thought I’ve communicated something in my one on ones, but really haven’t. I need to say something about seven times before other people are able to process and apply it. They’re well seeded in my mind, but i need to make sure that I’m not expecting them to read my mind.
  • We grew by 30% last year, and we got feedback that we were too dependent on information sharing through osmosis. That doesn’t work when you grow so big. We took that feedback and are now much more deliberate with how we share.

That sounds like something you guys have learned over time — that you need to open up a forum…

  • It’s like we show them a math problem and the answer, but don’t show them the work. so they do have questions about that.
  • The entrepreneurial operating system gives us data we need to stay organized around where the company is going and helping us make sure everyone understands how they fit into the bigger picture.
  • Rolling out EOS was a challenge because we changed the makeup of our leadership team. and it was a painful process.

What would you say is another thing that you would have told yourself at the beginning of Worksighted?

  • Today mike would tell old mike to give up control sooner. When you’re hiring people and passionate about what you’re doing, it’s really hard to give up the core thing that you do. For me it was the operational side of the business. We probably could have started growing fast sooner if I had been willing to give up control sooner. People are careful with things that aren’t there’s.

Why do you think people aren’t willing to let go?

  • Every day I’m running the biggest company I’ve ever run. So there’s some comfort in the aspects of the business from the operational system that you started with that’s safe. You want to do things the way you do it. But since letting go no one wants me to do the fixing and doing anymore…but I am the right person to drive the company to the next level. I owe it to the people who work for us that I focus on growing the company.

Any other advice?

  • Make decisions faster than you think you should
  • Do the things that feel uncomfortable. when everyone is buying you want to be selling, and vice versa. if you want to be exceptional you can’t do what everyone else is doing.

Links

Mike’s TEDx Talk

https://www.worksighted.com/