Episode: Jon Thomson


Atmosera CEO Jon Thomson joins the podcast today. Atmosera is a Microsoft Azure solutions provider, and was voted one of Oregon’s most admired companies by Oregon Business Journal. Jon shares his story of turning around an unhealthy work culture into one of the best places to work.


How did you guys get started?

  • Atmosera is a global managed azure service provider. We architect, deploy, and manage public and private microsoft azure computing environments all over the world.
  • Started in 95 as an ISP, and in the early 2000s moved into datacenters, and in 2010 added managed cloud.
  • The company was acquired in 2013 by a NY based equity firm, and then I joined a little later.
  • What I found was a company of about 48 employees with a happy client base. But internally I found a company that had a lot of improvement to do from a cultural perspective.
  • The business was not run efficiently and the employees were not as engaged as they needed to be to capture the market.
  • What I found was a lot of learned helplessness. The A players had learned helplessness because there was no performance management. The executive team was not setting a strong example from the top.
  • They needed to go through a transition and there was a lot of work to do.

Can you unpack the learned helplessness a bit?

  • You have to come in and gain the respect of everybody in order to have influence.
  • The biggest component of what we’ve done has been about organizational behavior above any technical additions.
  • When I got here the A players’ mindset was “why do I put in the extra time?” They had the eagerness, but not the faith in the management team.
  • We had team members coming in late, not resolving issues, no performance management, no holding people responsible.
  • The C and D players just sort of existing…not show up…leave midday. That had been tolerated before. So an A player sees that type of behavior, and just says what’s going on?
  • Once we took care of a number of things, the A players started to blossom.

So how does an organization get there?

  • You have great leaders who can start companies and do great sub 30 employees, but once you get above that it takes a different mindset and skillset to lead a larger organization. 500-1000 is even more different.
  • Each one of those phases is not for everybody.
  • My belief is that everything originates from the top. How is the CEO showing up everyday? Is there a good strategic plan? Is communication correct? Is the organization focused? Is performance management in place? Etc.
  • There’s a culture no matter what, so it’s better to be intentional about it and support the vision.
  • So how do you build an intentional culture that aligns with the strategies to reach the vision?
  • Adding more people in theory means the business is becoming more complex. Maybe you start to slip on your communication. That creates silos. Then you have departments not working together. Good cultures can break down.
  • What’s the vision? What’s the strategy? How do you introduce meaning and fun?

Does throwing in fun to make up for holes in other areas set you up to fail?

  • Fun stuff is good for people for a moment, but the minute you leave the keg and go to work and people have other issues with the culture, the resentment is going to be there. If you’re not addressing all of the important things, all the fun stuff doesn’t get used. People don’t show up.
  • The first thing I did when I got here was help create a vision…a vision beyond a financial definition. I call it creating a religion. Something where people are inspired and can get behind it. It becomes a driver for the organization.
  • Our vision here was to become a historically relevant business — that business being focused on managed azure on a global basis. But wanted to define the category.
  • From that you can get people excited. Solid commitment and true to your word.
  • Then you start creating the atmosphere experience. That dictates how we recruit in the market and how we’re perceived by people. How we onboard people. Everyone gets both a guide and a mentor who fulfill different purposes.
  • Activities are broken down into a variety of areas. Compensation and benefits, rewards and recognitions, meaning, education, etc.
  • You also have a cohort who you team up with in work events and activities.
  • It’s creating that curated, high performance, meaningful culture. Rewarding, fun, and performance driven.
  • It took about a year, year and a half, to get the majority onboard.
  • We replaced 60% of the employees and the entire executive team, which had not been my intention.
  • We had given plenty of opportunity for everyone to succeed, along with playbooks, but ultimately in the first year we had to replace a lot of people.
  • Once we started letting the people go who had not been putting in the work, the A players started excelling.
  • For the executive team I brought in people who had worked at larger companies. These people had a) an understanding of what it meant to operate at a higher level, and b) a lack of ego.  

How did you formulate this plan?

  • I went to business school at Northwestern, and I studied organizational behavior and finances.
  • Through my career as I gained leadership responsibilities, I applied those things I learned about organizational behavior and started building on that foundation.
  • I went through several industries and learned a lot. You learn what works and what doesn’t.
  • My previous business to here was in the energy space with a company about 40 people. I joined as the second in command. The first in command was a woman who had trouble with managing teams over the 40 people mark (which is why I was brought in), but she had a very strong belief that everything flows from the top down, and people will be held accountable. It was great.
  • We grew that business nationwide to a couple hundred employees, then sold it and grew to 1400 employees. All that time we used her approaches to leadership.
  • Organizational behavior is the number one discipline applied in my career.



Learned helplessness



Performance management

Organizational behavior

Relevant links



Episode: Mike Harris


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.


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.


Mike’s TEDx Talk


Episode: Andy Bailey


Andy Bailey works as a business coach with Petra Coaches. If you’re skeptical about working with business coaches, this episode will give you some insight about how coaches help leaders grow their businesses and reach their goals.


Tell me about yourself and how you got into business coaching.

  • Ran a wireless telecommunications from 93 to 2011
  • I ran it poorly for half that time
  • Stumbled on the rockefeller method, worked with it over a 3 year period of time
  • Changed me as a leader
  • Changed the way the organization ran
  • Ultimately I exited the business

How did you make the transition to caching?

  • Left the organization late 2011
  • Decided to not make any decisions for a year
  • Did some consulting in that time, helping others implement the process
  • Found that I really enjoyed spending time helping people
  • Started a coaching practice
  • We now have 6-7 coaches, along with coordinators.
  • Work with 70ish companies around the country today
  • Help people maximize their day

What type of businesses?

  • We call our sweet spot 15-125, 5-15 million dollar revenues.
  • We have some that are smaller, card tables in kitchen all the way up to companies with thousands of employees
  • We like companies where we can wrap our arms around the entire team, not just a group of executives.

What’s the biggest pain your clients have?

  • People, process, etc.
  • You need to be frustrated to the point where you’re crying because you don’t want to go in.
  • Or you need to be fearful. You see an opportunity, but you know you’re not going to reach that summit with the way things are going.
  • Frustration and fear are the only things that will lead to change.
  • This is a behavioral change process as much as anything else.

What doubts do people have?

  • People don’t believe in themselves enough early on.
  • A coach will believe in someone before they believe in themselves.
  • We get a lot of questioning around “i’ve got to get buy in from my team”
  • As an entrepreneur do you have an operator’s mindset, or an owner’s mindset? At the end of the day who’s company is it?
  • If you operate confidently on an owner’s mindset, you’ll get buy in from your team.
  • if you want to make everybody happy, don’t become a leader. sell ice cream. =

Tell me about the clients you work with and the lightbulb moments they have.

  • I wrote a book about this, it’s called No Try Only Do. There are case studies that speak directly to this question
  • At my business I was a dictator leader. Someone had to hold a mirror up so I could see, and realize that I had to stop.
  • My people were smarter than I thought they were. If we truly delegate to them well with guardrails and expectations, and then get out of the way, people will outperform our expectations.
  • We need to be ok with people making small mistakes along that path. that’s how we learned as entrepreneurs. we need to allow people to learn themselves.

Talk about those guardrails a little bit.

  • When we work with a business, we set very clear initiatives with timelines, and those become the guardrails (along with core value and purpose).
  • Being clear about what the end state will look like, when the leaders get clear on that, those become the guardrails.
  • (special example of company)
  • If an owner can get clear about what they want, people are smart enough to figure out how to get there.

How does someone go about engaging with you?

  • We usually talk to companies and give them a roadmap with a timeline and strategic planning, and much more
  • We have different levels that we engage with people depending on how fast they want to go.

How do you empower managers to be good leaders?

  • We believe that if the people get better the business will get better. We focus on people’s personal lives as well, because if they get better the company will get better.
  • Since we focus on the whole organization, the leadership team will improve as leaders
  • If only the leadership team is growing, they’ll wonder why their whole team isn’t doing better. We focus on growing all the people in the organization.
  • The average business spends 5-25 thousand dollars from a CEO perspective on learning per year, but only 0-500 on team members per year.
  • Leaders wonder why their team isn’t improving, and it’s because they’re not spending any money on them.

Why is that?

  • It’s very difficult for a manager/leader to actually understand that they need to be the dumbest person in the room.

Anything else you want to add?

  • When I was going through the process of this (at a group called birthing of giants), I didn’t know that there were coaches available.
  • We’re out here to help people.
  • We have a bunch of free stuff on our website, too.











Relevant links



No Try Only Do:  https://www.amazon.com/No-Try-Only-Alignment-Accountability/dp/1599326833/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493390972&sr=1-1&keywords=no+try+only+do


Episode: Anthony Onesto


Anthony Onesto has scaled multiple teams size 30 to 2000+ over his 18 year career in HR. He has a background in HR and technology, and has worked with growing companies through WorkXO and Smartup.io. 


What problem was Smartup IO trying to tackle?

  • The interesting thing about Smartup is that we took the position that an organization had knowledge within it already.
  • A lot of times when you sit in an HR leadership type role, you believe that the organization needs X,Y and Z. You need to fill a gap. But we were rethinking was that content creation is super difficult, resource wise, but there is content already within your organization. Everyone has expertise.
  • We encourage people to take the knowledge they have and push it externally. Publish on Linkedin, etc.
  • Smartup helps share the knowledge internally as well.
  • People are so excited about the stuff they do on the side that’s hidden behind titles. All the things i’ve done as an HR guy that has nothing to do with HR. We can share that as well.

What else did you do?

  • My last year at Razorfish, I made a service about design thinking. That had nothing to do with HR, but you wouldn’t know it if you were just looking at my title.

If you look at a company that’s growing, where do you see the role of HR going as different tools emerge?

  • It’s always been about having people interact form a human perspective. The whole idea is to be more human. How do we make organizations run better?
  • Hr got bogged down for years by the tactical HR stuff.
    • The tactical stuff is really easy. You just google. But once you get into the specifics of business goals and attracting technical talent to our organization that’s been traditionally creative, how do you do that?
    • What we’re doing is taking the tactical stuff that bogs us down on a daily basis, and the HR can become more strategic. (from a human perspective). What’s the best type of team for us, based on this data?
    • We need to get geekier, but also back to human. How do we create custom HR solutions around the individual?

Where’s the balance for a midsized company that doesn’t have all the data points?

  • HR has formerly been company centric. It needs to be employee centric.
  • You have to start thinking about everything in the office from a human perspective.
  • If you’re a manager stay close to your teams and observe. That’s the data. It doesn’t have to be hard data, it can be observations.
  • There’s too many PHDs in HR. We spend all this time theorizing about organizations, but they’re existing already.
  • It already exists, just observe a little more.

Where does AI come into HR and attracting the best talent?

  • AI is going to have a huge disruption on the work force.
  • There are a few areas of philosophy you can subscribe to: AI isn’t going to do anything, AI will destroy the world, or the middle of the road–ai will help by doing the things I don’t want to do myself.
  • Mobile applications took a while to evolve, that’s where AI is going to land.
  • AI will displace people, but it’s going to be better. Machines will help us get through resumes faster.
  • You cannot put your head in the sand if you are an HR leader. This is the future, and it will apply in your organization.

How do you come up to speed on this stuff?

  • I don’t like reading 30 page excerpts on this stuff. I like doing stuff. I saw the opportunity of AI in human resources, so I went ahead and made and AI bot.
  • Fast forward Labs is a great resource

Where does the secret sauce come in for the human side of things?

  • There are some basic steps. Once we start taking the tactical work away and free up people’s time, you have time to return to the human piece.
  • AI will help you make the best decisions for how to interact with people. – what time of day does your employee receive feedback the best?
  • If you have the right intent – I care about getting you better at what you do – then just have a conversation. Find out what your employee’s hopes and dreams are.

The more human side of things can’t be replicated with tech…

  • It never will be.
  • Sometimes you get bogged down in the how, but not in the why.
  • At the end of the day, if you have good intent then you’ll always do right by the employee.


HR – Human Resources

AI – Artificial Intelligence


Human centric

Design Thinking


Relevant links





Edward Deci – http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/




Episode: David Cancel

David Cancel of Drift

A bonus episode with special guest David Cancel! David is a five time founder, podcaster, author, former Chief Product Officer at HubSpot, and current CEO of Drift. He talks with Mike about lessons he’s learned the hard way.

Listen on iTunes!  Be sure to subscribe to get new episodes as soon as they’re made available. Like free stuff? Find out how to enter our giveaway and win awesome prizes.


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Episode: Ted Rubin & Todd Smith

Ted Rubin and Todd Smith of Active Engage

Ted Rubin and Todd Smith are the founders of Active Engage, a digital live chat software for the automotive industry. They have grown to 160 people since 2007, and have since been featured on “Orlando’s Coolest Companies to Work for” and “Top 100 Companies for Working Families”.

Subscribe on iTunes! Be sure to subscribe to get new episodes as soon as they’re made available.

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