#BeBetter Podcast with Michael Kurland

Best Practices to Creating a High Growth Company

Your business plan is your roadmap to success.

Andrew Bartlow is the Founder and Managing Partner of Series B Consulting, which provides strategic advisory and organizational development services to high growth companies. His passion for people management led him to step out on his own as an organizational development consultant and author. He shares important advice for leaders as we step into an uncertain future of work.

Portrait of Andrew Bartlow

“Don’t fall into the trap of using your favorite screwdriver, when a hammer is the better tool for the job.”

—Andrew Bartlow

Series B Consulting

8. Best Practices to Creating a High Growth Company

Key Takeaways

  • Know who you are as a leader and an organization.
  • Stop chasing the shiny apples.
  • Have a plan and work the plan.

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Andrew Bartlow is the Founder and Managing Partner of Series B Consulting, which provides strategic advisory and organizational development services to high growth companies. Andrew is co-authoring a book for Columbia University Press about effective management practices at startups, tentatively titled “The People Playbook”. He has nearly 25 years of human resources leadership experience, recently serving as the top HR leader for what is now Invitation Homes, a publicly traded technology-enabled real estate company with a market cap over $16B.

Over his career, Andrew has participated in over a dozen M&A transactions, IPOs, bankruptcies, and successful PE sponsor exits. He has advised scores of C-level executives, supported employee populations of 5,000+, built numerous HR functions, and learned from the best during his formative years at Pepsi, General Electric, and the School of Labor & Employment Relations at the University of Illinois. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is a frequent speaker and author on topics related to organizational effectiveness.

“Understand what solution works for you rather than just lifting and shifting or trying to keep up with the Jones’s.”

—Andrew Bartlow

Series B Consulting

Podcast Transcription

Michael Kurland (00:01):

Hello, I’m Michael Kurland, CEO and Co-Founder of Branded Group. Welcome to the #BeBetter Podcast. To me, our company’s mantra to “Be Better” is more than a tagline; it’s a culture that permeates our organization, propelling our team to Be Better to each other, our customers and our communities as well as to ourselves. Each week on the #BeBetter podcast, I interview leaders who authentically exemplify how they are being better in their professional and personal lives.

Today’s podcast is dedicated to the Restaurant Facility Management Association (RFMA), whose purpose is to promote the advancement of the restaurant facilities management professional. RFMA offers a variety of educational resources, events, and programs to its members in order to enable restaurant facilities to run more efficiently. Learn more about how you can join at https://www.rfmaonline.com/

Alright. Welcome to another episode of the BeBetter podcast. I am your host, Michael Kurland. Today we have a great guest for you. Andrew Bartlow, founder of Series B Consulting, and an author of an upcoming book. Andrew, introduce yourself to the audience and let’s get going.

Andrew Bartlow (00:23):

Thanks a lot, Michael. Excited to be part of this. As you mentioned, I started Series B Consulting about two and a half years ago, after a long career in human resources. Twenty, twenty-five years at companies, large and small, and had a great opportunity a couple of years ago, as I pulled the parachute and left the corporate world and started working on a book for Columbia University that comes out next year. It’s about HR and management practices and startups – really what works, what doesn’t, and I’m doing a bunch of consulting in the startup and high growth, private equity space right now.

Michael Kurland (01:06):

Well, that’s all very interesting stuff. I’m excited to have you here. In your upcoming book, you have a chapter dedicated just to culture. Anything about that chapter and the culture that really you want to speak on and talk about?

Andrew Bartlow (01:28):

I think one of the real keys around culture is be yourself. Podcasts, books HBR articles – there are a lot of founders and leaders out there that hear about a best practice or read about a best practice, and they just want to lift it and shift it to their organization. Bottom line is the context really matters, context matters more than the content. So that means what works at Google probably won’t work at your 20 person startup. What you read about Holacracy at Zappos might work in a call center where you have thousands of people under one roof in Vegas, but it is unlikely to translate really well to a very different business in a very different situation. So one big learning and finding, and the research backs this up is you gotta do what’s right for your organization.

Michael Kurland (02:30):

I think the one thing I liked about what I read was I think he said, don’t use your favorite screwdriver for a job that you need a hammer for. That’s really true with what we do too. You get comfortable and rely on some certain things or you read, like you said, you read about Google did it. So why shouldn’t my five person company do what Google does? Well, they’re not relatable. So I’m actually excited for when your book does come out. I look forward to buying it. Hopefully it will be on audio book because I’m much better with audio books than I am with actually turning pages. So let’s jump right in. What do you do and why do you do it? You kinda covered that, but is there anything else you want to tell the audience?

Andrew Bartlow (03:14):

What do I do? I think I covered that, but why do I do it? Without a life history there, I found that that the human resources field was a way for me to have a bigger impact earlier in my career than following just a business leadership track. I grew up in a small town in central Illinois and the labor management relations between Caterpillar and the United Auto Workers were on the front page of the Peoria Journal Star every day for three years. You heard about the negotiations, you saw the impact that it had on families. You saw the signs in people’s yards and parents would be on the picket line. I thought, wow, I really want to be the negotiator that’s involved in that.  I really want to be the person that has that impact on the company, the community and, the people involved.

Andrew Bartlow (04:11):

So that’s how I got into human resources and followed the career track over time and moved  somewhat out of labor and more into organizational development work, really trying to help companies perform better. Culture’s a part of that. That’s how I got into it. I wanted to have an impact and human resources sometimes gets a bad name as the paper pushers or the payroll providers or the benefit gurus. I have found that this is the best way for me to help managers and leaders be better. So I love the title of your podcast and it connects pretty strongly with why I do what I do.

Michael Kurland (04:59):

We really try and bring different thoughts on being better with different people every week. Like I said, happy to have you here. No one really says when they grow up, they want to be a negotiator or an HR person. So that’s interesting to me. I can tell you, from my point of view, we hired our Director of Human Resources about four years ago. She is one of the most imperative cogs at Branded Group, not only to the company, but also to the culture. She was very behind the scenes and we couldn’t do what we do without her. But she always does say, I don’t always want to be the bad guy. I’m always the one that if you hear from me, that means I’m the bad guy. I want to change that narrative. So I think that she would also appreciate that. So what are you curious about right now? What are you getting into?

Andrew Bartlow (05:58):

In the circles that I run in and the ponds that I swim in with other HR leaders and people, professionals, and startup and high growth community, we’ve had a lot of conversation and email traffic and podcast sharing around the future of work. What does the future of work look like? You know, post pandemic and a lot of that has to do with remote work. I’ve done a little bit of writing on the topic with some speculation that companies will likely be downsizing their commercial office space. They’ll likely be looking to have more people work from home more frequently, and they’ll likely be hiring people in lower cost labor markets which has some pretty significant impact on a company’s bottom line and its sourcing strategies for talent. Then the management and communication processes for that more broadly dispersed work organization. So I’m really curious about that. I don’t think anybody really has the answer as to what the outcome will be, but boy, there are a lot of folks that are interested in it. I’m sure you are too given that.

Michael Kurland (07:17):

Yeah, I was just going to interject for a second. We are so interested in that. I just signed a seven year lease in October of 2018 and I’m kicking myself for that. We don’t need this space anymore. We worked from home on March –  I want to say it was like the 15th. The entire team worked from home. We’ve been doing this for about, I guess three, three months now, and we don’t need an office space anymore. Then that leads me to believe what is going to happen with all this commercial space out here? How are we going to repurpose it? Because it’s a good portion of the United States real estate portfolio. So where does that go? But to your other point of hiring talent, we’ve actually always done that. We have remote workers in South Carolina, in New York, Texas, Vegas, and Kentucky. We don’t mind that as long as you can do your job and you don’t have to be micromanaged. But it is a challenge for the managers because we do make our managers work for the most part out of our California office. So we just have to build that trust through communication. Right and be able to get to that point.

Andrew Bartlow (08:37):

The alignment is really challenging when you don’t have all the extra connective tissue that comes with the impromptu drop in hallway meetings, the chatting as you’re coming out of the bathroom. You just miss out on a lot of that. I’ll call it healthy friction where you see each other and those micro interactions where if you’re remote, it’s got to be planned and it’s often more formal.

Michael Kurland (09:10):

Or now these days with Zoom and everyone popping on a Zoom to do a happy hour or something like that, it’s more virtual. Right. You kind of miss the human connection. I think that’s another thing I’ve noticed. We recently had an executive team dinner and everyone had been working from home for the last 60 days, 90 days. It was socially awkward. People were like, “Hey, I haven’t actually talked to a human in person. So what do I do? I, I know you, but I still don’t know you.” So it was interesting. I think that’s going to be that also something that is going to come out after this new thing. So we talked about what you’re curious about. I want to know now what motivates you to be better.

Andrew Bartlow (09:59):

What motivates me to be better? I have some innate driver achiever qualities. The old Clifton Strengths Finders would rate me on top five competition achiever and a few other things like that. But for me, I had this big soul searching moment when I came out of corporate America and I got really lucky by hitching my wagon to a rocket ship of an organization that went public and got really, really big. I had a little tiny piece of equity at this place that became really valuable. So when I pulled my parachute a couple of years ago, I had a pretty unique opportunity, still early in my forties to think about. If money doesn’t matter or it doesn’t matter a lot what do I want to do with myself?

Andrew Bartlow (11:00):

After being a pretty terrible stay at home dad and watching way too many game of Thrones episodes I stepped back and thought about I think I can contribute. I get a lot of personal satisfaction of being useful, just being useful. So that’s where the writing project came in. I think I can touch more people that way and it helps me organize my thoughts. It was always a bucket list sort of thing. The consulting lets me pick the work that I do and who I do it with, instead of being on one company or one individual’s payroll. What motivates me is being useful and helping others be better. I really like that tagline. There’s a book that that I’ve connected pretty strongly with. There’s this startup community that I’m a part of the board of called “Startup Experts.” There’s a book that was written back in the mid two thousands, it’s called “The Go Giver.” It really talks about measuring your value based off of the value that you deliver to others and it comes back to you in a magnified way. I love that. I love that idea. So that’s what motivates me to be better. For me to feel useful.

Michael Kurland (12:32):

I like it. Talking about Clifton Strength Finders, we make every employee that starts at Branded Group take that within their first week. It’s their like onboarding thing. I took it. I cannot remember what my top five were at this point, but I’m motivated now to go back and take a look. We talked a little bit off air before and I was reading through some of the notes and you had actually put the “Go Giver” book in the notes and I went and just got on audio books right before our chat right now and downloaded it. Because I’m always curious to see what other people are reading. I didn’t know what it was about until you just gave me that synopsis. So you motivated me to do that. I do like the idea that you get what you put out to the universe.

Andrew Bartlow (13:23):

I’m a big fan of RSA Animate, which does if you remember those old UPS commercials where the guy had a marker on a white board and he was basically talking through, here’s what we do. There’s a video that will give you the synopsis of the Go-Giver and a bunch of other stuff that I really love, like Daniel Pink “Drive” and other stuff where it’s animated and art and you can get the whole book in four minutes and you get that animated view to it as well. So that’s my favorite version of CliffsNotes.

Michael Kurland (13:59):

Oh, great. I’m going to have to check that out as well. I’m currently in the middle of “Sapiens” on audio book. Have you read that? I mean, it’s fascinating. I’m about three hours into the 15 hour audio book, which was a big undertaking for myself. Fifteen hours is a big commitment. I’ll be I’ll be listening to the Go-Giver after I get through the next 12 hours. How are you being better to yourself?

Andrew Bartlow (14:41):

I think I have with that Go-Giver mentality, I think I’m being a lot easier on myself. I’m not climbing for the next rung on the ladder of career success. I was lucky enough to be the Chief HR officer of a public company before I was 40, for fortune 500 level company. When you step off that track and you reassess, like I did, that gave me a lot of perspective. So I’m being better to myself by giving myself the space to do some of these passion projects and to work on some things that aren’t necessarily compensated. I took an executive coaching certification, which I really loved and doing a bunch of pro bono consulting for CEOs and founders and HR leaders, I’ve participated in a number of different community groups like Startup experts as one. People, “Tech Partners” is another where we’re just helping each other. I really love that. I really love walking out my front door and taking my five-year-old or my seven year old for a bike ride in the middle of the day and not really worrying about who I’m answering to or being able to manage your own schedule is really nice.

Michael Kurland (16:09):

I can concur. I have been working from home for the last 90 days and the beauty is I’ll grab my fiancé and say, “you want to go on a bike ride down to the beach?” Sure. Okay. Let’s take a 45 minute break. I mean we’re allowed that anyway, right? It’s nice to have that ability and manage your own schedule, how you see fit. I think that’s also something that’s going to happen with the new normal, just from the remote working and all those things. I love what you just said about not putting so much pressure on yourself because when we first started this work from home, I got super aggressive and I was like, I’m going to lose 20 pounds. I’m not going to drink at all during the week, I’m going to learn Spanish. I’m going to learn the guitar. Then all that stuff was just a lot all at once. I’m still on the weight loss and other things, but the Spanish is the one I really stuck to very closely. This past week I have been traveling and I haven’t looked at it once and normally I’d be like, “Oh, come on, look, get on that Spanish. You’re wasting time.”  I got all the time in the world. This is not something that I need to beat myself up about. So I think that’s definitely being better to yourself. I can appreciate that. So we’ll jump right to the next question. How are you being better professionally in these times?

Andrew Bartlow (17:42):

I think that ties back to this go giver mindset and offering time and expertise and advice. Hey, maybe, a couple of my laps around the track and the “school of hard knocks” is useful to somebody else. After this call, I’m hosting a webinar with somewhere between 20 and 30 Chief HR officers that are in the portfolio of a private equity company that I work with and we’re talking about crisis management. So they’re all over the map. They’re from cinemas to behavioral health, to all sorts of different businesses that are part of this, and they’re all dealing with the pandemic and they’re all dealing with this big civil unrest and racial inequity. These issues that have impacted our environment and our workers and everybody is dealing with somewhat of a different scenario around that. I’m doing my best to share information and insight and create some venues. I’ve seen a decent amount of stuff over a bunch of different companies over 20, 25 years. If I can be useful, if I can be helpful and generating conversation with folks, then that’s how I try to be better professionally.

Michael Kurland (19:24):

Like you said, in these times, crisis management. I did a webinar yesterday and that was one of the questions that came up. How do you prepare for something like this and what would you do differently? I mean, I think it’s just being prepared. But you mentioned 25 years of doing HR. I’d love to get you off the record and hear some of those wild stories. Because I’m sure there are quite a few of them out there. This has been a great interview. I really appreciated the time. I asked my guests all this one last question for sure. It’s like the tying everything together. I want to know what do you consider yourself to be an expert at and what is your best advice for our listeners to become an expert at that thing?

Andrew Bartlow (20:19):

Oh, wow. I’m still learning for sure. Hopefully we’re all still learning along the way. But I guess what I’ve dedicated my professional career to doing and focus my learning around is management practices, management processes, people management. So that’s where this book is coming from. I guess my best advice generally on the topic boils down to three key themes. Here’s the cliff notes version of the people playbook. You don’t have to buy it. This is free. I think that you have to that context, number one. So understand what solution works for you rather than just lifting and shifting or trying to keep up with the Jones’s. So you’ll understand your own unique context and have tremendous clarity as you try to align your team and that’s even more important in a dispersed workforce environment, work from home.

Andrew Bartlow (21:27):

It’s hard to keep people aligned if they’re all over the place and you’re not talking with people regularly, or they can’t look at whatever posters you would have put on the wall otherwise. So context and clarity, and then the third is consistency. Especially for small businesses or high growth businesses, stuff changes so fast and it can be really tempting to just fly by the seat of your pants or change everything really rapidly It becomes an excuse to not have a plan. I think it’s just critical have a plan, go ahead and update it. Don’t try to have a five year plan if you’re a 10 person startup. But understanding your own context, being really clear with who does what, what’s important now, and then trying to be consistent with that as much as possible. I think those are three really big principles that apply to businesses of all sizes across all industries. Then and I borrow thoughts from Patrick Lencioni and Simon Sinek and other folks that are way smarter and better read and more famous than I’ll ever be. But those are my three, I think, takeaway pieces of advice for folks that want to be better leaders and better managers.

Michael Kurland (22:51):

That’s great advice. I’ve run a small startup myself taking it from two people to 85. I can tell you the hardest thing that I’ve had to do is manage people. I can sell all day, I can connect, but everyone is different. So back to your other quote about the hammer and the screwdriver it’s what works for person A isn’t going to work for the same problem for person B, right? So you have to figure out how to connect to those people. I can tell you that going from two to 85 in six years, we couldn’t have done that without clarity, consistency, and those two things. Here’s your defined role. You stay in your lane and it will work and consistency. Like you have to be able to discipline people the same. You have to be able to react to everything the same. It’s hard sometimes. Right? So I can appreciate everything you just said there and thank you. So this has been a great interview. I really appreciate you taking some time today to come on the show. Andrew how can people get ahold of you if they want to get your book when it comes out next year?

Andrew Barlow (24:38):

Thanks for the plug opportunity. The title is still being worked out by Columbia University, our publishers. So they get final say on that. We think it will be “The People Playbook.” We’ve already reserved peopleplaybook.net as the website but it’s not live yet. The best way to get in touch with me would be my consulting website and that’s seriesBconsulting.com. Lots of information for free out there and a bunch of blog posts and articles that might be interesting or useful to people along the lines of the stuff that we just talked about. So  seriesBconsulting.com. That’s how to get me.

Michael Kurland:

Well, thank you so much, Andrew. I really appreciate you coming on today. I think it’s been a great interview and looking forward to when the book does come out next year.

I’d like to take a minute to thank you, our valued listeners. My intention is for this podcast to inspire you, in some way, to be better.  Change starts from within and radiates outward. Therefore, start with being better to yourself and only then will you recognize how to be better others and your community. Thank you for joining us today! If you want to learn more about Branded Group, then visit us at www.branded-group.com. From our website you can follow us on social media. Also, always feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. Until next time, Be Better.

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