Create a Culture that Celebrates Intrapreneurs
Giving a voice to emerging leaders.
Holly Shannon describes herself as a “Swiss Army Knife” in business and marketing. As the Culture Factor 2.0 podcast producer and host, Holly explores company culture and its changing paradigm in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her new book, “So You Want To Start a Podcast, a Zero to Launch “How To” Guide,” will be released in January, 2021.
“There is emerging leadership happening across all levels of companies.”
Culture Factor 2.0
Holly Shannon is a Swiss Army Knife in business and marketing. With a background in 5-star hospitality and leading teams in the event space (which clearly imploded with Covid), she has pivoted into podcasting with Culture Factor 2.0. The design of Culture Factor 2.0 is that the framework of business is completely different in the new normal. To explore culture as the strategy, we have to look in places we haven’t before. Leadership isn’t only from the c-suite it’s emerging everywhere. It’s time to understand the human side of company culture and the new shape it is taking. To explore culture as the strategy, we have to look in places we haven’t before. Leadership isn’t only from the c-suite, it’s emerging everywhere. It’s time to understand the human side of company culture and the new shape it is taking. Holly is Podcast Producer, Host, and Content Marketer. She has published articles in RevGeniusMag and recently authored a book slated for release in January, 2021 titled, “So You Want To Start a Podcast, a Zero to Launch “How To” Guide.”
“Education is probably the way to get really good at just about anything.”
Culture Factor 2.0
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 Orange County Humane Society whose goal is to find a permanent, loving home for all pets and to provide rehabilitation whenever possible. Launched in 1949, the organization has provided a safe haven for tens of thousands of helpless pets. Learn more about the Orange County Humane Society at https://www.ochumanesociety.com/.
Michael Kurland (00:01):
All right. Welcome everybody to another episode of the BeBetter podcast. I’m your host, Michael Kurland. Very excited today. We have Holly Shannon joining us. She is the host and producer of the podcast Culture Factor 2.0 Holly, Why don’t you introduce yourself a little more to the audience.
Holly Shannon (00:24):
Excellent. Well thank you for having me, Michael. This is really great. I’m excited to be part of the BeBetter audience. I am a podcaster as well, so it’s strange being on the other side of the seat here, but I’m very happy to be here because I love podcasting and I love conversation around company culture, because I think it’s a critical component these days. So thank you for having me.
Michael Kurland (00:53):
You are actually my first also culture podcast guest ever. So that is awesome. We’re excited to have you on here. It’s like a mirror, right? So we’re just going to be talking.
Holly Shannon (01:08):
It’s like podcasting for the win and company culture for the win.
Michael Kurland (01:10):
Exactly. I love it. So we talked a little bit about what you do, but why do you do it? Why do podcast about culture? Let’s talk about it.
Holly Shannon (01:22):
Well probably I should just walk you back a little bit. I got into podcasting by accident. I’ve always been in marketing. I was helping a startup that had SAS software. They were selling and we wanted to create a podcasting tool to use for pull marketing for lead generation. So it started in a very different manner and I ended up really loving it. Our conversation was focused on company culture and I really loved that conversation as well. I’ve since taken over the podcast and rebranded it as Culture Factor 2.0. In doing so I’ve shifted the conversation as well. Originally it was from the C-suite and the old adage culture eats strategy for breakfast. But I felt that there was a shift happening and I felt that the pandemic had been a part of that shift.
Holly Shannon (02:30):
I felt that that conversation was almost a little stale and not representative of what was happening in the real world right now. So why do I do it? I do it because I think there is emerging leadership happening across all levels of companies from the sales coordinator through middle management and on up and, and while company culture might still somewhat be dictated of course from the top or shapes it, I think that we’re seeing a lot of people emerging as leaders that maybe didn’t have the opportunity before. So I’m trying to represent their voices on the show. Also people who have written about it that maybe have been on both sides of the fence. I think the conversation’s changing and I’m really excited to be able to share that with listeners.
Michael Kurland (03:30):
It’s funny. I was doing another interview yesterday and we were talking about a very similar thing about emerging leadership and culture and how does that get trained and ingrained into them? That’s something that I personally have taken on at Branded Group is trying to impart our culture into our leaders, imparted into our employees and it just organically grown. You can’t just expect someone to walk in day one as your sales manager and then all of a sudden take the culture on a hundred percent and know what they’re doing. You have to bring that leadership up. So I really like what you’re talking about there, but I have to ask you, I know our next question is what you’re curious about, but I am curious about this. I’ve never heard the old adage culture eats strategy for breakfast. So can you talk to me a little bit more about that? Because that one just really got me. That was great.
Holly Shannon (04:30):
It’s a pretty famous line. It was the theory that companies have all types of strategy initiatives that they put in place, right? How they’re going to scale, funding they’re going to take on. There’s always initiatives there, sales initiatives and marketing and production goals. But at the end of the day, where culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is the reason why we show up to work more often than not. While you might be great in sales and you meet those goals and you’re part of those initiatives, if you really hate your boss you probably aren’t going to stay there very long and by leaving the company, it makes it harder for the C-suite to meet those initiatives, right? Because it keeps getting stalled. Everybody’s got goals they have to do and your churn is really bad. People just keep coming in and out. You never really progress. You’re just going to stay at a plateau. Seth Godin wrote a book “This Is Marketing” and in it he said, which I think is the right way to say it, is that culture is strategy and if you make that first and foremost on your plate in a company in terms of your mission and your values I think you probably will be doing better in the long haul.
Michael Kurland (06:10):
I love it. I didn’t quite connect the dots, but now that you drew the straight line for me, it totally makes sense. And if you hate your boss, it doesn’t matter if you’re hitting all your goals and you’re making all your money, you’re just not going to be happy. I think you’re from our point of view at Branded Group, we definitely made culture part of our strategy. To your point, our retention rate is 96%. If you knew our industry, it’s even more amazing, right because it’s not a fun industry to be in for some of our employees. It’s a hard job. I’ll say that, but I digress. So what are you curious about right now?
Holly Shannon (06:58):
I think I would probably dial back a little bit to the beginning of our conversation of leading wherever you are. I’m really excited and curious to see how companies reshape themselves and allow that emerging leadership to come in. I think that by doing that, they’re going to see a lot of innovation and a lot of good changes in the company being open to that intrepreneurship if you want to call it that. I think people are ready for that. I think they’re ready to do business differently. We’ve all been forced to work at home. I think that by doing that, our situations look similar. So, you might have your boss, your director of your department, or somebody in the C-suite and somebody working for you and we all look the same right now.
Holly Shannon (08:01):
We’re all sitting in that spare bedroom or the kitchen and the kids are running through. You’re thinking about, I’ve got to transfer the laundry and I’ve got to go get some groceries and I didn’t exercise today and I’m in this interview right now, but they don’t realize I have my pajama pants on. It’s interesting that your boss has the identical thing. Whereas before we were in these behemoths skyscrapers and it was really clear. You could stand outside and look up and say, okay, well, the C-suites way up there and we’re on all the other levels and they never hear or really see us. Our offices look very different from theirs. Now we all look the same and I think that’s actually an advantage. At least I’m feeling that from people that I’ve talked to, that it’s actually allowed for stronger connections between levels.
Michael Kurland (09:02):
I think you’ve touched on some very important points. I was talking in an interview recently and they were saying that going to work from home, we’ve exposed a lot of the bad habits. We didn’t even know were bad habits in the workplace. To your point, the levels, maybe that was the hierarchy that we just were accustomed to. Now, everyone’s leveled out because I’m not going to lie. I’m wearing my Branded Group green workout shorts right now.
Holly Shannon (09:38):
Hey, no judgment here. Where’s my Branded Group swag, please.
Michael Kurland (09:44):
It’s in the mail. I think you said it best. It’s a new way to do business and I think everyone’s ready for it. Just speaking of going to the office, I don’t ever want to feel like I have to go back to the office. I want to go back to the office because I want to go see my people when it’s appropriate to go back to the office. But I do miss my commute. That’s one thing. That’s another thing that has been a recurring theme is people that are missing their commute because it’s heir downtime.
Holly Shannon (10:17):
Definitely. That time where you can decompress and think about what your day is going to look like. Or at the end of the day, listen to a podcast, throwing that out there for 20 minutes on your way home. Now our commute is from our bedroom to the kitchen, our kitchen, to the laundry room or whatever. Right?
Michael Kurland (10:40):
Exactly. When you have to make time for your commute, when you walk the dog for way longer than the dog is wanting to walk and you want to get out of the house.
Holly Shannon (10:47):
Especially when Fido is fifteen.
Michael Kurland (10:53):
Mine’s three, but he’s only 15 pounds. So he’s in the best shape. He is not got the pandemic pounds. He’s lost the pandemic pounds because I just kept walking him.
Holly Shannon (11:04):
That’s good. I have a four year old golden doodle. So I have I have a very active dog.
Michael Kurland (11:11):
Very nice. So what motivates you to be better? I mean, you’re on the BeBetter podcast for a reason. So what is motivating you these days to be better?
Holly Shannon (11:23):
I have always been a very curious person. So learning new things has always come naturally to me. I probably would have to say that the pandemic didn’t snuff that for me. It actually lit a fire underneath me. I know by saying that some people might find that off putting, because I know that’s not the same for everybody else. The pandemic has been a really tough thing for people, but we all operate differently. For me I’ve always been the type of person that if there’s if there’s something major going on in my life, that’s is usually when I ramp up and become more curious. I think it’s a bit of a diversion tool to really focus on something and give meaning to what I’m living through at that point in time.
Holly Shannon (12:25):
But I would also say what motivates me more than anything is probably my son. I want to always be a great role model for him. I told him early on when he was much younger that you don’t have to aspire to be one thing. Everybody always says, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’ve always said to him, you could be many things when you grow up. So there’s no limit. Frankly, I’ve reinvented myself several times throughout the years based on whatever my situation has been. So I do believe that’s part of what motivates me.
Michael Kurland (13:06):
That’s great. I love how you said to your son that he can be anything he wants to be. My mother didn’t give me those options. It was a doctor or a lawyer and I failed at both, but I think she’s pretty okay with where I ended up. But, you touched on reinventing yourself and I really dig that. That’s something that is hard to grasp, right? Especially when you’re in the situation. A lot of people don’t always come through that with flying colors. But when we talked pre show, you had told me you’d been in a couple other industries before this one and then you stumbled your way into podcasting. Same with me. I’ve always been in sales, but my career map is all over the place. I didn’t know I wanted to be an entrepreneur. It was the next progression. I didn’t know I wanted to do a podcast. It was the next progression and it’s been fun reinventing myself along the way to be better, I guess.
Holly Shannon (14:10):
To your point sometimes it’s best not to have everything be so linear, right? The famous, the path not taken, so if you really just stay one course your whole life maybe you’re missing something.
Michael Kurland (14:27):
It’s probably really boring too.
Holly Shannon (14:31):
For me, it would be. Some people thrive on consistency. So I guess I can’t judge that.
Michael Kurland (14:39):
No judgment. If you want to be an accountant for 70 years, by all means. I have undiagnosed ADHD. My business partner will say that’s not true, but it’s definitely true. So bouncing all over the place and doing seven things and having different career paths, that’s the light for me, just being kind of organized chaos, if you will. So during this pandemic, you brought it up. You were just doing better. You’re doing better during the pandemic. How are you being better to yourself during the pandemic? How are you being better right now for yourself?
Holly Shannon (15:19):
So I’m not going to lie. I’m going to say that’s a bit of a rollercoaster. So what I would say is when I’m at the peak of the rollercoaster, I probably say there’s three things that I’m doing. I’m walking a lot. I now live in a city. I moved from Connecticut to DC, so I’m walking far more than I ever did. I find that it is a really great tool for de-stressing. I can’t believe how much I enjoy it. I know it sounds like a very passive exercise, but I’m putting miles on and I’m listening to podcasts and I’m listening to music and I’m catching up with friends and I’m off a screen and I’m in the fresh air. So I would say walking has been beneficial for me. I’d say the other peak is I’m focusing on listening more.
Holly Shannon (16:21):
I think that to be a better person, it’s really important to try and listen. So when I’m dialing in with friends and family, I’m doing my best to listen to what they’re experiencing and not judge it because everybody’s experience right now is pretty dynamic and strange. Then the third I would probably say is that I’m trying my best to pay it forward. If I learned something that I think somebody could benefit from, I go out of my way to send them off an email or set up a call with them just because it feels good. I think that we need to manufacture and come up with ways to make ourselves feel good, that serotonin burst. I’m not above adding chocolate to that mix, but it’s important. But what I would say is I do have my lows too. So I don’t want to come off as I’m up all the time. This has really been challenging for a lot of people. I moved from the country to the city in the middle of a pandemic. It definitely has its low points. I’m doing my best to focus on my podcast and walking and helping friends out. For those times when I’m a little low, I try to move through it that way
Michael Kurland (17:52):
I can totally relate. It is the BeBetter podcast. We’re on I guess it’s month eight of the pandemic on top of probably the most contentious election to date in my memory. That’s been a year of pressure building, right? Then on top of that, we’ve had a lot of civil unrest and a lot of uncertainty with work jobs. This year has definitely been trying up and down and I’ve had my rollercoasters as well. I’m probably in a valley right now, if I’m being honest. I threw my back out and I think it’s all stress-related and I’ve got some family issues going on, which have been not fun to deal with. With all that being said, when you’re on your highs, I will say exercise is key. There’s four things that I was told once to live a good, healthy wrap around life – exercise, meditation, eating healthy and journaling. I try and do those four things on a daily basis. I fail probably as much as I succeed in getting all four of them done, but I at least get two of those done on a daily basis. When I get all four done, I feel great. I feel great.
Holly Shannon (19:18):
I wish the person who gave you those four things, which are really great four things I might add should probably have said to you, you don’t have to be doing all four at the same time. So if in any given day, you’ve achieved two out of the four, I’d say that’s a win.
Michael Kurland (19:33):
Then I guess I have more wins than losses. We’ll have to go back and retake the tally. So we talked about what motivates you and how you being better to yourself, but how are you being better professionally? You just said you moved from Connecticut to DC and started a podcast. So what are you doing professionally to be better?
Holly Shannon (19:56):
So maybe the idea of journaling, maybe mine’s just on steroids, a little. I’ve started writing and being in the content marketing space. I’m always writing, but I’m usually writing short form. I’m usually doing social media posts. I’m corresponding with people and short form pushes you to be tight in how you communicate. As few words as possible, but really drive home the message. But I realized that I really do enjoy writing and I’ve always done writing in some way, shape or form. I’ve expanded that and I’ve been writing for a magazine. I joined a group called RevGenius and they’re in sales, marketing, and revenue and I’ve published a couple of articles with them and to be able to take a deep dive into a subject I found very interesting for me because I realized that I’m finally putting on paper all those things I’ve been curious about that I’ve been learning.
Holly Shannon (21:02):
I’m now putting them on paper and sharing that and one of the articles that I wrote was why and how to start a podcast. It’s actually an abbreviated version of the book I’m working on for that. I got a text last night from somebody who read it and gave it to his partner because he’s been lobbying to start a podcast. He gave him the article and it helped him buy in on the idea. For me, that was huge that I put my thoughts down on paper and I put it out there in the universe, which is a little nerve wracking because you don’t know, is anybody going to like it?
Holly Shannon (21:51):
Or they’re just going to like it because they’re on social media. But to get something back like one text, I can live on that for like six months. That was just huge for me. So professionally I’ve been leaning in on that and I’m not trying to do a plug, but I have written a book and it’s in beta testing right now. I have two people launching their podcast to be sure there’s no holes in it, but it’s basically a zero to launch how to guide on starting your own podcast.
Michael Kurland (22:27):
I love it. That’s great. I mean that’s what the new thing is, right? People are stumbling into podcasting. I had no idea what I was doing. I went on another guy’s podcast as an entrepreneur in Orange County and they just were like you should do your own podcasts. And I was like you know what, that’s not a bad idea. Then that kind of morphed into this idea of the BeBetter podcast. I had no idea what I was doing. I went into the studio for the first couple of episodes and the studio engineer walked me through it and I stumbled and fumbled, but it’s just been fun. So to have a little how-to guide, that’ll be great for the listeners out there. There is nothing wrong with a little plug for the upcoming book.
Holly Shannon (23:12):
Well, I’m glad that you got into it accidentally too. You actually had someone to help you. I wish I did, but I guess if I did, I probably would not have written down the steps and ended up with a book.
Michael Kurland (23:26):
It’s the pay-it forward.
Holly Shannon (23:27):
Exactly, exactly. I think one thing I would add to that and for your listeners as well and be better, you don’t know what you don’t know. I think that that’s a bit of a gift because it allows you to embark on something with no preconceived ideas and no rule book. Sometimes rule books stink. They box you in. So I’m glad you got into it accidentally too.
Michael Kurland (23:57):
I didn’t know all the errors that I was probably making and I made a few for sure. But I want to ask you off of the list here, Culture Factor 2.0, let’s talk about that. What’s your favorite guest or your favorite episode? Let’s just dive into that a little bit more.
Holly Shannon (24:16):
Oh, that’s so mean to ask that question because there’s so many amazing things.
Michael Kurland (24:21):
One of your top memories, how about that? So we’re not going to hurt anyone’s feelings out there.
Holly Shannon (24:28):
All right. Can I do more than one please?
Michael Kurland (24:30):
Yes. Two, your top two.
Holly Shannon (24:32):
Okay, two. I interviewed at the beginning, Lindsay Caplin. She is the co-founder of Chief. It’s an organization in New York City. They’ve since expanded to the West coast and I believe Chicago as well. It’s a really unique organization because it’s designed for women of the VP level and above and it’s a club, if you will, to support each other, to mentor up and down and to support them in growing their career and helping them get to the C-suite, but then also stay there. I loved that. When I started Culture Factor, one of the things that was imperative to me, as I refuse to do the podcast, unless 50% of the voices were female and that there was diversity, I refused to do it any other way because we all know the C-suite is heavily weighted in white male and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Holly Shannon (25:39):
I’ve met tons of amazing men in the process. I will speak to a couple of them, but to be able to give the mic to women in leadership, I find is really important because I think especially now, if other women hear themselves, they’ll see themselves in those roles. I really enjoyed interviewing her. She’s a new mom in a thriving company. I just really thought that she was an example of for many people. So I really enjoyed her. I recently I interviewed – he’s like a legend, so I feel like I’m gloating, but it’s Rishad Tobaccowala and he said yes right away when I asked him to interview. I’m still pretty small and he’s been on the big wigs. He’s been on The Morning Brew.
Holly Shannon (26:47):
He speaks for Business Week and Facebook and top companies. He’s Time magazine’s top five marketing innovators, a powerhouse of a guy. But he was so genuine and articulate and he just wrote the book, “Restoring the Soul of Business.” I just felt that it was an evergreen book. It was so timely and yet can be relatable at any time in business. He was so lovely and accommodating and making this interview with me and made the time. I have to say he has so much great things to say. So I would give those two at the moment.
Michael Kurland (27:38):
That’s great. That’s just the sneak peek so that our audience can start listening and then they’ll find them.
Holly Shannon (27:47):
They’ll come on board. There’s some really wonderful people I’ve interviewed.
Michael Kurland (27:50):
You brought up giving the voice to as many women in leadership as possible. We’re reading a book and I have to say, I haven’t started it yet, but we’re doing a book club and it’s “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Have you read it?
Holly Shannon (28:08):
I have not. I will have to read that.
Michael Kurland (28:10):
It’s about women, work, and the will to lead. It was written in 2013 by Sheryl Sandberg and she was the COO of Facebook, or she may still be. I know that my business partner, Kiira read it and she loved it. We usually do a book club a quarter and someone takes the reins on it. So this washer choice and people are reading it and I’ve heard rave reviews. I need to start mine. I still have time everybody. So don’t worry. I’ll get it done before the end. I know that I’m excited to read it and it jogged my memory on that. So it’s probably a book you might want to pick up.
Holly Shannon (28:49):
Absolutely. I already wrote it down.
Michael Kurland (28:51):
So this is the last question we ask everyone on the show. What do you consider yourself to be an expert at and what is the best advice for our listeners to become an expert at said thing. There’s no right or wrong answer.
Holly Shannon (29:11):
I’m going to say one of my favorite ways to describe myself is I’m a Swiss army knife in business. I feel like I’m actually not an expert at anything. I feel like I am pretty good at a lot of different things. Again, this probably comes from reinventing myself several times. So I think I do all right in each of the things that I do. I think that when I have to focus on one thing, I’m not sure that maybe I do my best to master it. I guess saying that I’m an expert at anything would just feel like a bit of an imposter syndrome thing. I don’t know. But I do my best to master each thing that I do or to do the best to my own ability. I would probably circle back to the idea of education for people.
Holly Shannon (30:14):
Right now I know it’s hard for people to upskill, especially if it’s a double income family, both working with children, homeschooling. I’m not saying that it’s easy for anybody. It just happens to be the best tool for me. I feel that if you could learn anything new even if it’s the art of meditation, taking up yoga, learning podcasting, it really doesn’t matter what it is. Anything you focus on increases like your brain plasticity, it increases serotonins. It makes you more productive because I hate to say it, if you want to get something done, give it to someone who’s busy. I really feel that education is probably the way to get really good at just about anything.
Michael Kurland (31:08):
Great. You’re actually the second person to say that on the podcast this season. If you want something done, give it to someone that’s busy. I literally have never heard that one before either. So I’m just learning new things right now. I love it. Holly, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. This has been really informative and fun. I have enjoyed myself. I hope you have as well, audience as well. If the audience wants to get ahold of you, how can they reach you?
Holly Shannon (31:39):
I’ll tell you what – LinkedIn is really a great place to connect with me. I love to connect with people and have a dialogue with them. I’m on Twitter and Instagram as well and I’m happy to shoot over all of my handles if you want to throw them in the show notes. But I’d probably say LinkedIn is a good place. I look forward to connecting with some of your listeners.
Michael Kurland (32:03):
Great. Well, thank you, Holly. Until next time, thank you, audience.
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.