Leadership requires many skills. One essential aspect of leadership requires you to manage the team of people to a higher level. When you manage the team well, you lift their confidence and empower them to go beyond their current thinking. Today’s guest is Bill Kerr, CEO of Avalon Healthcare Solutions. His company was ranked #4 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. Bills shares how he leads his team through fast growth. The one thing I can say is that fast-growth leaders manage the team as often as they manage the work. Discover new insights on how you can manage the team in this interview.
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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
One of the things we measure is the engagement across the employee group and engagement in the way we measure in the team with which we work to help us is really around how motivated we are employees to stay with you? Or inversely how likely are they to start searching for a new job. And you can see a steady rise from what was a decent engagement to really last time measured in February excellent engagement, we measured it just before the pandemic sort of made everybody start remote work. And it’s really because not only have we done things like the communities but there’s been, we need a more formal recognition program. We need an ability to recognize each other not just top-down management. We need to have we already had this in place, but it’s been more structured, a monthly meeting of all associates and we need to make sure we’re sharing how things are going with your business. So when you look at what they recommend and what we’ve adopted and used The graph of engagement going on, I think that is a tremendous impact.
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett, I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their book, are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [1:21]
Leading a fast company takes a lot of energy, a lot of grit, a lot of leadership skills. And sometimes you have to let go of the things that got you to where you are today. If this is the first time you listening in, then you want to know that we serve those leaders that are growing fast, want to continue that growth, and we create content just for you. Today, our special guest is Bill Kerr. He’s the founder CEO of Avalon Healthcare Solutions. They create lab testing and you know, in the midst of all that’s going on right now, with lab testing is something we’re all want to make sure it’s smoother access to everyone and it’s faster and that’s one of the things that they’ve been doing for more than a decade.
Gene Hammett [2:00]
Now, when you think about growing a company to number four on the Inc list, Does that surprise you? Well, let me tell you, they took their company revenues growth was 26,000% over the last three years. Now, I know that sounds like it’s hard to believe, but the way they got there is by building a strong team and having leadership that was willing to say, I don’t know enough myself, I’ve got to find some outside support. And sometimes I don’t know where these conversations go. But what you’ll hear inside here is some of the things that he had to, you know, invest in other mentors and coaches along the journey so they could create this. Sometimes he had to give and empower his team to do this. And he also shares insights around how he manages his time in a fast-growth environment and all this and more inside the interview today with Bill. Let me ask you a question here before we jump into the interview, if you have any struggles at all with your business and growing, whether it be leadership, culture, or strategy, I would love to offer you something I’m doing unique for those listening to this podcast, if you’ll go to genehammett.com/trycoaching, you’ll be able to sign up with me a chance to talk about those problems. I promise not to sell you something you don’t need. I’m here to serve you. I promise that in that growth call, you will find out what’s holding you back with the specific thing you need to do next, and you will be able to move forward with more clarity and confidence. I do that because I want to make sure I’m connecting with my audience. I love to serve them. So if you want to register for that, just go to genehammett.com/trycoaching. Now, here’s the interview with Bill.
Bill Kerr [2:58]
I’m doing great Gene. How are you?
Gene Hammett [3:38]
I am fantastic. It’s great to talk to you about growth leadership culture. I want to start here with you giving us a little bit more information about Avalon Healthcare Solutions.
Bill Kerr [3:50]
Avalon Healthcare Solutions is a lab benefit management company. Let me tell you what that means. We really organize the science around lab testing. Who’s and perform the right lab testing, and ultimately what to do with the result as well as what to pay. And I guess the one thing I would say, given the times we are in right now is, unfortunately, this pandemic has shone a light on how important that is, and understanding what testing helps drive what decisions and who can perform it. But that work has been important for a long time and something we started focusing on, you know, a half dozen years ago.
Gene Hammett [4:25]
Well, Bill, I appreciate you being here. You were recently named number four fastest-growing privately held company in America through the Inc magazine, Inc. 5000. List. Take us back to the day where you realized you were number four. How did you feel?
Bill Kerr [4:39]
Honestly, gratified? I will be honest, I felt like wow, this explains why for a while we were so tired. We were working so hard. growing so fast. It was very gratifying to realize just how far we’ve come quite frankly.
Gene Hammett [4:51]
And the beautiful thing about you doesn’t grow that fast without building a team around you about 100 employees to have that right.
Bill Kerr [4:59]
Yes, exactly. About 100 today,
Gene Hammett [5:01]
What is the thing that keeps you going as a leader of a fast-growth company over 26,000% growth of the last three years and having 100 employees? What’s that one thing you keep gravitating to?
Bill Kerr [5:15]
So first of all, is the space we plan the mission we have, probably more than you asked about. But my background, I’m a physician and cancer researcher and I got into this space because cost quality access is very important. And lab testing has exploded. So the value we bring to the patients and the doctors at the end of the lab testing really motivates me numb and I think it motivates a lot of our team, quite frankly, I think there’s a lot of alignment around that mission and there’s so much more we can do. The second thing is when you have a great team, the just the fun of working with the team is also very motivating for me. So it’s been a little harder because we’re all doing remote work, but it’s certainly Leave the team that drives a lot of the engagement back to me at this point as opposed to the reverse.
Gene Hammett [6:07]
And you had shared with my team about something, maybe you say this quite a bit, I’m gonna look at my notes here. But you say, manage the team, not the problem. What does that mean in your world?
Bill Kerr [6:20]
And so if you look at the evolution of a company like ours, where they you’re the founding CEO, and day one, your ID. So what you’re focused on first is what problem we’re going to solve and how are we going to solve it. And even when you start building up a dozen people, really the CEO, the founding CEO is still solving the problem. So you are in the midst of issue resolution and data and technology. At some point, you wake up and realize other people are solving the problems. You’re one step removed. And I had to sit down and say now where am I adding the most value to this company, and it took a little bit of work. realization and help for me to make that transition, quite frankly,
Gene Hammett [7:04]
Help us then you got some outside coaching or mentoring?
Bill Kerr [7:08]
Absolutely. Yeah, you know, and the phrase I’ve also used and I’m sure you’ve heard it is, I realized I had gone from player to some player-coach, and that near on the horizon was just being a coach. And I also realized the coaching side was the part I was not as good at as I was on the problem-solving side. So it made sense to get a coach to help me become better at coaching, quite frankly,
Gene Hammett [7:31]
You probably thought of this too, but a lot of people that are great performers inside of our teams, you probably have them get promoted up to a place of management or leadership. And they’re not prepared for either just like you wasn’t. And it’s really kind of the hardest place to really develop those employees because they’re very talented. And sometimes that talent actually gets in the way, just like your ability to solve problems could get in the way of you building that great team they have Does that make sense?
Bill Kerr [8:00]
It makes perfect sense. And in fact, I would go, I would add another one that says, Look, there’s both the individual can they transition themselves into managing other people? Because one thing I would suggest you right now is I manage people who now manage the people who manage the problem, which is even further removed. The other thing is chemistry. And I think that took me a while to understand too, it is not just each individual growing, but how are they growing together? And what kind of chemistry Do we have as a team?
Gene Hammett [8:30]
That’s a really good question there. So I’m going to ask you, how do you make sure that you have the right chemistry in those teams.
Bill Kerr [8:37]
In all honesty, Jean, it was a little bit iterative. I would suggest to us that early on, I hired for kind of what I might call the strength of technical skills or subject matter expertise, and valued highly what people brought to the table in the problem-solving sphere, the technical sphere, and overtime began to realize that some of the people who were really strong in the technical aspects were not strong in either the collaboration aspects of the hiring and managing other people aspects. And so starting to realize I had to pivot on, on what I was most focused in terms of coaching them about or leading them through, but also in how I was hiring was important and we had to slowly make some changes on the team ultimately.
Gene Hammett [9:24]
And have you changed that hiring process now? Is there kind of a different approach?
Bill Kerr [9:27]
Yes, on really a few things. So one is clearly you still want to have a threshold of competency right? I mean, you still want that but now I spend a lot more time focused on what motivates them. So I really dig back into their early career days I have found finding out why people chose a certain college how they chose their major their first few jobs, you learn what motivates them. Secondly, I focus a lot on how well they will fit into the team. And thirdly, Jean I honestly at the end, try To convince them not to join us. And the reason is that fast-growing companies are not for everyone, they change rapidly. And you shouldn’t join us unless you are really committed to what we’re trying to accomplish.
Gene Hammett [10:13]
It sounds like you have this concept of you got to have that culture fit. Of course, they have to have those technical skills to come in as a minimum, but you’re really looking for culture fit. Is that fair to say?
Bill Kerr [10:23]
That is very fair is a fact. It’s, it is something we have consciously invested in. I’ve invested my time. But even as a company, we realized that about 50 employees, we had to start being more conscious or intentional about how we were measuring culture, thinking of culture, because that piece ultimately, is the secret sauce, I think in keeping teams moving forward together.
Hold on for a second. Did you hear what Bill talked about culture fit? Every business goes through figuring out how to hire the best people, the most talented people that allow the company to grow and Move forward. Well, what he talked about was very natural. First of all, you hire people based on skills, talents that can solve the problem. Eventually, you learn that you’ve got to bring in people that are a better culture fit because some of those people don’t make that journey, you’re not able to adapt to the change. When you think about the hiring process. Are you hiring for more skill fit or culture fit? This is just a wake-up call because 90% of all the fast-growth companies here that I talked to have said culture fit is what they had to learn in this journey. So that’s my message to you. Back to Bill.
Gene Hammett [11:36]
I’m kind of curious bill, what would we see in your organization, you know, as a ritual or something that happens on a consistent basis that that maybe is different from other organizations? Does anything come to mind?
Bill Kerr [11:46]
Different from other organizations? I think that part is harder for me to say, not knowing I can tell you things that I think are important, a few of them. I and again, I’m not sure they’d be unique. So one is, you know, we measuring agement in what motivates the employees and what we can do better. And I think that’s probably very common to have we empowered a group of employees to own the actions we take. So I gave up owning that I will be the one who decides what cultural things we do, whether we are going to have an event like a Halloween party, what are going to be the social missions we focus on, I gave that up and gave it to a group of employees and, and that has been very impactful, because they now feel ownership, and they see that they control it, and maybe that’s a little bit less common.
Bill Kerr [12:38]
And then thirdly, you know, I really believe that it’s important for a leader to be willing to, it’s hard to not take themselves, too seriously. I think there’s a real risk that you’ll take yourself too seriously. And so let them also ask me to do things, you know, they can be funny things like there was a kind Test around Halloween to raise money for one of our social causes. And they could whoever want whoever raised the most could pick what Halloween costume I had to wear around the office that day as a, for instance, I ended up in one of those blow-up dinosaurs that sort of you know, has air is air fed and my face is coming out of the T rex thing and my arms are short. And I think that was very emblematic of the culture we’re after, which is we’re all in this together but also important that they know I’m willing to not take myself too seriously.
Gene Hammett [13:32]
There’s they let you off easy. They could have put you in a miniskirt or something
Bill Kerr [13:36]
I think I had HR controlling sort of what were the dress codes always protected.
Gene Hammett [13:44]
I want to go back to this. This group of people I don’t know if you call it a committee or if you call it something else. What have you learned by by giving them that sense of ownership and how that’s impacted the culture?
Bill Kerr [13:58]
Well, first of all, I’m the Culture Club. So, being my 80s background that you can imagine where I came up with that, or that was derived from, you know, there’s a couple of things. So one that really surprised me was how important it was that we engage in the community. You know, as a, as a founding CEO and problem solver, I think I tend to naturally gravitate towards what do we do that’s specific to the business? And how do we solve problems? And how do we invest in people around the business and part of what I learned from the Culture Club is, they want us to be a good corporate citizen, and they want us to invest in the community in which we work and play. And I don’t know, honestly, that I would have naturally gravitated to that. And it’s been an important piece for us to the add-in.
Gene Hammett [14:49]
I get that my wife is an expert in the millennial generation and you know, all of the things that go with those dynamics, and it’s very, very important as you know, I might not have put it at the top of the list either. But that’s the reason why you don’t have ownership of this they do. When you think about, you know, impact overall of what this has had for the company, what how would you just describe that that Culture Club impact?
Bill Kerr [15:19]
Well, so one of the things we measure is the engagement across the employee group and engagement in the way we measure in the team with which we work to help us is really around how motivated our employees to stay with you or inversely, how likely are they to start searching for a new job. And you can see a steady rise from what was a decent engagement to really last time measured in February excellent engagement. We measured it just before the pandemic sort of made everybody start remote work. And it’s really because not only have we done things like the community piece, but there’s been we need a more formal recognition program. We need an ability to recognize As each other, not just top-down management, we need to have, we already had this in place, but it’s been more structured, a monthly meeting of all associates, and we need to make sure we’re sharing how things are going with the business. So when you look at what they recommend and what we’ve adopted, and you see the graph of engagement going up, I think you’ve had a tremendous impact.
Gene Hammett [16:25]
You didn’t say the word but what that sounds like is you’ve adopted transparency. Is that fair?
Bill Kerr [16:32]
That is very fair. And honestly, I think, I think if you’d asked me previously, I would have said we were transparent, but I think when the challenge is when you’re scaling, and your player still, you don’t realize what is no longer getting said from you directly to employees. You don’t realize who feels like they’re not getting the information until people say we have to structurally scale how this information cascades.
Gene Hammett [16:56]
I love that. When you think about The whole concept we talked about stop, you know, was the word you used. Sorry, manage the team not the problem. When you think about that today as the company continues to grow, you know, your numbers were based on last year’s revenues right? And previous years, but what are you really focused on now as you are playing a different role as the CEO of this company?
Bill Kerr [17:27]
Well, so two things really. So one is I have to continue to evolve so if you really look at the transition of learning to manage the team and not the problem it required that I changed a lot and working on yourself I think is hard, but has to continue so that’s one and I continue to get feedback I’m my team is great in their willingness to coach me, and other times I use outside people to find out what they need coaching To is, where does the company go next. So I do think the role that I get to play that adds value to the team. And where they’re going to help take us is I get to interact with the outside world a lot more, quite frankly. You have board members, investors, customers, etc. And so it’s my job to bring back in, in many ways. What’s the next round of challenges our customers have that we need to help them solve? So it’s not me problem solving, but it’s feeding the team that so working on myself, and figuring out what problems our customers have that are the next round of things we should help them solve are the two places I’m most focused.
Now, one more second here. Bill just said I had to evolve. When you think about your evolution as a leader, are you evolving fast enough? Are you evolving, just enough to keep one step ahead of the team, but if you want to grow a fast-growing company, you’ve got to be willing to evolve at a quicker pace. pace, then your team, then the market, then the customers around you. And you’ve got to work on yourself to do that bill talked about his investment in a coach. Now I say this because if you have a coach great if you if what you’re doing works without a coach, fantastic. But if you have just a little bit of interest about what coaching is like for leadership like you, I would love to get to know you. All you have to do is go to genehammett.com/trycoaching and you can actually sign up for a free call with me and it’s called the growth call and inside that call, you will discover exactly what is holding you back from your growth. Inside that call, you will learn exactly what you need to do next, to move forward to continue the growth that you desire. All you have to do is go to genehammett.com/trycoaching Back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [19:48]
I want to switch gears here a little bit because I want to make sure that we serve our audience really well. One of the biggest challenges with growing a Fast Company having no 100 people and growing Is your own time? Is there anything specifically you do to manage your time that you can share with us today that you feel like, makes a really big difference for you?
Bill Kerr [20:08]
Boy? Absolutely. So there were really two different data points, if you will, that cause me to change how I manage my calendar. So one was is I invested in coaching to help me learn how to better move into or live into the role of coach. One of the pieces of advice that I think a lot of founding CEOs probably don’t hear or maybe ignore is you have to build in time to take care of yourself. You know, you could look at Stephen Covey sharpen the saw, there’s a number of euphemisms. But for me, it was, hey, there’s a combination of hobbies and exercise rituals that were part of your life before you founded this company that you have sacrifice and if you don’t reengage those, you’re not going to have the balance for you to be a fan. So one is I had to acknowledge that I was becoming imbalanced. And then to you know, there’s a kind of a relatively famous NPR interview with Bill Gates. And with Warren Buffett, where dates were so surprised to see how empty Buffett’s calendar was, and Buffett’s saying, look, one of the great things I can do is think, as a leader. And in fact, I heard Jamie diamond interviewed the other day on a podcast and he was saying he had the whole day blocked out for things, so not day, but a half-day. And so learning that being busy, was not the same thing as being effective would be how I would say, I had to evolve and all three of those data points taught me that and so now I consciously block out time for me and for thinking on the calendar, and I declined meetings, that I never that in times past, I would not have declined.
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Gene Hammett [22:09]
I love it. And those are really in alignment with a lot of the same things. I have to work with my clients around time and really understanding that sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. Sometimes you don’t have to go to every meeting. Sometimes you have to take time to reflect and sometimes that reflection is not, you know, on your calendar, it’s you know, having that space for a walk or something. So, Bill, I really appreciate you being here, the insights around, you know, fast-growth really are inspiring. I appreciate all your wisdom here.
Bill Kerr [22:42]
It’s been a pleasure, Gene. It’s a pleasure to meet you and to work with you.
Gene Hammett [22:45]
Another great interview here on Growth Think Tank. I love to be able to talk with people there in the trenches bill shared with you some insights on what he’s done. Some of the things he’s had to let go of, hopefully, you’ve taken away some notes, something that you can apply to your business. One of the things we wrapped up with It was about time. If you feel any pressure about how do you create your time, I’ve created a special resource for you absolutely free. Just go to genehammett.com/productivity. If you want to figure out how to manage your time, well, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people on the podcast, I pulled the best insights, put them in this report for you so that you can actually go figure out how to create time for you to think and create time for you to leave the company. Now, when you think about leadership and you think about growth, make sure you think of Growth Think Tank,
Gene Hammett [23:28]
As always with courage. We’ll see you next time.
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