One of the essential elements of company culture is the company’s core values. After studying fast-growth companies for the last few years, I know that growth through core values is real. Today’s guest is Aaron Grossman, CEO of The Talent Launch Network. His company was ranked eight consecutive times on the Inc 5000 list. We look at growth through core values and how organizations leverage these values every day. Aaron’s take on core values will give you new ways to understand the importance of company core values.
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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.
I think culture is the essence of what allows us to scale. And as you just mentioned earlier, we are truly in the people business. I think every business is technically in the people business if you hire people and have employees, but we do that for a living, we have to supply employees, to companies throughout the United States. And we want to make sure that we’re matching talent, the right talent with the opportunity that that’s given to us. But we have to, we have to emulate that behavior. Internally, we have to hire the best talent, we have to know that we can do that for ourselves if we’re going to be able to do that for our clients.
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett, I hope leaders and their teams can navigate the defining moments of their group. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [0:52]
You know that your core values are important to the growth of the company just like the mission and vision, all those foundational elements are critical for your employees to know where you’re going, how we interact together, what’s expected of our culture and our people. And this is how we serve our customers, and through all that, we grow. But what might be missing is the pillars which you grow those core values, how do we actually make people feel connected to the work? those pillars are exactly what we’re going to talk about in today’s episode on the Growth Think Tank. My guest today is Aaron Grossman. He’s the co-founder of The Talent Launch Network, they were on the Inc list seven times they were number 3878 this past year. But being on the list seven times is impressive. The only two years he didn’t make it in this journey were the years at which he had to re-establish the scale of the business and the strategy and pivot a little bit. We don’t talk too much about the pivot. Today we talk about some of the core foundational elements that he saw was missing, which was specifically the pillars. There’ll be a link inside these pages so that you can go download the actual redwood tree diagram that he uses. And we explain what it is how it’s used inside the episode. We also look at the one defining moment that Aaron faced as a leader, where he realized his ego was getting in the way, he became the bottleneck for the company. In fact, he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. We talked about that mistake inside this episode on the podcast. Now here’s the interview with Aaron.
Gene Hammett [2:31]
Hi, Aaron, how are you?
Aaron Grossman [2:33]
Good. How are you doing today?
Gene Hammett [2:34]
Fantastic. excited to have another great interview with a fast growth leader like yourself.
Aaron Grossman [2:40]
Awesome. I appreciate to be I appreciate you asked me to be here today.
Gene Hammett [2:43]
Well, you’ve got some a lot of experience starting a business in 2001, you’ve made the list it was we counted up seven times the Inc list a couple of years of where you had to, to go back and pivot a little bit so that you could scale even faster, over 100 million now, I would love for you to kind of kick us off with telling us about the talent launch network.
Aaron Grossman [3:06]
The Talent Launch Network was actually probably my most recent pivot, it’s we started that concept in 2016 off of the framework that we had built from in 2001. So the tail launch network is a nationwide network of independently operated staffing and recruitment firms that are under common ownership. So these are staffing companies throughout the country that are successful that had been successful for many years. And they’re in their communities or marketplace. And we become we actually become the succession plan for successful staffing companies that don’t have one. So the founders have enjoyed the experience of having a company like having a network like talent launch that acquires their company, and it maintains their brand identity in the communities that they built their companies from. And we basically pull out the engine that they had, and we kind of put our Lamborghini engine into it. So it still looks and feels like the company that they’ve had. But everything inside it is is different. And it’s optimized. We’re basically an outsourced tech-enabled shared services platform that provides a lot of these services to the staffing companies that live in our network.
Gene Hammett [4:16]
I love that concept because you’re not just a staffing company. And it probably allows you to grow and scale faster than your peers.
Aaron Grossman [4:24]
It’s definitely from what we’ve gathered to be a very unique concept in our industry. And I think as we tell the story, a lot of people can see how this can really scale significantly, just within our industry. It’s about 100 and $50 billion a year annually in the US and there are 20,000 staffing firms in the United States. 99% of them do less than 50,000,097% do less than 25 million a year and revenues. And most of those companies, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the net promoter score, but there is there’s a company That annually does a survey and Net Promoter Score survey. That’s called the best in staffing. This past year, the results came out a couple of months ago, the score, which 100 would be the best score, you can get the score, the average score of how clients how Cust companies felt about our industry, was a big old score of four.
Gene Hammett [5:20]
Aaron Grossman [5:21]
down from nine last year. So you think about the concept that we’ve created is that there’s a lot of these fragments, our industry is so heavily fragmented, and people like the relationships of their community-based staffing firms. But a lot of these staffing firms don’t aren’t at the size and scale, to really advance themselves for resource perspective, to really drive the best technologies and the best, the best out there to drive the greatest experience back to, to their, their customers. And so the score has been low for many years now. And so talent launch has really created and pivoted to solve for that.
Gene Hammett [5:59]
Well, I want to get into the heart of why you’ve grown so fast. We talked about this before we got on the phone, we’ve done some research on the company, with my team, but it really is it comes down to the culture and the people. You have people, you know, centric business because that’s who you believe in hiring the right people, for your clients, but inside the walls of your own company? Why is culture so important to the success of the company?
Aaron Grossman [6:27]
Well, I think, you know, for if I were to use one word, it’s scalability. I think culture is the essence of what allows us to scale and as you just mentioned earlier, we are truly in the people business, I think every business is technically in the people business if you hire people and have employees, but we do that for a living, we have to supply employees, to companies throughout the United States. And we want to make sure that we’re matching talent, the right talent with the opportunity, that that that’s given to us. But we have to, we have to emulate that behavior internally, we have to hire the best talent, we have to know that we can do that for ourselves if we’re going to be able to do that for our clients. And in 2001, when I started the company, I was 27 years old, I never really had a, I never woke up as a kid and said, I can’t wait, my goal in life is to own my own business.
Aaron Grossman [7:18]
That wasn’t my, that wasn’t my track, I kind of fell into it. Because I got into this industry, I really enjoyed it, I enjoyed the fact that I could make money by actually helping people in a very tangible way. But I, I when I started, when I had the opportunity to start my business, you know, I didn’t have this billion-dollar goal or this hundred million dollar goal. When I started it, it was really about building healthy relationships and doing really good work for my customers. And as that started to scale, and we started to get more than initially, when I started the company, I wanted to get 20 customers and to serve them really well.
Aaron Grossman [7:57]
Well, next thing, you know, I opened my eyes up six years later, and we’ve got 500 customers, and I had 30 employees at the time. And I’m thinking like how the heck did I do this? Like, literally, that’s what I did. I’m like, How the heck did I do this. So I went on probably 10 to 12 months learning of how I got there. And a lot of that really helped me understand what culture was. And I started to learn about, you know, missions and mission statements and what your, your, your core values and what your vision is. And I started doing it to really kind of learn how I got there by learning who I was, through our through designing what our culture ultimately was meant to be. And, and when I started to get the framework of our culture and who we were, that helped me feel confident about growing the business because I knew what type of people would fit into our culture. So that I knew if they fit into our culture, there was a way in which they would approach their lives and how they would approach their work. And I felt we could scale a business that way. So really just gave it was my whoopee cushion, in some ways, still is.
Hold on. Aaron just talked about culture is the essence of how we scale. Have you thought about that? Have you thought about the culture being the critical element of how we grow the business? Well, the truth is, your people are everything. If you want to scale your business, it’s because the people have risen to a place of their ability to create value in the organization, their ability to create systems that are scalable, their availability to think and have those decisions be empowered, trust, communication, all of those things are going back to the culture. So what are you doing to reinforce that culture? What are you doing as a leader to ensure that the culture changes as the company scales? Well, that goes back to the foundations. Make sure you don’t miss out on that. We’ve done many episodes here on the podcast, but a mission, vision, and values This episode happens to be about culture. So keep listening. And here’s the interview with Aaron.
Gene Hammett [10:05]
Let me ask you, Aaron on that the core values, a lot of companies know the importance of it, but they don’t have it as a part of their day to day. How are you using that day in and day out? To make sure it’s a central point of the culture? For the business?
Aaron Grossman [10:22]
Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s a great question. You know, and I really believe, because I test this all the time, like, everything that we have built, has a tie into either our core values or what we also called the pillars of our culture, which the kind of feed our core values, you know, I, we have this Redwood culture, redwood tree culture that I created several years back. And, and the essence of that is, you know, I, I’d seen my first redwood tree forest, you know, probably 10 years ago, maybe a little bit longer than that. And I was just enamored by it, I had never seen trees that big, I didn’t. And, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And coming back to Cleveland, Ohio, in the Midwest, and realizing the trees don’t grow, we don’t have redwood trees that grow in Cleveland, Ohio. And then I started to, you know, apply that to business concepts. And you know, at the essence, I believe, trees have roots. And just like in a business, I believe the roots of the business are the core values that you’ve built your business from.
Aaron Grossman [11:25]
And either whether we know it or not, we are driving our business through values that we believe in, and that makes us make up who we are as human beings, right. And, you know, like a redwood tree, while it grows in the Pacific Northwest, it does the right environment doesn’t exist in the Midwest. And so those trees, those roots of those trees can’t take shape and can’t grow into that magnificent height and magnificence of what those trees are. So I started to think about in business that, you know, core values are the roots, and they’re really important, but you also have to have the right environment, and the right supporting mechanisms, the air, and nutrition to feed those roots so that they can grow. And my belief is that I can grow redwood trees anywhere I want, if I have the right environment, for our roots to grow. And so everything that we built, whether it’s compensation plans, whether it’s competitions, you know, active learning, for example, is a supporting pillar to our roots. So what you know, we have to make sure that we’re mindful around the learning and development opportunities that we provide our network and all of our operating companies, because that, that that is something that I do believe will grow our roots. You know, our core values, for example, entrepreneurship is a core value. So you have to take responsibility for your outcomes.
Aaron Grossman [12:47]
That’s how we define entrepreneurship. So we believe that, that if you’re going to live in our network, you know, things aren’t going to be handed to you, you do have to, we’re going to give you some framework to build from, at the end of the day, this is your experience, this is your journey. And we’re not expecting you to spend a career on this journey, we hope that you do. But this is your journey. And our goal is to give you things that are going to help you take responsibility for your outcomes to help you with your own experience, a supporting pillar of that our environment, you know, one of it is accountability. And our way we define accountability is through transparency, we want to have a very transparent environment. So we’ve created business intelligence. And we show you everything that you need to know about what you’re doing, to help you learn and help you give you the data you need so that you can maximize whatever it is you want to be while you’re on this journey with us within a talent launch network. You know, and the act of learning pillar helps support that entrepreneurship core value as well. So we’ve designed a lot of programs that are all connected to either a pillar or a core value so that we can really truly are living this tree caught this redwood tree concept in our business.
Hold on for a second. Aaron just talked about transparency. I’ve been the research with the founders, and the Inc 501 of the most important factors to their growth is a sense of transparency. One of the questions that come up all the time, is how far do you go? Where do you draw the line on transparency? Most of these companies draw the line at what they’re legally allowed to share. They don’t share salary data, they don’t share personal information, but they share strategies, they share financial information. They share so much stuff with you that many of you will think it’s too much in too far. I’m going to ask you to look at transparency, what it does the benefit of that the way it builds trust, the way it builds connection, the way it builds inclusion inside the culture. Transparency is one of the critical elements over 87% of the people I interview say it’s either important or very important to the growth of the company. Back to the interview.
Gene Hammett [14:54]
What is something that you do counterintuitive that you think other companies are doing that you guys either don’t do or you doing differently?
Aaron Grossman [15:03]
So you know, the one thing that I would say that we, that we do differently than we did do differently is how we even thought about office space. So headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, we ended up buying a building back in 2016. And we were really thoughtful of what we how we wanted this, this, this new office that we were going to be moving into what it would look like. And at the core of this is that we really wanted to emulate and build our culture, and how we brought the office space to life. So I’m in we also wanted to be a showroom, as I talked about earlier, we’re in the business of matching talent with an opportunity with with with companies throughout the United States. And I think we have to live who we want to be if we’re going to represent that to our clients.
Aaron Grossman [15:52]
So when we built the office space, we built it with our culture in mind, we put our core values everywhere. And we have a very open and collaborative mindset because that’s part of our culture. And I think the big thing that we did differently is that we created 17, different meeting spaces of different sizes. And then we open it up to the public for free. So we have, you know, outside of the COVID experience that we’re currently in every week, we would have different companies use us a meeting room, or use our big active learning room, which could seat 70 people, and it’s all technology out, we’d have fortune 500 companies hold strategic sessions, their nonprofits, we have a small, what’s called the accelerator group with about 50 small businesses with less than a million in revenue every quarter 40 or 50 of them are using different aspects of our meeting rooms throughout an eight hour period every quarter.
Aaron Grossman [16:49]
So that to me is what would I found out at least in our community, that was something very different. But the reason why we did that is that we want, we want to be a showroom for culture. And we want these companies to come in and see how we’ve created this space. And I can’t tell you how many people how many business owners have asked questions about it, they did an article in the Plain Dealer, which is the newspaper here in Cleveland, Ohio, we’ve had actually businesses copy some of that which is the best, the best thing I could ever ask for is when people start to emulate our space by redesigning it into their own space. So that was something that is very different than we did around that.
Gene Hammett [17:33]
I love that. I know in your journey, Aaron as a leader, you’ve been through some ups and downs, you’ve probably had some defining moments in your own journey, what comes to mind where you had to let go of something the way you thought about yourself or leadership that has allowed you to create this company of growth that you have now?
Aaron Grossman [17:54]
Well, I think what one of the things that I’ve had to let go is ego. You know, when you and I’ve had a couple of moments where I can think of offhand that, that that really was kind of hit me hard. And I realized that’s not a thing I’m good at. So you know, starting a business at 20, at 27 years old, and then growing it fairly quickly. I thought that this was easy, nothing, nothing can go wrong. And little did I know that a lot could go wrong. During that time. One of them was technology, I really thought I understood technology. And I back in I think it was 2010 I decided to try to help build technology with a company that was looking to design a new staffing software, and we were going to be a beta on it. And you know, we’re roughly a, you know, a $40 million company with about 70 employees at the time. And this was not a proven technology that had worked. And Fast Forward eight months into that project, have you starting to use the technology and getting off of our old version of what we were using. It wasn’t working. You know, it wasn’t working at all. And we had to start reading rethinking it, we had to start doing a lot of work manually. And we had to show a lot of grit in that moment. Because it wasn’t doing anything of what we needed to do to be productive, including even being able to do payroll at a time. And we’re basically we run payroll now right now for thinking think about it.
Aaron Grossman [19:29]
We weren’t payroll for up to three or 4000 people a week. And imagine if you can’t run payroll payrolls not working, suddenly you got to pay all these people, they’re gonna be really angry if you don’t pay. So I had some times at what that those two weeks that I can remember. We had our whole accounting staff working till like three or four in the morning to try to get paychecks out. And it was a $500,000 issue that ended up happening because we had to scrap the whole thing. I didn’t have a technology professional on staff I adjust, brought in, I brought in a board of advisors to my business. And that was what the first meeting one of the advisors are looking at all the information I’ve given him, he’s like, well, who’s your technology person and their company, or you say, You’re this technology-enabled company who’s running your technology. And I looked at him and I, it was an aha moment. For me, I’m like, me. And that was right around the time where I’d made this $500,000 technology area. And I recognized at that moment that I’m not good at everything. And, and ever since then, I’ve been incredibly mindful about that. And, and knowing what I’m good at, and what I’m not.
Aaron Grossman [20:47]
So even in our current journey, now, probably about two years, yeah, roughly about two years ago, I started to realize that I am an entrepreneur. And, and as that was right, when we hit 100 million dollars in revenue, I’m an entrepreneur, and I, I can’t help but think of the next big idea, I can’t help of innovating an idea that I think that’s something that’s already working, but I want to make it a little bit better. And I started to create confusion in the company, because of all these ideas that I wanted to kind of make happen. And when you get bigger, it’s harder to make those ideas happen in the business. And, and because I recognize the mistake that I made around the technology, a few years earlier, I realized that I needed to bring in a president for our company that actually had a passion for running a larger organization, and knows how to execute, just execute things, and actually force myself to get out of the way. And so I hired a president, you know, making the hire a year ago, his name’s Doug, Dan Duran. And he’s been absolutely phenomenal. And I was forthright with him too. I said, Listen, these are the things I’m worried about myself, as we as you’re coming into this, then I’m going to screw up and I’m going to stay and when I do just this, just let me know. Um, and so he’s been really great about that. And it’s really been helpful for me to know that I know what I’m good at. And I know what he’s good at. And together, we make a great team.
Gene Hammett [22:23]
Well, I appreciate you going there with us about ego. I think a lot of leaders, even myself have struggled with that, thinking that we know the right path. It takes a lot of humility to be able to make that make the transition and realize that we’ve got to step out of the way. So there’s a lot of lessons in that. Aaron, I really appreciate you being here on the podcast, sharing your journey of leadership and fast growth.
Aaron Grossman [22:48]
Thank you. I appreciate it.
Gene Hammett [22:49]
Great interview today love getting into the details of what makes us leaders, what are the things that we’re missing? How do we put intention to the pillars that allow us to grow and really serve our clients to serve our customers through these pillars? I love this conversation with Aaron because it gets real for a moment where he talks about the ego getting in the way he lost $500,000 if you lost that, would your business survive? Hopefully, it would. But the reality behind this is we all get in our own way. At some point, we all fail to evolve. past these moments, we can’t see it for ourselves.
Gene Hammett [23:25]
Those defining moments are exactly where I come into play. I’d love to help you through anything that you’re facing any kind of crisis of confidence or courage, or just maybe there’s a new strategy that’s necessary for the business to continue moving forward. I’ve spent the last 20 years honing my strategy skills, the last eight workings as an executive coach in the mindset of leadership, and how we must grow those defining moments. define who I am, and who you are as a leader.
Gene Hammett [23:54]
I’d love to help you make sure you reach out to me, [email protected] Remember, this podcast is for founders, and leaders that want to be better leaders want to be visionary. If you know someone in your network that would appreciate these interviews, the depth we go make sure you share the Growth Think Tank podcast with them.
Gene Hammett [24:12]
As always leave with courage. We’ll see you next time.
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.
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