Growing fast requires you to have to be an intentional leader. Pushing yourself and challenging your team members is a regular part of any CEO’s work. One aspect of being very deliberate in how CEOs spend their time is knowing the most valuable projects. Today’s guest is Bill Kerr, CEO of Avalon Healthcare Solutions. His company was ranked #4 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. Bill begins by sharing his top strategy for optimizing his time, which is the power of giving up making decisions. He shares how much impact his team is making because they are the ones that are making the decisions to drive the company forward. In part two, Bill is coached on how CEOs spend their time. Your time is precious, and you want to make the most of it as the CEO of a growing organization. You will discover how CEOs spend their time inside this episode.
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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.
Bill Kerr [0:00]
CEOs’ time is obviously important. It’s a constrained resource. It’s a finite resource. It should be used like any other resource as effectively as possible on behalf of the company, the customers, where should that be? And for me, the two biggest polls have kind of been internal or external, right? And maybe everybody feels that. But do I spend more time out in the marketplace where I think there’s a natural pole to the CEO role? I think there’s a natural, you said earlier, customers, maybe aim for that prospects aim for that. And then there’s sort of a need to worry about competition and things that pull you out there. But you’ve got a fast-growing company, how much you need to make sure everything’s getting done internally. And I feel like Personally, I have more pinball between those than I have found the balance.
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 help leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth, are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [1:03]
Empowering those around you is a big part of leadership. In fact, when I look at all of the different skills of leadership, empowering others, and the skills that go along with that, letting their ideas come through letting them make decisions, it is the cornerstone of you creating a successful relationship with those around you. Today, we’re going to talk about empowering others in our series on optimizing your time. But we’re also going to talk about some of the other aspects and part two, with today’s guest, which is the CEO of Avalon Health Systems. Bill Kerr. Bill is someone that I admire for what they’re doing, and how he’s been able to rise to the occasion of being a true CEO, we took a look at the journey from going from the guy who has an idea of wearing many hats to one who is truly trying to create more of that real CEO relationship with the company, but also some of the struggles that go along with it. When you think about your own journey for leadership, make sure you keep in mind that it is a journey, it’s not something that you get all right, it’s very intuitive, it builds on each other, you will go down the path that will take you down to failures. But you will also be able to see from those failures and rise and move forward together. and optimize your time series. It is very different from a regular interview, the first part of it is a regular interview style, about what’s really changed the needle for him and optimize his own time. And in part two, we look at what he’s trying to improve as the CEO of this company. So here’s the interview with Bill.
Gene Hammett [2:36]
Hey, Bill, how are you?
Bill Kerr [2:38]
I’m doing great team. How are you today?
Gene Hammett [2:40]
Fantastic. Glad to have you back on the podcast.
Bill Kerr [2:43]
It’s great to be back. I appreciate the opportunity.
Gene Hammett [2:45]
When you and I have talked before we talked about leadership and culture. But we’re gonna actually take a little bit different approach this time, this is in the optimize your time series. So we’re going to talk about some of the things that you’ve done to improve your time and spend your energy on the most valuable work of the company. So let’s go ahead and tell our audience what is Avalon Health Services.
Bill Kerr [3:08]
We’re a lab benefits manager, we organize all the laboratory testing and policies around coverage and reimbursement on behalf of health plans. So for instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield plans are our customers and other health plans. So we’re an outsourced vendor for them.
Gene Hammett [3:23]
Well, I appreciate that. And you have are you technically the CEO or founder,
Bill Kerr [3:29]
the co-founder and CEO,
Gene Hammett [3:32]
When you think about optimizing your time, before we jump into the number one strategy, what was it like before, you truly have started to get your time optimizer when you know, it’s kind of out of whack?
Bill Kerr [3:47]
Well, you’ve been through this. So you know, the interesting thing about starting a company is you wear every hat in the company on day one, right? I mean, you’re just it and the way I have thought about growing the company over time is that I slowly take hats off by hiring somebody to take on that function, right. And so the first few hats that took off are those I’m least skilled to do like a CFO and an IT person and things like that. But during that those phases, there is so much on your plate, it’s a matter of I would argue it’s a matter of prioritization and survival, then instead of optimizing I don’t think there’s a chance early on to optimize what I found interesting is as you slowly take some of those hats off, you start to realize you now have or at least I started realized I now have some capacity to pick and choose where to invest my time. And that’s when I started trying to think about what to do differently but really you have to get there at some point. It didn’t start off in the capacity to do that. I really started off just survival mode and getting everything done that had to.
Gene Hammett [4:53]
Well, I can tell you when I was the CEO of a company that was going fast, I felt more like a firefighter than whatever CEO felt like.
Bill Kerr [5:01]
That is exactly right. I would agree with that. In fact, I, I would argue that I only know the past few years have felt like a quote, true CEO who’s managing the business. Because early on as you know, you’re the Dewar, you’re not the manager, you’re as much as the Dewar. And like you said, You’re a firefighter, when you had.
Gene Hammett [5:20]
Shared with our team, the number one strategy that has really helped you optimize your time now, do you remember what you shared with us?
Bill Kerr [5:26]
Yes, I really try to decide what is the CEO level decision, or more importantly, I just quit making the decision to quit allowing decisions to be brought to me that I used to make and, and that has, that has helped not only me but honestly, it helped the team to you know, giving up decisions is not necessarily a natural act. For most of us, right, we’ve, we’ve learned to make decisions, and we’ve been the firefighter is, you know, you’re used to making decisions and making them rapidly and you feel confident in because you’re in command of a lot of information. And so I’ve decided, at some point, the only way I was going to get out of those decisions was to refuse to make them because I personally feel like Jean, and I’d be curious as to your opinion, but I feel like any organization, the people inside or even the customers outside will go to the highest point to which they can get attention. And if you let those decisions come to you, you dealt with just keep coming. And so the real strategy was quit and Quit making decisions and quit allowing decisions to be put on my plate that wasn’t really worthy of my time.
Gene Hammett [6:30]
Well, this is never true, or more true than in the sales conversation. Because I’ve been in sales all my life, it’s hard to call into a company at the bottom and work your way through the system. If you can get if you can start at the top bill, then that’s where we’re supposed to start. But also, that’s what you’ve described is exactly the kind of evolution that leaders have to go through is letting others make decisions. You describe that to my team as empowering them. Do you think about empowering them specifically?
Bill Kerr [7:00]
Yeah, I do I know to tell you, it’s sort of a natural consequence of realizing I had to stop making them. So you know, we all hire great people, that’s a job. One is hiring great people and hire great people for where you’re going, not where you are, where you’ve been, right, that’s just almost like one on one. But then if you keep making decisions, they’re not getting to deliver the skill and talent they have. And so by stepping back and saying now that you’re here, I’m not making those decisions anymore you are, they naturally feel much more empowered, and in my opinion, much more comfortable making the decisions. I personally feel like in retrospect, as I was bringing on strong people, I didn’t clarify that early on, and they weren’t sure what decisions they could make. So I think you really do empower them by starting to get yourself out of the fray and out of the middle of their day to day work, quite honestly.
Gene Hammett [7:50]
Now I know there’s someone out there going, this makes total sense. But you can’t give up on every decision. So I know, there’s probably some decisions that you’re making at the very top is what you really mean is I’m only making a few handfuls of decisions, and everyone else is making the rest or is it something different?
Bill Kerr [8:06]
So it’s more the latter. But let me clarify. It’s a great question. So you know, let me give you two examples. One simple and obvious, and one, maybe hopefully a little bit more nuanced. So one is just like spending decisions, you know, early on your cash flow negative company, you spend every penny yourself. But eventually, you moving into budgets and letting other people make spending decisions is just one method by which you get out of decision making. And I think most people are familiar with budgets. But when a small company growing into a large company pivots from managing to spend and managing budgets is an important decision and a way for the CEO to get themselves out of those spinning zoos.
Bill Kerr [8:45]
That was one evolution that I went through. The second one and closer to sales that you talked about are you know, what does have to come to me in terms of commitments the company can make. And so sitting down with the chief growth officer and the CFO and saying things that fall within certain guardrails, the three of you if you’re in agreement, you can make that decision. The thing I want to know is if you want to go outside these guardrails, and it could be the level of financial risk that’s tied to it. It could be the level of investment that required something but setting up those guardrails so that they could start to make commitments to customers without bringing it to me was a more difficult one, I would say because I think as I said earlier, budgets are something we most of us are used to in the concept of time to instill them or install them. Make sense? realizing I had to get out of the way of the customer negotiation and acquisition process was harder for me to get my head around.
Bill Kerr [9:46]
I love those examples because the first one is pretty easy. The second one is, I talked about this a lot has you established the guardrails and that’s what you’re talking about with a CFO or you know someone that’s driving revenue. They should be making these mistakes. And feel the confidence that okay to make the decisions as long as they’re within the ranges at which you agreed.
Bill Kerr [10:08]
Yep, that’s exactly right. And I’ll share one of the things that that they came up with, that has worked really well, that I would pass on to others. So like any, like anybody, I have a staff meeting once a week, what they decided to do was to have a staff meeting without me once a week as well. And they started using that to make decisions together decision I don’t want to make they started using it to make decisions. And it’s actually worked out well as they continue to reach an agreement on things, I become more and more a person who gets informed, as opposed to the person who gets involved. And so I think they have done a really nice job in using that staff meeting without me to grow their own empowerment further and that’s only been good for them. But that then lets them delegate decisions to their team as well. And that may be even harder is to get, you know, two steps removed when you’re somebody who founded a company.
Before we go into part two, I wanted to kind of recap where we’ve been in part one, empowering others, and truly letting them make decisions is a big part of you becoming a stronger leader. You don’t want to hire great employees, and not give them a chance to make their own decisions. Because you won’t be able to keep those employees because they want to grow, they want their own confidence and courage muscles to be strengthened in their time of service with you. Your job as a leader is to recognize that and bring out the best in them. And you telling them what to do is actually the antithesis of bringing out the best in them. When you think about your job as a leader, you want to make sure you empower others. The way this gave bill time was by letting them make the decisions themselves. So he didn’t have to be involved. He didn’t have to attend all of the meetings, he was able to let the key employees take the reins and make those decisions. Those guardrails become a very important piece of this, hopefully, you picked up on some of the keys that you could be adding in improving on your own journey of leadership. Now in part two, we’re gonna dive into what is he struggling with now what’s really going on in his journey of leadership. Now, I’ve already recorded this. So you will see a perspective shift in there, you will see something that really allows him to see his problem from a different perspective, which, therefore it becomes not so much a problem but an opportunity to grow the business. I won’t tell you exactly what that is, because you’ll have to tune in to part two coming up.
Gene Hammett [12:33]
I appreciate you bringing that up. Because we don’t hear this very much I do hear with some of my clients and some of the ways that they are empowering their teams. But it’s not an extra meeting, because there really is some heavy lifting that’s going on in there, that they are working and collaborating together. So I appreciate you sharing that with us. Bill, I want to take a quick turn right here, the thing that we need to look at is not what’s happened in the past, but what do you want to work on? What do you want to improve? As it relates to your own time as a CEO?
Bill Kerr [13:07]
Well, it’s such a good question. So number one, is you get you if you scale your time, the way I’ve done some and others have done I’m sure to optimize it you create then some capacity for yourself for the first time in a while as I said, I have found in the tough thing is where do you want to invest? CEOs’ time is obviously important. It’s a constrained resource. It’s a finite resource, it should be used, like, you know, the resource as effectively as possible on behalf of the company, the customers, where should that be? And for me, the two biggest polls have kind of been internal-external, right? And maybe everybody feels that. But do I spend more time out in the marketplace where I think there’s a natural pole to the CEO role? I think there’s a natural, you said earlier, you know, customers maybe aim for that prospects aim for that. And then there’s sort of a need to worry about competition and things that pull you out there. But you’ve got a fast-growing company, how much do you need to make sure everything’s getting done internally. And I feel like Personally, I have more pinball between those than I have found the balance. So as, as I’ve created capacity has been great, but I’m not sure I’m using it as effectively as I could in the balancing act of external growth, internal scaling.
Gene Hammett [14:21]
So this is the coaching section of this conversation. So we’re gonna coach you through this is not the traditional interview. But I promise not to make you cry and dive into the deep dark secrets that define who you are. But with all that being said, I want to ask you, what’s really what are you experiencing? If you’re not that you’re not getting right now?
Bill Kerr [14:44]
I think it’s what I’m observing that is affecting others and let me explain that I feel a little bit like if I pivot to the heavy focus on the outside, that gets a lot of attention. To me at least there’s a little bit of a people perceive things that get attention are the top priority as a company. And so as I do that to the outside, I perceived that a lot of the people doing all the heavy lifting internally perceive that works not important. And they feel that pivot away as a negative. And then when I pivot back, there can be a sense of will helping the growth team isn’t as effective. So I feel like I am not balancing correctly. The need I’m not getting met is that I’m not giving them all some share of attention and importance. That reflects how important I do view them to the company. Does that make sense? So if I’m a, if I’m in some ways, a reflection back of what’s important, I don’t feel like I’m balancing that I’m almost pinballing. And like, I think of it as a boat that then tilts because I keep running from one side to the other. And I just don’t think that’s helpful to the team.
Gene Hammett [15:49]
I want to take us a little bit outside of this current situations to look at balancing. Do you believe that, that we can balance our personal and our work lives? Do you believe that’s a balancing act? Or do you believe Do you see it a different way,
Bill Kerr [16:05]
I believe everyone can strike a balance that makes sense to them. I don’t think that’s the same balance for everyone.
Gene Hammett [16:13]
But it’s never in balance.
Bill Kerr [16:16]
I don’t know if it’s ever really imbalanced, honestly. So the way I crisp on the priorities that I want to get done both personally and professionally, and then said no to other things. That’s when I get closest to feeling like I’m balancing those. But obviously, the demands of each exceed capacity.
Gene Hammett [16:36]
The reason I bring this up bills, because I’ve got a friend of mine, and his name escapes me, but he’s written a book on off-balance on purpose. And okay, the book, I’ve actually read the book, I’ve had him on the show before. And I will take his name in a second. But you know, the way he describes this makes total sense. Like, I’m going to go on vacation in two weeks with my family. And I’m going to not be working much at all, like two or three phone calls probably maximum over the course of a week. That’s completely off-balance, but it’s on price. Make sense?
Gene Hammett [17:09]
This week, because I’m going to go away next week, I’ve already looked at my schedule and said, You know what, I might not be available for every dinner tonight or this week, because I’ve got to catch up on some stuff. So we can go out of town next week. So I’m off the balance on purpose, that makes sense. Makes perfect sense. The big thing there is, I’m not trying to give everyone equal hours, it’s a season that we go through. And this is just from one week to the next it could be from one day to the next. What I do believe though, and this is just from my own personal life, I want to make sure that my family feels that I’m completely connected when I’m there with them. So I’m 100% present in the moments I am there, which means a lot more than being distracted while you’re on their time if it’s that kind of zone that kind of connect the dots for you.
Bill Kerr [17:54]
Yeah, it does. And I think it’s starting to resonate where one could take in the company, right, which is there is an undulation I’m always envisioning this cycle, right, what you’re sort of saying is what there’s a cycle. And what I need to do is be more aware of where I am in the cycle and more. I wanted to put words in my mouth and more conscious about explaining it to people to buy because you’re sort of explaining to your family. I’m not going to do dinner tonight, because we’re going to focus next week, right? So you’re explaining its anticipatory guidance, almost of where the focus is.
Gene Hammett [18:22]
It’s that old rule of leadership. And I have a lot of my conversations with clients that go to this. It’s like, I really wish people would get it. And I asked the question is, what are you doing to set expectations for people to get it? And they’re like, Oh, I could do a better job of setting expectations. Because bill, when you were telling me this about the perception is if you focused on.
Bill Kerr [18:40]
Yeah, well, I think honestly, as we sit and chat about it, I need to do a better job of it.
Gene Hammett [18:43]
Bill Kerr [18:44]
I’m sorry, did not mean interrupting. What I was gonna say is I’m also feeling like I need to be more conscious in my own thinking around where I am in that cycle. I’m not you were talking about communicating it, I think I need to actually develop my own perspective better and then communicate, I’m not sure I’m as conscious about it as I need to be.
Gene Hammett [19:02]
So conscious is the first part of it and then setting expectations with those around you. Because here’s the thing, what I what you’ve shared with me so far, Bill, I love the fact that you have a team that’s having a staff meeting without you. And if you are using that time, you know, truly pushing the business forward. And this doesn’t have to look like you’re raising money or signing up a new client, it could be that you’re thinking about the innovations in your industry, right? Every CEO I know struggles with creating whitespace to think about what’s the future looks like. But if you’re using that time wisely, then you can come back to them and say, You know what, I really appreciate you guys for doing all of this internal work, your ability to take care of this allows us to do for me to do this and allows us all to grow. Does that make sense?
Bill Kerr [19:50]
Yeah, no, that’s, that’s well said and I need to use that whitespace to I think I’ve done a pretty good job of thinking about the corporate priorities. But I think in some ways, what we’re defining is I’m not doing as good a job about thinking about how my priorities evolve, prospectively, I probably would argue, given the problem statement I share with you. And given what you’re talking about here, I’d argue that I’m probably being a little bit more reactionary in that, and I need to be a little bit more conscious and prospectively manage my own thinking, and then prospectively, so like the vacation analogy, where you know, something’s coming, I may use that I made, I mean, think about that, in terms of corporate milestones, what’s the next set of things coming up? And how am I going to be out of balance consciously, correctly?
Gene Hammett [20:34]
And so you’re no longer trying to keep it in balance and keeping whatever stakeholders are involved? aware of this balance? And here’s what comes with this struggle of keeping a balance, is there’s a little guilt that comes with it. Is that fair to say?
Bill Kerr [20:51]
That’s very fair to say there’s a there’s maybe not even a little sometimes.
Gene Hammett [20:55]
But the reality now that we’re looking at this, maybe from a different perspective, is, it’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing is putting your focus and attention on external at times when internal is being taken care of it allows you to do that. So that’s an absolutely wonderful thing to be able to do. And then whenever necessary, you’re able to come to shift back in. does all this help you kind of make sense of it?
Bill Kerr [21:21]
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. It, it does. And I apologize, Jean, I didn’t mean to interrupt you there. What we’re sort of saying I think if one has the luxury to have the time to think about this. And even notice that it’s a problem. But to is the next evolution is now use that time more effectively, to understand where I need to be out of balance to be most effective. And by doing it that way, then give up some of the baggage that can come by being reactionary, which is some of the guilt and some of the other things.
Gene Hammett [21:53]
Does that guilt help you in some way?
Bill Kerr [21:55]
Does the guilt help me in some way? Meaning, is it? I don’t know? I mean, I guess I could say there’s just the guilt might be a barometer that if I paid more attention to it would alert me to whether or not I’m missing something. But today, I don’t know that I’d say I pay enough attention to that as a parameter as much as I feel it as a stressor if that makes sense.
Let me take a second here to remind you that if you want to keep getting episodes like this, you want to evolve as a leader, then you want to make sure you go to genehammett.com/subscribe. genehammett.com is my home base, the podcast is Growth Think Tank. And if you want to be a visionary leader, if you want to keep learning from all of these amazing founder CEOs that go to genehammett.com/subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.
Gene Hammett [22:44]
Can I share with you a personal story about the guilt of something related to this?
Bill Kerr [22:48]
Gene Hammett [22:49]
As we wrap up today’s session, I want to kind of just share this personal story because sometimes this helps inside of these coaching relationships. And I have been through a pandemic working really hard. And I found myself working a lot more hours and meetings or more back to back and it really does take a drain on me. And so at about five or six o’clock when I normally have energy, sometimes I’ve noticed I don’t have as much. And I want to sit down in front of the TV and just kind of zone out and not think about anything. And that came with a lot of guilt. But I started thinking to myself, What if I needed to rest and refresh so that I can go at it again the next day? And would I be willing to let go of that guilt knowing that I need to recover from some, you know, from the hard work from the day before? And I was able to let go of the guilt because I’m asking myself these internal questions, which is kind of like coaching yourself if you will. But in this situation, my question is, you know, are you willing to let go of the guilt as it relates to you balancing the time and really try to figure out being more conscious about being off-balance on purpose, and how that would play out into you being the CEO for the team?
Bill Kerr [23:54]
And that’s a great story, by the way, and great advice. I think, you know, I think you’re right, I think, for me, the way it’s probably going to work is not only some introspection on the guilt but also some more conscious thought about where I need to be out of balance, you know, consciously and effectively and appropriately, then I think it’ll be easier to let go of the guilt because now I know, I’m being out of balance appropriately. So I think that said an endpoint I will get to but I think it’s going to take a little bit of internal coaching, as you pointed out, and also a bit more time using my whitespace to pay attention to where I need to be out of balance and being aware that that has a consequence. And I should just embrace that not feel guilty about it. Now,
Gene Hammett [24:32]
I promise you this would be a pretty good conversation. Is it been helpful to you?
Bill Kerr [24:35]
It’s been great. It’s been very helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to pivot during the conversation.
Gene Hammett [24:41]
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that we have to address and figure out maybe it’s having conversations with an external person that helps. So Bill, I really appreciate you being here on the podcast,
Bill Kerr [24:50]
Gene, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for your time.
Gene Hammett [24:52]
I want to take a moment to wrap up today’s episode if you are looking to really push the boundaries and grow as a leader and grow your company. If you want to make sure that you’re probably empowering others, I said probably but I really want to get more specific that you really want to empower your team as best you can. you’ve hired great people to trust them, just like Bill talked about. And part two, we looked at, you know, being off-balance on purpose as it relates to how he spends his time, externally or internally inside the organization. And that realization, I think, is really powerful. You have to also have the same kind of perspectives to shift in order to grow as a leader. If you have any of those questions, make sure you check out my free resources at genehammett.com if you want to have a conversation with me, I’m open to getting to know you, your listener this far into the podcast, you’re exactly the kind of person I’d love to talk to you. So reach out to me genehammett.com And when you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.
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