Innovation takes a different style of leadership. When you want to empower employees to innovate, you want to create a place of psychological safety. This means that failure is part of the path. This is an absolute requirement when innovation is the goal. Today’s guest is Keith Murphy, CEO & Founder at Astrawatt Solar. Astrawatt Solar specializes in the design, engineering, and installation of premium solar energy products. Keith and I talk about how to empower employees to innovate. He shares what is working for his team. Discover what it takes to empower employees to innovate in today’s fast-paced world.
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Keith Murphy: The Transcript
About: Keith Murphy started Astrawatt Solar in 2016 because he was frustrated by the number of pushy solar sales companies and wanted to give homeowners the solar experience they deserve. Their focus on creating a great solar experience has led them to become one of the top solar companies in the country
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.
Keith Murphy: [00:00:00] I graduated with a degree in management and you know, I, this, this is one thing that, that always came up as like one of the most important things you have to do as a manager, as a leader leaders empower your employees. But, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s very, very important because I mean, the old adage, two heads are better than one. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s so true. If you have a leader, if you, as a leader of people, pretend to have all the answers, you’re limiting the potential output of the organization, and you’re, you’re limiting your, your employees.
Intro: 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 growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett: Today we look at empowerment specifically how to empower your employees to innovate. Well, if you have any kind of business where you want to [00:01:00] innovate, do something new, push the boundaries, then you know that you can’t drive all of those ideas. You’ve got to empower the people around you. And so today we look at empowering your employees to innovate. Our special guest is the founder of Astrawatt Solar. , they were one of the fastest-growing companies on the Inc list. Number 363 this year, you might know them by their former name, which is RisingSun Solar. But I I share with you the conversation we had with Keith Murphy, he really does share some insights around empowering your people. Some of the things that we aren’t doing very well, which is one of those. Saying the phrase, I don’t know. He talks about what that is. We look at how that’s a strength, not a weakness. And if you really want your team to innovate, push the boundaries and you want to make sure they feel empowered and they’re safe to do these conversations. That’s what we unpack today. In the episode with Keith.
Before we get into it, if you are on the journey to be a stronger company, build a stronger foundation, maybe even grow faster. Likely you’re facing some [00:02:00] challenges, whether it be leadership, culture or people that is getting in their way. And I want to help you figure out what exactly what that is. Most people don’t know it. If you don’t know what’s getting in the way that it’s likely you, because you’ve got to be very aware that some things just come back to you as the leader of this company and the decisions that you’ve made are and how you’ve operated. And so I want to help you figure out what’s getting in the way of you growing your company, whether it be strategy, whether it be leadership or mindset or even something else that you just can’t put your finger on. The way we do that is through a conversation. , there’s not a one size fits all. There’s just not a way for me to address everyone’s issues through content and recreate. So what I am offering to you as you’re listening to this as a chance to sit down with me and talk about your business. Just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call.
Now, inside that conversation, we’ll unpack, what’s getting in the way, what you’re really trying to create and create a plan for you to move forward. You will be able to do that completely without me. And in case you want some help and support, we’ll talk about that in another call. So the first call truly is about you growing beyond where you are today [00:03:00] as a leader and growing and empowering your team. So that’s the common theme across all of the work I do. Just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call. Now here’s the interview with Keith.
Keith, how are you?
Keith Murphy: I’m good. How are you?
Gene Hammett: Fantastic. We’re in a great conversation about empowering your team before we get there. Tell us about your company, Astrawatt Solar.
Keith Murphy: Yeah. Well, first of all, thanks. Thanks for having me. , you know, Astrawatt Solar. We are a, we’re a solar panel installation company, but we’re a little more than that. We’re actually a franchise. So over the last year or so, we’ve been working on our FDD, which has our free franchise franchise disclosure document that was just completed. We’re registered in most states right now to, to franchise our business. And we’re, we’re really excited about it. We should be the first solar company to focus on the franchise model and, and, and go national with it.
Gene Hammett: Well, it’s an exciting time. I think a lot of people are starting to look at solar as a realistic option. Where do you see the next two or three [00:04:00] years for solar going?
Keith Murphy: Yeah. Well, I’ve, I’ve been in this industry about a decade now. , I started my own business six almost exactly six years ago now. And a lot, a lot has changed, but also not a whole lot has changed as well. What I mean by that is the technology is fundamentally the same. The, the, the products that we sell have gotten a little better, but you know, the, the biggest thing that I see changing over the next two to three years are, are probably a lot of small things. That the average person wouldn’t wouldn’t know about. , you know, there, there’s a, there’s a big side of the business that is structured in a way to where there’s either like a, an install side of the business or a sales side of the business. So there are, there are companies that just do sales and there are companies that just do installs. And from the beginning, we’ve we focused on being vertically integrated. So we do both. We do marketing sales and install. , and I think the companies that we see that are really [00:05:00] kind of, kind of break through are those companies that handle everything from start to finish. And, and that’s that’s a big part of why we believe our franchise model is going to be success.
Gene Hammett: Keith, we came here to not talk about solar specifically, but to talk about empowerment, you’ve had to innovate across your company. So how do you empower employees to innovate?
Keith Murphy: Yeah, I mean it, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s extremely important. I mean, I, I actually, I, I graduated with a degree in management and you know, I, this is, this is one thing that, that always came up as like one of the most important things you have to do as a manager, as a leaders empower your employees. But, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s very, very important because I mean, the, the old adage, two heads are better than one. I mean that it’s, it’s, it’s so true. If, if you have a leader, if you, as a leader of people, pretend to have all the answers you’re, you’re limiting the potential output of the organization. And you’re, you’re limiting your, your [00:06:00] employees. I, I personally love saying, I don’t know, right. As a leader, like, I don’t know. What do you think? And then listen. That, that approach is so different from, you know, this is what we’re doing and there’s no other possible way to do it. And I’m a leader. So what I say goes at the end of the day, you know, you could still disagree with, you know, with, with what an an employee has to say, obviously, And you can still push your idea, you know, as the road that we’re, that we’re taking, but empowering your employees to have share those ideas are going to more often than not lead to something that’s better than, than, than you could have done on your own.
Gene Hammett: I want to go back to that one thing you’re talking about. I don’t know. I think leaders get a little bit more used to saying that through this whole COVID thing and the pandemic. Because there’s just, we were all thrust into a place of how do we deal with things that we never even thought about as possibilities. But what you’re talking about is in general, you’re okay with telling an employee they’ve got a [00:07:00] problem, or they’ve got something that they’re trying to address. I don’t know how to fix it. Is that what I’m hearing you.
Keith Murphy: Yeah. I mean, look, I can, I can do some things pretty well. You know, there are, there are a few things I can probably do very well, but there are four far more things that I don’t do very well. Right. So knowing, knowing myself and knowing what I’m good at and also knowing my employees and what they’re good at. Is it gonna, is really gonna allow you to empower them, to help steer the ship most effectively in the right direction.
Gene Hammett: I think a lot of people leaders think the words I don’t know is a sign of weakness. Have you ever wrestled with that at all?
Keith Murphy: No. , no, not at all. No. I mean, yeah. I mean, I guess it can be seen as a sign of weakness if, if you’re, if you’re unsure of yourself right. Or the direction you’re, you’re going, like, if you really truly like. If it becomes a [00:08:00] consistent problem where you don’t know, I guess that’s probably a problem, but you know, if, if you’re, if you’re really pushing yourself and your employees and your organization to do great things and to innovate, you’re not going to have all the answers. So, you know, saying, I don’t know, opens the door for one of your employees to, to figure that out, you know, to, to, to come to the table with, with an idea. And I think that’s a, that’s a great thing.
Commentary: Now, Keith just talked about saying, I don’t know. And many people see it as a weakness. Nope. I want you to think about this. What if it’s a strength? What if you having the courage to say, I don’t know to your team, especially if you’re trying to innovate is to be able to get them to think about how to move forward, get them to how to address the challenges. And in fact, one of the things I would share with you is what I would call the three, three, one framework that will empower your people. And this is a very simple tool that you can use and you can jot it down. It’s three questions, it’s three options. And in one decision, the three questions are, what is the real problem? Second question is. It is what’s [00:09:00] causing this problem. The third question is what is the impact to the organization? Whether it be customers, whether it be something else financial, and when you have a good understanding of those questions, then you ask your employee, give me three options that we could do here to move forward with this and address this issue. And so they are challenged with coming up with those options. And then finally, if you listen, You say, if it were you making the decision, what is the one decision you’d make? What would you choose? Because you want them to get in the habit of being able to really identify the problem, really understand the options in front of them and to make decisions. You can always coach them through the decisions that they’re not able to do it, or if it doesn’t match what you think they should do. But you can also, if they are coming up with the right solution, say great, go with it because then they’ll have a deeper sense of ownership for what the decisions they’ve made versus the one you’ve made. Think about that for a moment back to the interview with Keith,
Gene Hammett: I could probably talk about you all day long about this “I don’t know”, but what if we really got to the brass tacks of empowering your people. What are some of the things you’ve learned in this [00:10:00] journey of building a fast growth solar company?
Keith Murphy: Yeah, well, you know, I think in the, in the beginning, I really wasn’t focused on growing this business fast. We, we talked a little bit about this off offline, but you know, I, I started this business because I saw a better way to do things. And a lot of it comes down to the sales process. You know, I’m a sales. I started this by my I cut my teeth in sales about about a decade ago in this business. So I saw an opportunity to do things better and that, that was our focus, you know, and that’s, that’s still our mission today is to create better solar experience. So, you know, for me, it wasn’t about fast growth in the beginning. We didn’t grow fast in the beginning. , but we built a very, very strong foundation. And you know, when, when it came to like to the point where we started growing fast, as, as we created the flywheel effect, right? , if you have ever read the book, good to great talks, a [00:11:00] lot about the, the, the flywheel effect and, you know, it’s, it’s so true.
If, if, if you focused on doing things right, and creating value, it’s gonna start slow. , but eventually you catch momentum. And things start to move in your direction. And we, we grew organically, although it was an extremely fast it was, it was organic growth for us because we had such a strong foundation. Everyone knew what they were doing and why we’re doing it and, and that more than anything that helped us really get to the next level.
Gene Hammett: I absolutely love this part of it, but I want to go back to the same question now. How are you empowering your organization? What would we see in sector meetings or conversations that has worked the best to empower your people?
Keith Murphy: Yes. Yeah. , it starts at the top. I mean, if, if. If, if you don’t have the vision as a leader, I mean, that’s, that’s your responsibility as a leader is to, is to have that vision, right. And your other responsibility as a leader is to make sure you have the right people [00:12:00] on the team to, to, to steer the ship in the right direction, to to achieve whatever goal aligns with your vision. So, you know, I I’m very upfront and I look, I, I tell everyone, like, if you’re not comfortable with change, you’re probably not going to be comfortable working for this company. So, you know, I empower my people by constantly asking them, how do we do this better? How do we do. How do we save money here? How do we improve the customer experience here? And, you know, if, if you, if you live and die by that, you know, by, by committing yourself to even just small improvements and employees get it. And at the end of the day, any improvement, most improvements that employees have or ideas, they have to make something better is ultimately like they’re focused on their job.
So it’s going to make their job easy. It’s going to improve the customer’s experience and it’s, it’s going to ideally make it, make the job more efficient. If it’s making their, their job [00:13:00] easier, we’re, we’re going to save money and they’re going to be able to get, get more done in the same amount of time.
Commentary: Now, Keith just talked about how do we do this better? In fact, I did this with my team today. I had a chance to do a one-on-one conversation with someone on my team had been around for about six months. And we just had a moment where I said like, Hey, I know that you’re doing a really good job with these parts of your work. I’m just kind of curious, where do you think we could do it better? Where could we do the podcast better? Where could we improve, improve the process of actually doing it? So it’s quicker, we’re even getting better downloads. And I want them to think about that. And so I’m going to give them a week to do it. And so here’s what I would suggest to you is to have regular conversations with your people, not just on where we are today and what’s going on, what’s the status, what’s the milestone. What’s the metrics. I want you to step back and say, how could we improve this process? How do we make it better? And get them thinking about. Different ways to make it better. Don’t let them off the hook, hold them accountable to the things that they’re coming up with. Cause it really is important if you believe and making things better. I do. And I share with you what I’m doing with my own team and I share it with you to help you be a [00:14:00] better leader and delegate more effectively. If you want to innovate, you want to ask the question, how could we do it better and give them space to answer that. Back to Keith.
Gene Hammett: When you look at. Where your team members have grown. You’ve got about 60 and people. You’re now moving into this franchise model, and this is a growth area. No, one’s going to doubt that because I think we have a huge opportunity in solar to do a lot more than we’re doing. And when you think about the business, what, what did you have to let go of as a leader to get where you are?
Keith Murphy: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a good question. I mean, you know, I’ve, I’ve never, I’ve never really been the type to need to, to hold on to everything. I know. I know what I’m good at and I know what I’m not good at. So for me, you know, from the very beginning it’s been, I have this direction. I want to take the company. I kind of know what I can do and what my limit limit limitations are. I need to, to find the right person [00:15:00] who’s, who’s better than me at this thing. Find that person. And, you know, get them to understand, you know, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and allow them to take the reins and, you know, put, put forth, you know, targets that are, that are aggressive, but, you know, enabled them to come up with strategies and ideas. You know, not all of them are going to be good, but the ones that, that are good, what will stick and then it’s about implementing those things, right?
Like, yes, we have a good idea. This, this thing that we’re working on could be cool, but you know, now we have to implement it and now we have to do it. So you know, I guess to answer your question, you have to find people that are better than you. And, and, and you have to enable them, teach them, coach them, but then let them do their own thing. And more often than not, they’re going to come up with ways to do it better than, than you were doing it in the first place.
Gene Hammett: You had mentioned too about ideas. I think it’s pretty dangerous for any company to [00:16:00] go into this. And the founder of the company is still actively involved with every idea that’s being explored inside of companies. And we also know that it’s as founders, if we say the idea first. Typically people latch onto it. They don’t like exactly, you know, tell us that they’re bad ideas. We wish they would sometimes. But how do you make sure that you create a culture where the best ideas win?
Keith Murphy: Well, I mean, that’s funny as soon as you said that I laughed. Cause I, every time I come up with an idea people We’ll immediately tell me how bad it is. So I don’t, I don’t know if that’s me having bad ideas or just my employees being so uncomfortable and, you know knowing who I am. But yeah, I mean, look, we’re we’re, we’re it that’s to me about culture. Right. Like, if, if, if you have employees that are afraid to share ideas or, you know, possibly work on a side project, you know, without without feeling comfortable, then sharing it, I don’t, you probably don’t have a very good culture. Right. I mean, you know, but, but, but, but [00:17:00] how do you, how do you create that culture, I guess is, is the, is the followup question to that?
You know, I mean, that’s that, that, that all stems back to your, to your why as, as a, as a, as a business, like, why are we in business? What’s our, what’s our mission. And if, if your mission doesn’t speak to, you know, to the fact, to, to innovating or doing things better or you know, doing certain things, then your employees may not know that they’re able to do this. Right. So it, I guess it, it, it all starts from the, from the why or the, the mission of the business and the, in the, in the, and the culture that, that you have.
Gene Hammett: You know, one of the questions I like to ask is really about your own journey of leadership. Could you tell us about a defining moment that really helps you change the way you lead today?
Keith Murphy: Yeah, absolutely. And it it is, it is it’s going to fit along well with your theme. It’s it’s sports-related so my dad was my he was my little league baseball coach as a kid. Which, which was [00:18:00] super cool to me. I mean, I look up to my dad. Most people, you know, also look up to their coaches. So I got to see my dad kind of from both angles as a dad and as a coach. And it was, it was really cool to see that, but he. He there, there was one specific evening. I can remember. It was before playoff game, little league playoff game. It was a do or die thing. You know, if we lost the game we were out. , and we were going up against the best team in the league. So my, my dad actually helped, you know, ask for my help to set the line up for that, for that game, you know what, who is going to play, what position who’s going to be in this, you know, who’s going to be at first, second, third, et cetera, down the line, which is extremely important, especially in little league.
I mean, there’s a huge gap between who’s actually good. And who do you put in right field, right where, you know, there’s the, you know, they’re, they’re never going to get any action. So I, you know, I, I went to work and I, you know, I put all our star players in the best spots to win and, and all this. And I presented it to my dad and he was, you know, it’s just like, no, that’s not how we do things the entire year we [00:19:00] put, we put every kid in every position, everyone played every game, regardless of their skill level, you know? So why are we changing it for this game? So, and so we didn’t you know, we, we put guys, you know, we had guys pitched that probably shouldn’t be pitching and, you know, guys about in first that probably shouldn’t be batting at all, but you know, that’s what we did. We didn’t win the game, but I think the entire year we exceeded expectations.
We weren’t a very talented team. I had so many guys on that team tell me, like, it was the most fun they ever had playing the game, you know? And ultimately the, the team was better because everyone got a spot. Everyone got a shot in the star positions that they normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do. And I, you know, that, that always, that always stuck with me. And especially now that we’re talking about empowerment, you know, I actually didn’t piece the two together until I thought about this. This moment, you know, that they’re there. There’s a big reason why I’ve I’ve I’ve put so much value on it on [00:20:00] empowering my, my employees, because you know, people are going to have more fun. People are going to get a chance to do things they normally wouldn’t do. I get the chance to do outside of their normal everyday tasks and ultimately the, the, the, the entire company benefits from it.
Gene Hammett: I want to get really specific here, and we don’t have that much time, but as we wrap up, how is this lesson and defining moment in leadership, you shared about little league and your dad related to how you lead today.
Keith Murphy: Yeah, no, I mean, I think I think, I, I think I just touched on, you know, the empowering aspect of it, you know giving, giving everyone the opportunity to, to have their voice heard and and making sure everyone understands, you know, what we’re doing, and this is who we are and we don’t deviate from this. And. And employees buying into that. you’re going to get more out of your employees. You’re, you’re going to have a good culture. Everyone’s going to be committed to, to making those small improvements every, every single day, which ultimately are going to lead to much, much, much bigger improvements over time. [00:21:00] So I think, you know, the fundamental aspect of, of what I learned from that moment definitely helped me with, with regards to my views of, of empowering employees.
Gene Hammett: Keith, thank you for being here on the show, sharing your wisdom.
Keith Murphy: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Gene Hammett: So in this spot, I’d like to reflect back on what you heard today. We’ve been talking about how do you empower employees to innovate? If you expect them to innovation, it’s gotta be part of the culture. It’s gotta be a place where people are willing to, to have be courageous and fail. And you also have to be willing to be a strong leader. I think that all innovation comes from your ability to empower people to think differently than they are today. And what Keith’s been talking about is some of the principles that he’s used and leveraged to empowers employees about ideas and about just getting things done differently and improving things. And this is a constant thing that I think a lot of people lose sight of. There just there’s so much focus on hitting the numbers and getting things done that they’re not really talking about. How do we get it? Better than we did [00:22:00] last year, last quarter. It really is important for you to have those conversations and don’t miss out the opportunity.
Now, my job is to help you to become an extraordinary leader, help your team members lead with more clarity. And if you have any questions about what it is getting in the way of your own growth or leadership, make sure you check out free content and GeneHammett.com.
If you want to schedule call. We can chat about what’s going on in your business. I can help you with some insights after I’ve done hundreds of these. I know that I can help you grow your business too.
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