Creating an Exceptional Culture
CEO B.D. Erickson II sits down with Forbes Contributor and #1 international best-selling author Dr. Jonathan Westover to discuss what it takes to build an exceptional organizational culture.
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Dr. Jonathan Westover has long been a Global Thought Leader & Influencer in Management. He authored the award-winning #1 international best-selling novel The Alchemy of Truly Remarkable Leadership which has helped scores of readers explore their own leadership capabilities and consider ways to apply and implement them into their daily lives. He is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council and has contributed several published pieces on The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, PBS, CBS, ABC, and Fox. Dr. Westover currently serves as Chair of the Organizational Leadership Department at Utah Valley University after working his way up for 13 years from a part-time faculty role. He also serves on a host of nonprofit, community, and association boards and committees and has received numerous awards for his teaching, research, and service to the community.
Dr. Jonathan Westover welcomed B.D. Erickson II on Human Capital Innovations Podcast, Season 19 Episode 5: "Creating an Exceptional Organizational Culture within the Clean, Renewable Energy Sector". Over the course of the episode, B.D. shares his process of how he was able to galvanizing high-quality talent and then cultivate a workplace culture that is the envy of the clean, renewable energy sector.
Jonathan Westover: B.D. Erickson, welcome to the Human Capital Innovations podcast!
B.D. Erickson: Thank you, Jonathan, happy to be here!
Jonathan: Yeah! I’m excited to have a fun conversation with you today. You come to us today with a really unique and interesting background, we’re going to be focusing in on the clean and renewable energy sector and talking about how we can create exceptional organizational cultures to drive organizational growth. As we get started, I wanted to share B.D.’s bio with everyone. B.D. Erickson II is a proven leader and team builder, successfully navigating an everchanging high-tech business climate. Having business and science degrees, combined with Anthony Robbins Mastery University and Leadership Academy, B.D. is well equipped to lead his team in the highly technical sector of clean, renewable energy. Spanning two decades in high-pressure leadership roles, B.D. has been recognized multiple times for building winning teams, creating an outstanding corporate culture and having a massive impact on company-wide growth. Currently running the country’s leading clean power manufacturing facility and Montana’s most proficient solar company. B.D. possess' a proven track record of sustaining high-level team buy-in, not simply surviving but thriving in the high-pressure environment of advanced American technology manufacturing. What a tremendous background! I haven’t interviewed a lot of people from the renewable energy sector, so I’m really excited to have this conversation with you from that standpoint but also talking about effective organizational cultures for personal and organizational growth, it’s also a passion of mine so I’m super excited for this conversation!
B.D.: Cool! I’m glad to be here! That was a mouthful wasn’t it, sorry about that! Haha.
Jonathan: Haha, it’s alright. Hey, anything else you would like to share with the listeners by way of background or personal context?
B.D.: You know, I think the bio is almost hard to listen to there’s so many big words, but the reality is that I grew up in a green tech manufacturing family, so as an adult in that high pressure, green, fast moving tech manufacturing space, it’s something I’m familiar with and something that I thrive in, and then the education from Tony Robbins really served me a lot more than anything I learned from major universities, so it’s the merge of those two things I believe is responsible for the lots of great success that I’ve experienced.
Jonathan: Wonderful, wonderful! So start of by telling us a little bit about how you found yourself in the green renewable energy space. You say that you grew up in that environment, what got you into it, what drove that interest and passion and really the direction of your career?
B.D.: You know it’s funny, your life’s path, you know, you can take a left or a right, who your friends will be in high school, what things you’ll study or be interested in, in work right after school or university, who you’ll marry, I mean these are the life choices that create your path and your path, of course, creates your direction and your direction creates your destination or your destiny, right? And so, a lot of things blend into that. So for us growing up, we not only had solar panels on our house in the 70’s, they were solar panels that our family made in our factory in Montana! My dad’s part of the job was moving and setting up solar panels dealers, distributors all over the Western United States, so it was very hard on me growing up, I went to 11 different schools in 12 years, I don’t have a yearbook, it was a big deal back then it’s part of the journey that passed me, I don’t have a letterman’s jacket and I was great at sports, but you gotta be in one place, you know!? And that wasn’t a part of it, so being able to take my tray into the lunchroom in 8th grade and not having any idea where I am going to sit, it really puts a lump in your throat and your tummy, it hurts at the time when you get older, and now you’re at the barbecue or you’re at the company meeting and you don’t know anybody, I’m the most well-equipped guy to navigate that room in the room just because that has been a part of my journey. Well later, we were living in Hawaii when my wife was getting her grad degree in Geology, and unfortunately she was killed by a drunk driver, so that caused my son and I, now admittedly in a trance, to move back to Montana. When we moved back to Montana, Jonathan, we bought a house rather quickly and it happened to be under the biggest power lines in our whole town. Well within a year, my son’s perfect grades are starting to slip, his perfect attendance is starting to slip, and so you start to look, you know, what’s the X factor here? And, you know, was the X factor simply being mom is gone, and certainly that would get anybody, right? But I found that the symptoms he was suffering was just a couple of Google searches were actually quite common to people living under high voltage power lines or in high voltage facilities, so I started to go down that road. Now where those paths converge, interestingly, is when I was in Hawaii I was selling really high quality lighting to the Middle East where electricity was really expensive, so selling expensive lightbulbs that saves some watts, hey, that might have not made much sense in Idaho where someone is paying four cents a watt, but to someone in the Middle East where someone is paying 80 cents a kilowatt hour, there was a real market for that. And what made this lightbulb so special was its high convergence, the actual watt you buy into lumen, this particle of light that you want to fill your room. So these two things, cosmically, organically, magically, you picked it Jonathan, converged where I was in the high tech, high quality lighting sector, I was living under some power lines when I had to find out how that was really affecting my child, the person I love most on the planet, and that’s where the two things came together and sent me on a journey to now creating a company from scratch to hire the finest engineers that I could find when I don’t have the money to pay them, anything close to what they’re worth, build a team, tool up, and start manufacturing a product that was, 15 years ago, total pseudo-science! They think I’m wearing a foil hat, right? And here I am, out the other side with a multi-million dollar company with the finest product line of its type on the planet today and a team, that even without me here, you give me enough fellas pointing the right way we can build the pyramids, Jonathan, that’s the people that I’m surrounded with now, and I’m grateful to be here, and even though we are 10 years into it, we’re successful and this is just the beginning. Truly.
Jonathan: That’s incredible! Thank you for sharing, you know, the personal family dynamic and context, and my condolences to the loss of your wife and the challenges dealing with, you know, where you lived in Montana with the power lines. You know, all of that, it’s funny how life deals its hand and how we find ourselves in certain, you know, it defines our path and our journey, you know, varies one way or another because of it, and anyways, I think it’s wonderful that you’ve found yourself both from your personal background but also from the context of as adult in this space and the willingness, as you described, being a pseudo-science at the time when you’re starting your company and trying to figure out all of this, right? All of the technical stuff behind doing what you want to do and then bringing together a top notch team of highly skilled individuals, developing a company from scratch, building the culture, all of that is a tremendous undertaking, so maybe we can start to shift gears and talk a little bit more about that now. What was your process? You have this vision, its driven by a very real need in your life, so you have this passion and you have this vision, and you want to have a solution to this problem that faces your son but countless other people, so you start an organization. How did you initially start to convince people that this was an idea worth, you know, coming to be a part of, bringing in top level engineers with technical expertise just so you can start to change that pseudo-science to actuality?
B.D.: So you did the best job, I think, of encapsulating my challenge and teeing it up that an interviewer has ever done! Yeah, so you’re in pseudo-science and you don’t have any dough, and you can’t just bring in the average person, you want to bring in somebody that’s really great for several reasons, a- you solve the problem most quickly and inexpensively but also so that it lends credibility because each time you’re being challenged on pseudo-science, as humans we want to look to people who have been financially successful or people who have achieved great things or people who have this big fancy MIT or Cal-Tech degree, and so I’ve said that I’ve got to guard these people because I don’t possess any of these things, right? And so now I do I approach this person, explain to them compellingly what I’m trying to do, ask them to join the team for deferred compensation, and come to work? And so part of it is, for sure, that they have to believe in you, like even if they’re not all the way there on the science, that they believe you, that it’s important to you, you’re not going to give up when it’s hard, that you’re not going to bail halfway through, that you’re worthy of following to some kind of destination and you always, I tell them consistently, we’re taking a leap here but I commit to you this, if it happens for me it’ll happen for you. You know, nobody wants to wake up every day and lace up their work boots and go build Jonathan’s dream. No! We’ll help Jonathan with his dream! We love Jonathan, we’ll follow him, but also want to wake up every day and build B.D.’s dream. So what has to happen is that you have to ask them okay you have this degree you have this measure of success, what do you need as a human? Do you want to be told that you’re great? Do you want to be shown that you’re great? Do you want to see that you’re great? Do you want to hear that you’re great? Are the visual, auditory, canaesthetic? Are they in it for the love? Are they in it for the accolades? Are they in it for the shares or to be on a magazine? Right? Cause those feelings are in there and the idea that people go to money for work? No! That’s a part of it, but we also go to work to add value, to work on something great, to achieve something, so I immediately start asking if I can’t just give you money right now, we’re going to defer that we’re going to promise that, but what are some things that you would like to get now? You’d be amazed at the answers that I get. People want to help people! People, you know, are we eternally good or are we eternally naughty? You know, I could get a give conversation either way on that one, but I will say this, people love to help people. We love giving the guy on the road five bucks, we love helping the person with the wheelchair, those things are not actually burdens to us as humans, they make life worth living! Holding the door for a grandma is not a burden to a healthy human, it feels delightful doesn’t it? It does! When you see a pregnant lady on the subway so you immediately jump up and you give her your chair, it’s not like you’ve done a fine thing, you did that for her as much as you because that feels good darn it to a healthy person, it actually is delightful. So let’s start identifying some of these things so that as you come, you are helping, you are building, but you’re also experiencing some good, feel good human stuff along the way. I want a culture that’s always, it’s a goal of mine, to have a culture that’s the finest of any industry that I know, and so I, as a personal development coach, I’ve been able to tour a lot of facilities, I’ve noticed like in California the tech sales companies, they’ve got beanbag chairs and the sales team is very young and they’re playing ping pong and they’re gaming and they’re doing things because they wanted to create a fun organization where playfulness, creativity and casualness were a part of their culture. Then you can tour another company where it’s precision is their culture and we do it to the nano and, you know, we’re only one micron off in our cuts and stuff, and their cultures is the precisions and things like that, so what I tried to do is ask people what they need to feel, how we should run it, what it should feel like, and I really came down to a few things. Number one- people want to be loved and want to be thanked and they want to be heard, right? So, I really found quickly that if you have one kind of grumpy, autopilot, ‘Negative Nancy’ human being, a ‘Karen’ of any gender, any sex or any color, we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about personality, that’s what we’re talking about here, that if you’ve got one person that will focus on what is wrong and not on what is right, what’s missing and not on what is present, they can suck the air out of the room, I don’t care how many great cheerleaders I put in that room, that person can just suck all the feel good out of it. So, I want people that can see the good not the bad, see what’s there not what’s missing, and then with what’s not great or what is missing, how do we get it there? How do we achieve it? How do we find it? How do we drop from the quantum field? How do we suck it to us so that people are happy, shoulders are up, smiles, I love smiles! We have bells, we high-five, we thank each other, when somebody messes up we all own up, we forgive quickly, you apologize quickly, and then you forgive quickly. We walk up to people and tell them ‘I forgive you’, I love it, we all do it, thank you for being here, and I’m telling you those few words changes the culture, I get out of the seat that I’m in and go every single office in this building and I thank every single person every single day for being here, for being a part of it, for helping me do it. I couldn’t do it along, it would be impossible, and I don’t want to! Who wants to do it alone, right? So I tell people this a lot, I want my vision to be. So you’re the at barbecue, Jonathan, you don’t really know anybody, you got your overweighted Dixie cup plate full of barbecue, it’s too heavy and it’s slipping and the barbecue beans are dripping off the edge, and you’ve got your little cup of beer or little cup of chardonnay or whatever they’ve given you, and now your hands are full and you’re walking around, you don’t know where to sit, you don’t know who you’re going to talk to, you don’t know where to post up. One of the first things we do as humans when we engage you is we say ‘what’s your name?’ and ‘what do you do?’ So, I’m a plumber, I’m a tradesman, I’m a sheet rocker, whatever comes out, and that’s just naturally an opening question that we ask and it’s also an opening to ‘what’s your identity?’ Our identities are huge to us as human beings! So in my dream, you say ‘I’m Jonathan, I work for Satic’ and the other person say ‘Aw! Lucky! Can you get me on? Do you know anybody?’ Right?! That our company has a reputation of treating everybody that’s a part of it in a way that when you say that name, you get to beam with pride and the other person feels a level of envy that they don’t work there, and I’ll tell you right now, that culture does not just happen. What just happens is a negative culture, that culture comes from real intentionality and really hard work and things in place, but once you get that intentionality clear, once everybody’s working on it since your goals and intentionalities are written all over the company, since the groundwork has been laid for how we behave and how we feel, now it becomes contagious, and the bell rings here so often and they cheer and they laugh, that now, it’s like the merry-go-round and it’s full of kids and you’re trying to get it going and you’re pushing, but once you get it going, once you keep it going it’s pretty easy. So, do the work in the beginning, get that thing going the way you want it to go, and now since it’s going that way and everybody is on board, then pumping it and keeping that momentum is actually quite easy.
Jonathan: Well, yeah! And you highlighted some really important points. Tapping into an individuals’ meaning, purpose and motivation. We so often, you know, get distracted by the pay element. Pay is important, people want to be treated fairly, they want to be paid fairly, but most people, particularly really talented people, they have options and choices, they can go anywhere, they, you know, money is important but pay them enough and treat them fairly and equitably to take money off of the table and now dig into what really matters for them, what really is driving them, what is driving their passion. So I really like how you focus over as you’re putting together your core team on those other pieces. Yes, pay them when you can, defer payment and compensation that’s great, but focus on these other things that you can start to do right away and then giving them the recognition, showing genuine, caring and appreciation to your people. You talked about how the natural culture that tends to immerge in organizations if we aren’t proactively trying to shape it, and create it in the way that we want it to go, it tends to be dysfunctional and negative, right? And so, you know, you focused on, and what you just shared is, you know, several specific things that we can start to do to lay that foundation, to lay that groundwork that will allow us to have a sustainable or positive organizational culture that can be sustained over time. The reality is so many organizations haven’t done that groundwork, especially when you’re talking in the startup space, you get a new founder who passionately has an idea, they have the technical expertise, they launch the new venture. Most of the time, people in that start up phase, they’re not thinking about culture, they’re not thinking about the people and their teams, from a human capital perspective, they’re just thinking about, you know, their idea and getting the people around the table to be able to produce it. But we need to get beyond that. We need to focus on the cultural elements, we need to focus on the processes, the systems, the procedures, the norms, the values that are perpetuated within our organization, all of that lays the foundation and then ultimately, you know, 10 years down the road, now like you said, you have an organization that’s the envy of the community, everyone would love to be there and wants to be apart of it, and then you get to pick the best people to come and join your team because they all want to be there.
B.D.: That’s right! So then let’s take that down a little further. So now my workspace, my work environment, is it dusty or is it tidy? Oh, that has so much impact on the human psyche even if they love you and their bought in and they’re willing to work where it’s dusty or it’s tidy. Tidy does something to the psyche. It’s clean, it smells good. Do you like to stand or do you like to sit? Well I like to stand, so everybody’s got the desk, everybody in our office got the desk that goes up and down so that, you should stand, keep your physiology up, keep your chest up, keeps your eyes up. You can’t just be sad, Jonathan, you got to do sad, boo poor me, right? So the less you’re capable of doing sad, I’m up, I’m tall, I’m up, I’m breathing, how does it smell? Is there fresh air? How’s the temperature? So we have cleaning crews come through every day, it’s clean, it’s wiped, it smells nice, it’s fresh. The windows are open, you can hear the birds outside, we’re in Western Montana and in our office, I don’t care which direction your window faces, North, South, East or West, in our building you got a view! And those of us who get to face North, we stare at a ski resort all day. You can do different, you can’t do better. The window is open, the birds are so happy to be alive, those are things that could be overlooked and my company would not crumble tomorrow, right? But they cost us 100 dollars a week, it’s negligible, it just makes it more fun, and being able to be in a clean space and smell good, we all wear gear, I’m wearing gear right now, everybody has gear! We’re all batched up, I’ve got 22 W-2’s on the clock right now, they’re all in gear, they’re all batched up. Why?! It reminds you where you are. It reminds you that you’re on a team, it reminds you that you’re not alone, you’re a part of something, right? So in the back our guys have aprons, they’re the same hot rod aprons as the NASCAR crews and the Formula One crews, and it has their name on it and it has their gloves and their pliers and that’s their stuff and that’s their gear and it’s custom ordered for them and it fits them, and when you come in with your Satic Solar hoodie and you throw on your apron, you’re pit crew and it’s got your name and your role and you put it on and that’s your stuff, you go into that identity now of here I am and I’m here to do a goal and it’s time and it matters and we do it well and we do it great and we’re the best and all that, and I’m telling you man, it’s, I’ve got several guys, I’ve got several people that the best part of their life and their day is when they’re here. And that makes me cry because I didn’t expect that.
Jonathan: And that’s amazing! And it’s amazing, you know, in the lives, in the day to day lived experiences of all the people in your organization because you’re making a difference for them. And of course your organization being in the green and renewable space is making a difference for the broader community and for your customers, and that’s incredible. And I mention that just because, you know, so often in business we think we have to
a choice. We think it’s either we focus on our people or we drive profits, and that is such a ridiculous notion, it’s a false dichotomy. In fact, when you focus on your people, you usually have better bottom line results…
B.D.: You make more money!
Jonathan: Yes, you usually make more money. So many companies, so many leaders try different ways to squeeze their people more and more, they try to find ways to cut corners with their people and with their culture. They might save in the short term, but in the long term it really really hurts them and it hurts the organization, it hurts your ability to attract good people which hurts your innovation which hurts your ability to have loyal customers and to continue selling, I mean, it’s really a no-brainer and yet because in large part perhaps it’s because of a broader cultural dynamic in the US at least, in other parts of the world it’s not quite this way, but you know, we’re very short term oriented generally speaking and that’s a problem! I think we need to focus more on long term sustainability, whether we’re talking about environmental sustainability or organizational and cultural sustainability, because all of those elements are so important. If we want to continue to be in business in 10 years, 20 years down the road and still bring value to the marketplace.
B.D.: You’re exactly right! Yeah you might make more money the first year or two, but you weren’t going to make money in the first year or two anyways! Right? Those are the ones where you’re going backwards, those are the years where you put a second mortgage on your house so you can pay everyone else to work and not you. You have to have that long term view because, I always tell people, two years is coming no matter what. Two years is coming anyways baby, two years is going to be here anyways! You might as well be on this side of it and not on that side of it, so one of the things we do here is that all hourly wage people get a raise every six months, period. All salary people get a raise every year. Period. And then at the end of the year, it’s really not a Christmas party, it’s around that time, but it’s an end of the fiscal and calendar year where we look at what we made, and you know what, we dive it up, we dive it up! I’ve always told them if it happens to me it will happen to you, so everyone gets their race along the way. The worse thing you want to do in life is wake up and go ‘well, this is it! This is all there is, Jonathan.’ Look at what that just did, it sucked the air out of me even saying it, right? So you can’t say this is where I am today but this is where I’m going, I’m going to make more money for the time I’m committing to being here and if we work together as a team, the more money we achieve profitability as a group, we’re going to share in that! Well now I even get to raise my prices a little bit, right? Do you want to know why? Because people who buy it from here know that it was well made by someone who cares. Knows that if it got broken in shipping or dropped or something and they don’t get something perfect, we’re going to send them a new one today no questions asked, they’re going to get it. They know that the warranty is going to last a long time and it’s going to perform. Why? Because we guarantee it and we’re a 15 year old company that has thousands of 5-star reviews and is BBB A+. If you get somebody on the phone here, you don’t a grump, you don’t get a grump! You don’t get a duck, you get an eagle! They say ‘Aw, I’m so sorry that that was your experience, that’s how some things in life go in life sometimes, darn it, lets not look back, let’s just get you right, what’s your address and get you a new one!’ IF you don’t think you get to charge a little bit more for that experience, yes you do, yes you do! And if they’re grumpy and they need to just bench your ear for a minute, then a customer wants someone who will hear them, let them get their words, right? Let’s make it right! You get to charge five bucks more for that experience, you get to! So you’re absolutely right, you get to have both!
get connected with you, find out more about Satic, and anything else you would like to say by way of the final word on the topic for today.
B.D.: Well, I believe that we live in sustainability’s most important time in world history. I’m not somebody who says ‘hey, you have to be a complete greenie and eat everything out of cardboard and compost your hair’, that’s not the ask. The ask is that as intelligent people, we can all certainly that we can agree that we can be better stewards, so if everyone just believes in their hearts, then I can be a little bit better of a steward and take some action, it starts to go that way. Our company is called Satic, it’s an acronym for sinusoidal waveform technology incorporated. It just means clean power. When your electricity is clean, it’s better for your health, your systems, your devices, your wallet, everything will run cooler, quieter, last longer, your bill will go down, it’s made in America, our warranty is our guarantee and our promises are kept. You can find us on the web at saticusa.com . We love and appreciate any time that you spend expanding your knowledge about clean renewable energy.
Jonathan: Excellent. Thank you so much, B.D. I really appreciate it! I encourage listeners to reach out and get connected to find out more about what him and his team at Satic can do for you. And as always, I hope everyone can stay healthy and safe, that you can find meaning and purpose at work every day and I hope you all have a great week!
Jonathan: Yeah, excellent! Well B.D., it has been a real pleasure talking with you, this has been a fascinating conversation and I applaud you for all the good work you're doing in your company both from the standpoint of sustainability, you know, environmental sustainability which is so important in our world today, but organizational and cultural sustainability and really treating your people well as human beings that deserved to be treated well and I applaud you for all of that. Before we close, I wanted to give you a chance to share with listeners how they can