On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Rod from Activate 180 about the ways coaching organizations can help companies enact impactful DEIB initiatives.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 31 minutes
Enjoy the podcast?
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The RecruitingDaily Podcast with William Tincup. Be sure to subscribe through your favorite platform.
This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup (00:34):
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have Rod on from Activate 180, and our topic today is ways that coaching organizations can help companies enact impactful DEIB initiatives. So this is going to be a lot of fun, and it’s going to go really fast. So Rod, why don’t we do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Activate 180?
Rod McDermott (01:01):
Yeah, sure. Hey William, first of all, thanks for having me on. Rod McDermott, CEO and co-founder of Activate 180. We’re a employee coaching program, which is different than just an executive coaching program. I’ve had an executive coach for 20 years. William, have you ever had an executive coach?
William Tincup (01:17):
Oh yeah, of course.
Rod McDermott (01:18):
Okay. So yeah, you believe. And so my coach has changed my life. He’s changed my company, and when I started with him, my main company and, still to this day, our biggest company is McDermott + Bull Executive Search, which is a retained executive search firm, top 25 firm. And my coach has really helped us tackle challenges of growth and culture and vision and kind of putting that out through the entire company and getting everybody enrolled in that same vision.
And I’ll just give you a little background on Activate 180. It’s our newest company. We started about three years ago, and it was really kind of this brainchild from having him meet with some of my employees. They saw how much he had changed my life, my partner’s life, and they’d say, “Hey, can I have a one-hour session with him in the next month or so? I’ve got some things I want to talk about,” and these were always life-changing. And they’d come back to me and say, “Thank you so much. I’d love to get another out.” “Sure, absolutely.” But we couldn’t afford at the executive level to give him to everybody. It was not cost effective.
And so about three years ago, we came up with this idea of starting a coaching company that is coaching for everybody, coaching at all employee levels, and really unleashing the power of a company by igniting the true rocket feel, which is the people. I kind of use this analogy of a rocket. You’ve got your executive sitting up in the capsule, and historically companies have coached those people, but what about everybody else, the other 97% of the fuel of that company? And so that’s where Activate 180 came about and was born.
And one of the things that we found really cool place that we can actually have a huge impact is in DEI and B, sorry, DE and I and B, belonging, initiatives at companies. Because we coach at the individual level, we find out the challenges that individuals are having unique to them, and we can coach to help them overcome some of those challenges, but also share those themes with the company and help shift company mindset. So that’s a lot. That’s a mouthful to unpack. I just wanted to kind of share all that.
William Tincup (03:37):
Well, and I think it leads us into some great things. One is where we’ll start or where I’d like to start is, I know you run into this, there’s still kind of organizations that maybe haven’t had a great coach, or the C-suite, they either don’t believe in it or don’t fund it. So from an Activate 180 perspective, what’s the, I want to say knockout question, but that’s not the right way to think about it, but it’s just how do you know you’re dealing with a company that really truly cares about coaching?
Rod McDermott (04:10):
So, great question and it’s one of the things that we do a lot of upfront research to determine, because we found exactly what you said. The companies that say, “Huh, okay, so if I give my people coaching, maybe I’ll improve my retention. Maybe it’s a good recruiting tool. We can tell people, ‘Oh yeah, we have coaching,'” they look at it like an employee benefit and not at the core of the culture. Right? And so what we look for is leaders that embrace this concept of we have these people that are giving us the majority of their waking hours, at least Monday through Friday. We want to give something back to them. We want to help them live a happy, successful, productive, joyful life, and we have the ability to do that. And by the way, we also know that if they show up that way, they’re going to take care of us.
And there’s a few companies out there that have embraced this, many more these days, but there’s a company in my backyard here in Orange County, California that back in the ’90s, the two owners, privately held company, sold it to SoftBank for a couple billion dollars. And these guys were so low profile, nobody knew they had money, and they shared a bunch of that money with their employees, and it was like a bonanza.
And they started getting written up in the papers, and that wasn’t what they were looking for. But one of the comments from one of the founders was, “We have a belief in our company. Everybody says the customer comes first. We have to take care of the customer at all costs, blah, blah, blah. We don’t ever actually say that. We say our employee comes first, our vendors come second, because if we take care of our employees and our vendors, we don’t have to worry about our customers. They’re going to take care of our customers.” And so it’s really flipping it, doing a 180, hence the name Activate 180, that’s our name. Doing a 180 on that whole perspective of saying… William, you’ve been in this business a long time. How long have we been hearing people say, “Our employees are our number one asset or our best asset?”
William Tincup (06:26):
Rod McDermott (06:27):
Yeah, forever, but do they really think that deep down, and do they really say, “I’m going to do everything I can for these people to have extraordinary lives while they’re giving me most of their waking hours?” I don’t think so, but there are a lot of companies out there that are embracing this now because they realize this thing that we call legacy, really, it doesn’t last for more than a generation or two, and it’s really about creating a greater place that we can all live in harmony together. That’s my belief.
And as we’ve adopted that in our various companies, we’ve seen our rocket fuel ignite, and our companies have gone through a tremendous growth over the last seven, eight years as we’ve kind of shifted from, “Hey, we got to do this, we got to grow, we got to add people here, we got to…” all these things, and it was like, wait, let’s stop. We don’t have to do all that, but let’s talk about what we should do for our people and then let’s unleash them.
And so that’s kind of been the model that we’ve taken ourselves internally, and it’s provided tremendous growth. In the last seven years, we’ve grown our main businesses by 600%. We don’t have turnover, knock on wood. I mean, we have a little but not too much, and it’s pretty low, and we’ve got core people that have been here for 10, 12 years plus. And so we’re seeing that play out in our own businesses, and I’ve seen it play out in other companies. But there are a lot of great leaders out there, great CEOs who have embraced this concept even 20 years ago, and they really feel the responsibility as an employer of saying, “We want to help you live a great life. We do care about you.” And I want to say, William, we’re getting more and more of them. It’s not done yet, but we’re getting more and more. Sorry to interrupt you. Go ahead.
William Tincup (08:14):
No, no, no. It is probably where you were going next is do you see coaching as an expectation, an increasing expectation from employees and candidates, like they’re coming into the organization kind of expecting that you’ll have some type of coaching that will be available to them?
Rod McDermott (08:32):
Yeah, not yet. I would say that there’s still a relative unknown. I’ll give you an example. We are doing a pilot right now at a company that’s very large global company, tens of thousands of employees, and the head of learning development is pretty excited about this and had us working on a pilot and sent this comment to us last week, which was really cool, and said, “Hey, we’re sending a survey out. I haven’t got any of the results back, but I did have one person say to me, ‘Do not take this away from me.'” That was kind of cool, but a lot of people don’t actually know what it means. Some people, “Well, is this therapy? Are they going to do [inaudible 00:09:10] life?”
William Tincup (09:10):
Well, it gets blended into sponsorship or mentorship or something like that, and the way that you’ve conceived it is all those things are great, but this is different.
Rod McDermott (09:23):
And what we’ve done is we basically have divided our coaching program into five pillars. Right? So career and professional development as kind of front and center, but the other pillars are health and wellness, relationships, financial and life experiences. And the reason why those are important is we’ve come to… Through our own data gathering and research and our own experiences, if people can show up an eight, nine or a 10 out of 10 in each of those five areas, they’re showing up pretty big at work. And likewise, when one of those at health and wellness or finance, “God, I got this big mortgage. I got to put my kids through college. I got all this stress,” that brings people down and they don’t show up as big at work. And so the company doesn’t get the best that they could out of that person, nor do their coworkers or their employees.
So we want people performing in all areas of their life. And so we want to help them achieve that. It could be, “Hey, I’m taking this medication if I can only hold myself accountable to change my diet and change my workout habits and things like that.” Okay, well, I’m your coach. I’m here to help you. I’m that person on your shoulder that’s going to help you stay accountable to these things. So let’s create a plan. Let’s start working that plan. Rome wasn’t built in the day. We don’t have to have you running marathons in three months, but let’s start moving in that direction.
We had one person that we were coaching who was playing semi-pro basketball in his spare time, but also was diabetic, and he said, “Hey, if I can only get off some of this medication through diet, then I think I could even perform at a higher level on the basketball court.” And so we had our health coach working with him, and that was really cool to see because he did make those strides and was able to change diet and actually change his conditioning to be able to get off of some of the insulin, and it helped him perform at a higher level.
So there’s things that people want to work on, but they’re not sure how to start or where to start, and they’re not sure how to keep themselves, keep that foot on the gas when the time gets tough, and it always gets tough. And so coaching helps there. So I would say, to answer your question, a lot of people don’t know about it yet, but once they get into it, they’re like, “Wow, this is the greatest thing. My life has changed because of my coach. I can’t not do it.” And so I think the answer to your question, my goal, my hope, William, is in five or 10 years that people are asking for it. “Hey, do you guys offer coaching program?” I want to see people asking for that because they know they’re going to perform at their best level.
William Tincup (11:58):
I love it, and I love the point of “Don’t take this away from me. Please, for everything, please don’t take this away from me.” All right. Let’s talk a little bit about the DEIB initiatives and how coaching can help companies enact impactful DEIB initiatives. So what have you seen so far? And without brands or company names or any of that type stuff, it’s just initiatives themselves, how do coaches help companies brainstorm and enact things that are really impactful?
Rod McDermott (12:33):
Yeah. I think it’s funny because I talk to a lot of HR leaders both in my executive search world. I’ve been friends with a bunch of them for 20 years from big companies to small companies, and we talk about this and we say, “What are your challenges?” And they say, “Well, we have a DE and I initiative,” and they’re now starting to add the B, the belonging part, but we feel like we’re just scratching the surface. And it all started with, well, we need to create more diversity. So that’s really kind of looking around the room at the senior management team and maybe other teams within the company and saying, “Are we diverse? Do we represent society?” Righty? And it’s really kind of a number. It’s a ratio. And they’re like, “Yeah, we’re better at that.” Okay, what about the E, I and B? How are we doing on that stuff?”
And so one of the things that we’ve helped companies do is understand first their long-term goals and why it makes sense in their business. I think at the end of the day, if they don’t really see that it makes sense, it’s kind of like what we talked about before, you’ll have leaders that will say, “Hey, we need to do this because it’s going to help retention, it’s going to help recruitment,” but if they don’t look at the core reason behind it being having a true diverse workforce that does belong and feels like we’re giving them the resources, they, on an individual basis, need to move along and be developed in their career. And that’s the equity piece I want to talk about in a minute. If we don’t feel that we’re truly giving that, then it can be kind of window dressing. And I think a lot of companies feel like, hey, we’ve scratched the surface, but there’s so much more we can do.
And so couple of things that we do at Activate 180, we run these monthly workshops, and we actually hit these things head on and we try to get to the core beliefs of people. Right? If you want to see behaviors change, you have to change beliefs. Right? And so part of that is, let’s understand what does having a truly diverse workforce and diversity of thought at all levels of the company, what does that do? What does it mean?
And you’ve read studies, I’m sure. I used to be on the board of a public bank for about 14 years, and I was on the nominating and comp committee. I chaired that, and I would report back to our board on diversity initiatives in the marketplace and how it would benefit us. And I’ll be honest with you, William, we were not a diverse board for many, many years. And I would talk to our chairman and say, “Hey, this is good business. I mean, you’re the largest shareholder. Let me show you this Harvard Business School Review that talks about how diverse boards and diverse companies outperform non-diverse. So I’m speaking to your wallet right now. If I can’t speak to another place that says this is the right thing to do, let me speak to your wallet.”
And so they are now a diverse board. That was one of the things I tried to do before I left, and we were able to accomplish that. But sometimes you have to find out people’s motivation and say, “Okay, I can find this study.” A Harvard Business School or HBR study is a great study to kind of back this up, right? And then if I can get to those core beliefs and say, “Oh yeah, okay, light bulb went off. All right, I get it.”
Now, the big thing about coaching and the challenge I see a lot of companies having is on this equity side, what does equity really mean? Right? And the way we’ve defined it, and there’s a lot of different definitions out there, but the way that we’ve chosen to define it is giving each individual that extra bit that they need to overcome something that maybe they didn’t bring to the table, and it might be because of where they came from, how they grew up, their socioeconomic background, their schooling, their experience in the first part of their careers, any of that. I would say what brought you here is all the stuff that you’ve… Your history, right? And so now you’re here.
Most of that history is really great and we can use it. Some of it might actually be holding you back a little bit. So what are some things that we can do to give you that extra step stool? We call it a little bit, it’s like a stool. If you’ve got a 5’7″ person standing next to 6’2″ people and you’re going to play basketball, can I get this person a stool so I can bring them to that same equity place? Right? And what does that individual need? And that’s the basis of a lot of the coaching is what can I give you individually, unique to you, to get you at a similar level to some of these other people? And by the way, they’re 5’7″ in some other area that you’re 6’2″, right?
William Tincup (17:14):
Rod McDermott (17:15):
So everybody has that piece. You don’t have to be diverse to have it. Trust me, I have a lot of them, and I think I have four areas of my life where I rely on my coach to bring me the step stool. And we talk about those things, and those are areas that I’ve got to improve, empathy and a few other areas that I’m working on, but that’s part of the coaching thing, right? And so when you bring that individual one-on-one accountability and development model, you can actually provide that equity piece. And that’s one thing that I think has been missing as I talk to L&D folks that are leading those initiatives for their companies. It’s kind of hard to do this without that one-on-one piece. That’s why I think coaching plays a big part, because we can give that.
William Tincup (18:08):
Well, so you started with the long-term goals, getting people into the mindset of, “Okay, we’re not going to hire two people and then everything’s done, and we can just kind of go back to business as usual.” So I love that you already attacked that. I want to get your take on coaching everyone in the organization to why DEIB is so important to the business goals. So how do we coach the frontline managers, the middle management, all the way up to the C-suite and coaching them to, as you said, the wallet, not necessarily the heart or the brain, but the wallet and aligning those initiatives with the ultimate business goals? So how do we proliferate that through the organization?
Rod McDermott (18:54):
Yeah, great question. It’s very challenging too, I will say. And we can find motivations, right? The wallet’s only one motivation. People have other motivations. So part of it is we have to tap into their individual motivations. And so even our coaches that our coaching managers and leaders, they’ll talk to them and say, “Tell me why this is important to you. Tell me why you want to be a supporter of your company’s DEI and B initiatives, and let me bring that full circle around what the payoff is for you.” And it could be a personal payoff. It could be something that they experienced in their own lives. It could be a personal belief thing. It could be a performance payoff. It could be about dollars in your pocket, hitting your numbers, doing other things, making people feel like, hey, we work for a really great company that cares about people and cares about the environment and really cares at the core. Right?So we have to find out what that motivation is first and foremost.
And then secondly, we have to bring the tools to the table. Right? So one of the things I mentioned is we do these group workshops where we will do breakout sessions. Right? Our coaching includes, once a month, the entire group. It’s voluntary, but usually at least 60, 70% of people show up. It’s a one-hour Zoom call, and we’ll do these breakout sessions where we’ll handle a challenge and say, “Hey, tell me how this affects you.” And then they bring it back, and then we ask for shares. And people will share stuff, and you learn so much. Right? And so once you start learning, this becomes a little bit of a snowball. Right? People’s minds are open when at first they’re like, “Ah, okay, this is another initiative of the company because they want us to feel good and blah blah, blah.” No, no, it’s more than that. These are our coworkers, and these are their stories.
I will say that when we launched Activate 180, first we used my executive search business as a beta. So we had about 60 people being coached, and we kind of landed on this through one of our workshops. And then we said, “Hey, let’s start doing DE and I lunch and learns.” And so now on a monthly basis, we do a lunch and learn, and we’ll probably have 30 or 40 people show up to these and it’ll be over lunchtime. People are eating their lunch, sometimes, there’s cameras off, but we’ll have a couple of folks. I’ve moderated one. And we’ll talk to people about their upbringing, and they’re diverse folks, and they’ve had diverse background. And just being able to share some of those things because I’ll walk around the office or offices as I visit some of the offices and we’ll talk about things, and people are bringing up to me and say, “I learned so much. I had no idea.”
And knowing that this is not only one of my business partners at work, but they’re a friend of mine and this is what they went through growing up feeling different. Wow. It just brings a level of understanding, and I think that’s what we need. We need that level of understanding to come home because we live in our shells oftentimes. Right? And if we’re not exposed to it, and most people don’t wear it on their sleeves, but when you start diving in, like when I moderated one of these events with one of our folks, we delve into some really meaty topics and he was so candid about the way he grew up and some of the feelings he had that it really created a whole new meaning. We peeled back the onion so deep in that meeting and I had people coming up to me for two months saying, “Wow, I had no idea. That was so impactful. Thank you.”
So to answer your question, first and foremost, we have to understand the motivation. Secondly, we got to put things in motion so that we can start educating folks. And once you start understanding what other people have… How they’ve been brought up, now you start seeing this true diverse landscape that you have at your company and you’re like, “Wow, everybody is different.” And diversity does mean a lot more than just being different. It also means what you bring to the table.
That was the other thing I was going to tell you we’re counseling companies on these days, and you’ve probably been reading about this too, is as an executive search consultant, I’d have companies over the last five or 10 years call me up and say, “Hey, we want to get a diverse pool of candidates.” And I would say, “Well, tell me why.” And they say, “Yeah, we just need a more diversity at this business unit or at the senior levels in our company and we’re committed to that.” Okay. And I would keep asking why. I don’t know if you… Have you ever heard of the five why’s, you ask why five-
William Tincup (23:35):
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Rod McDermott (23:38):
Okay. So I keep asking why, and we’d often get to a point where it was more about, we know it’s good, we know we want to be representative-
William Tincup (23:48):
Rod McDermott (23:49):
Yeah, exactly. It’s like that. Now we’re having deeper conversations about it. Now we’re saying, I had this conversation with somebody recently and that followed up, and I read it in an article too, where just being diverse on the outside doesn’t necessarily bring diversity thought on the inside. Sure, you may have… Let’s say you grew up in a upper income area, you’re diverse, right? You grew up in an upper income area of Connecticut, you went to a great school, you went to Harvard and you graduated in… But you’re a diverse candidate. Right? A company sees you as a diverse candidate, but do you have diversity of thought? You probably do to a certain extent because being a diverse candidate, there were things that you grew up that maybe were different for you, but maybe not to the same level as getting somebody from a different socioeconomic background, a different region of the country.
William Tincup (24:46):
Yeah. What’s great about it is it’s slicing diversity in much different ways. Probably, for 60 years, we’ve looked at it simply as race and gender, and that’s fine because we’ve needed to move those needles forward, and we’re still not there yet. If we were to just stop on race and gender, we’re not where we want to be. I think everyone would recognize that. But it’s also looking at diversity in a much different way and slicing it with different ways, race and gender being two of those things, but there’s many ways to think about it.
Let me pivot for just a second and ask kind of the role of coaching with DEIB as it relates to transparency of successes and failures that we’re having or communication strategies out to the rest of the organization, or if you see those as DEIB annual reports. What roles do you see coaches playing with the folks that they coach in terms of how they communicate the strategy, philosophy, et cetera?
Rod McDermott (25:52):
Yeah. So it’s a really good question because I think you’re right. It’s not something that’s a short-term thing. It’s a long-term thing. This is not something that you flip a switch and say, “Okay, we’re going to be done with this or we’re going to be [inaudible 00:26:07].” This is a multi-year-
William Tincup (26:11):
I’ll tell you, Rod, I said this earlier on a webinar just earlier today. I think it’s a relentless pursuit that you never actually reach.
Rod McDermott (26:20):
Yeah, yeah. I think that’s a great way of saying it because it changes, right? You learn more as you… This is the onion that doesn’t have a core-
William Tincup (26:27):
Rod McDermott (26:30):
[inaudible 00:26:30]. And so one of the things our coaches do really well with the managers and leaders that we work with, and as well as the individual contributors too, really at all levels, is we tackle this thing called fear. Right? And so people are fearful of change. People are fearful of exposing too much sometimes. Right? So when you use the word transparency, people can be a little bit afraid. It’s a new thing for some folks.
And so as we open up and as we create more courage, more space to be courageous, let’s put it that way, our coaches really help with that and they say, “Okay, let’s talk about…” Again, back to the five why’s. “Okay, so what’s driving you not to want to go here?” Well, and you break down, and sometimes it’s a fear and maybe it’s an irrational fear. It could be irrational fear, but might be irrational. Sometimes it’s that because they’ve just never done it that way, and boy, this feels a little weird. I’m not sure. Okay, let’s keep moving.
And so what we try to look at it as, it’s really a progression. We don’t need to go from zero to 60 in 1.2 seconds. Let’s go from zero to five, and then let’s go from five to 10, and let’s take baby steps sometimes and make you feel comfortable so then your underlying beliefs are going to start to change, right? Again, if we want to change behaviors, we have to change beliefs. And if you force people to go from zero to 60, sometimes it’s really uncomfortable. And so let’s make some steps in the right direction and see that all is not going to be bad. The whole world is not going to blow up.
And some of the transparency that we’re afraid of sharing, I use this comment here, we’re transparent at our companies, including numbers. Right? We tell everybody top and bottom line. We tell them every month how we’re doing because we believe that if we can engage our entire team in us trying to win the game, we have to tell them the score to do it. But if we can get them engaged, they’re now fired up, and instead of four or five top managers knowing the score and try to push everybody to win, we now have 90 people that know the score.
But that’s a hard concept for a lot of people. “Oh, I don’t know that. But well, what about all this and that.” They could read into the numbers wrong and they could feel… And I’m like, okay, they could. That could happen. But let’s face it, these aren’t the nuclear codes. That’s my saying, right? When we’re talking transparency and we’re talking about people really sharing what their feelings are, there’s no nuclear button here. Nothing bad is going to happen really, really bad.
And so as I’ve become much more transparent over the last 10 years, let’s call it, I’ve almost… I can’t think of a time I’ve ever seen anything bad come from it. So our coaches are helping their clients, their individual clients become more open to this, move down the spectrum of transparency, of letting their people share their minds, speak their minds. And a lot of it, like I said in these workshops when we do these breakout sessions and we have leaders in there, and they’re often, it’s kind of random how they’re paired up, but I’ve been paired up with somebody who could be our newest employee doing kind of an entry-level job, and I get to talk to them and it’s really kind of cool to hear their perspective. It makes me feel much safer too. So we have to create that safety and help them with the courage to move forward.
William Tincup (30:00):
This has been absolutely wonderful. We could talk for another hour, but I know you’ve got obviously some other things to do. So Rob, thank you so much. Actually, I absolutely appreciate both your wisdom and you taking out the time to help us.
Rod McDermott (30:16):
William, I’ve enjoyed being here. Thank you. And thank you for all you’re doing. This is great. I’m appreciative that you’re putting all this great content out there to help great companies and help our world as well. So thank you.
William Tincup (30:27):
That’s very kind of you, Rod. I appreciate you and thanks for everyone listening to RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.
You’ve been listening to The Recruiting Live Podcast by RecruitingDaily. Check out the latest industry podcast, webinars, articles, and news at RecruitingDaily.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.