This past month, I was honored to be a panelist during Staffing Industry Analysts’s Staffing Executive Seminar. Specifically, I was part of the panel for the Breaking Through Workshop, modeled after the book Breaking Through: Leadership Disciplines from Top Performing Staffing Firms, written by SIA President Barry Asin and staffing performance consultant Mike Cleland. Like the book, the workshop aimed to have executives from the industry share their key leadership disciplines for revenue growth and lasting success.
As Barry and Mike point out in their book, there are more than 19,000 staffing firms in the U.S., but less than 200 have built businesses that generate $50–100+ million in annual revenue. That means, less than one percent of the industry have found a formula that works – to scale, to grow and to break through.
Triple Crown is part of that one percent.
There are several ‘break through’ best practices that have contributed to our ongoing success – some of which we’ve learned along the way, and others that have been with us since day one. When Dave Smith, Padma Sunkara, Ravi Arimilli and I set out to start Triple Crown nearly 15 years ago, we knew we didn’t want our operations to be ‘business as usual.’ We wanted to build a company that our team felt invested in and that fueled their personal development and livelihood while they actively contributed to a contagious culture built for speed, accuracy and performance.
Here’s a recap of my thoughts, best practices and lessons learned on breaking through in our business:
- Work smarter, not harder. Companies can’t grow when the owners think they’re smarter than they actually are, or when the owners try to wear multiple hats. Trust me, that was me. At one point, I was helping with collections. Our infrastructure was inefficient, and I didn’t have the accounting back office to support the business. My advice: Admit your mistakes, know your weaknesses and fix them. We were wasting our Mondays and our Fridays for a long time, and let me tell you – operating at 60 percent means there’s an opportunity to nearly double your output and your results once you figure out how to optimize and flip that other 40 percent.
- Here’s perhaps my biggest piece of advice: Get uncomfortable. Sometimes scaling and breaking through means taking a personal pay cut. In my opinion, the reason why less than one percent are in the $50–$100 million business of staffing is because the owners in the other 99 percent are comfortable where they’re at. You can make a good living in those smaller earning businesses, but you’ll never break through the $50 million threshold by paying yourself first. As the founders of Triple Crown, we were relentless in our pursuit to get to the top. We wanted to go big, so we got comfortable with being uncomfortable.
- Reinvest. We listen to our staff and to what their problems are, and we invest in supporting them – over, and over, and over again. Whether it’s the front office or the back office, business will continue to evolve, which means, as a leader, you’re always reinvesting in new technology, new processes, and in hiring new and more people.
- As a leadership team, we are overly prepared, in a good way. We constantly talk about strategy and we’re ready to pivot, as needed.
- We have a detailed training program that dives deep into how to manage specific scenarios – from how to verbally respond to clients and candidates, to what tone we want portrayed in our written communications. We take the actions of the best sales reps and recruiters on our team and leverage their every move to help teach others to follow protocol that works. Some might say, we’ve exhausted our preparation task list and that we’re a little ‘over the top’ in this regard. To us, there’s no such thing as too much practice. Our thoughts are, why reinvent the wheel when you know people will come up against similar situations? It’s why athletes train – it’s not because they’re already great, it’s because they want to be better and they prepare to be great. That’s us too.
- We are disciplined in our mechanics. True leaders instill strong mechanics – and they take them seriously. It’s not enough to practice, you also have to measure performance. How else will you know if you’re getting better, or if you’re starting to slip? To that end, we have metrics that our team is required to meet – metrics that we’ve seen result in success. We also lead by example in this regard, everyone has performance analytics tied to their job and function.
- We care. There are so many external factors that can impact someone’s work – and we care about all of them. We have an unlimited vacation policy and people come and go as they need to. We also allow remote work for the days when people need more flexibility. We stick together, and we support each other. It’s that simple, and yet there are a lot of companies that struggle with this. To me, it’s one of the basics. The level of caring that goes into your staff sets the foundation for a long and prosperous employer-employee relationship, or not. You have to have trust, and you have to care.
- We celebrate the little things. We’ve implemented a mantra of “Work Together, Win Together.” and have company meetings around team successes and personal milestones. We also have “5 for Friday,” which acknowledges, in real-time for the week, any and all “small” metric-based wins. You can’t celebrate enough!
- We put our money where our mouths are. I get asked a lot about our compensation, and to be brazen about it, we have a very lucrative compensation program. It’s structured to reward the hardworking; the people who put in the work pay themselves.
- We’re always looking at ways to improve internal communication, and to be more transparent. The more you bring people into the business, the more invested they will be, which is why we’re always willing to share.
Employee loyalty at Triple Crown is high because we invest in our people. We’ve experienced a consistent 20-30 percent growth rate for four years in a row because of our people, and our commitment to them.
The staffing ecosystem is growing. Not only are there more contingent workers, but the percentage of the workforce working on a contract basis is only continuing to grow. We also have some real industry disruptors interested in our space – think, Amazon and Uber. Automation, artificial intelligence, block chain and other cutting-edge technologies continue to change the way we do business, and it’s the companies ready to adapt and harness these tools to their advantage that will win.
In the years to come, we’re all going to be challenged. How do you plan on rising to meet what’s ahead while continuing to grow?