Growing a Positive Culture in Your Remote Company with Larry English

Larry English is president and co-founder of Centric Consulting, a remote management consulting firm that guides you in the search for answers to complex digital, business, and technology problems. He is also the author of Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture with Virtual Teams, available on Amazon. Additionally, Larry is a Forbes.com contributor, regularly writing on the future of work and remote work.

Follow our guest on their social media:

Remote business founder

Luis:

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob podcast, I am your host Luis, in this podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. My guest on this episode is Larry English. Larry is the president and co founder of Centric Consulting, a remote management consulting firm, 1100 plus person company with offices across the U.S. and India. He is the author of Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture with Virtual Teams. Available on Amazon. He is also a forbes.com contributor, regularly writing on the future of work and remote work.

He holds a BS in applied science from Miami University, and is also an active angel investor serving on multiple boards. Larry, welcome to the show. It’s a pleasure having you. I read your book, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Now I always do this disclaimer, when I talk to people who wrote books, that the listeners should know that what we talk about in the podcast, no matter how much we end up diving into the book, is no replacement for actually reading the book, getting the book and reading. I get a lot of people saying that, “Oh, I listened to the podcast, I don’t really need to go and read the book now.” And yes, you do, actually. Right?

So, we will cover the book, but not exhaustively not extensively. This is about the book, of course, but it’s also about you, Larry. Again, I guess I can start there. What led you to write this book. Telling me the story of the day where the light bulb went off in your head, that gave you the thought that, “Oh, I really should show the world, write a book about how we do things that at Centric.”

Larry English:

Yeah, I would describe it as maybe not a light bulb, but slowly percolating. We’ve been remote for 20 years, we founded as a remote company. I would have to explain to executives all the time, they could not grasp how we could run a virtual company, win awards on our culture, and just do day to day operations and keep everybody cohesive and together. So, I kept having to explain it over and over again. Finally, I was like, “I should write a book on how to do this.”

Then what started to happen was, we could see that clients were getting more comfortable with remote work, the technology was getting better, and so I thought that where we’re at today, working remote was the future of work, I just thought it was 15 years out. So decided to write the book, and I’ll tell you, I went to my main partner, I was like, “Hey, I think I should write a book on this.” She’s like, “Terrible idea. Nobody’s ever going to read that.” Then the pandemic happened, and of course, everybody wanted to read it and learn how to work remote. So, here we are.

Luis:

Nice. Well, let’s go back a bit and tell me about the founding of the business. What made you decide that it was going to be remote, that remote was the way to go?

Larry English:

When we started the company, we were trying to be a little bit of a disrupter, we were trying to get rid of all the bad things that we didn’t like about consulting, and keep all the good things. So, we brainstormed on a number of ways to do that, and one of the ideas was, we thought that our employees could have better balance in their lives if they were able to work remote when they didn’t have to be at a client site.

That was one of the ideas that we came up with, and when we launched, it turned out to be true, and we figured out how to do it even though the technology was not anywhere what it is today. And over time, it’s funny, I read in the press all the objections to remote work. I’m like, “Well, we figured that out 15 years ago how to solve for that.” So, it’s proven out to be that exactly, it is a better way to work, and so we’ve known this secret for a really long time, just no one believed us.

Luis:

It’s very interesting. Right? I feel like there’s a narrative disconnect, because before I knew what remote work was, before I knew the expression remote work, to me it was just a way of working because I worked in several editorial teams, writing for websites, creating content, that was basically … and I managed the editorial teams, and the team was completely distributed. So, we didn’t really have that word back then, people were working from their homes. Right? We didn’t call it remote work, but yes, it was going on for 15 years, very long time before I even had this job at this company.

Then I joined the company where I am at, DistantJob, and I’m like the company is all about remote work, all about remote hiring, and I’m like, “Oh, I’ve been doing this thing for years, actually.” So, there were apparently so many people, a lot of editorial teams were doing it, clearly consultants were doing it for a long time, your company was. Clearly a lot of companies were doing remote, but somehow this never permeated the mainstream. Why do you think that was?

Larry English:

Well, so we’ve been advising and helping a lot of companies, and I will tell you that the generation that grew up going into the office, just has such a hard time visualizing how a remote company can work, talking to one executive team, they’re like, “The CEO likes to look out over the office on Friday afternoon and see all the people talking and moving around, and then they know that the company is doing well.” So for them to say, “I’ve got a remote team, I can’t tell that the company is working well.”

I think it’s just fear of the unknown. I would say the most pervasive attitude was, “Hey, we can’t trust our employees, they’re going to joke around, we’re not going to be as productive, our culture will suffer, we can’t innovate.” The list goes on. So there was just no way this can work, and then the pandemic obviously proved that, in fact, you can work remote and you can do it well.

Luis:

Yeah. Actually, that’s a very interesting thing. People sometimes talk to me about trust. I like the trust chapter in the book, I think it’s very to the point, sometimes people ask me, “How do I fix an employee that’s clearly slacking, that I don’t believe they’re doing work?” And I’m like, “Well, the first best thing is to not hire them. Right? The second best thing is to fire them.” But obviously, make sure that they’re actually not producing, and they just don’t have the perception that they’re not producing.

But one thing that I really liked in your book, I was looking at the several chapters, you mostly talked about culture, of course, but you also talk about trust as part of that. And would you think it’s fair to say that the commonality is really the hiring? Because I feel that when you hire, you’re solving most of the issues that many people have. Am I being fair? Is this a fair representation of some things that you say in the book?

Larry English:

I think so. So, what I would say is, regardless of remote or not, if you’re doing a better job on hiring, you’re going to make your life a lot easier. So, in our company’s case, we spend a lot of time, more time than most companies in recruiting. And we spend half our time evaluating skills, and the other half evaluating culture, because we’ve prioritized culture. So, it’s so important to our company, that we’re like, “Man, we need to be screening for it.” So we designed our interview process to make sure that we were screening for culture.

Now, specific to remote, I would say … So I see a lot of companies that are installing software that will monitor, it’ll take screenshots every 10 minutes of [inaudible] it defeats the whole purpose of remote. What I can say from working with remote employees, 1000s and 1000s over the last 20 years, it is a non issue, people want to do good work, the exact opposite happens, people tend to work too much, because they don’t know how to establish boundaries when they’re working from home. So, if I can tell any of these companies anything, just trust your employees, it’s going to be fine.

Luis:

Well, I understand that, but I think that it’s also a function of how great the place to work your company is. So trust is a two way street. Right? You want to trust your employees, but you also want your employees to trust that the company has their back. Actually, I must say that when I first read your book, I felt that … and I have it very fresh because I finished it just today. Right? By the way, congratulations on the amount of information that you managed to put on a relatively short book, because I went through it in a couple of mornings. Very easy to read, and yet there’s lots of interesting information.

But what stands out really in the book is the stories. Right? To me, I imagine that applications for working at your company, you’ve been showered with them ever since publishing the book because I read the book and I get the sense that Centric is a fantastic place to work at. I do think that that’s probably a big reason of why your people work hard, because when someone takes good care of me, I have two thoughts. Number one, “Oh my God, I never want to even come close to losing this job. So I have to get to do my absolute best. Number two, loyalty starts to develop.”

I really think that loyalty beats trust any day, when you take care of people so well that they are loyal to you, trust is basically … I guess there’s that Druckman quote, I actually think that you mentioned it in the book, I’m not sure. You’ll have to fact check me on it, about culture eats for

Larry English:

I haven’t thought deeply about it, but I would probably agree with you. It’s not talked about often, but I completely agree that loyalty goes both ways. To give you examples, we’ve been through, let’s see, three financial crisises in our 20 year history, and we haven’t done a layoff during those. So yeah, we made less money, but we were sending a clear message that we’ve got your back. So you had our back in good times, we’ve got your back in bad times. It’s unspoken, but people know that the company is going out of its way to look out for them. So I think it gets to your point, your retention is going to be higher, because people know that you’re going to do the right thing, and you’re going to be fair to them.

Luis:

Yeah. The sensation that I got from the book is that, if you just treat your employees as basically service providers, almost like apps. Right? If you treat your content writing employee as an app that you pick on Slack, and delivers text to you via email, for hours passed, of course, you can’t trust that person, you’re not even treating them as the person to begin with. But if you actually build a relationship, and I guess that’s another thing that I felt in the book that you were really teaching people to build relationships across the internet, that’s something that’s very near and dear to my heart, because I was an internet kid. Right?

I started doing my best friendships, I was always an introvert when I was a kid. But as I hit my teens, I started making my first real friendships through the internet, on message boards, on IRC, et cetera. So, I really respect and appreciate the art of cultivating relationships through the internet. I think that’s something that you put an emphasis in the book. Would you care to expand on that, to tell the listeners a bit of how you go about building and growing these relationships?

Larry English:

Yeah, and I’ll start with tying a couple of the concepts together that we’ve been talking about. So, I often will tell our leaders, the litmus test of the strength of your relationship that you formed with your employees is, if they get another job offer, do they tell you about it, or do they just put in their resignation? Because if you’ve built a really strong relationship, they’re going to come to you and say, “Hey, I’ve got this offer, and it’s really intriguing to me, and I’m considering it, but I wanted to tell you about it.”

So, you’re exactly right, the secret to a remote culture is building deep personal relationships, and that’s what keeps your company together and keeps it tight. It is a leadership skill that you have to teach leaders leading in a virtual company. So, as an example, we encourage our leaders, it’s not just about checking in with your virtual employees and talking about business, but it’s also checking in and checking their status, how are they doing, and getting to know them on a personal level, and if you’re able to do that, you will build such a strong cohesive culture and tight organization that it doesn’t matter if it’s in the office or it’s remote, you are going to outperform most companies.

Luis:

So, don’t you think that … in a certain sense, this brings us back to hiring. Let me explain why this idea is floating in my mind. It’s because when I think about my team, we’ve tried doing the usual stuff, being on a Zoom call, talking about our favorite books, and our favorite Netflix series and our favorite composers and films and et cetera, and it always felt very unauthentic. In the worst case, a couple of people dominate the conversation while the others just not participating, their attention is clearly not on the call, et cetera.

But farther ahead, what I tried to do lately is, well, we’re a marketing department, so I’m like, “Let’s talk about marketing, let’s talk about marketing not in the sense of, here’s what’s happening in the company, here’s what everyone is working on, et cetera.” Of course, that’s important. But personally, I prefer to do that in written form or in project management systems. But let’s really talk about interesting things about marketing. What have you learned this week? What was the interesting thing that you learned last week? What do you think is interesting in our market, in our niche? What do you think is the latest thing in social media market? What do you think is the latest thing on email marketing, et cetera.

Then I see people’s eyes lit up, and everyone wants to participate, and everyone wants the opinion. The thing that I figured out over the years, is that, if you hire people for a marketing team, then the common interest should be marketing. Right? If someone is on that team, that’s not interested in talking about marketing and talking shop, let’s say, then you probably made the wrong hire, even if they’re the person who likes the most to talk about their favorite videos, or movies or video games, which the likelihood of the other people being into the same stuff as that person is very low. So again, I keep coming back to hiring, what do you say?

Larry English:

I would say, it’s a balance of both. So, what I mean by that is, you certainly want to hire somebody that’s passionate about their craft, because passionate people that are passionate about their craft are going to do better work for our clients and our customers. Then I would say it’s an and it’s not a or, and getting to know each of your … forming, I’m not saying one to many relationships, but one to one relationships with your co workers and your teammates is really critical.

You talked about it before, of, hey, if I’m talking about my favorite movie, I’m talking about going deeper than that. I’m talking about getting real, I mean, being vulnerable, about your worries, your fears, what makes you tick, if you’re doing that, you’re building strong relationships that will last, and so I would say, do both.

Luis:

Yeah. That makes sense. I’m thinking about that more as part of leadership, I guess, and not so much as culture building. Of course, the two things are intrinsically linked. But I do see it as the manager, the leader, or what you would like to call yourself, an important piece of that being to know the people, and to know them on more than a surface level, like you say it, to know what they’re worried about. Right? To know what they’re proud about, what they’re proud of, what’s up with their children, what’s up with your mother, et cetera, et cetera. That seems to me that it’s also something that’s quite important to be about.

How does this happen at scale? Because another impressive thing that I came to in the book was that you’re doing stuff in your company that I usually associate with companies that are like 30 to 60 employees, but you have 1100, so how do you manage to keep this connection? Obviously, I don’t expect you to personally know about the families of every each one of your employee, but clearly someone has to. So how have you organized this at scale?

Larry English:

I’ll tell you a quick story, and I don’t think this one is in the book, we were, probably I don’t know, year or two or something like that, and one of the ideas that we came up with is for our holiday party, instead of doing some boring office party, we would take everybody in their significant other someplace fun. So we went skiing, snow skiing in the winter, and my wife was like, “You guys are so happy, you love everybody here, you have a great culture, why would you grow and screw it up?” I was like, “Well, that’s a really good question.” So it set me on a path to try and look at companies that had been able to scale and maintain their culture.

I looked at a number of companies that had done that, and what was the common theme was, if you hire great leaders that embody your culture, and you consistently do it across your company, then you can do it at scale. To answer your original question, if you have a leader, and they have 30 or 50 people reporting to them, and they completely match your culture, and they are building those deep relationships like we talked about, then you can scale your company to any size.

There have been companies that have done that, and there’s a number of other things that we do in the book, like we train every single person that joins our company on our culture. Before the pandemic, we all send them to a location and we send in the senior leaders to tell stories and explain our culture, and we’ll get back to that after the pandemic, we did it virtually, it wasn’t nearly as effective. But hopefully that gives you a sense of how you can do it.

Luis:

Yeah, well, the in-person meetups are important. Right? I remember when I first met the founders of DistantJob, it was like, the afterglow lasted something like six months or even a year. It really is. I’ve been asked this before, and I always say, “Look, I really believe that working in an office together is a waste of time and space, by the way, but mostly, an office is totally not needed to run a successful business.” But that’s not the same as saying that never meeting in-person is not needed.

Even when I think about the previous projects back when I was … even when I was playing online video games, right, even something as completely of that, but even when I was managing editorial teams, there was always a big difference between before meeting and after meeting. Right? Everyone just seemed to be more in sync after the meeting. And again, the afterglow lasts for like a year. So it’s not like you need to touch base every week or every month. Right? If you do it once a year or twice a year, that’s more than enough.

Larry English:

I could not agree more, and that’s exactly what we do. What we try to coach organizations on is, face to face does not go away even in a virtual or remote company, it is critically important. We see exactly what you’re talking about is, when we get everybody together, the whole company in the U.S. three times a year, for a month afterwards, people are so, gosh, the euphoria, the excitement, the passion for the company, is exactly what you talked about. I don’t know if it lasts six months, but it certainly lasts a month.

Luis:

Well, I would bet on six months over a month. I would bet on that. That’s been my experience, and I can only imagine. Again, you have some really powerful stories in that book. I think those are the best cultural company stories that I’ve read. We all need a bit of happiness after 2020. Right? We all need a little bit of extra happiness. I think I read a lot because it’s my job. I read a lot of books about remote work, and a lot of them are very solid advice. I’ve been privileged to interview many of the authors. But you made me feel genuinely happy and warm inside. Right? Some of the stories there, so good on that.

Larry English:

Well, thank you. I will tell you the best compliments that I’ve gotten were some employees that said, “You know what? I read the book and I decided that was the place for me.” Nothing could make me feel better.

Luis:

Yeah. A good segue to that is there’s a … I have a note here, one of my highlights in the book is that you say that you try to hire employees for life. Now, I’ve been marketing our hiring, one of the points that I toot the loudest is an average retention high rate of the people that we find are four to five years. That beats every industry standard, and that’s why I make a point of it, and you’re keeping them for a life. Your business has 20 years, so if you have people that have been in the company for 20 years, that’s 10 times the industry standard. That’s amazing. So, how do you plan for this? What’s the strategy when you made this decision?

Larry English:

So let’s go a couple of different angles, by making a bold statement like that, it gets everybody in the organization to think around. “Oh, well, if I’m trying to hire people for life, what does that mean? What kind of systems do I have to put in place? What are the hiring criteria that I have to do?” You think differently, and then once you start to execute on that, you can … I’m trying to think … I’ll give you a few examples. It cascades into all the things that you need to do than to live up to that one statement.

So, it’s been really interesting, we track our retention obviously, and in the last year during the pandemic, it was point 0.4% turnover. So almost nobody left. Now, what I will say is we have people that want to stay with us, but I don’t know if you’ve noticed in your business, the tech war is crazy right now. We’re seeing salary increases of 100% in some cases in our India office and 40 to 50% in the United States. So I think we’re going to see our … It’s going to challenge that retire to hire.

But we have done all kinds of things like, we lay out our career, we lay out succession and leadership development. So people know that they have a path, if they want to stay here, they can have a happy career and they never have to leave. We’ve designed all those things with that one simple statement. Does that make sense?

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah, it makes … It reminds me of the early days in Airbnb, where they envisioned what the 11 star experience would be, it would be the client arriving at the airport and having a parade, greet them with a movie star leaving it and stuff. Their mentality was, right, “This is never going to happen, but if we aim at it, if we aim at 11 stars, then we probably hit five stars easily. Right? Something in that-

Larry English:

That’s exactly right. What makes me the most happy is, now that we’ve been around 20 years, we’ve had many people retire from our company now. We’re living it, and that makes me happy.

Luis:

Nice. Well, congratulations on your first retirees. All right, so you have two major hubs. Right? U.S and India?

Larry English:

Yes.

Luis:

Correct?

Larry English:

Correct.

Luis:

Tell me, why that distribution? What happened that made the company be built like that, because obviously there are places in between?

Larry English:

Yep. So, we were growing our company in the U.S. and it was going well, and we started to come up against the bigger companies like IBM and Accenture, and a number of our clients were like, “Look, we love the work that you’re doing, but if you’re going to continue to do technology work, you’re not cost competitive, you need an offshore component to make the rate work.” So, we recognized if we were going to have a technology arm, we needed to figure out how to have offshore development, and so that led us on the journey to build that. It has been a very successful part of our business going forward.

Luis:

Got it. How have you faced the clash of cultures? Because there’s a big clash of cultures between the U.S. and India. I’ve worked with both sides, and I feel that it’s definitely manageable. And in fact, people from the U.S. can try working with people from India, your company is proof of that. But there is definitely some dance that you need to do between two very different cultures in order to get them working well together, have you felt this, and how have you handled it?

Larry English:

There’s two different ways to talk about this. So the first one is, when we decided, as I was talking before, that we needed to have an offshore operation, we had been partnering with a gentleman and he had a company in India. So we tried to buy him. We did that for a while, and it clearly didn’t work out. So we ended up having to build it ourselves. By building it ourselves, we found that we were able to … you talked about how important hiring is, we found people that matched our core values in our India office, and we built out our India office to match our U.S. culture. So the same attribute.

So now when you go over to India, and you go to that office, it feels exactly the same culture as the United States. Now, there’s some other things that we did along the way, and certainly you’re talking about, I think you’re probably asking, there’s cultural differences between the India and the U.S. and how you do business.

Luis:

Sure, what I’m saying essentially is, I have my team, we have people from the Philippines, from India, from Europe, from South America, so it’s all across the world, and I found that in the early stages, obviously eventually, the team’s culture, it goes above the individuals culture, the culture of their place of work. But in the beginning, I can’t speak to the person from Ukraine in the same manner that I speak to the person in, let’s say, Argentina. It’s not going to go well for one of those.

So I find that I need to adjust my discourse to match the culture where the person is coming from, then as they get more part of the team, right, as they become more part of the team, they start getting into the team’s culture. Then they have the same culture, and there’s nothing to adjust. But I do feel like there’s, let’s say, a learning curve, a learning ramp there. Does this make sense?

Larry English:

It does, and it’s interesting, because I think, early on, we figured that out, I haven’t heard that being an issue for us at all in the last few years. So, I wish I could give you more and I could go back and ask if there’s anything that we’re doing, I don’t know of anything on scale that we’re doing to handle that.

Luis:

All right. Well, get back to me on that, because I’m really interested in knowing. I think that the path to real diversity, real intellectual diversity, right, is remote work. I really believe that. Actually, I’m quite proud of having people from basically collections of countries in the team. But I do think that that comes with its challenges, and they are perfectly overcome about, they’re not impossible to overcome, but you do need to work at that. Right? That’s at least my experience. Okay.

So, let’s talk a bit about real diversity and how to make the company the most diverse possible. There’s a story in the book again, that I distinctly remember because it mirrors my own experience. It’s the story about a lady I believe she was from India that was getting ready to abandon her career because she was getting ready to become a mother. Right? But she felt she missed her career, and then she got a job at your company. Clearly, she was very happy, she was glowing with it, and I actually came up with an expression for this a couple of years ago, because we saw the same thing at DistantJob. I call it hitting the mother lode.

Exactly, they call it hitting the … because it really is, it got me thinking about … There’s a certain amount of people that have really good skills, that are really talented, really productive people, but for some reason, they’re in a group that’s harder to hire. Right? Not in a bad sense, but it’s harder for them to fit in a traditional work culture work environment. Right? This is actually why I first started. Why I first started doing remote work evangelizing for remote work, because I worked with people with disabilities, and I felt that a lot of people with disabilities weren’t … despite laws that were supposed to prevent it, they weren’t being given a fair shot at progressing their careers. I saw that remote work as a way to make that happen.

Then I found the mother lode, right, I found that there’s a huge amount of mothers that aren’t working because a lot of workplaces aren’t compatible with motherhood. So back to you, number one, have you felt this? Have you felt that mothers are a really good talent niche for you to explore, and if you found other such niches?

Larry English:

I 100% agree with you, and the answer to your question is yes. So, a number of years ago, we found the mother lode as well. So they were very, very talented women that just wanted to be home with their kids. But if you could allow them to work, kind of alternative hours, they were amazing. Especially in our shared services organization, which is our back office, we had so many of these just very talented women that we were able to incorporate into our business, and it has been remarkable.

Then as their kids got older, they were able to work more of a traditional during the day job, and they have been excelling at our organization. So my hope with the acceptance of remote work in so many companies is that we have a great opportunity to change the career trajectory of women and make it a lot easier for them. So, there’s the mid career donut, I think, a lot of people call in the United States, where women are forced to take time off or they want to, however the right way to say it is, it hurts them in their future career.

So my hope is that this will change this, and not only for women, because I think it will also increase the ranks of women in leadership because I think they get put behind because they took that time off and they shouldn’t be, it’s a way for them to work. But I think it’ll also help improve diversity, as you mentioned, people with disabilities and other people, so I couldn’t be more excited about what remote might be able to do for diversity and inclusion.

Luis:

All right, so I want to talk a bit also about the perks again, and not go over … Something that I do believe that makes your company culture so awesome is that you take really good care of your employees. I mean, we’ve been bouncing around that for the entirety of the interview. It’s clear that you take very well care of your employees. I do need to ask, what was the conversation like when you and the people at the top of the company were deciding on these policies? Because I’m betting that they were hard conversations, that’s at the end of the day, at least, from what I read in the book, either you have a magical accounting department, or you spend more money than most companies your size on the well being of your employees, I’m willing to take that bet.

Larry English:

That is fair. So, it really wasn’t a hard conversation, because philosophically, when we were starting the company, we said we’re going to focus on two things, client happiness and employee happiness, and if you do those two things as your guiding star, everything else falls into place. So for us, there are corporations that are all about stock price and hitting the stock price every 13 weeks, and employee happiness is not a consideration. We wanted to have a happy culture where we’re able to do great work, and we enjoyed the people that we spent time with, because we thought it was a life philosophy. “Hey, you can work remote, so you can spend more time with your family.”

We are not going to try and kill everybody for profit, we are going to encourage people to take vacation, we want them to have a balanced life. So, it was a philosophy of how we run our company. Now, what happens as an accidental or a secondary outcome is you have a great business too, so you have a highly profitable business because people are happy.

Luis:

Well, and then you can then reinvest that type profit in making people happier. So I guess it’s a virtuous cycle. So, let’s talk a bit about operations. How do you manage the company? This is a very high level question. So let me put it in another way. How many direct reports do you have, and how do you interact with them in a daily, weekly basis? What does your schedule look like?

Larry English:

So, I would characterize our organization as pretty flat. We want to be agile and move fast. So we reshuffle leadership, and we do not have a lot of levels, and we encourage egalitarianism which means, if I’m working on a proposal, and the best thing for me, the most helpful thing for me is to format a resume, that’s what I will do, even though I’m the president. So, we’ve tried to build agile organization that can shift quickly and scale and adjust to market demand.

We’re also operationally … When we started, we followed the traditional … you develop a seven to 10 year strategy, three to five year goals, and then you have annual imperatives and then you have quarterly and you reset that annually, and we were moving to much more of a quarterly agile format. I don’t know what you’re seeing, but certainly in the technology marketplace, it’s moving at the fastest pace that I’ve ever seen, and every industry is being disrupted. That’s what we found that we’ve had to do.

So, to answer your original question, I don’t even know how many direct reports I have. I think it’s a very small number. My job also changes. So right now, because I wrote the book, I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about the future of work, and we’ve had a reshuffle of my duties to allow me to do that. So I took some of the operational responsibility that I had for that. Here’s the other thing that I will say, what we do try to do as a leadership team is, we want each leader to still have their hands in the business because we think it’s really important to keep a pulse on how things are going and what’s going on. So you really understand that, so that you can have to run the business. So, there is

Luis:

formatting CVs. Right?

Larry English:

Yeah.

Luis:

Exactly.

Larry English:

I think you make better decisions as leader if you are diving down, and you really understand what people are going through and what the challenges are for your business.

Luis:

I agree completely. I want to tie that in with the earlier conversation about trust. One thing that I make sure I do is that I know how to work with any piece of technology and any task that I ask my team too. Ideally I’ll be the worst at all of it, that’s why I have other people, right, I want to be the stupidest person in the room. But let’s say that I want someone to run a Facebook ad campaigns, I make sure that I study, that I am able to do it myself. They should be able to do it infinitely better than I do, but I still need to be able to have knowledge about how it is done, because that’s the only way that I can properly evaluate what they deliver, and then I can know if I can trust that person or not.

Definitely cultivating that mentality of knowing how to be in the weeds, let’s say, of working shoulder to shoulder with the team … The last biography I read was published just last month, was from Satoru Iwata, the former CEO of Nintendo, he died at an early age due to health problems. Nintendo is the most profitable company in Japan, certainly if not the most profitable, the one with the most money in the bank, and it made most of that money under Iwata’s leadership, and that’s what he did every day. He was a developer by trade, and he was there besides his teams looking at code and pointing things out. So, that’s certainly in the top five best practices for leadership, I’d say.

Larry English:

I haven’t thought about the top five, but what I will say is, we also try to have a balanced leadership team. So my strengths are different than … I’m more about strategy and vision, and some other folks are more about operations, and they’re much better at it. So, making sure you have a balanced leadership team. We’ve been talking a lot about trust. I don’t know if you’re a fan of Patrick Lencioni or [Lencicony] Five Dysfunctions of a Team. What I’ve found is if you can build deep trust with your leadership team, you can operate so much better and faster and agile as an organization and make much better decisions.

Luis:

Absolutely. That’s a good book recommendation, by the way. Okay. I want to be respectful of your time. So let’s move on to what I call some more rapid fire questions. The questions are up as fire, but the answers don’t need to be, please feel free to expand as much as you’d like, and let’s talk about your virtual office setup, let’s say, you open your laptop at the beginning of your day, what are the apps that are up? What are the tabs that are by default on the browser?

Larry English:

So I’m actually at my lake house right now, because we had my wife’s family for an extended weekend. So, the cool thing is, I have a desk with a monitor and external keyboard here, and I bring my laptop along, and I’m up and going in 30 seconds in a different location. We are O 365 and Microsoft teams shop, and so, Outlook and teams and LinkedIn are probably what I use the most throughout the day. It has been transformational for us as a remote organization, installing the Microsoft suite of products. It’s been very interesting. When we installed it, we saw a decline in email messages within one week of 25%.

I don’t know what the new number is, but I’ve got to think it’s 75% or greater, maybe 80%. So, what I would tell anybody that is trying to be great at remote is making sure you have great tools so that you can learn to work asynchronously as an organization.

Luis:

So what was the selection process behind those tools?

Larry English:

Being a larger organization, scale mattered, and so we looked at the biggest packages. We wanted … I’m trying to remember the exact criteria, but integration and being able to share our knowledge capital was really important in a consulting organization. So, the one that … I don’t think it was really even close, because we work so much in Microsoft PowerPoint, and Word and all that kind of stuff. So, having that deep integration made it easy decision for us.

Luis:

So the next question is probably something that you’ve already done. But I’m going to ask it anyway, as hypothetical question, and you can tell me, ” Hey Luis, I did that like five times.” So, if you add one 100 euros or dollars of your choosing to spend with each person working for you, what would you give them?

Larry English:

I would give them a gift certificate and tell them to go spend it on something that will make them happy, that they’re passionate about.

Luis:

Well, that’s kind of cheating, isn’t it? Fair enough, fair enough. Look, what’s the tool that you think that everyone should have working remote? Let’s put it like this.

Larry English:

Let’s see here. This is more maybe for me, and it doesn’t matter, I use Evernote. I went paperless probably five to seven years ago. So, being a remote person, I’ll have an idea and I want to save it and then I can pull it up on my phone, I can pull it up anywhere, that has made my life way easier as a person that lives remote.

Luis:

Oh yeah, I’m a fan of note taking apps as well. I actually use them to organize my days and my weeks, and my ideas on it, it really is lovely. It’s still books, the book is the thing that I really can’t quit on paper for some reason. I just read them better.

Larry English:

Like I said, I went paperless, and so carrying around my iPad, I can have any number of books and magazines and note taking, that’s where I go everywhere with my iPad.

Luis:

Yeah. But I find that obviously, I have an iPad as well, I read your book on an iPad, but I find that the infinite choice makes it harder to read. Right? I have that problem. If I put two books in my backpack, then I’ve made the choice, and those books are getting read. Right? That’s a personal problem, of course, probably for a lot of people it doesn’t happen. But yeah, that’s why I still can’t quit. I still need to kill trees, to be the reason for people killing trees, sadly. So speaking about book, are you a book gifter, have you gifted books?

Larry English:

Well, so I will say for our organization, we gift all of our employees a number of books over the years, and let me share. Right now we give them Office Optional, because it helps teach them on what our culture is, and so every new employee gets that. They read the stories and they can understand the culture better. We’re talking about Patrick Lencioni, he wrote one called Getting Naked, which if you are in the consulting industry, that book is exceptional about how you treat your clients and customers, and it’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

We have also handed out Moments of Magic by Shep Hyken, and that is really about how do you give your customers exceptional experiences. So, we want to be thought of in the same way Disney is thought of, providing service in the entertainment industry, we want to be the same way in the consulting industry. That is a book that reinforces that. Then finally, we used to handle crucial conversations, which is about how you have difficult conversations and build relationships in the process. We since switched to something called social covenant training, which is the same concept. But I highly recommend those kinds of books because if you’re going to have difficult conversations, how do you do it and preserve the relationship?

Luis:

Right. Those are some nice additions to my reading list. So, last question, this one has a bit longer setup. So please, let me go on with it. You enjoy organizing events, let’s say you’re doing it somewhat differently this time, you’re organizing an event, a dinner, where in attendance will be the decision makers from the tech companies from all around the world. During the dinner, there’s going to be a round table about remote work and the future of work. Here’s the twist, the dinner happens at the Chinese restaurant, so you as the host, get to pick the message that goes inside the fortune cookie, what is the message?

Larry English:

I would probably … This is how I ended the book, and it is build a culture you love. And if you think that way, and it can be done remote, you will end up with a great company.

Luis:

All right, build a culture you love, that’s a pretty strong fortune cookie message. I like it. So, thank you so much, Larry, for being here, for being a part of the show, for being a guest on the show, and for telling us about your book. Obviously, we’ll have links to everything on the show notes. But please, if people listening want to continue the conversation, if they want to learn more about you, about your business, about your book, where can they find it?

Larry English:

Yes, Larryenglish.net is the easiest place, and that has links to everything.

Luis:

Okay, well, so head over there, and obviously, we’ll have that and more on the show notes. So, you can check that there as well. Again, thank you so much. It was an absolute pleasure.

Larry English:

I had a blast. Thank you for your challenging questions. I really enjoyed it.

Luis:

It was my pleasure. Ladies and gentlemen, this was the DistantJob podcast with Luis, a podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams, and my guest today was Larry English, the president and co founder of Centric Consulting. See you next week.

And so we closed another episode of the DistantJob podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners.

Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcasts, click on your favorite episode than any episode really and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up, and whenever we get the transcripts of the episodes up, so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form. And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country, look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent.

And to help with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40% faster than the industry standard. With that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob podcast.

More ways to listen:

In today’s episode, Larry English shares his main insights about building and growing a company culture 100% remotely. He co-founded Centric Consulting two decades ago and has learned valuable lessons about building a remote company and choosing remote leaders wisely.

During this podcast episode, you’ll learn more about the foundations of a healthy remote culture. Also, tips to scale your virtual company successfully and why hiring for culture matters.

Highlights:

  • Why trust is a key element in building your company’s culture
  • The importance of making culture evaluation when hiring remote employees
  • Insights about Centric’s hiring evaluation process
  • Loyalty vs. trust in remote employees
  • Leadership skills needed for virtual companies
  • How to hire great remote leaders

 

Book Recommendations:

 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up in the next few weeks!