In business, one of the most common advice that people tend to give is to create raving fans out of your clients and customers. But what if you flip that and become raving fans of your clients instead? Sharing this unique perspective and its radical results, Steve Farber takes us to Jason Averbook and Jess Von Bank’s presentation from The Extreme Leadership Experience in San Diego, held last February 27, 2020. Jason is the co-founder and CEO of Leapgen, while Jess Von Bank is the Head of Marketing. Together, they tell us the story of Leapgen, which started with the idea of giving back to your clients as much as they give to you. At the heart of the company is the LEAP concept, founded on the values of love, energy, audacity, and proof. Make your employees feel safe so they can do good work for you and your customers. Get inside this great episode to learn more about how they infuse those things in their culture, the experience they create for their employees, and the experience of their clients.
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The Story Of Leapgen: Building A Company Culture Of Love, Energy, Audacity, And Proof With Jason Averbook And Jess Von Bank
I’d like to introduce our fine fabulous friends and sponsors from Leapgen, Jason Averbook, and Jess Von Bank. I want to tell you a little bit about Jason. He is a bit of a rock star. I call him a celebrity in HR circles. Leapgen is all about the digital experience and the digital workforce. They work with some big companies like Nike, for example, and many others. Jason, they’ll tell you the story. He has been a LEAP guy for a long time. He came through the very first certification program that we ever ran here in San Diego that Steve Delph facilitated. That was 2010, maybe 2009, I don’t know. We’ve been friends ever since. He ran The Marcus Buckingham Company for some time for those of you familiar with Marcus. He came out of PeopleSoft. He had a company called Knowledge Infusion, which is what you were running when I met you. He sold that company and took a little bit of time off to work with Marcus. You came back and founded Leapgen based on the principles of LEAP as their value set.
Jess Von Bank is my new friend. She’s the marketing maven at Leapgen. We’ve spent a good amount of time on Zoom calls, getting to know each other. She’s been in this industry for a long time and has had a tremendous series of successes in a lot of companies. She’s one of the folks in the C-Suite, if there is such a thing of virtual C-Suite, at Leapgen. She is passionate about what they do. I invite you guys to come on up and tell us your story. Please give a phenomenally warm welcome to our sponsors, Jason and Jess.Help people work better by making work about people. Click To Tweet
Thank you. We’re here to tell a story, which is one of my favorite things to do. It’s why Jason hired me, to tell a story. That’s marketing. There are a number of words I heard that I love, one of them was in Veronica’s video. They said, “You’re safe.” We’re here to tell you about our culture at Leapgen. Not who we are and what we do. We tell that story every day. Our culture at Leapgen, when I heard that, it’s making people feel safe so they can do good work for you and for your customers. That’s why I work for Jason. His face? That’s our culture. He corrects me every time. I do it just to tease him. I work with Jason.
Thank you, Steve, for the nice introduction. I appreciate that. You just say work for me. The other thing that Steve’s been saying is calling us sponsors. This drives me crazy. I get to say this because I’m up on stage and he doesn’t have a microphone. For me, when we had the opportunity to get together, this to me is a thank you to Steve, and a thank you to everyone here for bringing the LEAP concept where it is. It’s been such a big part of my life and my success. We’re not sponsoring anything. It’s a big give back. I want to make sure that I said that because every time he’s a sponsor, I’m like, “Thank you because without this, I wouldn’t be here. Thank you.”
Jason, I’d love to start with something just to give people a taste of our culture since. We’re here to tell that story. By the way, Leapgen, as Steve said, is no coincidence. We are founded on the values of LEAP, Love, Energy, Audacity, and Proof. We infuse that in our own culture, in the experience we create for employees. We hope that that will infuse the experience of our clients and it proves radical results. We’ll tell you that story. The other thing I heard that I loved was being a raving fan of your clients. My job is to create raving fans out of our customers, but I love flipping that concept being a raving fan of your clients. Let’s start with a clearing. Will you do that and explain what that means?
One of the fascinating things that a great entrepreneur taught me way back was to adopt things that your companies or your customers do. I buy stock in every company that we work with. We work with about 150 organizations. If someone’s going to work with us, I believe to give back and buy with them. I wear all the clothes that they make. I’m wearing Little Lemon stuff, which is one of our big customers are fans. One of the things they do before every meeting is what’s called a clearing. Has someone heard of clearing before every meeting? When I first started working with Little Lemon, I was like, “You want a clearing?” They replied, “Yes, we want a clearing” They sit down and everyone turns to someone or gets in front of the meeting and says, “Here’s my clearing for the day.”
I thought it was a guy like everyone here. You guys have been around way too much, so we don’t have to do it. The concept of clearings is good. One of our speakers earlier has cleared about the things he’d been through. That’s a great learning. One of the clearings I have is amazing. I don’t know if any of you’ve watched what’s happened outside this room while the love has been in here. We’ve had the largest stock market decline in the history of the stock market. The stock market’s down over 1,150 points. The combination of the massive stock correction combined with every one of the clients we work with dealing with the virus, Nike, and another client of ours had 25,000 calls in from their employees, trying to figure out what to do into their HR organization. I said, “Burton’s in the back of the room.” TriNet that is our supplier. It has been the supplier of us in markets. Marcus Buckingham, our supplier now, they have to be dealing with the same thing. My clearing is that we all go through all these things.
We learned from one of the speakers about all the things going through. Love and this concept of love is our foundation. It grounds us in these moments when the outside world does weird stuff because it takes you back to something. Jess, I’m sorry, I don’t know where this falls in our “script,” which we never have.” The concept of the love values and the clearing in every one of our company meetings, which we do every two weeks, we start with what we call LEAP values.
If anyone uses Slack in their organization, we have a channel called LEAP. Every time I see a LEAP value, which we get 50 or so a day, of our employees giving LEAP values to each other, I’m like, “Shit, we owe Farber more money.” We’re using LEAP for everything. It’s a key component of what we do. I just ask you guys, for the three companies that I’ve had the opportunity to be CEO of and to then exit from and sell, it’s been such an amazing part of it that the companies that have bought us, have bought us because of our culture and the law of part more than the stuff that we’ve done. I wanted to make sure I threw that out there. The concept of raving fans. The concepts of love. The concept of doing it in business, not outside of business, all that stuff works. I hope that just like us being here and being able to sponsor a small part of your experience is proof of that.
What Leapgen does is consult in the HR space and specifically around HR technology. That part doesn’t matter, but I make the point that we work with HR leaders who are trying to make it easier for their workforce to do the best work that they can possibly do. We have a unique approach to that, and this is where our culture ties in. We talk differently. Nobody in HR technology, which is a very conservative space, focused on compliance. We work with people implementing technology who are often system administrators, they configure things. It’s a technical space. We come in and we talk about creating an experience and helping people work better by making work about people and helping them work more naturally, which means understanding your people and allowing them to be human.
It’s absolutely true, I have the easiest job in the world. I have to amplify the voice of a celebrity speaker in the HR space. He is well-known. He’s a thought leader in our space. Jason comes into companies and talks differently, which gives immediate pause like, “Why is he talking about knowing your people intrinsically?” It’s a very different way of talking. It’s also the reason I wanted to work for Jason. I’ve been in this industry for a long time.Loving what you do generates energy to do the audacious. Click To Tweet
How many of you are in HR? It’s so fascinating. I got into the thing by mistake. I was in Mumbai and I gave a speech in front of about 5,000 people. I asked the question, “How many of you were raised to be in HR?” the whole room was HR people. There’s only one person that raised their hand. I was like, “Cool, because I wasn’t. Somehow that’s my whole life.” Those people in HR, “How many of you were raised by our parents to be in HR and said, ‘When you grow up, I want you to be in HR?’”
I have children. Veronica and I were talking shit at the moment. They’re like, “What’s this HR? When I tell my friends that my dad does HR stuff, they’re like, ‘He fires people.’” It’s driving me crazy. Yet, I realized it’s one of the oldest professions in the world. The concept that’s important is there’s one person in Mumbai raised her hand, stood up, and said, “My parents didn’t raise me to be an HR, but my parents raised me to care about people.” I was like, “Wow.” First of all, that was only in India. Second of all, I’m like, “It’s so true.”
The concept of HR, the profession, people think about, “HR is calling me. I got a call from HR,” like it’s a negative. What’s happening is the industry is shifting to focus on if I get a call from HR, it’s HR helping me be a better leader, be a better worker, do my job better. That’s shifting fast. What happened is organizations, as they’ve realized there are no more jobs everywhere, all of a sudden, I’m fighting every day to keep the people I have. I have to pay more attention to them. The concepts of love and experience are more relevant than they’ve ever been in before. Before I was able to dispose of people. Now if you look at retail organizations, they can’t hire people in mid to upper-class communities to work retail jobs because the kids don’t want to do those jobs. It’s a weird change.
If you think about the concept of gig workers or you think about the concept of experience. Every customer we work with, I tell my kid, “Go on their site on your phone and try to apply for a job.” He was on Nike and did it. He was like, “I don’t know what to do.” I replied, “What do you mean you don’t want to?” He said, “There’s nowhere on here that says jobs.” The funny thing is I said, “It says careers.” He was, “I don’t want a career. I want a job.” I was, “He’s exactly right.” That’s HR speak that we’re all having to turn inside out and realize that the people we’re trying to talk to don’t speak that language. When I go in and say, “I’m having a baby.” I don’t say, “I’m having a dependent.” All of that world we live in is much more tied to experience, love, and energy than it ever has been. That’s where the work that Steve’s book has done fits so beautifully into how the world is shifting.
One of the things we do with organizations when we go in is to help them transform work. That’s what I mean about you talking. If you’re going to make a change and mean it for it to sustain itself, you do have to create a shift in mindset, which means you have to talk differently. You have to help people think differently. Doesn’t that take a long time? We are a for-profit business, doesn’t it take a long time to go in and flip the script like that?
It takes a long time. There are also very big sins of the past thing going on in the world. We saw the quote about engaged employees. The reason employees are not engaged is because we’ve all treated them as numbers. We haven’t made heads count. We’ve counted heads as a function. As we shift the function from counting heads to making heads count, what’s fascinating about that is I have to flip the script. I have to focus on the concept of changing the mindset of one of the oldest professions in the world. One of my favorite questions to ask of all of our customers is, “What year is it inside your company?” When you ask them that question, you should see the faces. “How many of you have used ten apps?” “How easy is it to get stuff done?” They’re like, “That’s simple but great.” I asked, “What happens when you get to work?” “We’ve still got a fax machine. We’ve got nine steps of approval.”
What happened? You go from here to here and all of a sudden, it changes. Guess what happens when all of a sudden you go into a company like my son Brad. What does he do? He is going to abandon it because “I’m not dealing with that.” I use language and I’m old. I use language that he doesn’t know what I’m talking about. We have to realize that we have to change that. It can’t be 2020 outside of work and 1990s or 2000 inside of work because that’s what the companies think differently.
I’ll share a story. We hired a person in our company from a huge company. I’m not going to name. He’s on TriNet. With TriNet being the backbone of what we do, it’s been fascinating because all of a sudden he’s like, “Working within Leapgen, it’s easier than working in this Fortune 10 company.” I was like, “Cool.” That’s because of TriNet that we were able to make that part easy so that we could focus on the love that he has to show to the “customers or fans” that we have.
I think some of the values that when you’re driving change and asking people to grow with you which involves growth mindset, getting out of your comfort zone, and to lead transformation in their organization, which is a lot of what we do, there are some key values that it requires. Number one, we come in and we have to inspire that. They’ve probably felt some inspiration which might be pain that caused them to come to the table to have this conversation. It’s one thing to listen, to feel compelled, to feel inspired, and motivated. There’s I think that transition that happens where they also have to trust you.
Trust is such an amazing word. They have to trust you and you have to trust them. Veronica had a hard time trusting that dude who was walking off the plank like just take a step. A lot of the people that we work with are afraid to take a step. HR has been doing things the way they’ve been doing it for a long time to think about transforming it. I truly believe this with every grain of my body that loving what you do, which generates energy to do the audacious, which is what the function needs. To show the proof, feel the proof, and to sell the proof is the key to transforming what the function does. The word audacious and HR don’t usually go hand in hand. When all of a sudden they ask HR people to think audaciously to fix that gap that I said about outside of work and what year is it inside, that has to be audacious. It has to be audacious thinking. It’s so fun to leverage the LEAP framework to get organizations to shift the way they think. Once again, I’m proud to be part of that.
This is where I get a little excited myself. I say I’ve been in the HR industry for a long time. Specifically, in talent acquisition recruiting. I’ve worked in a number of companies where my job was to help the employer brand and recruitment marketing strategies attract the best talent to an organization to help them with their hiring. I’ve said for a long time, “You can’t expect people to bleed for you for your company unless they feel some connection to what you’re doing.” We talked about what is a brand promise. I love that. I’ve said that for a long time too. Your employer brand is a promise you make. “Come and work for me. Do your best work for me. I’d like to be the recipient of your best work. If you do that, this is my employee value proposition. This is what you can expect in return. That’s a promise. let’s embark on this relationship together and it will be good for both of us.” That’s a trust scenario.
This is where I get super passionate. Help me create an experience, connect me to your mission, to your values, and to the company. Help me care, make me care. I get super passionate about employee experience, not just for other organizations because that was always my job to help organizations attract the best talent by making and keeping that promise. I expect that too. I’m an employee. I want to do my best work. What inspires me and that motivates me. It’s a passion. I’m truly one of those weird people, but I have a feeling I’m in the room where we’re all weird here. I get that sense. I love what I do. I love my work. Jason asks me almost every single morning, do I love what I’m doing? Sometimes he asks me to rate my day and it’s always eleven-teen.
I hope you all agree that life’s way too short to not do what you love to do. That’s a stupid answer. It might sound simple, and it might sound like, “You have to have the audacious gene to be able to think that way.” I was honored enough to be on the board of directors Kobe Bryant of a clothing company up in Los Angeles, where I live. That hit me hard, much harder than I planned on it. I was able to instill some of the LEAP methodologies into the Legends clothing company brand. We got through that. We got through what’s happened because of leveraging the foundation of loving the company that we’re doing work for in the service of why we were doing it. You have to love what you do.
I called Jason as the most heart forward leader I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. We’re sharing some pictures of our company, our employees, and our people that make amazing things happen with and in partnership with our customers. This is our Internal Slack Channel. I didn’t ask for permission, Jason. I shared our internal communications with each other. We trust each other. We’re almost entirely virtual. Our headquarter is in Manhattan Beach. There happened to be about five people that sit in an office in Manhattan Beach, but everybody else is virtual. I’m up in Minneapolis. Think about creating that kind of culture, crave-able culture, I call it, where there’s that much love and trust between each other. I had this conversation with someone. Doing that virtually is even more challenging, but not impossible. We use lots of tools.
I’d be happy to share them with you, guys. I’d love to share that story. That picture that had the hats that people had to the power of us. The reason they’re wearing those hats is because that’s a core foundation of our belief system. It’s also the name of all our every two-week company meeting. It’s You Do The Power Of Us. It’s dedicated, we don’t miss them. They have to happen. It’s more of a celebration of you, the people in the organization, and how you’re helping all of us to succeed than it is about anything else.
I’ll never forget the way I met Steve was through a shitty, terrible situation where I was at PeopleSoft at the time, and bought a company as I would love the effort to buy a company called JD Edwards. Some of you may have heard of a JD Edwards, some of you may not have. It was a huge acquisition in Denver. We closed the acquisition on June 1st, 2003. On June 5th, 2003, Oracle announced a hostile takeover of us. I’m sitting in the Hilton Hampton Inn in Austin, Texas Airport. I turn on CNBC and it says, “Oracle announces takeover of PeopleSoft.” I was like, “Excuse me? That’s the company I worked for. I have 800 people working for me that are all seeing that for the first-time watching CNBC.” It was a hostile takeover. It’s the weirdest thing how stuff happens in the Austin Airport.
There’s Steve’s book. I’m like, “I better pick up a book on leadership.” This is a true story. I’m like, “I’ve got 800 people who don’t know if they’re going to have a job tomorrow, including myself.” I don’t like reading leadership books, to be honest with you. However, I was, “This looks interesting.” That’s how I got onto this journey. Weird stuff happens. All of a sudden, I reached out to him in the old school, early Twitter or Facebook, I’m like, “We need to talk because I need some help.” That’s what started the relationship. PeopleSoft had a good culture, but if this would have been instilled in the beginning that when those bumps happen, it’s much easier to deal with them.
Our chief people officer was diagnosed with breast cancer. Part of our company is we have a program called LEAP For All, which is our social giving program. It was all about breast cancer awareness. We did that for Kim, who is our Chief People Officer. Now it’s all about mental health and helping employees give back to the mental health issue that I think is way too quiet in business. I myself have struggled with mental health issues since I was twenty years old. Yet, a lot of people aren’t afraid to say that stuff in the world. Anything that we can do to help bring that to life to me is once again, following the work about when Steve talks about love and business and Love is Just Damn Good Business. These are all aspects of how you can bring love into a business.
My favorite word is permission. To me, that has a lot to do with culture. You give people permission to be real, to be authentic, to show up, and be witnessed as their full authentic self. We have that culture at Leapgen. We use Slack. That’s one of the tools we use to stay connected and to be collaborative in communication with each other all day long. I can’t walk next door and knock on somebody’s office door and ask them a question. We use video chat and Slack. I share screenshots with timestamps and everything. In these messages, the way we show each other love on a regular basis is insane.
It’s almost unbelievable. People don’t believe that our culture is real. It seems like a dream. Not everybody experiences that. I realize how lucky I am, but I also think everybody should have that. We send each other messages hashtag. You can see all of these values hashtag everywhere. Love, Energy, Audacity, and Proof. We have a LEAPer values channel within Slack where all we do is give kudos and love to each other.Life's way too short to not do what you love to do. Click To Tweet
We have a company meeting or company huddle. We do it every other week, as Jason indicated. We start off by sharing LEAPer values. We already do it every day in Slack, we’re doing it constantly. It’s part of our culture. We start off with a quick, attaboys, and attagirl’s, and share our LEAPer values. It is not uncommon for us to be 40 minutes into a one-hour meeting. Jason said, “What’s on the agenda again?” We’re still doing LEAPer values.” We could go on and on giving each other congratulations. It’s witnessing each other. “I see what you did.”
The culture is the hard part. All the other stuff is the easy part. It truly is. If you’ve got a culture, it can bypass. You can do anything. I believe that if you have a good culture and you have the right people. You have people that believe in what you do. If we decided that we wanted to go into the business of selling countdown clocks that we’re way over on, I truly believe that our team would all be all in and say, “Let’s build the best countdown clock that buzzes your ass instead of just flashing at you when it’s time to get off the stage.” I think that culture serves everything else.
Some of these pictures are at our company offsite. We spent time at Lake Oconee in Georgia. We’re still a small enough company. We can do this. Our offsite and lots of big companies have big sales kickoffs and internal meetings. We did a company offsite where there was no agenda. We talked almost no business. We had Steve join us virtually to talk to us about love. Love was on the agenda. This is what we did. We sat around a bonfire. We fished off of a pontoon. We cooked meals together. We learned to each other. Who does that? I literally get this question because I’m not the storyteller for the company.
I’m out there loud and proud with our brand. I also believe employees are your best salespeople. They are your brand. Activate employees with your story. Give them permission to speak on your behalf. If they’re happy, that’s going to work out well for you. I’m out there, talking about the work we do. I get messages all the time. “Can I come and work for you, guys? You love what you do.” I go, “Yes, I do.” “What do you do, by the way?” They don’t even know what we do. They just know they want to be part of that. That’s culture.
What’s fascinating is you get an opportunity to learn every day from people. This campfire gig thing, all these pictures, that’s Allie’s idea. “I have an idea. Let’s build a campfire and get around and talk about.” I don’t even remember where it was. What was the game?
We played Hi-Lo Knew and that was Allie’s idea.
I never played Hi-Lo Knew over drinks. Everyone started crying by the end of it. I was, “Impactful.” Ross, one of our newest employees that came to us from another big organization out in the world. I’ll never forget my interview with him. Forty-five minutes in, I was like, “Stop telling me about your history. Tell me what you like to do. What sparks you? What are you passionate about?” He said, “I’m good at telemarketing.” I said, “Tell me what you want to do for fun and what you love to do.” If you have those people, you can do anything with it.
Apparently, we love bonfires. That was a message Ross wrote to Jason after that interview. It meant something to him because we talk differently. We talk about passion and love and I just want to know about you as a person. That’s cool stuff. We’re proud of the culture we’ve built. We do believe that when you build that kind of culture, people want to nuzzle up to it, including your clients. That’s the value we look for and we’re proud to share that story.
Closing two other things. “Oh, shit” moments, I try to create them all the time in the company. I hope you do in your life. It sparks things. They don’t have to be bad. They don’t have to be things that are deadly. Keep things energized, keep things fun. That’s what those oh-shit moments are. We’ve also adopted the greater than yourself mentality. In every one of our hiring processes, we have the greater than yourself mentality. We haven’t talked a lot about that, but how do we make sure that you’re hiring someone better than you? To look someone in the eye and say, “Hire someone better than you.” They’re like, “Won’t they eventually have my job?” That’s what we want. Those concepts are hard to get across.
I wanted to say from a LEAP standpoint, we named a company after this, Leapgen. When people always say, “We’re leaping to the next generation of work.” I’m like, “No. Love, Energy, Audacity, and Proof.” They’re like, “Seriously.” I’m like, “Yes. It turns out, love is just damn good business.” I say that weirdly. The concept of OS!M and the concept of greater than yourself, those are things that are instilled. Thank you for having us. Thank you for letting us “sponsor,” but more importantly, thank you, Steve, for letting us adopt your philosophies, bring them into three businesses and have them be a key driver of success. Thank you.
About Jason Averbook
Jason Averbook is the co-founder and CEO of Leapgen. He looks to broaden the executive mindset to rethink how to better design and deliver employee services that exceed the expectations of the workforce and the needs of the business. Leapgen is an emerging growth management consulting firm dedicated to raising the potential of HR and IT leadership as they strive to innovate their organization’s digital workforce experience.
Prior to co-founding Leapgen, Jason also co-founded Knowledge Infusion LLC in 2005 until 2012 when the company was sold to Appirio. After the acquisition was complete he served as the Chief Innovation Officer, where he was responsible for Appirio’s human capital management line’s groundbreaking vision and strategy. He held the position of CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Company (TMBC) from 2014 through 2016. Prior to founding Knowledge Infusion, he served as Senior Director of PeopleSoft Global Product Marketing at PeopleSoft, where he was responsible for the marketing including packaging and positioning for PeopleSoft’s flagship product line. Prior to PeopleSoft, he served as Director of Organizational Readiness at Ceridian Corporation, an HR and payroll outsourcing company.
He has more than 20 years of experience in the HR and technology industry working with leading companies around the world to help them transform their HR organizations into strategic partners. He has served as a Director of the International Association for Human Resource Information Management, Inc. Along with being cited in numerous publications such as BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal an industry thought leader in the HCM space, he has delivered keynote presentations for events worldwide including UNLEASH global conferences (formerly HR Technology World in Amsterdam, London, Paris, and America), The Conference Board, Society of HR Management in the US and India, People Matters Conference in India, LEHRN, IHRIM Atlanta, and LRP Publications run events including HR Technology the US, Singapore, and China as well as more than 300 other large group presentations for HR and technology audiences. He currently is acknowledged as one of the top 3 thought leaders globally on the future of work and listed in the top 100 leaders globally influencing the future of work and the HR function. His previous book, HR From Now to Next was published in 2014 and is used in over 19 universities around the world today. Jason holds a BA and an MBA from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and graduated from Bloomington Jefferson in 1987.
About Jess Von Bank
Jess Von Bank
Head of Marketing, Leapgen
Jess Von Bank is a 17-year industry veteran and impassioned evangelist of the modern employee experience. As both a former recruiting practitioner and an expert in bringing HCM vendor solutions to market, Jess looks to broaden the executive mindset to better design and deliver a workforce experience that exceeds the expectations of talent and the needs of the business. Jess is the Head of Marketing for Leapgen, a digital transformation company shaping the future of work, and runs FuelWork, a global community HR and workforce experience professionals. Jess is an active community emcee and ambassador for women’s and girls’ organizations in Minneapolis, where she raises her 3 daughters.
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