In today’s episode, David Folwell welcomes back one of our favorite guests, Vinda Souza, CMO at RefAssured. Tuning in you’ll hear us cover a range of topics relevant to leaders within the staffing industry, from the value of DEI and competitive differentiation to the causes and antidotes to burnout. We talk with Vinda about the importance of diversity when it comes to problem-solving and recognizing blind spots, before learning why DEI is essential for better decisions and happier cultures. We also discuss the root causes of burnout, suggested solutions, and how to make hiring decisions that lead to healthy, supportive teams. Join us for Vinda’s insights on DEI, burnout, and getting company culture right.


[0:01:14] DF: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today, I’m super excited to be joined by Vinda Souza. Vinda, super excited to have you here today. Second time guest, and one of our most listened-to episodes previously. For our audience today, we’re going to be discussing topics relevant to all Staffing industry leaders ranging from strategic planning, DEI, and competitive differentiation, all the way to burnout and corporate culture. 

Vinda, I’ve already said it, but you’re truly one of my favorite podcast guests. I’m very excited for this conversation. So, with that, let’s go ahead and jump in to kick things off in our normal style. Could you just tell us a little bit about your background for those that do not know who you are in the industry? 

[0:01:54] VS: Sure, Dave. Thanks so much for having me on your podcast. I loved it the last time, I’m sure I’m going to love it again. All right, so a little bit about my background. Well, I am a PR person, first and foremost, I started my career in agency PR, but I was actually an English major at Tufts. I’ve always been a writer, but then I decided to parlay that into the art of creative persuasion, which is how I describe PR. 

Then I ended up doing for tech companies of all sizes on the agency side, and then decided to go client side. That led me to ad tech, and then to Bullhorn, where I spent 10 glorious years. Then I was head of marketing for a dual-sided digital marketplace, and now joining the staffing industry for the first time. It’s interesting to be on that side of the equation and it’s been fascinating. So, that’s a little bit about my background. As far as how I describe myself in a nutshell, I’d say I’m a chronically underestimated overthinker. I write great stories. I study marketing best practices, I’ve got strong business instincts and a pretty intense personality, as I’m sure you’ve figured out. 

[0:03:07] DF: A great one at that. I want to jump into DEI, something that you and I have had multiple conversations around. I think you have some deep insights on this. So, from your perspective, why does DEI matter? 

[0:03:19] VS: Sure. DEI matters, because human beings matter, dignity matters, respect matters, wisdom matters. I think a lot of businesses don’t necessarily give quite enough credit to the reality that DEI leads to more money. It leads to better decisions and happier cultures. It’s the right thing to do whether you’re purely coin-operated or you’ve lived a life of service and really for everyone in between, because DEI matters if you’re about to step in quicksand. 

It helps when someone is looking at the hole you’re about to step into from a slightly different direction and can yell out to you, “Hey, you’re about to step in quicksand.” It matters – the day relationships are the most valuable currency we have, especially in this industry, cultivating them, nurturing them, protecting them and unlocking them is the key to success. That’s really why DEI matters. DEI matters, because people matter. 

[0:04:18] DF: It’s the human thing to do. I think when we touched base last time, you were talking about how not only does it matter, but the ability to avoid blind spots is such a critical component of it. Could you tell us a little bit about how you see DEI contributing to overcoming blind spots? 

[0:04:35] VS: Sure. I think DEI is an allegory perhaps for broader decision-making calculus. Let’s think about it. When you have a problem, who do you usually turn to for advice? Do you ask somebody who is exactly like you, who thinks exactly like you, and probably shares the vast majority of your opinions? Probably not. You would likely ask somebody you trust who will broaden your horizons and think about things from a different angle, so that you’re looking at the same issue with a 360-degree view as opposed to staring in one sliver of a direction, right? 

We’ve all heard that analogy of different parts of the elephant, like you can see the tail, and somebody can see the trunk. Together, you can see way more of the elephant than you could apart. If that’s not how you approach problem-solving. That’s probably a little bit concerning. So, that again, is a testament to the power of diversity of thought, and opinion, and experience, and helping a team make better, more profitable decisions, because they can see around an issue as opposed to just one dimension of it. 

[0:05:45] DF: I know in this most recent downturn, I think you had mentioned that we’ve seen these initiatives go by the wayside for some organizations, where they’re not putting as much effort into it or financially backing it. What do you think is behind that, and what do you think people are doing right, right now, and what do you think they’re getting wrong? 

[0:06:01] VS: Yeah. Well, I mean, we’ve seen a lot of headlines around cuts in DEI and related disciplines, which is somewhat disheartening. I think the unfortunate reality is that in times of economic stress and uncertainty, people panic, right? They jettison anything viewed as discretionary. Those things that get gutted the quickest are things that are maybe more predicated on long-term, uncertain outcomes rather than short-term protection of revenue or maybe they’re programmatic investments that have an indeterminate window for return and operators feel as though they’ve run out of time to forecast. So, then it’s easiest just to let them go or pen them. 

Thinking about how DEI helps make better decisions in practice, not just in the abstract. At a company I worked out long ago that I really, really like everybody there. I was in this meeting. We were reviewing a video that we had produced. It was with a phenomenal group of producers who I am friends with. They weren’t really like me physically per se. They were Caucasian males. As we were reviewing the footage, I noticed that there wasn’t a single person of color in any of, in the entire video. 

I flagged this. Then the lead producer was flabbergasted and he’s like, “Oh, my gosh. I had no idea and I feel embarrassed and I’m so sorry.” I’m like, “There’s no need to apologize. You weren’t doing it to be nefarious or ill intentions. You didn’t notice it, because you didn’t inherit my see anything that seemed out of the ordinary. I was watching it and looking for people who looked like me and I didn’t see it. That’s the reason I flagged it.” Right? It’s not that I had some magical superpower. I just happened to be looking for something that maybe you weren’t looking for, because it’s not part of your lived experience, right? But I do know that it is part of the experience of our customers, and our prospects, and our potential future employees, and all sorts of very important groups for whom we want to win hearts and minds, right? 

That was about keeping all of us honest about things that we might not immediately think of. Look, I’m not the authority on DEI or any wizard at this. I make plenty of mistakes in this area myself rather frequently. Looking at areas of my privilege, I was very fortunate to grow up and never have to worry about money, or having food on the table, or not being able to afford vacations, or do the things I wanted, or get new toys. 

I was very lucky in that regard. I have been friends and in relationships with folks who weren’t from that type of background. When I go out to dinner and I just order the most expensive thing on the menu without looking at it or thinking about the cost, that’s a blind spot right there. I’m doing something that’s very classist, right? It’s not particularly self-aware. We all have these areas in which we can improve. It’s incumbent upon our desire for a diversity of opinion to surround ourselves with people who can indeed keep us honest. 

[0:09:32] DF: I feel like awareness of our inadequacies is like one of the most critical components for growth, and leadership, and showing up and it’s also so hard to have without having that perspective. Those are two really great stories around that. 

[0:09:47] VS: It’s a form of how I make team decisions too, right? 

[0:09:50] DF: Yeah, absolutely. How do you approach it when it comes to hiring for your team? 

[0:09:56] VS: Yeah. I’m very proud of the teams that I’ve hired over the years. I think that’s one of the things that I’m better than average at doing, which is assembling really high-performing teams. I aim to hire people who aren’t like me, who are good at things that I’m not good at and who keep me humble. I hire people willing to learn and people who I can learn from. My teams have complementary and pretty different skill sets, but we all have the same work ethic, which means we all grind. 

We have a quality that I ascribe as, unpretentious confidence. That means that we know what good looks like, we’ve lived it before at other companies. We can see where the puzzle pieces should go to make the broader tapestry. We think clearly and we produce just an utterly prolific volume of content and material that will age well. I also expect my team to be calm under pressure and learn the choreography. 

I think a lot of producing great content and fantastic campaigns and great events means, it’s a choreographed dance in a way. We all should know the steps and we all should know where we are on stage and it’s important that it’s a well-oiled machine. I build teams like this, not just because I’ll benefit from a more balanced decision making, and so the company that I work for, but also, and here’s where I’m going to out myself as not being particularly well-versed in sports. The only sport I watch pretty regularly is cricket. Also, because no winning is made up of just fast bowlers. 

If I hired a team of people exactly like me, I mean, just think about it Dave, that would be a pretty sarcastic and exhausting team, right? We might write the next great American novel or choreograph a heck of an industry conference and maybe really, we’ve boost, the passion mode record sales, but it just wouldn’t be quite the same results you’re used to if we were all exactly the same. That diversity in skill set, and attitude, and approach to problem-solving is what makes for the healthiest and most profitable dynamic. 

[0:12:06] DF: Yeah, absolutely. I’m just going back to the blind spots. I think the stories that you told about that, really resonated with me the last time we talked. It was just like they’re blind spots. You don’t know they’re there unless somebody else can point them out for you. You don’t know the mistakes you’re making if somebody around you can say, here’s something to be aware of, here’s something to think about. So, I think it’s just such a critical component. What are some actions that you think leaders could take today to actually make a difference in this? 

[0:12:32] VS: Sure. I mean, I think the most critical thing to do always is focusing on swim lanes and org culture that are designed to capitalize and energize the whole person and to really understand the skills and diverse experiences and perspectives that individuals bring to the table, because that speaks not just to how they’re going to perform in their role in the short term, but how you can flex them in the long term into different broader roles and more strategic roles and all sorts of things, right? 

Really understanding the capacity, interests and aptitude of the people on your team and in your organization from all sorts of backgrounds allows you to empower them for the future and also build a better performing internal and potentially external workforce, right? I mean, that’s very much the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It isn’t just attracting diverse talent, because any company can attract diverse talent with a bunch of songs and dances. Actually, giving them a seat at the table and making them feel like they belong and that they have a voice that matters and wanting to engage deeply with the company they work at. I mean, that is much more of an art form. 

[0:13:52] DF: I love that. With that, how are you seeing organizations measure this, or how should agencies measure the success in these initiatives? 

[0:14:01] VS: I think part of the issue and areas of opportunity with DEI metrics in general is that instead of viewing it as an arbitrary bar to cross or something that’s almost so ambitious as to be unattainable, that we have to conform to, I think that if we all approached it as looking at DEI as something magnificent for the health of a business, right, that would essentially mean that our core KPI for diversity, equity, inclusion is revenue growth, right? But then, I think on a more micro level, employee NPS is an incredible metric, right, especially when anonymous and done thoughtfully. 

If you’re doing eNPS measurements, especially of recent hires or of diverse hires, and then you can figure out and benchmark your inclusion levels, I mean, that goes a long way. Also, I think the strongest talent metric in general is always retention and reducing your volunteer attrition of top performers in a nine box, right? If you do nine box exercises and you can figure out who your real A players are just making sure that they want to stay in the game, right? I mean, I think especially in tech companies, it’s just such a common rubric. It’s a very thoughtful and powerful one. 

[0:15:18] DF: Do you know of a lot of staffing agencies that are actually doing the nine boxes? Is that something you’re seeing frequently or? 

[0:15:23] VS: I don’t have too broad of a history within staffing to be a credible authority on that, but I can say it’s a very, very commonly used rubric in tech. I’ve always very much appreciated it. 

[0:15:37] DF: That’s great. I know with this podcast for all of our listeners, we’re going through a lot of different topics here, but we’re going to jump into the next one of competitive differentiation and brand identity. I know you’ve got a lot of thoughts around this as well. How do you define competitive differentiation? 

[0:15:51] VS: Competitive differentiation is what your company provides that no other company provides. Period. End of story. It can be something absolute like a software code base, or it can be ratios or incremental benefits, like quality of service or low price. If it’s precarious or transitory, and if your competitors can make just minor moves to catch up to you, you’ve got a real problem. It has to be provable, unique, and ultimately resonant with the audiences that you’re trying to serve. 

[0:16:31] DF: How can agencies use their brand identity for competitive differentiation? 

[0:16:35] VS: Well, these are two of my favorite topics being a brand marketing and industry marketing person. I’ll tell you this, and I get super frustrated, because I’m a word girl, right? I have a way with words and that’s my jam. Silly reductive, rinse and repeat, brand slogans don’t mean anything. I get headaches now from rolling my eyes so hard, when I see taglines that were clearly generated by ChatGPT, or someone without a clear understanding of not only a company’s secret sauce, but the broader dynamics of the competitor landscape, and the industry at large, and customer value props, and ICPs. I mean, this is all critical to being a credible brand ambassador. 

Your brand is an articulation of the combined tangible and emotional impact you make on the lives of the people you serve. Sure, yeah, someone’s pocketbook, their wallet is a big part of their life. I’m not going to say that we’re doing this altruistically. A brand is a mark, right? That’s the definition of the word brand, you’re thinking of like branding something with a hot iron. It’s an imprint. It’s an imprint on people’s minds, on their hearts and on their behaviors, and it’s something that shouldn’t rub off easily, right? If you think of it from that standpoint, having a truly unique and emotionally resonant brand identity can absolutely correspond to a unique competitive differentiation. 

[0:18:07] DF: How are, I mean, when you talk about it from that perspective what do you see in terms of firms going out there and actually doing this well? 

[0:18:15] VS: Yeah. I mean, I would say the agencies that are doing the best job of this are the ones that are super consistent in their messaging and in identifying their value, right? They’re consistent in describing how they’re different. They can prove out that difference with data and a track record of performance. It’s not just vaporware. Those same agencies also tend to have a celebrated culture. Brand ambassadors that are not only their own employees, but also their customers, right, who can reinforce the quality and the lived values to their own networks. That’s really the definition of earned marketing in a landscape where product market fit is mission critical to survival, and then ultimately thriving as well. 

[0:19:10] DF: With that, I mean, you start the market fit. How should agencies adapt to avoid being perceived as commodifying people? 

[0:19:17] VS: I remember when you and I spoke a couple of years ago, we brought this topic up and it’s been an age-old definition problem for the staffing industry as a whole, right? I know that we were even talking way back, what about, should the staffing industry consider rebranding itself into something like workforce solutions or what have you. I know that there’s varying opinions on that. Sometimes that can be a bit of a double-edged sword, but the whole concept of product market fit is really the fundamental difference between tech and staffing, in my opinion, in that show. As I mentioned, I spent almost my entire career in tech PR and software marketing, and that’s my default setting. 

I recall some conversations with some of my friends who I think are your friends as well who run a company called RefAssured. RefAssured provides an automated reference-checking platform for staffing companies. So, when talking about the branding opportunity they have, it’s very cool, because it’s all about taking this extraordinary product and increasing awareness of it, because the code base is unique. 

With staffing agencies, there is usually no code base per se. While my brain tends to veer in the direction of celebrating how unique and offering is, staffing companies in general have the added challenge of not just demonstrating differentiation from competitors, but also proving that they excel at the many fundamental KPIs that both clients and candidates expect them to, because that’s the complexity of staffing, right, like they’re not just serving customers and prospects. They’re serving candidates. 

I mean, many different constituency groups. They’re held to a super high standard and it’s a mammoth level of complexity. I think that’s one of the reasons why so many eyes are on the really forward-looking staffing organizations right now, because they’re doing something that’s really different and it’s energizing to a traditionally analog industry. This idea of product market fit is really being born out right now on the staffing landscape. I’m eager, and excited, and curious, and deeply engaged to see how we evolve that. 

[0:21:28] DF: Things are transitioning fast and from a digital perspective. I think, you and I the last time we talked about this, you brought up the idea of, let’s just not call people supply. 

[0:21:36] VS: Yeah. Oh, gosh, yeah. I know. A company who shall remain nameless, definitely referred to, you know, to tell that I do not work for that refer to talent as supply, or candidates as supply, and I was like, “Oh, my goodness. Don’t do that. Please don’t ever be that reductive to somebody who has a pulse, and a family, and interests, and passions.” 

[0:22:05] DF: With all of this and talking about the product market fit and the importance of standing out from the crowd. What steps as an agency owner for the audience that’s listening, what steps would you recommend they take to start differentiating their brand in a meaningful way? 

[0:22:18] VS: Yeah. So, this is going to seem maybe a little bit surprising on Orthodox, but it all really starts with alignment, getting aligned internally. That’s the first step. If you get everybody on the same page about your corporate identity, who are you now? Who are you not? Who do you want to be as a company in one, five, 10, 15, 20 years? Whatever time frame you’re operating under, crystallize that vision and try to stick to it. Also, understand and enumerate the runway you have before your closest competitors catch up to you, right, and start biting at your heels. 

Here’s another important thing. Don’t just identify and understand your strengths, but name your weaknesses, because if you can’t acknowledge what you’re not good at, I just don’t understand how can you solve for it. I mean, sure, it can be tempting from a branding perspective to be a giant, like glitter party. I guarantee you your competitors are highlighting your defects loudly and proudly to mutual prospects at every given opportunity. So, know my enemy and then eliminate it. That’s why when I see companies maybe going the outsourced route for cultivating and articulating a brand identity, like through hiring third-party agencies and such, I give it side-eye, like hiring an agency who views a branding project as a finite scope of time, and then stays a mile wide and an inch deep. It just doesn’t really do it for me, to be honest. 

I think that the people who should be running the show on cultivating a brand identity on a corporate level really have to, A, understand the product offering. B, understand the company. C, understand its values. Then D, really understand the industry dynamics at large, like the masters of the space that you’re in. Otherwise, the messaging just turns out totally generic and forgettable. Then the people whose energy you’ve been trying to galvanize feel disconnected from your company. Then it just becomes some sort of like weird, brand-purpose bingo, and you’ve totally –

[0:24:33] DF: I think the last time you said that ChatGPT damage.

[0:24:37] VS: That is very uncanny valley with ChatGPT, right? I read a lot of these LinkedIn posts that are clearly written from – ChatGPT and it is super uncanny valley. I’m just like, this all sounds similar. It sounds ridiculous and I’m getting a splitting headache reading it, right? It’s just like – it’s crying, it’s withering into a dead flower. 

[0:25:03] DF: One of the things you just talked about, the differentiating your brand in terms of messaging. It reminded me of focusing on the weaknesses and reminded me of my time at GE. I have this professor that came in and did a session for us, Frances Frei, who wrote a book called, Uncommon Service.

[0:25:18] VS: Sure, yeah.

[0:25:19] DF: She talked about, and GE at that time had this thing, it was like, “All right, you’ve got all the stoplights. You’ve got to make them all green. We’ve got to be green across the board.” She’s like, “This is impossible. If you do this, you’re nothing, like this isn’t – you’re not going to be the lowest priced and the highest quality ever. Stop trying to be. Acknowledge what you’re bad at.” Her whole thing was, use the weaknesses to your advantage to differentiate yourselves. She talked about IKEA and companies that are like IKEA’s never going to say it’s easy to put our stuff together, and they’re fine with it. They’re doing great. 

[0:25:51] VS: It’s interesting to bring that up, because again, that whole green light scenario speaks a lot to what we talked about with DEI as well, right? If the bar is unachievably high. I think a lot of people just won’t engage. They won’t even want to play if they think they’re going to fail, right? The goal shouldn’t be perfection. The goal should be progress. The goal should be making incremental improvements and having your heart in mind in the right place. 

[0:26:23] VS: That makes sense. Also, just to – I mean, doing the right things, making progress and then also acknowledging not on the DEI so much, but from a brand and perspective, like it’s okay to be bad at some things. It’s okay to not be the top and the greatest component of this. One of the other areas that I know probably everybody listening to this has felt or is seen in their organization field today is burnout. That relates to corporate culture. It relates to this post-Covid world where we all sit in front of our cameras and zoom with each other all day, every day. I know you had some interesting thoughts around this. I think you called it the white-collar recession. How are you seeing burnout manifest in the staffing industry? 

[0:27:05] VS: Yeah. I mean, less so in the staffing industry, but I can very credibly talk about burnout in the tech industry, right, because my LinkedIn feed is a sea of green and it’s really, looking bleak, to be honest. It has been for probably going on two years now. I remember I talked a lot about the great resignation back at the beginning of COVID and how it was more of a great reckoning as candidates became more empowered. I think we’ve now collectively seen the dynamics swing pretty firmly in the opposite direction. 

[0:27:38] DF: Yeah. 

[0:27:39] VS: There just aren’t a lot of jobs out there in tech or tech-adjacent industries. Then that’s causing people to feel like they have limited options and doubling down in a way that maybe isn’t particularly in tune with where they want to be or where they want to go. In this particular economic environment, especially in tech, where we’ve just seen nothing but layoffs, right? So, if you open jobs, people feel stuck. It’s interesting. I’ve heard the term, and I feel like we all have microaggressions, right, to describe small behaviors that undermine a person’s sense of identity and self-esteem within the vantage point, usually of marginalized communities. 

I’m going to coin a new term that isn’t going to catch on, because it’s neither pithy, nor particularly – but micro disengagement, like I’m seeing a lot of subtle elements of burnout culture in this strange environment for tech. Micro disengagement, in my opinion, is little signs that demonstrate frustration and pulling back, right? 

[0:28:41] DF: Yeah. I think with the environment that we’re from a tech perspective, I was reading an article last night, I would tell that flat is the new up and down is the flat. 

[0:28:52] VS: Right. Exactly. Right. It’s the worst version of 40 is the new 30. Yeah, unfortunately. 

[0:28:59] DF: One of the themes that we talked about, you just mentioned quiet quitting or the microaggressions. We also talked about quiet quitting. Could you tell us a little bit about what that is and how it impacts organizations? 

[0:29:11] VS: Yeah. It’s so funny. A few years ago, when I first saw the term quiet quitting. I was convinced it was manufactured by business press publications just to get a few clicks. I was like, “Good job. It’s very catchy.” I think, especially with what we’ve seen happen to tech in the past couple of years, I truly do believe it. I think what’s important to do first is maybe define burnout, which, of course, I’m not an organizational psychologist, so this is my random definition as I personalize it, but from what I’ve observed, burnout culminates in quiet quitting. People sometimes synonymize burnout with being overworked. I just don’t view those as the same thing. 

The people who told me that they’re burned out aren’t really afraid of work. They’re absolutely productive powerhouses. Plenty of people who are capable of doing a ton of work are still happy and optimistic about their work lives, despite being overworked. Burnout happens when there is a disconnect between the work a person’s doing and the value they derive from it, and the impact that they feel it makes. So, that’s why burnout frequently happens when people are, for instance, micromanaged or not given credit for their ideas, or placed on projects, or assignments that feel low value, or tactical, or ineffectual, or when they do work that isn’t used at all, right? That generally leads to burnout, right?

Burnout is about a disconnect between your own values and maybe the perceived values of an organization, or a group, or an industry, or a sector. That’s why I think we’re seeing so much of it right now is because people feel a need to be working as hard as they possibly can, but they may not know to what end, right, or for what purpose. I also, frankly, as an extrovert can sense this from a lot of my extroverted friends as well that remote work while being absolutely a blessing as far as flexibility and caregiving responsibilities, and so many other parameters, without a doubt, it’s been positive. 

It also comes at a bit of an emotional cost, right? Because I think there is something you gained when you were in an office environment and being around people in a physical space, just engaging with them in a way that was more casual and less focused on output, a little bit more human, right? I don’t think there’s a lot of time for small talk on Zoom calls and we benefit from that. It’s very nurturing and energizing to have that ability to just exist as human beings without having to deliver against something. 

[0:31:59] DF: Yeah. I think back to the Zoom happy hours during COVID. I think we’re still doing them at times, but it’s just after you’re on Zoom for six hours a day, the idea of getting back on to casually, or like try to have a drink on Zoom is just not the same. It’s not an exciting part of the day at this point, and I think that that is definitely hurts with the connection. What are some of the other ways that you see how can people fight against burnout? What are some of the steps people can take? 

[0:32:29] VS: Right. This sounds counterintuitive, but it isn’t, which is in really high-performance cultures. I don’t think burnout is quite as acute of a problem, because performance management, it has a bit of a reputation for being hard-charging or metrics and numbers-based, but ultimately, when you’re surrounded by a player’s doing a player work, it’s deeply empowering, right? I don’t really witness burnout too often, and the harder-charging cultures of high performance that I’ve studied. 

I see it more often in cultures where poor performance is tolerated, because then whatever top talent is in that organization realizes that maybe their effort won’t be visible or rewarded, and then there’s no point in trying to be the best. That’s when you see things manifest like the quiet quitting phenomenon, right, where people do the bare minimum to retain their jobs without having any desire to be promoted, or to advance, or to lead from the front, or to get more responsibilities. 

[0:33:33] DF: Yeah. Why do you think that – I mean, you’re saying that it’s basically, because people are seeing, hey, everybody around me is doing well, everybody around me is a high performer, there’s good work that’s happening, I’m excited about that. What else is about having performance management in place? That’s the cornerstone for keeping an organization’s culture healthy. 

[0:33:51] VS: Right, I mean, ultimately, I think that the ultimate thing is exiting the paper pushers, right? It’s stacking the deck with people who are strategic doers, and that means that it’s not just better for shareholder ROI and key metrics like employee productivity and revenue for employee, but having a strong performance management culture just leads to more seemingly financial health one would have to imagine, but also just a happier culture overall, because people do the best quality work when they’re surrounded by people who are as smart, and as talented, and as hardworking as they are, right? 

I think of it as a regatta, a boat race, right? Instead of splashing water in people’s faces, you’re in this super-fast regatta where each boat’s motion makes the boats around it even faster and reduces friction. You’re all moving at warp speed, because you’re working together and you’re rowing in the same direction. We do not have that clear culture of performance and super high expectations, then you basically send a message that mediocrity will be tolerated. In some cases, even rewarded, right? Because we all have examples in our past careers where we know people who failed forward, so to speak, and that doesn’t feel good for the people who don’t expect to get by that way. 

I’m not saying necessarily we overcorrect and have an unattainably high-performance culture, because then that’s the opposite thing, right, like the beatings will continue until morale improves. We don’t want to encourage that type of hustle culture that’s predicated almost entirely on artifice. But I do think that holding people to a standard of performance that is attainable, but still ambitious, empowers everybody to be their best selves and also reinforces the belief that the people who are on a team are all committed to really doing value at work. 

[0:35:53] DF: Yeah. It’s one of the common themes I’ve had, with conversations I’ve had with industry leaders and advisors in the last couple of months is like, if you have poor performers, it can poison the well. I’ve heard multiple times, if you have a bunch of A players and you bring on a C player, you’re most likely going to have a few of those A players become B players, because they’re going to see, well, this is what gets by and it doesn’t actually matter that I’m putting in this much time and effort, but could you just elaborate on what you’ve seen from this impact that having poor performers get by can have on an organization? 

[0:36:25] VS: Yeah. I’ve used this term before recently with you and we’ve talked about it in the past as well, like this concept of doers versus paper pushers, right? There are people who roll up their sleeves and they just get stuff done. They’re not loud about it, right? They don’t have to make a giant fuss or a big scene about it. They just do it. You ask them to do something and they do it. They’re smart, they’re clear, they’re quick, they’re thoughtful and they are results-oriented. It doesn’t mean that they fire from the hip or that they do things without thinking or that they move fast and break things, which is a mantra that I know was super popular at one point, but I just never would – seemed unbelievably counterintuitive, right? 

I know that again, that’s part of that whole hustle culture that I mentioned before of the startup stereotype where you’re just like, oh, fail fast, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m like, okay, but there are real ramifications of doing that, right? There are real impacts that you have on people’s lives when you repeatedly do that and it’s an almost toxic level. But I think it’s really around about surrounding yourself with people who know what good looks like, who are committed to a company, and to a mission, and to a group of stakeholders and will just create things. 

They are builders, they are doers, they are people who generate work product, like it’s just, it sounds so simple, but when you have that, ultimately you eliminate entire layers of extraneous intervention that would seemingly cloud the quality of the final product. You just, you simplify the calculus in such a way that things just move a lot quicker, and a lot smoother, and just get stuff done, right, like I will give full credit to a woman I work with who I admire greatly, because this is her phrase, it is not mine. Her name is Roxanne. She mentioned saying that she has to me a few weeks ago and I just – I love it and it’s like, we’ve spent enough time admiring the problem, right? I just love that, because it’s so true.

There’s a lot of people who just admire the problem and just talk for the sake of it and it’s because they either don’t want to do the work or they don’t feel like they can or it’s just easier to delegate or whatever it may be, but ultimately, I think everybody has their secret sauce, their area of peerless skill and passion and it’s so important to bring that to the forefront, to create that culture of performance. 

[0:39:11] DF: I absolutely love that thought. I feel like I’ve been in organizations where there’s, even my organizations, where we’ve spent way more time than any human should talking about the problem, talking around the problem versus just attacking the problem. Also, it’s just important to execute and move forward. Last question I got for you here is just, how do you celebrate and leverage the outliers with any organization to drive innovation and differentiation? 

[0:39:40] VS: Yeah. Not to be sort of Malcolm Gladwell here with this whole treatise and outliers, because far from it. I had told you before that I view everything from a tech marketing lens, right? I think that everyone is part of an unwritten focus group and that’s why I think PR people are so powerful, because we are the masters of understanding the optics of a situation. Also, anticipating when a message is either going to land well or poorly and what people might be thinking. 

When you listen actively to the people you work with and the ideas that surround you, ultimately, you enrich your own decision-making process, because people’s perceptions are an education in and of themselves, right, thematically, substantively, inherently. When someone you trust with good instincts doesn’t like get a decision or a campaign idea or strategy, you should probably ask why, and then consider iterating, or investigating, or just circling around that strategy a little bit more, right? That’s the whole concept of celebrating and leveraging the outliers. 

It’s not just the outliers as people, but it’s the outliers in whether or not something is going to succeed, right? What are the differing opinions? Play a situation out. What could go wrong with this, right? That’s as important of a question to ask is what will go right? Because sure, you could make the argument that, oh, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and nobody wants to be a negative Nancy, but you really have to anticipate what might go south in order to make the most thoughtful and hopefully the most profitable decision, right, like anticipate not only the opportunities but also the challenges in a scenario. Then you’ll be well-informed and hopefully not particularly surprised by any result that may occur. Then can work past problems that arise, so that you get to where you’re trying to go as quickly and seamlessly as possible. 

[0:42:00] DF: Well, Vinda, this has been a spectacular conversation today. I feel like the insights that you shared, as always, for all of you that are listening, I think the importance of DEI, the importance of thinking about your strategy and how you’re differentiating your brand are critical things that are more important today than ever. Thank you so much for joining. 

[0:42:17] VS: Always a pleasure, Dave. Thank you very much for having me.