EPISODE 66: CEO Matt Snow sits down with John Locke to discuss how we aren't going back to how things were prior to the pandemic. Things are moving faster, which means that we need to be adaptable, and accountable to our people. Open communication and a willingness to accept change will be crucial to success in a continually evolving workforce.
[00:00:09] JL: Welcome to today's edition of DHG's GrowthCast. I'm your host, John Locke. At DHG, our strength lies in our technical knowledge, our industry intelligence, and our future focus. We understand business needs and are laser-focused on company goals. In this ever-changing world, DHG's GrowthCast provides insights and thought-provoking conversations on topics and trends that address growth opportunities and challenges in the current and future marketplace. Thanks for joining us as we discuss tomorrow's needs today.
[00:00:42] ANNOUNCER: The views and concepts expressed by today's panelists are their own and not those of Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP. Always consult the advice of your legal and financial professional before taking any action.
[00:00:58] JL: In this episode of GrowthCast, we are going to focus on what we've learned over the past year working through the pandemic and how we can continue implementing these learnings into the future to better the workplace. I can't think of a better person to dive into this topic than our guest today, DHG's CEO, Matt Snow. Matt, welcome to GrowthCast.
[00:01:19] MS: Thank you, john. It's great to be here.
[00:01:22] JL: Well, I'm so excited to spend time with you today to talk about a topic that I know is very near and dear to your heart, after what we've all been through. When I'm thinking about words that come to mind, the first two words that really come to mind are adaptability and accountability and the roles these two have played and will continue to play as we reenter the offices, which I know is in the very near future. So accountability and adaptability really are two skills that we have to sharpen during the pandemic, and we really did that. Now, we have to predict how we'll continue to need to do so as our physical offices and ways of working with each other may never go back to how they were before March of 2020. I think you'd agree.
Matt, when you think about adaptability, accountability, what do you think has changed the most in this past year? Is there something that surprised you?
[00:02:14] MS: Yeah. Well, there's been a lot of things that have changed in the past year. But on these two topics, these two words that you've really focused in on here, it's very interesting. I look at the accountability cycle, I'll call it. Think of a plan, perform, evaluate, repeat, like rinse-repeat type cycle. If you think about that cycle, I think most of us throughout our careers have operated under really an annual career. I'll call it accountability cycle. That cycle is now anywhere from weeks to three months at a time, and I've had this conversation with so many people where, gee, it seems like three months ago was a year ago.
That's really what we're thinking about here. Accountability really happens on a much shorter cycle now, based on what we've been through over the course of the last year, which really speaks to how well we adapt. So these two topics are very related and I think are interesting to talk about in the context of coming out of the pandemic.
[00:03:21] JL: When you think about these two words, and you think about implementing some kind of a strategy around this, how do you actually know if something is working or not in such a quick timeframe because I know it might just seem like it evaporates?
[00:03:37] MS: Yeah, it does. The time does seem to fly by, and we have to make decisions without having all the data that we're used to having. The luxury of sitting back and having every single piece of possible outcome, the data, and what it could be that seems in today's time to be have been so easy is just not possible. So I think collaborating on topics and decisions before we make them is critical when we're on this short cycle, like what we're talking about and getting a lot of input quickly. I think that's certainly something to look at.
I think, too, that we tend to only report good stuff. When we're on a short cycle like this, it forces us to be a lot more transparent with things because if we want teams to adapt, if we want ourselves to adapt, we've really got to really speak very candidly and openly of the truth. It's not that we were telling lies before but it's like we've got to be a lot more in depth and on point about the ranges of possible outcomes of things and what we're really looking at. So we relied a lot though on getting input and collaboration from pulse surveys, and those pulse surveys were only good if we were really being transparent with our communications, and people could really know how to give their input and their feedback on things.
But in addition to that, we had to look at other pieces of information to make decisions, and that was one-on-one conversations. So we really did engage a lot of our leaders and our partners to speak to our people directly and gather and pass up what they were hearing that maybe were things that were not showing up in pulse surveys. So getting input from a lot of different sources was another way for us to quickly get data on how things were working.
[00:05:43] JL: Well, you brought up really two very powerful words, transparency and then communication and or the frequency around that. So let's dive into that just a little bit more. Tell us how you feel that actually went during that. You talked about pulse surveys and touching base with people, but share with us and the audience just a little bit more about how that worked for you and the leadership team.
[00:06:07] MS: Yeah. So this was one of – If you had to tell me what three or four big things did you really learn or refine in the pandemic, for me, it was all over our communication. I could write a multi-chapter book on that topic, just coming out of what we did. But things happening so fast and needing to communicate out to our people was just critical. Pretty early on, I learned that the transparency of that communication was tantamount. The last thing we needed was misleading people, good or bad on anything. So getting, just sharing with people what we knew at the time, and what decisions we were making.
This applies not just in managing through a pandemic, but it applies today in what we're doing with our clients where they're operating under the same time period that we are with this short accountability cycle. So communicating with our clients is just as critical. I think the same thing applies with them as well. But I think all in all, we made it through the pandemic for a lot of reasons, and one of them was I think our communications really served us well. I think the lessons learned there can be applied to helping people build careers, as well as giving our clients feedback on how their businesses are doing and how we can help them also. Just this transparency I think has been taken to a whole new level, and the need for transparency was really critical.
[00:07:40] JL: Well, I think your and the leadership team's total view of that was pretty amazing because it didn't seem like you really even waited. I mean, wasn't it like just a matter of days that you just started this incredible cadence around communication to the entire company, right?
[00:07:59] MS: Yeah. You call it a cadence now. At the time when we first started on March 17th, we didn't know when the next one was going to be. I was thinking, “Well, maybe next month we'll have another one of these,” and I think it was the next week. We cut back in front of everyone again, so even the cadence wasn't known. So we quickly had to – Before I go and speak to 2,000 people, we want to make sure everything is right, and that we really understand what we're sharing and the impact on people, and is it everything that we know at the time. The cycle got very quick and fast.
[00:08:35] JL: I'm sure that created some angst for you personally because you didn't have all the answers.
[00:08:40] MS: That's right. That's right.
[00:08:41] JL: Yet you felt the need to connect with everybody, even without all the answers. Is that fair?
[00:08:46] MS: That's right. But it is. That's something we all had to do, and I really felt prepared for that from having worked with clients over the years. These experiences that we have serving clients really helps us out in times like this because we have to – When we sign off an audit report, we don't know every single solitary thing that has happened. We have to make judgments about what's going on, and so it prepared me well to be able to do that to the best of my knowledge.
[00:09:18] JL: Yeah. Well, it was a much needed and much appreciated gesture I think on your part and supported by the leadership team. Speaking of the leadership team, let's just pivot and talk a little bit about the strategy that you had to employ with your leadership group. Could you touch on ways you've recalibrated your leadership style?
[00:09:40] MS: Yeah, we did. We've actually evolved as we've moved through the pandemic and I think have made ourselves better. I won't be – I certainly don't want to imply. We will never change again and we're done. We're evolving like everyone else's but we've focused – As everyone knows, we made changes to our senior leadership team's structure in the fall, really effective January for a lot of reasons. But one was to really improve our decision making abilities, and we've put a lot of emphasis as a team on the team on building trust within the team and how do we build trust.
That is the foundation for anyone who's done studies on team building and how to build a strong team. Having that trust that psychological safety as it's called so often is critical to building a high-performing team. We need a high-performing senior leadership team because we need a high-performing firm, and it starts with us. So we've really spent a lot of time focusing on the trust that we have in one another, and it's really interesting because we spent a lot of time reading Pat Lencioni's books and we've used actually his firm. It has helped us through a lot of our team building exercises that we've done.
One of the best outcomes of trust – Now, listen to this. This is going to sound paradoxical, but any of you who've done team building know what I'm talking about. But we build the trust so that we can engage in conflict. How about that?
[00:11:21] JL: I love that.
[00:11:22] MS: I'm not talking about conflict like we're screaming and yelling at each other, or some people might do that. I know Pat Lencioni talks a lot on his podcast about screaming and yelling and even having the building tenants come up and ask if they're okay. They're like, “Oh, yeah. We're fine. We're just doing teamwork.” But that's not really – Screaming and yelling is really not what we're talking about. We're talking about challenging each other and really having the safety and feeling the comfort to say, “I don't think I agree with that,” and, “Why is that?” I think there's a better way, and fleshing that out with everybody on the team weighing in on it. Not to criticize but to get the best answers.
We've done a lot of work on team building, building trust, having exercises where we actually engage in some healthy debate and conflict, and we're already seeing great signs of it where we're coming up with different answers to things than we might have before. If you get back to your whole point here, John, on accountability, and it's about holding each other accountable to the best answers for DHG and what we're doing. We're building a lot of trust in the senior leadership team now, so we can engage in conflict. How about that?
[00:12:34] JL: Well, I love that because really I think Lencioni talks about high-performing teams really needing to be able to manage healthy conflict well because that actually feeds that trust equation and and builds trust and creates a high-trust environment. So kudos to you for jumping in and tackling that one because that's a big one in this current day and age to try to figure that trust equation out.
One of the things that's interesting I've noted is that during this, I don't know what you want to call this, probably the most unusual business year of our lives for most of us, I would say, we have still had a need to bring people into the equation, right? I mean, we just didn't stop bringing folks in. But when you talk about building trust and orienting people into a culture, wow, what a challenge during a pandemic. So when you think about how we have done in that regard, first of all, how do you do that? How do you bring people in virtually, having never met a human being here and build trust with this group?
[00:13:40] MS: Well, we should go ask them. How long has that gone? But seriously, it's very fascinating to me. We've had a number of team members join DHG and we've never seen them in person, other than maybe the original interview. Even some of those were done virtually. I'm even looking, and she's going to be embarrassed, but sitting here in our virtual room is Jessie Tharrington, who's one of our communication managers here at DHD, who helps us with a lot of our podcasts. But she's a great example. Sorry, Jessie, but she's a great example of someone, and we've had lots of our client-facing team members that had joined.
You find a way to make it work, and it's interesting. I know a number of different stories, and, Jessie, you're one of them of people who have started mid-pandemic and are thriving in DHG and are really performing well because we figure it out and we go an extra mile. We're intentional about getting in touch with people and making sure they're doing well. So things like that matter. John, as you well know, we are an apprenticeship profession. Many professions, most professions are. We depend on face-to-face interactions, and so we depend on the cycle of observed, try it out, get coaching, get some feedback, and then adapt. There's your word. Then come back and do it again. That is best done face-to-face. It doesn't have to be all the time, but we believe that some or most of the time it should be.
We don't think this is going to last forever. So the adaptations that we've made, there's a lot we can learn from them going forward about where we've had to stretch. Maybe we keep doing some of those things going forward. But I would say that all in all at some point, we will get back to needing to have a lot more face-to-face interaction. This is not a world of permanent virtual reality for us. We're going to have to get back to it sooner or later.
[00:15:47] JL: I can't wait to see some of the faces of our new people when they have the opportunity to walk into an office or see somebody that they've actually been working with after a year, which is pretty incredible. Yeah. So speaking of that, let's talk about those two words, adaptability and accountability, as it relates to the potential that we all long for, and that is kind of reentering back into the work world, back and more into our offices, seeing clients more often. So how do we really look at those two terms, as it relates to managing this whole reentry back towards our normal or what will be our new normal?
[00:16:28] MS: Yeah. So I think as we look to go back into the marketplace, back into the offices, adaptability is going to be key. Getting feedback from our team members as we go back into the market is going to be important, and that's not true just for the firm. It's true for all of us individually. Our work styles are going to have to tweak and be adjusted a little bit from what we've grown accustomed to over the course of the last year. But I think all of us as we go back just need to be open-minded in realizing that the firm is going to as we reenter the market.
By the way, I consider that a re-evolution of workplace for DHG. It will start one way. Understand we'll go through a cycle of getting feedback, and then we'll make tweaks and adjustment as we move ahead. But the same is true for all of us. We've got to realize that we might have developed some bad habits. We might have done some things one way that aren't going to work when we start going back into the marketplace, whatever that might be. So I think being open to getting that feedback, each one of us, the firm included, is going to be critical.
[00:17:45] JL: Great. Well, when you think about this, and I love the term, re-evolution. Is that what you said?
[00:17:51] MS: Re-evolution of the marketplace. Yes.
[00:17:54] JL: Yeah. I love that term.
[00:17:55] MS: That's Matt's word. That's not anything official.
[00:17:57] JL: No. I love it because it challenges us all to continually think about taking new inputs and data, synthesizing it, and then continuing to come up with new ways to apply your business principles and your different types of strategies because the data stream coming in is continuing to change. Would you agree?
[00:18:21] MS: Absolutely.
[00:18:23] JL: So I really love this concept of revolutionizing DHG. As you look at this and preparing your leaders to help team members come back into this new environment, which is truly going to be a hybrid between where we were before, what we've existed in the pandemic, and who we want to be going forward, how do you really get your leaders prepared to handle this conceptually and then apply it with their team members?
[00:18:52] MS: Yeah. Well, I think the first thing, John, that all of us are realizing and certainly what I'm emphasizing with our other leaders at DHG is everybody is experiencing this and viewing it differently. How we think that ought to work might not be how everybody else thinks it ought to work, and I totally get it because we come from different experiences and backgrounds, and we all have different views on this, and we really have to be respectful of that.
I think for our leaders, number one, is understanding that everybody is going to be experiencing this differently. We need to be patient with everyone in what they're doing, patient with those who want to go back quickly, patient with those who want to wait to come back. I think teaching that to our people and helping people understand that is really going to help us all adapt better to coming back into the workplace.
But we're also talking about trying to really get this figured out before we really go into full blown reentry into the marketplace. We want to go back the new way. Whatever that – We have a pretty good idea of what that's shaping up to look like. We don't really want to go back the old way and then say, “Oh, wait. Now, let's come back this different way.” So we're really trying to get that figured out now and get all of our leaders and get that ingrained in their minds about how that ought to work.
We do expect to see a new hybrid workforce, as you've suggested there. We do not think it will be obviously everyone working remote all the time, wherever, whenever they want. That doesn't work, mainly because our clients can't really have it work that way. We can't really meet our client obligations that way, and it doesn't fit in well with that building a valuable career model for our team members when we think about that too. But we do think that we'll have a hybrid workplace, and what that looks like may be different for a lot of different people.
That's why, although we're calling this DHG anywhere, it's really – I think of this as sort of the subtitle. Freedom within a framework is what we continue to think of. So really getting our leaders educated on that and understanding it, we're going to start rolling out a lot more of this over the next 60 days so that our people will get a greater and greater understanding of not only what the framework is but how it relates to them too. The quicker we can get everybody on board with that so that people can adapt and get back into that accountability cycle under our new way of working, if you will, will be critical for us as a firm over the next three months.
[00:21:31] JL: Well, that's exciting to look forward to. I guess it would be somewhat overstated to say that this has been an incredible year of learning for you. Would that be – Probably an understatement, right?
[00:21:43] MS: It has been. I'm still searching, as I've said many times before, it's probably gotten old, for that chapter on leading during a global pandemic.
[00:21:53] JL: Right.
[00:21:54] MS: I think some very skilled writers are probably writing it now. I've learned a lot myself and I've had a lot of support too.
[00:22:01] JL: When you think about you specifically and what you've learned about yourself around accountability, any tips that you might share with other leaders who might be listening today?
[00:22:14] MS: Yeah. I think I learned a lot, frankly, being a partner at a public accounting firm and professional services firm. I can honestly say, for anybody contemplating their long term careers, it's been one of the best careers for myself, and I would highly encourage it for everyone to really give it consideration because you learn a lot of skills that I don't think you could learn in other places. But I learned as I partner pretty early on that it was important to set up accountability systems for yourself in order to be successful. Make sure you're getting the feedback that you need. If you don't, then ask. Silence can not only be deafening. It can be damaging to you by not getting it, the feedback.
I also noticed that CEOs at a lot of – Some of my clients. Not a lot but at some. Those who resisted any type of negative feedback, those who set themselves up where they weren't challenged for anything, that any of their decisions, as a general rule, never made it. They plateaued. They one day woke up and were pushed out their businesses, did not thrive. There were a lot of different ways that that manifested itself, but those CEOs who surrounded themselves with accountability systems, whatever that might be to keep them on the straight and narrow, if you will. To tell them the truth that something wasn't working well and needed to be fixed, those were the most successful over time.
That's what I learned, and I have tried to do that at DHG myself, and especially over the course of this past year, calling a leader or a partner. How are your teams doing? How are they responding to A, B, or C? What's the general feeling there? Reading every single one of our pulse surveys that we've gotten, those have been in the comments that were in there, have been very helpful to shape my opinions and beliefs and to tell me something that I had decided was not right and needed to be fixed. So those accountability systems are critical, and we have those built in a DHG for everyone, myself included. So I get 360s. Our executive committee gives me a written feedback every year, and it includes areas where I need to improve.
We have an independent chair now of our executive committee, which I think is important for the firm to have that independence there. Tricia Wilson does a phenomenal job, and so she is one of many accountability partners for me. That has proved critical here, and I know a lot of us are type A, and we tend to be like, “Oh, I want to be perfect.” But I've really learned over the years that really achieving success or accomplishing goals, having a good accountability system there is really what helps you adapt and grow as a professional over time. That's worked well for me, and I'd highly encourage it for certainly all of our team members as they pursue their careers.
[00:25:40] JL: Well, tremendous advice, Matt. I think the vulnerability that you're sharing around that, the learning that you've expressed has been so valuable. It should be inspiring really to all of us to think about, “Hey, what can we learn from this? How can we be better?” I think DHG is better for what we've been through, and I know that that term has been used several times around here. Emerging strong, right?
[00:26:05] MS: That's right.
[00:26:06] JL: We are going to be different but we are going to be stronger. Would you agree?
[00:26:10] MS: Absolutely. There's no doubt about that. I think we have grown stronger as a firm in so many different ways, and I could have not imagined that a year ago. A lot of it attributed to us being very open and transparent with each other in order to really get the feedback, make tweaks, make pivots, and start that accountability cycle all over again. Part of that I really want. I want that to stay with us as we move ahead.
[00:26:40] JL: Yeah. Great. Well, listen. Thank you so much for sharing your journey here over this last year through the pandemic and what you and the leaders of DHG have been through. So thank you so much, Matt. It's been incredible and very inspiring, and just keep up the great work.
[00:26:57] MS: Thank you, John. I've enjoyed being here.
[00:27:00] JL: And thank you, our listeners, for being with us today on our episode of GrowthCast with DHG's CEO, Matt Snow. We hope that you have been inspired by Matt's leadership story and that you will take time to reassess the changes that your organization might need to make to demonstrate more accountability and adaptability as we enter this next phase of business life. I'm your host, John Locke, and I look forward to reconnecting with you soon on an upcoming episode of DHG GrowthCast.
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