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People Processes - Rhamy Alejeal EPISODE 8
People Process Interviews: Lee Caraher
00:00:00 00:32:19

People Process Interviews: Lee Caraher

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen. This is Rhamy Alejeal, your host of People Processes. We're so excited to have you tune in today. Today we are interviewing Lee Caraher.

She is the founder and CEO of double forte PR, did a double forte PR and digital marketing. She is the author of “Millennials and Management: The Essential Guide To Making it Work at Work.” She based the book on her experience with epically failing and then succeeding at retaining millennials in her business. Her second book, “The Boomerang Principle, Inspire Lifetime Loyalty From Employees” was published in 2017. It's a pragmatic and actionable guide to creating high performing work cultures ready for the future. And we are so excited to have her on. Lee, are you there?

I'm here, Rhamy. Thank you so much for having me.

Well, I'm ecstatic to have you. I want to start with figuring out how you got into your current business, doing PR and really writing a lot about HR work.

So I started my PR career after college. I graduated from Carleton College in Minnesota with a degree in medieval history. Very helpful. I did not know what I was going to do when my friend Ramona and I were talking and she said, you should really check out this PR thing. I think you'd do well in it. And so I checked it out and here I am almost a little more than 30 years later having been in the public relations career and communications career my whole career.

30 years, man, you must start it at I guess what age, age to age, three rolled right out of college.

Sorry. You know, I'm very enhanced.

Sure. Well, in 30 years of doing this, I know you've had some crazy highs and some probably pretty rough lows. So what I love to do is start with our guests talking about their toughest time, because I think our listeners learn more from the failures in our guests stories and they do from the successes. So why don't you take us really to that time, maybe even like a specific day you realized you had a problem, what happened and tell us that story. Then we can talk about maybe some of the things that our listeners could learn.

Sure. So I started my company with a co-founder, a very good friend who we'd worked together many years before we started the company. In four years he said, I really don't wanna do this PR thing anymore, Lee. He left the company and actually he came back and then he left again. Which is about my second book, boomerang. But well, going forward, a few years ago I was thinking about what is next for the company. The company needs to transcend my tenure there and who would take over for me. There really wasn't anybody in the company who either wanted to or could become the CEO of the entity. So I was intent on bringing somebody in. I did that. I brought someone I knew pretty well.

I thought of the company and some cultural things were a bit different as you always will. You know, everything is not static. But my gut, I was very intent on finding this person and getting that person in place which I did. After a couple of years, that thing happened, it was like, Oh well, it's just him. He's just different than me, etc. And then one day or one week, he lost four clients all at the same time, really for the same reason. Not for our performance, but really about him. And I was like, okay, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. I go, you have to listen to your gut. So, we parted ways and I wished him well. But it takes a long time to recover from that. You know, you don't just like one day have a succession plan and the next day, get rid of that person and say, okay, everything's okay. You really have to read it.

Right. The cascading. Yeah. We had a guest not too long ago, in a very similar situation. Brought on a COO with the idea of this person eventually taking over in the the investment and transition time to getting them up and then, that person not working out. It's a morale hit, if nothing else, not to mention operational hits your bottom line as well. Right. So, yeah. Not to mention, big piles of money. Absolutely. Well, I'm sorry to hear about that. So if our listeners are in their first couple of years of business and they're thinking about similar concerns you had. What do you think maybe they could take from your story and they could learn from your mistakes? What should they do when they're trying to accomplish something similar?

Beginning of your business and you have a partner, make sure that you have a great prenup. Whatever that agreement is between the partners on how they will leave, what the calculation will be for an earn-out, what are the conditions, whatever that is, batter that out before you get started because you will hate each other one moment in time for sure. It's going to happen. You can get past it if you have really good agreements. So, that was on my co-founder,, it was very clear what had to happen and what he had to do to get the maximum value out of the company for himself, which I was very happy to write the check for because he fulfilled all the agreements we had put in place before. On the second piece, bringing a successor in. Very tough. You know, it's one of the things that big companies struggle with so much. I think that if your gut is telling you something about the person, no matter what their credentials are, no matter how much you've known them, no matter how much success they've had in the past, if your gut is telling you something, you need to listen to it. And don't ignore what's happening just because you want it to work out.

I like that. So on these big decisions, these succession issues, listen to your gut. If you're feeling something wonky, timed up. Time to really zoom in on that and pay attention. I like that. Well, your book, which came out in 2017, is the boomerang principle. What is the boomerang principle? What does that even mean?

The boomerang principle is the idea that those companies and organizations that don't just allow but actually encourage people to return to them as employees once they've left. Have a strategic advantage over those that don't. Something that we've practiced on that one fourth day since the beginning. We're a small company. We have 37 people right now. We have rehired 16 people and we rehired four people twice. So across the board, if you look at those companies that do rehire people, these people are the highest performers they have in their entity. So the more we will to that sort of point of view of having people return to the company when they've left, the better it is for the people who were there. And the better it is for your bottom line.

That's very unique. I mean, just an interesting idea. We've had, you know, this is an HR podcast. My company, Poplar financial, we work on the processes and systems around human resources. So systematizing things like on-boarding and off-boarding which everybody goes through. We talk about it all the time, it's a huge part of that. But everyone focuses on retention. How do you keep people from leaving? You're saying, no, no, no, no, no. Allow them to leave and in fact encourage exploration, but make sure they come back. Is that the idea?

A few things. One is when you create an environment that people return to, you're creating an environment in a culture that people have a hard time leaving, right? People don't return to something bad. They only return to something good, number one. So if you have an environment in a culture that helps people return, you actually have a culture that helps people stay longer and retention is built into that. Number one. Number two is when you actually have someone return to you, they are more valuable to you the second time around then they were the first for many reasons. One is you already know that they've worked well with you in your culture. They already have proved themselves as one of you. Whatever that culture company is.

The second is they've gone out into the world and learned other things that they're bringing back to you. You can apply a more worldly view to the work that they're going to be doing. And we all know, and there's a lot of data that says, the more different inputs you have, the better decisions you make. And the problem with retention sometimes is that we can become more inwardly focused. Right. It's really a challenge to get outside of view into a group that stays together for a long time. And I found this in my own business now. But when you have someone come back, right, they go, I learned this thing out there. What if we do it here? They bring other things back to you and they know what could and could not work. And the third is they come on board, you know, it doesn't, they're not a hundred percent day two. Right. But they're 100% around day 3540, which is so much right of a new employee. Right. A new employee takes six to six months to one year to become fully functional in any answer.

Yeah. And such an interesting idea. Obviously they're more valuable and also, the grass is greener on the other side mentality, which has been, if they're coming back, they've seen the other side. Right, right, right. I guess. Oh, interesting. So why I guess that makes sense. If an employee is going to leave you, you want them to come back, I'm assuming you didn't like to throw them out because they're thieves or something like that. Yeah. So how do you do that? What are the steps to actually creating a system that encourages return work?

Yeah. Well it starts on day one, right? It starts on day one. I meet every new employee in the company, in their first two weeks. And one of the first things I say to them, Rhamy is, "Hi, I know you're going to leave us. So it's really important to us that when you do leave here, you never take the devil to take off your resume." And that is a point of pride that you were at double forte. And I hope you're here for a long time. And I hope that it's mutually rewarding. I hope that you grow, learn new things and achieve your own personal goals within the constructs of our company. But I know when you hire someone, they're going to leave. So I know you're probably not gonna stay in for the rest of your life, but I hope when you do that, it's good that it's positive and that when you're no longer interested, come and talk to us and we will help you find what's next. Then I hope you come back.

I say that in the first week of their employment. And of course some people are like, just got here. But I think it's important to like to set the tone. I said, the tone I want to set is double before two, we want double forte beat to be important to your career. And we're set up to do that. We're also set up to do really good PR, digital communications and we have to do those two things together. And that means one, we have very high standards of work and that we're going to be training for, be mentoring for, be fostering. And two, it's going to be a good conversation with every employee around, what is it that is their goal? How do you see yourself? What do you want them to know about this job?

If it's an entry level person, they don't want to know that it's only one path. What are the past they could take? And to have really good conversations with these people, not just at review time, but throughout the course of the year. See what's going on. What are you interested in? My own assistant who came to the company, he's actually just left, but he was at the company for almost five years. He came from Michigan. He wanted to be an actor, but he knew he wasn't gonna be able to do that full time. So he wanted to be an assistant so he could then sort of get out by 5:30 and go act. And he did that. And then one day I turned around, he's great at it, and I turned around and he was drawing a greeting card for his mother and it was amazing.

And I'm like, David, did you do that? He goes, yeah, it's my lunch hour. I'm like, Oh man, I don't care about the lunch hour part. I'm like, I didn't know you were an artist. You didn't tell us you were an artist. Well, I didn't think you'd care. What do you want to do here? Do you want to use it? Oh, I'd love to do that here. I mean, who knew? Right? And he told us he was leaving and one of the reasons he stayed so long and was five-year for somebody under 30 is a long time in San Francisco. When he told us he was leaving, he goes, one of the reasons I stayed so long is, because I got to do the things that I love at double forte and help the company doing those things. So when you can find those interests and they can be so much more valuable within just the job description you hire, or because the job description is just one facet of those pictures, but people's role is how people show up in the world.

So you know, he's gone. I hope he comes back. He's already sent us to people who might be great employees. So already, he's come back to us in a way he didn't have to do that. And that's the loyal part, right? It used to be the old paradigm used to be, if you leave me like when you work for me, you're not loyal and you're dead to me. Well, actually not when you're getting paid. That is a transaction. I will give you a paycheck. You're supposed to show up, which frankly is not a skill, but you need to do it. And that's a paid transaction. Loyal act is when you don't expect anything in return that you're out there in the world and you go, you know what? I met Joe. Joe would be awesome at double forte. I'm going to give Lee a call and say, Hey, you should talk to Joe.

You didn't have to do that. You don't have to do that for me to know that for Joe and to do it for himself, but that's a loyal act. I'm thinking about the betterment of whoever you're talking to, right. When you don't expect anything in return. So that's what I'm talking about in the boomerang principle is if we get away from thinking about loyalty just when we pay people, right? Thinking about, Oh, I want someone to be loyal to the company for their entire career. Well how does that work? What does that look like? That looks like them going out into the world and always keeping in touch with us, always being connected to double forte. And when something comes across their viewpoint that could benefit the company, they pick up the phone and they make it happen. That's a loyal act. So how do you keep them involved after they leave? I mean, so you treat them when they're with you, you on-board them with the expectation of understanding.

Also, one thing about your first week conversation that struck me is it also gives you a little bit more. I think a lot of employers, as you said, they're pretending or kind of inferred anyway. I inferred, they're pretending that when they hire someone at 27, that they're going to retire from minutes. Right? And they're like, well, 68. Yeah, we want you to work for us forever. And that's our goal. And when you state your goal is that, one thing that puts you in a position is when an employee's not though, right? When an employee has needs, whether they're temporary or permanent, that does not fit the company's needs. So I don't know, maybe they don't have the skills to generate salary or they have some issues that need to work on before they move to another step or something.

You're putting a weird position in saying that we want you to stay here forever, but also, we can't satisfy the immediate needs you're presenting. Whereas, if you're saying, look this is the place for you for now and we want you here. We want this to be your place forever. But if it's not, we want you to stay loyal and we want you to join us at the moment, we want you to come back and be a part of us long-term. You're also implicitly stating, if this isn't the right fit for you, get to move on and we're all still friends and we can continue to work together. And it takes a little pressure off the company to be like, we have to meet your immediate needs, all the time. Forever for the entire future of our lives.

Well, it also takes pressure. I think it takes pressure off both sides. Right? It's sort of like, stating the obvious and as long as people aren't pretending, you're just removing a lot of pressure and anyway. Right.

Right. It's not like any other company is going to give you a pay. Yeah. It's just that you're being more honest.

That is what used to be the expectation, right? The expectation used to be when my parents were working, you come, you go, and when you go, it's when you're getting your watch and you're retiring. I mean that has changed,, that used to be the American dream and we could talk forever about this, Rhamy. I have a lot of statistics and data and maybe we can talk about it some other time, but that's just not reality anymore. And instead, particularly for younger people who they already know, that whatever job they have today, will look different in five years. Unlike people my age were like, Oh, I've learned a skill. I can do it for the rest of my life. It's not true anymore. And anything you do today, if you have a job title today, that job titles will look very, very different in three or four years.

So you're also setting the expectation if it doesn't work, we'll help you find something that does help you be successful somewhere else. That's what we're all about. Right. How do you keep the most productive organizations are the happiest organizations? The happiest organizations are the most effective organizations. So you have to have the most positive high producing teams, ones that are very clear on mission, very clear on their own role and very clear on who they are as people and how they want to move in the world.

So when someone comes to you and says, look, I don't think I want something new. I know, I'd love to see if it can be done here, but if it can't be. I mean, do you guys as a PR firm or are you, like you said, you've mentioned a few times, we'll help you find somewhere else. What does that mean?

So, as long as you're having a conversation with us, we can do that. Right? So I'll give you a couple of examples. One woman came to her manager a few years ago and said, she really wants to be a nurse. Well, you can't be a nurse and be about double forte. We're just never going to be a hospital. Right? So it was like, well, how can we help you do that? Well, we could help her do that by allowing her to work different hours with a different structure so that she could go to nursing school during the day and during the night, get her schedule. So she worked for us for probably nine more months. Her schedule was wonky and she didn't have all the responsibilities she had before.

But you've got a lot of work done for us while she went to nursing school. So that's us helping her. Right in the end, she actually had to move home to where her parents live because her father's ill. She didn't go become a nurse because she needed to be that earner now for her family. And she went into PR. So again, she had another PR firm. And so when she told us this is what she was going to do, I was like, give me the companies you want to talk to. I will call them all right now. So that was one way.

Another person I'm leaving actually this week is his last day is tomorrow. You've been with us almost eight years. I've been talking to him for about 18 months. And when I say I've been to, he came to me and said, I don't know what I want to do, Lee. I don't know if this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I'm like, okay, well you don't have to quit because you don't know what you want to do for your life, but you do have to keep up your standards and keep being double forte and what end basically we've been talking on and off for 18 months. At the beginning of this year we talked some more and I knew that probably this year he would leave, but we had several big things happen all at the same time.

When one of our people lost her husband and was on bereavement and he filled in for her and we had two huge projects that ended around the same time and those projects ended. This woman came back from bereavement and he came to me and said, I still don't know what I wanted to, but if I'm going to leave this year, now is the time before I get redeployed. So then he gave us seven weeks of notice. So it's seven weeks of notice. He's been in conversation with us. I'm like, how can I help you? He's like, I don't know yet, but I'll ask when it happens. And we were talking last week and he was basically in tears. He goes, how do you leave a company you love? I said, I don't know, but you're doing a good job at it.

If you go join the circus and it doesn't work out in six months, I hope it comes back right.

We'll come back in some way. For sure. Not at all. But what can we do to help those people fulfill their own goals? Because frankly, the most loyal act an employee can do is leave when they're no longer excited about what they're doing. Most loyal act, an employee who you're paying can do, is explore other things in the company, see if there's another opportunity for themselves. And if there isn't to say, you know what, I need to do something different. I love this place, but my own life, these are the things I need to go. Okay. How can we help you? You know, congratulations is really the first piece of that like, Oh well, and never counter. I never ever counter because it means I did something wrong beforehand. So I need to acknowledge that mistake and not counter during the whole thing.

Yeah. I've stressed that in the past that I've probably seen, in 10 years of working inside hundreds of HR companies I've seen hundreds of companies that counter decision I have never, ever, ever seen it come out. Right. I mean, you kept something, a lot of times I keep the employee, but then two years later you're in a way.

You're in a worse position because you think everybody doesn't know that they've encountered every right, just start the whole yo-yo of dissatisfaction.

Well I think you have that's such an interesting idea and I just think it's awesome and it's interesting. A lot of people write books inside there. Well look, if you run a PR company, you could probably write a book about doing PR. That's the idea, right? So I think it's awesome. You've written this book and I think the concept is just staggeringly interesting. We could talk for hours, but our shows lasted only about 30 minutes. So I'm moving on to a couple of rapid fire questions, but I want to ask one question, which is like, what are you trying to accomplish with this book? I mean, do you think that you're going to your books, I mean, are they going to write, are you going to sell 40,000 copies and make lots of money or like why'd you write it?

You know. I wrote the book for a couple of reasons. One, in the business communications, it's all about leadership. It's all about community. It's about connecting, about making sure that what you say is what you do and is what people understand. And as a leader of a company, you see you have a company that I run. A company that does, right? But the company part is about leadership, about people, about vision, about the future. And that's actually also the work that I mostly do with our clients. I mostly do deal with the C suite of our clients who are worrying about the same things I am as the CEO of my company. So at the time of my first book, when everyone was failing dramatically with millennials, I mean, you said at the beginning I had Epic failure, right?

So I had six, I had hired six people who were in the millennial category within eight weeks of each other. And within three months they were all gone. We walked in five. Walk themselves and I'd never in my life had 100% failure in retention ever. And it was a wake up call. I think for me, I was just like, okay, that can't be us. I mean that can't be recruiting because we are good recruiters that's got. It can't be them. We couldn't have hired six bad people all at the same time. We had to start looking at ourselves, what did we do wrong? And they started looking at it and everything I read about any normal was negative. And I was like, it can't be true that 80 million people are entitled and terrible.

They decided to ignore everything I was reading and just go back to the basics and do my own research and figure it out myself because everything I was reading was not helpful. There weren't very many books or articles written by people actually leading people. They were written by journalists or they were written by consultants, are they written by people who actually weren't doing anything? I really had a visceral reaction to what I was reading. I was like, every once in a while I wind up here with a consultant kind of. Right. You know? Well, it should be. They always have good information. But one of the things that really bugs me is when we're talking about people leadership and they've never had an employee. No, it's not the same.

I'm just like, it's like the people who are in strategy and companies and go, why didn't you get that done? Well, have you tried to warn a business? Thank you. Anyway, so I was doing all this work for my companies in the same things that we learned for ourselves, right. To a lot of trial and error, a lot of interacting, this kind of stuff. And my clients were like, you should just write a book leave because it makes it a lot easier for yourself. It's like, yeah, no one wants to hear from me on this. And because I write, I'm a PR person, what do I know about leadership? Well, apparently I know a lot and I'm good at it. My clients would just keep on pushing me to write this book. I was meeting with the publisher for some totally different answer and something happened in the room and she goes, Oh, publish that book.

I'm like, what book are you talking about? I don't have a book that looks about millennials getting that done. So I was also in EO. E O is an entrepreneur organization. It's like the YPO for entrepreneurs and very much a gestalt organization sharing our experiences, not telling you what to do. More and more of the EO chapters around the country were asking me to come talk about what I was learning in my company, my little baby company. I just thought it would be valuable. And so based on that, I published the book and I think the next book came out of the reaction to the first book cause the Dorian principle came out when I was speaking around the country about the staff. I really feel passionately about who you are saying don't lie, see what you are, do what you say and make people understand it.

I mean that as a question, right? PR is right up my alley because I believe that makes good in the world. Helping people understand how to do that, from a leadership perspective helps people have better businesses. And that's what the books are about on the boomerang principle. I'm going around the country talking about millennials and management. And every time, every single talk and I did over a hundred of these talks, someone raised their hand and went, I'm not putting any time and it's millennials cause they're going to leave me. And as soon as they leave me, they're dead to me. And I'd be like, no, that's wrong that way. I knew that was a huge problem. So that's why I wrote the second book around. It's the same thing written from a different point of view.

How do you create a relevant now, today that means intergenerational, right? In a generational high-producing positive workplace. And that's what I did, right? And of course people don't realize, but this year is an interesting year because millennials will outnumber any other generation. Correct this year. But also we're all working long, right? 65, that is a glimmer, right? When I started my career, I was in my last year of boomer. We all thought we were retiring at 50, all of us, right? Well that came and went and I know so many boomers and silence who are still working because they lost so much money 10 years ago and they're still recovering from that. So we're all working until we're 70 or 80. And if you think about life expectancy today, if you're born today, you have over 50% chance of living until you're 110, right?

Well, if you're 110 and you're retiring at a 40 to 50 year retirement plan, the 1% of the 1% is the only ones who can afford that. We're all going to be working much longer. We're all gonna have the brain power to work too much longer. So we just have to be thinking about working in a fairly different way than our parents did, right? It's a transition that we have to get used to, knowing that probably if we do the same thing our whole lives, we will be bored to tears. Right? It's a lot of work life, right? So part of this for writing, for my book, the purpose of them was to explore other things that I can bring to my business or the things that can bring to the people I care about. Other things, other good things that can be put in the world because we're all changing so much.

That's awesome. Well, let me ask you a couple of rapid fire questions just to get a couple ideas out there. One, if you could recommend one book to go alongside the boomerang principle and of course people processes, what would you recommend for a new entrepreneur to read?

I would say, Hire the 18 by Winnie Johnson.

Cool. That's in the show notes down below, if you could go back in time and whisper in your ear back on your first day of setting up double forte, what would you tell yourself?

It's actually going to last more than five years. Be a pair.

Take a long, long, long term plan, a long term plan. Very interesting. Awesome. Okay. Well, what's got you most fired up, excited in the next six months with your business? What's coming down the pike?

Well, I've just moved my with my family to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which is, I'm in the middle of the country and we are opening an office here from San Francisco, big change from San Francisco in New York, which is where I've been spending most of my time for the last 20 years. So I'll be sharing my time between Auclair, which was in San Francisco in the bit of New York, but we think that there's a lot of opportunity here in the Midwest. I'm looking forward to figuring that out.

Well, when should our listeners, I'm sure some of them are interested in your services or what do you think should be the trigger for them to contact you and how should they go about doing so?

Yeah, if people are interested in my leadership ideas around boomerangs and millennials and positive workplaces, they should go to leecaraher.com L E E C A R A H E R.com. And you can find my books and my writing and my Twitter and all that kind of stuff there. I'm @Leehereverywhere. I'm very easy to find. If you're very interested, you can also find my agency, they're double forte. If you're interested in double forte's public relations, communication services, you can go to double-forte.com or you can email me at Lcareher@double-forte.com.

That's awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today, Lee. I'm sure there was so much good value you dropped. I'm excited to learn more about your processes. I'm definitely paying attention to you going forward. There's anything you would like to come back on the show and talk about you. Let us know when your next book is coming out. We'll do that. Have a great one. Thanks. Bye. All right, ladies and gentlemen, that's it for today. Show appreciates Lee coming on. Shared some amazing value information. The idea of creating a workplace that people return to staggering. Now it's time for you to go out there, have a great day, and get your work done.

Learn more about Lee here:

www.leecaraher.com

double-forte.com

dblackburn@double-forte.com

Twitter: @Leehereverywhere