In this PCM Corp post we take a look at building culture in remote teams.
Books and resources mentioned:
Danielle: Hello Alysia!
Alysia: Hello Danielle how are you?
Danielle: Good how are you?
Danielle: Good, and good afternoon or I guess morning or evening or whenever it is that you are watching this and wherever you are.
So, I am so excited because I have Alysia Lohner on today, and I have you on to talk about culture. And, for anybody who doesn’t know about Alysia, so Alysia is the Vice President of operations for PCM Corp and I’ve chosen to interview Alysia today because I’ve been around a lot of companies and a lot of people, and one of the things that I noticed about PCM when I came in, before I even worked there was that there was there was just a lot of peacefulness around the office. You could feel it right when you walked in and it was the first time I really walked into a place and thought it felt like loving and warm and friendly. And then so even now obviously after working there, I did realize that the culture in PCM Corp wasn’t a mistake, it wasn’t an accident, that it’s something that you put a lot of thought and energy and effort into.
Danielle: Yeah, and so you know for those of you who don’t like maybe see, you know, the importance or like, why is this so important or maybe think it’s fluff. Culture, from what I’ve learned just working with you and working here, it eats vision alive. It eats it for lunch. And if you have a strong company culture you can do almost anything, versus, you know, some companies might have a strong vision but poor culture, it’s going to be a difficult road. And you know, companies have these like beautiful visions written on their walls but at the end of the day if your team isn’t on board then you know might as well erase it.
So I think a lot of our clients are either like leaders of teams or companies, or they’re just even on a team and might be feeling right now the effects, or have been feeling the effects of working remotely, or might not, and I’ve just seen you continue to place a priority on this.
So, I wanted to get you on to chat a little bit about it today. And so, I want to go back, back in time to out of the gate. You, from what I understand, you started in high school PCM and that you your dad which is the owner, didn’t give you kind of the golden keys, and kind of wanted you to work your way up and earn everything and develop a work ethic.
So thinking back to like where you started and to where you are now, what was PCM’s culture like when you when you first started and then how have you seen it kind of evolve to pre-COVID?
Alysia: Sure. So yeah just to clarify I was brought in as my summer job at one point and then worked my way in the business throughout my university degree and was always told I was gonna get fired.
So that’s pretty motivating as an employee. But no, you know what is really great is seeing the shift in the way things had happened and where we were at now and I think that both my dad and I who I’ll often refer to as Brad because I just have like this on off switch. So, Brad and I have two totally different dynamics when it comes to culture and we’ve really learned a lot from each other about it.
So when I came into PCM Corp originally it was that sort of… I thought that’s what a business was supposed to feel like I really didn’t know any different. I’d only had a few other jobs so it was how I thought business was always supposed to be.
However, I learned through my growth and development and staying on with the company and then through my various leadership roles and training that it can really be whatever you make it. So when I first started it felt very individualistic. It was kind of cut-throat. We always talked like we were a team, but you could kind of just have that negative vibe. And I am never one that is really for that.
I didn’t love it. my dad used to say would you want to buy in? and I said no, I don’t know that this business is really for me.But I didn’t know really at that time why I felt like that; there was just something that I just didn’t love about the way that I felt when I went home from work or there were certain things that would bother me and I just couldn’t really figure out why.
And then as it’s evolved and as I grew into this role especially over the last two years I’ve spent a lot of time developing our culture because I started focusing on okay, why do we feel this certain way? Who do we want to attract? What does our ideal kind of staffing level look like? What kind of people do we want to have working for us? And I realized it can be something it can honestly be whatever you make it.
And I feel like that sort of touchy-feely side that I kind of bring to the business, versus Brad is what has helped change, is we worked really hard together on how to hire staff, train them, and do different things and we decided to make it a priority with me championing it, and here we are today. it is something where, to go back to the comment of- did I ever want to buy in absolutely not- well now we are going through the process of actually formally having me buy in, because it is something that I love doing. And I can just like even feel the passion a lot more when I’m talking about it because it’s a place that I love to work, and I love working with the people and like constantly focusing on each of our individual growth and with the growth of the business.
So it’s all, I would say, attributed to the change in culture and the shift that we have had.
Danielle: Totally, yeah and that’s such a good point, just even like you said about the you know you having some ownership over the way that PCM has evolved and seeing that you know there’s some pride in that for sure.
Alysia: Yeah and I just didn’t even know that it was something that I could really have that kind of control or input into and then when I kind of put my mind to it I’m like okay, wait, these are the things that kind of drive people. And what you can kind of create that? To me I find it the biggest compliment ever when people walk in and they’re like, there’s just something about you guys. They can literally feel it when they walk in the door but they probably also don’t know how to put their finger on it. And so to me just the back of my mind that’s my little small win like okay amazing totally that’s awesome.
Danielle: So I know because I work with you obviously, like this is we’re no strangers here, but I know that like when COVID hit you were like, oh my gosh like I have worked so hard to have this culture be the way it is, like how is this going to work with everybody being remotely now and being in office? And like you know we used to have like little dance parties, and little fitness competitions and like barbecues, potlucks, we’d blow our horns you know like the whole thing. It was very, like, there’s a lot of energy within that office. And so, can you talk a little bit about like what, you know, maybe just some of those like thoughts in in that transition and how you really dealt with the change and how that really played out for you?
Alysia: Sure. So I mean like anything else for everybody as soon as you kind of had that shift to remote it was very quick very sudden you’re like oh, uh, how do we respond? So number one priority was just making sure that everybody was up and running, but then second, right away for me, was how do we continue to build on that team vibe that we had going on? That synergy, that relationship. And so, it was something that I paid attention to really quickly because I figured that that exact energy that we had as a group was continuing to drive a lot of our initiatives and take a lot of what we were doing to continue to build. Like I didn’t want it to pause, so I wanted to still focus on it, and it was just kind of changing that dynamic. I learned a lot, I read a lot, I looked at different resources to see what other people were doing I was asking a lot of questions, but ultimately it was going back to you guys and asking like hey how do we want to stay connected?
Almost over-communicating… I know I spent a lot of time on the phone or on a video conference with each of you, checking and seeing how things were going, and over-communicating at that point you guys are probably tired of hearing from me. But I wanted to make sure that everybody was comfortable. And then once this kind of became the new normal I found that it was really important to focus on- how do we maintain the connection that we had? So I thought about, like okay, what are the little things that we did do? And I really think that our instant messenger with Microsoft teams has been a huge part of that.
You know we would have our little group meetings and huddles in the morning, our kickoff, and we couldn’t have that anymore so the fact that we started doing that at a set time every morning… having it where we’re sharing and doing different things having each of our own involvement where we can take ownership in it. We always like to have fun, like who doesn’t like costume Thursdays that we started having in our morning meeting? To keep it interesting!
But overall I think what’s really important and what we had to consider right away was, how do we want to communicate with each other? Where we still wanted to be obviously very productive and you didn’t get that sort of water cooler interaction like you do at the office. So we have the different team channels where we can talk to each other. We also know that it can be like super distracting, so we have the do not disturb and letting people know when we can be on mute and different things to get stuff done. But we still virtually tooted our little horns, or if we were in the office and it was a big one we actually like still have them so that way we can feel like we’re celebrating and just focusing on what we can do to still interact with each other as best possible virtually. But yeah it’s definitely a different change and I still think that there’s such a value in that human interaction. And that’s why we’re very much considering the sort of hybrid model, where I see value in remote but I also see value in us getting together. And there’s certain things you just can’t do when you are physically apart so it’s looking at those two different options and finding like that right balance to be whatever is important for your business.
So, it’s always it’s always evolving but I kind of take cues from you guys, and if it’s quiet on teams I know there’s an issue, so we need to talk about like okay, why are we quiet? What are people feeling? Because you can’t feel that like you put in the air when there if there were ever issues inside the office.
Danielle: That’s such a good point, and thank god for gifs right? I mean I feel like we use that the most.
Alysia: I know those are our favorite, I think we always have our own they’re always very fitting
Danielle: One of our team members had a birthday today and I think he got like overwhelmed with like got one with like his face and like him riding a unicorn and stuff.
Alysia: Yeah I like it. Everybody gets very creative on how they should share and celebrate
Danielle: And you touched on something important there when you said like, you know the do not disturb thing and wanting to get stuff done because part of PCM’s culture and, not everybody’s a part of ours, is that we are producers. We don’t make excuses, and we find ways to get things done. And that’s always been super important to our culture although we like to have fun, yeah that’s a big deal. So was there like,
any fear around like, is my team still gonna be motivated to produce and be able to kind of hit their targets meet their goals do the things that they set out to do? Because we’re not together I’m not in the office with them. And how did you kind of manage that if you if you did at all?
Alysia: Yeah so I mean like always in the back of my mind, especially initially, was like okay people are gonna go home and just kind of like use this as a time to chill. But I know and I very much had that trust in each and every single individual that we have in the company, that I knew we were still going to be able to get things done and it was important for me as well to think about maintaining that connection. I don’t think at any point in time I had ever really had, other than the just the initial fear of the unknown, the feeling that nobody was doing anything. I always kind of just trusted the fact that, this is how we hire. Like the type of people that we hire and how we really vet people, I give a lot of trust right away just to extend that to them and then I think it brings out the best in people.
It obviously has burned me before but I really thought that it was important that the staff had my my full support and thoughts with them like, okay I know we’re gonna be able to do this it’s gonna be weird, we’re gonna do check-ins, but it’s whatever we can do to make each other most comfortable. Because I know it was a lot of uncertainty for everybody and so it was just adjusting to that and respecting how people felt as individuals about everything that was happening and just to reinforce that.
But I mean my biggest thing was focusing on the outcomes. Like I know that COVID played a whole other dynamic to like the economy and how the business itself was running. But for me it was focusing on the objectives and the outcomes. Okay, there are only so many things that we have control over, what do we want to get done? What do we have control over? And focusing on that like, I also used it really as an opportunity for us to get a ton of projects done. Like I felt like it was that, almost that little pause or that hesitation from everybody in the workplace where they didn’t know what to do, so everything slowed down for us. So it gave us almost more time to get a lot more done and I feel like we have accomplished so many things that are all aiding in the continued growth of the business, you just don’t necessarily see it right away.
But I know we have got a lot done and I that was, long story short, focusing on the outcomes was really a big part of what I wanted to focus on when everybody was at home.
Danielle: Yeah that’s really powerful, that’s really good. So now that you’ve kind of had a few months to be in that, do you still think that being in the office kind of beats the remote life or do you think that we can, you know, we can adapt and build that?
Alysia: Oh I absolutely think that we can adapt and build it, and that’s why I have considered the hybrid model. I think that it’s important to still have that human connection because no matter what, you just kind of get these sort of unspoken things from being in front of somebody. You kind of can understand them better you can see them differently. Video conferencing obviously helps a lot more than just being on the phone, but I think there’s value in both the synergies of having the team together, obviously for being in the
Office, also so I don’t physically have to be the paper runner here every day I would love some help and that’s why I want people to come back.
But ultimately I know that everybody is super productive at home that was the number one thing that I had was that you can even feel we have we like to socialize with each other but we also like to get stuff done so it was that like going home and getting a lot of stuff done because that social part wasn’t there or those interruptions. And so it was almost like we were on do not disturb all the time just because we didn’t have as many interruptions.
But I see value in both. I think it also gives us amazing opportunity to look at hiring staff anywhere we’re not restricted to where our physical office space is. It has made me a lot more comfortable with hiring staff and considering where they might be located. We officially hired our first fully remote person that has never ever met us in real life aside from brad now but to me we’ve done that before and it totally crashed and burned very fast.
But I think that culture has played a large part in the way that we’ve onboarded and making somebody feel comfortable and trying to give them that that understanding of who we are without having physically met all of us or just being able to get that feeling walking in the door.
Danielle: Yeah, and as you were saying that I was just thinking like, for people who maybe are wondering, we are in a company where it’s not that we get stuff done because we have like a boss breathing down our neck, being like oh my god like you have to get it done. It’s like we actually want to. And I think that that’s kind of rare and I’m just wondering, I’m thinking people listening thinking okay well you know people that may get things done but almost feel like they just like begrudgingly you know doing it versus like being in a company where you’re like no I’m motivated I have goals I want to hit them, and nobody has to really like push me for that, I’m excited about that. So like how did you really develop that?
Alysia: It’s a good question, I don’t know, I mean thinking about it that’s kind of how I’ve always worked, like I have a very “get it done” mentality. I don’t like stuff lingering around like even at my house. I’m like okay I need to clean this right now because it’s bothering me. And so I think that work ethic I’ve very much brought to the office and I think that in my mind I, obviously just thinking of me as an individual, I like to have fun but I also like to get stuff done because I feel accomplished getting things done.
And I have never been one to micromanage, I hope you guys don’t think that I micromanage you, but a lot of times I know that even I’m more motivated by setting goals myself and then trying to do and achieve them and that’s why I think it’s so important that we have our morning meetings. What’s going on? What’s on our list for today? Because we’re verbally telling each other what we’re working on.
So, we’re almost like accountable to each other. Nobody likes to be like “I set this goal again and I still haven’t done it.” And I think that it really comes across with all of us when it starts with hiring. It’s like something that you can feel. It’s something that I talk about in interviews all the time. I want to understand who you are what you like to do for keeping yourself on schedule on different things. And I think it comes across at the very beginning but we have a lot of checks and balances in place to just make sure that we are continuing to go forward.
I also really like the fact that you guys kind of set your own goals. So we have an overall company goal but I give it to each of you and your relative departments to decide what’s important. Here’s our overall company goal for right now, or this quarter, or what are we doing? What do you think you guys can take, and own? And then I feel like that really gives each of you a lot more ownership over it and then you’re gonna obviously pick things that you enjoy doing. And I’ve always been one that, we play to everybody’s strengths and whatever is missing we hire to that. And we find people to help fill those gaps.
Danielle: Yeah you said it. It’s so true just from my, you know even my perspective, it’s kind of just having the full ownership over your own area is really huge and it’s so much it’s so much easier to accomplish something when you feel that it’s important for your growth and the company’s, versus what somebody else thinks is important for you to do. So yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head.
Alysia: Well I’ve even learned that the hard way. Like I can set goals looking at different things in numbers of what should be happening but you have to be realistic about where you’re at right now. What do we know? What don’t we know? Are we trained to do this? I have this big massive goal, but do we actually know how we’re going to get there or are they going to just feel defeated afterwards?
So that’s why I think it’s always important to reassess and it’s something that I’m still learning how to do. Like realistically set goals we start off the year we’re like amazing then COVID hits and you’re like uh oh, need to reassess. Obviously, I would love our goal to still be what we set at the beginning of the year, but that’s not realistic. We need to adjust and I think that that’s just a motivator so giving you guys the the option to have your input and what we can all , in our respective areas, do to contribute, I think is the most important because that’s how we kind of build on that teamwork.
Danielle: Yeah that’s awesome this interview is kind of already getting a little bit long so I’ll wrap up here with one last question.
Just thinking about some companies who are leaders, maybe leaders of credit teams, leaders of companies, our clients maybe they have a culture that they know just feels off, feels negative, feels like people just aren’t on board and they want to make it better. But you know getting people in that it just seems maybe a little bit difficult, like it just feels like nobody’s really got a lot of buy-in, and it’s just they’re struggling to do that. What can you say to like whatever, something like tangible, maybe suggestions or things that people can implement or try within their own companies to improve that culture?
Alysia: Yeah so, I mean, I’d like to think that culture is just an overall corporate buy-in, depending, it really comes from the top in my opinion, because y you’re always going to have little subcultures in any business, but if you don’t have that sort of buy-in from the top ultimately you can only have control over what you have in your own realm. And so, if you have the ability to make some changes or even start to implement different things, I really started by reflecting on what I liked and what was important to me if you have the ability to hire staff. Focusing on what was important and what you had control over in your own department, and that’s how I started. When I was just doing Lien-Pro I was trying to find just for my little team of two at the time what was important for that kind of synergy, because together as a team unit we can really achieve a lot.
So, I think it’s important to reflect on, as best you can I know it’s really hard, but taking the time to think about what’s bothering you. Even if you think about it initially you’re like why does this person bother me so much, maybe it’s because they kind of have, like my trigger is like people that are super selfish or individualistic. I’m like okay well that’s just not what I’m trying to do here for what we’re doing. You always have to have the team component. We all can go off individually and do our own thing but we’re all going to come back and have the best interest of the team as a whole. So think about what it is that you’re trying to achieve within your business unit or your business as your overall goals and think about what kind of people can get you there.
I really think another big piece of it was hiring the right people we assessed what we needed and I hired really slowly.
Danielle: Yeah you have a pretty intense hiring process don’t you?
Alysia: Well like I hope it’s not intense but, like internally I take a lot of time and energy into thinking who I want to have join our team and I don’t really take it lightly at all.
I want to make sure that it’s the right fit because, especially because we’re small. Bring one person in and it changes the dynamic of the entire group, and I’m my big focus is the group, the way we have the team now, how’s this new person going to interact and do they jive? That’s why we kind of have our like little 90-day team try out. We want to see, like, do we like you, do you like us, this is how we are, yeah, full force feel like what it’s like to be here and you’ll figure out if you kind of belong or if it’s not really your scene.
Danielle: Totally really fast. It’s not easy to hide in a small company.
Alysia: Yeah so that’s I guess that’s my suggestion I don’t know, I read a lot too like I’m always trying to learn more about what’s what else I can be doing I always test it out in little ways so maybe if you’re scared and don’t think that you can really make a lot of change there are different things you can read, resources different things. Like what inspires you and then give it a try, see if it works.
Danielle: Top book suggestions for leaders?
Alysia: I read a lot of books I loved reading Culture Code, I like reading and I had got the subscription to Harvard Business Review, so they had a lot about culture, and honestly just talking to your peers. Like my tech group has been a big part of helping me develop that and just kind of learning from best practices. What do other people do? I like talking to people a lot about what are they doing so that way I feel like, I’m like okay other people are trying it maybe I can give it a go too so we brought in a lot of different speakers and things like that as well.
But ultimately it was just me reading things on my own about how do you like to even like, the Extreme Ownership thing, like I took a lot from that book on how we run our team as a whole. So yeah. And Traction, like it’s all about accountability but getting stuff done together and I think that’s what’s important.
Danielle: Yeah totally and just to add when you said that leadership or that culture comes from the top it’s true, you know, even when I think the team is maybe having a bit of like a “uhh day” and it you even if you’re having an “uhh day” will come in and you’re like, I’m bringing the energy!
Alysia: I’m the hype man
Danielle: And it brings everybody else back up and you just totally take that responsibility and so, definitely appreciate you for that man.
Alysia: Why do you think I also got a coffee machine in my office now that is taking take that energy
Danielle: Taking some caffeine… I’m getting ready!
Alysia: Yeah let’s do this!
Danielle: Man, thanks for chatting Alysia it was really awesome.
Alysia: No worries, thank you. Alright, talk to you later.
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