How to Build a Thriving Company Culture with Marc Reifenrath (Ep. #62)

Published on
October 18, 2022
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Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #62: How to Build a Thriving Company Culture with Marc Reifenrath

We’ve all heard the expression “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” But what does a strong organizational culture actually look like? It’s about a lot more than just occasional happy hours, pool tables, or free snacks.

When your culture comes from living your core values, it will be the guiding star for your actions and how you attack each day with your team.

Marc Reifenrath is the co-founder and CEO of Spinutech, a company that began as a dorm room start-up and is now an award-winning multinational digital agency. Marc takes culture seriously and attributes much of his company’s success to it.

Marc believes that you manage, lead, hire, fire, and solve problems using your core values. When a problem pops up, you evaluate it through this lens: which core value is misaligned here? This extremely quick and effective tactic often gets right to the root cause of the problem – and solutions suggest themselves almost automatically.

In this episode:

Meet Marc Reifenrath

  • Marc Reifenrath is the co-founder and CEO of Spinutech. Spinutech has grown from a University Dorm start-up over 20 years ago to a multinational digital agency with 150+ team members across the U.S. In that capacity, he understands firsthand how critical a company’s culture is to achieving and maintaining success.
  • What’s the secret ingredient to Spinutech’s growth? Company values that are truly lived, including a commitment to “Get Better Every Day.” The company would not be what it is today without a team of people who are as invested in each other’s growth and success as they are in delivering the best for their clients.

Business Culture Isn't Taught in School

  • They don't teach culture in college - they talk about ethics and strategy and ideas, but not anything about corporate culture.
  • Spinutech always had strong core values that influenced their culture, and it had gotten louder with time. Even though it wasn't written on the wall, or on their website, they were living it, it just hadn't been formalized until 2008.
  • It came down to asking why they were doing certain things. Why do we make ourselves wear business casual to the office? Why do we do this? Why do we do that?
  • If they didn't have good answers for it, they simply said, "Well, then let's not require it anymore." And so it was just some simple approaches, rooted in common sense. It's a simple approach that Marc believes is lost in corporate America very quickly.
  • He believes that the founders at Spinutech hadn't worked for corporate America, so they weren't influenced by those belief systems. They wanted it to be a great place for them to work at - if they weren't enjoying their own workplace, why do it?

How the Right Culture Gets Results

  • If you surround yourself with like-minded people, you're gonna get more of the same.
  • Here's their simple rule for leadership meetings, he tries to speak last. If he's speaking and sharing his opinion first, it's going to influence everyone else's answers. Give them space to share their great ideas, because a lot of times their ideas are gonna be very, very good because they are coming from different perspectives and you have to take advantage of that!
  • Marc does a weekly video every Friday about what he's concerned and excited about. In a recent one, he shared that they all have to give each other permission to provide feedback to each other. As a leader, it's very effective to show your vulnerability.
  • This commitment to getting better - one of their core values is to get 1% better every day - means owning up to and improving your weaknesses, polishing those rough edges, and can be hard as a leader because not to take offense to certain things. You'll slip up every once in a while, but you've got to be real with your team.
  • This is a good place to apply the Rule of 5 Whys. Asking "why" five times to get to the root cause. Why do you think that? Why do you feel that way? And just really digging into that can help a lot of things, including confronting insecurities that can be triggered by feedback.
  • When there's a problem or a challenge, attack the problem, not the person! It's such a simple filter. When you are debating something, make it real, make it physical, and throw it on the table in front of you. Now you're both staring at that as opposed to attacking each other.
  • If you live your core values, you hire fire, manage, lead, and solve problems using your core values. So anytime there's a problem, you just throw it on the table and say, "Which core value is misaligned here?" And now you start to solve it from that perspective. And that's often going to help you really get to the root cause.

Spinutech's Core Values

  • The first one has been kind of our mantra for a long time: We get better every day. And that's just this idea that you show up and you make yourself better, you make the team around you better, and you make your clients better.
  • The second one is: We do the right thing. Do the right thing even when nobody's looking, even when it's the hard thing to do.
  • The third one is: We over me. That's just all about being a team player. Marc uses team member, not employee, because words matter. And this way over me being part of a team part of something bigger than yourself, that's a really big one.
  • Their final one is: We own it. It means they own their wins, they own their losses, they own their work, and they even own a 40 hour work week, which means they're protecting and defending their work/life balance.

Downloads & Resources

Follow Marc on LinkedIn., Twitter and at Spinutech.com.

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Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

Marc Reifenrath

Marc Reifenrath is the co-founder and CEO of Spinutech. Spinutech has grown from a University Dorm start-up over 20 years ago to a multinational digital agency with 150+ team members across the U.S. In that capacity, he understands firsthand how critical a company’s culture is to achieving and maintaining success.

What’s the secret ingredient to Spinutech’s growth? Company values that are truly lived, including a commitment to “Get Better Every Day.” The company would not be what it is today without a team of people who are as invested in each other’s growth and success as they are in delivering the best for their clients.

View the episode transcript

Wendy Hanson  0:24  

Welcome everyone. So glad to have you here today cuz I know I say all the subjects are my favorite management subjects. But I think this is my best favorite management subject culture. So culture eats strategy for breakfast. That's a famous quote from legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker back in 2006. And gosh, we need strategy. It's important. But I think because we're in remote environments now, and people are spread up around the globe, culture is more important than ever. And it helps with hiring and retention, and happiness. If we know that we're in that culture of a company where people care, there'll be happier and there'll be more productive. Today, we have a guest who is the CEO of a company that takes culture very seriously. We will learn some of his practices that have been very successful and have attributed to the company's success. So Mark, rife, and Rath is co founder and CEO of spin you tech spin your tech has grown from a university dorm startup, oh, there's a number of companies that started in that situation and got very big, over 20 years ago, to a multinational digital agency, with 150 Plus team members across the US in that capacity. He understands firsthand how critical a company's culture is to achieving and maintaining success. What's the secret ingredient to spin your tech growth, company values that are truly lived, including a commitment to get better every day, the company would not be what it is today without a team of people who are as invested in each other's growth and success as they are in delivering the best for their clients. So welcome, Mark. I'm so delighted to have you here today. I'm excited already for our few minute pre call that we had, it was great.

Marc Reifenrath  2:22  

Yes, thank you. And welcome. Thank you for having me. I'm really excited to be here. And they decided to talk about this.

Wendy Hanson  2:28  

Yes. So from your perspective, because this is a passion of yours. What is culture?

Marc Reifenrath  2:35  

Oh, gosh, sometimes it's easy to say what it isn't. So it's not beanbags. It's not pool tables. It's not happy hours, it's not some of the obvious things. It's the essence of how you attack each day with your team. That's that's a simple way for me to say it because it's it's an attitude. It's an approach. It's a living, breathing thing, not an aspirational thing.

Wendy Hanson  3:01  

So yeah, it's living and breathing and things that live and breathe always need to be nurtured, don't they? Absolutely.

Marc Reifenrath  3:10  

It's a garden, you've got to prune it, and there's gonna be good growth and bad growth. And you have to make sure that you're making room for the good growth, and you have to cut out the bad grows very quickly, of stuff that will take away from it. Yeah.

Wendy Hanson  3:23  

So living plants is a great metaphor for what you have to do with a culture. And that's good for people to remember, you know, don't just want to get a wax plant or something like that, that you're going to leave in the corner, you're going to pay attention to it, you're gonna give it some food and nourishment and water. Awesome. And why do you think, because you've been at this for a long time, why do you think company culture is so important?

Marc Reifenrath  3:50  

Well, for us, you know, our human capital, our people, our team members is our biggest asset, and we need to take care of them and make sure that we're providing the absolute best environment for them. And that's the culture, it's what's going to attract, retain great people and help them grow too. And so we just, we really care about the team, making sure that they're gonna get the best for themselves, which is gonna be the best for the company as well.

Wendy Hanson  4:19  

Now, you started this over 20 years ago, and what made you at that time think that culture was going to be so important? Did you know In the very beginning, or did you learn that over time?

Marc Reifenrath  4:31  

I've love to sit here and tell you that of course, we knew right in the beginning that we had to have a great culture and we cared about it. It wasn't that we didn't care about it. We just didn't know it was even a thing. I don't think in college, they taught us anything about culture. They talked about ethics and strategy and, you know, ideas, but not anything of as far as corporate culture. And so I would say it was always there and actually, not too long ago and I do Have you ever quarterly I do a meet up with Mark with a whole company, it takes several meetings, but we try to have about 15 to 20 people in each meeting, we still have our first four team members, and the first team member, we were talking about this. And it turned into a great debate. And he said, Mark, here's the deal, like we always have had these core values, we've always had this culture, it's just gotten louder with time. And I thought that was a really great way of saying, because even though we didn't have it written on the wall, or on our website, we still were living it. And it was there. We just didn't formalize it probably until about 2008, I would say, and that was asking more questions about why we were doing certain things. Why do we make ourselves wear business casual to the office? Why do we do this? Why do we do that? And if we didn't have good answers for and we simply said, Well, then let's not require it anymore. And so it was just some simple approaches, I would say our culture is based off of common sense. And so it's, it's a simple thing that I think is lost in corporate America very quickly. And so, you know, we didn't work for corporate America, most of us didn't before skinny tech. So we weren't tainted or stained by some of those belief systems. It was simply we want this to be a cool place for us to work at. And we want to have fun. And if we're not having fun at this workplace, we don't want to work here either.

Wendy Hanson  6:21  

Yeah. And it sounds like maybe your your founding team all were very young at the same time you were all in college with can I make that assumption?

Marc Reifenrath  6:32  

Yeah, we were definitely a little green. You might say yes. Right.

Wendy Hanson  6:36  

But innocence is bliss. Sometimes, you know, because Peter Drucker was just talking about culture in 2006. So it was back then a lot of people were not caught talking about culture. Right? Totally. Yeah. And tell me about your group. Are you remote hybrid? Do you have an office? What does that because that really impacts culture. And I'd like to get into on this call.

Marc Reifenrath  7:01  

So we're in an interesting time. So there was some remote and we had maybe like eight to 10 people at remote, truly remote, pre COVID. But I think all of them had started in one of our offices, and then COVID hit and we had this great revelation of, you don't have to be in an office or in a market, that we have an office to work for us. And that really opened up the talent gates to be awesome. And so we've since we've had like, 50 people across the US that are truly remote, not in one of our five office locations. And I'll tell you this is we just announced this to the team in August. So this is some fresh news, we have two offices that we're going to not renew our leases on you one of the funny part of that announcement, those two offices and the all team meeting didn't have anybody in them. So it kind of proves the point. So Chicago and Denver, we're going to be not renewing those leases when they come up, which is sad in some ways, because for me, personally, I love those buildings. They're beautiful. They're in great locations. It's an awesome environment, but the ROI on the culture was not there. And so what can we do, it's several $100,000, we can take that money and pour it back into the team to bring them together in more meaningful ways. So we are very hybrid at the moment, we will so we have those five offices. But on any given day, we might have less than 25 people in those offices. And we've really empowered the team to say work how you want to an environment that you want to, as long as you can still produce great results, be available, all those things, just get your job done, and nobody's going to have a concern. And to me, that's the way that at least for our industry, our teams want to work. So let's let's meet them there, and where they're going to do their best work.

Wendy Hanson  8:49  

Yeah. And, and it's still manageable with a company of 150 people, right, that, that you can pull that off and, and keep people connected. But I certainly want to hear more about that. So what's the biggest lesson that you've learned in the last 22 years that you can pass on to our listeners?

Marc Reifenrath  9:10  

Well, I would say the biggest that there's a lot of lessons I'm you know, one hire smart people smarter than yourself. That's that's an easy one. For me. The biggest lesson though, is trust your gut. I think in those early days, I'll say we My partners and I we fought that sometimes we we had an instinctive response or idea or approach, and then you start to think about it. And sometimes, especially when we were smaller, we just we over thought we overcomplicated in our gut was right, a lot. And so over the years, I've just instinctively I go with my gut a lot more. As we've gotten bigger. I've also maybe use more data to validate some of that, but your gut oftentimes isn't wrong that instinctive thought you have a response is 99.9 Some of the time, it's pretty spot on.

Wendy Hanson  10:02  

Yeah, I would agree, especially when it comes to people, you know, you can know what you can feel it, when you're, you know, we're so careful to about, especially when bringing on coaches and facilitators that are going to be representing us out in the world. And they are all over the place. You know, they're in India and Dubai and Kenya. And we have to trust that those conversations are going to be great conversations that we would all be proud of as a coach. And so really having that gut feeling that this person is going to get it is so it's, it's, uh, yeah, you can't, you can't get better than that. You gotta get some data. Yes. But you have to have you got to do your gut. And not everybody says, I'm trying to find people smarter than me. I totally agree with that. And sometimes you need people that have different strengths than you, you know, that just smarter than the tech roiled? Yeah,

Marc Reifenrath  10:57  

no, I think if you surround yourself with like minded people, you're gonna get more of the same. And so, I mean, here's a simple rule in our leadership meetings, I tried to speak last, I shouldn't be the ones speaking and sharing my opinion first, because I'm, whether they would admit it, or I would admit, I'm influencing their answers. Let's let's give them space to share their great ideas, because I can promise you, a lot of times their ideas are gonna be way better than mine, their perspective is gonna be way better than mine. And we've got to take advantage of that.

Wendy Hanson  11:29  

Yeah. And how do you go about doing that? Because some, some companies say that they do that. But people still kind of stay back, you know, they don't feel it's safe to share some ideas. So are there any strategies or things that you do at meetings that really bring that out besides you going last?

Marc Reifenrath  11:48  

So something I've, I think it was back in May, I did this for our whole team, I do a weekly video, every Friday remote via my son of the video video to the team, what I'm concerned about what I'm excited about, maybe an anecdote, here, there. But one of the things that I said in one of those videos in May was, we all have to give each other permission to provide feedback to each other. And so I think, as a leader, you got to show your vulnerability. Me saying I want and care about your feedback, and you're not gonna hurt my feelings, like, I know I can get better. I know, there are plenty of weaknesses, that I have plenty of rough edges that need polished. And so you just got to be vulnerable. And it's also how you react in those moments to which is hard as a leader because it's easy to take offense to certain things as a leader, especially culture that I care deeply about. And so you're going to slip up every once in a while, maybe have not the best reaction, but you've got to just be very real with your team. And okay, love the rule of five why's I don't know if you've heard this really? Yes, why five times you get to the root cause? And so why do you think that? Why do you feel that way? And just really digging into that. The other thing I'll say is when I shared an idea, the team always makes it way better. Way, way, way better. I had an idea this weekend, I sent it to a couple people scheduled send it for Monday morning. And then I had a test base with another guy,

Wendy Hanson  13:09  

I interrupt you there. Yes, I know

Marc Reifenrath  13:11  

what you're gonna hit on.

Wendy Hanson  13:12  

Yes. Schedule, sent it for Monday morning, instead of jumping into your team's weekend. What a practice that is, in terms of culture. Yeah,

Marc Reifenrath  13:22  

yes. Yes. Be respectful of their their time off, right. So this idea I said to one of the guys I met with this morning, I was like, Brian, I know you're gonna make us better. So don't like reaction is great right now. But I really want you to just soak on it, chew on it, and then come back to me with what you're thinking, because it's probably 75% baked right now. But I know you're gonna take it a couple levels up, and he's our video guy. And so I know, he's gonna have great ideas, and it's going to expand into something much bigger. That's awesome. And so I think it doesn't have to be my idea. It doesn't, you know, to take ownership, it's once you turn that idea out in the wild, or that thought out in the wild, it can grow and get better. And if you're a true leader, you should want that you shouldn't want it the credit doesn't matter. You should want whatever it is to be the best that it can be. And so I want my team that I work with directly on a daily basis to feel very free and comfortable. I believe they think that way. You know, they're of course going to tell you if I asked you that, like, yeah, I feel free and comfortable. I truly believe that they do. And that's not something it's one conversation. It takes time. And it takes tough situations for them to see how I'm going to react and they know and they they believe it and they see it and witness it.

Wendy Hanson  14:37  

Yeah. To build that trust as a leader is one of the most important things right that a leader can do, and create, you know, the psychologically safe environment. It's interesting how many companies are coming to us now saying, we need to really have a psychologically safe environment, what kinds of training or coaching do you have for that because it's It's a challenge all over the place to make sure that, that we really are respecting people and they can speak their mind,

Marc Reifenrath  15:07  

I've got a great anecdote for you. This is a simple way,



when there's a problem or a challenge, you attack the problem, not the person. It's such a simple like filter. But when if you and I are debating something, it's like, we need to put this problem, make it real, make it physical, and throw it on the table in front of us. And now we're both staring at that as opposed to attacking each other. And we're saying, that's the problem, that's the thing that both of us are going to fix, it just changes the thinking a little bit to make it less about, I need to be defensive, or Ooh, that was my mess up, I need to, you know, hide that I messed up. Like, there's a lot of defensive, so how do we knock those walls down and attack that problem and not the person. And so another filter for us, and this is, I think this works for most organizations, if you have lived core values, you hire fire, manage, lead, and solve problems using your core values. So anytime there's a problem, you just throw it on the table, say, well, which core value is misaligned with our of ours? And now you start to solve it from that perspective. And that's often going to help you really get to the root cause


of what's what's a little wonky, what's off with it and get it solved easier.

Wendy Hanson  16:18  

Yeah, what are your core values as a company, because then I want to come back to this of how you use them. And I just also want to note I loved in case people didn't quite get this, you take the problem as this, if you're doing it in person, and coaches have done this exercise, you know, you put this glass in the middle of the table, and this is the problem. And then you both talk to the problem, and not to each other in that way. So that is something if people haven't heard that technique, it's fabulous. And you you do these things second nature. So when you say some of these, I'm calling you back on them, because it's like, wow, that might be something that not everybody has had experience with. So back to your core values. What are your core values?

Marc Reifenrath  17:02  

Yes. So our first one, and this has been kind of our mantra for a long time as we get better every day. And that's just this idea that you show up and you make yourself better, you make the team around you better and you make your clients better. The second one is we do the right thing, you do the right thing, even when nobody's looking, even when it's the hard thing to do. The third one is we over me, which is my favorite. That's just all about being a team player. If you notice, I don't say employee, I say team member. And so to me words matter. And this way over me being part of a team part of something bigger than yourself, that's a really big one. And then our final one is we own it, it means we own our wins, we own our losses, we own our work, we own a 40 hour work week, which means we're protecting and defending our work life balance, as we own it. So it's really four simple ones. You know, four years ago, there's probably six or seven core values, we've over time, kind of condensed them down, and just simplified them a little bit. And I would say we've just got more articulate with what they are. And it makes it very easy. What's awesome is in our Slack shout out channel is we don't just give shout outs, we say so and so did a great job with x and displayed, and then they'll put in the core value or core values that that individual is displaying.

Wendy Hanson  18:17  

That's great. What a way to reinforce it. Yeah, that's wonderful. And when you're how do you set it up? Like because we're, we're remote now. Okay, so you have a problem. And you're trying to use those core values as a way to let's let's do the litmus test with these values. What does that conversation look like? or sound like?

Marc Reifenrath  18:38  

Yeah, so how do you how do people show that they're living it? Or how's it lived out?

Wendy Hanson  18:42  

Oh, yeah, we have a problem with this. Whatever this new project is, and we want to make sure you know, we're gonna use our core values to make sure as we're testing this, tell me a little about that.

Marc Reifenrath  18:53  

So describe the process, I was going to say to you, okay, when he helped me understand what the problem is, is the client being difficult is somebody in our team not performing what it is, and, and then you start to drill into that, and you're like, well, Wendy, it sounds like it's way over me. Sounds like somebody is really focused on their agenda versus the teams. And so do we need to maybe have a meeting with them and talk about it? Like, what do you think the best way to approach that individual about it, or if it's a client, you know, they're not owning their part of the work. And we just need to maybe do a level set with them and saying, like, listen, we both know, we want this project to be successful. Right now, I gotta be honest with you, I would expect the same of you to give me this feedback, but your team isn't pulling their weight. We're not gonna we're not gonna be able to deliver on the schedule, or the time or the price or whatever, you know, that we agreed upon. If we don't get some better inputs on your end, which if you needed to pause it, that's fine. But you know, or this actually, this was a real world, one. CMO of a great client, I had to touch base with them and we were just kind of catching up and he said, Hey, I need to let you know they were was a conversation and I don't know if you heard about it, I said, I don't think I have. And somebody on their team had gotten an isolation with our team. And he said, there were some known problems with this individual in the past. And we had an agenda to what solve for and this person kind of told our team, everything they were doing wrong. And that wasn't accurate at all. And he was very apologetic. And at the end of the conversation, I said, well, one, thank you for sharing that. But to a bigger, thank you for defending our core values and culture and the way that, you know, we like to work together because that you're right, that is super important. I'll share this with the team. And he said, I've already talked to him, I said, I think it's great that they know that you cared this much to share with me as well. So I'm going to reinforce it. And he said, Here's what I've done to ensure this doesn't happen. He said, because your team didn't do anything wrong. They're doing great. It's like, This person was being defensive about some of their work, which makes sense. And so I didn't even have to attack that problem. It was presented to me by the client. And that's because he knows and understand our culture and core values so well, and how we like to operate. So the team again, was appreciative. They love that he defended it, but then knowing that I cared, that he cared that I know, was a big deal as well.

Wendy Hanson  21:13  

Yeah. Do you put your core values in your proposals? When you start working with what do you have when you have a brand new client? How did they know what your core values are?

Marc Reifenrath  21:24  

I don't know that they're in the proposal. There's aspects of them, I know that they get better every day aspect is out there, I would say it's hard to become a client without us without having crossed it. Because of interviews like this. And podcasts. I mean, we're pretty vocal about these things. And it may not be directly written in there, but we're going to share aspects of it in our presentations, typically, and saying, Well, that would align with our core values. So it's maybe not in one spot, but it would be sprinkled in there. And again, like I said, the beginning, it's the essence of how you attack the day. It's the essence of how we do our work. And so they're gonna feel um, throughout that.

Wendy Hanson  22:01  

Yeah, that's great. That's great. Now, we talked about, I've often heard, like, the first day of work and the last day of work, are some of the most important days because that's what people are going to remember how you brought them in, and how you celebrated them when they left and or whatever the circumstances. But you have something about the first 100 days of a new team member? Why is that critical? And what are some of the things that you do? Especially I'd love you to focus on in a remote environment? Yeah.

Marc Reifenrath  22:35  

So I love this topic. And I think it is so important. And we were doing some of these things pre COVID. But I think COVID kind of it was like, if you didn't have online, grocery shopping ordering done, you were kind of behind the times, I feel like if we would have had some of these things in the works, we would have been behind the times for the new environment. So the first 100 days, it's all about getting that new team member to a point where they're defending our culture and core values. How do you as quickly as possible get the DNA of who we are injected into them, get them bought in, and also building solid, real relationships with their teammates. So the first 100 days, it technically would start day one, but for us, it starts even in the interview process. So they're going to get their equipment, their swag from Sweeney tech before day one so that they have everything they need to start day one successfully as if they were walking into an office, at their home or wherever they're working. And week one day one, I do an hour sit down with each team member, I do a cultural and core values overview. If it's important to you, it should come from you. And so I want them to hear the passion that I know maybe you're feeling a little bit today with some of these topics. I want them to feel that from me as well. And why I care so much about each one of those core values, the culture and just be able to ask me questions. There's different leadership check ins throughout that first 100 days, there's surveys that go out every 15 days to get feedback from them to make sure that they're getting what they need. So there's there's a nice sequence of events. And this will be different for every organization, depending on their role. We're giving them an overview of the whole business, not just the department that they're on. So if they're just in, you know, content, although you're going to meet people from SEO, and from paid media, and the web team and so on, to understand how they all are interrelated. But it's also just trying to break down some of those trust walls and build relationships. And ideally, in the first six months, we want them to physically come into an office as well because it is remote. We provide some like GrubHub or you know, some, like gift cards for meals and stuff too. So that we can do that. At the six month mark, I do a check in with them. So we have those. How's it going? Have we met your expectations? Anything we can do better stuff like that. So there's a ton of details in there. You're in the team that runs. That's amazing. But the intent is really, here's a simple way of saying I want you to have the best first day you've ever had. Because somebody in their life is going to ask it could be a roommate, a friend, a spouse, a parent, somebody, how was that first day? Oh my gosh, when do you and believe it? It was the best first I've ever had the bar. Thankfully, the bar is pretty low for that. But we try to understand like, what's a $20? Less indulgence that Wendy has what I had love a good Snickers bar. Okay, let's send them some sneakers and have that so that on day one, it's there, they have a bad day, let's make sure we get on that let's let's pamper the person in the right ways that feels tailored and customized to them.

Wendy Hanson  25:48  

Yeah, I love that piece that is personalized. It's not just, it's about getting to know you. And you said, the team that does this, that watches out for this person in the first 100 days does a great job, who composes that team, because I want people to be able to model what you're doing because it seems to be working.

Marc Reifenrath  26:07  

Yeah, so we need to come up with better tile titles for this. But we're there's there's really, I would say two people that are kind of overseeing this. So you've got what you have the recruiters on their front end that, in turn, we have two internal recruiters. And then we've got an onboarding specialist, you could say. So Franny, she's really helping schedule out all the trainings and the meetups and all the various things that needs to go along with sending out surveys reviewing those. And then there's also just I would say, we've got Rachel who's more just about defending the culture and and she's the gardener that you could say, and so she's going to be focusing on what are the cultural events in this remote environment. So whether that's a lunch and learn, we have a team member who teaches Zumba every other Friday, I think we have a focus, we've got yoga, there's mental health clarity breaks, there's trivia, I mean, lots of different stuff to try to scratch different niches. And then there's also a component of what I would call the strength and conditioning part of we have we call it GPA to to get better eight hours, so eight hours a month dedicated towards self development, and getting that that team member focused on okay, what certifications do I need to get? What do I need to get better at? Is it speaking, presenting deckbuilding? Is that a specific skill set to my area? Whatever it might be, helping them dial in on what they need to get better at.

Wendy Hanson  27:36  

And the company supports that learning wherever they need to, to get some training. Yes, yeah.

Marc Reifenrath  27:42  

So it's about just in time, it's about a $15,000 per year, per team member investment in time. And then we also obviously, invest in bringing outside resources into training. There's a lot of stuff that's free, but, you know, we really need to make sure we're, I think I said this earlier, but our team members are our biggest asset. And we need to make sure we're investing in our biggest asset all the time. And I would even say it's the whole human, not just the professional one. So mental wellness and well being is a big part of it. We have alarms or flags set off or you work more than 42 hours this week, flag goes up the I'm taking PTO and 90 days flag goes up. And so we just want to make sure that people are it's some people are naturally workaholics, we want to try to help them defend. And if you have that, whatever personal event that you want to go to do it, we want you to enjoy that. And we want you to be all in on that. We want you to also be all in on whatever the work you're doing. We're really, really good at lead generation for our clients. When you're focused on that whatever part of that formula that is, we want to be really good at that. If you're at your kids, softball game, basketball game, football game, whatever it is, choir, we want to be all in on that, too.

Wendy Hanson  29:01  

That's great. That's so great. And I love. I love the balance because that's that's why I think the new quiet quitting is going on out there that that really started as I need more work life balance. And now it's kind of gone crazy. But to be able to really make sure that that you are making you you are taking care of people to take care of themselves and giving them cues that that's important. I've not heard that from a company. You work more than 42 hours and you know, there's gonna be a notification there. Yes. That's great. And how did you deal during the pandemic? What were some of the challenges that you face then? You know, and you were already pretty much remote but what were some of the other things that happened?

Marc Reifenrath  29:50  

Yeah, I mean, we went remote quickly. It was a Sunday morning. We made that decision and Monday we did it. It worked. And then it was kind of, you know, check everybody like, has every okay like it just the game just changed really quickly and it was okay, how's everybody doing? You know, the virtual happy hours were kind of fun working remote was kind of fun seeing everybody's new backgrounds. So there was there was this like, first day of school mentality for the first 20 days maybe. And then it was kind of like, oh boy, this is gonna last a while. And so I think as leaders, I heard this statement recently. And I think it's just spot on the way we lead before COVID worked before COVID, the way we lead during COVID worked during COVID. Neither one of those works, how we're leading out of it. And so I think the theme there is adaptive leadership, we need to continue to adapt to the, to the game to the environment that we're sitting in. And it is all changing very quickly. I think what I've really started to focus on is that leading the whole person, the whole human is becoming really, really important. And I've a simple way to illustrate that is starting meaning I'm from the Midwest. And so here's how a typical conversation would go. Hey, Wendy. Hey, Mark, how's it going? How's it going? Mark? Oh, good, good. How are you? I could have had the worst day. And I would still say good. So we need to go. Hold on. Wendy, you're not listening to me. How are you doing? You know what Mark, this morning was a little rough. Plumber didn't show up when they're supposed to. I've got a leaky faucet. The dog ran away, it was just it was kind of a terrible morning. Okay, man, that stinks. Anything I can do to help make your day better. It's just addressing the person first. Because we're not having the casual collisions in the office, where I know intimately about your vacation that you just took, or you were talking about your great nice or whatever. Like, there's these little things that we know about people when we have those casual collisions, but those aren't happening. And so we have to force some of that personal connection. It might feel a little bit awkward. Now, as we're all kind of relearning that, we also still have a lot of expectations of relationships, pre COVID. And it isn't gonna go that way. It's changed for, for working wise, forever, potentially. And so we've got to learn how to build deep connections, like this over a screen. And then that's going to make both of us produce better work together and be happier as a human. Yeah.

Wendy Hanson  32:35  

I love that we all have to take on that Midwest attitude. Yes. Shout about this in the beginning and be able to say, you know, I'm having a bad day, because usually, people well, I'm not gonna say that, that, you know, my, my car broke down, or I was really mad. Something happened this morning, it feels a little bit whiny. But if you don't know those things about a person, then you're going to see their work drop off. If it's something that happens, and you need to know the personal side.

Marc Reifenrath  33:04  

Yeah. And I've tried to, how do you keep in touch with the team, so we got close to 170 people now. It's, you know, if I know there's a storm, everybody's got storms going on. So there's some that I can relate to our oldest child is adopted, we have several team members that are in that process, or have done that, and just send me a slack and be like, hey, what's the update, I've been really thinking about that. And it's nothing to do with work has absolutely zero to do with work. But in my opinion, it has everything to do with work, because that's a very distracting process to go through. It's stressful. It can take up a lot of your headspace. And so I think from my perspective, I just want to show that I support them, they need somebody to chat to that's been through this, you know, we all have been through different storms, we can relate. But as a leader, just letting them know, I'm showing up for you as a human first, and then a leader. I think it just makes it easier to lead people in my opinion, and makes them feel appreciated all around.

Wendy Hanson  34:00  

Yes. an empathetic leader, will get so much further than a leader that only worries about productivity.

Marc Reifenrath  34:09  

I'll give you another example. There. I was talking to a great, great team member. This is a mom, she's mom, and super stressed out and I could tell it, I'm just like, hey, let's take a little time out here. What's your number one job? Look at me as like your mom. That's number one. All right, you need to be great at that. Number two is your role you have here. Don't forget that. Like just remember your mom because there was a bunch of personal stuff going on. And she told me it was awful. It was it was a tough parenting moment to have to go through for anybody. Let's just recognize that and say like, yeah, that kind of sucks. That wasn't super fun that what you had to deal with. I can't personally relate but I can understand that. It's not a fun experience to go through. So just don't forget, that's your number one job. Don't don't ever get those two out of line. You're always gonna be a mom first because that's going to last forever. This job may or may not. And that's okay.

Wendy Hanson  35:05  

And I love that. And I can bet there are plenty of bosses in the past that have said, what's your number one job? And they're they're wanting you to say it's this one. It's the work that you're doing. Yeah. Yep. One final question. datapoint, how's your retention?

Marc Reifenrath  35:23  

So pretty COVID Off The Charts less than 5% for many, many, many, many, many years, we made it 10 years with zero turnover, we still have our first four team members, then COVID hit and we started hiring all over. And you know what, we made a lot of really attractive team members on LinkedIn, because we work with great clients, and we produce great results. So recruiters heaven, they're just like, This looks great. So typical turnover for agencies is 17 to 20%. Last year, we closed the year and 14%. For me, that felt awful, because it was almost three times what we had experienced before. So it felt awful. I don't want to remove the fact that it felt awful, because it shouldn't be that high. But the perspective that's important to put on that is, we were still better than quote unquote, normal times for our industry. Today, most agencies are experiencing 30 ish plus percent, we're still well, well below that. So it's tough. Another thing is we're growing. So I think the thing I would share with leaders is, turnover doesn't have to be a bad thing, you can celebrate it. You mentioned it earlier, the first and last day, we have, I would say managed up and managed out. But then we have also either outgrown team members or they've outgrown us. And that's okay. If you look at it like a professional sports team, we just want to always make sure we're jacking to have the best roster to win the next championship. And sometimes in that journey, you will have outgrown people and they will have outgrown you. And culturally, I don't think it needs to be a bad thing. There is good turnover and bad turnover. You hate to see some people go but you know what, it's that's what it is. And so let's make sure that we're raising the bar with every new team member we bring onto the team and try to make it a win win.

Wendy Hanson  37:14  

Yeah. And when they go, they speak highly of the organization. Exactly. It's important. Yes,

Marc Reifenrath  37:20  

a lot of them have made us where they've gotten us us to become a client. So that's the greatest compliment they can give. And I still try to keep in touch with a lot of those individuals too. And I always say like, however I can help you, you know, let me know how you can help and support you in the future. Because you don't ever know there could be great book, The Go Giver. It's just this attitude that you always give and don't expect things in return. I I'm fine with that. I'll help and support anybody I can. And if it helps advance them great. I expect nothing in return. It oftentimes turns into something in the future, though. But there's zero expectations.

Wendy Hanson  37:55  

Right? Well, Mark, this has been a true delight. I learned so much. I loved hearing your passion for this and all the things that you're doing on your team. So I appreciate you taking the time to be with me today and spread this wisdom to the world. And if people want to learn more about you and the company, what's the best way for them to reach out?

Marc Reifenrath  38:17  

Yeah, so two ways. So spinny tech, obviously, we're a digital marketing company and go to our website, SPI nutch.com. And then I'm very active on LinkedIn, I share a lot of these thoughts about leadership and culture and core values and a little bit about digital marketing lead gen. So you just look up my name mark with a C. So ma RC and then rife, and wrath are ei FENRATH. And you look for me on LinkedIn and connect with me and I'd be happy to connect.

Wendy Hanson  38:44  

Great, great, well, we'll have those in the show notes and look forward to we might need another discussion again sometime. Mark, I'd be

Marc Reifenrath  38:52  

happy to do it. Absolutely. Okay. Well, thank

Wendy Hanson  38:54  

you all very much for tuning in today. I hope that you're as excited as I was about this because I think this conversation is really an important one for us all to be having right now. So, thank you so much, Mark. Have a great day everybody go out and what do they say on the news? It's like, be nice to each other. This very Iowa thing, be nice to each other. Have fun, you know, treat each other with kindness and have a wonderful day.

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