How to Create the Best Place to Work
Dan: Time for a Bit-Wizards ' Tip of the Wand. On the phone with me, I have the world-famous Louis Erickson. How are you doing this morning, sir?
Louis Erickson: I'm doing fantastic. Thanks, Dan.
Dan: Well, I'm glad.
Louis Erickson: I love the world-famous every time, so it's going to happen.
Dan: He is. He's world-famous. Everybody knows Louis. And oh, by the way, congratulations on Bit-Wizards again for being named Florida Trends Best Places to Work. What is this, the 10th year in a row you've got this award?
Louis Erickson: Absolutely. Yeah. Vince and I are really proud of this award. It goes down to our fundamentals, how we were founded. And we've not just made the list 10 years in a row. I like to tell people we've always been in the top 10. They pick a hundred companies out of the state of Florida. And I'm fibbing a little bit because one year it was 11.
Dan: Oh, gee. You can say you're 10 for 10.
Louis Erickson: Always in the top 10. Yeah, absolutely. In fact, Vince and Sam are both swamped. We've got a lot going on, so they asked me to do the show. And with this award, I thought we might kind of change the format again, keep the content interesting, hopefully, and discuss some of the ways that Bit-Wizards has been able to achieve that award so consistently and so highly ranked.
Dan: Well, obviously, you guys are doing something right because every time I talked to any of your employees, Louis, they always seem very upbeat and positive about their job.
Louis Erickson: One of the most important things is to create a culture that kind of breeds that and to surround everything about it. I went to a conference on culture, setting up a good corporate culture. And I remember before the conference started, we were just having a little side chat and one of the guys, he was kind of scoffing at it, which I thought was strange since he was in the class. If you really don't believe in this, why are you here? And he said, " Oh, that's just fluffy bunny stuff. That's just the perks and stuff." And I said, " Well, sir, that's not correct." Culture isn't just about ... When we think of Google and all these perks or someplace like Bit-Wizards where he has unlimited time off and all these nice features, a culture is based on the kind of company you have. And nowhere is that more evident than the United States military. They have a culture that isn't fluffy bunny. Duty, honor, country. And it's ingrained into it and bootcamp when they break you down and then build you back up with this and everything that you do is process-driven and very direct. I don't think anybody would call the military culture or fluffy bunny culture.
Dan: I wouldn't think so either.
Louis Erickson: And yet they establish a culture in order to accomplish a mission. So culprit culture encompasses the values and behaviors that define the social and psychological environment of your business. And interestingly, I read on Investopedia that often corporate culture is implied not expressly defined. It develops organically over time and with the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. But this is so important. Why would you let it happen by accident? Why not be intentional in creating the framework of a good culture? Now, of course, your employees handle that, and how you implement it matters, but at least start by setting up that framework that does that.
Dan: So, Louis, do you think that comes a lot from also kind of screening the employees that you hire so you feel like they would be a good fit for the company?
Louis Erickson: Absolutely. That is a key component of it. Once you've defined the structure of your culture, everything has to be surrounded around it. The hiring, the firing, kudos, correction, how you handle these things go back to that defined corporate culture.
Dan: Yeah, that makes good sense to me because you referred back to the military. It's kind of the same in the military as far as being a good leader. And like you said, you make a defined idea on what you want your employee to be. Now, oftentimes when somebody would come into the military, I can relate this back to me as a first sergeant, you would give them expectations and you probably do that the same in Bit-Wizards. When you hire somebody and you're interviewing them, you give them the expectations that you would think from them. And whether or not they want to agree with those expectations, you might think of them as a good fit. Is that something that you do?
Louis Erickson: Absolutely. So covering the corporate culture and the expectations that are going to be put upon them is part of the hiring process. And, of course, I'm looking for those cues to let me know if they're going to be a good fit for the business. But also by setting those expectations, if I get it wrong and we have to do correction or eventually if we have to get to the extreme case of termination because they can't meet those expectations, I have a responsibility to make sure that they understand the job before they come into it. I often talk about this. We have to do our due diligence. But all in all, I mean, if you really count the exact number of hours you're interviewing somebody, you might get eight and some places don't even get that. I mean, you have a small conversation. It depends on the level of job and the need, of course. But how are you going to get to know somebody in eight hours? And there might be multiple interviews, phone calls, maybe have them fly in, talk to them or something of that nature. But when you really get down to the brass tacks of how much time you spent discussing with them, eight hours is about the most you're going to get. So while it's important we use those eight hours as best we can to determine if the person's a good fit, I also like to make sure that I explained to them the job because they know themselves better than I could. And I want them to know the expectations they're going to be faced so that they can meet them and not take a job that's not going to fit them. It's not good for them. It's not good for us. So, definitely we go through the hiring.
Dan: It sounds like you give them every opportunity, Louis. The way you're talking, you give them every opportunity, and through your leadership and probably training if necessary if they just can't seem to cut it, that would be the end. But it sounds like you go as far as you possibly can. And like you said, extreme for termination, but it sounds like you go the extra mile to make sure that these people have the best opportunity they can to flourish in your business.
Louis Erickson: Yes, we do. And it's all surrounded around our corporate culture, the mission statement, the vision statement, the core values, especially the core values that Sam had covered a couple of weeks ago, that everything is surrounded on them. The interview process, it's discussed and we're looking for those traits within that person. It's all over this organization with public recognition in the kudos and the awards that we give, that they're surrounded around these core values, but also in the correction, which we do in private. You put praise in public and correct in private. And I was telling the middle management layer and try to apply this to myself, just to have courage. You wouldn't wait till your semi-annual review with your child to tell them they need to look both ways before they cross the street.
Louis Erickson: And there's no point in waiting for some kind of review period when people are doing minor things that are incorrect. You need to correct them right then. And often what it is just a nudge. It's not even necessarily that they are aware of it, that they're doing something terrible. Sometimes people are foolish, maybe they don't have good work ethic or something of that nature. But most times, I think people want to do a good job. And they come in and do their job but they make little mistakes. Like I said, the kid not looking both ways, maybe they didn't know, and then you got to correct them.
Dan: I agree. You can't let it fester until it's a big problem. Correct it when it's a small problem.
Louis Erickson: Absolutely.
Dan: I like that.
Louis Erickson: I was jumping ahead a little bit, but one of the things ... I started a blog once and never actually finished it. But I said, " Create a great place to work, fire people." And it was meant to be a bit provocative because you certainly don't want to be flippant about that kind of thing. Once we hire somebody, we've made a commitment to them. But it's never easy to fire somebody, even if they deserve it. We have an instafire. If you lie on your timesheet here at Bit-Wizards, it's an instafire event. It's theft. If you bill an hour you didn't, it is theft.
Louis Erickson: And I don't care who you are, there's no coming back from that. If you get caught doing that, you're terminated. And so if somebody does something like, they're terminated. They did it to themselves. But it's not like you don't remember that they have families and this could hurt them and you might feel bad about it. But the worst situation is when you have a wonderful person, who's a hard worker and has a great attitude, but they can't do the job. But you also have to let those people go too. In the early days, I didn't learn that lesson. And we'd say, " Oh, man, that person is well-loved. But, man, they're messing things up. Customers are getting upset." We're having to clean up the mess. And then we would eventually let them go. And people come by my office and say, " Thank you." Because that person they'd be like, " Oh, man, I'm so glad." Just a fictitious employee, Joe. " Joe, man, he was so awesome. I love it when he's at the parties. He's the life of the party." And so, " Yeah, Joe's going to be on your project next week." " Oh, man, you kidding me, right?"
Dan: We love Joe, but we don't want to work with Joe.
Louis Erickson: Exactly. You can't create a great place to work and it's really is terrible to let people like that go. It hurts, but you got to do it because you owe it to your customers, you owe it to the people who have to work with them and these teams if they can't do it. And, obviously, long before we get there, we work with people to try to bring them up to speed, give them every opportunity, but it has to be done.
Dan: Oh, yeah. But, again, what you're talking about, Louis, overall, that's better for morale because everybody feels like they could pull their own load and depend on each other. I mean, I saw that as I go back to my time as a first sergeant in different sections, there could be somebody who's dragging everybody down and then once you get rid of that person, all the morale comes right back up again.
Louis Erickson: Come right back up, yeah. Well, I mean, we have a lot of ... I mean, so much more to it. We're kind of talking on the negative side, but there's a lot of positive things you can do to create a great culture, a lot of stress-relieving activities and whatnot. But the reason we have the stress-relieving activities is because it's a stressful job. People pay top-dollar for the services we provide and they expect top service. And so we've got to come through with that everything time.
Dan: And you guys are very focused. Because I know that you guys went through the process of a mission statement. What is your mission statement at Bit-Wizards?
Louis Erickson: Yeah. So, our mission is to make our clients more successful. We provide expert advice and create technology solutions that solve business problems and improve processes. And that's verbatim. And then the tagline is, our client's success is our success. And I recommend anybody who wants to create a great place to work or even just a more effective company, forgetting about the great place to work part, needs a mission statement. And it seems so simple. It's just an articulation of what you provide from a client's perspective, like what can they expect that you're going to provide for them? And ours is pretty general because we do have multiple divisions and this one encompasses all of them. And a mission statement, as an owner, you think, " Well, yeah, we know what we do. And everybody knows what we do." You'd be amazed what putting it on paper, really honing those words, and then displaying it for the entire company to see, the mission statement is obviously for the stakeholders, and the clients and people to know what you're all about could be a good way.
Dan: That's a great idea, Louis because when you post it like that, that's a reminder. Because you could make a mission statement, and you've probably seen this in your career as well, you can make a mission statement, put it in a notebook, and then you forgot about it. But when you display it, then everybody gets to see every day what your mission statement is. And sometimes people will forget and you might not even pay attention to it every day, but when you see it every day, that kind of sparks the, " Okay, that's why we're here."
Louis Erickson: Exactly. That's what we're doing today. And you could couple that with a vision statement. And a vision statement is really more for just the employees and it defines the context of how we're going to implement the mission statement going into the future. So, Bit-Wizards ' vision is to make a difference and leave a lasting positive impact on everything we touch by providing the best expertise while designing, integrating, and building the most creative and innovative technology solutions in the world. So it's kind of a directive for the staff. What the heck are we doing here?
Dan: What's our goal?
Louis Erickson: There's a lot of really good ones. I mean, there are really simple ones. I used to work for Disney. I really enjoyed working for Disney. I learned a lot from them. But their vision statement is, make people happy. It's that simple. I did something simple, I was in college at the time, I drove the ferryboats back and forth from the transportation center to the Magic Kingdom. And that little statement, to be kinder, to smile more, the little things if you kept it on your mind, you understood what you had to do.
Dan: That makes sense. I mean, because that's a very simple statement but when you think about it, that makes everybody happy, I mean, everybody, the employees, the guests, everybody.
Louis Erickson: And you know what you're there to do. I mean, that's the thing, it's business-oriented too. Again, it's not just fluffy bunny. We're talking about the fluffy bunny stuff because of the kind of business Disney is in and the kind of business that we're in. It's known that way. But it helps in the thing. And then, of course, from that, you can define your core values. And I think the core values are really, they're at the lower level of what you're doing, but I think they're almost the most important thing when it comes to your team and your staff. They're the ones that are plastered all over Bit-Wizards. I mean, they're the ones who we're defining and talking about when we're hiring, and when we're firing, when we're correcting, or when we're giving kudos too. We have a kudos system, you can put it in a kudo for somebody, you have to list a particular core value that it was associated with. So it's at the front of everybody's mind. And, a company's core values are the core principles and they act as a compass in decision-making. I really think it might be the most important part of what we do. As an example, so, Sam covered them in-depth, I don't want to go through it all again, but the six core values we have at Bit-Wizards and one of them is make it so, which is our Star Trek rhythm. But everybody knows what that means, it's to make decisions. If you're caught in a particular moment and you think you might need to buy an expensive piece of equipment or something to handle an issue at a client site, and you can't get ahold of anybody, the make it so core value guides their decision to understand that we want them to make a decision, make the decision, move forward and nobody's ever fired at Bit-Wizards for making a mistake. A pattern of mistakes is a different thing. But no one mistake could ever lead to somebody losing their job here at Bit-Wizards. And so, I have actually said these words, in fact, I've said these words to Sam, " Thank you for moving that forward. Let's talk about the decision." And basically, I thought that Sam had a ... I don't even remember the decision, I just remember having the conversation. But was stuck between going left and going right. And he went left and I think he should have gone right. Again, I don't even remember the details. But we discussed it because I wanted him to understand my thinking of why I would have gone right instead of left. It was not anything about a butt-chewing or anything like that. His job was never in jeopardy. In fact, I was appreciative that Sam took and move that ball forward. And that make it so core value because it's ingrained in their head, they know when they face that decision, they can do that. That's just one example of how a core value can kind of help. When I say it's a compass for decision-making, that's how it ends up being helpful in that way.
Dan: That sounds really good, Louis because otherwise, it would've stopped.
Louis Erickson: Yeah. They might, " I don't know what to do. I need to now go get with management and figured out. I can't make this call on my own," type of thing. And by the way, there may be organizations where you can't do that. I mean, I'm being kind of crazy off the top of my head. But maybe the surgeon falls down in the surgery and the nurse tries to take over. Maybe she's not allowed to go ahead and finish that surgery.
Dan: Yeah, that might [crosstalk 00:17:31].
Louis Erickson: Maybe that's a terrible analogy. I don't know. But there may be other organizations where making decisions can't be done, they have to go up the chain. And so in that case, you might have a core value that, get approval. It's kind of silly. But it really is based on your organization. They're not going to be the same for everybody. It depends on what you need to do. So if a company was out there and they said, " I wanted some core values for my company, what should they be?" Don't just randomly pick things, don't just, oh, integrity and trust, and just grab things. Don't just grab things. They really, really need to be the exact things you want your staff to do that are going to make you more successful, make the company more successful. So what I would suggest is-
Dan: So, Louise, when you come up with these, how did you come up with these particular core values?
Louis Erickson: Yeah. They developed over time. But what I suggest to people don't have less than three, but don't have more than six. If you get too many, it's overwhelming and they don't really get driven. If you're having trouble figuring out, I think the best way, and some of the ways that Vince and I came up with this, is to think about the top performers at your company and ask yourself, " Why are they top performers?" What are the things that they do that make them excel? And those end up becoming your core values. And for those who may not have caught the show, I'll go through Bit-Wizards, again. Ownership thinking, taking control of tasks. A trusted advisor, we always give advice in the best interest of the clients. I use this example that if somebody comes with a million-dollar check and asks me to build an accounting system, the first question I'm going to ask them is, " Have you heard of QuickBooks?" I'll take 400 bucks for the license, a hundred bucks for my time, and give them back the rest of their money.
Dan: Yep. **crosstalk** too.
Louis Erickson: Just, yeah. I mean, you're a trusted advisor. Give advice in the best interest of the client. Lifelong learner, obviously, a very easy one in our field that's constantly changing. Make it so, which we discussed, make the decisions. Live the Wizard life, which is our little slang term for have a service mentality. And that's actually evolved it. Isn't just about service to our clients. It's service to each other. It's service to the community, service to our vendors. I mean, we treat our vendors well. I heard, I think it was the UPS man came by, they switched out our old driver, got a route in Crestview and the new one came, and the new one said, yeah, this was her favorite stop. We offer drinks to them. We obviously let them use the restroom. If we ever have food or something going on, we always offer it to them. It's just live the Wizard life service mentality community. And be the magic, which is don't just check a box, but do the extra touches.
Dan: Yeah. Those are very good. I like those. By the way, let me interrupt you just for a second. We're talking with Louis Erickson from Bit-Wizards. And by the way, just in case you missed the first part of the show, this is their 10th year in a row for winning the Florida Trends Best Places to Work. So, he's given everybody kind of an idea on how Bit-Wizards works, what works for them, and maybe you're picking up some tips along the way for your business. But, thanks, Louis, appreciate what you've got so far and we're not done yet.
Louis Erickson: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks. Well, like I said, we're really proud of that award and it was actually baked into our strategy. So, if anybody's read our website, they have the funny story about Vince and I at the Chuck E. Cheese for his niece's birthday party. We were kind of laying out the groundwork, deciding what we wanted to do. That was actually in 1997. And we had actually even gotten in discussion to build a website for the Ramada Inn, the old Ramada Inn that's now The Island. And unfortunately, that same year my sister passed away and I inherited her son. He was a 14-year-old, I was 29.
Dan: Oh, boy.
Louis Erickson: And that was something and it was really tough. So, the business kind of died out. It was too much to handle right then. Entrepreneurship definitely takes a lot of work in the beginning and I didn't have the time. Christopher was a bit of a troubled kid. Obviously, he was orphaned. His father died when he was two, his mom died when he was 14. And, we ended up moving to Austin, Texas. And I got a job with a little software company, much like Bit-Wizards. I learned a lot from that company. And at the time, the dot-com bubble was growing. I had a skill that was in high-demand, some com, HL com work that would allow for some on-prem systems to be moved to the web. And everybody was trying to run to the web because Netscape had their huge IPO and the craziness happened. And so I was offered money. I was offered a car. It was even offered jet ski once to jump ship and take another job. But I didn't move because the company was really good to me. They were very helpful. Christopher was troubled, so I might have to run down to the principal's office. He was skipping school one time, and I remember I arranged it with the school and I took a day, and I moved him from class to class. I stayed there all day until he was mortified and promised me he would never skip school again. And my company was really flexible with that kind of thing. The number one reason people work is money. We've got to put a roof over your head and food on the table. But once a minimum amount has kind of been met that's it's equal to the job, there's a lot of reasons people work. And we wanted to create a great place to work. We really focused on the engineers at first. We said Bit-Wizards would focus on the engineers, give them good equipment, invest in their training, good pay, good benefits. And by relieving these stresses, they would be free to do a better job for our clients, and our clients would be happier, which would give more business to the company, and it was just a great three-way symbiotic relationship.
Dan: Yeah, that makes sense. You guys have really, really thought this through very deeply, I can tell.
Louis Erickson: Oh yeah, yeah. We spent a lot of time. We started the company in Austin, Texas. But even the move back to Fort Walton Beach, our hometown with a better, I wouldn't say a slower pace of life, I mean, this is a pretty good city. But we're not quite the big city pace of life with the beaches and the good work-life balance, the kinds of people we would attract and the kinds of things we want. And it's been very effective for us because we still have our first employee, John Jackson, and he's not an anomaly. I mean, Ryder is, I believe this month, is celebrating his 15th year with us. We have several others over 10 years with us. In a field where people usually turn over every four years, we're doing pretty good on retention, which has a great business impact. I mean, retention, consistency, but also the training costs that aren't completely turned over all the time because of turnover, the recruiting costs that are expended every time with replacements, so it has a great business impact. And, of course, our clients can rely on more consistent results with the same people. The dot-com burst for those who remember that in 2000, they said it was irrational exuberance of the money being spent, and that's absolutely the number one reason. But the number-two reason was they were trying to treat programming like a commodity. I mean, one of the reasons they couldn't turn a profit on any of these internet companies is they couldn't keep any software engineers long enough because everybody was trying to steal everybody else's software engineers. And so they couldn't keep any consistent results.
Dan: Well, that makes sense. And then with your clients, since you have good retention with your employees, that builds a good relationship with your clients. So like you said earlier, don't you think that's all about also building relationships with your clients and if you can keep your current employees that fosters that relationship over time?
Louis Erickson: Absolutely. We have the same people dealing with ... I don't have a relationship with every single one of the clients. We're at a size now where almost all of my job is consisted with focusing on the team. It's the team that has the relationships with the clients. And if I keep changing them out with inconsistent results, they're going to get annoyed. Matt Parry-Hill has been with us for over 10 years. He's been working with one of our local clients, TSA Consulting, just our longest-running client, great guys over there, you've got Steve Banks. They've been doing work with us forever. And, Matt has that relationship with them and they're pleased with him and they continue to keep coming back because they get great results from Matt.
Dan: I think those relationships are so good for almost all businesses, wouldn't you say, Louis? Because when you build a personal relationship with a business and especially in your business and other businesses, that personal relationship fosters, they trust you just like we were talking about earlier.
Louis Erickson: Absolutely. The conveyance of trust, that's really a theme here. That's what we're selling. I mean, they got to trust that we're going to help them. Like I said, making decisions in their best interest, not in ours. That we know what we're doing. The name Bit-Wizards was meant to be ironic. Everybody thinks it's magic. But it's not. That's our tagline, it's not magic, it's dedicated talent. It takes effort and whatnot. And the client needs to believe we know what we're talking about because a lot of people just don't understand this field. Technology is tough for a lot of people. And I think Vince talked about it once before, every company is an IT company, but nobody got into business to manage IT assets, except for companies like Bit-Wizards, right?
Dan: Right. Everybody's on technology these days.
Louis Erickson: We've got an insurance business. Yeah, you guys are in the radio business. And then, the insurance business, you guys want to do that, but you have to have these technology resources. So instead of having to master these two fields, that they trust us to help take care of this and they need to believe we've got it handled. If they don't, it's not very effective.
Dan: And the nice thing is, you guys marry current technology with your business skills and you can help businesses flourish because once you get to know their business, then you figure out what best IT services for them so that they don't have to do it. They can concentrate on their businesses and you concentrate on managing their IT services. I think that's wonderful.
Louis Erickson: Absolutely. We don't just want to be a vendor, we want to be a partner. And nobody epitomizes that more than my partner, Vince Mayfield. I am blessed to have him as a best friend and a business partner. I mean, Vince is just so intelligent and is able to keep so many things intact. He's got a master's from Notre Dame, an MBA from Notre Dame along with his computer science skills. And he is able to merge that technology with the business need. And like I said, he is the epitome of that, but we really have that throughout the organization at different levels. A lot of our technologists understand, and we remind them, the technology is there to serve the business, not the other way around.
Dan: Awesome. Louis, we're about out of time, but I just want to say thank you for coming on and talking about this and another congratulations for you guys to win Florida Trends Best Places to Work for the 10th year running. Thank you so much, Louis. And we will talk to you again next week, sir. Have a great week.
Louis Erickson: Thanks a lot.