What You Need to Know about Workplace Sexual Harassment, Generational Challenges, and More

Brad Karsh, CEO and Founder of JB Training Solutions

Brad Karsh, Founder and CEO of JB Training Solutions, has been featured on CNN, CNBC, and Dr. Phil and quoted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He joins Adam to discuss what you need to know about workplace harassment, generational challenges at work, and much more on this episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast.


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Adam Robinson: Welcome to The Best Team Wins Podcast, where we feature entrepreneurs and business leaders whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has lead to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson, and for the next 25 minutes, I’ll be your host as we explore how to built your business through better hiring. Today on the program, we have Brad Karsh, founder and CEO of JB Training Solutions based in Chicago, Illinois. Brad has been running JB since he founded it in 2002, has 15 employees today. And I have to say, is a pretty amazing resource for talking about workforce generational issues, workplace effectiveness, management skills. You name it, Brad’s an expert. And so I’m so excited to have him here. Brad has been on the Dr. Phil show, CNN, CNBC, Fox News Chicago, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, lots of other places. The guy knows what he’s talking about. Ladies and gentlemen, Brad Karsh. Welcome to the program.


Brad Karsh: Thank you, Adam. It is amazing to be here.


Adam Robinson: All right, so let’s dive in here. Before we get started though, for our listener’s benefit, give us 30 seconds on JB and what you guys are doing.


Brad Karsh: Sure. So we basically do workplace training. So we train on some of the things you mentioned. We talk about communication skills in presenting, we talk about management and leadership. We do a lot of work on different generations working effectively. And we’ve recently started doing a fair bit of work in the area of sexual harassment prevention training. We also do some keynote speeches, consulting, and coaching. That’s in a nutshell what we do.


Adam Robinson: And if listeners want to learn more, what’s the best way for them to do that?


Brad Karsh: They can check out www.JBTrainingSolutions.com.


Adam Robinson: You mentioned something that is absolutely the topic of the moment here, and certainly I hope here to stay is the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. I mean, it is the top topic in HR, and it’s in the national conversation. Companies bring you in to educate leaders on this issue. What are you seeing out there right now? I mean is this … Are you brought in before or after the crisis, and what are you seeing out there that owners of businesses should be thinking about right now as it pertains to this topic?


Brad Karsh: Yeah, it’s almost impossible to find a situation where there hasn’t been some kind of incident, reported or not, and as we all know, in the five months since Harvey Weinstein came out last October, there have been 70 major figures who have been accused of sexual harassment, from our political leaders to Hollywood, to sports figures and more, it is unfortunately a prevalent, prevalent issue. So we’ve got companies reaching out to us at all stages. Some, if you will, just want to educate their employees. Some, as you said, have had a very specific or high-profile incident, and they need help in understanding this very important topic, and there is an extraordinary amount of miscommunication about it, which makes, I think, this class remarkably interesting and incredibly informative.


Adam Robinson: Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, so what … If you were to, other than don’t be an asshole, what’s the biggest, most important thing that CEOs of fast growth companies need to understand about this issue?


Brad Karsh: Here’s what they need to understand, and I think this is the most important point, really for anyone at any level. Sexual harassment is not about intent, it’s about impact. So all the time, we hear this as an excuse, “Oh my god, but he does that for everybody. He just doesn’t have a filter. That’s who he is.” Or, “You know what? He gives everybody a little tap on the behind every now and again. Not a big deal.” Even if the person doesn’t intend it, if the impact is offensive to somebody, it is sexual harassment, and there’s an extraordinary number of unreported cases of this stuff. It’s not about the intent, it’s about the impact.


Adam Robinson: Yeah, great. That’s well-said, very well-said. Well, let’s go with that for a little bit longer here, because I get asked often, as I’m sure you’re out there on the front lines of this every day, what happens to the manager in the middle of the organization who aspires to be a leader on this issue, but they work for someone who just is not? They’re the opposite, right? How do I, this is the question people ask me when I’m out there, how do I impact this issue when my boss or the CEO of the business is not a great role model here?


Brad Karsh: Yeah, you know it’s interesting, Adam, because I hear that question a lot. Not just even about this topic, but it’s like, “Hey, I want to be a better manager, but my manager’s a terrible manager.” Or, “I want to present more effectively, but my manager doesn’t let me do this.” One of the things when I’m talking to leaders, at any level of an organization, is it is very easy and very convenient to say, “I would love to do it but my company doesn’t support it, or the organization, or my boss doesn’t support it.” But I say, “You know what? Make a stand.” And it doesn’t have to be a public, Don Quixote type stand where you’re going to go up against the big evil windmill.


What I’m talking about is just make it great on your team. Make it great for your people on your team with your ability, and you will see how that stuff does start to spread, or at the very least, the people working for you feel a lot better, because they know that you care about them, you care about the issues, you care about getting better and you care about them getting better.


Adam Robinson: Very good. With that in mind, let’s take a pivot here in the conversation to multi-generational workplaces, and that’s every workplace, of course. And when I’m out talking about this particular topic, the most common feedback I get is, “Well, we want to hire that next generation, but we’re all part of the previous generation. We learned it a certain way. We do it a certain way. We just don’t know that we’re the kind of place that is going to be accepting of a new way of thinking or doing this.” Industries that we spent a lot of time on, and automotive retail, specialty retailers, older, more established consulting companies, they face this issue. Tell us about your work on multi-generational workplaces and how you advise your clients to manage that more effectively.


Brad Karsh: Yeah, and it is something that we talk about a lot, and my whole thing is it doesn’t matter which generation you’re from, no generation’s better, no generation’s worse, they’re all just a little bit different. And once we kind of understand what some of those differences are, once people realize that people are just people, we can remove some of these, “I think,” platitudes that we claim about all the generations that often times really aren’t all that true. So 20 somethings, I hear this all the time. “Where do they come from, they don’t have a work ethic, they’re not honest, they’re not trying all that hard, they’re very entitled.” Those are the things that every generation pretty much said about every other generation since the dawn of time, right? Yeah.


Adam Robinson: [inaudible 00:07:42] That’s correct.


Brad Karsh: I mean, I start my presentation off with a bit where I read this thing from Time Magazine, everyone thinks it’s from three years ago about millennials, but it’s actually from 25 years ago about Gen X. And they’re like, “But no Brad, you described millennials.” I said, “No, I described any 20 something generation that’s in the workplace right now.” But that being said, there are different things that shape the generations, and there have been profound changes in the last 30 years in technology, in culture, in society, and perhaps most importantly in parenting.


And once we understand where the generations came from, we can find a common language that unites us, realize what some of those differences are, and just coach our way through them. Doesn’t have to be that big of deal. Setting expectations is probably the single most important thing that we could do.


Adam Robinson: Okay, so as a father of four, I have to ask, tell me about how I’m screwing up my kids, Brad. What am I doing wrong?


Brad Karsh: I’ll tell you right now. So one of the biggest mistakes that we make, and I have three kids I think who are similarly in age to yours, is our kids are too busy. They have too much going on. And I kind of call it the myth of opportunity. If you think back to, nobody knows how old I am, maybe some people do. But I’m 52 years old, so I’m an old Gen X’er. When I grew up, our lives weren’t as busy. The statistic is that free time between my generation, and the newest generation, is down by about 50%. That’s substantial, meaning this generation has 50% less free time than we did growing up.


Well, what does that mean? Their entire lives growing up, the newest generation, has been so involved in clubs, activities, sports, that they have always looked up and there’s always been someone there, and someone has told them exactly what to do. There’s been a coach, a teacher, a chaperone, a volunteer, an instructor, a parent, a grand master, a private swing coach. And someone’s told them exactly what to do. So they come to the workplace and they look up and the see people like you, Adam, and they see people like their managers, and what do you think they want their manager to do? Tell them exactly what to do.


They are not used to leaving the house at 8:00 in the morning and saying, “Mom, I’ll be back by lunch time.” Or, “Mom, I’ll be back by dinner,” and figuring things out on their own. This is not a good thing, this is not a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. So one of the things that I’m trying to do with my kids is give them some free time so that they can figure things out on their own, so they can learn to be self-sufficient, so that they can become more creative and they don’t have to play within the rules and within the lines all the time. But it’s hard, because we’re like, “Oh, God. We really want them to play soccer and they’re getting pretty good so they should play travel soccer. Gosh, wouldn’t it be a terrible opportunity if they didn’t learn Mandarin and music is so important, they got to learn music. And God, martial arts teach you discipline.” So we just pack them full and we don’t do enough free time.


Adam Robinson: Well great, you just described the source of my intense parenting guilt, so we’ve put our thumb on that. That’s awesome. But, so let this be the parenting episode here on the Best Team Wins podcast, but I have to keep this going because my wife and I talk about this. We’ve actually … I think where somewhere in the middle, but we often lament like, “Are we not signing our kids up for enough stuff? And what are we doing? Will this under-prepare them for tomorrow’s world if we’re doing this a little bit differently?” Because they do plenty of activities, but we have parents that talk to us and parents get together, school events and things like that, and they go, “Wow, we really look at you guys like wow, you’re not always slammed doing stuff. We really like you you give your kids a little bit of free time.” And I’m thinking, “This is insanity. This is insanity. Like I can’t remember having anything structured when I was a kid and I’m only marginally screwed up.”


Brad Karsh: No, it is. I think our kids are over-programmed and over-structured. Now, there are a lot of reasons that people have talked about that being a, “maybe a good or a bad thing.” But I think nobody … Again, you’re not doing this looking ahead to 25 years from now and saying, “Gee, when my kid is a junior manager, they’re going to have the skills necessary to think independently, be creative, and handle gray.” And I think that’s where there’s a big, big issue. We were, and I keep using we collectively as let’s say Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. We grew up with more gray. Things weren’t so obvious. We figured stuff out on our own more so I think than today’s generation did, which is much more highly structured.


We look to each other for solutions. They look up for solutions, to a parent. And again, some of these are technology abetted as well. And these aren’t anyone’s fault. When I went to college, my mom showed me how I can use a washing machine at home. So I get to college, I go to do my first load of wash, and guess what? The washing machine in college was not the same one that I had at home. And I was like, “Oh my god, the buttons are different. What’s permanent press? I’ve never heard of permanent press.”


I didn’t know what to do. So I experimented, I figured out, and I got it right. Now, if that exact same situation were to happen today, what would happen? The kid would FaceTime their mom and say, “Mom, take a look at this washing machine. What do I do?” And again, I’m not saying that’s inherently bad, but when we’ve had thousands of those types of interactions over the course of a youth, what tends to happen is their reliant upon others to figure that stuff out as opposed to doing it on your own.


Adam Robinson: That’s the title of your next book, Brad, is every kid needs pink to-shirts.


Brad Karsh: There you go, exactly. Way more pink.


Adam Robinson: So let’s talk about your business. You’re growing. You’ve got 15 employees now. Think back to 2002 when you were getting started, into now and your experience in picking the right people for your organization now that we have a handle on help you give your customers. How has your approach to hiring for yourself changed over the last 15 years?


Brad Karsh: Well, it’s interesting that we’re doing this topic, because hiring great people is not just the most important thing, it’s the only important thing you need to do as a business owner. And again, I like talking, I’m not a big writer, but I wanted to write about how the most important skill any entrepreneur can have more than anything is hiring great people, because you’re never going to take your company anywhere unless you build people within your organization. You can’t be a company of one, and you have to hire amazing, amazing people. So that has been our mission, our motto, since the get go, since our first hire in 2005. So I did fly solo and struggle and barely made ends meet until I did hire someone great, and that changed the whole trajectory of the company.


Adam Robinson: Do you have a particular approach or a process you now follow?


Brad Karsh: My background is I worked at Leo Burnett for 15 years. And my last five, I was the director of recruiting. So I read 10 thousand resumes, I interviewed a thousand people, and at the time, I didn’t realize how important that would be as an entrepreneur. So a lot of my approach to interviewing is stuff that I honed over many years working as a recruiting director. And to me, it’s obviously a great resume, and I read a ton of those, and it’s also getting to know the person in the context of the interview. And I like asking some non-traditional questions, some things that I find to be important. Although, I will admit too, I’ve hired some unbelievable people. I’ve also made some terrible mistakes. But thankfully, more good stuff than bad.


Adam Robinson: Yeah, well is there a particular interview question that you like or recommend to others.


Brad Karsh: I have two kind of interesting questions. One of the things that I ask now is, “What did you do during your high school summers?” And that may sound like the most bizarre question, but let me tell you why. And believe it or not, Adam, it gets back to some of this generational stuff. The percentage of teenagers in our country who have held a summer job has declined precipitously over the last 20 years. It used to be around 50 to 60% and now it’s hovering around 25 to 30%. And what’s happening is high schoolers aren’t working those same menial jobs that I had, and many people my age had, and instead, because there are more opportunities, they’re going to lacrosse camp, or they’re traveling with their family, or they’re doing a social services project, or they’re taking a teen vacation, whatever it is.


But fewer and fewer have menial summer jobs. And I’d like to hire people who have had menial summer jobs, because to me, you learn a lot in those jobs. You learn the value of work ethic. You learn the value of simple things, like sometimes dealing with a boss who isn’t perfect sometimes, you making sure you have to show up on time, and maybe more than anything else, realizing that having a menial summer job, unless you did a good job at that, you were going to be stuck doing that the rest of your life. So the value of what a good job means and what it’s all about. So I like people who actually had menial summer jobs as a high school student.


Adam Robinson: What was your worst job you ever had?


Brad Karsh: I worked in circulation fulfillment advanced publishing, and what I did for an entire summer while I was in college is I opened up envelopes and sorted checks from trade publications like Modern Jeweler and the Drover’s Journal. You don’t know what a drover is, Adam.


Adam Robinson: I was just going to ask you. They’re a great band, but I don’t know what a drover is.


Brad Karsh: A drover is a person who drives cattle. So these were pretty glamorous trade publications, let me tell you. And I opened and sorted checks, eight hours a day, five days a week, for 12 weeks.


Adam Robinson: Modern Jeweler. It sounds riveting, it really does.


Brad Karsh: There was Modern Hairstylist. And so I get the checks from the hair salons. One of my favorite hair salons was called The Best Little Hair House in Texas.


Adam Robinson: You’re kidding me.


Brad Karsh: United Hairlines. I mean, it was fantastic just to see the names of these salons.


Adam Robinson: That’s great. Yeah. All the world is a pun. Yeah, my worst was I was … It wasn’t really so much the job as the person I worked for, but I was the kid in the paint and glass and key cutting department at our local True Value hardware store. And I can make keys, mix paint, and cut glass better than any 16 year old in my home town, I tell you what. But that’s when I learned a lifetime in retail was not for me.


Brad Karsh: Exactly, right? And I learned a lifetime of sorting mail was not for me. Although, I think I did a pretty decent job at it. And then I come home, four nights a week, and I cut grass in my neighborhood to make some extra money.


Adam Robinson: Yeah, nothing motivates like doing simple math and realizing that getting more than that out of this job is just not going to work. Well so let’s talk a little bit about your philosophy around structuring programs for team members at companies. I mean, you’ve worked with hundred of organizations. What is your philosophy around rewards and recognition? Just based on your observation and experience, what do you find works best?


Brad Karsh: Yeah, so I have I guess you’d call it somewhat non-traditional, and part of the reason is I have a smaller company, it’s my company, and I can kind of do some of the things. But one of the things that I push for people doing in organizations I fair does not mean equal. I can treat all my employees fairly, I can reward them all fairly, but that does not mean I have to reward them all equally. And I’m a big fan of playing favorites, and if there are people who are doing a really, really good job, I want them to be rewarded.


And there are certain things that everybody shares the benefit from, but one thing is making sure that the best people are getting the best rewards. The second thing is you don’t really know what people want until you ask them. And one of the things that we have done from time to time in our company is at the end of the year, I’ll ask our team to put together what I call a wish list. And I’ll say, “Jot down 10 things that you hope to get out of your job next year.” Could be anything. Could be from job responsibilities to rewards to recognition to technology. And I say this. I caveat this, and this is important. I say, “I don’t promise you that I will grant a single one of your wishes, but I want to know what’s on your mind.”


Like I know what I want out of my job, and I’m not you. And what’s great is to see some of the thing that people write. Because it really does come from things that they want. And some of them we’ve direct to [inaudible 00:20:57], like, “Yeah, sure. We can do that. You want this. That’s a great idea. Let’s do that.” Other things, I’ve been like, “Well, no, we’re not going to have a company plane. Like that would be great, but we just can’t swing that at this point.” But asking them is really cool. If they trust you, I do, and they do, and you trust them, they’ll put some things that they really man. And it’s kind of neat. It helps guide you as to what’s important for them in terms of rewards or recognition.


Adam Robinson: To the other side of that equation then, when someone is not getting it done, or something’s a little off center, what’s your approach to giving feedback? What are you doing right or less than right in your opinion to help people get where they want to be?


Brad Karsh: Yeah. Feedback is super important. We do a whole bunch of classes on giving feedback, and I think it’s super, super hard. People just struggle to have an honest, open culture. So I’ll even admit, I’ve messed up. We hired somebody probably eight years ago, they hung around for about a year and a half. They should have been gone after three months, but we gave them feedback, it wasn’t sticking. We gave them too many chances, so I think you have to be super honest, super open, super direct about feedback. And you want to do it early. And you want to say, “Hey, listen. Here’s something that you need to work on.” And I’m assuming you’re talking about constructive feedback.


What I like to do though is set up that constructive feedback is normal, it’s natural, and everybody gets it. So when you think about, especially we talked about generations. When you have someone new starting at your company, let’s say right out of school. When you think about college, the only time you get constructive feedback is when you’ve done something wrong. Whereas at work you could be getting constructive feedback just because you could be doing something better. So a lot of newer employees don’t take well to feedback because they think it’s about them making mistake. I like to set up it’s not about a mistake, it’s about how you could be able to do something better. So you get it often, you get it honestly, and if somebody’s not correcting the issue, you got to have some consequences. I think we fail in that regard too. “I’ve talked to them seven times about it and nothing’s changed.” I’m like, “Well, there have to be consequences.” Consequences doesn’t mean you have to be fired. But there has to be some level of consequence.


Adam Robinson: So looking back on all of this then, what do you think is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about the people side of your business, or with your perspective, in business in general?


Brad Karsh: I think communication is so vitally important, and if you have good, open, honest communication with people, it makes a world of difference. And I also think caring is so important. And one of the things that amazes me about the team that we have here is how much everybody cares about the company, how they care about our clients, and how they care about each other. And if you give me a company of smart people who care, you can do anything in the world.


Adam Robinson: Is there a particular book that has been influential in your career that you would want our listeners to know about?


Brad Karsh: One of the management books that I read that I really, really loved was a book called It’s Your Ship by Captain Mike Abrashoff, who was a captain in the Navy. I heard him speak a few years ago, and he’s got a fun, easy to read, and provocative book about management and leadership. And a lot of it is about empowerment, and a lot of it is about trust, and a lot of it is about motivation. And it was really inspiring to me, and one of my favorite books bat management and leadership.


Adam Robinson: Fantastic. All right, Brad, if you were to come back on this show a year from now, and report on whether or not you successfully tackled what you think is the single biggest opportunity that you have in front of you in your business today, could be people related or not, what would you be telling us?


Brad Karsh: We had our company meeting about a month ago, and one of the things that I talked a lot about, and this would be the people side, is even though I teach feedback, and even though we teach that, I think we’re still not as good at giving each other honest feedback as we can, and I think that can hold us back from time to time. So I would hope that I say to you that we are an organization where feedback flows freely across all levels, and people take it really well, and try and get better because of it. That’s what I would hope.


Adam Robinson: Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the final word. You have been learning from Brad Karsh, founder and CEO of JB Training Solutions. Brad, thank you for being with us on the show today.


Brad Karsh: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.


Adam Robinson: And that is a wrap. Thank you for listening to the Best Team Wins podcast, where we’re featuring entrepreneurs and business leaders whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name’s Adam Robinson, author of the book, The Best Team Wins, which you can find online at www.TheBestTeamWins.com. Thanks for tuning in, and we will see you next week.