This week, Kris Plachy, Founder and Master Executive Coach at Leadership Coach, LLC, joined me on the podcast. In this episode, Kris discussed the importance of organizations building an accountability structure and actionable tips for dealing with difficult people.
Kris has her own podcast, “How to Lead.” The podcast is exclusively for people who lead and manage other people. It will teach you how to manage difficult employees, how to have difficult conversations, how to coach top performers, so they don’t leave, and how to become a sought after manager and leader.
Kris is also the author of a book, Change Your Think: An Unexpected Way to Think about Managing People.
Connect with Kris on LinkedIn and Twitter. Learn more about her book, Change Your Think: An Unexpected Way to Think about Managing People.
Intro: Welcome to The Best Team Wins podcast with Adam Robinson. He’s talking to today’s industry leaders and entrepreneurs about the people side of their business.
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 led to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson, and for the next 25 minutes I’ll be your host as we explore how to build your business through better hiring.
Adam Robinson: Today on the program, so excited to have Kris Plachy, the founder and master executive coach at Leadership Coach LLC, based in El Dorado Hills, California. Over 10 years ago founded this business, and her focus, as she will explain, is helping business owners navigate leadership challenges and be their best. Kris has her own podcast called “How To Lead”, exclusively for people who lead and manage others. I’ll let her talk about that here at the jump. Kris is also the author of the book “Change Your Think”, an unexpected way to think about managing people.
Adam Robinson: So much wisdom and experience here on the show today. Kris, thank you for being here.
Kris Plachy: It is my pleasure. I’m super excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
Adam Robinson: So, give us 30 seconds on Leadership Coach and what you’re up to.
Kris Plachy: Well, I help business leaders solve employee problems. That’s the simplest way I can say that. The clients that I work with are incredibly brilliant, talented. They’ve built successful businesses and sort of gone through that hustle and grind to get themselves to a point of success where they’re really excited, and then they have to start adding bodies, as you know, to support them and scale.
Kris Plachy: Then, inevitably, they run into issues. People aren’t performing, they’re not meeting their goals, they’re not demonstrating the same kind of work ethic maybe as the original people they started with. They have drama on the team, gossip and culture challenges. So, I sort of meet my clients in that moment of triage, where they know they need to do something because they have to start to get intentional about how they are literally managing and holding people accountable, and they don’t really have the tools to do that.
Kris Plachy: So, we put that together and get them on their way, so that they can go from their first 3 million to their first 10 million. That’s what we focus on. It’s a lot of fun.
Adam Robinson: If listeners want to learn more, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Kris Plachy: The best way is to go to leadershipcoachllc.com. That’s my website. You’ll find out a little bit more about me. You’ll find a link directly to the podcast, which is also on iTunes. The podcast, I think I’m at 130 somewhat episodes, and really that probably is the best way to get immediate resources in a unique space.
Kris Plachy: I certainly have found that there’s a lot of tools available for leaders, but I’m really very focused in this kind of accountability, difficult employees, difficult conversations, difficult situation space, so hopefully your listeners will find some tools there that can be helpful.
Adam Robinson: You have a wealth of experience leading and managing high performing teams and helping leaders do the same. What was the background or observation or experience in your life that inspired you to do this? Were there common themes or experiences you were seeing? Take us through that.
Kris Plachy: Well, you know, I got my first management job when I was 25 years old, and just like most people I know, I was just thrown into the role. I didn’t have any resources. I think I got a one week training class six months after I got promoted. So, I had to very quickly figure out … I was also managing everybody that I had worked with, and I was managing in a startup culture. So, there wasn’t a lot of time for downtime. We had to figure it out.
Kris Plachy: I really had to sort of decide, you know, am I going to make this job my enemy or am I going to learn how to become really exceptional at managing. I had been very good as an individual contributor, and so I took what I knew about performing as an individual contributor, and in sales primarily, and I started to really think about, okay, so these people work for me, but they really are still like my clients. If I think about them that way, it inverted the needs that I was focusing on. Instead of focusing on what I need, I was giving them my attention and focusing on what they need, and then building boundaries and structure around accountability.
Kris Plachy: So, I sort of just naturally built a structure that worked for me. Then, of course, I proofed it out because I was successful, and I continued to be successful in leadership roles for years, so much so that when the organization I worked for was looking at significant problems and management issues that were causing risk problems for the organization, they asked me to create and build a performance coaching team for the enterprise that modeled after what I had already done with my teams. I did that for the last four years that I was in my “job job”.
Kris Plachy: So, the philosophy that I built naturally through … You know, I stand on the shoulders of giants, right? This is nothing that I made up. This is just me being a sponge and a student of the people that came before me, taking all of what I learned and then building my own business on it, and finding that it resonates, you know? Simple, not over complicated approaches to how we can connect and communicate with our staff and build accountability cultures. It’s not really that complicated. It takes work, there are things we have to do differently, but it’s not as hard I think as a lot of people believe that it will be.
Adam Robinson: I want to dig into something that you referenced, this transition from individual contributor to leader of others, of doing things versus getting things done through the work other people produce. In entrepreneurship, it’s a tough transition. Most of us start the business because we’re good at doing the thing, and then we do the thing more, and then we hire more people and we’re doing the thing, and then at some point, we get stuck and we realize that we have to teach and train others.
Adam Robinson: What are some of the common challenges you see entrepreneurs and your clients face as they move from being the star performer to helping produce star performers?
Kris Plachy: Yeah. Gosh, that’s such a good question, and it really is … I think it is kind of the bridge that you have to walk on if you want to take your organization to the next level, right? It’s painful. Sometimes I even tell people, it’s like going through the birth canal. You have to go through it to get there, and yet there’s so much that you have to kind of look at, even in yourself, about who you want to be as a leader and who you want these people to be and what you’re willing to do with your time.
Kris Plachy: So, some of the key things that I identify, that I’ll cover really quickly and then we can dig into the ones that you want, is what you’re talking about first, which is a failure to lead. I know how to hustle, I know how to grind, I know how to sell, I know how to have a vision. I know how to see what I want to create in the world, and I know how to get it done. But, now, I have to get it done through 30 people, and that requires that instead of looking out and up, I have to look in. I’ve got to start having some of that operations look into my organization instead of just the dream and the hours that you put in to make it work. It’s a skillset.
Kris Plachy: I believe everybody is capable of adapting and creating a stronger leadership culture within themselves and within their organization, so that’s one of the things we look at. The second thing that I think is really, really critical, that a lot of my entrepreneur business owner clients do, is they build their organization originally with a core group of people. Most founders tap the resources of friends, colleagues that they worked with before, even family members, and this little cohort kind of gets it off the ground. Then, as the organization grows, we bring more and more people in, but we don’t really know what we’re doing. We’re just bringing people in who can do stuff, right?
Adam Robinson: Right.
Kris Plachy: But, then we end up with this organization that now we have to kind of formalize and make a little more sophisticated, and so we start giving people titles. So, “Oh, well, you know, John’s been here and he knows how to do that pretty well, so we’re going to make him the COO, and Carol’s really good at that so let’s get her to be the CFO.” But, as we exponentially keep growing, we realize, okay, wait a minute, Carol’s really not a CFO. Carol’s a good bookkeeper, but she’s not a CFO. But, now, she’s the CFO. You know, she’s been here a long time, so what do I do about that?
Adam Robinson: What do you do about that?
Kris Plachy: What I find is that my clients are looking at the players they have … And, gosh, you can probably totally relate to this. They’re looking at the players that they have, and they’re designing the game of their business based on their players. What I like to get my clients to look at is what is the game that you’re playing, and then we’ve got to go get the right players. But, the allegiance that so many of my business owner clients have, loyalty to the people who started with them, but at the demise sometimes of the success of their business …
Kris Plachy: Those are tough leadership decisions. If we don’t have management systems in place, processes in place, goals, coaching sessions, talking to people about their performance, giving feedback, when all of that doesn’t exist, it’s really, really hard to assess how well people are contributing to your organization. So, that’s the other really big kind of pitfall that I meet my clients in.
Kris Plachy: I’m just recently having this conversation with a client of mine who has two business partners, and he’s woefully aware now that they’re really not partners. They are just guys who are getting paid to show up in the building, but they’re all equal partners. He’s like, “What do I do about that? Do I buy them out? How do I handle that? ‘Cause they’re not going to help me run this business.”
Adam Robinson: Yeah. So much of … I mean, I was having this conversation this week with someone who was talking to me about starting a business, and she … Her question was, okay, I want to get some people involved, but I don’t have a lot of capital. What’s the appropriate amount of equity to give somebody to be an early employee? What’s the percentage? You know, the alarm bells just start going off in my head, because, of course, I’ve done this before in prior businesses.
Adam Robinson: Someone told me once … equity is for owners, salary or base pay is for doing stuff. Just because you’re an owner, doesn’t entitle you to a job. Boy, nothing is more valuable than the equity later. It’s not worth much now, but, man, it really complicates things because you end up … It’s the fastest way to ruin Thanksgiving, is start giving equity to friends and family members, you know?
Kris Plachy: Yes. Yeah, friendships and … Yeah. I mean, absolutely. Absolutely.
Adam Robinson: So, for the listener crying silently now as they listen to this-
Kris Plachy: How do I get out of here?
Adam Robinson: … because it’s their life, what in your experience is the appropriate time to have that “conversation conversation” approach-
Kris Plachy: Oh, gosh. Well, yeah.
Adam Robinson: … with a friend or partner? I mean, ’cause that can go horribly wrong.
Kris Plachy: Yes. Well, honestly, I think, in the perfect world, it’s before we even start, right? I talked with another woman last week who’s 50/50 business partners, and one of the dads is the attorney and the brother is this, and I’m like, “Holy moly,” and she wants to get out of the partnership and she’s totally bound by everything.
Kris Plachy: So, the way out is you have to negotiate roles. Everybody has to have a clear role. When I talk to people who are co-CEOs, I’m like, “What does that mean? Who does what? Who’s in charge? Where’s the belly button? Who makes decisions?” So, often times you have to bring somebody in to help you vet out what are the roles, what are the responsibilities of each one of those roles, and what are the goals that these people have within the role, and how are you assessing and evaluating their performance within the role. ‘Cause there’s the role, which you know very well, you write out what a role will do for the organization, how it will contribute to the organization, and then you put a body in the role, and whoever’s in the role, that’s who we have to hold accountable.
Kris Plachy: So, the first step I always look at is we have to build some accountability structures here. The way we do that is we set up clear expectations, roles, goals and feedback. That’s the beginning. We have to have that in place. Because, a lot of times, people make their mind up that somebody’s not contributing, and maybe they really are, but it’s because it’s very emotional, they’re not seeing anything very clearly, or maybe we just have to realign responsibilities and give them something very specific to be focused on, and they’ll be a rockstar.
Kris Plachy: But, often times, we’re just really nebulous. Leaders who own their own business, they just want everybody to read their mind and do the work, and things are pretty gray. We tighten that up and give people ways to win and shine, and a lot of times people step right into it.
Adam Robinson: To the tactics of that … You focus on helping people who manage people. What’s the playbook for that new manager or that entrepreneur transitioning from doer to manager that you find works?
Kris Plachy: Well, we’ve got to know … In fact, I think this was on your last podcast. Why are you running this business, and what are the values of your business and you? What are your values? What are your expectations of people who work for you? Expectations are behavior based and they’re driven from values. They come out of those values, right? We have to know what does it mean to work here, and how are you going to hold people accountable, because the truth is, Adam, most performance issues are related to behaviors that people demonstrate, not tactical widget counting stuff.
Adam Robinson: Right.
Kris Plachy: It’s what they do. It’s how they do their work. So, most leaders do not set expectations verbally and write them down and communicate them, they think people can read their mind and know what they expect of them.
Adam Robinson: Well, as I say, it took me a long time to figure that out, that me pointing at my desk and saying, “Just do this,” [crosstalk 00:15:18] I’ve been doing for 15 years is not effective.
Kris Plachy: It’s not effective. And that’s normal, right? I mean, that’s the beautiful part about working with a business owner, is how incredibly talented and smart they are. It’s just you’ve got to slow it down enough to really think about what do you expect of this group of people that you work with. Once we’ve got expectations in place, then we have to look at, okay, what are the responsibilities and the roles and the goals, and we have to measure them. We need key performance indicators.
Kris Plachy: Every single client that has hired me that’s been around three to five million in revenue, they don’t have any key performance indicators other than two of the business ones. They don’t have them for their senior engineer or their accounting manager. There’s no KPI. So, how do you actually assess somebody’s performance if you have nothing measurable?
Adam Robinson: You used a term I’ve never heard before, and immediately love. You said, “Where’s the belly button?” What do you mean?
Kris Plachy: Well, gosh, I wish I could remember who I heard that from. But, you know, you think about, like, I want one belly button to push. I learned it so long ago. I used to say it in the company I worked for when there was big projects and nobody was accountable. It used to drive me crazy. I would ask, “Who’s the frickin’ belly button? Who’s in charge?” Who’s the person I can walk up to, literally, sort of in this metaphorical place that we’re living in, and push their belly button, because they’re the ones who are responsible.
Kris Plachy: Everybody wants to know who’s in charge. That’s just tribal mammal crap, right? Who’s the boss? And if there isn’t one … And I know everybody wants to say, “We shouldn’t be managers. We should be … ” No. If we want success, we have to have structure in place, and there … I mean, can you tell, I’m pretty lit up about it. Like, you have to be willing, if you’re running an organization, you have to be willing to be the boss, and say no, and be decisive. If it’s not going to be you, then you give … You say, “The person in charge is Sally, and she runs the marketing department, and she’s going to be making decisions about marketing,” and you give her the authority to do that.
Adam Robinson: So, I’m going to pull the pin on this hand grenade. I feel like I’m setting you up for a rant here, but what’s your opinion of flat organizations? It’s very in vogue, a manager free environment, and there have been various examples of this working to various degrees of success or not. In your opinion, do flat hierarchies work?
Kris Plachy: Well, I think what is … Zappos is the big one, right? What do they call it? There’s a word for it. [inaudible 00:17:54]. It’s not hierarchy, but … Oh, God. There’s a word for it, and I can’t remember. But, Google tried it, and they put all the managers back.
Kris Plachy: So, I think if you wanted to build an organization like that, from the beginning, and you were versed in it as a leader, and it aligned with who you are as a leader and your personality style, I think it’s … I’m sure it’s doable. I had a client who tried to implement it after she’d been in business for 15 years, failed miserably. Because the culture, it’s the Drucker quote, “Culture eats your strategy for breakfast”. So, if your culture is designed to be reliant on a decider, a manager, that kind of a structure, it’s very difficult to completely usurp an entire culture.
Kris Plachy: I think you could probably build it that way, but in my opinion, I think you can have lovely, meaningful, graceful, kind, powerful, successful management structures. I think we think that they’re bad, I don’t think that’s true. They can be very effective and people thrive.
Adam Robinson: In your model, it sounds like, and it is consistent with how we do this at [Hireology 00:19:19], the values dictate all else, right? Everything else flows from the who we are statements. How do you help those entrepreneurs looking to develop core values who aren’t doing it from day one, they’re doing it from the tenth year? They realize I’m going to do this differently.
Adam Robinson: That’s fairly daunting, because at that point they’ve got culture by default, not design.
Kris Plachy: Exactly.
Adam Robinson: It’s a big shift.
Kris Plachy: Yes.
Adam Robinson: How do you tackle that?
Kris Plachy: Well, the first step is just to get them clear, right? The good news about values is most people know what their values are once you create opportunity for them to talk about them. I’ve done that with several clients just in the past several months. It’s just conversational. It’s tell me what’s important to you. Tell me what lights you up. Tell me what frustrates the hell out of you. Tell me what makes you excited.
Kris Plachy: We can come up with a … I don’t think it’s that complicated to identify peoples’ values. I have a list people can look at. We just flush this out, and then we look at, by extension then, if you value honesty, then what does that mean that you expect of people that work with you? How does that extend into your work? Well, I expect them to tell me the truth. I expect them to tell me if I’m going down the wrong path. I expect them to be to work on time. I expect them to care about their projects.
Adam Robinson: Right.
Kris Plachy: I just listen. I let people kind of dump, ’cause I think if you’re brainstorming you should be trying to capture it. So, we just capture all that, and then slowly work through the funnel of what are the top five here. What matters most?
Kris Plachy: Once they know that, then we get into, like I said, these points of incredible discomfort, because they can see, okay, this actually is what’s most important to me, and yet look at these people working for me. How did they get here? Why did I hire this person? So, that’s where the point of discomfort is, is, yes, you might have promoted some people, you might have brought some people into your organization. You might have made some decisions about your organization that really were shortsighted and now, yes, we’re going to have to deconstruct. We’re going to have to … I have a client right now where she’s got two people in jobs that they shouldn’t be in, and she knows it. So, she’s going to have to make them an offer to do something else.
Adam Robinson: I mean, if I’m talking to a group, I ask the question, “Raise your hand if you know that there’s that one person in your company that, when you go to sleep at night, before your head hits the pillow, your last thought is how in the world did this person get a job in my company, and why do they still have one.” Everyone, of course, will raise their hand and laugh, and my next question is, “Why are you not doing anything about that?”
Kris Plachy: Exactly.
Adam Robinson: Why don’t they do anything about it?
Kris Plachy: ‘Cause it’s uncomfortable. I mean, I’m oversimplifying, but that’s the truth. It’s a difficult conversation, which they don’t know how to have, because nobody’s taught them. I mean, when did you take the class, right? I didn’t take the “how to have difficult people conversations in my lifetime”. So, it’s easier to just keep them.
Kris Plachy: You know, I did a podcast a couple of months ago, the title of it is “Are you paying people to ruin your company?”, because that’s what’s happening, right? I’m paying them a salary every day to not help my company thrive, but it really is … As soon as clients see there is a strategy to address performance and have a conversation and hold them accountable, people will either change their behavior and improve or they won’t, and then it’s clean. But, right now, it’s not clean because it’s all in our head, it’s very opinion oriented. There’s relationships there that we’ve had for a long time, but it’s all fixable. I promise.
Kris Plachy: Anybody listening to this, I promise you, there are solutions for this. You do not have to keep Peggy at the front desk, whatever, for the rest of your life. We can move through this, and Peggy can decide to be amazing or not.
Adam Robinson: Absolutely. That’s a good segway into … I want to spend a minute here talking about your book. What can readers expect to learn from “Change Your Think”? What does that mean, and what does changing your think entail?
Kris Plachy: Well, goodness, yeah. It’s a big ask. I’ll give you a minute. Here we go.
Kris Plachy: The way that you think about your business, the people who work for you, your clients, yourself, influences your behavior, which drives the results that you get. If you think that someone on your team is lazy, that will influence how you interact with them, which will drive the results that you get as a manager. If you think that someone is disrespectful, that will influence your behavior, which will change your results in that relationship with that person. If you think that someone is hard to talk to, that will influence your behavior, which will then drive the results that you get.
Kris Plachy: So, if we want to change the results that we’re getting, we have to decide to think differently. Classic example of founders is, I don’t have time to deal with this issue. I don’t have time to develop my team. So, when I believe I don’t have enough time, what do I inevitably not make time for … is investing in my staff. Then we have to decide, is that line of thinking, that belief that you have about who you are and what you want to do in the world, is that helping you get the results that you want. If you want to change that, you have to start to intentionally choose thoughts that are more aligned to the leader that you want to be and want to grow into, to build the organization that you want to have.
Kris Plachy: It takes a level of consciousness and intentionality that a lot of us haven’t had. All of us are this way in different parts of our lives. So, that’s really the crux of the book, and what I provide in the book are a ton of different examples of how the way that leaders think and managers think about their team influences the results, not only that they get as a leader, but also that drives the results of the team. How the leader thinks drives the performance of the organization. Your brain, especially when you’re the business owner, your brain is your instrument for success.
Adam Robinson: That’s the final word, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve been learning from Kris Plachy, founder and master executive coach at Leadership Coach LLC. We’ll have links to Kris’ podcast and book in the show notes. Kris, thank you so much for being with us on the program today.
Kris Plachy: It’s my pleasure. It was fun. Thanks, Adam.
Adam Robinson: That’s a wrap, folks, for this week’s episode of 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 is Adam Robinson, author of the book “The Best Team Wins”, which you can find online at www.thebestteamwins.com.
Adam Robinson: Thanks for tuning in. We will see you here next week.
Outro: Thanks for listening to The Best Team Wins podcast with Adam Robinson. You can find out more information about Adam and his book “The Best Team Wins: Building Your Business Through Predictive Hiring” at thebestteamwins.com.
Outro: Thanks again for listening, and we’ll see you next week.