Bruce Ballengee, CEO, is back on the Price of Business radio show with William Edmundson and Charles Alvarez. Today they discuss leadership and culture at Pariveda.
Transcription of Audio Recording
William: Welcome back to “The Price of Business.” This is William Edmundson sitting in for Kevin Price and we’d like to bring our next guest in, he’s a regular on the show, our friend, Charles Alvarez, President of Focal Point International. Charles, welcome again.
Charles: Always good to be on the show, buddy. How are you?
William: Doing great. I understand you’ve got a guest right here in the studio.
Charles: We do. He actually has been a guest with us before, here a couple of months ago. We have Bruce Ballengee with Pariveda Solutions. Bruce, welcome to the show.
Bruce: Thanks, Charles.
William: So you and I had a conversation back, I think, in June when you were in town for a meeting and we started having a conversation about leadership. I’m just curious, first and foremost, how would you define leadership?
Bruce: That’s a great question. Of course, there’s a lot of people who’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. Let me give you my early career, and then late career, view of it. In early career, I thought about it as pulling people up and along. And I was actively pulling, and somewhere along the way, some iteration of years, decades of pulling people and it’s like, now I think about it as much more as unleashing or letting people achieve their potential. So don’t pull them, just create space, create space for folks to do what they can do.
William: And one thing that I was curious about is how do you go about doing that? I mean there’s so many business owners, so many CEOs that are going out there and saying, “Gosh, I just can’t, I can’t get my people to do what I want them to do.” How do you go about creating that environment that really allows people to excel?
Bruce: Great question and I’ve done this technique in a number of places. At our current place, we put a big emphasis on identifying really high potential people, typically very young people because you can find more of them and they’re more economical to acquire, right? When they’re young before they’ve demonstrated a lot of that, and create space for them. However, you know, in prior lives I’ve done it with, I would say, very average to slightly above average folk. Just good people…most organizations are full of good people, whether they’re actively seeking to find the very best people or not, most organizations have a lot of good people and the same things generally apply.
So creating space is a thing about creating a positive atmosphere for people to take the risk and take some chances, which, you know, that means not shutting them down, or harming them, or making them feel unsafe when something goes wrong because things will go wrong. Things go wrong no matter how much control one has. And then, of course, there’s a lot of teaching involved. There’s a lot of creating space you and gotta give people the tools so that they can manage themselves and so that’s kind of the key. And, you know, average folk are fully capable of managing themselves and that’s where it all starts.
William: So, what would you say to those business owners that say that “Well, I can’t find the right people for my business? They don’t do what I ask them to do, etc. And I always find that, Bruce, to be very flattered because, like, you’re telling me that somebody who graduated from a Division One school, Texas Tech, A&M, Texas, all those schools, have been able to figure out 15 hours worth of coursework each month or each semester, but for some reason, they got to your place and, all of a sudden, they lost all that aptitude. So, what would you say to those business owners who say, “I just can’t find the right people,” because, oftentimes, they have the right people. They just haven’t been given the right tools.
Bruce: Correct…a matter of tools, a matter of training, a matter of clearly explaining what the objective is, and why, and a willingness to step back and let people learn. I mean it takes time for people to come down a learning curve and gain that knowledge, initially. So there’s a lot of things going on and what do you do during that time when people are coming down the learning curve? Well, if you provide a lot of control, if you micromanage them, if you tell them all the things they need to do, then they’re going to learn while they’re going down the learning curve…not a lot…and they’re gonna learn to, basically, accept control.
They’re gonna learn about your control and that you’re making decisions for them and that’s what they’re gonna learn. And so if you don’t make those little micro decisions for them, and you let them figure about themselves, and you help them make them. I mean, you know, give them advice, guiding principles however you wanna think about that, spend time with them, given them a lot of feedback, you know, as they go along depending on, kind of, the role and what they’re doing, the tasks that they’re doing, different kinds of mixes of things are appropriate. And that, I have found, is incredibly successful.
And, frankly, you can take an average person and you put them in the right environment, and they could learn something completely new and they could be quite exceptional at it. That’s where someone would say, “Well, that’s not an average person,” and I would say, “Well, no, no, no, they’re really quite average. They’re just demonstrating that they have a whole lot of potential and they’ve been able to unleash it in this particular case. But they’re just not gonna go off to some other area on their own and go off and do this again. No, you know, it’s a carefully crafted thing. It’s an environment. Its…
William: A culture.
Bruce: One’s creating a culture. Yeah.
William: So one thing that I found very interesting when you and I last spoke is, you know, when I speak to a lot of small business owners and I’m talking about, you know, business owners that do $1 million to $10 million in sales, and you’re well beyond that.
Bruce: Now we are.
William: Yeah, now you are. It’s a process right? What I find interesting is that, when I talk to business owners that do that one to ten million, they tend not to value leadership training, teaching, as much as business owners that are on top of that. I just got done with a meeting with a $30 million company that highly values that. Why do you think there is that difference between the $1 million to $10 million business owner that really doesn’t value it as much versus…what I find interesting is that, as all these larger businesses value it greatly. Why do you think that is?
Bruce: I think one of the things that happens…and it’s no slight on those who are starting businesses and, you know, in the early days in that, say, $1 million to $10 million range…is that, when you’re good you can do almost all of it yourself. You really can. You can make all those decisions, with ease, for everybody and so there’s a tendency…well, because I’m leading myself and I can lead all these other people, I’m okay. I won’t put a whole lot of value in leadership and I’m probably not even much thinking about myself as a leader. As things get larger, it’s like wow, hmm, can I clone myself, right?
Well no, not yet. That may not be such a good thing but what can one do, right? And what you can do is you can say, well, what I need to do is I need to delegate some of my accountability to one of my subordinates, and so I’m gonna give that to them. And I need to, of course, you know…I’ve gotta put a lot around that, right? At a minimum, I need to tell them how I thought about it and then, I mean, expect them to go out and actually do me better. Right? I mean, the ultimate attribute to a teacher, when they know their teacher is a master, is when their student does something beyond what they ever were able, you know, to teach them themselves. And so there it is…in the general sense…that’s what’s going on. I mean we could go on, but that’s the basics.
William: So, what would you say…and I agree with you, Bruce…what would you say to that business owner who says, “You know what, I wanna delegate but, you know, it’s just faster to do it myself. It’s just a lot easier just to do myself versus delegating it to somebody else. And I get to control the quality.”
Bruce: It’s usually true. There’s a lot of truth to that. You know, even today, I face those decisions myself and it’s very tempting and it’s a balance, right? We are gonna do things ourselves and there are other things that we’re not gonna do. What it comes back to, for the businessperson…and I think the larger the business gets, the more evident it becomes is, what really is my best use? What is my best use and what should I most be doing? And that could be a variety of things, right? And so I ought to be spending time doing that and then what others can do is, they can do things that…hey, I can do this better than anybody else in our company. But is that really the most important thing I could be doing? I may be doing something that, hopefully, I’m the best at it, but maybe I’m not very good at it, right? Or if I’m not the best, maybe I’m one of and that’s what we need to be doing and someone else can do this other thing. It’s a matter of balancing out that aspect of it.
William: Let me let me ask you guys if I could carry you all, Charles and Bruce, over to the next segment…continue our talk about leadership.
Charles: That sounds great.
William: Sounds good? This is William Edmundson. We’ll be back with more of “The Price of Business” right after this.
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William: Welcome back to the Price of Business. This is William Edmundson in for Kevin Price. And we’ve got a regular contributor to the show, Charles Alvarez. You know him. He’s the president of Focal Point International. Welcome back and glad you could stay on for another segment.
Charles: Of course. I’m looking forward to continuing our conversation with Bruce.
William: Perfect. Why don’t you reintroduce Bruce for folks who are just joining us?
Charles: I’m actually gonna allow Bruce to introduce him because he can do a much better job of his value proposition and talk about his company than I can. So Bruce, why don’t you just kind of give us a brief overview, first of all, who you are and the name of your company?
Bruce: Oh thanks, Charles. So again, my name’s Bruce Ballengee. I’m the founder and CEO of Pariveda Solutions which we started in Dallas about 13 years ago. We’re now in nine cities. We have about 500 employees. We started out with two. It took us a year to get to a million in revenue. And this year, we’ll probably do about 100 million. So it’s been a nice…you know, and it’s not been a smooth path, right? There’ve been hiccups along the way but it’s a strong upward movement. And so what do we do? Basically, we solve business technology problems for our clients. Most of the time, almost all the time, that means that we’re building some piece of customized software for the business, something that a business can’t find out there in the marketplace. It’s not on the shelf, difficult for their own internal organization, if they have one, to develop. That’s 80% of what we do is that.
And so it all starts with identifying what is the true problem, which is not necessarily what people think it is. And then coming up with what’s an elegant solution to that because, you know, there are lots of ways of solving problems. There are big ways that cost a lot of money, involve a lot of people. And then there are ways that are most subtle. You can do with a fewer number of people usually in a shorter period of time, which is our focus in terms of the kind of work that we like to do. Our mission is about helping people achieve their highest potential, so that’s our employees and our clients. And just to be really clear, we generally don’t believe that you can do that by having a large systems integration project with tens of millions of dollars and lots of time, sometimes years, in a cloud of dust.
So we like to really say, “Hey, let’s zero in on what the real thing is. Let’s have a small team, you know, five, seven people kind of thing, maybe nine, maybe a dozen at most. Go do that and let’s do it in chunks that are much smaller chunks of time and get done what really needs to get done that truly addresses the problem or the opportunity and really unleashes the potential.” Now, that fits…and that fits completely with our mission because if you’re about developing your people and clients to the highest potential, then that’s the way work needs to be done. And I probably should just stop because, you know, eventually it comes to explaining so many different things to say, “And why did I say that? Well, here’s the proof, here’s the proof.” But let me just pause there as an intro.
William: No, that’s great because, you know, as we’re talking about leadership, you’re not just leading your people, you’re also leading your clients. And as part of leading your clients, you can’t make every single decision at all the different projects you have across your large corporation. So when somebody actually comes along…because, you know, what other people find, that I think is a myth, is that you cannot scale a professional services business. Well, you have, Andersen Consulting has, Excenter has, PwC have, one of the mutual friends, Paul Weidman with Quorum Business Solutions has. And one of the ways that they do that is by empowering and training their people. So when somebody comes along…if the listeners out there are saying, “Okay, well, if I go hire your company and I have all bunch of these younger people in, how can I have the confidence that you all can deliver?” So kind of walk us through how you bring your people on to give that listener confidence, that, “Look, we come in with our 5 or 6 or 12 people. Here’s how we know that we’re gonna be able to deliver.”
Bruce: Uh-hmm. Okay. So part of the aspect is, no matter what that number of people is, that’s a team and there are seasoned experienced people on that team as well, and it’s probably anywhere from 50-50 to two-thirds more junior and a third more senior, just kind of depending on the degree of sophistication required. And usually, the more it is a pure technology issue, the more inexperienced people that can work really well on that project which I know a lot of technologists really probably would say, “Well, don’t say that.” But hey, it’s true. It’s true. Technology is a specialty and what really comes on is people become more mature as their more general skills, their management skills, their leadership skills the more complex the situation that gets multifaceted, the more you need those generalists. So there’s that aspect. It’s a leveraged team even when it’s a small team. It’s still a leveraged team.
So, you know, it’s very much about who do we hire is key to that. So the folks that we hire, we’re picking up people who are leaders and have the potential to be leaders if they haven’t already demonstrated that. When we are interviewing them, we’re looking at not just their resume and what experience they have but we spend a lot of time finding out about them, what drives them, how achievement-oriented they are, and their ability to learn quickly, their ability to grow as a person, and particularly their ability to grow in terms of vertical development, their ability to pick up and add to their emotional intelligence, capabilities, and things of that nature. So that’s really powerful. Most projects that involve software are…the software is not the issue. That’s maybe 10% of the challenge in front of you. Most of the challenge is the other 90%, which involves a huge amount of people, right, mostly the people of the client, mostly the client. So there are the folks of the client that want this new project done, they want this system, and then there are those people who may or may not be end users at the client. They may be customers of the client or suppliers of the client that are actually gonna use the system.
So very quickly, it becomes a people problem, right, a people opportunity. And so that’s what we focus on, that’s what we develop our people for, unlike acquiring the latest and greatest next technical skill which, oh, by the way, that happens naturally anyway. So that’s kind of a given, that’s tablescapes, what we call horizontal development. The key is the vertical development. And you take a young person, an inexperienced person who hasn’t been, like I say, yeah, hasn’t been set in their ways by working at some other place. And they come and work for us and they don’t know any better. And, you know, they don’t have these bad habits. And so there’s this enormous opportunity for them to develop very rapidly in their early years, three or four years of experience. They develop very, very rapidly. And then of course…and then reality starts to set in. You know, things do get harder. By the time one enters the management level, assistant project manager, things have gotten more complex and harder. And people still develop more quickly, there are just a lot of other challenges to do with this whole thing. I was talking about the 90% of the people thing becomes very upfront and center for most of their, you know, daily, weekly, and monthly challenges.
William: Great stuff, Bruce, and Charles. Real quickly, wanna get…Bruce, could you give us your company website?
Bruce: Oh, yeah. We’re parivedasolutions.com, so Pariveda is P-A-R-I-V-E-D-A-solutions.com.
William: And Charles?
Charles: You can reach us at cornerstonebusinesscoaching.com.
William: Fantastic to have you guys on, great stuff, love the leadership topic, and culture is very important. Well, you’ve been listening to the Price of Business. Remember to check us out at priceofbusiness.com. Join us tomorrow when we talk more about you and your business.
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