A CEO For The People, with Eastridge Workforce Solutions' Seth Stein
A CEO For The People, with Eastridge Workforce Solutions' Seth Stein
No, you're not seeing double — the podcast studio really is big enough for two Seths. Episode 5 of No Milk No Sugar brings us the incomparable Seth Stein, CEO of Eastridge Workforce Solutions — also known as our host's West Coast other half. Both Seths are CEOs of staffing agencies, and both took the reins in early 2020 before getting slammed by a global health crisis.
Seth Stein takes No Milk No Sugar to the next level — giving us "triple espresso" real talk moments. He talks his biggest mistakes and regaining the trust of his team, as well as his ongoing journey to champion his team and put them first. Our Seth crowns him "CEO for the people" for his to-the-max transparent approach. Want the nitty gritty about the future of leadership and HR? Seth's got it. (Take your pick on which Seth.)
Seth SteinEastridge Workforce Solutions CEO
Tori: crosstalk I've got a coffee for Seth, no milk, no sugar.
Seth: Right here. Thank you.
Tori: You're listening to No Milk No Sugar, the podcast about business beneath the sweetener, powered by Morales Group and hosted by CEO, Seth Morales. We talk to local movers and shakers about what can be the harsh reality of doing business. We cover what no one likes to advertise but everyone wants to hear. I'm Tori, producer of the show. And today, we will kick off the Tale of Two Seths. Our host, Seth, will be talking to his West Coast other half, also known as Seth Stein, CEO of Eastridge Workforce Solutions.
Seth: That's good, Tale of Two Seths. On this episode of No Milk No Sugar, we get to hear from our very own Seth Stein, the CEO of the people. Seth Stein is the CEO actually at Eastridge Staffing based out of San Diego, California. Eastridge is a large middle- market staffing company that does several hundred million in sales. And Seth is just a phenomenal leader of people. What I like best about just this interview and this opportunity to be with Seth is he is a newly appointed CEO. He just came into the role in January of 2020, right before COVID hit. And we had that relational experience together where we got together and did some Google Hangouts across the country, me and Andy and Seth and Cali. It was just fun, man, being able to just cross notes and talk about what sucked, what was working, and I'm just grateful for Seth as a new leader, as a new CEO. He was my lifeline. And talking about making tough decisions and having to reduce costs or lay a few people off, he went through that, we went through that, but Seth is such an advocate and champion for the people. I loved knowing that he had the right heart. And so when I would throw out, " Hey, we're thinking about doing this," or, " Hey, we've got to hold off incentives for a quarter," he was like, " Well, we're doing the same, but here's what I'm doing on the back end." And it was just really good tactical advice because you knew it was being filtered through the right core values and heart for the people. And so, I think he's a phenomenal CEO and he's just been a good advocate for lifting up his team at Eastridge. We're excited to have him on the podcast today. I didn't have a lot of people to turn to that understood staffing. As a business, we had taken on a lot of debt early on in 2020 because we had some restructuring of ownership, and then the world fell out and it was sad that I can find it at an ad these moral uplifting our conversations. We had a couple... We do like, what? Every other month we do a Google Hangout for an hour and, man, it brought some normalcy to the table and we both have the same, I think, style where core values of leading in a servant- style leadership manner was similar. When it came to cutting costs and pressure and cutting people's pay, there was just a lot of things that I think we could learn from each other. And we had a lot of the same values there. For me, that was just such a rich time. Man, honestly, I miss... We got to get back to you and I having a cadence, at least even if it's quarterly, the bottle of Macallan at the end of the year. I felt like we were breaking up, and I don't want to lose that.
Seth Stein: No, I think we still may have every eight weeks on the calendar. If not, I'll-
Seth: Okay. Do we have something?
Seth Stein: ...I'm sure that we do and I'll look forward to it, but the parallels are really stunning. Outside of the name, that's going to be a little confusing on this podcast, but you took over as CEO the exact same time I did. I think we took on a debt a little earlier than you did because we ended up buying 43% of the company from the owners. So we also took on some debt, and then both of us being in the same industry, experiencing what we, along with the rest of the world experienced in mid- March, the parallels were strong. The only thing is you didn't go back to when you said that perhaps I have more experience and then I joked that what you're saying is I'm just older. So we might just want to find a way to get that in, but if not, that's okay. We can move on.
Seth: We can definitely plug that in. Tori is good about that.
Seth Stein: All right, good.
Seth: By the way, Tori is phenomenal. You'll enjoy her interactions. But one of the things that, Seth, I was thinking about, just some questions about today with No Milk No Sugar, and the one thing I thought about... I'm a big context guy, and I was thinking about when we first met, I think it was in San Diego several years ago, when I was at an executive staffing conference. And it was one of those you just grab a seat at lunch. And I saw another guy with the name Seth on his name tag, and I was like, " Hey." And then we started to swap notes and I think we connected on LinkedIn. Nothing really came from it after that. Maybe we had a couple of exchanges on LinkedIn in our inbox, but then I think we started to plug in with these Google Hangouts. And it's been fun to know you over the last, let's say year and maybe some change.
Seth Stein: It's really been my pleasure. And I think sometimes you just hit it off, whether it be in business, personal life. And I remember meeting you at that executive forum and both of us shared a passion for people, which is very cliche. But I mean, really the art and science of leading people. We also had a passion for the manufacturing and distribution space that certainly is a huge part of your business. And I grew up in that space. I worked for a manufacturing company before Eastridge. So I love that space. And at the time, if memory serves me, Drew Brees was playing in San Diego or had just left San Diego and you introduced me to The Catch. And it was a great catch against Ohio State. And so that really resonated with me. And when I wanted to build my network of advisers, when I took on this role during... Again, I'm sick of hearing unprecedented. Crazy, insane, unbelievable time, it was really cool that we connected and we talked shop and I think we've learned together. So it was mutually beneficial and I've loved every minute of connecting with you.
Seth: For sure, man. I appreciate your time today. No Milk No Sugar, this isn't the highlight reel, this is the down and dirty. So we will throw in some sugar cubes to lighten it up, but I'd love to hear just... You talked about 2020, it was a difficult year. What sucked most about last year, in your opinion? If there was a low point or something that really just sucked, what comes to mind?
Seth Stein: I really want to focus on the business aspect of this conversation, and so let me preface my comments by saying there's a ton of illness, a ton of deaths, a ton of financial instability for people around the world. And so we have to acknowledge that, not withstanding all of that. We got our first full month numbers after COVID hit. We really have to focus on our banking relationships and our insurance relationships from a business aspect. Again, outside of the people. And so recognizing we had taken on some debt to buy 43% of the company, making sure that we always remained in compliance with our bank covenants was crucial. And that was relatively new to me. And so making sure that every week I understood how much pad we had and then working backwards to, how much pad do I need, and what is going to be the impact on the team? And specifically with the team, we did have to cut staff, like hundreds of thousands of other companies, and it affected millions and millions of people. So that, of course, was very difficult. And then immediately thereafter, how do you quell the uncertainty that the team had about what's next for them? And also knowing that they lost some friends and colleagues, and in our case, literally partners? And it was very, very challenging. And so I think that that timeframe, and it hit us early May, was the toughest part.
Seth: That's a really good point, because you've got a number of shocks, you got the bank covenants, you got the effect of COVID and how it had impacted your personally, the mental fatigue and what that did. There was a lot of things that I think sucked about last year. One in particular was having to cut costs. And I think in your role, in your seat, sometimes teammates or employees don't always understand why, and this idea of making sure that you pay your debt to the bank and also appease your teammates or your shareholders, that's not an easy balance because you got to weigh in the moral part of it, taking care of the employee, but at the same time, you got to keep the ship afloat. You got to pay for the debt. And so I went through the same thing, and I felt like I was misunderstood at times. We did make some cuts, and I felt an ass. But at the same time, I think teammates don't always get into the discussion like, " Hey, we've got several million dollars of debt. We've got to make this thing work." But there's a balance in how you do that. And so it sounded like you did that well, you got through it.
Seth Stein: Because on the flip side of that, there has to be silver lining. And the silver lining was that, number one, I promise to over- communicate so that everybody understood where the company was at fiscally so that they understood if we're getting to a point where we might need to cut costs again. And what was great about that, not withstanding all the other funk that we talked about before, was that we created this weekly town hall. And when we became an employee- owned company, I promised transparency, and I promised fiscal education and awareness. And this really facilitated that. So everybody knew every single week where we were with budget, they knew what our pad was. I literally had an emergency pad of an income to interest covenant. And so everybody knew what that pad was so that if they needed to get worried, they would know as that pad continued to dip. Here's the good news: it didn't dip much further because we hit bottom, if you will, and then slowly came back out of it. And because of that financial transparency, we were able to reduce the fiscal burden that we placed on the team bit by bit. So relieving some of the pressure in terms of any reductions that we've had, then slowly but surely lifting the hiring freeze, and then towards the end of the year, because on the backs of our employees doing amazing work and taking some cuts, we did better than expected. And so we were able to... Everyone took a one- week furlough, which was really tough. We were able to pay back the one week furlough, and we did an extra week of pay at the end of the year. I think it wasn't as much about the money. Certainly, it pays for some bills and groceries. But I think what they said is, " Okay, we can trust this organization because they're telling us how we're doing, we're seeing it get better," and they're not" taking it as profit," which is a weird comment because 43% of the profit is theirs. So there was this weird balancing of, how do you take care of them today fiscally, paycheck, maybe even thinking about some increases, while at the same time, making sure that our share price is strong, because that ultimately will build a financial future for them? It's a weird convergence of items to consider, but there was a lot of communication and a lot of transparency and that brought us closer together.
Seth: Yeah. I love that playbook, man, transparency, communication, and then the financial literacy; opening up the playbook or opening up the financial books and being open and honest about it. I want to get more into the Aesop, the all year round conversation here in a minute, but talking less about the highlights and more about the bad place or mistakes, if you had a big mistake in 2020, what did it look like? If you wish you could go back and take that play again, what would it be? Anything that pops out that you screwed up?
Seth Stein: We had to come up with a new way of real time financial reporting. And it's difficult in our business because it's really based on weekend and then months end and bills come due at the end of the month. And so trying to really predict on a week- by- week basis where we're at fiscally rather than waiting till month's end, and we'd close month end within a week. So we had to really extend that. But because we were pulling... We've got three lines of businesses: we do recruitment, we do manage services, and we have a technology product. So it comes in different places and we put together this spreadsheet. And I'll be honest with you, and we were talking... This is triple espresso, no milk, no sugar. We screwed up. And there was a problem with the calculation. And I thought we were better off than we were. And one weekend I'm looking at these numbers and something is just not right. And I found the error. And I had to come to the team, and that's when we had to make the large amount of cuts and make some of the financial sacrifices. And so I gave a false sense of hope and security. I'm a new CEO and a lot of us were involved in it, but it's my job at the end of the day, it's my responsibility, to accept responsibility and coming out and saying, " I screwed up." As a new CEO during the most critical time, certainly in the last decade if not the history of the company, was, like I said, triple espresso, no milk, no sugar. And that was really tough. The good news, we changed our weekly reporting. We use a product called Adaptive Insights. So at any given time, we can pull up weekly stats rather than wait for the month. So it really helped enhance our financial reporting, but that was a fricking low point that I'm so glad the team gave me grace and allowed me to recover. But in our quarterly survey, there were several people that mentioned, " How could this happen?" And the way my filter interpreted was, how can we trust you? So I felt like it was not deceptive, it was an honest mistake, but I felt like I had to earn their trust. And so that was the low point for sure.
Seth: I love the way you lead, man. I think you're authentic and real about owning up to the mistake, even if it was a team effort. And at the end of the day, it sounded like you handled that the right way. That's not easy. Did you lose any sleep during that time? Did you have any heartburn, any ailments or everything you worked through or you found a release and you were fine?
Seth Stein: Because of my upbringing, I can accept a lot, criticism and things of that nature, but I certainly lose sleep over it. And so because of maybe my upbringing, boy I think I needed to have some thick skin. I always worry. So, for me, doing a great job or getting an A was the way it was. You never got a scratch and sniff sticker. It was, " You're supposed to do that." And so for me, I did worry about, " Am I doing a good job? Does my team think I'm doing a good job? Do they trust me?" So it was definitely in my head until I started seeing the recovery and until I saw our net promoter score go up and we went from a 47 to a 60 in terms of net promoter for internal employees. And that's when I knew, " Okay, they have trust in me. They know that, generally speaking, we try to operate in the best interest of them." And that's when I started worrying about, " Gosh, what do they think about this new CEO I read your post recently about? Was it doubting yourself or lacking confidence?" Yeah, I doubted myself and I lacked confidence because again, getting an A was always expected. It wasn't a scratch and sniff sticker. So I felt like if I'm not getting an A, how can I lead this company? So, that's what kept me awake at night.
Seth: Yeah. I remember losing some sleep myself. I remember coming to the office and not wanting to go in. I had a couple of tough conversations with some leaders that we parted ways with. And, man, I couldn't sleep the night before, just the anxiety and just the ugliness of that. Never easy, but I think when you own it and you try to correct it and you try to move forward or dig out, good things do happen.
Seth Stein: Well, and Seth, all of this is happening where you're trying to keep your team safe. We didn't know how COVID spread and we didn't really know the implications of it. And so it's just like, not only do you have all this going on, people want to come to work. Do you want them to come to work? And I didn't want a super spreader in my office or in any of my offices. And so not only do you have that emotional triggers, but you're thinking about the safety and wellness, not only of your own employees, but of the temporary employees that we dispatch every day and... Talk about heartburn and stress and making sure everyone is safe and has access to healthcare and losing sleep over how serious of an illness is this really? And it became literally deadly serious. And so that was certainly something that kept me up at night as well.
Seth: Talk to me, man, are you at all... Being a new leader, you've been in staffing, you were promoted last year at the beginning of the year. Any burnout, any fatigue? Are you rejuvenated or ready to go? Because on my end, man, I'm toast, man. I don't have a ton of energy right now. And I'm being real.
Seth Stein: I'm intrinsically motivated. And when I get a hint of success, I do want to double down. And knowing what's happening in the economy and everybody wants to hire. I am pumped up to see how we can solve that problem every day. That said, I'm falling asleep on the couch a lot earlier at night. I am dragging myself out of bed a little bit. The good news is, before the office is fully opened up, I got to drop another 10 pounds. So at least I'm getting up early to work out. But seriously, that's top of mind. But what I find is that might patience level is at an all- time low. So I have to catch myself and not be snappy at home and at work. And I need to think about, " Seth, what is your outcome? What are you hoping to achieve? And is your approach aligned with the outcome that you want?" And I have to catch myself. I've had to say sorry a couple of times, but it's really, I just want to sometimes say, " Can't you hear what I'm thinking?" Or if someone brings up an obstacle to an idea right away, I want to say, " Can you please just listen? Can you hear me out? And can you acknowledge what are we trying to achieve, and let's come up with a solution?" And I'm finding myself less patient in having that talk track.
Seth: You said it best. There's a ton of demand right now for people, but it's really hard to find them and place them, at least what we're seeing. And that sense of, " Hey, we're moving the needle, we're getting wins," well, that's not happening. I feel the same way. It's like, hey, 2020 was a very successful year in a lot of ways on paper financially. I think weathering a storm and the moral code or what went on last year is really important too. But it's just that, for me, that was one mountain that I thought was really difficult, but I'm glad we tracked it out. This one is just totally different. It's like, " Damn, we've got this tough ass mountain, it's a new challenge and it's a different space." And I don't know, for me, I've been pretty fatigued about, man, we just did our first mountain, now we've got a second one. And, I don't know, fill in a little bit of the facts, but sounds like you are, too.
Seth Stein: Everyone is. And we have to be really... And listen, I don't mean to be cliché, consultative with our clients. Here's the market, here's how many people we called, these are the results of our efforts. Can't fill the position because of A, B and C. What can you do to help achieve a better outcome? So, we are having to have those conversations. And it's funny, a year ago, you go to recruit, you have a lot of applicants and you have your choice of people to pick from. And I just had a conversation with our internal talent acquisition team, and I said, " It's recruitment mode first. You've got to make sure that they're really interested, they're salivating over the opportunity. And then assess second. If you assess first, you're already reducing a limited supply." So, how do we share what's compelling about either our own internal opportunities or about what our clients do and the life- changing impact they're having? We're really big in the med tech space. And why is it a unique opportunity? And why is their skillset aligned? And then let's really assess whether or not they're right for the job, because you really have to attract candidates in a different way today than we did even six months ago. And that is a lot more work for our team, who certainly is burnt out.
Seth: Do you think that's your biggest challenge in 2021, just the current climate, there's such a demand, but there's no supply really wanting to work today? What is your biggest challenge in 2021? Is it that, or is it something else?
Seth Stein: Yeah, there's a couple of things that come to mind. Our team has expressed a level of burnout. I've tried to compensate for that by being a great place to work. And certainly the ownership component. That being said, I can't have them on the treadmill. Place, place, place, fall off. Place, place, place, fall off. And I can't have them do the impossible. We do close to impossible, but we can't pull off the impossible; pay rate, hours, shifts, work environment. And so we've really had to take a look at, what clients are we in position to help and how can we help them? So, if it's a low pay rate and not necessarily a compelling story, we can help them, but we're going to help them manage their turnover. Meaning, there's going to be turnover and we can fill the pipeline. But it probably is going to cost a little bit more today than it did yesterday because we're doing a lot more work, but we're not growing. We're just replacing. And we have to have those conversations with our clients, or we may need to say, " No, listen, me and you were in the customer service business. Our team loves to say yes, and we'd like to help everyone we can get a job. That said, we are having to turn away from certain positions. For example, a two- day assignment, I can't get anybody to show up for a two- day assignment. It has to be compelling." So it's weird for us to say no, or coming up with some alternatives for our clients. And so to make sure that was neither limited amount of recruiters and they have a limited amount of time, and I have to look at our client portfolio and the jobs to make sure that that is in alignment with the service offerings we have and the industries that we focus on. And if it's outside of that, really for the first time, we may have to say no, unless there's something compelling. And that's a big change, I think, for our industry and certainly for our company at this time.
Seth: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. It's a dynamic market. It's one of the weirdest ones I've ever been in.
Seth Stein: And fast.
Seth: Yeah, it's super fast, man. Let me ask you this to mix it up, throw in a sugar cube or two into the no milk, no sugar.
Seth Stein: All right.
Seth: What are you most proud of, or what would you say was a highlight for you as a leader over the last 12 months? What sticks out?
Seth Stein: Listen, I told you I'm trying to lose weight, so... We're in California, so we do Stevia out here. So throw me a little Stevia packet. It really is the culture that we've been able to build. We've brought on some exceptional people. As I shared, we communicate and we talk about clear, concise communication. And so we try to do that. We try to employ servant leadership. We do a disc profile on everybody. So we understand their natural dispositions and leaders are encouraged to communicate in a way that people want to be communicated to. We focus on situational leadership, and that's providing the right level of support and direction. Based on the task at hand, we set smart goals every quarter and we give feedback in terms of how they're doing relative to performance and behaviors. Now, I'm making it sound awesome. And it doesn't work like that all the time. But what we've seen is, again, our internal net promoter score going from a 47 to 60 during a crisis, where people made less money for more work. And I'm also proud of our Glassdoor rating of a 4. 6. And I respond to virtually every single one because I want to know what's happening in the company. So, to see the employee engagement at an all- time high at a really challenging time in our business and in the economy is absolutely something that I'm most proud of because I want this to be a great place to work. I think bit by bit, we're continuing to raise the bar.
Seth: I love that a CEO looks at the net promoter score of the internal culture equally to bottom line profit.
Seth Stein: Well, again, I'm sure like your team; making less for doing more is usually not a great outcome. So I felt like I had the mandate to ask, dare I say demand during a pivotal time, that they continue to plug away. And the only way to do that is to be a great employer and to ensure that my team consists of great leaders. In the absence of that, I don't know how you ask them to pull off close to the impossible.
Seth: Talk to me, for those that are in HR or those listeners that we have that are in the HR suite or talent, what do you think the future of HR looks like over the next few years with all this disruption? Just, I think technology is a big factor. Give me just maybe some high- level thoughts of what you look like with HR in the future technology moving forward.
Seth Stein: Technology, as you said. Compliance is a big deal. And I think culture and a more meaningful way where people can really be engaged and experience engagement and leadership formally or informally, and perhaps a way that they might not have imagined they'd be able to contribute. I think those are the three things that are really on my mind for HR folks.
Seth: Give me a strength and weakness as a leader. What do you do well on the field and what do you suck at?
Seth Stein: In terms of strengths, there's a book, Radical Candor: Challenge Directly but Care Deeply. And I love that concept. I really believe that anybody should, and in fact, they're encouraged to challenge directly as long as they care deeply. I don't believe it's anyone's job to have the right answer. I believe it is our jobs to find the right answer. And if you have divergent thinking before convergent thinking, I think that's possible. So I think that's a real strength of mine. Now, listen, sometimes I'm frustrated because I don't like what they have to say. Or sometimes I may take it a little too personal. And sometimes I say, " Damn it, I'm not too approachable?" And then I snap out of it and I say, " No, this is really good intel because they're trusting me, because they're sharing with me something that I need to know." So I think that's a strength. Gosh, a weakness? Gosh, as you know, there's a lot of them. And again, this is the No Milk No Sugar. I grew up in this business on the staffing side, on the sales side. My undergrad degree was in communication, and my graduate degree was in executive leadership, half executive MBA and half leadership. And I didn't pay attention to the half the MBA stuff, to be honest with you. So coming into this role, I was thrust into a position where ultimately at the end of the day, we've got a technology team and we're developing innovative products to help companies automate and streamline their contingent workforce. And we're in California and Massachusetts. Those are some tough markets to be in from a compliance perspective, really tough. So I'll stop with that. I said my graduate degree was in executive leadership, half MBA, more on the leadership side, I gravitated more to the leadership side. And so again, taking on a technology team where we're developing products to help companies automate and streamline their contingent workforce. And we've got a five- person legal team and understanding all of the new compliance, whether it's COVID regulations or anti- harassment, not to mention I think the expectation that our employees have, that we take a position on some social issues that are popping up is new. I do not have a finance degree, and ultimately, like I shared, I screwed up, we screwed up on the financial planning early on. Again, I don't have a degree in finance and I'm not a CPA. We have great people on the team, but for me to think, " Wow, I can grow that team. I can add value to that team," was a little intimidating because I didn't have experience. Our wonderful former CEO, now chair of the board, had great business training and I'm learning on the job. So it is a weakness. I did read Small Business Accounting for Dummies because one of our consultants actually wrote it, Tom Tracy. And I'm just trying to learn a little bit more about how I can lead the team, focus more on asking questions than directing. And that's new for me. I'm sure you might've experienced the same thing, knowing how you came up in the company.
Seth: Yeah. Same thing. I think the toolbox, you have plenty of tools in there. It's just you hadn't used the financial tool as much and got thrust in this situation where it needed to be used pretty well in 2020 and going forward. I think that's really good feedback.
Seth Stein: Well, and let me add this, I was a good sales person. I was a good branch manager. I was a good area manager. I think my clients liked me. I was a student of the business, I was a student of their business, and I am fanatically passionate about using and promoting our clients products and services. And so you go from being, we'll call it top of the class, to using a similar skill set from a leadership standpoint, but not necessarily being the expert. And so that's a big leap. I'm excited to have the opportunity to do that, there is great people on the team that report into me, but I want to add value to them. And so what keeps me up at night is, am I adding value to them? Do they like working with me? Is it stimulating for them? And can I help their team to be successful?
Seth: Were you cheering for Gonzaga or Baylor, or you didn't really care?
Seth Stein: I went to George Washington University. Unfortunately, they haven't been relevant in about 25 years. We went to the Sweet 16 when I was there.
Seth: Okay. Nice.
Seth Stein: I think I was rooting for Gonzaga. One, because I get to read about them a little bit because they play University of San Diego. They're in the same conference. So I read about them sometimes. And to go undefeated for the first time, since what,'76, would have been an amazing feat. And they're always up there, but haven't been able to climb that mountain. By the way, neither has Baylor. But at the same time, when you think of Baylor, you think of football and you think of a powerful school and you think of athletics. And so I guess I was rooting for Gonzaga because I wanted to see the perfect season. And I think their coach is... What is his name? Mark Few? Is that his name? Seems to be a great coach, produce wonderful talent. So, I think that's what I was hoping for. What about you?
Seth: Yeah, same thing. Same thing. And then I saw Baylor out there and they looked they were a football team. 45 looked he was Marshawn Lynch. It crazy to see how physical and strong and stealth they were down low.
Seth Stein: Listen, last two games, so dominant. I think the better team won, but I am not a basketball aficionado, so I'm probably just using talk tracks that I heard on ESPN or CBS.
Seth: It's all good, man.
Seth Stein: Yeah.
Seth: Talking about Gonzaga and thinking about the State of California, a lot of regulation, it's not easy to do business there. What kind of challenges do you have or have you experienced over the last year, just being a business owner and operating with a lot of regulation? Talk to me about that real quick.
Seth Stein: We know no different. California has been on the leading edge of regulation and certainly employee advocacy for a long time. So we really don't know different. And so when we go into other states, my silly sales line is, if we can do business successfully in California, we can do it anywhere. And it does resonate because we understand the environment. That said, we have a large legal team. They do a great job of training us. We do a quarterly roadshow to educate all of our front of the house folks; you have sales, account management, recruiters. But recruiters, I think, generally get into the business because they like connecting people with great jobs. And now, there are, we'll call it many HR professionals. And they have to have a keen eye on all things compliance, filling out the right forms, the sequencing. When could you run background check? Are you putting the information in the system correctly? And before they start, now there's, in California, anti- harassment training. So there's just a lot that goes into it. You can only offer... You can do a contingent offer and then you can do background, which is different than the way it was a couple years ago. So, we've had to turned them into HR professionals of their own and making sure that we delegate that responsibility to them is a lot for them, and it's also a lot for the organization.
Seth: What does leadership look like in 2021 and beyond? You went through 2020, you're a newly appointed CEO, you've been a leader most of your career. What would be some attributes that stick out that a leader is going to need X, Y, and Z in their toolbox as they go forward? Anything that comes to mind, Seth, that you want to share?
Seth Stein: Yeah. I'm not sure if there's anything new under the sun. We talk about people, process and technology. I want to hire people that are smarter than me and have ideas that I don't have, I have to surround myself with the right people in terms of process. There's so much out there in terms of automation, efficiency, compliance, we have to find a way to do it really efficiently in a way that provides a wonderful user experience. And ultimately, hopefully it helps us reduce costs. And then technology. There is a technology platform for everything. And so making sure that we invest in the right technology. And Seth, I don't know if you have to deal with this, but we implemented technology platform and rarely does anybody use it to its full capabilities. So, it drives me nuts when I see a Google spreadsheet or Post- it notes. I'm like, "How come that's not... Why can't we produce a report in the system?" And it's like, " Well, it's cumbersome and it's administrative." I'm like, " Well, that's why we have the technology." So I have to understand more about those obstacles to get us to use the technology more effectively. And then from, we'll call it a leadership perspective, there is a couple of things that I try to remain committed to. Number one, what are your top three to five objectives this quarter? Associated with that, who's doing what by when, because shared ownership is no ownership? And when we speak, I want results, progress and issues associated with those top five objectives so that we can know, are we tracking? Do we need to pivot, or do we need to bring other people in to solve a problem that we didn't know we had? And if I focus on more than those top five things for the company, it's probably a distraction. By the way, I learned that from my business coach at CEO Coaching International, Sheldon Harris. So I'm thrilled with that, but it really has kept our team focused and everyone knows our top goals and how they cascade down throughout the organization. Having that discipline for someone who likes to get their hands in a lot of things and move different directions and likes to change is hard, but I think that focus is going to be the key to what should be a phenomenal economic boom in 2021.
Seth: I like the playbook. You heard it first, Seth Stein 2. 0 2021. We've got The Playbook for Success. Hey, one other thing I was talking to a friend and guest that came on our podcast not too long ago, his name's Kyle Lacy. We were just talking about how just there's this potential wave of employee turnover, just with a lot of people sat out in 2020 at home contemplating a lot. Do you foresee that? Have you seen any... Or are you guys in a good spot, engagement's good? Or can you talk to other leaders that are seeing an exodus of talent free on the market, looking for new opportunities?
Seth Stein: Yeah. Everything you read should scare the, you know what, out of leaders us. So the surveys are very palpable. That's number one. Number two, is you do see it in the ranks of employees that we place at our companies. There is some turnover; better hours, better location, certainly better pay, and there is wage, pressure. Period. The end. I know the feds are saying not to worry about inflation. I don't know about you, Seth. I'm seeing inflation. At our company, I feel pretty good. Quarter over quarter. So quarter one of last year, quarter one of this year, turnover is down 75%. So I think we're doing a good job of engaging our people. Am I worried? Yes. I'm worried because there are amazing people, hardworking, committed, self- aware and operate with urgency. Now that I understand what our budget is starting to look like in 2021, meaning budget compared to actual, I'm going to have to make some adjustments for people, either give promotions, give some raises, give new opportunities to people. And if I don't, yes, I'm scared. So it is squarely on my shoulders to figure out what I need to do to retain people. Listen, we're in the service business. Always going to be on call, always going to work hard. Our business demands that you have work ethic. I have to develop an incentive plan commensurate with that type of effort that is at least on par because culture is great, but pay and compensation, benefits and perks is also part of the story and it is squarely on my shoulders to figure out. What about you?
Seth: No. I think we've seen the same thing. Have we had a lot of turnover here internally over the last three months? No. Have we had a few people leave? Yes. Talking to Kyle and thinking about just the amount of time to reset, rethink your career path, especially if you're in your career at an earlier age and you're trying to figure out life, I can see how that could be an opportunity for you to want to shop around and think about it. But it's on our mind. I love how you do a really good job. I feel like you're probably one of the strongest CEOs that I've met that is an advocate for the people. You're constantly trying to find ways to lift up your team and really just make sure that, I don't know, you've got the right... I don't know what you call it, but you just got the right formula where you've got the engagement there, you're trying to take care of them, within reason, but at the same time, it's just really, really encouraging to see that. Because every time I get on a call with the convoy, I'm like, " You know what? I need to double down here, I need to do that." We need to step up with what's up our team.
Seth Stein: That's so kind. Listen, I'm obsessive, neurotic, compulsive, and so I just don't stop thinking about what could go wrong, which, by the way, in Good to Great, they talk about paranoia being good. So at least someone thinks it's a good trait for a CEO. But when I see a problem, what scares me is not acting in time to prevent an outcome. So, I'm seeing a problem. And it's like, if something happens, I'm like, " I was going to get to that, I was just working on that." And I did. I lost a person. We deserved to lose him. He was a good, good guy. And I'll be candid with you, he was underpaid relative to market, and candidly, relative to his spirit. It slipped through the cracks, and I didn't act fast enough in terms of going through my analysis. That's what freaks me out. As I saw it, I'm doing what I can to prevent it. Can I act fast enough? And so that one hurt hard. Now, I believe we're a great company. And I told him, " The door is always open." But if he doesn't come back, I'll be upset because that was on us and that's what really stresses me out.
Seth: You're going to drop a pass or two, man. It's not a hundred percent catch, you're definitely going to have some drops, but I think when you recognize those patterns and you try to correct them, act a little bit quicker. I have a wife that works in the business with me, Jackie, and she's phenomenal at seeing those trends ahead of time. And she wants to act right away on solving that problem. And if we don't, then she'll fixate on it, and I need to move a little bit quicker.
Seth Stein: Well, it's a balance: you move too quick, you didn't think it out and there may be some gaps in the plan. You move too fast and you might've moved on something that you didn't need to move on. So I think it's a balance and I'm continuously working on that.
Seth: Hey, Seth, we're going to wrapping up here in a minute. If you had anything you wanted to share to leaders that are looking for maybe the raw, uncut, unhighlighted... Give me the raw and dirty, " This is what I see as a leader." Any insight or anything you'd want to leave our audience behind with? Anything come to mind with No Milk No Sugar?
Seth Stein: It's funny, I've been involved in a lot of peer groups. I know you're in YPO, I'm in YPO. I've been involved in Vistage and you've met people through the community. And whenever I bring up an issue, and it doesn't mean it's that employee's fault, but an issue with the employee, it could be our fault, what I hear is lack of patience associated with figuring out, how do they see it? Do they understand the implications? What I hear is, " You got to move on. You got to move on from that employee." And I just don't think that's the right way to approach it. So understanding, do you understand the issue or issues? Does each party understand the implications of that either behavior or outcome? Are there any potential solutions, and can we together find out what can we do to solve that problem? And can we check in on a regular basis to make sure that we're making progress? And if at that point we understand that we're not making progress and the issue is still there, okay to move on. But if a leader's first instinct is, " Can't fix this person, we got to move on," either because of your history with that person or history in a similar circumstance, I think you're wasting a lot of talent and a lot of time that either you or your team have invested on that person. So I think going through that diligent process to make sure there's alignment on implications, what's next? What are we hoping for the outcome? Did you understand? Are we on the same page? And then let's have regular check- ins, is just a great approach. People are just too valuable and the business is too complex to experience the level of turnover. So, that's what I see. And I always fight back with feedback. You'll never make it work with that person. So, that's something that maybe... I hope that that resonates with you, Seth, and certainly the listeners.
Seth: Absolutely, man. You see a lot of leaders that do dismiss and they don't want to roll up their sleeves and trying to figure out how to make it work. Again, a CEO for the People, man. I love that you are the... We got to W that title, CEO of the people.
Seth Stein: Oh, I like it.
Seth: Seth Stein 2. 0.
Seth Stein: It's rockish. It's rockish, right?
Seth Stein: The people's champion. I like it. Can you smell what Seth is cooking?
Seth: That's good stuff, man.
Seth Stein: Thank you.
Seth: Hey, I really appreciate you coming on the show, man, and dropping some knowledge. Love that you're a good friend down in San Diego on the other side of the country, doing your thing. Keep up all the great work and thanks for making time, sir.
Seth Stein: My pleasure. The feeling is mutual. Linkedin is always a good opportunity. I'll connect with most, especially those that I find to be inspiring. Also, I put my email out there, sstein @ eastridge. com. I try and be responsive within 24 hours. So you can hit me up on email as well. And I'd love to talk shop. You guys are doing great in Indy there, and can't wait to get you and your family out to San Diego and experience the weather and the palm trees.
Seth: Awesome. And thank you.
Seth Stein: Awesome.
Seth: Talk to me, what stood out to you?
Tori: All right. Well, first of all, that was very interesting for me as the show producer, because I definitely felt like I was inside this private CEO phone call between you two.
Seth: Yeah, for sure.
Tori: So, for all the listeners out there, I think this is a really great opportunity to hear what you guys talk about and bounce off of each other and talk shop together. It was really interesting. It was definitely a Tale of Two Seths. You guys have very similar backgrounds and it was very cool to hear about how you were both new CEO's at the start of the pandemic and the trials and pitfalls that maybe you both fell into and some of the silver linings that you found along the way. I definitely liked that CEO for the People title that you crowned him with there.
Seth: Yeah, he definitely has that... Every time I talk to him, he is definitely advocating for his team and he is, in my opinion, the CEO of the people in the staffing ranks. He's got this inaudible mentality, California is progressive. I love it. But he's even out there where he's really pushing to advocate for his team to... I don't know, he's doing things the right way, and I think it's a very progressive leadership style that I think could be sticky for a lot of new leaders that are trying to figure out how they want to lead.
Tori: I was very impressed and almost taken aback a little bit by his triple espresso, no milk no sugar moment, that error that he made as a new CEO.
Seth: All right. Yeah.
Tori: It reminded me a little bit of this article that I recently read about the characteristics of visionary leadership. And one of them is responsibility and how you have a responsibility to your team for your vision to make sure that things don't go wrong, but if they do go wrong, that you take responsibility for that and are transparent about it. So I thought that was really positive.
Seth: Yeah. He's authentic about that and he'll take it as a leader, he'll take it on the chin. If the team ultimately missed the shot, he's the guy to step up, but own the mistake. I think a lot of new leaders and leaders in general, I don't know, I feel like they struggle sometimes with owning their mistakes. With Seth, he's real. He's like, " Look, missed the shot here. Missed the opportunity, but you know what? Own it, and then recover from it and move forward." And I think that's the sign of somebody with a ton of self- awareness and confidence. And you talked about that new era of responsibility as a leader. But I loved how he threw out... What did he say to the sugar cubes? What'd he say, Stevia, California-
Tori: Yes, Stevia, because California lifestyle.
Seth: Yeah. Every time I'd be on Google Hangout, he'd be talking about the palm trees and the 80 degree weather, so I was a little jealous and envious when he was doing that. But I'm just trying to think of some other soundbites that he had.
Tori: Yeah. There were several. I think you guys were talking a little bit about burnout as leaders, and I thought it was interesting that he has this mantra where he's trying so hard to keep his patience, but it's... his patience level is at an all- time low, as he said, and he has to repeat this mantra to himself, like, " I'm trying to be solution- oriented and let's make sure that all of our conversations are focused on that." But I think from my perspective, watching you guys as leaders talk to each other, it's just nice to hear that that's something that you guys have to repeat to yourselves too.
Seth: Yeah. Especially right now, after you went through a year of... 2020 was not easy. And then for Seth and I both being in the recruiting ranks and really having a challenge to find people right now, because there's a ton of demand and the supply is not ready to get back to work yet, it's really frustrating to not be able to see the results. And so as a company, we've talked about this, I've shared this in some of the weekly videos, we've just struggled to come out of the gates quickly and wanting to see that change, wanting to see that result as a leader, it's probably the single worst thing that can happen for me because I just want to see a little bit of progress. I want to see us winning and it's just not happening. But it was good to hear somebody else going through the same thing.
Tori: One of the more sticky things that I heard him talk about was, you guys are so used to having this customer service mindset in this industry you love to say yes, you always want to get people the best job, you want to get jobs for people who need them. But that idea of that you may need to say no at times, and that's a new thing for both of you. So, my question to you is, what can our listeners and partners take away from this idea of saying no, and how can saying no actually help our clients and those we work with?
Seth: Yeah. I think about the book Essentialism and saying no can be a good thing. It certainly can be a good thing because if you don't always say yes and you say no and you hold your ground and you try to find ways to consultively help them out as to why you say no, you most often get to a better outcome. And I think for a sales rep or a new leader, that's not easy to do, especially if you're in the service business. We pride ourselves in saying, " Hey, we'll figure out a way to make it happen." And when you take a step back and you do take a different approach, especially right now with the funky labor market that we're going through, I can see that being really helpful. I'm glad, with Seth coming on, man, he is a breath of fresh air, he's a progressive thinker and, like I said, he's a leader for the people, but I think he brings some cutting edge ideas. What else, Tori? Talk to me any other nuggets of wisdom that you wrote down or synthesized through.
Tori: He's focused more on asking questions than directing, and he clearly is someone who is always continuing to learn and put that into practice. I thought it was pretty inspiring how he's trying to learn about these different aspects of his business and make sure that he knows all the ins and outs, even if it's not something that's an area of strength for him.
Seth: Yeah. He did that. He rolled up his sleeves, which I love, but he talked about getting rid of talent or parting ways with an employee and he said he's always one to make more time to figure out what it's not working and then trying to come up with solutions. And so he was more adamant about not just dismissing somebody quickly. And it sounds like Seth, just given he is a CEO for the People, he was very, very adamant about making sure that they work at that.
Tori: Thanks for tuning into another episode of No Milk No Sugar, the podcast about business beneath the sweetener. We hope you learned something. And we'd love to hear from you. Tag us with# NoMilkNoSugar, or email us at nomilknosugarpod @ gmail. com. Or connect with Seth on LinkedIn. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and we'll see you next time.