Stewart Pollard is an engineer turned leadership coach and the founder of SHiFT Leadership Solutions. In today’s episode of Consolidate That!, we talk to Stewart about why purpose is so important in the formation of culture in an organization and how leaders can best instill this in their teams.
So for all this and more about connecting people to purpose through a process to achieve the ultimate goal, tune in today!
Good morning and welcome to Consolidate That! Ivan, I’m excited to talk to you today.
Likewise, we have a special guest today.
Yeah, I know you’ve got your personal executive coach who I’m excited to learn from. I know you’ve got a lot of great insights here so I’ll let you introduce Stewart.
Yeah, I’m super excited about our guest today so Stewart Pollard is as Ryan said, he’s my executive coach but the reason why I invited Stewart is because he has a tremendous experience in the corporate management and in coaching that’s followed his career. He is an engineer by trade, I guess his first education and second in mechanical engineering and then he proceeded to MBA in global management and then from there, he became an executive coach and a certified change management professional.
Professionally, he worked in Goodrich Landing Gear as a production control manager then proceeded to Honeywell where he was Six Sigma Plus leader and then he had a successful career at J.D. Irving where he was a Director of Organizational Development and now, Stuart is running his own company and he is an executive coach and teaching people like me to become better leaders. Stewart, welcome to the show, thank you very much for finding the time.
Thank you gentlemen for the invitation and the opportunity.
Stewart, I want to just – just a bit of a history, I just want to understand, when we met, I was very curious about your career path because you’ve been at a very high rolls at very large organizations and you build up your career from the engineer and then to people leader and then to executive in the very large organization, the biggest organization in New Brunswick where we live.
Then you switched completely to this sort of individual contribution to your own career path. How does one growth within that sort of one career later and then makes that switch, that was a little surprising to me. If you can give us a little bit of a background to that?
Yeah, I think I’ve always had an entrepreneurial slant, my parents, my grandparents, almost everybody I know worked for themselves and so I was the oddball going and working in corporate roles and always through that journey, you know? It was almost an accidental journey if you look at how an engineer in aerospace ends up being an HR leader and then an executive coach, it just doesn’t make sense. It was a series of good accidental decisions and each time, it kept bringing me closer and closer and closer to realizing, you know what? I’m more entrepreneurial, I need to own this, it has to be mine.
You know, we’re here, we’re going to talk about some stuff of purpose today and it was really, when I discovered my own purpose, what I wanted to do, this was the only way to achieve it in my eyes, so I made the jump at 45.
I know that I could probably sit here all day and geek out with you just telling me about landing gears on airplanes just because those blow my mind, which I know some of that background you have but I think we’ll probably get some more information that’s more useful for people, although, if you want to talk about the size of the tires on airplanes, I’m good, we could spend 30 minutes there.
I could probably do the same. The aerospace, I’ll probably come out with a metaphor or something at some point that relates back to it.
There you go. But the topic that we wanted to pick on today is basically, the importance of purpose and leadership and Stewart, we had a very long discussion and then we had some action plans that we implemented actually at VIS with your help and we had a transformative change since we implemented those. It was all around the purpose and so I wanted to open up the topic of how do you define the purpose and how do you incorporate purpose into the organization to define the cultures. What are the examples that you’ve seen and why purpose is so important in the culture formation in the organization?
Finding purpose I think is one of those that can end up for some as being a lifetime journey. It’s not a topic that we talk about at school, it’s not something that anyone really interviews you on or expects you to know and the majority of people who went to an organization and you know, they have their values and they work a job and hopefully through that journey somewhere, a leader who is clear on purpose establishes that and helps them discover how important it is to be committed and inspired to something beyond the job.
What I’m thinking about purpose and you know, I draw a lot of my thoughts and ideas from other thought leaders as well whether it’s Simon Sinek or Kouzes and Posner or these other authors. Sinek says you know, it’s the difference between manipulation and inspiration.
I like that.
I often say, it’s the difference between compliance and commitment. When I understand purpose, I’m not just complying with a job and the policies and the procedures, I’m actually committed to the end goal and the vision of that organization or the leader I work for. In some cases, those are not the same thing.
Working in the big organizations, what I noticed is the purpose got lost over the years, the organizations purpose got lost, it just became sell stuff and make money. Unfortunately, a lot of leaders follow that and I say, what’s the purpose of the organization? To make money. In the midst of that, I did a lot of work in Lean and Six Sigma and Lean Enterprise Institute and John Womack, they define it a little bit more and they say, it’s about solving a customer problem, that’s the purpose of an organization.
I think as entrepreneurs, that’s what we’re trying to do as well. We have a passion and it’s taking that passion and linking it to solving a customer’s problem, that’s where the business actually comes from.
That’s very interesting. One thing that I keep reading in you know, in literature and we had this discussion is that purpose is not the passion. Passion is something that you have yourself and you’re passionate about things. Purpose is something bigger than yourself, it’s outside of you but it’s a bigger and better thing that you want to accomplish in this life, which could be a part of something useful for this planet.
How do you bring that into the organization and give, let’s say, your purpose to another person. How does that happen in an organization and how do you define it because I think that our industry and we’re talking specifically about the rollups in the veterinary domain that there is a big incentive financially to create these rollups, they’re combining multiple clinics that they buy into one organization, they get multiple on it and then they execute on the investor’s value creation plan.
How do you create the purpose behind it and as you buy businesses, unite people culture by having the purpose for that organization?
I think one, it takes a lot of introspection to think about why am I truly doing this and you know, honestly, in some cases, the organization’s sole purpose is just to make money. That’s unfortunate because that doesn’t resonate a lot with the employees, right?
For me, you know, purpose lives in stories and I think that’s where our “aha” came from in our engagement is the stories we tell as leaders where our passion comes through, that really starts to point us in the direction of our purpose. When you have a passion and then your skills and the opportunities all land in the same spot and you hit that point where it’s not even work anymore, I think that’s when you’ve discovered your purpose.
I go back to my background, that weird journey and I didn’t know my purpose when I was 20 or 25 and most of my bosses didn’t know theirs but I knew there was something more that I was looking for. At each turn, when I took out an opportunity, whether it was in continuous improvement, I had a bit of an “aha” because when you’re doing continuous improvement, it’s all about defining the right problem. Well, you know what? That’s a “Why” That’s a purpose for our project or a purpose for an improvement.
When I went in to change management, we talk awareness of need, why are we changing and why now? When we go into coaching, we talk about establishing the contract with the client. What do we want to accomplish in this conversation or this engagement? Each time we start, most of our businesses, most of our roles start with purpose in a way, right? We ask questions that are trying to establish the why, I just think as leaders, we don’t introspect enough and say, “Okay, what’s my why? What do I really want to accomplish here with my limited time?”
It’s interesting that you’re talking about when you were 20, 25 and then the group that was right above you and Ivan is always talking about the millennial generation and a lot of the veterinarians that are coming out are of that generation or even the next following generation and there’s sort of this push in a lot of conversation that people have around the large tech companies of work the amount that you’re getting paid for because it’s a big company.
The big company is – they’re not your family, they’re not there to take care of you, they’re not there to coddle you, they’re going to push you’re until the breaking point and that’s what they’re getting into. I think there’s some pushback form the other generations of – it’s not the generation of working for 50 years for IBM that my parents had, it’s sort of that different view.
How should that group of people look to their executive teams and how should the consolidation groups put together a purpose that makes sense for that younger generation that’s being told, “Wait, your parents are saying don’t go after and don’t sell yourself to this company, do what your passion pushes you to or find your purpose.”
Yeah, I think, well first of all, I think as a Gen Xer, I think we’re the first generation to have that kind of, I’ll call it questionable loyalty where we saw downsizing and as Simon Sinek says, companies balancing the books with human lives, that’s maybe partly what’s driven this. We think about those executive teams. The executive teams are of a generation or two higher.
I always talk to leaders saying, it’s not the employees that have to change their approach, there’s 10,000 of them and there’s one of you. Who’s got the easiest change to make here, right? I love the question because a lot of my coaching comes back to leaders asking, “What do I do, I have this whole group of new people and they’re not working the same as my last group of people that – I’ll often ask them, “What are yo doing differently? What have you tried? Do they understand why you’re doing what you’re doing?” I want to know why.
From the time I was two years old, someone said to me, “Do something.” I’m not an obedient type, my first question was, “Why?”, right? We start from a very early age, anyone whose got kids hears that. This isn’t a new topic, it’s not a millennial topic, it’s not a Gen X topic, we want to know why. I think it’s because we have such access to information now, if you go to the doctor and they say yeah, maybe you have diabetes. First thing people do is go back and start Googling it and questioning the authority but it’s because they have so much information, they’ll ask those questions.
Whereas I’d say two generations ago, we just trusted the authority and we followed. “Jump”, “Okay” Maybe it was, “how high?” Now it’s “Why” and maybe leap or skip, that’s not falling in, it’s a curiosity and it’s an ask for purpose and I think leaders need to understand that. How do they do it? Being aware that it’s important, anybody, everybody wants to know why they’re doing something or it just becomes work and you give what you get in your example.
I’ll punch the clock and then I’ll go do what I care about, right?
Yup, yeah, 100%.
My kids are 20, they want to work on something that matters.
That’s interesting. Just a bit of a history here, well, Ryan and everybody in this conversation knows but not the listeners. I came to you with that question and I said, I just don’t feel in this new group of people I’m working with, the same as I felt in Smart Flow, in the previous company. Now it sounds to me like it’s a pattern, everybody you work with comes in the same question but to me, it was so unique, it’s so interesting that you actually see these patterns and people are kind of similar problems.
Again, it’s a bit of a history what you explain to me is what – why are you doing this and we had this meeting before the new year’s this year where I basically told my story about the burnout and everything that happened with me that resonated with I think, almost everybody on the call.
I can feel it after that meeting that the company just transformed. It’s not – you can’t quantify it, you can’t – but you can feel like people understand that there is something out there that they’re doing together and our purpose in the organization is to help veterinarians to decrease the burnout and to live their passion again, which is veterinary medicine. That’s what we are trying to do through management methodology.
It was a phenomenal effect but I can’t bottle it and I can’t explain what happens. Can you maybe dig a little deeper into psychology of it because how do you – I think it’s whether I’m lucky that I was that bad burned out and this story is just so pitiful that everybody almost cried in that meeting but now they love me or – what if the purpose is not helping people that are in that degree of burnout but if it’s something to improve in this world, how do you really sell your purpose to another person in the large organization.
I’ll go back to what I said earlier around “Purpose lives in stories.” The reason stories are so important is they activate our imagination and our imagination is all pictures and when we have a picture, we can attach ourselves, we can get connected to something because it makes it real. Words, numbers are really relevant.
The picture is something we can see and you know, I had a boss a few years ago, he says, “See” was an acronym. It stands for Significant, Emotional, Event. When I can see it, I can feel it. If you think about building a company vision, it’s not about wordsmithing the right slogan, it’s about getting a statement that you can tell a story about, that activates the emotional commitment in people.
When you use your story, people could see you and they could see you in that space and that brought them closer. I think that’s where as leaders, we have to be very good at A, being vulnerable and authentic, letting people see us, telling stories and communicating effectively, letting them see our purpose, right? Then, living within that, letting them see that we are walking in the steps that we just defined or talked about.
Stewart, it’s great I think because our listeners are in a unique situation that whether you’re listening to the podcast as a veterinarian or if you’re listening as an investor or an executive and a consolidator, we have a really wonderful and unique opportunity that there is this purpose and this passion that got all of the veterinarians and the veterinary technicians and everybody to spend that time working in the practice.
If we bring it back to that consolidation side of things, there’s that wonderful opportunity for the executive teams to be able to rally around the purpose and the passion and in my view, I think a lot of the consolidation is going to come down to what each consolidators niche is, whether it’s building the long legacy for the veterinarian or if it’s building a future for the next generation that they want to come up or if it’s building a place that’s considered the best place for vet technicians to work.
I think everyone listening should feel hopeful that they have sort of that underlying idea of where their purpose can come from because of the passion that people already exist, they’re lucky that we’re not talking about this is something, just my opinion, manufacturing nuts and bolts.
That might be harder to have the true passion for those things just on my side of things but for people that are coming from the veterinary world, there’s already that passion that a lot of them had to get to where they are today. Cool to be able to build off of that, I think.
Yeah, I think so and you know my sister is a veterinarian.
Oh I didn’t know.
Yeah, surprise on that one but I’ve seen why she put all of that hard work into becoming a veterinarian. I think there is people that do that because they care about let’s say the animal. They have this passion to help the patient and then we get into it’s like most of us, we have a trade that we have a passion for and then we get into work and we become a manager and owner and it’s like, “Oh damn, now I have to run a business” right?
That’s not what I want to do, I wanted to fix cats or I wanted to help the patient and here I am having to manage budgets and blah-blah-blah. I think that’s really important, you’re right, is to not only as the leaders, owners, consolidators to know our passion and purpose but we also have to know what wags the tail of our audience. If those don’t align, it is basically in a values conflict.
Only it took post-conflict.
Yeah, which is as we depicted before in some episodes is one of the triggers for burnout. If you value conflict between your values and the values of the organization, eventually you can burnout and people think it’s just the load of work but this is a great topic that it is hard to connect to that level of some of our clients because ultimately, they are here to make money and everybody understands that and some of them have a great story but unfortunately, that doesn’t transpire into actions and that’s where the disconnect between the purpose and then what you do, what you’re saying what you do is different.
That is where I think a lot of the time the disconnect is happening in our industry and I am sure that you have seen that before, so can you maybe comment on that?
I think you’re absolutely right. Listen, let’s be honest, we’re in business. We want to make money, at the end that’s a natural byproduct of business. We didn’t want to do that, we could go volunteer and go do something else with their time. As leaders however, we have to say, “Okay, knowing I want to make money as the ultimate end, what is going to help me make that money in the most effective way?”
You know what? Connecting my people to purpose through process is the best way to do that. We can’t save our way to prosperity. We can’t with them beat our way to put up prosperity, we have to lead and the only way to lead is to set something out there that people are willing to go to willingly. Defining that purpose that says, “You know, we want to make money but we’re choosing this place to make money” I would have guess there’s lot of really good – lots of easier places to make money than consolidating veterinary clinics. That’s a lot of work.
If I am going to do that, let’s talk about why I choose this and why this is important to me and why I’m going to use this mechanism to increase my bottom line because I have passion for the industry or I have a passion for the people in the industry or I think we still have to reflect and identify that and that’s where it gets lots in many, many, many organizations. The big multinationals, they become diverse, they have so many people, so many levels, the purpose doesn’t filter through all of the levels clearly, right?
It is like a relay race. Relay races are won or lost at the handoff, right? It’s not the runner. They all run the same speed, the only thing that wins or loses a medal in a four by 100 is how well we hand the baton. Well, there is no different in communicating a purpose through an organization. If we can’t do that effectively and we lose a little bit, we leak a little bit at every handoff, by the time you get to front line where they work happens, it’s just a job again and then get back to what you just said, it’s burnout. I’m working hard for what?
I love what you said about the byproduct, I am going to use that, so money is just the byproduct. It is so true and then in everything, in the last at least two companies that I created, we didn’t think first on how exactly we’re going to make money. We knew that we were solving a problem that we were passionate about and somehow the money will come. That is what I always told them, my co-founder, which he didn’t like but we made money eventually and it did become byproduct.
A very good byproduct but we were passionate about fixing something. We are running out of time and every time I talk to you we’re running out of time and we usually commit to 20-minute episodes but I do want to ask before we ask the last two questions we usually ask, you mentioned several times your personal purpose. What is your personal purpose? What do you choose to do to have your personal wealth as a byproduct?
My personal purpose is to leave an impact in the lives that I touch. That’s it just leave a positive impact. When I think of my organization of SHiFT Leadership, I am coaching and developing leaders to leave a legacy of excellence where they’ve touched. My view is my coaching at the leadership level, for every leader I touch, I impact every person that they interact with.
That’s awesome and I think you have in our organization so I appreciate that.
Of course, yeah. Well, I think we have two questions that we always like to ask. One is a book recommendation, something that people could read or take in to be able to get a better idea of some of the things that you think and that share your same thought process. Give me one book recommendation, I know you were thinking of a couple but I am going to have you narrow it to one.
Yeah, I was just going to answer with three so now you’ve really laid it out.
I know, well, it wouldn’t be a tough, you know, this is hard hitting journalism.
Here’s a book that I’ve read before and I am current audio Audible-ing it right now and it is The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. It is a great foundational book and when you listen or read that one, you’ll hear the flavor in many of the other business books that are right now, they build on the framework and foundation of Kouzes and Posner.
All right and now the second question is, where should people go to learn more about Shift Leadership and your business?
Best place to go is my website, shiftleadershipsolutions.com, it’s been built around this concept. It talks about what I believe, what I don’t believe. It really is focused on my passion and purpose and so if you want to know more that’s where to go and that’s the avenue to make a direct connection as well.
That’s wonderful. Well, this is my first time getting to chat with you. I know Ivan gets to spend a lot of time with you and I really appreciate it. This is wonderful, I can hear so many of the things that you’re talking about coming through in the way that we’ve been working, so thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
I appreciate it as well. Guys, this has been a lot of fun.
Thanks Stewart, always a pleasure.