Episode 23: 'Joyful Success: What Happens When Culture and Accountability Meet'

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Join us for a conversation with Cynthia Rancourt, CEO of Polymer Solutions Incorporated (PSI), named one of Virginia’s Best Places to Work. PSI is an independent materials testing lab and strategic resource for the testing of polymers, plastics, metals, gases, and much more. The PSI team shares a passion for great science! The team is one that loves a great challenge and is curious in nature. The PSI company culture is fun and quirky—for example they recently had a Company BBQ where they raced remote control cars around a track designed to emulate the chemical structure of caffeine. The scientists at PSI know how to work hard but they also know how to play hard. Join Voltage Leadership’s Jeff Smith and Jennifer Owen-O’Quill for a lively roundtable with Polymer Solutions CEO Cynthia Rancourt and their Chief Growth Officer, Caitlyn Scaggs, about building great culture while driving exceptional results. This is an hour you won’t want to miss!

Cynthia Rancourt

I am a Quality Assurance professional with 11 years of experience. I am now serving as the Chief Executive Officer at Polymer Solutions Incorporated, a chemical analysis and physical testing lab in Christiansburg, Va. I was previously the Chief Operating Officer within this company. PSI is on track for big growth within this year and over the next five years. I look forward to directing this growth and expanding PSI's reach. 

Caitlyn Scaggs

As Chief Growth Officer at Polymer Solutions my role is to provide consistent leadership to facilitate company growth across multiple departments. I plan and execute high level strategy while never forgetting it must carefully align with day-to-day business activities. Specific departments that I oversee include sales, marketing, communications, company culture, hospitality, and branding. I enjoy the interaction between these departments and intentionally using one to leverage the other.


Jeff: Welcome. It is Jeff Smith here. We will line you up here in just a moment with the guests. Welcome to Voltcast: Illumination Leadership. So glad you could join us on Valentine's Day. Happy Valentine's Day to everyone out there. We are really happy, throughout the course of the week, we get notes and letters and information from you. Thanks for all the ideas and tips and tools that you are sending to us. Very excited about today's show. We are going to do a case study.

We will be talking with leaders from Polymer Solutions and hearing about how they have mixed together sort of their culture, accountability in the success that they are having. Look forward to a case study. Jennifer, want to give a shout out there?

Jennifer: Hey, Jeff. How are you? How are you today on this Valentine's Tuesday?

Jeff: It is lovely. I just had lunch with Beth, when you are married almost 21 years. I need to travel tonight so we decided the lunch route. Just getting 45 or 50 minutes to talk, it was like wow it felt like three days. It is kind of nice. How is Jennifer today? You good?

Jennifer: I had a good day. We are having dinner tonight. I will not be traveling this evening, I actually get to have dinner with my husband and my son and my mom are going to be together for Valentine's, the two of them. It is quite a nice evening in the Owen-O'Quill household.

Jeff: You want to introduce our guests? I know you are down there with them, Cynthia and Caitlyn, you want to do and introduce them properly for us?

Jennifer: As you know, we have been working with Polymer Solutions for a little while now and a lot of the work that we do, Jeff, is in that growth and innovation space. In that space, the client that stands out for me Polymer. They have really differentiated themselves as an independent testing lab of choice for their clients. Those kinds are among some of the best companies in the world and it is because of the extraordinary lengths that they go to for their clients. Their clients that they have love to work with them because of their personalized service. But I will tell you, Jeff, what stands out from my point of view when I come here is Polymer's culture.

What I have noticed is what they do for their clients, they do for their people. They go to extraordinary lengths to them. That is a great place. I get to spend time, it is a great place to work. I can say a lot more but instead I have today with me Polymer CEO, Cynthia Rancourt and Polymer Chief Growth Officer, Caitlyn Scaggs. We are calling in from Christianburg, Virginia today. I am on site with their team and it is a pleasure to be here.

Jeff: Cynthia and Caitlyn, welcome to the show. So glad you could be with us and has been great having you as a customer. Welcome. Well, I will just start at the questions and Jennifer and I will kind of rotate throughout this case study. Cynthia, maybe I will address this first one to you. What are the aspects of the business that you are most proud of?

Cynthia: Greetings to everybody. We are happy to be here today. The aspects I am most proud of here at Polymer Solutions is our collaborative and team approach to everything we do. The other thing I love here is that we do chemical analysis and physical testing. We have a strong team of scientists but everyone here at Polymer Solutions is considered a scientist.

Jeff: How about you Caitlyn? What are some of your highlights in the key aspects you enjoy about being at Polymer?

Caitlyn: I think about the aspect that I would appreciate is that we really embody an innovative culture that communications are concise relevant and allow forward moving progress. There is no bureaucratic red tape. We all are aligned in our mission to solve problems for our clients around the globe, and also in the process to better ourselves as a company each and every day and that is just the type of environment that I love to work in. I feel that it allows me to personally drive but I also see our business collectively thriving under those conditions.

Jeff: A lot of great stuff. If you look back to 2016, what was maybe the biggest challenges you guys face? Who would like to start, just go and start.

Cynthia: One of the biggest challenges I think I started with, first of all, I was transitioning to be the leader of the company and the face of the company. I needed to learn what that was all about but most importantly, I wanted my leaders to be empowered to lead. It was something that I do not think they were quite used to and it was new to them. My role was both to support them but to enable them to do it. I could not certainly do it for them.

Jeff: How about for you, Caitlyn?

Caitlyn: Challenges that I face personally. My role here is inclined towards all growth aspects of the company and sometimes those challenges are procedural and related to inefficiencies that we might have with systems and of course systems must be carried out by people. My challenges were related to identifying perhaps broken system or even software packages that had become obsolete and then implementing the necessary changes to foster growth. The reason that becomes a challenge is because, again, these systems and the software packages are used by people and people have concerns over change. Even if it might be moving towards a better way of doing things, it is still moving to a different way of doing things and that can be frightening to some. Getting buy in from co-workers and honoring their concerns and making sure we move forward in a way that really took everyone's perspective into consideration was the most challenging aspect of my job in 2016.

Jeff: Caitlyn, can I build on that?

What did you do to get the buy in because a lot of our listeners, they are leading big change efforts, the reason they come to the show is that they are trying to say, 'Gosh, I am busy.' 'I do not get to talk to other people, I do not get to hear best ideas,' I am just really curious about what did you guys do to get the buy in for some these changes that you are trying to implement?

Caitlyn: That is a great question. I have historically not always been great at it. I am a leadership work in progress.

Just last year, I did better than I ever have and the reason is I received a DISC assessment as part of my leadership training with you all with Voltage. In it, I realized that I am a high driver which means I like getting tasks done and I like them getting done quickly. The shadow side of that is sometimes I do not pause and consider other perspectives, other ideas. I move forward quickly. For me, that meant taking that information and processing it and then applying what I learned to these changes that we needed to implement. That, in a practical sense meant, although I felt like we had a good idea and we could move forward, slowing down and just polling, almost doing like an audience poll.

Asking my co-workers, asking the people that this change would impact how they felt about it and any potential issues with it, anything that I was not aware from my perspective, because some of these changes would not impact me directly but they would impact the people that I pass in the halls each and every day. I think for me, to kind of sum it up, it would be taking the time although we are all so very busy. Taking the time to pause and consider how business decisions impact other people and knowing that when you take that extra moment it might be using a little bit of time on the front end but the payoff of employees that feel valued and feel that a change was made in their best interest is truly worth doing.

Cynthia: I applaud...

I applaud Caitlyn for what she just said and I agree with her. One of the things that I implemented this past year, in the beginning, was that it was important to me to meet with each of my individual leaders on a regular basis. That meeting time was a time to listen to them but to also hear from them. In a lot of times, it was in these meetings that we would start discussing upcoming change and I could hear how they felt that change would impact them. I find that was a great tool in preparing people for change but also getting support for those changes and us coming together creatively and figuring out okay how are we going to get through this change together and what wins are we going to have because of it.

Jeff: Yes. That is good stuff. Next week on the show, we are going to have two authors on. We are going to talk about, it is a great title, it is called Chocolate or Choice. It is going to be about how our choices impact relationships. Both of you, Cynthia and Caitlyn, what I like is that you slow down a little bit to say how do I get editors to buy in and that meant spending some time and relationship. I think that is just so critical. I know Jennifer has mentioned that people focus culture was a hallmark of your success, how did your people focus culture help and hinder you as you are getting to focus on accountability?

Caitlyn: Like I mentioned before, there is often a shadow side to some of our best qualities and I will start with where it really serves us well and then I will be transparent about the areas that we have to keep ourselves in check. Just for me, personally, I know that when you put people first the rest takes care of itself. That sometimes means that for one day at the office, things are a little stressful because someone has to be out with a sick child but honoring their role as a parent is more important than the temporary stress of having someone out. It is important to honor who they are outside of the work day and let them know that they are valued beyond their productivity in the office.

The way that becomes the shadow side of time is because if we spend too much time talking about the things that are impacting our work day, sometimes it is like you get in this rabbit trail of losing the lines of accountability while it should really be the direct supervisor that is dealing with those situations and helping employees rather than kind of this dispersed accountability. That is where we found ourselves at one point. It was just accountability was not clear, boundaries and expectations were not as clear as they could be and once those things were in place, we found that everybody was really able to thrive under those conditions and we were able to be people-focused and extremely supportive but in a way that was good for our people as well as good for our business.

Cynthia: Accountability, became extremely important here right from the beginning. Believe it or not, some of the feedback that came back from managers was there was no accountability. People would hope that another manager got their job done by the due date and if we had to develop, we had to move in a new direction. The first area, believe it or not, may sound like a small area but we put higher expectations for documentation in place and if they were not, you were talked to about it, you were given the support you need, any re-training, that was tough one.

People did not want to move forward in that but they did and we were patient and we were consistent and we listened but we said it had to be done. It is part of our robust quality system we have with our laboratory testing. From there we moved forward in expectations of how people handle conflict. Expectations of leadership over the people that they supervise. We talked a lot at length about how you set expectations, what you say will be the repercussions, and then you make sure you follow through. There were a few really tough situation we had to go through this past year things. Things that I ever thought would ever come up and we successfully got through them.

Jeff: Well, that was great Cynthia. Caitlyn, what a great. Thanks for really laying the foundation and the groundwork for a really wonderful success story. So happy to hear what you are working on and how you are doing it. When we come back in two minutes, we are going to start to dig in a little bit deeper about some of the tools and tips and how you have shaped this culture. I look forward to hearing more. We will be right back in two minutes.



Jeff: Welcome back. We are so glad that you are spending a part of your Valentine's Day or if you are listening to it later, that you know we were here in Valentine's Day thinking about you. We are here today with co-host Jennifer Owen-O'Quill. Our guests Cynthia Rancourt, CEO of Polymer Solutions and Caitlyn Scaggs, the CGO of Polymer Solutions. They are clients of ours and we are running through a case study. Learning about what has contribute to their success and two things we talked about before the break that were critical to success were culture and accountability. I am going to kick it over to their leadership, that is Jennifer Owen-O'Quill, to ask a couple questions about how well they have been able to achieve the success. Jennifer, over to you.

Jennifer: Cynthia and Caitlyn, I am curious. We were talking about cultural before we head out for the break. Culture is something that always matter. That was a question that came to my mind when I started working with you guys. Is culture something that always matter to Polymer Solutions or is it something that became important along the way?

Cynthia: I will start with Jim Rancourt, who is the founder and Chief Scientific Officer. He started this company 30 years ago and the employees have always mattered. He started out with one and two and now we are up to 35 full time employees. I can honestly say I never remember a day when the culture with which we work does not matter. It is always been very important to us if you are going to spend eight to ten hours a day where you work if you enjoy where you work, that you are empowered to do your best. I think time and time again we prove we get our best productivity through the culture that the collaborative team oriented culture that cares about people.

Jennifer: Well, that is exactly what my experience has been for sure. I am curious to follow up on that, Cynthia. What are those founding your values?

Cynthia: The founding values are probably our strong faith based background. I think it is one of the founding, of course, of all is integrity. It has been amazing to me in the last few years just how important the integrity of the science that we produce here at Polymer Solutions is to each of the employees here. During interview process which Caitlyn is brilliant at when we hire new employees here, one of the key cultural fit for an employee to work here is that integrity, honesty is over anything. We have a key example of finding out that data was wrong but it was wrong by such a negligible amount that maybe we do not need to tell the client. We have actually not hired somebody before because they said, 'Oh, then it is okay not to them.' We were like, no, integrity of the data and integrity to the client no matter what. Our employees depend on that. We know the science that comes out of one lab is just as integrous as the science that comes out of our other lab at the end of the building.

Jennifer: That is great, that is great. I am curious, from both of you actually, what has changed along the way? How is that culture changed? The integrity has been the same but what is changed?

Cynthia: I think that culture like many things in life is ever evolving. It is not something that you establish on day one and then you set it and forget it. It is something that requires work, maintenance, and evaluation as an organization evolve. As our organization has changed, so as our culture. We moved locations about two years ago, we built a brand new facility. The physical changes of our building and how offices were structured, that created a shift in culture and we had to rethink how do we create conditions that will allow people to visit and we let them get out of their office cohort and come together.

One of the ways we do that is every Friday we provide breakfast for employees because then they sit together in the break room and they visit and we see across department interactions that may otherwise not occur. The other thing is as the company has gotten bigger, there is a natural growing pain with growth and in order to ensure a healthy company culture, again going back to accountability that has been such a huge component for us as a business because without accountability it gives everyone safe conditions for success. In the absence of accountability, I think there is a lack of clarity about roles, a lack of clarity about expectations and to me that is stifling of a positive company culture when those things do not exist. Then on the opposite, when there is clear accountability, when there are clear expectations, a fun-loving collaborative culture can thrive.

Jennifer: That certainly is what I experienced when I spent time here. That comes through and all of the things you do. I am thinking about your Pirate Day events and all the different ways that you really allow there to be a sense of play and fun in a very serious and highly compliant environment, right? With three separate labs and soon to be a fourth lab that you have here on site. I am curious. One of the things, you talked about your growing staff, you have a young workforce and I am curious the impact that you think that has on your culture. How do you handle that?

Cynthia: I think for me, this is Cynthia, our young workforce is an exciting workforce but it is also a workforce that are developing themselves as individuals. They are growing families, they are growing professionally, they value time with friends, it is a little bit different than maybe the generation that I grew up in when I was starting my family. Those are important to them. Part of our culture is to respect that and acknowledge that and to encourage that. One of the things, time off is important. We have an employee who is a worldwide traveler and it is important to him and he does a great job at it. We celebrate it with him. We respect that. If he becomes ill, we are all concerned because we do not want him to lose his PPO so he can go on his world travels. Other things that we do for these young people is there are times young mothers with children who get sick a lot, we allow for people, in a transitional time in their life, to work full time at 32 hours.

Therefore, they can work between 32 and 40 hours. If they need to go to a soccer tournament, need to leave a little bit early, they have a little bit of flexibility with their hours and they know the expectation and accountability is that they get their work done and they get it done by the due date. There is a little bit of give and take that we like to have in place. We like to honor people's private life with the expectation they are still going to get their job done here and get it done without any mistakes.

Caitlyn: Is just that the training and the professional development and a lot of that, most of that, has been through you and the Voltage team but equipping people to have leadership tendencies that maybe just need a little bit of a nudge in the right direction. I know that that is something that I experienced here. The DISC assessment and meeting with you, it helped me see where I am great and areas that I can improve and then maximizing on that. I noticed differences in my own leadership skills and I have noticed the same for other, I guess you could say, young professional leaders that we have here. This focus on continuous improvement of the leader as a collective company, of our company culture, it is something that we believe strongly and giving our people tools for success and really equipping them with the necessary resources is another way to work with a younger workforce.

Cynthia: I am going to add one more thing to that. Partnering with other experts is a great sometimes wise thing for a company to do. I chose to partner with Voltage Leadership to help me with my transition to leading Polymer Solutions but also to provide leadership support that was a different voice than my own, to my leaders that I wanted to lead for themselves. I said earlier, I cannot do it for them and I want them to be successful. Partnering with Voltage Leadership has, I would say, been a big key in supporting our leadership growth and maintaining our culture and increasing our accountability.

Jeff: Cynthia, that was so lovely. Jennifer has done a great job partnering down there and we really have enjoyed the partnership. Just a shameless plug, in two weeks, Lee Hubert and I will be talking something similar. We are going to be talking about how do you use external resources like consultants, your board, facilitators, and being able to really help you get outside yourself because you guys are so busy running a boom business day in and day out. Sometimes you just need that broader perspective. What I really appreciated listening to the last few minutes has been your culture has really contributed success. I hear all you are doing is trying to keep your top talent, it sounds like, I know from working with you guys, your customer service and your clients just rave about you. It seems like you have really create this team culture. We got about 30 seconds here before our next break. As you think about what has been maybe the one critical thing in the culture that has made the biggest difference?

Cynthia: Pushing my leaders to be leaders. Caitlyn, do you have a different one?

Caitlyn: I am going to go back to something we talked about before. Just the people focus aspect. People focus with our clients or people focus with our employees and our team and to me that makes all the difference in the world.

Jennifer: I certainly see that they are willing to go the extra mile for scientists that work on substances and practical problems, they do go the extra mile to really cultivate their people and to solve their people problems and to create a great place for people to be creative and grow. That is just fun to watch. A place where people are willing to invest in that.

Jeff: Really learn a lot of great stuff about the culture at Polymer Solutions, how they set it up. When we come back from the break, we are going to pick up on this accountability and how do we make sure that it drives only through our workforce. We will see in two minutes.


Jeff: Thanks for being with us today. We are here with Jennifer Owen-O'Quill and Cynthia Rancourt and Caitlyn Scaggs from Polymer Solutions. We are doing a case study today. A little different format for us. It has been fantastic to hear firsthand about what are leaders are doing to improve their culture and also drive towards accountability. Cynthia and Caitlyn, I know you had made a good many leadership changes in the past year, you have really fostered this culture of accountability. As you sort of think about the past year and you think about your accountability, what practices did you put in place this past year and why did you make the changes that you made?

Cynthia: One of the biggest thing that we have done at Polymer Solutions this past year is we changed the name of our employees in the lab from technician, senior technician, chemist to scientists. We changed every week. Everyone who works in the lab is a scientist. You may start out as an associate scientist until you are changed and then you reach the next level say Scientist I and Scientist II and then Senior Scientist. With that came a more standardized job description. There were certain things expected technically with their positions in the labs but we also added professional expectations.

Those things included how they handled conflict, how they worked with the team. Professional behaviors that were expected. We even included some other behaviors specific for management in parentheses so that our scientists across the board could see that getting a promotion at Polymer Solutions is more than just being able to do yet another lab test. There is a lot of professional behavioral expectations that come with that. I think that has been a big step forward for us in accountability because when they are reviewed, we have some objective measures that we can go by.

Caitlyn: I would just add one thing that I just need to applaud Cynthia because it is not easy to, first off, acknowledge. There is a need for increased accountability. That is a hard thing to be self reflective enough and confident enough to say okay I realized we need to take this to the next level if the company is going to grow. I really applaud her for having that confidence and just that strength of character to proceed in that direction and with accountability I guess the only thing that I will add in support of these ideas in general is that sometimes it does start off a little bit rocky. When you go ahead and you draw a line in the stand and say this is now where accountability begins and ends.

These are your expectations. I think now, looking back on it, what we maybe were not prepared for is that it makes things I think not necessarily get a little worse before they get better but it could be perceived that way because then conflict is going to surface in lieu of those new expectations but once you work through it and get to the other side, you are so much better than where you were initially if that makes sense. It is really betterment in the long run but there are again those growing pains of proceeding in the direction of increased accountability then we have had a few growing pains.

Jennifer: I have one that I am remembering that you guys had to deal with which is one of the things that can happen is we can set the expectation and then grant a little grace. From the first part of our conversation, we certainly heard you say that there is the ability to look at the whole person and understand the reality of the whole life of that employee has and to care about that whole life. When you allow for that inside of a culture and you allow for it without making it clear that you are making an allowance, that can create the belief that there is a lower expectation now.

Making it clear when you are making an exception and saying it out loud and restating what the normal expectation is and that this is an exception and this is why, it is helpful to walk through that thinking. I have watched you apply that and begin to do that more and more instead of just understanding that someone might be having a challenge outside of their workplace and need to address it, that you will be explicit in what those new and short term accommodations are and what the reality needs to return to and how much time there might be for that. I think has been very helpful to your team.

Cynthia: One of the things that you, when you have a culture like ours, people can think that they are free to say anything they want and they are free to give their opinion on any change. When an opinion crosses the line and basically is telling you, 'I am sorry we are not going to be a team player and we are not going to support your decision so therefore do not ask us to help. We will do it this time but we will not do it again.' That is when we have to step in and say, 'You know what? The expectation is we are all team members here. The statement you just made is perceived as not being a team player whatsoever. You need to know that is unacceptable and if it happens again it could impact your tenure here.' We had to do that a couple times or I had to do that a couple times this past year.

On my DISC assessment being a supporter, influence, that is not an easy thing for me to do but it was a very important thing for me to do. Other thing that I have learned as a leader is it is important that I lead the way and that I lead in the behaviors that my other leaders need to have as well. I am happy to say that in that particular situation, I would say, there is better communication and there is a return to a good working relationship as well with all the parties.

Jeff: For folks that are interested in this topic, I know we will go in a little bit more detail, but a book I recommend is Winning with Accountability: The Secret Language of High Performing Organizations.  It is by Henry Evans again. If you just do Winning with Accountability by Henry Evans. It is not a hard read. Some folks are saying gosh I really like what I am hearing from Cynthia and Caitlyn about how do I get accountability. If you want to get a jump start, then I would encourage you, this is probably less than an hour read. It is a very short book but lots of good information. What I want to pick up on, Cynthia and Caitlyn, is as you put in accountability and you get this great culture, does having a great culture and getting towards accountability mean that there is no conflict? Are you guys conflict avoidant or what are you seeing in your culture?

Caitlyn: Jeff, such an interesting question and really great are to delve into because it does not mean that conflict is void here. What it does mean is that we are very intentional about addressing it early on so that it does not become something ugly, that it does not become something that hurts the widespread culture. If you can address it early on, isolates it, and really takes care of it before it is given a life to just become detrimental. By that I mean we start off with assuming the best. We have all been there, where we sit in our desk, an e-mail comes in and you read between the lines and you realize oh man they must really be mad at me or they sent a snarky e-mail and really that is an assumption or they could have just been busy or they could be doing five different things at once and they fired off an e-mail.

That is really not fair to assign meaning to an e-mail that is black and white and typed up so you have a choice. You can either assume the worst, that they were being ugly to you, and you can let that negativity faster. You could assume the best and say well I doubt they meant anything by it or what I like to do is assume the best and clarify. That would mean getting up from your desk, getting up from a screen, and going in person and saying, 'Hey, I got your e-mail. Just want to make sure, did I mess you up by what I suggested or have I somehow impacted your day negatively because I certainly do not want to do that.' What I have found nine times out of ten is with that clarification it stops right there. Most of the time it really was not anything negative and it really was nothing that had to become major drama. It was just that is why I found out things like oh I am sorry my kid was up all night sick and that was so much shorter than I meant to sound. I was not trying to be short with you and that is a clarification.

Clarification eliminates the need even for confrontation. It is just so much more amicable and kind and when you can take care of things on that end, conflicts hopefully can be avoided. Not because you are avoiding it out of for the wrong reasons but it is been avoided for all the right reasons because you took care of it on the front end. Then when there is a major conflict because that still is going to happen, just handling it in an appropriate way, in a positive solution based approach is where we have seen success.

Cynthia: I think I would add is when you are handling conflict. This conflict gets to a point where there does have to be a confrontation. It is difficult and it does not feel good but a lot of times the things that are the most important are the things to make sure you do. Presenting the facts, presenting appropriate behavior, letting a person first of all explain their side are really important and then making sure everybody's on the same page at the end when they are finished. We unfortunately had a situation at Polymer Solutions where there were a few employees who felt they were being bullied. Of course with up with a company where culture is very important at everybody who works here, that was the unacceptable.

We had to explore that situation. We had to sit down and speak with an individual and we had to let them know what would happen if certain behaviors can continue. It was it was not pretty. It was a situation where I just did not know what would happen and for a few days things were extremely tense. It did not look like things were going to go in a good direction but lo and behold, the person was willing to hear the hard truth. The person turned their behaviors around and I am so happy to report we have a very well supportive functioning team working together now. I think sometimes people just need to hear no, we are not going to do that. I think in this case, I should have dealt with it earlier. It was a lesson that I learned. I probably had some avoidance in there. Jennifer, you helped me a lot with that, not to avoid things. We talked a lot about clarifications. It is a situation that was extremely tough. We did get through it and I am so happy to report everybody came out on top on this situation.

Jeff: Well, that was great, Cynthia. We are right up against a break. I want to cut out for now but I want to put it that little bit when we get back. Thanks for being with us today. We will be back in about two minutes. Thank you.


Jeff: Welcome back. We are so glad that you have been here with us today. We had Cynthia Rancourt and Caitlyn Scaggs from Polymer Solutions. Jennifer Owen-O'Quill has been co-hosting as well. We have had a lively discussion. It has been great to be together and to learn a lot of great lessons. What I just want to build on from right before the break was Cynthia was talking about how you still have to have confrontation sometimes even in a great culture or deal with accountability. It would be great if clarification always work but there are times you have to have hard conversations. She said gosh, it is best if you can get by it but sometimes you really want to go on too long. I would say that is a lesson learned for all those leaders out there that if you wait for it, hope is not really a strategy.

You are better to have the hard conversation early to get a course correction. Cynthia, I thought you brought a real life example that is fantastic and really appreciate your honesty on that. I want to shift over to Jennifer. Jennifer, you have been working here with both Caitlin and Cynthia at helping to shape the culture, drive some accountability.  I am curious, what is the key question that you might have for the audience to learn more about this scenario we are dealing with today?

Jennifer: Well, it has been great to listen to the two of you share so many stories and be so generous with your insights. I am curious as you think about what it really takes to shape a great culture particularly in technical fields and in your particular industry? What are those particular lessons learned that you might have that came through over the course of the last couple of years, I suppose. Any last thoughts?

Caitlyn: I think that one thing that really struck me that might sound intuitive to other people but it really it was something that was rather profound is just because someone is highly competent with their technical skills, I would say chemistry, that does not mean they are necessarily going to be as competent with leadership just organically. It might take some work and it might take some specific training, some leadership training. That is okay but I think oftentimes we equate technical competence with the ability to lead and being a leader within one's industry does not actually mean the leading other people within a work environment is going to be a natural byproduct of that.

Equipping people well for success, giving them the resources for success is critical. Then one related thing that I was thinking about is that we need to be careful how we hire and that each hire we make which is something under my umbrella of responsibilities here, each hire is an opportunity to continue shaping the culture in either the right direction or potentially the wrong direction. It is an opportunity to identify something that we see in a candidate and say wow that is really going to align well and what I am seeing in them is going to continue to push us in a healthy direction as a team. I do have some, of course some question, that you can ask in an interview setting but one of the ways that I like to do that is by giving a lab tour because one aspect of our culture that we actually have not mentioned yet is curiosity.

We love curious minds here, we love minds that ask why and wonder, and we find that those are exceptional scientists and they are just fun people to be around. We give a lab tour and we see on that tour how does the candidate respond to our instrumentation, to the case studies that we mentioned, to the various people that we introduce them to and if we see that curiosity spark in them, we are really encouraged it. Okay, they are great candidate on paper, they did great in an interview setting and it seems like they are fascinated with our science. They are fascinated with what we do here and those are really great indicators. Another way that I do it is I had to call references and I asked the question, 'Would you like to share an office with that person?' and I find that that is a pretty telling question as well as far is how great are they to be around because we certainly want people that are fun to be around as well as hard workers.

Jennifer: I love that question. I remember that walk around the building myself so I am glad that went well for when Jeff and I came to the building. How about you, Cynthia?

Cynthia: I just think Caitlin has done a superb job with our hiring processes. It was always important to me when I would take people on the tour in the lab to see how they reacted and interacted with our scientists and generally that is when you would get feedback from our scientist that would say, 'I think they would be a good fit here' or 'They did not say anything about this' and so I think that is become a key way for us to figure out if someone would be a good fit, culturally or not. But as a team we want to bring together a dream team every day.

Part of our hiring process is the team helps make the decision about the hire. I think that has been something that fits very well with our collaborative team culture. We do not make a hire and then tell our team they have to work with them. I think the way we go about it and do it, some people might say well what if they want to hire the wrong person, they do not think the way we do it. Nine times, maybe even nine times, nine out of ten. It just does not end up happening that way. The way we do it, the way the people interact on the lab tours and everything. We generally come to a common consensus that is good for everybody.

Jennifer: Bringing people together. I would say that that we are curious is something that is part of your culture and it is part of what I experience from your leaders when I get to sit down with them and have conversations about how they run their labs and what they are wanting to do to take their processes to the next level. You have some new instruments that you have been bringing into the labs this year and managing that process and growing people in teams around that work and being very intentional about their thinking time, I just watched all of those leaders be exceptionally curious about how they can improve their own approach to their work and the willingness to do that is really something. I am curious, Jeff, how we do at the time and if you have any last thoughts?

Jeff: Yes, thanks for passing it back here. It has been just fabulous. Cynthia and Caitlyn, thanks for taking the time sharing the lessons with us. You guys have just been fantastic clients but more importantly great leaders for both your organization and the community. Thank you, job well done.

Just a few thoughts to wrap at the end of the day. Cynthia, you talk about early, each time you promote somebody that is a chance to reset expectations, redefine behaviors, I think that is fantastic. Caitlyn, you in lieu too, as well as in the hiring process of making sure people have clear expectations and behaviors. Really, to set up the cultures that you want, be really clear and specific. Highlight right behaviors and celebrate them.

Next week, we are going to continue this conversation in some way. Nancy Smith and Sharon Nicks will be the authors of Chocolate or Lunch, how choice impacts our relationships will be the topic of conversation. We will talk a lot about the choices we make, the intentions that we have, how that really sets us up for success or challenges us?

We will continue this conversation next week. If you want to reach us during the week, you can reach us at 540-798-1963 or you can e-mail us at jeff@voltageleadership.com or go out to our website, wwwvoltageleadership.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn at Jeff Smith at Voltage Leadership Consulting or follow us on Twitter @jmujeff. You have been listening to Voltcast: Illuminating Leadership. We truly appreciate Jennifer, Cynthia and Caitlyn, all being here today. Most of all, we appreciate you being here each and every week and we look for to talk to you next week at 1PM. Have a fantastic week. Take care.