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How to Retain the People Who Want to Save Men’s Souls.

May 12, 2020



This is a continuation of the conversation we started the last episode with Mandy Farmer, CEO, Accent Inns. Chris asks Mandy the question of what's next after you have firmly decided that fun is the core of building a great business, and nothing will push me off this. How do you attract and retain the right people who hold these same values? Corey likened the tone of the company to something like the people who make Cards Against Humanity. Even their company contact info on the game sets the tone for their irreverence. They are the same all the way through from the product they make to the people who support it and lead the company. There is a box of awesomeness that is given to each new hire at Accent Inns. They know in a short period of time who is embracing their values and who is faking it. She does the fakers a favor and cuts them loose quickly, out of kindness to them and to her team. She says, "Fire fast, hire slow." Learn more about her success ideas in this episode of Market Dominance Guys, "How to retain the people who want to save men's souls."

If you missed the first part of this interview, please listen here >

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The full transcript for this episode is here:

In this episode of the Market Dominance Guys, we're continuing our conversation with Mandy Farmer, CEO of Accent Inns. Be sure to listen to the first episode to hear all about fun being key to your success. This continues the conversation where we're talking about how to attract and hold the right people. It goes back to an old sales anecdote where a guy was walking down the street and he saw some brick layers. And he asked the first bricklayer, "What are you doing?" he said, "Laying bricks." The next one he asked, "What are you doing?" he said, "Making six bucks an hour." He asked the next one, "What are you doing?" "Building a cathedral." And he asked the fourth one, "What are you doing?" and he said, "Saving men's souls." This is how you find and retain the salespeople and the team members that want to be saving men's souls, not just the bricklayers. Tune in for this episode of Market Dominance Guys.

Chris Beall (01:18):

So you went through all of that. When were you, "Okay, now Natalie, is this what I have to do, but this is what I have business faith in?" So to speak. There has to be a point in there somewhere it's like, "I'm compelled, I must do this, I'm doing it, trying, it's sort of working, sort of not working." and then, "Now I'm so convinced that fun is at the core of building a great business, that nothing will ever be able to push me off that, even if a global pandemic, which probably is never going to happen, were to come along and blast my industry to smithereens, I'm not moving off the fun position. The fun spot is going to be mine." When did that happen?

Mandy Farmer (02:00):

I think it first started happening maybe about five years ago. Before that, I always knew that fun was a part of where I wanted to go. So I always knew, "Okay, here's where I want to go and it involves a lot of fun along the way." But we weren't there, we were way down here. So the first thing for me was, I was getting the right team and so slowly but surely, I made sure we crafted the most amazing executive team. We couldn't call ourselves an executive team because that is a no fun name. So we're the Care Bears. So our Care Bears are... They're phenomenal. And I truly believe that crafting that team has been without a doubt the thing that I'm most proud of stuff, because they're phenomenal. So with them, we can do whatever we want. So once we had the Care Bears in place, the next step was making sure that we've got the right GMs in place like, Natalie.

And that was hard, right? Because it's going to mean getting rid of some people, but also making sure that you can attract the right people. We've got this amazing general manager in place and then of course it just trickles down. But once we have the Care Bears in place, the thing that we did after that was we sat down and the team, including all of our general managers and our frontline employees, we sat down and we crafted our values. So as much as I really wanted to say to them, "Guys, it's fun, it's fun, right?" I can't do that, I can't say that. It's got to be organic and we all need to come up with what our values are. So of course they're your real values, they're what makes our company great. So I didn't even need to suggest fun. Fun is going to be right up there, because it's already how we're living our values.

But the thing is, once we've got it in place, that alongside our other three values or our four values in total, then what happens is that when someone comes into our organization that's new, and the very first day that they're with us, they get a box of awesomeness. And it's a beautiful, awesome box. And that box of awesomeness has four things in it. And all four things relate to one of our values. So immediately on a first day, people understand, "Oh okay, I've got a Kazoo, why do I have a Kazoo?" And it's because we have fun, right? And we celebrate success. So it's just a touch point, but it's one of those things that is brought in on day one with people. Then they start training and they see that our training is also fun, because our values have touched every single thing that we do. So if, even if it's our policies and procedures, look at it through the lens of fun, they still need to be tight. They still need to be very specific, but they can still have... You can put your goggles on and look at your policies and procedures.

So that's just what we've done, is we've really made sure to look at everything through the lens of our values.

Chris Beall (05:04):

Corey, your buying heads should just be spinning at this point. So Corey, what, in your experience in your career, who's come closest or what situations come closest to Mandy's approach? Or have you ever seen it tried other than any certain crazy friends you have?

Corey Frank (05:24):

I think... And you and I have spoken about this offline a few times, Chris, is when it... And Mandy, you're touching on it... Is when fun is mandated, when it seems forced, when customer service, the customer comes, number one. When it becomes more just a slogan that is in the employee break room, versus lived from the top down, that's where I think the customers and the certainly, the prospects can feel it. I think of cards against humanity, right, that game. And when that came out a few years ago, there's no other word I could think that, but it's a reverent enough, where even on their customer service line, if you had a problem with one of the card decks that you ordered, or you wanted more, it was this concept that they could still get business done, but they're not going to have this lead with ego. And having pride in your brand does not mean that it's an elitist concept, necessarily. I'm thinking of some of the other hotel brands that, they're very nice.

You feel very different when you walk in, but "comfortable" isn't the word that I would use, because they're almost so over the top elegant, the folks are more like butlers or maids than they are like people that you want to hang out with after shift and have a beer. Or, I don't necessarily trust them to say, "Where's the best place to go for a pizza and a hot dog around here?" Right? So I think Chris, right, what we've seen certainly in our inside sales teams over the years and all the teams that we've looked at and consulted with and been a part of, is sometimes the drudgery of making the dials is a challenge. One of the stories that comes to mind a mentor told me, was pretty famous story, right?

A man walks past a construction site and sees a number of workers laying brick. And he goes through the first worker who's laying brick and says, "Hey, what are you doing?" he's like, "I'm building a wall." And goes to the second worker, "Hey, what are you doing?" and he says, "I'm making six bucks an hour." Goes to the third person, "What are you doing?" he's like, "I'm building a cathedral." And then he goes to the fourth person says, "What are you doing?" he's like, I'm saving men's souls." Now we all have worked with each of those four different types of folks, but it's probably the latter two people and particularly, the latter person that are saving men's souls that has this attraction, this endearment to, like you had said, Mandy, "To jump out of bed before the alarm clock goes off every day and get to work."

So how do you go about... Right, Chris? I'm curious. How do you go about recruiting these type of people? Did they come from referrals? I think I noticed something on your website that you have folks that have been there over 10 years and you probably don't lose people, I would imagine, even though you're probably not the highest paid hotel or hospitality chain in the area, specifically in a nice area like DC. So how do you recruit, how do you retain and how do they weed themselves out? So they're not parasites, because they probably look around and say, "Dude, I don't believe in saving men's souls." and, "I don't believe in building cathedrals, I'm just here for the six bucks or I'm just here to make a wall and then go home and slide down my dinosaur at the end of the day and go back to my family." So you got to have this business's personal mentality. I think this big picture, it's... How do you guys do it so well at Accent?

Mandy Farmer (08:40):

Well, I can tell we're on the same page and I think it's really important to get rid of the bad apples. So I've always said that, I've always supported my team to let them know, "You what, it might cost us money, it might cost us money to get rid of these people." So if that's the case, I support you because it is no fun working alongside one of those people, they will ruin your day. So it's worth paying that money. It really, really is. So I've always said that, "Fire fast, hire slow." So they know that I've got that support. But the other thing is, is that we've got a really amazing people culture, whereby yeah, we have fun, but we also do things right. For me, fun is also doing a really good job. So doing a really good job means that you are coaching your team.

So you're sitting down with them on a regular basis. You're giving them feedback, you're coaching them along. And if they don't meet the milestones, then we say goodbye. So that happens pretty quickly. We give them lots of opportunities and lots of training along the way, but if they're not going to cut it, then it's really not fair to the rest of the team that they stay on with us. And they're probably going to be better suited. I have fired people who I know are leading better lives because I fired them, because they just weren't going to be happy working in my weird world. So now they're in a great other place. So that's such a good new story when something like that happens. So with our recruitment, we do ask for referrals.

We pay for referrals because you know what, if we hire someone good chances are they're going to have good friends, right? And if they bring their friends into work then, again, that family fun atmosphere just gels more, right? You want to work with your friends, you want to work with people you like. So that's one trick we use. And then we will put on job fairs. That sounds so boring, doesn't it? But not how we do it. We actually do fairs, right? So there's cotton candy, there's a dunk tank, and again, it just shows like, "Hey, here's what you're going to get." Right? "Right off the bat, come join us, we're fun? And then, before you know it, you don't have to advertise for people because the word of mouth starts going and you become known as an employer of choice and you don't have to hire as much because so many people stay with you. I've got a lot of people on our team that have been with us for a really, really long time. And that feels so good.

Chris Beall (11:25):

It does. We just [inaudible 00:11:27] private celebration with our head of research this morning and sent him a note. This is his 10th anniversary with the company. And the main thing that I'd told him was, "It's such a pleasure and it's so much fun working with you." And we've never met, he's 11,000 miles away. And we work together every day on different kinds of stuff. It's a blast and that's the main thing.

It's just, I don't think any of us stay doing anything for very long if it's not fun. Even the parasites have a hard time and they just have parasite fun, which is a different kind of fun. It's that taker kind of fun, but it's like, "Yeah, but the rest of us, it doesn't work for." But it's a sure sign, I think, that you're succeeding in using fun as a competitive weapon of business quite frankly. When what you're really competing for, which is talent, ultimately it's the people in business and into my business. It's always the people and you're competing for them every day. And if you have a competitive edge for the ones you really want, so they qualify in because they're referred and they qualify in, because it's no fun to work for a company that really values fun if you don't. It's the worst thing in the world.

Chris Beall (13:34):

So you were pelting invaders fairly naturally. Every once in a while, there's a psychopath who really work hard to worm their way in if they see enough value. And you can normally tell. I can tell anyway when they ask for a big title, because it's not fun to have a big title, it's ridiculous to have a big title. So that's like, "okay, you need a big title, you're not going to be hired, right, that's all there is to it." "Oh, I needed to do my job." "Really? Well, that doesn't sound like fun." But it's fascinating to me. So all these folks come to your property... I come to your hotel and I have this experience, do you have business people who show up that then go...

They go off into their lives and they come back to you and say, "Hey, Mandy, you're doing something different over there, can you help me bring that into my business? What is this magic? I came into the room, I saw a bunch of cool stuff, it was all fun, I had great experiences of the people. Even the people who were cleaning the room, they were fun. How'd you do that? Can you help me understand that?" Does anybody ever come and ask you that?

Mandy Farmer (14:48):

Well, strangely enough, I'm actually doing a webinar tomorrow. And it was a company, they've asked me to come and talk to their group. And I think it's because right now, so many people are, or they're in that fear mode and they can see that I'm not. So they want to help their team get into that positive brainstorming like, "Okay, where are the opportunities here?" So I'm happy to help any company do that. So yet just this week, last week I did one and it really fuels me as well to the point where just yesterday we started talking about, "Should we actually put together something? Should we put together a leadership retreat for when this is all over, we can actually welcome some people to some of our properties and put on like a really good in-depth how to do this, how to thrive no matter what life throws your way." So it was just yesterday we started talking about that. So I'm really glad you're asking me that question.

Chris Beall (15:56):

That's so funny. I was talking to Natalie just yesterday and I said, "So are you guys thinking of using your property as a magnet for learning about fun and applying fun to business? Because it just seems like such a natural go somewhere, you have fun, you learn about fun?" And people who actually do it, not a bunch of consultants who come in and have no fun and claiming to make you fun, right. And come away with both easy stuff from the hard stuff, because the easy stuff is like, "Let's have fun." The hard stuff is, "Oh, and guess what? You're going to have to fire a bunch of people."

But that doesn't sound like fun, right? It's like, we're all CEOs on this little podcast here and it's kind of funny that I belong to a CEO group that's called the Alliance of CEOs. And I love these people, I just love when we get together. Now, every Friday we used to just do it once a month and it's virtual. So it's easy to travel. It's a gray area thing, I'm up here. I'm now in Port Townsend. I'm probably not that far from you. If I were a really good swimmer, I bet I could get-

Mandy Farmer (17:03):

I could see you [crosstalk 00:17:03].

Chris Beall (17:04):

If I go over to the top of the bluff over here, I can wave a little, "Hi."

Mandy Farmer (17:07):

Such a cute show, love that [inaudible 00:17:10].

Chris Beall (17:11):

We'll be right over as soon as the border opens back up, although I don't think they're going to detect a swimmer. I think that that gets [crosstalk 00:17:17]. I'm not good enough on a standup paddle board and it's too comical, actually. You could make major league YouTube videos. I can defeat any cat video by watching me try to get up on a paddle board. That's my-

Mandy Farmer (17:29):

I think you should do a podcast from a paddle board.

Chris Beall (17:32):

It would be very short and shaky.

Corey Frank (17:35):

I think we should do a podcast from one of the Accent hotels when this clears up Chris, right? I think we go out of location.

Chris Beall (17:43):

So anyway, the Alliance, we get together and we talk and it's kind of funny. But this always sounds [cringe 00:17:48] but I think it's actually funny, I call it "The lonely binds club". Because, it's not lonely hearts, but CEOs have lonely minds. You were the person who was working on the business all the time, even when you're sleeping. If you don't think you are, if you jam on your dreams carefully, you'll probably find out that that's what they were actually about, right? It's trying to figure out the business because business is dynamic, because as I've always said, "People are only different in a small number of ways. Businesses are different from each other in a nearly infinite number of ways."

And while we have balance sheets and P&Ls and all that, they don't really capture how we're different from each other, how dynamic businesses are. So we're always working on them. So here we have these lonely minds and we get to meet and talk like this and we'd be with our Alliance of CEOs, but it's CEOs talk to CEOs and they can connect at the mind level, because we have to work on the same crazy stuff, right? And what folks don't often realize is that even if fun is core to your business, getting to fun involves doing things that don't sound like fun, but you got to make them fun. To that's the hard part, right? I don't have the luxury of waking up someday and saying, "You know what, I'm not going to have any fun today. I'm going to take a non-fun attitude towards the parts of the job that other people might think aren't fun."

They have to be fun too, even though they have these other qualities, like letting somebody go or doing a tough deal with a customer in a difficult negotiation. Whatever it happens to be, I got to be having fun doing that. Whereas somebody else might have to have fun having cold calls, which is a lot of what our company does, right? So I just think that's such a big part of this, is if you want to have fun, be part of your business, you got to take it really seriously without being grim. Seriousness is seriousness of purpose and grimness is a bad attitude and [inaudible 00:19:59] tease that apart. Do you ever run into that where it's so important to have fun that sometimes it's like, "But I got to do this part thing?"

Mandy Farmer (20:07):

Oh yeah. So another thing we do is we use strength finders. So we know our team intimately. And so what might be fun for you might not be fun for me, but maybe what the things that I don't find fun, Corey is going to find really fun. And so that's how we do it. We know where each one of us thrive. So that for me, I'm the big thinker brainstormer or cheerleader. But when we get down to the nitty gritty details, I'm not that very good at it. Whereas I've got people on my team who just cannot think big and they just, it scares them when someone says, "Oh, we're going to do that." So they're the ones that are actually going to implement that. And they really thrive in it and have so much fun doing the implementation part.

So while it is hard to let people go and as a CEO, I need to be there. If let's say I'm going to let one of my team go, I would be there. But I'm also going to have someone there with me who, they're good at this and they also know that they're actually liberating someone. So even though it's hard, I know deep down, if it isn't the right fit, I am actually really helping that person. So there's a way for me to feel good about it. But I really believe that it's about talking about what your strengths and what your weaknesses are so that you can team up, because I know all my weaknesses, I'll procrastinate on them. And if I am held accountable with my team and they know what my weaknesses are, someone will help me and they'll take the lead on it. And I'll just follow along with them.

Chris Beall (21:51):

I think that's such a huge principle. I'm a big believer that the main thing we do in teams is we cover each other's backs, because our backs are weak and we're all weak in different ways. A team can be strong and have fun where the individuals will sometimes but won't often because doing stuff that you suck at isn't fun.

Corey Frank (22:11):

Well, it's liberating, I think. Two, you had mentioned this earlier, Mandy, coming to work for the first year or so as a CEO taking over the company, trying to put your own stamp on it. I think the word you used is "authenticity", which I like, is that one of the reasons I love my podcast partner here so much over the years is he is the same over a beer as he is on stage, as he is on a $5 million deal. And that is true authenticity. There's no trying to think, "What role am I supposed to play? Am I supposed to play this role for this title or this role for this title?" And I imagine if you have a culture of that, like you do at Accent, that it's liberating for your team members to feel that way, is that somebody wants to work with me and collaborate with me throughout this 9.00 to 5.00, or whatever this period of time I'm at work, because of me, of who I am, not for my education and not for what, but because of who I am first and foremost.

Somebody could have the same degree that I do, the same GPA, the same experience, but that's not as personal as what makes me laugh or what makes me burn the midnight oil on a project or makes me go the extra mile. I think trying to harness that and trying to... As in a aerosol spray that you spray when you walk into the hotel, is it an injection or an IV treatment when they go through the hiring process? But I imagine whatever it is at Accent, it's clearly working.

Mandy Farmer (23:43):

Yeah. We joke about it because we can tell like with the new hire, it takes a good couple of months to where they really go, "That's for real?" And then finally it hits them and they're like, "Oh my God, this place is for real." And then they realize-

Corey Frank (23:59):

And then they come out, then they're really, really excited.

Mandy Farmer (24:02):

Yeah. And then it's just they drop all their pretenses and they're just like, they've drunk the Kool-Aid and it's exciting when we've reached that moment. And what I've noticed over the years is, it probably... I remember maybe three years ago it took six months, a solid six months before I saw that, "Yeah okay, they drank the Kool-Aid." And now we're down to, I think one or two months where it's just, they're starting to realize. And I think it's because all those previous hires they'll actually say to them, "Yeah, it's for real, like seriously, let your guard down. It's cool. We're all cool here. You're safe here."

Corey Frank (24:36):

You're safe.

Mandy Farmer (24:37):


Corey Frank (24:38):

So I've got a question for both Chris and you Mandy. One thing I want to ask Chris for so long, so is there a book or a movie? Just one book or one movie that if I was going to work for you, Chris, at ConnectAndSell, or if I was going to work with you, Mandy at Accent, is there a book or movie say, "Listen, don't look at the website, don't look at our collateral, don't look at our P&Ls, don't look at our investor docs. Read this, or watch this and you'll get me after doing that." Is there one that comes to mind for both of you guys?

Chris Beall (25:08):

There's one for me. I would have you read, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, which is the autobiography of Richard Feynman. If you want to get me, read that.

Corey Frank (25:20):

Surely... And what's it about?

Chris Beall (25:21):

It's about one of the physicists who made the 20th century what it was and made some of the greatest discoveries ever. And he had more fun. I mean, the title of his autobiography is Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! This is somebody who took the hardest intellectual work of all in the most fraught situation that mankind has ever faced, which is the creation of the atomic bomb and made it fun. And not just made it fun like a joke, but made it fun like the fun was the key to getting the work done. And he's also the guy that figured out why the Challenger crashed, the guy who pulled that little O-ring material out of the ice water, the congressional hearing, and got the congressmen to understand what had happened.

And this was a guy who put fun front and center. And if you want to listen to something you might not understand, but it's worth listening to. Listen to the finding lectures on physics. I realize that sounds pretty bad and it doesn't sound fun. And I sound like a physicist, which I am, but I tell you what, just listen to Richard Feynman and you'll get how the most serious stuff in the world can be built on a foundation of fun.

Corey Frank (26:35):

That's perfect. That's perfect for you. Mandy, what do you think? How about in your corner?

Mandy Farmer (26:40):

I'm going to go with three books. So one book that really, really influenced me in creating a product that was so different, that really gave all of us permission to have more fun. It was a book it's Purple Cow by... I think it's by Seth Godin?

Corey Frank (26:59):

Seth Godin, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mandy Farmer (27:00):

And that really made me realize like, "Okay, I need to do something different here." So that's when we created hotel Zed. Then hotel Zed was still wacky and weird that it allowed Accent to really blossom as well. So that's the first book that I think, to really understand my brain, that one gave me permission to really seek out differences. On leadership, I'm going to say Brene Brown, Dare to Lead. I love that book. I love all her wisdom on being an authentic leader. It's on my bookshelf, in fact, I got it one foot away from me right now. And it's one that I can pick up, I skim to any page and go, "There it is, this is it." Then the third one is also a foot away from me and it's called, The Culture Code and it's by Daniel Coyle. And I love a thriving alive culture. To me, that is what so excites me. If we can create that workplace that just, as soon as you walk in the door, you feel it as a customer, that's what really motivates me and really gets me going.

Corey Frank (28:09):

That's awesome. That's great. Well, I tell you what I think we're out of time for today that has been incredible discussion. Thank you, Mandy, for coming. So from what I understand, right, it synthesized a lot of the tips that you have for fun is, "Go fun or go home, bring your true, authentic self to work, no parasites," certainly you and Chris are aligned on that. "Find your Wolf pack in your organization," which I really like that concept of the rebranding. "Always look to help." Then of course the one, if I could put an explanation point on what all the things that you've said today, it's ,"No fear." So, really appreciate the time and I think Chris, we have a regular guest here in the making. I don't think we have standing guests almost like they had on the Johnny Carson show, but I think Mandy should definitely be one of those. And especially if we can shmooze her to maybe do an onsite in a few weeks here, a few months up North at one of her properties too, what do you think?

Mandy Farmer (28:09):

I absolutely love it.

Chris Beall (29:07):

Mandy, I'm going to be right up, it's not very far from Port Townsend and I'll be seeing you soon.

Mandy Farmer (29:13):

I looked forward to it, Chris. It was great to meet both of you.

Chris Beall (29:17):

Thanks so much for being on, I really appreciate it.