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        Harbert Magazine

        Conversations from the C-Suite: Bert Bean

        October 3, 2022 By Harbert Magazine

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        Bert Bean, CEOHarbert Magazine: Insight Global is known for promoting from within. As a policy, how does the company make that work? How has that process evolved over time as the world of work has evolved?

        Bert Bean: The policy hasn’t really evolved over time, it’s just always been our belief that people can learn things, and that people, if given opportunity, with the right set of work ethic and character, can learn, and they can evolve and they can grow in their careers. So, we really believe in giving our people first the opportunity to be promoted from within before going to the outside. That’s what we’ve always believed since we started the company, and what we still believe today.

        It’s a shame, I think, sometimes companies don’t invest enough in developing their people internally. They don’t bet on them as much as they should. I think what we’ll find is there are gems in every single company. By us giving our people the opportunity to rise up to the occasion, we get to take advantage of their talents. 

        HM: Pursuing that a little further, when someone joins the company, what is a career path potentially like for someone? They come on board, and then, how would one advance? You’ve obviously progressed rapidly through the ranks of the company.

        BB: We have lots of different roles that we hire people into. As a staffing company, we have 4,600 employees, with $4 billion in revenue, and 63 offices across the U.S. and Canada.

        Ultimately, we’re a talent solutions company. We help put people to work inside Fortune 1000 companies, and even inside small and medium-sized companies, so most of the people that we hire are recruiters.

        Those people will start right out of college just like me. I went to Auburn, graduated and started working at Insight Global six weeks later. Some people we hire may not have a college degree. They’ll come in as a veteran of the military, or they’ll come out of a trade school or something like that.

        Upon starting, their job is really to learn the industry, to learn staffing, to learn how to interview candidates and how to understand positions from our customers, which are hiring managers. They learn how to find the right person with the right set of skills, who could go to work for one of our 4,000-plus customers.

        We are very deliberate in how we train and develop our people in their first year. From there, their career path can go a number of different directions. 

        HM: In that vein, tell us a little bit about IG University and how it’s helped shape the company.

        BB: So, believe it or not, for the first 17 years of our company’s existence, we had a training department, but we didn’t have a robust enough training department as we have now, in the form of Insight Global University. We had a few people and that was really it. We hadn’t made enough of a commitment to it.

        What we found was that the bigger we got, all of the little things that we had trained people on in the field, all the tribal knowledge if you will, had gotten diluted. It just didn’t scale. 

        So we said we have to come in and make a huge investment in how we train people in the right ways. Everything from how to screen a candidate, to how to talk to a customer about filling the needs that would meet a $10 million hiring budget, we have to really dig in there. So that’s what we tackled.

        We built Insight Global University with the best of the best people in the field. We took some of our best performers, our best producers, and said, “This is going to hurt, but let’s go ahead and take you out of that production role, and let’s put you into this role to help run Insight Global University.” Those people are able to build and deliver amazing content to all of our people.

        We use Insight Global University as what we call the guardrails to our people’s careers. So much of why people stick around and stay with an organization is that they’re good at the job. We can talk about company purpose and things like that — which I’m a big believer in — but if you don’t make someone good at the job, a lot of people are going to leave that job.

        It’s hard doing things we’re not very good at, so we said let’s develop an organization like IGU to make our people really, really good at the job and really, really good at developing in their career. That way we can keep them here, keep them engaged, and keep them growing personally, professionally and financially.

        HM: Your company recently launched a new Diversity Equity and Inclusion Services Division. What are your hopes for this division, and will it operate differently from other divisions in the company?

        BB: The division you’re talking about is slightly different than our own internal efforts around DE&I. This is around helping companies and our customers grapple with DE&I, and learn how to introduce DE&I practices into their own companies. Implicit bias training for leaders, hiring practices and things of that nature is still very much a new and emerging world.

        We have over 4,000 customers, and many of them are still in the very early innings of incorporating the right DE&I practices, so we do see that as an opportunity to help our customers get better there. It’ll be a separate revenue stream, and that’s great, but we’re not doing this for the revenue opportunities here. We’re doing it because we think it’s in line with our purpose, and it’s in line with helping our customers create really, really good work environments that help their people live better lives at work.

        HM: What’s a typical workday like for you as CEO? What do you find most challenging about the job?

        BB: I’m certainly a big believer in habits. I’m a big believer in getting into really strong habits that are repeatable. Every morning I get up around 5 a.m. I work out every morning, I journal every morning, I have quiet time every morning, I make my to-do list, and then I get into my day.

        Some days are a little bit more routine than others, in terms of meeting cadence and that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, as a CEO I’m constantly living with one foot in the present and one in the future. My team and I focus on solving problems today and ones we anticipate in
        the future. 

        We ask ourselves: How do we envision a future place and lay the groundwork today in the form of projects, implementing strategies, or how we hire, that could help prepare us for the future?

        HM: Among your company’s stated shared values are “Leadership is here to serve” and “Always know where you stand.” Could you talk a little bit more about what those mean in practical daily work terms, and how they influence the way the company operates?

        BB: Our five shared values are everything to us, and we actually didn’t discover those until September 2018. It was my first year as CEO, and our turnover had gotten to a point in the previous four years where it was really out of hand. Our culture was not great, our turnover was incredibly high, people were not getting successful. It was a little bit of a dark time in the company.

        We had scaled to a point where a lot of the things we’d done as a smaller company were no longer working. I believe that every company has an inner voice to it. Every sports team, every organization, has an inner voice. As leaders, we get the opportunity to listen to that voice or not.

        To me, that inner voice was shouting at me, saying, “I don’t like you, I don’t want to work here anymore, and I don’t trust you with my career.” 

        I was talking to my executive coach one day. I’m a new CEO and I’m talking to him like, “Man, I’ve got this big job. I’ve got to fix this turnover issue, and I don’t know how to do it.”

        He said, “Well, Bert, let me first ask you: What are your company’s values?” It was such a simple question, but it kind of took my breath away because we didn’t really have those. So, he said, “Well, you probably want to start there.” So I did what any CEO would do in my shoes, I started Googling values. But I learned pretty quickly that’s not it. Instead, I said I need to push myself away, and really figure out who we are, and what matters most to this company, and what should our values be?

        I like the American West, so I found this house in the middle of nowhere in Utah, and I went there with the top 28 people that helped me run the company. We sat around and we figured some serious stuff out. 

        I wanted to try this thing I’d done once outside of the company. I wanted to try to bring elements of it into the company and see if it would work.

        In essence, it’s a big vulnerability exercise. It’s where everybody goes around in a big circle and shares, let’s say, their proudest moment in their career and their lowest moment in their career. As these things happen in any vulnerability exercises like this on whatever the topic is, people generally have a PG13-rated version of that answer, and then a rated-R version of that answer.

        People tend to go with whatever version the leader goes with first. So, in that case, I had to go first. I went and I let it rip. I went with the rated-R version. Then everybody else went and they shared theirs, and this crazy thing happened. Everybody cried multiple, multiple times. This was old people, young people, men, women, it was a really powerful moment.

        That was so important because for the first time ever we really understood who we were as a leadership team. We really understood what we cared about. We could once and for all take off the mask and see each other for who we were, and who we wanted to become.

        So the next day we said let’s create our shared values. What should our values be? How do we at least get to who we are, and then try to start putting into place things and projects and solutions like Insight Global University and others to help turn this turnover thing around?

        So we crafted what we called our shared values. We created them in about 30 minutes. It took no time at all because we knew who we were.

        To your question about “Leadership is here to serve”: As a company that mainly promotes from within, we very much believe that we are going to be a player-coach type organization. We’re going to be a company where we want to get down in the trenches and do the job with our people, because we’ve had that job before, we know exactly what it takes, so leadership is here to serve.

        “Always know where you stand” was the fifth shared value that we included, and we were very intentional with that one. As we were all reflecting on some of our lowest moments in our careers, it was when we didn’t know where we stood. It was when maybe we weren’t performing that well, and maybe our numbers weren’t so great, but nobody was leveling with us. Or maybe we were performing well.
        Maybe we were thinking we were in line for a promotion, but it wasn’t coming, so that was very frustrating.

        That concept around making sure people always know where they stand, while that is a big check to write as an organization, it’s one we’re comfortable writing because that’s the type of company we really want to be.

        HM: You’ve been quoted as saying that Insight Global is “dedicated to empowering people through the value of opportunity.” Could you talk a little bit more about that approach, and how that makes this company different than your competitors?

        BB: We don’t believe in putting limitations on people. We believe in what we call a “growth mindset” over a “fixed mindset.” We are always going to give people an opportunity to grow personally, professionally and financially.

        More than that, we’re really going to lean in and try to take out blockers, those things that get in people’s way and we are going to push them to grow. That inherently comes with giving them opportunity. I think when you give people opportunity to succeed, it’s a really empowering thing.

        I know that when I was coming out of Auburn, all I wanted was an opportunity. I just wanted somebody to take a chance on me and to give me an opportunity. I would supply all the effort and the grit and the work ethic. I just needed that opportunity. That’s what we try to do here for people.

        HM: People often work for many different employers over the course of their careers, but Insight Global hires people, again quoting, “based on the assumption that it’s for life.” Given that, can you outline for us how employees are evaluated and how they advance in the company?

        BB: Our employee review process is very extensive and it is robust. How we evaluate our people is much the same. We believe in letting people’s effort and their production and their results speak for themselves, so those are very clear ways to evaluate them. For the most part, we like to also keep it very simple and say you need to be aligned with our five shared values.

        We think that if you’re aligned with our five shared values — Everyone matters, We take care of each other, High character and hard work above all else, Leadership is here to serve, and Always know where you stand — then you’re always going to have a job here. It’s hard to live out those five shared values and not be really successful here. 

        HM:  You rose quickly through the ranks of the company to become CEO. Can you tell us about your own journey at Insight Global, and what you learned along the way?

        BB: I think I’m really blessed to be hired when I was, by our founder and former CEO. I can’t not acknowledge that I took advantage of some really good timing.

        That said, I really bought into this idea that you can be whoever you want to be here, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort and as long as you’re willing to take the risk. Maybe what some folks forget to do, or shy away from, in their career, is to take the bet, moving for that opportunity within the company that’s a little scary, raising your hand and saying, “Yes, I want that opportunity to go for this promotion.”

        I think this is what I did particularly well, finding yourself in a room where all of a sudden your voice will matter if you use it. Most people still don’t use their voice. They think, “Well, what do I know?” I used my voice in those moments.

        HM: Company culture is obviously important at Insight Global. How has that emphasis contributed to the company’s success?

        BB: I think the secret of Insight Global is how we use our company culture as a causation for success.

        What I mean by that is culture is in many ways simply shared habits about what a company values. So if a company values gossip and backstabbing, that’s going to be the habits and the culture of that company, and it’s going to be a toxic culture. We value things like our shared values, which I just spoke about. We value this tension of taking care of each other, plus accountability, and our culture forms around that. 

        What winds up happening, if you get the culture right, is you get people who have bought into the culture. What that really means is you get people who are really engaged. So much of why companies succeed or fail is how engaged their people are or are not.

        We like to say, how can we use our culture and our values to drive ultimate engagement? If we can do that, then I can get more production out of my people, just because of how engaged and how aligned they are.

        The idea of interest alignment is really, really big. That’s the next step after engagement. If you can get your people aligned with the goals of the company and with the mission of the company, then that’s everything. 

        HM: The words “so they can be the light to the world around them” now appear in your company’s statement of purpose. What led to that decision and how has it influenced the way the company operates?

        BB: Our company’s purpose, our why, is to grow our people personally, professionally and financially so they can be the light to the world around them. That last phrase, “so they can be the light to the world around them,” we added in 2020. 

        At first, it was just, “To grow our people personally, professionally, and financially.” We thought if we do that really well, then everything else will take care of itself. But what we saw was that was a little selfish. We saw people start to lean in to the world around them. In some ways, it was almost like they were taking their shared values to the world around them.

        In the pandemic, one of the reasons why we were able to actually grow 8% in revenue when our industry shrank 25% was because our people really leaned into this concept of being the light to the world around them. As we saw the mass layoffs during the pandemic, our people said, “We’re a staffing company. While that certainly hurts us too, we can do something about that. We can work really hard to stay in business, to help put other people to work and to be the light for them.”

        Around the same time, we started thinking to ourselves, “We’re doing really well from a business standpoint, so how can we do more for others?” We’re involved with a lot of charities here locally, but one of the things that we wanted to do was to try to help beyond the U.S. and Canada.

        There’s an organization called One World Health, and they build sustainable healthcare clinics, hospitals, in places like Uganda and Nicaragua. I say sustainable in that they can build the actual hospital, hire and train local health care professionals, and get them running those clinics. After about two years, they are self-sustaining.

        We just love the hiring and developing from within, which is what they do with healthcare workers in these impoverished countries, so we made the commitment to invest the money to build a few of these clinics in early 2020. Last year, the first one opened in Uganda.

        We’ll do $4 billion in revenue this year. Is anybody going to care if we do a few million less in earnings from that revenue to build a few more hospitals? No. So let’s get really, really good as a business at growing in revenue so we can turn around and do more things like building more clinics, helping more people locally in this country, and just being the light to the world around us. 

        HM: How did your time at Auburn prepare you for this success? What advice would
        you give current Auburn students who will soon be entering the workforce?

        BB:  As CEO, and as any leader, if you’re going to be effective, you need to understand how to hear from all sides. It’s not to say you can’t be rooted in certain principles, but you certainly need to have an ability to listen and understand the other side.

        With the people I was around at Auburn, the groups I was involved in, the College of Business where I studied, I found that I was always surrounded by people who sometimes thought differently than I did, who sometimes believed different things than I did. It helped me to not graduate thinking with such a one-track mind, and it helped me to be a lot more open to things. Whether it’s feedback I receive on how to grow in my own career, or whether it’s approaches I need to listen to, or feedback I needed to hear to become a better leader, I think Auburn really prepared me for that.

        I crave a diversity of thought, and that’s really helped me as a leader, especially in this company. I can absolutely say that I learned that diversity of thought in my time at Auburn.

        HM: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you began your career?

        BB: That it’s going to be all right, that it’s going to be OK. I graduated and I was so ready to get into the workforce, I was so amped up and I was so ready to take on the world that I think I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself, as probably a lot of college grads do. Much easier said than done, but I wish I would have just known that I’m going to be fine.

        I’ve got a great work ethic, I’ve got a strong belief system, I want to be successful here. This is a marathon, it’s not going to be a sprint in terms of a career. I probably would’ve enjoyed the ride a little bit more in some of those early years and not been so stressed out about trying to launch my career. HM