The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“How to Build Better Customer Relationships Through a Healthy Culture “
April 19, 2021
Intro: What is the benefit of having a flourishing workplace culture? Yes, things run more smoothly, there is often lower turnover, people are treated more respectfully, employees are more engaged, and productivity is higher. But in today’s show, one more benefit comes out. When organizations have flourishing workplace cultures, leaders love coming to work. They come with more energy and enthusiasm. Listen in to learn how.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button and receive our free action guide.
If you can share this podcast with others, and rate it, it would mean a lot to me. Thank you.
And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
I know leaders who are willing to go on record and say your workplace culture is as necessary as air. Yes, workplace culture, they’ll say, is the very air that your organization needs to breathe and live and to survive and thrive. Well, my guest believes this 150 percent, and wait till you hear the reason why. So I want to welcome Jordan Newton, the chief operating officer for SonicAire, a world-class company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And Jordan, welcome to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Jordan Newton: Thanks for having me, Al. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be invited to discuss such an important topic.
Al: Well, with SonicAire, your leadership has created a very successful business with a distinctive market niche. And again, SonicAire’s brand promise is “Solving your combustible dust challenges.” Now, a lot of our listeners probably don’t even know what a combustible-dust challenge is, but clear the dust for us, Jordan, and tell us about the SonicAire story.
Jordan: Sure. Well, a little over 15 years ago, our founder and president, Brad Carr, recognized the challenges that companies were facing trying to manage the fire and explosion hazards created by combustible dust, and not just any dust, but more specifically what we call fugitive dust. So fugitive dust is the dust that escapes from filter systems and dust collection, and it eventually leads to a buildup on overhead surfaces. And once it gets there, it just accumulates, and that fugitive dust becomes really just like gasoline. It’s waiting for a spark to ignite it. And Brad knew that fugitive-dust issues weren’t limited to just one or two industries but many industries like textiles or wood processing, paper manufacturing, recycling, agriculture, and many others all had the same challenges of trying to keep their facilities clean. So we developed a line of fans that prevent the fugitive dust from ever building up in these hard-to-reach spaces. So the fans work together to form an overhead barrier of dust prevention that allows our customers to focus their efforts and resources on revenue-generating activities and not on housekeeping.
Al: Yeah, boy, that’s great. And as soon as you guys figure out a fan to eliminate dust in houses, I’m sure you’ll have a market there, for sure.
Jordan: We get that question a lot. Especially at trade shows, when guys come by with their spouses and, you know, we get the couples elbowing each other. “We need one of these for the house.”
Al: Yeah, yeah. Fugitive dust. Well, I’ve just learned a new term. Thanks, Jordan. Yeah.
So just to give our listeners a literal size of your company, what’s the largest structure that SonicAire has cleaned and maintained? Give us a picture.
Jordan: Sure. We have SonicAire fans protecting manufacturing and processing facilities from dust accumulation 24/7, all over the globe. But some of these facilities are large enough that they don’t measure their buildings by square footage, but they actually measure them in acres under roof. So some pretty big spaces out there using SonicAire fans.
Al: Wow. Yeah. And I live in the Pacific Northwest, and there’s a huge building that makes Boeing 747s.
Jordan: Right, right.
Al: I’m sure they’ve got a couple of your fans there.
When you’re working with that large of a place, what are the top three things that you absolutely have to plan right or start right and finish just right?
Jordan: Well, we do start with a plan. So all of our projects start with a system design. We make sure that we identify the environmental conditions in the facility. Is it a high-temperature environment, high humidity? What are the combustible-dust levels currently? The technical needs of the customer, the electrical ratings and things like that, the details of the space that they’re going to maintain. And then we identify the correct equipment and placement of the fans.
There’s a lot more to it than just a fan in a box. And I guess that would be the next piece of the puzzle that has to be done just right would be the fan and the equipment itself. And we’ve actually had some quality issues over the years that have allowed us the opportunity to build relationships and a reputation with our customers but based on our responsiveness. But those were some tough times, and poor quality can be hard to overcome.
Some of our fans are hanging as high as 100 feet off the ground, and they’d, in some cases, even require scaffolding to be constructed for the maintenance staff to be able to reach the fans. So this equipment has to be robust, and it can’t fail prematurely. And the environments our equipment operate in can be really, really harsh, so they have to be trouble free, and they have to be tough, and they have to be rugged.
I would say the third thing that we have to do right is our customer service. So we do provide technical support. We have factory service. If customers need to send a fan back, we’ll work on it, service it, and take care of it, return it to them. And we have field-service options to ensure that if a fan issue does arise, that customers have different solutions and options to get the fans, really, back in action as soon as absolutely possible.
Al: Oh, wow. I’m just imagining what the size of these places must be and the difficulty of, again, not only installing but maintaining these things. That’s really interesting.
Well, you know, as much as the technology and the systems all work, it all comes down to people, and your people, when it comes to this work, doesn’t it.
Jordan: Most definitely, 100 percent. If we don’t have the right people in the right seats, none of these other pieces will fall into place. We realized that some time ago, that we’re not just a business selling products to other businesses, but we’re actually people, we’re human beings, doing business with other people. And that means that all of our projects, no matter the size, start with the people component. And that applies to us internally, making sure we have the right people who meet our core values and are passionate about what they’re doing; and externally, we want our people to build relationships with our customers, with the people that they’re working with.
I recently heard that people make purchases based on emotion, and then they justify those purchases with logic. And if that’s true, which I believe it is for the most part, then it only makes sense that people won’t make purchases from people they don’t trust. So our forward-facing people, they have to be trustworthy, and they have to build these relationships with our customers. And that usually takes time and something they have to work on, but they have to be trustworthy and be able to build relationships.
Al: Yeah. And I love the start, having the core values internally, and that way, they are also in a position to build trusting relations and relationships externally. Yeah, absolutely.
Did you or your CEO, Brad Carr, ever foresee the day that constructive feedback of your employees might ignite the company’s culture turnaround that you’ve experienced?
Jordan: Well, I had certainly hoped so, because I had gotten to a place of desperation. So about five years ago, just before our first BCWI Survey, it was a fairly tumultuous time in our business. Well, I guess, actually, the business was doing well. It was internally where we had the most issues and the most problems. And relationships were toxic. The processes that we had in place weren’t efficient. And at the time it felt like I was the one who had all the negative anecdotal feedback and experiences, and I was just laying that on Brad and trying to relay that and convey that message to him. And unfortunately, I just wasn’t doing a good job and wasn’t able to explain and make him understand the depth of what I felt like was really going on. And I think on the surface, Brad just thought that we’re all a bunch of nice guys here. Why can’t we all just get along and work hard together and, you know, make it happen? But it just wasn’t working. It just wasn’t clicking. We weren’t on the same page.
But fortunately, someone in my C12 business-leaders group suggested that I reach out to BCWI to try to get some anonymous feedback on paper. And the results were actually fascinating and staggering all at the same time. The way the data was compiled made it easy for us to tell that what we had was not working, and a few things were, but for the most part, we were in a pretty low spot. But it allowed us to see that we had quite a few employees who were disengaged, and most of those employees probably would have taken a job elsewhere if one would have came along. So I think this was the first hard evidence that we had that we were able to look at in black and white and say that things weren’t good; something had to change.
Al: Gosh, as I look back now, five years ago, you were in the bottom 20 percentile of all the organizations that we survey, and now you’re in the top 20 percentile of all organizations, in terms of a healthier culture. So that’s just a remarkable turnaround, and let me just say congratulations.
Jordan: Thank you, yeah.
Al: Yeah. Cary Humphries, from our team, has kind of led you through this survey process and has been our go-to resource for you. And you gave me a quote, your CEO, Brad Carr, said, and Brad said that character is even more important than ability. Character is even more important than ability. That’s really a statement. So give us some insight about why at SonicAire this character is more important than ability and how it really set you onto the road to flourishing.
Jordan: Well, as the author Jim Collins refers to it, we have to have the right people on our bus. And the way we define what a character profile looks like for us is through our core values. So they are humble, hungry, people smart, and grateful. And the first three of those values, we stole them right from author Patrick Lencioni, by the way. But the people on our bus have to meet those core values unequivocally.
We do the best we can to screen for those, at least now. We’ve learned a lot over the years. Now we start with trying to screen for those during the interview processes, and we continue to monitor and coach these characteristics continually. And it’s funny when you start doing an interview process now versus the way we used to do them, how we can pick up little subtle hints and comments that a candidate may make during the interview, and we can say, no, that wasn’t a very humble statement. That’s probably not going to be someone that’s going to fit well on our bus. But we can teach and help employees grow in their abilities. You know, what we’re doing, someone said recently, isn’t rocket surgery, but we have to have the right character and core values as a platform to build on.
Al: So, yeah. Humble, hungry, smart, and grateful. So I’m just curious. How did grateful come out on this list?
Jordan: You know, one of our employees brought it to us—
Jordan: —and they said, “I think grateful describes who we are, or at least who we want to be, here at SonicAire. We want to recognize that what we have is probably a gift, a blessing, and being blessed by someone else or some outside force or from above. And so it’s just, you know, it sounds cliche, but having an attitude of gratitude I think goes a long way. And it feeds into the humble, and it’s kind of strange how they all kind of weave themselves back and forth, and they’re all kind of connected.
Al: Yeah. I can see how that works. Yeah, great. Well, thanks, Jordan.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
Here’s an announcement for an upcoming webinar we know you’ll be interested in. On Wednesday, April 21, we will be conducting a webinar titled “Creating an Effective Performance Management System So Your Employees and Organizations Will Flourish.”
Over the past year, many of our performance-development programs have been turned upside down. Remote-work and hybrid-work situations have tested our performance-development systems. We say the old annual performance-management systems are broken. Employees and managers alike say they are not helpful in this ever-changing world. We’ve developed this webinar as a guide to talk about new best practices for performance-development programs for times like these.
Join Giselle Jenkins and I, along with special guest Robert Bortins, the president of home-schooling giant Classical Conversations, as we lead an interactive discussion. Join us on Wednesday, April 21. That’s 1:00 p.m. Eastern and 10:00 a.m. Pacific. That’s 1:00 p.m. Eastern, 10:00 a.m. Pacific. Go to our website to sign up: bcwinstitute.org.
And now back to today’s special guest.
Jordan, Cary paid you a high compliment the other day. When you talk about building a thriving workplace culture, he calls you the traction guru. And so where did SonicAire get valuable early traction to better your culture?
Jordan: Well, that’s quite a compliment. I don’t think I’ve ever been called the guru of anything. But, you know, Brad reads and listens to a ton of books and passes on the good ones for me to read. And eventually I’ll get to all of them at some point in my life, I hope, in my career. But I know I just mentioned Patrick Lencioni and the values he outlines in his book The Ideal Team Player. That book was one of the first ones that we read that was truly eye opening and tangible for us. It’s a simple-to-read book that paints a clear picture of how unhealthy employees can create an unhealthy work environment. It helps identify ways in which you can spot both the good and the damaging behaviors in employees so you can move your organization in, really, a healthier direction. It gave us a lot of common language and the ability to see that some of the behaviors that we were permitting were just very toxic and damaging to the team.
Al: Wow. Okay.
Give us an example of a key action step that helped really sustain your traction to take your workforce from the lower 20 percentile to the top 20 percentile over the past five years.
Jordan: Well, when I hear the word traction, my mind goes directly to the book title Traction by Gino Wickman. And Gino outlines the entrepreneurial operating system, or EOS, which SonicAire now runs on and subscribes to. And as I mentioned earlier about getting the right people on the bus, one of EOS’s core principles is right people, right seats. And this has been a painful and transformative process over the past couple of years that has actually led to a significant amount of turnover. So aside from Brad and myself, our entire leadership team has flipped over. It’s been an incredibly difficult journey. But as our BCWI results have shown, these changes have continued to push our culture in the right direction. It’s a daily process that we continue to work towards. It’s never done. The job’s never done. But we have to keep working on our people.
Al: Well, what you just described, Jordan, is that’s hard. So you’ve gone through, you’ve developed these four values, communicated them, and now you’ve really worked to implement those as you identify people that you really want to stay in the organization. So, wow.
Well, everybody loves a good story, and I bet you have a favorite story of an employee whose Christ-like character rubbed off on colleagues and helped make all of your employees better employees and better people at the same time.
Jordan: Well, Jesus was a servant leader, and servant leaders are the ones who always stand out to me. So nailing this down to just one employee was pretty tough. But we do have a production-line leader who works hard day in, day out to make sure that the production team succeeds. He’s more worried about, more focused on, their abilities, their success, and what’s going on in their personal lives than he is about his own needs, his own goals, his own agendas or accolades or anything like that. So he truly is a servant leader that always puts the team above himself.
Al: Hm. Yeah, great. We’ve seen that SonicAire’s workforce culture has become healthier over time, as I’ve mentioned. And, you know, can you pick one area inside your culture that’s markedly improved and even influenced how you deliver your work to your customers? And so what’s the story that you would tell fellow employees who are listening, or fellow leaders, let me say, who are listening?
Jordan: Yeah. To me, it’s alignment and trust. It’s all about these two things. You have to get a leadership team in place that’s in alignment with the owner or CEO, and your leaders have to be able to gain the trust of their teams. I was told a long time ago that if you want to know how you’re doing as a leader, then just look behind you. And in order to gain followers, you have to be trusted. If your leaders and your leadership team aren’t trusted, then the organization’s going to be fragmented, and the alignment that you even think you have at the leadership-team level won’t trickle down throughout the organization.
Al: Yeah. I was a youth leader in my early years, and I had a mentor tell me the only way you know if you’re a leader is to look around and see if anybody’s actually following.
Jordan: That’s right.
Al: That’s exactly right. Yeah, I appreciate that.
So, I’ve been wanting to ask you another question, and it has to do with C12. And BCWI partners with C12, and we do that to really help Christian-led and Christian-owned companies improve the health of their workplace culture. It’s really been a great relationship. And as you know, C12 gathers Christian CEOs and business owners and peer advisory groups across the globe. These leaders help each other make better decisions, as I’ve heard. They, as a result, avoid costly mistakes, they create solid plans for growth, they thrive, and they’re calling to create impact beyond the bottom line of their business. So what’s one stellar take away that C12 is giving you and your walk with Christ as you lead in your business?
Jordan: Well, almost all of our great corporate initiatives have come through C12 in some form or fashion, from getting a mission statement in place early on, to EOS that we’ve implemented, to initiating a care team within our company, and as I mentioned, the BCWI Survey. However, if I had to identify one take away, it’s been the probably the recent encouragement to not only have a daily quiet time, but to do that with a journal. And it just helps me be more intentional about my thoughts and my prayers and be able to reflect on them and how those prayers have been answered. It’s really been a blessing to start my days this way and to start this new chapter in my daily walk.
Al: Well, that’s fantastic. So they’ve provided a journal to help you with your daily quiet time. Yeah.
Jordan: Yeah. They’ve got one now.
Jordan: Very helpful.
Al: I’ve seen it, yeah.
So, Jordan, as we’re winding our time down, give us one important lesson you’ve learned in this trying time of the pandemic, as we’re kind of beginning to see the end, I hope, in sight. But how about a lesson you’d like our listeners to know and to take to heart.
Jordan: Well, it’s kind of like a neighbor of mine used to say about parenting, and he had kids that were just a little bit older than mine were. And he said, “When things are tough, don’t worry. It’ll change. But when things are going great, don’t worry. It’ll change.” So I would just say that if your team’s still intact and it survived this past year, it can probably survive just about anything. And I think that surviving 2020 is just about equivalent to thriving in any other year, comparatively speaking. I think it’s just a great time to celebrate the success of surviving the past year, and it’s also a great time to rebuild if your organization isn’t where you think it should be.
Al: Yeah. That’s great.
Well, Jordan, I certainly enjoyed all that we’ve learned today. And, you know, as I just look back at my notes, first of all, I have to call out learning a new term, fugitive dust. We want to put that dust behind bars, that’s for sure. Or eliminate it. But then, the work that you go through to make sure that you’re doing high-quality work with your system design, looking at your technical needs, what the space is, the equipment, the customer service. But it’s really your people, as you said, and how you’ve got four core values that you really live by. And those core values, as you’ve said, are consequential and have been consequential in really turning around your culture, and how when your people have these values that they’re able to build relationships with your customers. But, yeah, the right people in the right seats and how evaluating each of your, not only leadership team but employees, on those values has created some turnover, but really helped the health of your culture, which just makes everything move so much smoother. And your point about alignment and trust and how in order for a leader to be effective, there has to be high levels of trust. Yeah, this has been a great conversation.
I bet you there’s something else that you’d like to add that maybe we’ve not talked about.
Jordan: Well, it may seem obvious, but my mind just keeps coming back to the fact that we had to get to a point where we could accept the fact that just because we had nice people or good people working for us, that we didn’t have the right people working for us. And if you’re not happy with the environment and the culture in your organization, you might need to implement some processes and procedures to help you get what you want out of your team. It can be done. And you’ll probably have to make some tough decisions, and you may even have to say goodbye to some employees, maybe they’re long-time employees, maybe they’re friends, but in the end, it will probably be—I know it will—it will be better for you, it will be better for your team, and in the end, it will even be better for the individual.
Al: That’s great advice, Jordan. I have heard leaders like you over and over these years talk about how much more they enjoy coming to work with a healthy culture versus, as you were saying, five years ago, how you just couldn’t even explain to Brad, your CEO, the difficulties that were going on.
Jordan: Yeah, absolutely.
Al: And so what a difference.
Well, to conclude, Jordan, how about one final thought or encouragement that you’d like to leave with those who are listening.
Jordan: I’d just say keep digging, keep learning, don’t give up. You’ll never arrive at a perfect culture, but with a concerted effort and the right tools, like a BCWI Survey—maybe start there if you’ve never done one—you can grow your organization to a healthy environment that people will not only—you’ll have your employees fighting to keep that culture, and there’ll also be people on the outside of your business fighting to get into that culture, fighting to be a part of who you are.
Al: That’s great advice.
Jordan Newton, chief operating officer for SonicAire in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, thanks for being so open and genuine about all the things that matter, and particularly as we’ve talked about today. You know, I really get a sense of the integrity and your true commitment to your colleagues and to your workplace culture. Again, thanks, and I especially appreciate your devotion and service to our loving God, and I know that’s a key part of the purpose and the reason that you do what you do. So thanks for taking time out of your day and speaking into the lives of so many listeners.
Jordan: Thanks for having me, Al. It’s been a pleasure. I sincerely appreciate the work that you and the team at BCWI have done to help improve at least our culture at SonicAire and I know many others as well.
Al: Thanks, Jordan.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba.
Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.