Agency Advantage 38: Bob Ruffolo on Why Team Culture Matters for the Bottom Line

Bob Ruffolo on why team culture matters for the bottom line

In this episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, we’re talking with Bob Ruffolo of IMPACT Branding and Design who shares how establishing a strong set of values saved his agency.

To be honest, whenever I heard someone talk about their mission statement or core values, I thought of cheesy motivational posters with words like “Perseverance” and a picture of a kayaker going over a waterfall. They seem like cliches pushed by big corporation management.

But after talking with Bob, I realized that core values can have a transformative effect when they are truly embodied by an organization.

Cultivating company culture isn't a cliché - it can have an impact on your bottom line! (PODCAST) Click To Tweet

IMPACT Branding and Design is one of only 11 of Hubspot’s Diamond Certified Partners and one of the leading inbound marketing agencies in the country that consistently beats their profit goals. However, just a few years ago their growth had slowed and they started losing money.

In this episode, Bob lays everything on the table and makes the case for why cultivating a strong company culture was crucial to their turnaround and how you can do the same.

Download a full transcript of the interview with Bob Ruffolo: Get it right here.

Key Takeaways

Why core values matter more than skill [7:00 – 11:00]

There are so many people out there with natural gifts; the gift of gab, design, development, or whatever else, but they have no idea how to apply it. Even if you want to work with these talented people, they may not be trainable. They might have a different work ethic, or don’t prioritize clients the same way you do.

Provided people are willing to learn, you can always teach them the skills they need to do the job. Values are harder to teach. Practically speaking, if people don’t fit the values of your agency, then they’re not going to be successful in your company, and if you have too many of those people, the company is not going to be successful.

When you have a clear set of values that guide your company, then you can not only see upfront if people fit what you’re looking for, but you give people a litmus test they can use to make decisions. Is this the right thing to do or is this the wrong thing to do? Do I have to ask the boss for this, or do I not have to ask the boss for this? When everybody understands what is expected, people don’t have to be micromanaged because everybody is working towards the same goals.

How to define core values [11:00 – 15:00]

If you want to have a set of values that define your company, you need to first define what those values are. At IMPACT, Bob and his team started by describing the best people in the company and why they were so successful and so well liked. Then they did the same exact thing for the people that were no longer with the company by asking why they are no longer with the company.

They ended up coming up with 7 to 10 different phrases that really describe what they’re looking for in all of their people, but it wasn’t precise enough to really use as a litmus test. To simplify it, Bob distilled those discussions down to 3 core values: passion, helpfulness, and dependability.

Now they can actually look at all of their people, and if they don’t show passion, helpfulness and dependability the majority of the time, they can’t work at IMPACT. They interview, review, and fire based on those values. Everybody at the company knows this and knows that is what is expected of them.

How to live by core values [15:00 – 21:00]

Defining your core values is one thing, but actually living them is another challenge altogether. This is where most companies fail and why “values” and “mission statements” are seen as little more than a feel-good cliche; if you don’t live the values then they can’t shape your business.

In the beginning, Bob didn’t come down with a strict mandate that these values should be implemented effective immediately for everybody. Instead, they let everyone know how those values played into the purpose for the company and the direction they were going. Over the next year, many people who weren’t on the same page left on their own, while others had to be asked to leave.

After a two-year process, Bob’s team realized the values weren’t another business cliche and were aligned on the vision for where the company was going. If you don’t take these values seriously and show everybody that you are fully committed to them, then your team won’t either.

Letting go of “B” players [46:30 – 55:00]

If you bucket all of the people on your team, you have A players, B players, and C players. Your C players are going to leave or be asked to leave for one reason or another: they can’t do the job, they don’t have the skills, or they’re not a culture fit. Whatever it is, most organizations don’t have a problem getting rid of them.

The B players are the ones that show up and do their job, but nothing more. They never give you a real reason to fire them, but they also never give you a real reason to promote them. They’re just clogging up your system. While they may not make big mistakes, they simply aren’t going to be successful, so you need to have honest conversations with them.

Early on, when you see the performance is not where you want it to be, or they’re not fitting with your core values, you have to let them know. Establish a plan to determine what to do over a certain period of time to get them to A player status. If they aren’t a good fit, tell them you understand, but explain what is expected from anybody in the role and if that they can’t perform at that level, they can’t work there.

These aren’t easy conversations to have, and that is why so many companies avoid them, but having a glut of employees doing the bare minimum is not how you build a lasting agency.

Want to learn more?

If you want to hear more from Bob, be sure to follow him on LinkedIn where he documents his agency journey. And if you want to see how a leading inbound marketing agency runs their own blog, check out the IMPACT blog.

Resources mentioned:

Bob’s 2-part series on lessons learned building his agency:

360-degree Feedback
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish
Traction by Gino Wickman
Gary Vaynerchuk

Thanks for listening!