Robert Glazer on Leading and Building Cultures of Organizational Excellence
Join me and Robert Glazer in a virtual interview from the Presidential Suite at the Fairlawns as we delve into what it takes to create a culture of organizational excellence in a global company.
Robert Glazer is a seasoned, globally-recognized leader in the affiliate and online customer acquisition marketing space. He has founded and led various companies and non-profits over a span of over 2 decades. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Industrial Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Glazer calls Needham, Massachusetts, United States of America, home. Under Robert Glazer’s leadership, Acceleration Partners, one of the world’s leading affiliate marketing companies, has received numerous company culture awards:
* Ranked #2 on Glassdoor’s List of Top Small & Medium Companies CEO’s
* Forbes 2018 Small Giants. America’s Best 25 Small Businesses
* Forbes Best Management Consulting Firms -2018
* Glassdoor Best Places to Work -2018
* Boston Globe Best Place to Work – 2017
* Inc. Magazine Best Workplaces – 2017
* Entrepreneur Top Company Cultures – 2016
* Entrepreneur 360™ Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America – 2016
* Fortune’s Best Small Workplaces in America – 2016 (#26)
* Best Workplaces for Flexibility (Great Places to Work & Fortune) – 2016 (#8)
* Best Workplaces in Advertising & Marketing (Great Places to Work & Fortune) – 2016 (#4)
* Ad Age’s Best Place to Work – 2017 & 2016
* Inc 500 List – 2015 (#486), 2014 (#260) & 2013 (#359)
* Boston Business Journal Fast 50 – 2016 (#14), 2015 (#3), 2014 (#3)
* Best Workplaces for Women (Great Places to Work & Fortune) – 2015 & 2016
Robert Glazer is a columnist for Entrepreneur, Forbes and Inc. and regularly contributes to thought leadership platforms such as The Ladders, Fast Co, the Huffington Post and Success Magazine. His thought leadership pieces traverse topics ranging from performance marketing, and entrepreneurship to company culture, capacity building, hiring and leadership. His flagship leadership publication, Friday Forward, a weekly inspirational newsletter enjoys a global audience of more than 40, 000 leaders. Mr. Glazer is a past recipient of the Boston Business Journal “40 under 40” Award and is an advisor/board member to several high-growth companies. In 2017, he authored the international bestselling book, Performance Partnerships: The Checkered Past, Shifting Present, and Exciting Future of Affiliate Marketing. He speaks globally on topics related to business growth, culture, capacity-building and performance. Robert Glazer is a firm and consistent believer in giving back and Founded charitable events such as The Fifth Night, serves on the Board of Directors for BUILD Boston, is a global leader in Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) and is a Board Member of Big Brother Massachusetts.
It is trite to state that organizational cultures make or break companies. Many people spend most of their lives working inside organizations either thriving and living their best lives, or slowly dying and dealing with ailments like anxiety and depression and feeling disconnected from the stated vision and mission of the company. It takes exceptional leaders like Robert Glazer, the Founder and CEO of one of the world’s leading affiliate marketing companies, Acceleration Partners, to build cultures of organizational excellence. Let’s tap in to his experiences and insights in building a culture of organizational excellence that has won recognition from some of America’s leading arbiters such as Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, the Boston Globe, Glassdoor and Fortune.
Who is Robert Glazer and what influenced and inspired you in your formative years to be the man and leader that you have been over the years and the man and leader that you are today?
At my core, I’m someone who wants to be and do better and help others do the same – whether that’s accomplishing a goal, building something, doing something or living life to the fullest potential. However, I didn’t always know that. I only discovered my core purpose in 2013 while attending an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) event. The opening speaker gave a presentation on how each of us has a “Why”, that is, a core purpose that drives us each day in both our personal and professional lives. It’s our personal mission statement, if you will. After sitting down with him, and a few months of hard work and self-discovery, I uncovered my “Why”: To find a better way and share it. In the process, I also got really clear about my personal core values. In reflecting back on my life, everything started to make sense. It’s the reason why, as a young kid, when my Mom asked me to clean my room, I’d rearrange it instead. I love to tinker and don’t enjoy the status quo.
Before this discovery, I would say that my leadership style was like a patchwork quilt, it was a series of best practices and examples that I had collected from others whom I admired, but it was not authentically me. I really had to work to develop my leadership style from my authentic self. Today, I clearly understand that my Core Purpose underpins my leadership style and our company culture. It’s also at the heart of my weekly Friday Forward emails and my motivation to write books, do podcasts and speak at events. I strive to positively influence the lives of people both inside and outside of our company which allows me to enjoy the journey rather than rushing toward a destination.
Acceleration Partners has been in business for 11 years and in that time your company culture has excelled and garnered various accolades in America, why was this such an important thing for you to build and how did you go about it as an organizational leader? How would you define “a culture of organizational excellence”?
Since the beginning, my objective wasn’t just to build a financially successful company. It’s always been more important to me to build a financially sound company around strong core values, foster a culture that people love working within and to change the work-life paradigm.
Our goal was and still is to have our employees feel successful both inside and outside of work. I think it’s because of this authentic interest in the success and well-being of our team members that results in our employees ranking and reviewing Acceleration Partners highly on sites like Glassdoor and on Best Places to Work surveys. We set a very high bar for excellence but help everyone try to reach or exceed that bar with training and support. Today, even though we are a global company with more than 100 employees, our culture is designed to support a flexible work schedule and reward and recognize team members for their performance – not how many hours they work or how much face-time they put in. From our perspective, if employers want to create a culture of organizational excellence, they must first take the time to get to know their employees and understand what they want and need both personally and professionally. What we realized is that someone who was underperforming or not keeping up with the demands of their role could not simply “get better” by working harder. We needed to help them grow is all areas of their life as their strengths, weaknesses and challenges were the same at work and in their family and in their personal life. The win-win was to help them improve their life and capabilities overall and then reap the professional benefits of those improvements to capacity.
Communication tools and authentic core values are key, in any company, but especially in one that’s 100 percent remote like Acceleration Partners is. We don’t try to be everything to everyone; we try to be consistent about what we value, what we say and what we do. At AP, one of our core values is “Embrace Relationships” – to our clients, industry partners and colleagues. One way we do this is to ensure that we have strong communication tools in place so that our interactions are seamless and as face-to-face as possible– even if it’s virtual.
We also use our video calling tools to have our global company-wide meetings, which we record for our team members in other time-zones. In addition, we use tools like TINY pulse to regularly survey our team members on everything from their happiness levels, what they like/dislike/would like to see changed about AP, their industry perspectives and everything in between. It’s anonymous so people feel empowered to give really candid, transparent feedback, which has been a valuable component of another one of our core values, “Excel and Improve”.
Creating our organizational culture hasn’t been just a top-down initiative. Everyone within AP has contributed to making AP a company with an award-winning culture – even team members who are no longer with us. While our leadership team has worked hard to lead by example, it’s really our team members who exemplify our core values and make our organization so great. And that starts with how we hire, how we promote and even how we help transition team members either into new roles or into a new position with another company. We’ve taken a holistic approach to building our culture here at AP and I’m proud that we’ve been able to actually practice that instead of just theorize about it.
So, in a nutshell, a part of building a culture of organizational excellence is to have core values that you really live by – not just some good-sounding words that are printed on a wall. Even outside of AP, the most successful company cultures have strong core values that they live and work by day in and day out. I would venture to say that most companies who’ve won awards or received high accolades for their culture have a clear vision, strong core values, are transparent, reward accountability and inspire people to meet high-expectations. Through much trial and error, we’ve also learned that helping employees achieve their dreams and big goals leads to a loyal, dedicated, happy and healthy organization. We call this “Capacity Building” and it is the subject of my next book, Outperform.
After winning such accolades and recognition for an excellent company culture, how do you keep challenging yourself as a leader and inspiring your employees and teams to not be too impressed with these achievements and do even better?
A few years back, I heard from a very well-known speaker, Verne Harnish say that one of a CEO’s key metrics should be their “no to yes” ratio. A few years ago, I created a “Stop Doing List” which I update regularly. This has allowed me to be more productive and fulfilled both professionally and personally and made room for new initiatives that I really care about. As an example, I’ve stopped being involved in many of the operations roles that I once played in our company which has allowed me to focus on areas I’m more passionate about, namely driving growth, developing quality relationships with our industry partners and team members, cultivating a happy and healthy company culture and helping others build their capacity.
One thing we always mention and show in a picture at every AP Summit, our annual company-wide get-together, is that starting January 1, the clock has been reset to zero – in both a business and personal sense. Whatever happened the previous year – positive or negative – is in the past. The one thing we know for sure is that change is the only constant. This is why I am so passionate about capacity-building – in myself and others. To me, this means spiritual, intellectual, physical and emotional capacity-building. And the more we build that capacity, the more fulfilled we will be in both work and in life simultaneously. This is really the underlying premise behind another one of our core values, “Excel and Improve”. This mindset is about understanding that what worked in the past might not work in the future. As such, we consistently challenge ourselves and each other to move outside of comfort zones. It’s also about embracing continuous learning, giving and receiving feedback and seeing “failures” as opportunities to grow and do better. For example, one challenge I’ve encountered growing and building a high-performance global company is the status quo mentality of the industry that we operate within. At AP, we don’t believe in status quo nor do we think the status quo approach to performance marketing in the United States is in the best interest of advertisers or publishers, so we push back on that. While uncomfortable at times, it’s also set us apart in the industry for the better and given our team members the confidence to think outside the box and test new, innovative approaches with their clients.
When the outside the box thinking doesn’t quite work in terms of implementation, how do you all recover from that? Some employees report holding back from thinking outside the box and sharing their “wild and wacky ideas” with their teams and bosses because the repercussions around “failure” are painful. People need a bit of unleashing and feel safe to do so (but at the same time, there are bottom-line considerations)
I find that leaders who present fixed options to their teams to choose from in decision-making multiply this impact. Rather than encouraging dialogue or creative thinking, this instead forces teams to choose from the most obvious options, many or all of which were likely offered by the leader. This shuts down new ideas. It is much more powerful – and a better reflection of true leadership — to instead ask, “How could we make this work?” and even take the traditional options off the table to rouse new ideas and perspectives. This allows people the capacity to put on their problem-solving hats. In the same way that we rise, or fall, based on expectations, if we are willing to learn how to control our emotions when faced with a problem or challenge, we’ll be better able to see that doing so is often the key to our solutions, even if we can’t see it in the moment. It’s really about attitude and perspective; if we think we don’t have options, we don’t. The next time you face a significant obstacle or a challenge, don’t waste valuable energy and time on how you got there. Accept the reality of where you are and ask instead what can be done with what you have. The answer to that question could be the breakthrough that you have been looking for in your life or your business.
At AP, where something hasn’t quite worked out the way we’d expected, it is mandatory, for example, to write a debrief and share it with the company when we have a mistake/failure of a certain size. This sets the tone that the culture is about learning from failure and sharing feedback. We also do a lot of training on how to give and receive feedback.
Furthermore, we encourage a culture where our teams get to the right answers because ultimately this means that our company will get it right. Ray Dalio, author of Principles, refers to as an “idea meritocracy” and the expectation behind this principle is that people be empowered to bring the best ideas to the table and challenge leadership. It honors the reality that the best ideas can originate from anywhere and anyone – regardless of role or position. Most of us, as individuals and leaders, would find it difficult to honestly say that, deep down, we want to be wrong and for others to be right. Our ego does not readily embrace such perspectives. Deep down, we all want to be right because it’s validating and makes us feel smart. However, such ego-driven thinking typically leads to suboptimal outcomes and even the repression of new ideas. If two of the smartest, most strategic leaders in the last 100 years, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, were happy to be proven wrong, then the question we really need to ask ourselves consistently in both our personal and professional lives is, “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to get it right?
Giving back to society is a thread that runs consistently through your career journey, why is this such an important thing for business leaders to do?
Giving back is key to creating a thriving workplace culture and ensures that a company is about more than the bottom line. Gratitude is also a really important element of happiness and reliance. It’s essential for business leaders to empower employees to make a difference in their communities in an authentic way – and that example should be set by the organization’s leadership. Coming together for a cause that employees are passionate about connects people in ways that just working together doesn’t. One of the things we do at AP is to offer paid time-off for volunteering. And many of our hub teams – employees who all reside within a few hours of each other in a city – get together to volunteer or attend charity events together. For example, in Boston, Acceleration Partners sponsors BUILD Boston, a non-profit organization that helps underserved students with resources needed to start their own businesses. It’s been a rewarding experience for employees to see these BUILD students gain self-confidence and realize the connection between hard work, entrepreneurism and building a stronger community. We are also working on a companywide initiative that we have named “Good Night Sleep” to deliver mattresses to people in Puerto Rico who have not had a bed to sleep on since the hurricane last year. The first 30 were delivered just this past week.