Success and Compassion Go Hand in Hand — To take your company from good to great, you need leaders with compassion and empathy. The world has changed and the companies who view their employees as cogs in a wheel will be left behind. Leaders who recognize that their team members are people with diverse needs and abilities and are able to build personalized strategies around them that allow the company to use the employees unique “super powers”.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brea Giffin, Director of Sales & Partnerships at Sprout Wellness. She has spent years working with companies all over the world to help them implement leading employee wellbeing programs and use them to solve complex and costly business problems. Brea holds multiple degrees across various areas of human health, including a BSc in Neuroscience and graduate certificates in Health Promotion and Workplace Wellbeing.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in a family of nurses and doctors. Dad, grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins — medical school was just what we did in our family. At the dinner table, I would listen to them talk about how many issues that people were suffering or dying from were preventable. When I finished university and thought about applying to medical school, I didn’t think I could do 8–12 more years of school. A conversation with my father convinced me that I would make a better business leader than a doctor. At the same time in my life, iPhones were everywhere, Facebook went public — the world was going digital and I was really interested in how it would shape our future. I found it strange that you could do almost everything online — except access your health data or interact with people or services who could help you improve your health. So I enrolled in a graduate program for Health Promotion and got an internship at a health & wellness tech startup called Sprout. The rest, as they say, is history
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Yes — the first several years at Sprout were an uphill battle. We were selling a B2B SaaS program to companies who thought that a wellness program for their employees was a nice to have — a luxury item. I was told “no” more times than I thought was possible. On top of that, we had all the normal growing pains you would expect from a startup — long hours, no resources, no “right” answers. I thought about giving up probably once a week. The drive to carry on came from the people around me. We all took turns wanting to give up, or convincing the others that we shouldn’t. The most important thing to take your company from good to great is the people you have around you. Make sure they’re people with the same drive, passion and direction. Make sure that they’re people who you want to celebrate wins with, and learn from the losses together.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
As a Canadian company, we legally needed to provide our service in both French and English for some of our earlier prospects who were headquartered in Quebec. We were so new that we were making things up on the fly. We were selected as a finalist for a huge global enterprise who was based in Quebec — we thought this was our moment! We thought that since we were English speaking, the client probably wouldn’t make us demonstrate our product in French so we translated our solution using Google just as a backup for the demo. We were so wrong. We lost that big account the second the client saw that our “home” page was translated to say “maison” (which means house but NOT “homepage”). Our big presentation was over almost as quickly as it began. In the end, our stupid “home” mistake ended up losing us an account that was roughly the same cost as an actual “maison” — thanks, Google! The takeaway we learned was that (especially for a major presentation), you can never be too prepared. Plan for all scenarios. Test, test, re-test — and then test again.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think there are a lot of things that make us stand out! One of the key things that makes us strong is the level of trust our leadership team has in our employees. We give employees a lot of opportunity to run with projects without hand holding. Occasionally, an employee will fail — but that provides great learning experiences for them in a safe environment. When a project is successful, the employee has an amazing win under their belt and as a company we all benefit from powerful new ideas and processes.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’ve been a victim of this myself so hopefully people who are reading this won’t make the same mistake I did. One time I worked so hard on a huge proposal that my knee locked in place from sitting in one place for so long. It forced me into bed for two days and it was so painful I could barely work. If I had just prioritized myself a little bit each day then I would have been better off in the long run.
The most important thing is to realize that work will be there waiting for you tomorrow. We tend to put so much pressure on ourselves to work the hardest and get it all done in one day, thinking that makes us the best. In reality the people who are most productive and successful (at least from those I have met) prioritize some form of balance in their lives — no matter how minimal. Do something that is just for you each day. Go for a walk, do a puzzle, play with your kids.
Recently, I have been challenging myself not to look at my phone or check my email first thing in the morning. I get out of bed, brush my teeth, say good morning to my husband and take 15 minutes to ease into the day. That small amount of time for myself each morning has done a lot to help me manage stress levels throughout the day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have had so many people help me out along the way but I’d have to say one of the people I’m most grateful for is Sprout’s Chairman, Tom Blake. When I first started with Sprout, Tom was our CEO. He was the person who hired me and gave me a shot. He epitomizes what a leader should be. He’s someone who will push you professionally and be there for you personally — coaching you with anecdotes along the way. There are many stories I could share about Tom but, as a woman in a male dominated technology sales industry (a study by Fenwick & West LLP found that women held only 11.7% of the senior sales executive roles among Silicon Valley’s 150 largest companies), I’ll always remember a story he told me about a young female sales rep he worked with decades ago. She was in a sales call with her manager (Tom, at the time) and the client hit on her — touching her thigh in the middle of the meeting. Tom immediately ended the meeting, scolded the client, and left the room with the female rep in tow — and lost a major deal because of it. Upon telling me that story, he made it clear that we would never do business with someone who behaved inappropriately with myself (or any other employee). It was a powerful way of calling out a pervasive issue that wasn’t openly discussed at the time (before #metoo). By him doing that, he made me feel safe and supported by the company. He made it clear that it was people before profits.
Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Good companies make assumptions: my client base is stable so they are happy. My employee turnover levels are stable so they like working here. Our revenue is growing so we are doing something right. Good companies are also reactive. If an issue arises, they’ll fix It but they’re not looking for ways to avoid the issue in the first place.
Great companies ask questions: they ask the client “how could we make you happier”. They ask employees “where do you see yourself in five years and how can I help you get there?”. They see revenue and ask “how can we make our clients happier so we can find more?”. Great companies are proactive — they’re identifying opportunities for innovation or improvement before any kind of issue forces them to do so.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Leadership Drives Change — great companies are built on the backs of great leaders. Great leaders are never too senior to go on the coffee run because that’s an opportunity to take care of their employees. Great leaders make time to get to know people at all levels of their organization because they know that every individual is critical to the success of their company. These things seem simple but if they’re practiced every day, they will produce a more loyal employee base who works harder to move your company towards its goals.
2. Communication Is Key — Great companies are proactive with their communication — both internally and externally. Take every opportunity to communicate with your clients. Ask them how you can be better. Talk to your employees and ask what you can do differently to help them do their jobs better. Promote inter-departmental communication as frequently as possible. Especially with a lot of people working remotely right now, it’s easy to get siloed into your department and not have any idea what’s happening in another. If you can get people talking to one another, there is more opportunity for innovation and growth.
3. There Are No Stupid Questions — Adding to the point above, encourage your employees to ask as many questions as they can. Getting curious with your clients and asking them as many questions as possible can open up pathways and opportunities to deepen your relationship with them.
4. If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room — great companies prioritize learning — even at the leadership level. Strive to learn something new every day. Do that by surrounding yourself with people who know more than you do. You’ll push yourself to be better this way.
5. Success and Compassion Go Hand in Hand — To take your company from good to great, you need leaders with compassion and empathy. The world has changed and the companies who view their employees as cogs in a wheel will be left behind. Leaders who recognize that their team members are people with diverse needs and abilities and are able to build personalized strategies around them that allow the company to use the employees unique “super powers”.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Ultimately, so many people start companies to do good and then they get caught up in profits along the way. People want to be part of that goodness you’re creating in the world so if your company is purpose driven — meaning you have a purpose beyond profit (think of companies like TOMS shoes) — your employees are more than five times more likely to stay with you. You won’t suffer through the struggle of high turnover. Your clients are much more loyal so there’s a lower risk of losing business. Your brand is more prominently held so you can close more business.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Take a look at your user or client base and select the ones who have been with you the longest or who are the most engaged in your solution (your “super users”). Reach out to them and get really curious. Ask them as many questions as you can about what they love about your service — and what they hate. Even though it might be hard to hear, sometimes the negative feedback from the people who know your product or service best is the best place to start figuring out what other problems you can solve for them — which will boost your company’s growth along the way!
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
The COVID-19 pandemic and everything it has affected has been challenging for so many. But I’m a firm believer in the saying “history repeats itself”. After the Black Plague came the Renaissance. After the Spanish flu came the “Roaring” 20s. This past March, the entire world was forced to make a massive shift in our behavior and the silver lining is that it created a lot of opportunity for those companies who dared to think outside of the box. Some of the strategies we have used during a difficult economy is to push ourselves to take risks and do things that make us feel uncomfortable as a business.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
People and culture initiatives tend to be the most underestimated in my opinion. If you don’t have employees, you don’t have a company and yet HR and P&C tend to be the most underfunded departments in the entire organization. You see companies like Ultimate Software (now UKG) invest heavily in these areas — and they see a clear ROI on those initiatives. I feel like it’s an area where companies can do so much more.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Over the past decade, the way people buy has shifted immensely. Thanks to the internet, 90% of the purchasing decision can be made on most items without ever having a Sales Person involved. Because of this, we see higher conversion rates with opportunities when we move away from traditional selling methods (like cold calling) and move towards what I refer to as “helping people buy”. To see higher conversion rates, you don’t need to live and die by your company’s defined process — understand how the client buys and fit your tactics into that. Try to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes — what information would you want readily available? How would you want to receive that information? If you challenge yourself to see things through your prospects eyes, you’ll be able to increase your conversion rates substantially.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Absolutely! Authenticity, communication and giving are all essential parts of creating a trusted brand. Be truthful to what you can deliver on. The sky is never the limit! Be creative but realistic and your customers will believe in you. Communicate about how your company operates and what is done when everything is going well, and how you will address and resolve problems when things don’t. Lastly, share your expertise! Think about how you can not only serve your clients, but how you can give back to a larger audience
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience[b3] ?
Start by listening. What are your clients saying; what problems or barriers are they experiencing? By taking the time to understand what your client needs to be more successful you can work with them to provide solutions that are the best fit. When they know you have their back and that you define success based on their successes you have created a relationship of trust. Work with them to articulate their pain points and help lift the burden of solving those challenges.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Social media is such a powerful tool — it can literally help make or break your company in 140 characters.
I actually love it when companies use their brand and associated social power to take a clear stance on some of the biggest social issues out there. We’ve seen this a lot in the last year — brands using social media after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor forced our society to have a frank conversation on race. Brands getting involved in the US election is leading to record turnouts at the polls. In recent years brands taking a stance on the #metoo movement helped us discuss issues of gender inequality and sexual harassment in the workplace. It might keep the Board of Directors up at night but as long as we carry our company values (like respect, responsibility, professionalism, etc.) with us when we use social media for our brands, I think it’s an important way to move business and society forward.
As a consumer, I want to know what the companies who take my money stand for. Consumers having the power to support companies who provide a product/service they need and ALSO share in their core values or beliefs — it’s a cool way to create even more engagement between your company and your consumers.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The most common mistake I see from founders is that they think they can do everything. Yes, you’re entrepreneurial but there are only 24 hours in a day and you can’t learn to be a CFO, Developer or any other specialized role overnight. If you want to be successful, you need to be able to identify as early as possible when you need help — and then find partners who buy into your vision and excel in the areas where you are weakest. Don’t wait too long to find your tribe.
Thank you for all of that. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I had the answer to that question right now, I’d be out there doing it! I don’t know exactly what that movement would be, but I know it would be in the area of preventative health. Perhaps something along the lines of getting a course on nutrition approved as a curriculum for elementary school students in our public school system (and then something that will help provide that nutritious food for underprivileged youth). I think teaching kids how to eat properly and healthy when they’re young will help with preventative disease rates in the future.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!