David Poirier of The Poirier Group: “Accountability”

Accountability. Encourage people to take responsibility for the results they produce. We have seen it at many companies we have worked in, where roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined. This can result in “too many cooks in the kitchen,” or pointing fingers and passing blame. Getting clear on accountability will improve productivity by reducing […]

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Accountability. Encourage people to take responsibility for the results they produce. We have seen it at many companies we have worked in, where roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined. This can result in “too many cooks in the kitchen,” or pointing fingers and passing blame. Getting clear on accountability will improve productivity by reducing the number of people involved in decisions.

As part of my series “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great,” I had the pleasure of interviewing David is the Founder and CEO of The Poirier Group, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategy execution, operational efficiency and sustainable business transformations for diverse clients across North America. He is an accomplished leader who progressed early in his career to hold Senior executive and C-suite roles in major retail, health, supply chain and manufacturing organizations. David creates and translates strategic roadmaps into actionable goals that influence organizations. He thrives at running multiple global divisions in complex and ever-changing business environments and effecting positive cultural shifts that impact bottom-line performance.

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?

Thanks for this opportunity, happy to be here.After graduating from Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto, I spent over 20 years in three large public companies in roles of increasing responsibility. At each of those organizations, I experienced various styles of great leadership and mentorship. It was at that point that I realized I enjoyed leading transformations in organizations and decided to venture into starting my own company to see what it would be like for a few years! Here we are 15 years later and with an amazing team and growing business well beyond any of my expectations!

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?

Shortly after I started, virtually on my own, I Ianded on a big contract and quickly hired people to staff it. That project was all-consuming and it took all of my time and energy. When it finished, I quickly realized that I had no other work lined up and it took many months before we sold our next project. While the previous project was lucrative, the profit was quickly diminished because we had not built a pipeline of sales. I did not want to lay people off and I also had to keep spirits up, while secretly I was struggling with my confidence in our ability to survive. Fortunately, I am not a quitter, and I understand that any new business will face these types of challenges, financial or otherwise.

In any professional’s career, there are going to be hard, or difficult times. I’m reminded of an M. Scott Peck quote, “Life can be difficult. Once you accept that, life becomes less difficult.” I firmly believe in the power of vision. I always could create a vision and hold on to it, even in the face of challenges. I would guess my drive comes from my parents, a lot of that is nature perhaps.

I learned that the companies who survive have the right attitude and determination to overcome the many challenges they will face as they grow. Expect that you will be hit with many obstacles and setbacks as you establish your business. These are learning moments. Once you understand this as the normal course, you become better prepared to deal with each challenge. Challenges are just steps that bring you closer to your goal.

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?

When I first started the business, I ran it out of my basement as most people do. I had some early success and landed a large international client for an advisory project. The work was difficult but rewarding and it was a great learning experience. The contract was quite lucrative. It became all-consuming in my effort to have a showcase client. Many months later, I realized that to truly make a contract profitable, I had to invoice for the payments! Having always had administrative support in my career to that point, I did not tend to worry about the paperwork. It was a rude awakening. I quickly put together all the monies owed into an invoice. Once received by the client, it predictably caused sticker shock. After many difficult discussions and explanations, we managed to get back on track. I immediately put some administrative support into the business to ensure that this did not happen again!

What do you think makes your company stand out?

We differentiate on being operational experts, meaning we don’t just figure out what to do, but we help guide you through how to do it. Our core resources and operational leaders are hybrid specialists, applying advanced skills while focusing on people, measurement and technology to ensure sustainability.

We act more like a (specialized) extension of a client than an external consulting firm, working collaboratively to create tailored solutions with your unique business challenges in mind. Throughout each project, we collaborate with key stakeholders to ensure solutions are aligned with the goals of the company and the project remains on track. This flexibility and attention to detail is what sets The Poirier Group’s strategic management consulting services apart from the rest of the industry

One of our core ‘motto’s’, is that our approach “Begins with Trust ends with Results”, meaning that we quickly build trust with clients through interviews, quick wins and open, honest and direct communication. That allows us to find solutions and implement results much quicker, and those results will be sustainable over the medium and long term. We are a relationship and a values-based consulting firm. This method applies to both our relationships with clients and how we interact as a company internally.

Trust, values and the consulting experience we provide to our clients make us stand out in the market. Our clients become an extension of us and treat us like we are one of them. They join in our team bake-offs, or fitness challenges at their sites and feel a part of our team as much as we feel a part of theirs. They know we have their best interests at heart and can count on us for the results they need.

Our organization has lived many of the principles from Good to Great by Jim Collins, one is Start with Who then focus on What. First, you must win over the people. Only then can you achieve truly valuable results for the company. The team goes to extraordinary lengths to deliver true value to our clients. Our goals on any project are to achieve three things:

1. We have met or exceeded the expectations of our client

2. Our client is so positive about the experience with us that they will be a positive reference or referral for us.

3. The client states that we are not like any other consulting firm.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

First, start each day with ‘Why’. Make sure your work serves your life plan and career goals. Be planful, not reactionary. Be explicit in the values you want to live by and the culture you want to create. Don’t compromise on either of those.

Second, make time for yourself to recharge and de-stress every day. It’s very challenging to juggle all the balls leaders and managers have to juggle to succeed. It takes a lot of energy but also the ability to work smart all the time. I’ve been good at knowing when to take time outs and knowing how to keep my battery charged. I get energy from the people around me so that is another secret to success for me.

Third, find mentors who have achieved what you want. Listen, learn, and apply the lessons while they are fresh. Celebrate success and learn from failures.

Fourth, understand your strengths, hire for your weaknesses. Know yourself, stay true to yourself.

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?

It would not be fair to single out one or a few people as there have been many who have inspired, guided and supported me along the way. Each came in at the right time in my life, some are still with me today, as friends, peers and former bosses whom I respected. I had an Advisory Board of former bosses early in the development of TPG. They gave me advice I didn’t always relish, and I followed albeit reluctantly. They kept me on track and were honest when they needed to be. It is important to surround yourself with people who will not only tell you what you want to hear but also tell you when you need to hear.

It’s not one person, it’s a stream of people who’ve been part of my life in one way or another. We all build off our relationships, and there is give and take throughout these relationships. It’s important to me that I also pay that forward by mentoring others. This is why Serving is one of my four core values.

Ok thank you for all that. 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 organizations can function well day-to-day. While they may achieve what needs to be done, there is a lack of alignment to a core vision or purpose higher than the tasks at hand.

Great Organizations are filled with Great People who are dedicated to the company vision, are driven to challenge themselves and do more and are values-oriented in all of their actions. Great organizations have established a corporate culture that values collaboration over competitiveness; accountability over suspicion; listening over arguing; creative ideas over conventional ideas and learning over defending. It’s difficult to put your finger on one thing that makes a “great” organization, but you can feel it in the way employees interact with one another, with those in higher positions than them and with those in more junior positions than them. Clients and external parties can also feel it when we interact with them.

So, invest in finding, creating and sustaining Great people who are aligned to your vision, and eager to achieve what’s possible. Great Organizations harness the Speed of Trust (another fantastic Jim Collins book).

It is not one initiative or one person who can build a Great company, but, when you create a culture where trust is high, then things accelerate. (see: “The Flywheel Effect” from the Speed of Trust). Many studies prove that Great companies outperform Good companies by an order of magnitude, 6X, 16X, 26X and more!

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. Communication. Create shared understanding amongst the team, demonstrate open, honest and direct communication and the necessary conditions for alignment. On a consulting project at a retailer, we looked at how managers communicated with one another, and it was only through meetings. Most managers had between 30–40 hours of meetings per week in addition to doing their jobs. Most of them also didn’t know why they were in the meeting and what their role was, which wasted a lot of time that could have been spent doing more valuable tasks. We looked at what, where and why they needed to communicate and ended up cutting 50 minutes per month per manager of meeting times — that was huge!

2. Alignment. Drive synergy rapidly to translate strategy into reality. At another client, management set a goal to reduce 10% of costs across the board. However, every department then tried to cut labour and key resources to meet that goal. This resulted in work getting backed up, overtime getting cut and schedules getting mixed up. There was no coordination between the departments when in reality the company needed an average reduction of 10% from the company as a whole. What should have been a simple goal became complicated because everyone wasn’t aligned to the same goal.

3. Visibility. Create a clear link between plans, actions and results to drive accountability. In a company, key stakeholders should have visibility into important metrics and processes to inform decision making. This visibility into the inner workings of a company will create a more dedicated workforce with a clear link between how daily work helps achieve previously determined goals.

4. Accountability. Encourage people to take responsibility for the results they produce. We have seen it at many companies we have worked in, where roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined. This can result in “too many cooks in the kitchen,” or pointing fingers and passing blame. Getting clear on accountability will improve productivity by reducing the number of people involved in decisions.

5. Discipline. Persevere to follow through and continue with self-improvement while remaining flexible. When we talk about discipline, it does not mean to be rigid. If you think about professional sports players, they are extremely disciplined in the work they do, but they remain flexible and adaptable to their circumstances and change their strategy accordingly. This ability is essential to being successful in an unpredictable world.

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?

Having a higher purpose beyond the job we are hired for improves the social dynamic of your team and creates clarity during difficult times. Being a purpose-driven business provides direction when creating strategies and growth plans. Our mission and purpose are to serve the highest good — this includes our clients, employees and community.

This purpose can be seen and experienced through our ‘purpose beyond profit’ initiative, which supports our core value of ‘Serving’ by providing our team with the opportunity to contribute to worthwhile charities who can benefit from their skillsets. We donate a portion of our billable hours, through their time to help non-profit organizations create operational efficiencies so that they can serve their communities better.

This is a ‘win/win’, as we gain experience in their industry while providing a long-term benefit to organizations who can’t afford consulting help. The value of our work extends far beyond the dollar value of the time we contribute, and everyone feels great seeing the difference their time has made on organizations that we collectively choose to help. This initiative is a point of pride for our organization and is something every member of our team looks forward to participating in.

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”?

I think it goes back to the power of vision. The vision, while essential to business growth and quality, can change over time as the business evolves. When your vision is clouded and the possibilities are not clear for you, it’s time to revisit what you are passionate about. I am a fan of the hedgehog principles, in that 3 things must come together to define your success in any venture you choose:

1. You must be passionate about it

2. There must be a market for it

3. You must be genetically engineered to be best at doing this

It takes reflection and introspection to get clear on what that is. Sometimes you need other points of view to help you get unstuck, but creating and clarifying your vision and putting goals into action that help achieve that vision will help you get back on track for success.

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?

Keep employees motivated toward a vision or common goal such as a year-end revenue goal. This gives purpose to day-to-day activities and creates an opportunity to celebrate a shared achievement together if/when it’s reached, or a shared learning opportunity if it is not. Make sure you publicly recognize achievements and shared lessons learned to form the experience as a team.

Keep your team engaged through various activities, weekly check in’s and fun virtual competitions. While the current virtual environment can be difficult to maintain relationships, it does provide the opportunity to connect with more people than would otherwise be impossible in an in-person setting

Build a learning culture where employees are encouraged to seek self-improvement while business is slow. Continuous learning is a valuable skill to stay active in your marketplace and will maintain employee engagement during difficult times.

Focus on building and sustaining relationships with existing clients. If you have built good relationships with clients before the pandemic, transitioning to a digital space should be seamless because those relationships are already strong.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Culture is the most underestimated aspect of running a successful business. It can be difficult to pinpoint because you can’t see it, so it’s difficult to improve. You can manage work and tasks, but you can’t see the culture. Encouraging employees to be self-motivated and give 100%+ when they aren’t being closely watched is difficult because people need to be motivated towards your organization and disciplined enough to self-start when they are not being watched. Creating and sustaining a culture that values high performance, continuous improvement, curiosity and serving others and that values the individual people that work for the company is important for business performance but also employee loyalty.

This becomes an increasing challenge as the company grows and adds more people to the mix. Creating a strong company culture must be an active priority of the company. Jack Welch (from General Electric) used to say that it’s all about ‘energy management’. You’ve got to know when to ‘import’ energy into the team, what type, when and how. Entropy sets in fast in organizations if this is not managed correctly

As we see more businesses transition to permanent remote work, those businesses without a strong culture will experience less loyalty both from the employees and by the employer. If someone can sit at home and do essentially the same job but get paid 10% more, then what is to keep that employee loyal to their current company? On the flip side, big companies are evolving their employees to a commodity and replacing them with lower-cost labour. However, when a culture is above-average, employees are motivated to stay with the company because it’s not just about the final number on a paycheck. To be a competitive employer, your company culture needs to draw in and retain motivated individuals. Communication and connection are even more important during uncertain times.

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?

Focusing on the customer experience and building a trusting relationship early on with customers will make them more likely to convert. If you think about any purchase you have made recently, you are more likely to buy from a company you trust or from someone you know.

Second, listening to the prospective client, having empathy towards their situation, asking the right questions, and showing an understanding of what they are going through is of the utmost importance. This will allow you to tailor your solutions to their specific needs and will contribute to building that trusting relationship.

Third, sharing relevant stories will increase the likelihood of conversion. People can relate to a story better than a service offering. This offers a means to the solution and demonstrates the type of results a service will produce vs just outlining the features of a product or service.

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?

The main way to create a trusted brand is to be authentic, which will result in you being more believable and will build trust quicker. Authenticity is not something you can fake. Most people can sniff out an inauthentic person or presentation. We have worked hard to make sure our pitches convey our culture and approach honestly, backing up our claims with tested results and client testimonials.

Be accountable and reliable to your employees and clients. Find quick wins in every engagement that will build trust early. Finally, collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Become your client’s partner. Show them you are as invested as they are in the success of a project. Bottom line, build good relationships and deliver excellent results and your reputation will follow

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 to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Business leaders are responsible for building the brand based on an excellent customer experience that customers can rely on. Some of the most important things in establishing an excellent experience include building trust with clients through transparency, open, honest, direct and frequent communication. Deliver what is expected, without any surprises. Your client should know the outcome of your project, from your frequent communication and not be surprised by a version you created independently that may not be acceptable.

Set agreements and expectations of the project at the beginning. Being on-time and on-budget are two small things that are often overlooked when they are achieved but are the most obvious when they are ignored and can make or break a customer’s experience with you.

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.

I think social media should enhance a brand’s reputation by reinforcing what their trusted clients already know and sharing that information with new audiences. As much as possible, share good information about the company without being too self-promoting and share useful knowledge that users can absorb quickly and take away.

To manage brand risk, think through social media posts to ensure they are clear and unambiguous. Train employees on how to professionally engage on social media as representatives of your company. Your marketing team should have clear training on the brand’s desired tone and have set guidelines on what is appropriate to post according to the brand image. Have a risk management process in place in the case of a cyber breach or social media scandal.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business?

The biggest mistake that I see being made is not having any market research done, and not having a marketing plan in place to reach key audiences. Many founders and entrepreneurs believe that If you have a good product or service, everyone will buy it. That is not the case. More often than not, consumers buy into a brand identity than a specific product, but innovators put too much focus on product development and not enough on the brand.

After a brand is established, another common mistake is not balancing individual styles, strengths and perspectives on the team. When hiring and developing talent, you should want a diverse range of expertise to shed light on new perspectives and help your company grow.

What can be done to avoid those errors?

You’re inevitably going to make mistakes in a new company. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not moving fast enough. The issue isn’t about avoiding mistakes, it’s about trial and error, learning from failures and pivoting quickly to recover.

Ensure your team represents a solid mix of styles between leadership and management, genders, and experiences. When hiring, have a mixed panel interview with new hires before they are selected. They should look beyond skills/experience to emotional maturity and personal fit with the culture. Instinct also plays a factor in seeing beyond what is obvious.

Once your team is established and growing, invest early and regularly in professional development, engraining a culture of continuous improvement across the organization. This will prevent your team from getting stagnant or outdated because you are always looking for what opportunities are emerging that you can capture.

Finally, have fun. Laughter creates an environment of fun where people let their guard down, feel welcome, included and are happy to come to work. It also creates a culture of trust, so when mistakes are made, corporate relationships are strong enough to bounce back and learn from the mistake.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂

There is far too much ‘judgment’ in the world. If we could learn to adopt an appreciation for ‘differences’, we would begin to understand the value others can bring, and erode the pre-conceived prejudices we grew up with. By removing the filters of judgement, we will begin to hear other opinions, experience different perspectives and discover far more possibilities than we could have imagined.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Our latest updates, events and free resources are shared frequently on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-poirier-group/

For more information: https://www.thepoiriergroup.com/our-approach-to-management-consulting/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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