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Joel Patterson of The Vested Group: “Invest in Emotional Intelligence ”

Invest in Emotional Intelligence — The importance of being able to “read the room” has never been greater. Whether you are communicating with a single team member or your entire staff, you must develop your emotional intelligence skills so you can hear the message even through silence. If reading people is not your strength, I guarantee you […]

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Invest in Emotional Intelligence — The importance of being able to “read the room” has never been greater. Whether you are communicating with a single team member or your entire staff, you must develop your emotional intelligence skills so you can hear the message even through silence. If reading people is not your strength, I guarantee you have someone on your team who has this skill. Lean on that person and ask for their take on things.


We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?

In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joel Patterson, Founder of The Vested Group, a Technology Services Provider focused on the licensing, implementation, and support of a modern cloud-based ERP, CRM & eCommerce solution for growing companies called Oracle+Netsuite. He has over twenty years of experience in the consulting industry and has worked with premier firms, including Arthur Andersen and Cap Gemini. Joel earned his degree in Business Administration from Baylor University and currently resides in Lucas, TX.


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 founded The Vested Group in 2011 with the simple goal of creating a consulting firm whose primary focus is its people, not clients. I found inspiration while fresh out of college, working at Arthur Andersen. I didn’t know how they did it, but I knew I wanted to capture some of the magic they had in recruiting, onboarding, and retaining some of the best people I’d ever met. Happy and engaged consultants create happy clients, but nothing destroys projects and relationships like unhappy teams. In this reflection, it occurred to me that if I wanted to develop a successful business, I just needed to create a workplace and culture that I would like to be part of. Fast forward nine years, and I am proud to say that many of the core tenets I believe in are alive and well at The Vested Group.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of the most interesting things that has happened to me since I began my career is also one of the most frightening things. I was working at a client site in Oklahoma with a team from The Vested Group. We were a brand-new company, and this was one of our first clients; although some of us on this team had worked together at previous consulting firms in the past, there were a couple of people completely new to the group. One evening, back at the hotel after a 12+ hour day at the client site, we suddenly hear tornado warning alarms and are instructed by hotel staff to take cover immediately. We ended up spending several tense minutes in a hotel bathroom, crouched under a mattress while the tornado whipped through. We were all a bit shaken, and this would be my least favorite team-building activity of my career!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” — Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

This quote speaks to me because we’ve all been confronted with our mortality in one way or another recently. In thinking about the legacy you leave behind, it’s important to me to conduct myself as a leader to positively impact The Vested Group whether I am there or not.

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 about that?

Like many on the entrepreneurial path, I started with nothing and managed to scratch and claw my way to where I am now. I had always assumed that college would follow high school, but my naïve decisions sent me down a much more difficult road. I found myself married at 19, a father by 21, and working long hours in construction as a ceramic tile and granite installer just to survive. I grew up having much higher expectations for my career, but here I was, working a job that didn’t inspire me in the slightest. I knew I had to redirect my trajectory for the sake of myself and, more importantly, the sake of my family.

As luck would have it, a relative offered my family and me a place to live near Baylor University in Waco, TX. If I could figure out how to pay for school, I had the opportunity to earn a college degree. Four years later, I had my bachelor’s degree in MIS, and I landed a job at one of the top consulting firms in the nation, Arthur Andersen. I loved everything about working at Arthur Andersen. The work was rewarding, but, more importantly, the people were smart, driven, and loved to have a good time. I created such a bond with the people I worked with that I decided I wanted to start my own business with three of my coworkers.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

The main benefit of having a team physically together is something referred to as “bursting.” When you gather a group together to brainstorm ideas or hash out a problem, this phenomenon of shared energy that team members feed off seems to increase the flow of ideas and outside-the-box thinking exponentially. This is called bursting because when teams gather together in person, the discussion takes on a life of its own, and people are literally bursting with new ideas. There’s just something about being in the same room together and feeling the energy of your team that creates an intangible and almost magical catalyst for that brainstorming flow state. Sure, you can have conversations and generate solution ideas remotely, but you don’t get the same shared energy that happens in person — it simply doesn’t translate across a screen.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

The challenges of teams not being in the same space are often tech-related. We’ve all experienced the typical tech hiccups such as slow connections causing glitchy audio and video, leaving yourself on mute when you intend to speak to the group and not being muted while your dog is barking loudly in the background, the myriad of challenges that come with screen sharing, and more. Beyond the tech, there’s also the missed connections — those lost interactions that don’t end up happening because you don’t run into that coworker on the way to your desk. These opportunities to interact that fall by the wayside because we are not all in the same physical location are even more challenging to quantify.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Five things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space:

Consistency is Key — When the pandemic first hit, I decided to send a weekly video update to my entire staff to keep communication lines open. Of course, in the beginning, we had no idea how long remote working would last, and creating a video message each week was no small task. But this weekly video turned out to be a great way to stay connected, and it has been a valuable tool for relationship bridging. One thing I’m glad I’ve learned to do: send an update even if there is no update. Stay consistent, and it will pay off.

Invest in Emotional Intelligence — The importance of being able to “read the room” has never been greater. Whether you are communicating with a single team member or your entire staff, you must develop your emotional intelligence skills so you can hear the message even through silence. If reading people is not your strength, I guarantee you have someone on your team who has this skill. Lean on that person and ask for their take on things.

Stay Positive — In my weekly video messages, monthly company meetings, and pretty much every communication I have with The Vested Group, I model optimism. It’s easy to get caught in the doom scrolling trap and pile on the negativity, now more than ever. I choose to keep a positive mindset and model that optimism in what I say and how I communicate with my team.

Acknowledge the Challenge — Optimism is great, but effective communication must include authenticity as well. Staying positive doesn’t mean I avoid the hard or uncomfortable topics. We are all being challenged through this pandemic, and acknowledging our shared struggles not only makes these struggles less of a burden but also opens the door for other people on your team to be vulnerable.

Give and Take — When it comes to communication, feedback is a great way to check for understanding, and you have to be willing to give feedback and take feedback. You may think you communicated something well, but it is possible you missed the mark. Virtual communication has its complexities, making it even more challenging to ensure your message has clarity. Ask for candid feedback around the communication you provide and keep an open mind to receiving your feedback.

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

Our company has a bit of an advantage in the transition to working from home. Being in the technology industry, most of our employees are incredibly tech-savvy and already have the tools, resources, and general know-how needed for remote working. Before the pandemic, a large percentage of our team was already working at various client site locations. So much of the necessary tech for working someplace other than our office location was already in place. The main challenge for us was establishing communication norms and expectations for 100% of our team working remotely, practically overnight.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

We would all be in a much different position if it weren’t for video conferencing capabilities. While a video meeting is not the same as face-to-face, it does replicate being together pretty well — much better than a phone call or email message.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

If I could design a perfect communication system to help our business, it would include features that accommodated cross-talking. Meetings with multiple participants could have more of an in-person, conversational feel. For larger group meetings, particularly the casual “happy hour” get-togethers, it would be nice to have the ability to wander around, in and out of various conversations virtually. A feature similar to the breakout room but less isolated and more fluid would be a great addition.

My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?

Coming from a firm that works exclusively with a cloud-based ERP system (NetSuite) that solves the problems and challenges created by multiple, disparate, and disconnected business management tools, the concept of Unified Communications is music to my ears. The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the need to develop a single source of truth, or unified communication system, for business interactions.

The technology is rapidly evolving, and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

One tool that is growing in importance for us is Gong which records our video calls and provides AI-driven feedback about what was discussed, who did most of the talking, keywords important to our business, and whether or not we discussed next steps as an example. This allows us to ensure quality interactions without having to attend every meeting.

I am also excited about the idea of sentiment analysis and feedback on how a person may be “feeling” on a call through facial expressions, posture, and engagement. This can also feel a little too much like the Thought Police, but I’m confident we will find ways to mitigate that risk. More than anything, I worry about how our team is feeling during the pandemic, and there are few means available to address that currently.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

People can get a little nervous whenever AI enters the conversation, but this apprehension is usually rooted in the unknowns. I firmly believe that once people experience the benefits of AI-driven technology, that unease will fade away pretty quickly.

So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

We have made several adjustments in how we interact with current and potential clients due to the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, we typically engaged on-site with our clients, whereas now, most of our interactions have moved to a remote format. Project kick-offs, requirements gathering, and other related meetings are now conducted over video conferencing platforms. Follow-up questions and updates are typically exchanged via email or direct message app.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?

If you cannot speak to a team member in person, the next best way to give constructive criticism is over video conference. A quality connection will allow you to catch many body language and facial expression nuances even if speaking to your team member through a screen is not ideal. Put yourself in the mindset that the person you are communicating with is actually across the table from you, rather than across the internet, and interact accordingly. Give the meeting your full attention — it is easier to get distracted by your inbox or other notifications when you are meeting through a laptop screen, so set yourself and your teammate up for success by giving the meeting your sole focus.

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

Outside of the typical virtual happy hour events, we have created a sense of camaraderie by mixing in other remote events like virtual bingo, virtual lunch and learns, and virtual professional and personal strengths coaching. We’ve kept consistency with our monthly all-hands meeting by conducting this through video conferencing and making recordings available to those who can’t attend virtually. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve sent a video update to our entire staff almost every week for the past year!

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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 could start a movement to bring the most amount of good to most people, it would involve electronics recycling. Being in the technology field, I see firsthand the amount of electronic waste people create daily. I feel so strongly about bringing awareness to the challenges we face with the repair and proper disposal of our electronic devices that my wife, Hillary Patterson, and I created a short film about this issue called Silicon Mountain. We’d love for you to take a look at the film at www.siliconmountainmovie.com

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thevestedgroup/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHDBLjRuMtER5yUrPhZYKkw
Twitter: https://twitter.com/thevestedgroup
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VestedGroup 
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-vested-group/

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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