Michael S. Seaver: “Stronger Customer Connection”

Stronger Customer Connection. From communication style, to motivators, to core values, to languages spoken, to life experiences, to socio-economic backgrounds, to strengths, to ethnic heritage, to age, and much more — there are a myriad of ways diverse employees will see a problem and potential solutions. Increased quantities of perspectives and ideas will reduce an organization’s risk. […]

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Stronger Customer Connection. From communication style, to motivators, to core values, to languages spoken, to life experiences, to socio-economic backgrounds, to strengths, to ethnic heritage, to age, and much more — there are a myriad of ways diverse employees will see a problem and potential solutions. Increased quantities of perspectives and ideas will reduce an organization’s risk. Reduced risk will likely lead to more consistent revenue because the organization can adjust as societal events transpire and customer desires evolve.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael S. Seaver.

Michael S. Seaver, Founder of Seaver Consulting, LLC, is an executive coach with expertise in executive leadership, personal branding, change management, organizational effectiveness, and employee engagement. Clients have included executives and leaders at Stanford Healthcare, Honeywell, Boeing, and more. Prior positions included the Director of Talent Sourcing at Banner Health, largest private employer in Arizona with over 50,000 employees, Director of Career Management Alumni Services at Thunderbird School of Global Management, and Assistant Director at W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University coaching MBA students and alumni. He is certified to deliver TTISI assessments (e.g. DISC, 12 Driving Forces, EQ). www.michaelsseaver.com

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was raised in a West Michigan town of 2,500 residents. My grandfather started the family business, Seaver’s Lawn Service, Inc., in 1953 and my father took over in 1987. From ages 12 through 24, I maintained lawns, landscaped properties, and plowed snow, leading crews of five to ten people. I learned the values of hard work, sacrifice and setting long-term goals.

My wife and I moved to Phoenix, AZ in 2003 to escape Michigan’s snow and join a growing economy. Yet, as it slowed in 2008, we divorced, and I suffered minor bouts of depression and understanding my place in the world. Thankfully, I was accepted to and completed an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management where I traveled internationally, interacting with students from 53 countries and saw the importance of authenticity, assertive communication and inclusion of diverse people when conducting business.

I started my coaching and consulting practice in October 2011 and have traveled the world uncovering new perspectives. I’ve been blessed to coach leaders and have worked on a number of projects that have changed corporate cultures from command and control, to align and empower. Through it all, I realized that the more I challenged mainstream ideologies, the more I recognized the patterns in human life, and the more I shared how people are more similar than dissimilar — the more I could uplift others to live authentically and empower them to become coaches to the people around them. All the hardships and lessons I learned had purpose and now I uplift others as they uncover their authentic selves.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

In early 2012, one of my very first clients asked for an outline and timeline of the learning I would be guiding him through in our six sessions together. I didn’t have one. I had taken his money and didn’t have an expected outcome for our time together. I intuitively knew how to ask questions that pulled learning out of people, but I was completely unaware about how to sequentially manufacture learning experiences that would evoke necessary emotions and key learning that would set the person up for what was coming next. Embarrassingly, I invested the next seven nights into reading coaching books, designing a haphazard process, and paying a coach way too much money to tell me the process was okay to use. Lesson learned. Fast forward to today, I have a six-step branded process. Each step has a specific name, activities the client needs to complete, and defined emotions I want him or her to feel. I learned quickly that a coach’s brand is built upon the outcome they’re known to produce in their clients.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our society judges’ businesses on how much money they make, and I don’t play into that narrative. I want to be judged on the impact I had on my client’s lives and how they pay forward what we created together. I met Sara in 2018. She had been following me on social media and finally requested a complimentary 30-minute strategy session with me. The call lasted over 90 minutes. We clicked. Sara, an artist, could not afford my coaching packages, but the voice in the back of my head said I needed to partner with her. I offered to give her my VIP day package in exchange for a custom painting from her. Thankfully, she agreed. I thoroughly enjoyed my time coaching her as she challenged herself, asked insightful questions, and took my homework for her seriously. As she was contemplating what she’d paint for me, she asked me reflective questions I hadn’t considered before. Sara painted a 4’ x 6’ canvas, entitled Parallels, of a lion’s head, bird’s feathers, the sun, and an ocean. When she presented it to me, I cried. I received from her something I will always cherish and the significant progress she made has trickled down to her students, clients, and social media community.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

For the last two years, I’ve provided coaching and consulting to a multi-state top 100 accounting firm. In December 2019, we requested applications, interviewed, selected and then trained and certified 35 of their employees (from all levels of the business), to be internal coaches. Little did we know that three months later COVID-19 was going to turn upside down their traditional business practices. The unexpected daily habit adjustments, business process changes, and emotions the employees started feeling were profound. We chose to create a questionnaire and scoring system that would help the 35 coaches assign a numerical value to any employee’s emotional state. We readied resources internal and external, facilitated an in-depth training session, hosted community of practice sessions, drafted monthly emails to all staff, and created informal communication channels to assess anyone’s need for support. Because of these 35 people and their persistence in checking in with 200+ employees regularly, the organization didn’t have to lay anyone off and their turnover dropped. They’ll meet their revenue target for this fiscal year and employee engagement scores rose. What I hope this teaches others is that command and control leadership structures are being replaced by cultures that align and empower employees at every organization level. Employees want to know what is expected of them, deserve to receive recognition and be cared for as a person, to have their opinions count, and receive chances to learn and grow. Instead of leaving this up to the Principal leaders in the group, we’ve now decentralized certain aspects of leadership by creating an entire organization of coaches.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Open as many lines of communication as possible. Grassroots movements of information will produce innumerable benefits to the employees and the organization. Consider offering open office hours, town halls, suggestion boxes, pulse surveys, weekly reach outs, small focus groups, internal Shark Tank competitions, affinity groups or a Netflix Club. When humans feel psychologically safe to express themselves, through a myriad of means, they feel empowered to share ideas. When humans feel empowered, they’re more likely to take responsibility for their own growth and the betterment of their colleagues. When colleagues see one another as human, gossip, sabotage, and ego take a backseat.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?

I’ve worked with organizations to change their quarterly employee bonus calculators. To set up metrics-driven and time-based goals connected to the organization’s strategic plan. To set a strong vision around client experience and show, month after month, how each employee contributes that experience. But, things really click when a culture of recognizing one another and sharing wins becomes commonplace. According to Tony Robbins’ research, one of the six core human needs is contribution — to add value to the lives of those around us. One of the best, and easiest, methods to help team members feel more confident and a part of something bigger than themselves is to begin one-to-one and team meetings by recognizing one another and then inviting each person to share wins. According to Google’s Project Aristotle, psychological safety is often born out of feeling empowered to share your story vulnerably. When we appreciate a colleague in the way they desire to receive praise, they will feel more confident and likely be more engaged, productive, and willing to go above and beyond for the team. When we offer one another chances to share personal or professional wins, we help them see how they are growing, they take on more responsibility, and share lessons learned for betterment of the team. If your organization bakes these practices into its weekly meetings and all departments and leaders perform them consistently, synchronicity is a given.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Stronger Customer Connection. From communication style, to motivators, to core values, to languages spoken, to life experiences, to socio-economic backgrounds, to strengths, to ethnic heritage, to age, and much more — there are a myriad of ways diverse employees will see a problem and potential solutions. Increased quantities of perspectives and ideas will reduce an organization’s risk. Reduced risk will likely lead to more consistent revenue because the organization can adjust as societal events transpire and customer desires evolve. I worked with a Phoenix-based state and local tax accounting firm and when the CARES Act was passed in 2020, their leadership team invited every member of the team to offer ideas via an online survey, all-team town hall, and smaller focus groups. This investment of time paid significant dividends as they developed a number of new ways to communicate and engage their clients that didn’t exist in 2019.
  2. Peer-to-Peer Learning. The more people I coach, the more I see that words don’t teach, experiences do. An employee can read a book, listen to a podcast, attend a webinar, but the new information will not be fully absorbed until he applies it when serving clients. In 2018, I coached two leaders within a consulting practice. We talked through the value of hiring a learning and development associate and increasing the budget for employees to attend offsite trainings. We then realized we could solve a cross-functional communication challenge the organization had (and engage and educate people) by having their employees volunteer to lead webinars, book clubs, one-to-one mentorship, write how-to manuals, etc. and then work on projects together over two to three months to cement the learning objectives. Employees were valued for diverse skill sets, learned new skills with minimal expense, and we opened lines of communication that were closed before.
  3. Emotional Intelligence. As you climb the corporate ladder, your IQ slowly becomes less relevant than your EQ. Your capacity to listen, connect disparate dots, and make people feel a part of something bigger than themselves makes people want to be led by you. In order to develop strong self and social awareness, the capacity to regulate your emotions, and deepen relationships over a long period is dependent upon how many diverse people you have experiences with. Each of them teaches you critical lessons about yourself, that there are multiple solutions to every problem, and that the more diverse the team, the better you’re able to serve clients. Years ago, a friend of mine was about to complete an HR internship at Amazon. Prior to starting, she set a goal to have 55 informational interviews in the three months she was there. She met her goal, gained perspectives she’d never considered before, and became a more empathetic, accepting, and inclusive leader.
  4. Employee Engagement. In 2019, I helped a tech startup that was growing rapidly with their company culture. Although the growth was good financially, employee turnover was high. I needed a means to help their young leadership understand that their office needed to feel like home, a place that employees would want to spend time. One where they were valued for their opinions, were getting feedback weekly, and felt they could trust their colleagues to produce quality work. After completing an employee engagement survey, we created a matrixed, cross-functional team that was given authority to implement select ideas presented in the survey. This diverse group of employees worked to design an enhanced onboarding process, a handful of leaders received a change management certification, and every-other-week supervisor to employee one-to-one meetings began. Because this team collected diverse opinions and allowed a diverse team to implement change, their turnover reduced 53% by the same time in early 2020.
  5. Branding. In Robert Cialdini’s best-selling book, Influence, we learn about the “law of liking.” Cialdini’s research shows that humans subconsciously trust and prefer doing business with and buying products from people like themselves. The more diverse your customer-facing workforce is, the more diverse your customer base will likely be. If you train your employees to ask great how, what, and why questions, and willingly share commonalities with customers, diversity will be to your benefit.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m attempting to teach people to stop looking to celebrities, athletes, government officials, or subject matter experts for answers to their lives’ most pressing questions. I believe Teddy Roosevelt said it succinctly when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” External stories can be motivating, but someone else’s unique journey shouldn’t be emulated. Your journey is yours. I believe each of us has the answers inside us already. We have to dig to find them. By being still, sitting in meditation or prayer, and crashing disparate ideas together, an empowering path forward will be made available to you. Instead of believing in something outside yourself, believe in yourself. I share my and my client’s lessons via my blog. On my social channels, I share pictures of each step of my journey. My online classes and my next book openly share my step-by-step processes for becoming your most authentic self. I know you have the answers inside of you, do you trust yourself enough to listen?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Your challenges aren’t in the way… they are the way,” Ron and Mary Hulnick. I was sold hook, line, and sinker on perfection. On being perfect. On not making mistakes. On projecting an image of who I wanted others to think me to be. For years, I was unhappy. Miserable. Inauthentic. One day, I considered suicide because I couldn’t find a way out of the hole I dug for my life. Somehow, I came across the Hulnick’s quote and I was able to connect the dots in how my life’s challenges happened for a reason. I was meant to experience them so that I could learn how to overcome them, and then guide others to overcome the same challenges for themselves. Today, I safely walk people and organizations through the most emotionally messy changes. By choosing to be the person I needed when I was younger, I proactively teach leaders how to heal themselves and then they pay it forward coaching and mentoring others. As the tide rises, each and every boat does as well.

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?

I’m immensely grateful for my stepdaughter, Aleah. Her mom and I dated for seven years (did not marry), and although she and I are no longer together, Aleah is now 20 and an even bigger part of my life. Over the last decade, I have had four coaches, two therapists, and have paid for countless meals for mentors to help me find clarity. I’ve come to believe that children are our greatest teacher. They mirror back to us the very things we need to improve in ourselves, remind us about the purpose of human life, and the potential that sits latent inside. Shortly after she graduated high school, we backpacked across Europe. In Munich, Germany, she asked me a question I never ever considered. She asked me if I’d get matching tattoos with her. My heart melted. Two weeks later, we both had ink on the inside of our biceps. Because of Aleah, I honor diverse perspectives more easily, I display my authentic self with more confidence, and I help heal my clients’ relationships with their children.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Author Dan Pink. I envy his data-driven approach, the way he tells stories, and his empowering Pinkcast. I’d like to learn about how his parents shaped him emotionally, lessons he learned from traumatic events, and what he hopes to leave society with.

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