“Open, honest communication is key.” with Karl Pomeroy

Open, honest communication is key. For Motili, as we went into COVID, we talked at length as a leadership team about having good communication about where we were going to have challenges and how to support each other and our people. I think that’s an example. I think allowing your leaders to lead, I can’t […]

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Open, honest communication is key. For Motili, as we went into COVID, we talked at length as a leadership team about having good communication about where we were going to have challenges and how to support each other and our people. I think that’s an example. I think allowing your leaders to lead, I can’t stress enough. I like to be involved and knowledgeable inside the business and know more details than a lot of leaders may want to know.

As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karl Pomeroy, GM and President at Motili.

Karl brings more than 30 years in HVAC sales and management to the helm at Motili. He has previously held the position of division president at Goodman Manufacturing, Motili’s parent company, where he was responsible for managing 66 locations in the Western United States. In 2017, Mr. Pomeroy became executive sponsor for Motili, responsible for corporate integration and sales leadership for the company.

Karl has been charged with taking Motili to “the next level” and is doing that by growing the company’s contractor network spanning the United States, connecting single-family, multi-family, and commercial property owners and operators to HVAC contractors, providing one point of contact for HVAC and appliance upgrades and maintenance, coast to coast. Karl has spearheaded enhancements to the technology platform over the past year, the launch of Motili’s asset tagging program.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?

Ibegan my career in the heating and air conditioning industry right out of college, working for Lennox Industries. I spent a good portion of the first part of my career in sales, and then moved into sales management roles with the company. I left Lennox about 16 years ago, and went to work for Goodman Manufacturing, which is part of the Daikin Group, and spent many years running sales and distribution within the organization.

In 2016, Goodman acquired the Motili organization, and as part of the acquisition, I was asked to help with the integration. It was enlightening for me because it gave me an opportunity to see a technology company that was also in the heating and air conditioning space, but one that was changing the business model. A little over a year ago now, I came in to lead the organization. It was like such an easy decision for me because I love the energy Motili has about leading the HVAC business into the technology era.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I have a mistake that I often recall, whether I’m mentoring, or whether thinking about my own leadership style. It happened as I started my first sales management role, I was very intentional about saying, “I’m going to turn this business around.” And I applied a lot of energy toward that goal. I was very much a micromanager and involved with all of the decisions. Instead of working on the business, I was working in the business, and subsequently 18 months later when I left, the business all of a sudden fell right back to where it was when I first got there The mistake and the learning for me was that you have to go about identifying what the core issues are in a business, identifying if there are people or process types of issues, and you have to go about fixing the foundation of the business, not just putting a band-aid on it.

What’s important is, I’ve lived with that mistake in many respects everywhere I’ve gone since, and it really frames how I step into a new role. Now when I take a new role, I work with the team to solve problems, and make sure we have the right people on the team, and we have the right direction and focus. And so, it’s a mistake I look back on and think, “I wish I hadn’t micro-managed so much.” But on the other hand, it’s a mistake I look back and think it did teach me a great managerial lesson that I’ve used the rest of my life.

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 had a boss while I was at Lennox and I remember a time when we were driving and got into a discussion about leadership. He asked me, “What do you believe makes a great leader?” And my response at the time, when I was a fair amount younger, was, “Well, I think great leaders are born and they sort of come to it naturally, and that’s how they lead.” He rebutted that and said, “Well, I have the opinion that great leaders learn…because great leaders fail and learn from it.” I responded, “Bob, I hear that, but I have to be honest, I’d like to consider myself a good to great leader, and I haven’t really failed.”

And he smiled, and looked at me, laughed and said, “You don’t realize you’re failing right now.” The point he was making was, I’d recently taken over a broken business and the results weren’t good. I laughed back and said, “Well, what you don’t realize is we’re winning every single day.” It was this great back and forth, and this boss became a great mentor in my life, as our perspectives were similar yet different. He’s somebody I credit with a lot of my learning, and in the end he was right. I was failing at the time in terms of the business results, but yet I knew enough about what we needed to do to be successful. He was a wonderful guy.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Jeff Wilkins, who was the founder of Motili, is an amazing entrepreneur in the technology space. He has spent most of his life starting and building companies, and I think in many cases his entrepreneurial view is finding businesses where he can bring technology to a business to help reinvent it. I think that’s where he started with Motili.

As I became the leader of the company, one of the things I identified was a strong need to really focus on what makes Motili different. We have refocused our energy back into the HVAC space, identified where we can make a difference, and we have all of the collective energy of the organization moving in that direction. That doesn’t mean that we won’t ultimately get to Jeff’s vision where we support multiple trades and multiple segments of business. For now, we need to get really great at we’re doing. And then once we’re great at that, we’ll be able to leapfrog into almost any area we want to go.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

I don’t view ‘uncertain times’ particularly different than good times. In fact, I’m almost more terrified of good times than I am uncertain times. I think good times lead to complacency. I learned from the CEO at Goodman as he led us through the economic crash back in 2006. One of the things I learned from him was that you do two things and you do them often and really focus on them. They are communicate — whether it’s good or bad. And if you think you’re communicating enough, do it some more, and allow your leaders to lead. The second take away for me was — don’t allow the uncertain times to be an excuse for failure.

And so when we hit COVID this past April, and it had some major impacts on our business, one of the first things we did was agree as a leadership team that we weren’t going to miss the goal. We put our heads down and we talked about the things we would need to do differently, and how do we go to a work from home environment in lieu of sitting in the office every day, and how do we get more collaborative, and how do we communicate? Frankly, to date, the business is performing extremely well through this process. I think it is important to remember that you don’t allow things like uncertain times to be an excuse for failure and make sure you’re communicating with your people openly and honestly.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I don’t ever give up. I just don’t believe in that and I don’t think that way. I’ve never thought of failure as an option, I think failure is a challenge, so giving up just means that we haven’t stepped back and figured it out well enough. I believe that.

I’ve had so many great mentors and leaders all the way back to my parents. I don’t remember a time in my life where thinking failure was an option, was ever part of the thought process of the people that I surrounded myself with. I do believe strongly in surrounding yourself with winners, because when you’re having that bad day, you need to be able to talk to somebody who pulls you out of it. I remember going through a business restructuring a long time ago, and I was finding that every day, because we had consultants in the business, we were talking about what we were going to do. Everybody was super down and depressed, and I just remember thinking to myself, “I cannot go in there and talk to these people every day, because all they want to do is talk about the negative.” I just always try to move in a positive direction, because everything that seems like it’s an impossible challenge, there is a light somewhere in there. You find that light and you focus on that and make it better.

And what sustains my drive? I like to win. I get a certain satisfaction out of seeing a group of people and developing leaders, and watching leaders go on to their own careers and companies and places and be successful. At the same time, I want to have a sustainable and winning business.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Communication. By communication, I mean open, honest communication, and also setting the focus for the business. There’s a time to take a little bit more of a role of helping answer questions and provide direction. When times are going well, it’s a great time to really work and focus on developing your team, so you can allow people to make mistakes and you can coach people through that. I think when things are tough and you know the decisions you make are critical, as a leader you have to be a little bit more prepared to say, “I hear that, but we really have to go here…” and set a better focus, and then communicate what that focus is and let the team do it.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Laugh at yourself, and laugh at life. We had a fun thing we did here at Motili through work from home in COVID, we had a happy hour every Friday with the team. And we did some wacky and crazy things, we always picked a theme for the Friday, and we even had a New Year’s Eve party because it was the end of our fiscal year and we wanted to celebrate it. So, we turned it into a New Year’s Eve party, and there was a ball drop and other fun. A lot of those activities I would participate in and be a little bit goofy because I wanted people to know that it was okay, when we’re going through what’s a pretty scary time, to continue to laugh at yourself.

If I can make fun of myself and have a little bit of fun and laugh, I’d like to think that I’m helping people share that it’s okay that we have these concerns and these fears, but we know that it’s going to get better and we can laugh our way and support each other through it. These calls became something to really look forward to. I think a lot of the people in the company loved to get on the Friday afternoon happy hours, because they were just a good excuse to laugh.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

I think it’s super simple; you just do it. You’re open and you’re honest, and you communicate the news and you make sure that if there’s a plan to be had for how you’re going to address the difficult news, you share that. I think one of the things that far too many leaders do is try to shield their team from bad news. I just think that you have this great, collective group of minds, and then you receive some bad news, how do you figure out as a collective group to get through it? The reality is they’re going to find out, so I’d rather be the one to tell them.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

I think this goes back to one of the earlier questions that talked about purpose driven businesses. The fact of the matter is times may be uncertain, but our future is not. We know exactly what we’re going to do here at Motili. We have a group of inspired leaders and employees that are working very diligently to bring technology to the heating and air conditioning industry, and we all have a vision of what it looks like at the end… well, not the end, there’s never an end right?

We know what our role is in that evolution, and so times aren’t uncertain for us. They’re just not.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Open, honest communication; over communicate. Allow your leaders to lead. Set lofty goals.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

I think assuming failure and then taking precautions can make failure a reality. What I mean is, I sat and watched a number of our competitors the moment COVID hit immediately go into mandated furloughs or layoffs. Not only the Motili organization, but the Goodman organization immediately entered it and said, “Yeah, we need to make some changes and do some things differently, but we’re not going to lay off the people because people are our most valuable resource. We’re going to find a way as a company to keep our people.”

The people that you work with and your teammates are your single most vital resource, and you have to protect them in down times. That’s what I tend to see companies not doing during down times. Employees remember when you treat them well. When they can keep their job, and their 401(k) during a tough time, it’s memorable. Later on, when times get better and companies start throwing job offers at them, it’s amazing how often they won’t leave because they remember how they were treated.

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?

I think it’s all in the attitude. It’s what I talked about in one of the earlier questions. Motili never saw COVID as a reason we would fail. In fact, we saw what we’re doing in our industry as even more necessary in a world where people were trying to socially distance. We became hyper focused on new business because we knew some businesses would go backwards, and we took the right steps to be aggressive and on our toes. And I’m confident that’s today why we’re being successful.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

I feel like we’ve answered this previously, but open, honest communication is key. For Motili, as we went into COVID, we talked at length as a leadership team about having good communication about where we were going to have challenges and how to support each other and our people. I think that’s an example. I think allowing your leaders to lead, I can’t stress enough. I like to be involved and knowledgeable inside the business and know more details than a lot of leaders may want to know. But I also think it’s important while I may want to know a lot of details, I don’t want to step in and micromanage my leaders.

Allow people to figure things out for themselves and come back and present you options. My role is to support people and give them the resources they need and fight for those. In uncertain times, you have to rely even more on that. The best example of a lofty goal is when we sat down at the beginning of COVID, because for us it was the very beginning of our fiscal year, April 1st is our fiscal year. And so it was almost immediately like, “Wow, you’re starting your year on your heels, good luck.”

We agreed as management team that this was not going to be an excuse for failure, and as simple as that, it’s one of those things where once everybody gets that, it’s amazing people refuse to lose. I’m watching every day; we have new business coming in the door, and new opportunities. I just think this team is working about as well as I could ever ask, and it just makes my job easy, by the way.

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

I don’t know if it’s a quote, per se. This is one of the things that I always share with most of my leaders, and it’s from a book that Colin Powell wrote on leadership. He talks about particular battlefield leaders that he experienced in his career and how he could compare three leaders who received the same information. One had to have 90% of the facts to make a decision, one required 20% of the facts, and then one wanted 50% of the facts. His analogy, and I really do believe this, is a really good leader takes in a certain amount of information and then makes a decision, and then is prepared to pivot rapidly if they made the wrong choice. His analogy is that a leader that makes a decision with too little information comes across as the ‘hair on fire,’ reactive type, the one that waits to have 90% of the information, will often make a decision too late, and the good leader finds the right amount of information, makes a decision but is keenly aware that they may make the wrong decision, and if they do, they’ll react and make another one.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Just follow us at www.motili.com to find out what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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