Lead with empathy. Work is challenging, and, in the current climate, most personal lives are challenging right now as well. It’s essential to look at everyone around you with grace and try to understand what each person may be experiencing.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Gallagher.
Ryan Gallagher is the CEO of InfoWorks, a business and technology consulting firm headquartered in Nashville. As CEO, Gallagher is responsible for maintaining employee satisfaction, achieving client satisfaction, and exceeding the board’s revenue and profit goals each year.
Prior to joining InfoWorks, Ryan served as a Senior Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington, DC, where he advised senior level clients on various critical and strategic issues. During his time at Booz Allen Hamilton, Ryan directed numerous strategic assessments and projects, focusing on strategy development, operations management, and performance management for prominent companies. During his consulting career, Ryan has worked extensively within the healthcare and manufacturing industries. Ryan has also held positions as a Managing Consultant for IBM, a Professional Services Lead for Prescient Systems, and Senior Consultant for Andersen (formerly Arthur Andersen).
Ryan is active in the local Nashville community. Currently, Ryan serves as treasurer on the board of directors for High Hopes Development Center. He is an ambassador and past board member for TechBridge and a former board member for Alive Hospice and Junior Achievement.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began my career in consulting right out of college to experience a variety of industries and discover where my passions might lie. I ended up falling in love with consulting and have made it my career. It’s a unique opportunity to regularly work with different businesses and understand their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In my first few months with the InfoWorks team, I attended our annual holiday party. At the party, seven employees surprised everyone by revealing they had created an InfoWorks band to perform. At that moment, I realized I was working for a fun company. This group of software developers, healthcare consultants, business consultants and more spent time outside of work using their unique talents to go above and beyond for their coworkers. It was an impactful first impression of the company culture.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We recently wrapped up a project with a local community health organization in Nashville, Tenn. They are working to provide COVID-19 vaccine access to underserved communities in Nashville. They were stuck on a software problem that InfoWorks resolved to make it easier to access a COVID-19 vaccine. Increasing access to the COVID-19 vaccine will help individuals and the community exponentially, and we were honored to play a part in making this happen.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
COVID-19 was truly an accelerator of things that were to come in five to ten years. As a result of the pandemic, people started to evaluate every aspect of their lives, including their jobs. Many people are making career pivots for passion rather than necessity right now. They are realizing their jobs don’t make them happy, and they are working to change that. There is also less of a clear line between work and home right now. With many people working remotely, the erosion of the work-life balance we have seen from the digital and mobile age has increased significantly. Now work and home are in the same space, and most people aren’t used to that.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Company morale and culture are directly related to company productivity, profitability and employee health and wellbeing. Unhappy employees will not have a high output in the quantity or quality of their work. Unhappiness can also result in retention issues, directly affecting profitability. It is expensive to hire people and train them to the same proficiency level the previous employee had.
Above the company’s productivity and profitability, unhappiness at work can ultimately affect the employee’s health and wellbeing outside of work. This eventually creates a snowball effect, creating worse conditions for the employee inside and outside the office. This discontentment can spread and cause other employees to feel unhappy at work and result in the downward spiral of an entire department or team.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Lead with empathy. Work is challenging, and, in the current climate, most personal lives are challenging right now as well. It’s essential to look at everyone around you with grace and try to understand what each person may be experiencing. When COVID-19 forced us to work remotely, we made sure to have regular check-ins with each employee to see how they were processing everything and how we could help. Whether that looked like adjusting their working hours or getting them an additional monitor for their work-from-home set-up, we wanted to make sure every employee felt valued.
- Be accountable and open to failing as a leader. Mistakes happen, and managers aren’t immune to that. It’s important to admit when you have fallen short and recognize what you’ll do differently next time. This communicates to your employees that it’s OK to make mistakes; what’s important is learning from them. From time to time, I’ve encouraged people with little or no experience in a subject area to work on a project so they learn from that experience. We acknowledged from the beginning that there would be mistakes, but that we would work through those mistakes and learn together along the way. Most importantly, I told them I would take the blame for the errors.
- Get feedback. You may think you have the pulse on your team and what they feel, but you likely don’t know the whole picture. We gather feedback formally through employee engagement surveys and informally by having intentional conversations and one-on-one meetings. One year on the employee surveys, we got a lot of feedback that our office needed some aesthetic upgrades. So, we listened by painting the office a fresh color and buying standing desks. We recognized that it was a small task that could make a significant culture impact.
- Celebrate success. Too often, we achieve something and then quickly move on to the next task. Build a habit of celebrating wins — big or small. When a person feels recognized for an accomplishment, it makes them happy and energizes them to do it again. We frequently send handwritten notes and gift cards or take people out to dinner for big and small achievements alike.
- Crowdsource. Empower your employees to contribute in solving problems. Internal problems don’t always have to be solved by leadership. Your employees may have great ideas different than yours. We frequently create committees to work on company culture, such as a committee for changing the style of company-wide meetings to make them more engaging or a committee in charge of planning social events for the office.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
Allow for different styles of work. Some people need autonomy, while others need managing and oversight. A 9–5 schedule may work for some and not for others. We are all individuals with different needs and work styles. The quicker the executive suite and managers learn to manage for the individual, not the collective, the more we will see a change in work culture. Above all, meet people where they are. If someone experiences a huge life change, they shouldn’t have to leave a company they love just because they can’t fit into the proper “mold” anymore.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I tend to vary my leadership style based on peoples’ needs at different times. To do this, I have to stay in tune with my employees and know their needs at any given time. I meet with employees regularly, ask a lot of questions and listen intentionally.
I also firmly believe that being decisive is more important than getting it exactly right. I empower my employees and teams to make decisions themselves while letting them know I am always available if they need my help.
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?
My grandfather’s advice and the way he lived has served as an inspiration for me to get to where I am today. He was an incredibly hard-working man with a firm belief in work ethic. He instilled that belief in me as well. He pushed me to lean into difficult situations and work hard to find solutions. His advice plays a prominent role in the way I consult businesses and lead my team.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
InfoWorks encourages its employees to get involved in the local community, whether that’s volunteering or serving on boards. I’m grateful to serve on the board of High Hopes. The Preschool provides inclusive education to children with and without special needs in a research-based, developmentally appropriate manner. The High Hopes clinic helps children and youth from birth to 21 years achieve success in all areas of their daily lives by offering physical, occupational, speech and feeding therapies. I am incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to help families, like my own, who have a child with special needs.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill. This quote is still relevant to me every day. As a leader, these are essential truths for myself and those working alongside me.
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. 🙂
I strongly believe in the importance of the advancement of healthcare. With the advancement and personalization of medicine and healthcare, we could see a more significant number of people freed from the limitations and grief of a complicated disease or disability. I have seen this to be true in my family, and I long to see this for others too.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!