INVEST IN YOUR TEAM: The people part of your business should never be transactional. Employees should not just be a name or a number; they should be treated as a valued facet of your organization. Example: Some simple, yet meaningful, ways Stratos invests in culture is by sending birthday cards and anniversary cards that include a small monetary gift and personalized handwritten note from each manager. Including these individual messages fosters a deeper connection, showing employees they are more than just a means to an end within your organization.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacy McCall, President and CEO of ServiceMaster by Stratos. Stacy began her professional career as an engineer with Mobile after graduating from Mississippi State University. With experience in creating repeatable and sustainable processes, the move into a ServiceMaster Clean franchise was a natural transition. After serving the organization as vice president of administration and program development and then as chief financial officer, Stacy took over the top position as president/CEO. Through her vision and passion for excellence, Stacy has led ServiceMaster by Stratos — which now has more than 500 employees across North Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama — to become one of the largest ServiceMaster Clean franchises in the world. As a businesswoman, Stacy leads with “two Cs” — culture and communication. The strong internal culture coupled with the motto, “service before self,” lays a path for the Stratos team to succeed. Over the years, Stacy and her team have received awards such as Memphis Business Journal’s Super Women in Business and Small Business of the Year, as well as Inside Memphis Business’ CEO of the Year. Stacy currently serves as treasurer of the for Memphis in May International Festival Board of Directors and president-elect of NAWBO Memphis.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Stacy! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Two years into marriage, my husband and I were young professionals working in the oil industry. One day, he told me he wanted to start a business and that he wouldn’t do it without me. We took a leap of faith when the opportunity to become independent business owners presented itself. After living off Ramen Noodles and macaroni and cheese for a bit, we eventually got the hang of things. I’m so proud of this business God has allowed us to build together.
I serve as the company’s CEO and my husband, Chris, is COO.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting and rewarding experience I’ve had since taking on this leadership role at Stratos is being named winner for the Memphis Business Journal’s Small Business Awards for the 61+ employee category in 2015. The buzz amongst our team that night was infectious, with each member expressing how he or she had hoped it was our year. The anticipation and excitement was evident as the team and I responded almost instantly as the word ‘Service — ’ came off the lips of the presenter. I could think of no better venue for the Stratos team to be recognized for their hard work and dedication. It was a wonderful way to begin our 35th anniversary year as a winner at the 35th Annual Small Business Awards.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One really exciting thing going on right now that is strengthening Stratos’ workplace culture is the training of our supervisors for the future. Our service partners, a term we use for our employees, going through this training now are so excited about the opportunities before them. They understand we have made a conscious decision not to hire from the outside and strictly promote from within. By doing so, we are living out our second corporate objective — helping people develop. As an organization, we are committed to providing employees with skills training and opportunities to accomplish meaningful and significant achievements both personally and professionally.
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?
It all boils down to the big C — communication. The interviewer’s and interviewee’s desire to make the hire work is so strong, so it’s easy to get caught up and sweep what appear to be small issues under the rug. Ninety-five percent of what the candidate offers may align with your business, which may make the person seem like a shoo-in. However, if that remaining 5 percent clashes with the culture you have established, things can go downhill quickly after the person is on board. You must communicate your company culture clearly in the interview process.
Hiring for culture is not easy. There are skills assessments, personality tests, past experiences that show up on resumes, but to really know that someone is good culture fit, which in turn makes someone a happy employee, is hard to determine through short interactions. Nowadays, you don’t have a trial-for-hire period in most mid-level or upper-level positions. Hiring is not about just looking for the hard skills, it’s about looking for soft skills, too. We like to grow from within and help people develop because you know they’re already happy in and they’re a good culture fit.
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?
a) Company productivity: With cleaning companies like Stratos losing up to 55 percent of their customer base every year as a result of poor service — according to Franchise Help — encouraging employees to be productive is essential to a company’s success and longevity. To ensure we don’t contribute to that 55 percent, we invest in the whole person. As an organization, we are committed to providing employees with skills training and opportunities to accomplish meaningful and significant achievements both personally and professionally. If we can’t meet our service partners’ needs, they will not be able to meet the needs of customers. We are in a people business, so investing in our people is at the forefront of all we do.
For example, Stratos partners with the Mid-South Employer Resource Network to assist team members who have professional and personal challenges that keep them from performing at their best. Stratos has the opportunity to hire what is known as a success coach. These talented coaches work to help individuals navigate valuable resources in the community in order to overcome barriers they face. Whether it is finding affordable housing and childcare, providing financial counseling or assisting with transportation solutions, these success coaches tackle a wide range of issues. Stratos is grateful for the impact this program is having on its service partners’ lives.
b) Company profitability: If employees are unhappy, you likely have a high turnover rate. If you have a high turnover rate, your profitability is going to be much lower than it could be. Turnover comes at a cost — a very high cost of $600 billion annually accord to Work Institute’s 2018 Retention Report.
It’s important to note, though, that we oftentimes celebrate our service partners leaving, not because we are happy to see them go but because we are thrilled that they have outgrown their work at Stratos. Moving to a dream career or even entering a field they just completed a degree for means that we have done our part in helping our people develop, which is our second corporate objective.
c) Employee health and wellbeing: Every member of our management team uses a health app, which reports heart rate data and tracks steps taken throughout their day. This is a great way to encourage physical activity, but that is not the sole reason we encourage them to wear the gadgets. In a recent management meeting, we had everyone report how many steps they had taken that week. Why? Because those steps not only correlate with how they are actively training and inspecting in their facilities, they show the investment they make in their service partners and their clients.
The most steps taken by a member of my management team was 28,638 in one day. Another took 24,000. You can imagine the gratification I felt seeing those numbers. The more steps my team takes, the healthier they are and the more I see their dedication to meeting the needs of their frontline service partners. Steps correlate to commitment. Steps correlate to effective management practices. Steps correlate to relationships.
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?
- BE INTENTIONAL: The biggest problem with business leaders these days is they have lost touch with their frontline staff. They are so disconnected from the reality that their people live in, that what they think will be valued by employees doesn’t resonate at all. Example: Every year, our team has an annual company outing to a minor league baseball game. Team members are encouraged to bring their family along for the fun as well. When selecting which game we want to attend, we are intentional and always select a matchup that offers post-game fireworks because some of our team members have never seen them before. It seems small, but over the years, we have found this added experience means a great deal to them. A leader who is disconnected could never fathom that their employees have never seen fireworks. In 2018, a service partner who is mentally challenged missed the game portion of the outing because of a funeral. The family still came to the stadium afterward, though, because he wanted to see the fireworks.
- BUILD RELATIONSHIPS: You don’t leave your bags at the door when you walk into Stratos, and I am a firm believer that should be the case at every place of business. When you join our team, we know we get the whole person. Some employers think you have to separate personal life and business. There is no way to compartmentalize what is going on outside of work from performance at work, though. Get to know your employees. Build relationships with them. It breeds loyalty! Example: Stratos partners with the Mid-South Employer Resource Network to assist team members who have professional and personal challenges that keep them from performing at their best. Stratos has the opportunity to hire what is known as a success coach. These talented coaches work to help individuals navigate valuable resources in the community in order to overcome barriers they face. Whether it is finding affordable housing and childcare, providing financial counseling or assisting with transportation solutions, these success coaches tackle a wide range of issues. Stratos is grateful for the impact this program is having on its service partners’ lives.
- INVEST IN YOUR TEAM: The people part of your business should never be transactional. Employees should not just be a name or a number; they should be treated as a valued facet of your organization. Example: Some simple, yet meaningful, ways Stratos invests in culture is by sending birthday cards and anniversary cards that include a small monetary gift and personalized handwritten note from each manager. Including these individual messages fosters a deeper connection, showing employees they are more than just a means to an end within your organization.
- BE ACCESSIBLE: Leaders can oftentimes get so caught up in the grind of running the business that they become too busy to keep a finger on the pulse of their people. Allow yourself to be accessible. Let your people know they can come to you with complaints, praise or just to share a life update. By doing so, you make your team member’s views and opinions feel valued, and you reiterate the fact that your company is relationship-driven. Example: Years ago, a gentleman named Jimmy was walking in front of our office and overheard a manager standing outfront telling a client that he did not have a free service partner to send at the moment to complete a job. Jimmy, a felon who was struggling to find a job after finishing a 15-year drug-related jail sentence, stopped and asked if he could work for Stratos. The manager brought Jimmy in directly to me, he was interviewed and we gave him a job. Jimmy has been with us ever since and has shared his testimony of turning his life around to so many. He is such an inspiration to us all to say the least. We’re currently working with our video team to create a piece that shares his impactful story. We plan on it serving as a motivational video for all levels of our staff.
- COMMUNICATE: The relationship between culture and communication is an intimate one. For businesses, culture is crafted, conveyed and learned through communication. The reverse is also true — communication practices are largely created, shaped and shared by culture. Workplace communication is essential for a business to operate smoothly and effectively. It increases overall company performance, as well as overall employee satisfaction. Creating a solid foundation for a healthy company culture — which is established through healthy communication — should be a top priority. Example: For Stratos, internal communication and cultivating culture is something we believe is imperative to the success of our organization, as there is a direct correlation between the success of our service partners and the satisfaction of our customers. Executing effective communication at all levels is a priority in our daily operations, as it empowers our people with knowledge and understanding, as well as delivers a consistent brand promise beyond our people to our customers and business partners.
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?
I think we have to just start somewhere when it comes to building company culture. Oftentimes, we experience paralysis by analysis, thinking we have to be perfect right out of the gate. Job hunters experience this same paralysis by analysis as well. People have this idea of a “perfect job.” They think if a job isn’t perfect all the time, then it’s not a good fit. Years ago, people did not job hop. Nowadays people may have to go through a few options before they find that really good fit, and that’s OK! There are simply more opportunities now than there once were. An individual may say, “I want to be an IT person in a specific area of business.” Five years from now, that IT job may not exist because technology is always changing.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
As CEO of ServiceMaster by Stratos, I serve as a leader to more than 500 employees, or service partners as we like to call them. I work in the business, on the business and everything in between. You might see me in a boardroom making crucial business decisions one day, and the next you may see me sweeping a floor alongside a service partner. To me, leadership isn’t just delegation or instruction. Effective leadership requires one to be a servant leader by getting into the thick of things with the team when needed, treating others with respect and setting a good example.
From ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., servant leadership has proven to be successful time and time again. Why, then, is this style so rare or not talked about among business leaders today? I believe it’s because it’s not flashy, easy or quick. In our world today, we love immediacy. We can thank technology and man’s drive to the top for that. It allows us the luxury of skipping critical steps in various processes to get to our end result in record time. In some instances, this is a good thing, but if we let that idea spill over into how we lead, we miss out on opportunities to invest in and develop our team and ourselves. At Stratos, we embrace servant leadership not only because it aids in the success of our business, raises levels of trust in our leaders and enhances service partner commitment to our organization, but also teaches our service partners lessons they can apply to all areas of life, especially those outside the workplace.
I exhibit servant leadership by working alongside employees when we are in a crunch. For example, in 2017, our business grew very quickly when we took on the janitorial duties at 45 educational facilities. Our service partner roster had to grow by 72 percent to meet the customer’s needs. With that rapid growth came some growing pains. Oftentimes, you would find me sweeping classroom floors alongside service partners at a local high school. As a leader, you just do what needs to be done. There is no job too small.
Servant leadership is all about making hard decisions for the betterment of the team rather than yourself. We simply cannot risk the health of the organization for our own comfort. We can’t turn a blind eye. We can’t avoid the tough calls. As hard as it is to do, we have to peel back the onion to find out where mistakes are being made, even if we know it will uncover problems that will be difficult to face. Great things don’t happen in the middle of the road. The only thing there are yellow stripes and dead armadillos.
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?
To be honest, the only person who set an example for me was my mom. I unfortunately did not have a mentor growing up, which is why I am so adamant about mentoring here in Memphis. Over the last several years, I have participated in Mentoring Monday, a female-focused networking event hosted by the Memphis Business Journal. It’s basically speed dating for professionals, allowing young businesswomen to connect with those more tenured.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I can be found in high-pressure meetings or sweeping floors at a school before the sun comes up. To outsiders, it would seem like this wide variety of tasks would be enough, but true leaders cannot stop there. Memphis, Tennessee, where Stratos is headquartered, is a wonderful city. However, there are social and economic issues challenging it. With many of these issues impacting business, leaders like myself must have a seat at the table. Who better than professionals with leadership experience and connections to move a city forward? We must make it a goal to work as hard from the outside in as we do from the inside out if we want to bring goodness to the world.
Whether investing in the city by serving on boards, volunteering with a nonprofit or participating in business or civic groups, you are helping give your team a voice. For example, I know many on my team face transportation issues that affect their personal and professional lives, so we’ve partnered with Commute Options, a local nonprofit helping make public transportation more accessible. We also understand that our team members fall on hard times, so we maintain a benevolence fund that is organized by our management team. When a service partner is faced with a crisis, his or her coworkers can nominate him or her to receive a monetary gift.
Another way I have leveraged success to spread a little goodness is by allowing the homeless population to use our washer and dryer to launder their clothes every week. They know they can stop by Stratos once a week, every week, to do a load of laundry. In doing so, I hope I bring them a little joy, restore their dignity and remind them that they matter.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. You will never find quality at this price.” -Abraham Lincoln
I see this quote played out every day in my business, from a lead or a supervisor or manager to customers and my people, in that absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is a special person that can be given leadership opportunities over another and use it for their edification and not their detriment. People leave our organization when they understand that their team members are not a means to an end, but are part of their success story. We like people to self select out who find more value in managing people than leading people.
I hold those that are in leadership roles more accountable for their actions than I do the frontline team. The accountability is so high because we value how they treat their team. It’s so easy to push the blame and responsibility to others instead of turning the mirror around to themselves to ask, “What did I do to cause this person to fail?”
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 think a movement that helps us all emphasize the two C’s — culture and communication — could change the world of business dramatically. The relationship between culture and communication is an intimate one, especially in the workplace. For businesses, culture is crafted, conveyed and learned through communication. The reverse is also true — communication practices are largely created, shaped and shared by culture.
Workplace communication, as well as a positive company culture, is essential for a business to operate smoothly and effectively. It increases overall company performance, as well as overall employee satisfaction. Creating a solid foundation for a healthy company culture — which is established through healthy communication — should be a top priority for any business.
For Stratos, internal communication and cultivating culture is something we believe is imperative to the success of our organization, as there is a direct correlation between the success of our service partners and the satisfaction of our customers. Executing effective communication at all levels is a priority in our daily operations, as it empowers our people with knowledge and understanding, as well as delivers a consistent brand promise beyond our people to our customers and business partners.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!