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Steve Richmond: “If you want to create a fantastic work culture you need to hire smart people and give them interesting things to do”

First and foremost: hire smart people and give them interesting things to do.Allowing them to have personal time in what has historically been the business part of the day is a big part of it. We’ve never locked down browsing or personal shopping or anything like that. If employees can save themselves a few minutes […]

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First and foremost: hire smart people and give them interesting things to do.

Allowing them to have personal time in what has historically been the business part of the day is a big part of it. We’ve never locked down browsing or personal shopping or anything like that. If employees can save themselves a few minutes by taking care of some shopping for Christmas from their desk, why would I care about that? I know for a fact that they talked to a client at 10 pm last week and helped them with a problem.

There’s a lot of give and take, and I am a believer in treating everybody as an adult.

Making the environment comfortable, welcoming, and not so rigid is important. The rigid stuff always bothered me. I’m not a big rules guy. It would just seem to me that it kind of is common sense that if you’re hungry, you should probably go have lunch and there doesn’t have to be a rule around the time that you do that.


As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Richmond. Born in Los Angeles, California and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Steve Richmond founded Projetech in 1990 and has led, driven and grown it to its present day success over the past 30 years. Steve transformed a traditional consultant-based organization into an award winning IBM Gold Business partner.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I’m always trying to be creative with how people are compensated. In the early years, we changed compensation plans numerous times, and this is one of the reasons why I say I’m blessed, a lot of people continued to stick around even through some of these pretty weird early plans.

But, they were all geared towards trying to make sure everybody was on the same page and that everyone was trying to do the same thing.

For years, our comp was based on money deposited in the bank on a monthly basis. If we made a thousand dollars, everybody got 10 bucks. This was all about making sure that individuals couldn’t say, “Well, I did my job, but their customers are not paying their bill” or whatever, no matter what their position in the company was.

In that particular compensation plan, everybody was focused on the same thing and that was making sure deposits were in the bank before the end of the month. I actually had employees driving to customer sites and picking up checks to take them to the bank on their own time, to ensure it got there in time for the following month.

We’ve tried a lot of different things. But I think that what you learn from it is how to motivate people. We all get out of bed and go to work for money in some way, shape or form. But it’s all the other things that you can do that make it fun or enjoyable or a learning experience that are important. And a good leader’s role is to make sure everybody is aligned.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Currently, I’m focused on growing the business. Whether it is an improvement to our offerings here domestically, or opening up opportunities in Europe, Asia or in other parts of the world.

I think multicultural businesses are very interesting and people can learn a lot from those in other parts of the world. This will also do a lot to expand the horizons of the Projetech team. Rather than learning everything you know about business from the small petri dish of a town you grew up in, it is better for everybody to learn how things are done elsewhere and what we can take away from that to improve our own offerings.

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?

I think people often get stuck in jobs that they don’t enjoy. You come out of college, oftentimes with extensive student loans, move into the workforce, buy a home, a car, get married and suddenly your ability to change jobs easily, quickly gets cut off. You end up doing a job that maybe you wouldn’t have chosen, out of necessity and needing a paycheck. In the US today, for example, there are a lot of people that work in their current positions simply because of access to health care. They’re not necessarily doing work that fulfills or rewards them and this is unfortunate.

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?

I think happy employees make happy customers.

I like to make sure that my people enjoy what they do because they’re taking care of our ultimate asset, which, for us, is our client base. We’ve got to keep them happy and I don’t think unhappy people can do that.

I think it’s important for them to be comfortable in their own skin and this means they not only take good care of your customers, but they’re more productive. They have a little bounce in their step and look forward to coming into work as opposed to dreading it.

Once you have happy customers, profitability takes care of itself.

So keeping people’s heads in the game, making sure they’re stimulated both by their work and by other things and trying to build a little camaraderie both inside and outside the office is important.

Can you share a few things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

First and foremost: hire smart people and give them interesting things to do.

Allowing them to have personal time in what has historically been the business part of the day is a big part of it. We’ve never locked down browsing or personal shopping or anything like that. If employees can save themselves a few minutes by taking care of some shopping for Christmas from their desk, why would I care about that? I know for a fact that they talked to a client at 10 pm last week and helped them with a problem.

There’s a lot of give and take, and I am a believer in treating everybody as an adult.

Making the environment comfortable, welcoming, and not so rigid is important. The rigid stuff always bothered me. I’m not a big rules guy. It would just seem to me that it kind of is common sense that if you’re hungry, you should probably go have lunch and there doesn’t have to be a rule around the time that you do that.

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?

Fundamentally, we need to understand that no matter how big or small the position or role, people need to be treated fairly. Compensation has to be adequate and people need to be able to make a living and take care of themselves and their families.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

As an employee, I’ve never appreciated somebody that micromanaged.

If I was asked to do something, I took ownership and I did it. The manager that would always check back every 15 minutes or an hour: Are you doing it? Have you taken care of it, did you do what I asked you to do? That always kind of bugged me.

I like to think that more often than not, my team can do the things we need them to do and I assume, because they work for me, that they’re going to do it professionally and efficiently.

I might follow up on something from time to time but I’m not the banging on the desk “are you done yet?” type of manager.

I just think you need to trust that people have the best intentions and if they don’t work out, then they don’t work out. Micro-managing just leads to a negative workplace.

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?

I think primarily, help along the way has come from inside the team. I have some wonderful people who’ve been working with me for decades. Their decisions to pivot half a dozen or more times in the last 20 years as a company, make changes in what we do, and how we go to market, has been infinitely more helpful to me than a personnel changeover every time the business model changed.

I’m lucky to have employed people who have morphed and grown with me and have gone from selling software into the SaaS marketplace and its adaptations.

I’m also blessed to have had the same attorneys on our account, who’ve educated themselves and moved along nicely with me in terms of how the business model has changed and how we manage what it is we do.

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

My father is a coach and I coached Junior High School for a long time. Good coaches will tell you that you can give a halftime speech or you can sit somebody down and have a chat with them about improvement or what you want them to do, but more often than not, the only thing they remember is the last thing you said.

So I always tried to send my team out of the locker room with a positive statement. You don’t want to walk out to the pitcher’s mound during a close game and look your pitcher in the eye and say, “Now, whatever you do, don’t throw this up and in”. You want to walk out and say, “Hey, relax here, bend your back, make a good pitch” and walk away.

The negative stuff is what sticks in your head so I try not to do that to people.

I manage things a lot like coaching. I think you need to leave with a positive comment.

One of my favorite coaches, John Wooden, used to say “Be quick but don’t hurry”.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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