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“To create a fantastic work culture there must be a meshing of values and culture”, with Paul Blanco and Phil Laboon

Culture cannot be separated from values. You can’t just adopt a culture because it sounds good or attractive. If you are leading a company or any organization, there must be a meshing of values and culture that ultimately will lead to success. Employees must see that a leader is living the culture he or she […]


Culture cannot be separated from values. You can’t just adopt a culture because it sounds good or attractive. If you are leading a company or any organization, there must be a meshing of values and culture that ultimately will lead to success. Employees must see that a leader is living the culture he or she expounds. One intangible tool for having a culture that promotes success can be one’s own mindset, though this is often overlooked. There are characteristics and benefits of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. One can drive success and the other possibly contribute to failure in both professional and personal contexts. There are ways to “rewire” our cognitive habits to shift a mindset from fixed to a much more rewarding and nourishing growth one.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Blanco, the founder and CEO of Barnum Financial Group, an award-winning provider of comprehensive personalized planning, investment and protection solutions, and financial literacy programs to clients across the United States. Throughout his career, Paul has been a tireless advocate for his firm and the communities it serves as well as for the financial services industry. He began his career at MetLife as a financial services representative in 1991. In just two years, he moved into management, taking over a seven-person MetLife office in Trumbull, Connecticut. Today, Barnum has over 30 offices in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. In recognition of his vision and leadership, Paul became the youngest inductee into the MetLife Managers’ Hall of Fame. Paul is committed to creating and maintaining an environment and culture at Barnum that promotes productivity, creativity, and teamwork. As a result, since 2010, Barnum has consistently been ranked as a “Best Place to Work” and “Best Company to Work For” by organizations such as the Fairfield County Business Journal, Providence Business News, New York State SHRM, The Business Council, and Best Companies Group.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this career path?

Like a lot of young kids, I really liked sports, and I played all through high school and college, where I was on the baseball team. I loved being on the team and in fact being a team leader. The whole sports atmosphere was motivating to me. I wanted a career where I could work with others and help them succeed. One day while I was with some team mates at one of the ball fields I saw a someone in the distance pulling slowly and deliberately with a harness what was clearly a very heavy sled. It was impressive, and when I asked someone who it was, it turned out to be Manny Ramirez, who became a star outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. When I thought about it later, it helped me realize how much hard work it took to be great at something.

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

Yes, something very exciting that we think will open new opportunities for people to learn how to manage their money and to meet the many financial challenges that arise throughout life. Barnum Financial, with offices in five states, has been a pioneer in bringing objective, non-salesy financial education for employees into the workplace where we have conducted workshops in hundreds of organizations. We are about to launch a new and innovative approach to financial ed for the communities we serve with “The Establishment,” located in its own newly constructed space away from our main office. It will offer people from different backgrounds and occupations the opportunity to learn about and discuss financial topics. We think it will be particularly attractive to young professionals to learn in a friendly group setting with an opportunity to enjoy one another and even do a little wine tasting on occasion.

OK, let’s jump to the main part of the interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think this number is so high?

When you look at a sample of the research and studies about job dissatisfaction — and job satisfaction — a lot of it comes down to the culture of the organization and, most importantly, whether that culture is being infused throughout the workforce by leaders, and that is leaders in the plural. A CEO cannot do it alone. He or she must bring others on board. And there is no one ideal culture. Companies should implement what is the best fit for the organization and the employees. Most importantly, employees must see that the leaders take the culture seriously and are engaged in making it work for everyone.

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?

It is hard to imagine a company succeeding by any measure in the face of an unhappy work force. It would be of the utmost importance to get at the roots of the problem or problems. Productivity of course is a measure, or reflection of, output, and that in turn relies on employee commitment and energy. We are past the stage where simply issuing orders is an effective way to run a company. So almost certainly, productivity would suffer. Sagging productivity would undercut profitability and harm any company, especially one that could not re-invest adequately to meet new demands in a competitive market place.

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?

— Participate in non-commercial company events together — Bowl-a-Thon to raise money for a charity, build a playground, watch World Cup together, holiday parties for employees’ children, company picnics, etc. Employees really enjoy the interaction.

Example: Improved team cohesion after we have an event.

— Thank/recognize employees’ achievements — whether work related or public service, employees, like everyone else, want to be recognized for what they do. Recognition can come in multiple ways — an item in a company publication, actual presentation of an award, award dinners, or even a week when employees can compliment co-workers by dropping small notes in a box.

Example: A number of employees and managers remark to me that various types of recognition inspire extra effort and pride.

— Circulate — don’t spend all day in your office, in meetings or on phone calls. Sit down w. some employee(s) in company cafeteria. I tell my assistant not to schedule things for me for a full day. I spend a good part of my time in the office chatting with colleagues. Part of the conversation can be about some specific business issue, but part of it is just to catch up with them and see if there are things I can help them with.

Example: Casual conversations frequently have led to heading off potential problems before they emerge.

– Make “First Day” as a new hire a big deal — small gift, group breakfast with your new colleagues, meet with CEO in some companies if size permits, or senior manager.

Example: Numerous people who have been with the firm for years tell me they still remember their first day fondly, and that the reception they received reinforced their feeling that they had chosen the right firm.

— Bring in experts from outside to speak at meetings/events who can inspire, give fresh perspective. Getting the right mix of speakers can incentivize and spur sales.

Example: Speakers such as Geno Auriemma, record winning coach of UConn women’s basketball, the highly regarded author Dr. Rick Rigsby, and Mel Robbins, who stresses attaining a happier mindset have all been well received and their suggestions often take root with employees.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we must “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?

Culture cannot be separated from values. You can’t just adopt a culture because it sounds good or attractive. If you are leading a company or any organization, there must be a meshing of values and culture that ultimately will lead to success. Employees must see that a leader is living the culture he or she expounds. One intangible tool for having a culture that promotes success can be one’s own mindset, though this is often overlooked. There are characteristics and benefits of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. One can drive success and the other possibly contribute to failure in both professional and personal contexts. There are ways to “rewire” our cognitive habits to shift a mindset from fixed to a much more rewarding and nourishing growth one.

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

I would say it is a blend of formal and informal with the aim of empowering individuals to make the most of their talents and to keep learning. As a CEO I am very accessible, and so are our other senior managers. We have a dress code because we are continually interacting with clients and the public. I lead the organization, but I want the employees, who often work on teams, to be leaders in their own spheres as well.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have received a lot of help from various mentors and colleagues over the years. To cite one would shortchange others. Collectively, these people made me realize that you don’t succeed on your own. That is a message I try to convey throughout the company. Accepting help is as important as providing it to someone else.

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

One of the most satisfying things my wife Mindee and I have done is establishing the Barnum Foundation for Life, a non-profit supported by employees that over the years has done a great deal of good in the many communities Barnum serves in several states. The board of the Foundation is composed of Barnum colleagues from all areas of the company. We support many non-profits in local communities. One of our most satisfying events is our “Bikes for Kids” program, which gives new bikes and helmets to children who otherwise would not have one. The bikes are donated at a fun family event, where the kids do not know that they are going to get a bike until they are rolled out at the end. The result is shrieks of joy.

I also speak at industry events to help educate others on approaches that can help them succeed, and I get a lot of satisfaction from that.

Thank you so much for joining us.

About the Author:

Phil Laboon wants to live in a world where actions speak louder than words, people shout their stories from roof tops, and where following one’s passion is the norm. As a serial entrepreneur and investor, his personal and professional life has spotlighted in hundreds of publications such as People Magazine, Rueters, Forbes, Inc, HuffingtonPost, and CBS This Morning. Phil also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column on the subject of how great leaders build great companies. When he’s not building memorable brands or launching exciting startups, you can find him backpacking exotic countries looking for new inspiration and challenges. If you would like to book Phil for an entertaining speaking engagement about inbound marketing or growing a business, he can be contacted HERE.

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