ROBERT GLAZER is the founder and Managing Director of global performance marketing agency, Acceleration Partners, one of the biggest, fully-remote workplaces in the US with over 100 employees. Bob’s secret to success is hiring great people and rewarding for results, not hard work.
His tips for working remotely:
- Don’t reward hard work. Reward results.
- If results aren’t met, instigate a mindful transition to a position that is more suitable.
- Measure performance often.
- Use radical candor.
- Document failure and learn from it.
- Take charge of your notifications and productivity.
- Focus on values when hiring. Look for people who are self-driven, not raging extroverts, involved in non-work activities, and who can get things done.
- Only hire the best employees. Don’t settle for mediocre people.
- Don’t invest time to bring someone to an average competency.
- Get your team together in person regularly.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great we are live. So welcome everybody to this remote interview my name is Lisette and I am interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. And today on the line I have Bob Glazer from Boston Massachusetts in the US and Bob you are a speaker, an author, a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners and I was interested with this because it says on an article that I just read that you are one of the biggest fully remote worker places in the US with over ninety employees working remotely so I am very excited to get into that, welcome.
Robert Glazer: Thank you.
Lisette: I would like to start with the first question which is what does your virtual office look like? What do you need to get your work done?
Robert Glazer: I need quiet usually and focus. I am actually very good at turning things out. I work in three different places well four mostly on an airplane since that is where I am a lot of times which is very productive for me. I have an upstairs office, a downstairs office and then I have a trade mill desk in my gym too so I tend to osculate. I actually like to move around throughout the day and it just depends on the type of work I am doing whether I am doing something like this which is a recording or I’m doing something that is an internal call that I can be at the treadmill desk and try to be moving around or go to make a call and get some air outside. So that’s me, company wise we and we get into this little bit. One of the things that I think we have done differently is well people are distributed, we tend to use data remote. We have actually cautiously provided reasons, created hub cities and have focused on those cities and that has been an evolution of the last year or so.
Lisette: Okay so excuse my voice everybody I am getting a bit of a cold. So you say you like to call it distributed over remote why?
Robert Glazer: Yeah, I don’t know I think that is more in tune with our business. Our virtual or non-virtual or remote. Something about virtual just always sounds little bit wrong to me, I mean we’re… our team it is both where our clients are, what are our businesses and how people like to work we actually think that you know that is the best way we can do what we do and yeah that’s always the term that we have just use.
Lisette: I really like it, a friend of mine always says he works for a completely remote distributed virtual company and he says “I do not like calling it remote because it sounds like I am supposed to be at some place and I am not there”. And he was like “I don’t need to be anywhere, I’m not remote from anywhere, and I’m where I am supposed to be”. So…
Robert Glazer: Yeah and virtual Implies like we don’t talk to people you know and we actually spend a lot of time actually going to our clients. If we were going to have a monolithic office no one would actually come to us. We actually use it as an advantage to spend more time within at our clients and in our client’s services team so that has just always been…we like distributed. There are all city names but I virtual has never done it for me.
Lisette: Yeah it sounds odd somehow like it is not in real people somehow I agree, totally agree. So what…right and we are so much more obviously. So you are the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners and I would like to talk about what you guys do and then why you decided to make it a remote workforce.
Robert Glazer: Sure and these two things are connected so we are a global performance marketing firm, we run very large scale affiliate or performance marketing programs for pretty well known brands these are kind of digital partner programs that may have thousands of partners in them and it’s all based on performance. So the client says hey I will pay X amount for a sale or lead and we enable these connections and then people publish what they are going to publish and they get paid. So performance in our world is really clear in terms of I think what makes clients happy and how those programs perform. So it has always landed itself towards that performance oriented culture and I think it just started with actually our industry has very spread out and shallow pool of talents so part if it was necessary and then the types of people we were attracting the light stage they were in and that we really more were focused on outcomes than input and I always say that remote working… remote work was not the goal it ended up being more of the byproduct of the type of culture we wanted to grow.
Lisette: Okay so, now you said before that you have organized your company into hubs, so and with this you mean there are…everybody sort of located around specific cities is that correct?
Robert Glazer: We picked some focus cities it doesn’t mean everyone. So we set up a goal two years ago, we are pretty good at setting out a goal and in long term moving towards it and I will tell you few of troubles I think fully remote running to and it was eighty twenty rule with these hubs. So first one of our cultural cornerstone is that we do something called AP summit every year where we bring the entire company together for three to four days of and we do pretty intensive leadership training and team building and build I think deeper connections. A lot of people make walking by in a surface atmosphere we really try to go deep with this and get some world class speakers and programs. That became really hard trying to coordinate people from like fifty cities and so that was one of it and said look if this event’s getting harder and harder…we actually just hired the hundredth employee this week. The other thing is from the recruiting stand point hiring everywhere is actually really hard. Recruiting markets operate in terms of cities like if you think about listing a job, listing everywhere or anywhere is often nowhere. So the most…other than people a lot of the people that we attract maybe haven’t worked remotely before or been part of it but they weren’t on like remote job sites. They are not digital nomads you know looking for this you know looking for this, they tend to find it. So we actually found that was really hard that we need to focus and the other part was despite how people like to work each day, the social interaction really is important and to keep company continuity. So we have social events each month in these hubs we have…we do volunteer days and stuff and actually our general manager just flew to every hub and we flew people in that were near hubs that were’ inwards kind of a twenty to do meetings with everyone. What can we do better, it was sort of half social and get feedback, so in terms of the type of culture that we want to build, there is some connection or social cohesion that is really necessary even though people do not want to do that you know all day, they want the opportunity to get together and to do this things so we have actually found that and this thing about even interviewing so if you are someone in an interview you can interview in a hub. We found that this, moving to this hub strategy is really giving us the best of both worlds.
Lisette: I love it, I have to say I have worked on a remote team for the last five years I am the remote office manager for the team and we met for the first time a couple of months ago. There was I mean we have worked together for five years but there was still nothing like going out in Lisbon together in Portugal and having drinks and you know exploring the town and staying out way too late and you know just can’t replicate that online so yeah.
Robert Glazer: I do think as we do like when you work on video you see people I always say if phone is a three, video is probably a seven and a person is a ten. One of the things about retreats and stuffs and the formula and we’re just… we are actually so now we are going to rotate ours from hub cities we are moving it to Philadelphia next year and it is a big convention Centre. You know it’s that having a drink at ten o’clock at night and talking about something or finding something that really is that social cohesion. With video you definitely feel like you know people. I have worked with a developer in Romania for ten years who I feel like we are good friends and we never met, and I sort of trust him with all my… like I do trust him with all our stuff but human element is important particularly in trying to build a web class culture. So we think we have best of both worlds this day, this way and actually I would strongly encourage companies to think about this city orientation especially if you want to give back element and you can pick cities, what’s nice is we don’t pick the tire one cities that are expensive because that is also not our…we pick sort of the tire two where the town is there or maybe it is the people who they’ve outside of New York city you know maybe not in New York city but yeah our GM went on a tour and he came back with just pages of notes of you know doing meetings and what can we do better and getting feedback, the ability to get everybody in the room to do that in groups of twenty was really helpful.
Lisette: Yeah I can imagine, I can imagine. So I want to…I have so many questions but I want to start with something that you recently said which is hiring. So your talent is all spread out and you are looking for different kinds of people and you said you are hiring some people that didn’t have remote experience. How do you hire for people who can fit into a remote workplace like this?
Robert Glazer: Very, very carefully, I actually have a lot of friends in colleagues who are always amazed. I don’t understand how do you have this remote company, you know wouldn’t work and I think that there is this perception that we take anyone and put them in this environment and it would work and I always explain to people there’s probably about two percentage of the people that this would work for and we screened against it. We have a hundred page like hiring process. I mean we have a pretty incredibly documented hiring process that is designed to be you know repeatable and it is a focus on value. So if someone has not… here is what I would say if someone is interviewing where there is remote work and they have not worked… we’re fifty-fifty on whether they’ve worked remotely or not. But if it would not be in their top five of things that they would value and if all things you know created equal they are ragging extrovert and they would rather be in an office is probably not a good fit. But there are clues that we have found around people had some remote work and really liked it, they are very self-driven, we are not introverts but I would say people are not raging extrovert where they need their energy just being around other people. There are people who like to get stuff done, they like a couple hours of quiet and they have other things in their life that are important to them. Obviously family is a big thing, for a lot of people who have a family want flexibility that is one thing but folks who do not have family usually something like travel is really important to them, or their competitive athlete or they’re doing something whereby the flexibility is really important to their life. So we actually have a process of okay (a) obviously done it before and we liked it that is key but given where we are getting a lot of people from our interview process in alignment to our core values really kind of sass us out and just based on the mistakes we have made I think who will do well and most of the time when we identify those people and we had someone recently who you know was a little you know wanted to share office was worried about the perception and after a month long he was like, “oh I am not getting on a train every day like this is out of the UK this is great.” So we have, I just I want to stress on everything, we have gotten good at that that is a core competency of our company. You cannot just take anyone and put them in an environment like this. They have to be [Inaudible 11:30] environment.
Lisette: Right I can only, yeah I can only imagine and I think hiring on any company is hard because everybody is on their best behavior in the beginning and it is not until you start working with them and you kind of break down the beautiful shell that we all put ourselves in.
Robert Glazer: Right.
Lisette: We start to really know if they are going to be a good fit or not.
Robert Glazer: Yeah we get into things like decision making. If people said are you someone that just needs you know do you like to think? Do you like to process? Is that helpful to you or do you need to just be bouncing ideas out like that? We’ve seen that not work out, we had someone who just needed real time feedback on everything and that’s… we’re not able to solve that. People are generally available but it is funny I mean isn’t about an alignment. There is a certain person who really likes that. They get into their rem work for two hours and they do not want to be disturbed you know that is they feel like they can get eighty percent of work done in a day.
Lisette: Yeah guilty over here I really like the hours of deep work focus and I had a colleague who loved to just talk about everything I mean she had like three hundred tabs open at any time and just was posting stuff all over the place and it did not work out. She is a genius at what she did but it was the personality fit with the rest of the team she was just on a different speed.
Robert Glazer: Yeah and the person matters, the type of business matters so I think client service businesses scue very well to remote work because the focus is on the client. You are spending a lot of the day dealing with the client and the client service teams and those teams tend to be about eighty percent of your experience. I am in a business group where there’s half the people on client services and they are mostly going or all remote and the other people have some sort of product and they really feel the need actually in a product company for sales and marketing and that sort of interaction more in impromptu meetings and that was sort of eye opening for me that I think again it really depends on the people and then what it is that the business does.
Lisette: So in your company you mentioned that you are focused on results you have to be in and also your company and I mean not just yeah the daily to do this for your company is also focused on results but how do you know in your company how what everybody is doing.
Robert Glazer: I don’t care. You know we run a system called IOS tracked similar to gazelles if you want to run this sort of operate business operate systems. So objectives are laid out you know all the key outcomes are laid out for each quarter and each person and everyone is given, when I say I do not care you know they are given equal number of accounts or sort of account workload and so for me looking at the clients satisfaction level which we measure regularly and the performance of those programs and the goals we waited out are really the success metrics. I think that in sales if you think about income versus outputs it’s so easy in sales for someone to say to a sales person, “well I made eighteen calls today,” “how many sales do you have?” None, well they do not care right? They only care about the output so again we are trying to get people focused on the smarter decisions and the big wins and the things that move it forward. Part of our culture is we don’t reward hard work, we do not reward eighteen hour hero days, and we reward working smarter, we reward asking the right question to not run back and do something that the client asked you to do because you did not ask the question to clarify what it is that they actually need. So again that is a lot about our culture. If the clients programs are growing, if they are meeting their goals, if the employee is happy, if the client is happy and somehow they are doing that on a half hour a day then I want to know what they are doing.
Lissette: Right, more power to you man.
Robert Glazer: Yeah, yeah I always say there was this thing [Inaudible 15:20], some guy from [Inaudible 15:22] had outsourced his job for two years until someone found out about it and then they fired him. I would have want to sit down with that guy and figure out what it is he had done to outsource his job for two years without anyone knowing.
Lissette: Totally, totally I was shocked that they had fired him. I would have thought man get him involved with the rest of the company. How did he automate that, for sure?
Robert Glazer: But people just can’t, they are you know it’s clear in sales but they can’t, we are about rewarding outcomes. We are not rewarding inputs, you tell me you culturally and this happened you tell me you worked eighteen hours on getting this thing for the client and I say to you ‘did you ask them if this would have worked instead?’ And they say no, I say ‘well there’s no hero for staying up all night for something that you didn’t need to do.’ So that, all if these stuff goes hand in hand with just more outcome oriented.
Lissette: Wow it’s awesome, so I can imagine there are some people that don’t thrive in this kind of environment and, so if people don’t meet their objectives and the clients are not satisfied, what do you do?
Robert Glazer: We have a very unique program that we started. We really tried to break the [Inaudible 16:24] it’s called mindful transition. We have a totally open transition program, so we ask people to discuss any issues, we discuss any issues and when we realize something is not going to change we start an open transition program before they can continue to work here and we support them and they start working on finding their next job or their next career. We just think that these things are better out on the table so we start measuring things early. We start having conversations, often time we find that they are just in the wrong role and rather than then get disengage and start you know looking we actually know about an opportunity that is coming up in two months in a new job and we talk about maybe they could slot into that. So we know pretty quickly, we try to sort of call it even within the first couple of weeks if it’s just a struggle from the beginning because in, actually in just reading what went and talking to [inaudible 17:17] you rarely recover from bad beginnings and I think we’ve seen that it’s really hard. He said ten years later people had started off their career in our session are still making less money and so we said to some people ‘look this has just been so hard in the first few weeks, so it probably isn’t a fit you might be better off pretending you never worked here and go off and find a new job.’ Or else we sort of operate under the radical candor model and we just start having open discussions and we have helped people find new jobs like if this isn’t the right thing.
Lissette: Wow, yeah I had one interviewee say on boarding is where a lot of companies drop the ball, and if you don’t help somebody who is not performing then they are just a huge drain on the team. Emotionally and of course financially on the company. So getting rid of or transitioning, I like yours mindful transitioning people to new positions is a, I love that.
Robert Glazer: Yeah, we are writing a book on this and we use a marriage analogy, like what if, what if marriages ended with like two weeks’ notice and someone says I have been happy forever, I found a new wife and a new house and am moving next week, you’ll be like why is this the first time I am hearing about this? So, it’s a small world and we think a positive alumni we just think because it is not working out is no reason to think badly of that person, it’s just an objective thing that we need to deal with and we just think that more transparency around that. The one mistake we’ve made as a culture we try to, I’m a big fan of Ray Dalio book Principles and we have a similar thing that we just document failure. We make a mistake we right up a debrief we post it for everyone. Making mistakes is fine repeating mistakes is the one thing that drives me crazy. So one of the mistakes that we have learned and it gets to the starting point. We have a great training program, right, but the people that come in, we have assumed we have done all the work and we have a great training program, the combination of the right person and training program they should start well. They should start well and it just should go well. If it goes terribly I could invest, you know one of my rules is don’t invest to get to average. I could invest, and you see this you hire three people and the three of them are great and the fourth one is really struggling. I could invest probably for six months to get that person to average but that’s not where you want to be investing. So our rule is don’t invest to average. If I have to make a huge investment to get that person to the level that I thought they were going to be at, at day one when I can see that the other people are there it’s probably not the right fit and we are all better off pulling the rib cord and doing it sooner than again getting in there and having a lot of bad feelings.
Lissette: Yeah love it, totally love it, totally love it, don’t invest to get to average another, that’s a great one.
Robert Glazer: We have had people where a year of investment and we got them to the benchmarks but just from an ROI stand point I would have better off investing that money in my super stars to get the next promotion and to move up not to hit the level that I thought I was hiring someone to serve at the level before. So there have been a few exceptions, particularly when we didn’t have the right training and the right expectations but since we switched to this job format which all of our job listings are by six months success looks like that, it’s basically your performance scorecard like how we are going to look at you in six and twelve months. Since we have done that since we have a training program, if it’s gone terribly quickly I can’t remember it really working out.
Lissette: Great, yeah that seems, I have heard that before, so that seems like a good rule of thumb. So man we are nearing the end of time almost but I still have a couple of questions I want to talk about how do you guys communicate within your company? What are some of the tools that you use for communicating between the different cities and between workers, I’m assuming you have your own performance metric tools but, you know how do you guys talk to each other?
Robert Glazer: We made video the default and we try to make it the default with our clients and usually the first time , you know I’m sure you have seen this they would zoom, they are kind of duking and looking around, like everyone can’t adjust to the first time and by the second or third time its usual. So video is really the default for most things and we use Zoom, we use Slack pretty extensively and we also have a really cool distributed kind of file system, so that everyone has all access, everything on their computer looks like it’s on a computer but it’s a remote setup. Those are really our main thing, we kind of try to push people off Slack and other, no sorry off Skype and other messaging and get a lot of communication in the Slack. Slack has really eliminated a lot of our internal emails, probably about seventy percent of the one of staff. But then we have regular cadences of calls, you know who’s on what calls teams, as I mentioned we do the once annual summit and now we do the twice annual hub meetings. We usually do a social event or a volunteer event each month, we each have socially and our client’s service team which is about eighty percent of the business are frequently at conferences and events and add clients together in person. So we really get a good balance across the board of that. We are at the point now with a hundred people with one of our challenges we are trying to address is there is just some fear of missing out in terms of if communication now where people can’t be on the loop on that everything but we also have to get smarter around, like newsletters and internal communication and where is everyone going to be, like people may not realize that I am in LA next week for a conference and we have a prospect or a new client that is in LA, that they think can really be beneficial if I had sat down with him for a drink. So we are, we are actually actively trying to solve this now in terms of what’s the right communication, how much sort of written, video, oral, Slack, frequency like how do we solve, you can’t know everything but there’s some best practices in learnings that people need to be in touch with.
Lissette: Yeah and I know with Slack, I mean it’s awesome how much it’s replaced email and other sort of messages, I mean just having things in one place is amazing, and not being on the CC list of twenty people is totally great also. But the signal to noise can be overwhelming I think in Slack like you want to do everything but I mean if I keep my Slack open I have got like six different groups. I could be sitting there all day just watching messages come in, so.
Robert Glazer: Yeah, we really encourage people to use the snooze button and to customize their preferences and again another Dan Pink win thing. A lot of us really synchronize in the morning around this GSD time which is get sleep done. So there’s sort of unmovable block and we synchronize a lot of those because if you are not a night owl your best cognitive processing time for things like reading and writing and thinking and strategic is actually in the morning. You are better off with meetings and creativity in the afternoon. So we encourage everyone during those blocks to just snooze everything and turn it off and not look at it. I know people have struggled with it but part of what makes Slack work is turning off things and getting out of the wrong channels and doing the right frequency and just doing the snooze. I just did it for two, I was doing something before this call and I just did it for two hours and so what I don’t see it. I know it’s hard for people to get off, all these notification things you know are designed almost in the, to produce the same dopamine reaction as drugs. Like I read an article that one of the guys who created it for Facebook or whatever it was and he said he feels like he has done this great disservice, to design these things to be addictive, and they are addictive. So we actively, we talk about that a lot, you know, people talk about Slack is the [Inaudible 25:20]. You just replace all you email problems with Slack problems then it’s not, what I like about Slack is that people can personalize around different groups. Someone started this channel, what made your week, and people put pictures of doing something with their kids, and it’s just a great channel for people that don’t want to be in it, some people would do there’s a crockpot recipe stuff for, I don’t, you know, I don’t have to be in all of them so I do think, but that’s beside the staff that’s on email that would have just been driven everyone crazy.
Lissette: For sure, for sure. I remembered those day and I am glad they are over. You mentioned one thing that I thought was interesting which is people getting used to video and I’m always surprised because video conferencing has been around for a long time and recently in the last five years it has gotten really good, but people are still hesitant about using videos. So how did you get them over that and why do you think they are so hesitant?
Robert Glazer: It a chance it’s like anything I always say it’s no different than almost everything is like three when I took away the pacifier from all of my kids, the first night was miserable, the second night was okay, by the third night it was good. So just people haven’t done it or haven’t done it with people that aren’t their friends. So the way we have done it internally or I will do it or particularly with clients is the sort of we will just show them us. So I’m talking to a prospect and they don’t want to be on the video, I go on Zoom on video I would rather they could see me and my intonations, but eventually I see the sort of turn on and they pretend they were not there, it’s getting to be fewer and fewer people as particularly as Zoom gets out there becomes the default. But the best thing that we can do is just we go on video and or I go on video and I left the other person choose to do that if they want to and it usually you get much better attention and focus. You know if someone is paying attention or not on video.
Lissette: Yeah for sure and I am glad to be gone those, the days of standing over an old spider phone in the middle of the conference room table. Like am glad.
Robert Glazer: Have you seen this video that the conference calls in real life?
Lissette: Of course yeah.
Robert Glazer: Like this is one of the best things ever produced on the internet. You should link to that on the show notes I mean, it really is a classic.
Lissette: Yeah, you know for sure, and it’s so true I mean it’s so fanny because it’s so true.
Robert Glazer: Yeah.
Lissette: Man I have so many questions but we have to end soon. But one thing I want to ask is what is you guys struggle with? What is something that is really hard for your company in this distributed way of working?
Robert Glazer: A candidate asked me that yesterday, a job interview and the answer that I say is that, one major negative I found is that in training you don’t have a lot of the learn by osmosis, by just overhearing things we can replace that and we do by putting people on a bunch of calls, unshadowing and actually getting them together but I think the one thing that remote work has an inherent deficiency, again has a lot of things that are much better as in just the overhearing factor of staff. In which you learn people’s personalities, you hear client stuff, and it’s sort of what you gain from eavesdropping and just being able to shadow. That’s something we just learnt how to live without and we try to come up with synthetic versions of that, you know part of our training program is really hopping on all kinds of different calls and listening to a client call and the team call and internal but, and getting people together more but that’s a deficiency that we know we need to work around.
Lissette: Right both a blessing and a curse, the eavesdropping, I mean sometimes you wish you hadn’t heard or sometimes you wish you couldn’t hear, yeah.
Robert Glazer: There’s a lot of stuff I don’t want to know, I was on a train back from New York last week and this guy was basically having a team call on the train and talking about all the stuff and I was like I don’t want to listen to your call man.
Lissette: Got my own stuff.
Robert Glazer: [Inaudible 29:11] emotional intelligence but yeah, I think people deserve privacy too, right. I don’t need to hear about their argument with their spouse and all that stuff, but everything has got a pro and con. I just, I think no matter how much you are an advocate of remote work that’s a structural piece that is an obvious episode.
Lissette: Right, so very last question which is, if people want to know more about you and Acceleration Partners what is the best way to find you?
Robert Glazer: Sure you can find Acceleration Partners easily googling if you don’t want to try spell it, I have a person site with all the things that I do at robertsamglazer.com and on there you can also sign up for something called Friday forward which is a newsletter I started sending to my team two years ago and goes about thirty five leaders across the world. Just something inspirational, thought provoking each week and I have been doing that for a few weeks now.
Lissette: Awesome, I will put all of that in the show notes of course and I will link to the conference call in real life and show notes too it’s always good see that.
Robert Glazer: It’s always a good laugh, yeah.
Lissette: Well thank you so much for sharing your story today, I took copious notes so I am hoping that people got the same value that I did out of the conversation. Thank you so much.
Robert Glazer: Thanks so much Lissette.
Lissette: Alright until next time everybody, be powerful.