Express Exec: A Novel Approach
to Business Solutions
By Carin Chea
I imagine a typical workday with Gary Brose must be akin to attending your very first TED talk. At the very least, that is what it felt like to be in Mr. Brose's presence.
An expert in business management and keeping pace with the ever-changing trends, Gary Brose is the epitome of the timeless adage gifted to us by Mahatma Gandhi: "Be the change that you wish to see in the world."
Gary Brose is proof that kindness (not critique) has the power to change people and move mountains.
Mr. Brose is dynamically humble and inspirational. A leader by example and action, he has mastered the art of motivational management and seems to hold the key in creating a work environment where employees, business owners, and consumers are all winners.
His latest book, Express Exec, taps into the techniques that lead to this level of success.
Not your conventional business book, Express Exec is a novel that follows interim VP Andrea Lane as she navigates the daily battle to outrun the pace of change affecting a business.
Engaging and original, Express Exec is also a fascinating study of human nature that can be applied to everyday situations.
Were you the student body president back in high school?
No. I was a dweeb.
What is a "dweeb?"
It's like a nerd, but not as cool.
I was an introvert, and I still am to some degree, but I had no social skills back then. I was the farthest thing from student body president.
If you weren't always a natural leader, how was this quality fostered in you?
I was working at and doing well in a job at FedEx. That built my confidence up, and I realized: "I don't want to work for others anymore."
I always believed in myself, but I didn't know how to act on it. I tried to stay productive and busy, but I wasn't very good at anything that related to social activities. I was born on Abraham Lincoln's birthday. I know that we all think our birthdays are special, but I think there was a reason I was born that day.
On that note, who has influenced you the most in your development and evolution as a trailblazer in the business world?
It was a manager that I worked for at FedEx who was very helpful. But, more than that, it was also my mother. A lot of that starts at home. I was not exactly a good mama's boy. I didn't want to take orders.
But, she taught me manners. She taught me that If somebody does something nice for you, you have to say "thank you". She was persistent. It got to the point where if I didn't say "thank you" immediately after someone did something for me, she'd nudge me and say, "What do you say?"
Now, whenever employees show up on time, I say "thank you!" They all look at me, surprised, whenever I do that. But, my mother taught me to care about people and not be a bugger.
What was the defining moment that catapulted you into a writing career?
I've always liked to write. I always wanted to do it and thought, "There's not enough time in the day." But, what also happened was that I spent 25 years managing the business through various business programs.
I designed different bonus programs to motivate the employees, but repeatedly, they'd fail.
I kept monkeying around with one particular bonus program model and thought "I'm so close!" Finally, one day we had a meeting with the supervisors. Without even thinking, I laid out 8 essential elements and said, "All these things need to be true. And if it's true, it'll work."
That's when I realized I was on to something.
Bonus Your Way to Profits was my 1st book. It was a tutorial on how to structure a bonus program so that the customers and employees win. Every single time. As long as you meet those 8 elements, you won't fail.
I've never had a business fail on this model. You have to design the bonus program right to make it win-win. That's the moment when I thought, "I figured it out." So, I made time to write it.
Tell us about the books you have written so far.
Express Exec is my 4th book and I've written over 17 novels under a pen name.
We're all facing lots of change in everything. Business in general is changing. That means you've got to make serious changes in the business in order to keep pace with everyone else. You can't do it alone. You've got to work through the people. In the book, I address the techniques to do that because that's the only way you're going to thrive.
Your newest book, Express Exec, is described as a novel approach to outrunning the pace of change, meaning it is literally a novel. This is a departure from your previous books. How did that come about?
I wanted to write this book for me as well. I felt overwhelmed and I'm sure a lot of other business owners and managers are, too.
Societal values are changing. Internet is changing the whole retail landscape. You have to be on top of things, and see the trends coming in order to make sure you survive. The delivery business I own has evolved drastically from 30 years ago.
I outlined this book, and then looked at it and thought, "God this is boring. No one's going to read it." It was missing the point because the heart of keeping up with the pace of change is to build a team that works with you. You can't do it by yourself.
Even if you were a genius, you'd still have to go back to all the employees and inform them of changes.
Nobody likes change. In order to be a nimble and effective business that goes with the flow, you've got to have all your employees onboard, and they've also got to trust you.
I decided that the way to do this is to tell a story. The heart of getting employees to trust you is in the conversations you have with them. I want the reader to feel like they are there, that they are the protagonist.
It was easy to write because I've had all those conversations [that the protagonist has]. It's ugly. It's tough because no one likes change. Employees say, "It's not fair. It's not right." And, I walk the reader through those conversations.
How does your approach differ from that of other business leaders?
When I bought my first business and started managing people, I was insecure and not always positive. I would criticize, but not a lot.
But, when you point out what others do right, it's a huge win. It's so much more powerful than calling someone into the office and saying, "Hey, you only did 92% of something right. I need you to bump that up to 94%."
A lot of this came out of the fact that I was incredibly underfinanced when I started my first business. I had to force things to happen. I was so focused on getting results that I didn't care how it happened.
Ken Blanchard came up with this concept of catching someone doing something right. The thing is to affirm the employee in front of other people. Now the other employees are hearing it, they're seeing it, and that erases any ambiguity of how to do something.
There are 2 primary principles described in Express Exec: "Restructuring compensation programs to use a 'pay-for-performance' model" and second, "Delinking raises and reviews so that everyone is on a variable interval reinforcement schedule." Could you break that down for us and explain what those two concepts look like?
The pay-for-performance principle comes from the bonus program model. If you can do 80% pay for showing up and 20% pay for performance, you're hitting the right formula. There's no perfect formula. But, with this model, you change the reasons you have for paying people. You structure the pay and you say, "This is a bonus, and it happens every single payday."
There are reasons for the bonus. When the person's function is done right, there's a return for them and for the company. We all win. You've got to find what that key item is that they're doing.
Without the bonus program, they're going to get paid whether they work fast or slow. But, now there's a value to it and they're focused on that. You focus on that one key issue and keep them all engaged.
The de-linking is something we discovered later on partly because we were sick of giving performance reviews. Have you ever given a performance review? If you have, you know it's an angst-ridden process, and it's that review that determines how much money they make in the next year.
But, we change the model so that we don't do it once a year. It happens whenever the manager senses a performance improvement is going on. In Express Exec, they sit down at least once a month and do this.
So, instead of doing a once-a-year raise (which is never enough and it's something the employees have to live with for the next 12 months) you create a situation where everybody realizes they can get a raise today. And another one in 3 weeks.
So, the manager (when they perceive someone is doing something right), focuses on the positive stuff, coaching them, not critiquing them. You don't have to give them a full year's raise at one moment in time. You give them piecemeal.
The employee senses, "They're watching. They care." And then, they have to do it. You get really specific with them and tell them what they're doing right. It changes the dynamics. Everyone brings their A-game to the table every day. Everyone feels: "I can do things myself that will improve my earning power."
You're empowering them to have an impact on their own paycheck.
Andrea Lane is the protagonist in Express Exec. What was the inspiration behind this relatable character?
Me! [Laughing.] I did all the things she has done. I lived through those ugly conversations. When you're in a small business, you wear every hat. It wasn't until I managed the company for 25 years that I actually got a personnel manager. So, I handled nearly every single review. I was desperate to find a solution to what I was doing.
What advice would you give to business owners, both novice and veteran?
I like to use the example of an architect. He studies to be an architect all his life and one day, he becomes one. Then he becomes a manager of other architects. That's an incredibly different job. It's all about communication and interpersonal relations.
When I talk to someone moving from a standard position into a management role, the first thing I say is: "Be humble. Do not go into this with a 'I'm-smarter-than-you' attitude." It's deadly. You get trapped into your whole routine. I lower the expectations and say: "I'm just a guy. I'm doing the best I can here. I'm not perfect. Go ahead and question authority, and we can talk it out."
I absolutely love something you highlighted in one of your blog posts. You mention that one way to re-energize your workforce is to "Be the Servant." This is so refreshing and almost biblical. Your employees and colleagues must see you as The World's Best Boss!
The idea and the concept wasn't mine. I read about it, and multiple people have talked about this. Essentially, you build a team of people, and you have to really believe that your goal is not to manage employees, and you especially do not want to micro manage them.
Your goal is to facilitate. You have to think of their needs. When I say "servant", it means having the mindset of you wanting them to succeed, because they will help you succeed.
There's a little scene in the book where the protagonist is teaching her supervisors to be the servant. It's an odd concept, but it works. It gets people to work with you more.
If you could have a lunch meeting with any business leader in the world (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
I'd say Churchill because perseverance is something I admire.
But I'm also interested in Andrew Carnegie who created the whole library system for the nation by himself. I'd like to know how in the world he pulled that off.
To keep up-to-date on Gary Brose's latest and upcoming projects, please visit www.SmallBizSherpa.com.
For the latest news on Express Exec, visit ExpressExecBook.com.
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