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White Elephants with Adam Ross

Servant leader Adam Ross shares the power of experience and unique prizes to build culture and drive results. We also learn why he never uses the word "manager".

You can find Adam on LinkedIn.

Episode Transcript

Today, my guest is Adam Ross. He's the chief revenue officer at Web PT and has experienced growing organizations from market adoption to over a hundred million dollars in revenue. He uses servant leadership principles to create amazing teams and achieve incredible results. Adam, thanks so much for being here today.

Adam Ross: Happy to be here. Thanks, Andrew for having me.

Andrew Phelps: So, for those of our listeners that don't know, can you tell us a little bit about servant leadership?

Adam Ross: Sure. Yeah. That's where everything starts in the way that I lead sales team, sales and marketing and success teams is from a servant leadership perspective. And I really base servant leadership down into really simple terms, which is caring more about your people and their success than you do your own and making sure that you align your teams so that they are the most important thing. And so, I like to call it, you know, we flipped the hierarchy around and my sales professionals are at the top of the pyramid, right? And so, they're the ones that are the most important. They're serving our perspective, customers and members, as well as our existing customers and members. And so, they carry all the power and we, as leaders are here to serve them and make sure that they are the most successful that they can be.

Andrew Phelps: That's great. So, I mean, it makes a lot of sense and kind of goes along with, you know, a lot of things in life which are seemingly backwards or reversed or a catch 22, you know, it's a great idea, but how do you put that into action? What's something you do to make sure that you really are serving the people that, you know, others would describe as the people you lead are the people you manage, you know, what's something you do to serve them rather than manage them?

Adam Ross: Yeah, it's a mindset from the very get go, and it's coming into every day asking the question of, you know, how can I serve you? What can I do to help make you more successful? And a lot of people are really hesitant in terms of that type of messaging because they haven't heard it before, but over time and repetition of understanding that, you know, when they need something that you're there, you take care of it. You're not pushing down. I don't use the term manager. I use the term leader because I believe manager is not a servant leader and it denotes a negative connotation because managers ask people to do things and if something needs to get done, they push it down. Whereas a leader will look and say, does my salespeople need to do this right? Do they need to be spending their time tracking things down and, you know, trying to work through red tape? Or should I be doing that on their behalf so that it can free them up to spend their time doing what they should be doing, which is interacting with prospective members, customers, or existing members or customers and furthering those relationships. And, that's, you know, one of the key things is just repetition there. Anytime they need something, they know they can come to you, they can ask you to go, you know, move a barrier or a blockade, or do something for them that they normally would have to do. And by doing it through action, they can see that you're serving them and helping make them the most successful they can be.

Andrew Phelps: I like that a lot and I think we could all probably enact that. I would love to see the label of manager disappear because like you said, it implies that, you know, these folks have no idea what they're doing and you need to hurt them like cattle, when in reality it's the opposite. Like you said, they're on the front lines, they're the people making the money. And it makes sense to think about them that, that way as your frontline soldiers. I like that.

Adam Ross: Yeah. And it's, you know, along with that, what you ended up developing is A-players and you know, those A-players are self-motivated self-starters because they don't have to go through the mundane stuff each and every day, they know they have a leader who has their back, who will always take the blame for everything and give credit, you know, all the way up the chain to them. And you know, you end up developing a world-class set of people and the ones that you know, don't adopt into that typically are your BNC players and they self-select out.

Andrew Phelps: So, it's all about creating folks that can solve their own problems and take their own initiative. So, we know that on the sales games, podcast, prizes are usually involved but the most effective incentive prizes are not the most expensive or the most flashy. They're the most meaningful and experientials. And when we were chatting about this, you mentioned you guys had a white elephant party at Web PT. Can you tell us?

Adam Ross: Yeah. And I think it starts with, you know, the psychology behind and I talk a lot about, and studied a lot around this, you know, human psychology and too often, especially CFOs and other areas of the business, start to think about salespeople that all they care about is money. And the truth and the reality is, is that salespeople are just like anybody else. They want to wake up in the morning and be part of something that's bigger than themselves. They want to feel like they're making an impact. And while commissions and money is, you know, a big component of why they do what they do, they want to feel appreciated. Right? And a way to do that in sales is through being able to offer different things up to your teams that are incentive-based, but not necessarily monetary based. And so, we at Web PT, we've played with a number of different models, but one of the best ones we found is what we call our quarterly closers club. And that quarterly closers club is for anybody who achieves a hundred percent of their goal for the quarter is qualified and makes it into quarterly closers club. One of the things we did as we all went virtual this past year is, we had to come up with new ways to make a virtual quarterly closers club fun prior to the pandemic. We were, you know, going to resorts, getting the team together to have a really nice dinner and, you know, spend the night and, you know, just have a fun time the next day at the pool and so on and so forth. When we went virtual, how do we make it as fun, interactive, and, you know, do what salespeople love to do, which is get together and build bonds with each other. And so, we came up with this white elephant virtual white elephant program where, you know, we put out a survey with I think it was just over 60 or 65 different prices that could be, you know, chosen from, we narrowed that down. We had anywhere between 18 to 25 people that make quarterly as clubs. So, we choose 18 to 25 of the most highly voted on products. And then we put it into a white elephant and we run the white elephant with the person who was the least percent to go over a hundred percent starts first. And the one who was the highest percent over goal goes last, thereby giving them the ability to choose, you know, steal from other people. And as we moved down and it, you know, it turned into a really interactive quarterly closers club where people were stealing guests from each other, you know, razzing each other, having fun, creating bonds. And, you know, it worked out really well and was a really interactive session.

Andrew Phelps: So, what were the top five gifts either voted on or fought over at this white elephant?

Adam Ross: So, Apple products are always a big draw. So, we typically like in that one, we had a couple of iPhone twelves. There was an Apple watch some MacBook Airs so not hugely expensive, you know. I guess we usually try to keep them under a thousand dollars, the mirror that exercise worked out thing was one of them. We paid for the mirror and you know, six months subscription to it. So, you know, items like that, we try to keep it under a thousand dollars, you know. One of the other ones was an espresso maker.

Andrew Phelps: Right.

Adam Ross: And that one actually got fought over. Yeah, I think it got stolen all three times and then got locked because as we know, sales people love coffee.
Andrew Phelps: So, I'm only, you know, semi-familiar with a white elephant party. I understand you're allowed to steal gifts and you go in an order, but like you just said, things get locked. Can you explain the exact rules for our listeners?

Adam Ross: Yeah. So, for white elephant, I mean, you think about it you know, typically that started as, you know, people would bring silly gifts and, you know, you could unwrap it and then the next person going to steal that gift or pick a new one. And so, we follow the same model. There are some great online services that you can sign up for their free, that you can run the white elephant virtual with just pictures. And you know, there have a little wrapped up box and you click on it, the package unwraps, and then you can see what's in it. We chose to not use a virtual service. We did it. One of our sales leaders had wrapped up each one of the prizes, a picture of each one of the prizes and was opening on camera with a little saying around each one. And so, the person choosing to choose the gift, they keep it, the next person going can choose to steal it or choose a new gift. And as you go down the line, you can steal any gift that's been unwrapped, or you can choose one that hasn't been unwrapped yet, to then, you know, open up another gift for people to be able to see if they want to steal it. And if your gift gets stolen, then it immediately goes back to you to choose another gift. So, you can then steal somebody else's, or you can open a new one, which makes it really interactive because as people get stolen, they have to go again, they choose something, right. And, it just keeps, you know, as more prizes come out, there's more things to steal, which makes it so that you get multiple tries at opening gifts. And the funniest part is watching people steal each other's gifts and, and how they razz each other about stealing it. And I'm going to come back, I'm going to get that. The one caveat to the whole thing is if you get your gift stolen, you cannot steal it right back. You have to either steal something from somebody else or open a new one.

Andrew Phelps: All right. Well, that's it, that's a good breakdown. So, it sounds like one of your sales leaders put a lot of time into doing the gift preparation and stuff. Do you have any idea about how much time this would take to set up if you were going to put that personal touch versus if you were to use one of these online tools?

Adam Ross: Yeah, I mean, so each of my quarterly closers club is owned by one of my directors. So, we rotate it, so it doesn't always fall on me. And then they have their own style to it. So, he chose not to use the online service and wanted to take the time to wrap up each one of these and put a saying to each one. When I talked to him, you know, it was I mean that particular one, I think it was 20 gifts. It took him, you know, two or three hours to kind of put everything together, write up the little sayings, versus virtual you literally just upload pictures and, you know, that can be done in probably 20, 30 minutes, if you use one of the online services to just upload the pictures of each prize and then invite all the participants to that virtual session.

Andrew Phelps: Cool. I mean, I think I see value in both approaches, right? If this is something that you did on a smaller scale, maybe less of a big deal, then the quarterly closers club, you know, maybe an online solution would be the faster way to put together and have a lot of experiential bang for your buck. But I also loved the idea of, of someone taking the time to make it more special and make it more unique to the team, to Web PT, by writing the sayings, wrapping the gifts, you know, that's the sort of care that you can't fake and that people appreciate.

Adam Ross: Absolutely. And I think it goes back to the servant leadership, right? And so, he wanted to be able to serve the entire team, take the time to do it. He did it on his own time at night. And you know, it was a really good representation of servant leadership and how he was giving back to those that had pushed and grinded so hard to that quarter to get to their goals. And, his little sayings were perfect and it allowed people to get a little glimpse as to what the prize might be and it was just, it was a lot of fun. He put a lot of good work and time into it.

Andrew Phelps: That's awesome too. And I think one of the things we like to focus on and think about is the level of effort versus the results, right? So, if you really only have 20 minutes, then use an online tool. But what's the difference between 20 minutes and two hours. If you're talking about, you know, your time, if obviously two hours is more, but it's not like exponentially more and usually it's worth that time to do something genuine and interesting, and something that builds people's connection to your team builds your culture. I'm sure he woven inside jokes and other things that you guys were familiar.

Adam Ross: Yes. I completely agree. You know, and that kind of set a new bar. You know, one of my leaders that owns this quarters, quarterly closers club is now having to figure out, you know, what, he's going to come up with, how he's going to make it personalized for each person that makes it and you know, and he's going to try to outdo the previous leader who did the white elephant. And so, you know, it creates a little bit of great solid competition between the leaders to be better servant leaders. And I just love to watch and see how that's continuing to evolve.

Andrew Phelps: I love it. And I love anything that lets people show off their personalities because, you know, jumping back to the very beginning of our conversation, you talked about salespeople love to connect. They love to get to know each other. And so, anything you can do to help them to connect to one another, as well as you know, to the team at large to customers is really only beneficial. So, I love this idea. What was the weirdest or funniest gift on the list?

Adam Ross: Oh gosh, it was a Pet Roomba. So, one of the Roombas designed for pets, one our... Funny story actually behind it. One of the reps who chose it really wanted it, he was the only one. Another person had opened it and went, I don't have pets so great. I can't wait to, you know, for somebody to steal this. And it got to the very end and our top rep actually wanted that. So, he stole it at the very end, which then opened up a whole new session because then that person got to steal because all the guests were open. And then we went through, you know, another 30 minutes of people stealing everything, but he really wanted that pet room. He got it, he took it, you know, got it. We ordered it. It was delivered to his house. And there's one big flaw in pet Roombas, which is, they don't know how to detect if your dog or cat has gone to the bathroom on the floor. And so, he came out and it had run over that and spread that all across this house. And so, it was an interesting experience for him.

Andrew Phelps: That sounds like a terrible prize at the end of the day. With that fatal flaw, but you know, it's fun to hear you talk about it. You can hear the smile on your face. And I mean, how many times has that Roomba come up since it was delivered to his house in team conversation?

Adam Ross: At least a dozen in our, we have a bi-weekly round table that we do with the entire sales team. And it's definitely come up almost on every single one of them.

Andrew Phelps: That's great. And, you know, those are the things that we love and we try to encourage everybody to do. Is like, don't be afraid to be weird or be off the wall. Those are the things that people remember, you know, creating unique experiences together is what creates that value in that fulfillment and the more comfortable and fulfilled your folks feel the better they're going to perform no matter what their role, but we know it's especially true for sales folks.

Adam Ross: Absolutely salespeople are the most emotional human beings in the organization, right. They have to ride the rollercoaster, the ups and the downs, and they have to be okay with that. And you know, understanding that, understanding the psychology behind that is such a key to getting the back the max production and, you know, the best tribe, you know, village that you can possibly put together because, you know, they want to know that you understand what they're going through and that you are as emotional and as connected to it as they are.

Andrew Phelps: Those are some great thoughts. And I love the format of the white elephant. I have a couple of takeaways here that I'm going to repeat for our listeners, and I want you to correct me if I'm wrong or add on anything that you think is more important. So, the first thing I had is that this is great for remote teams, as we're all moving remotely, this is something that's easy to go virtual and help fill the gap on some of those team connections, things that we're missing, like the group dinners or group events. The second is that the experience matters. The more experiential it is the more meaningful it's going to be for the team. And it really doesn't take a lot of time, two to three hours of your time to put together, you know, a quality experience that your team will treasure and come up in conversation over and over again. And finally, don't be afraid to get weird or have fun with some of the prizes because that's part of the experience. It adds to things being memorable and adds to shared experience, which grows the connection in your team that they don't have with people in the, you know, elsewhere in their lives. So, building a stronger bond through things that are nothing more than just weird or strange or funny.

Adam Ross: Perfectly said, Andrew, I couldn't have said it better.

Andrew Phelps: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. If people want to get in touch with you, what's the best place to find you online?

Adam Ross: Sure. So, LinkedIn is always a great place for me, I also you can, they can drop me an email at aross@keystogrowth. It's a pro bono consulting. You know thing I do that I've had running for about 12 years, it's called The Keys To Growth. That's my email address. They can feel free to send me an email there or drop me a text to my cell phone. And you know, either one of those I'd be happy to respond.

Andrew Phelps: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. I hope to have you on again, to share some more games or prizes from the perspective of a servant leader,

Adam Ross: I would love to; we've got all kinds of them. We've had a bunch of fun experiences and we'd love to share all of those whenever appropriate. Appreciate your time, Andrew. Take care.

Andrew Phelps: Thank you.