Kasasa CEO Gabe Krajicek was recently a guest on the “For You Leaders” podcast hosted by Kirk Dando and Chip Hanna. In part two, Gabe discusses how Kasasa’s culture has evolved. Missed part one? Read how Gabe learned from mistakes made in his first role and created a powerful culture at Kasasa.

Click to listen to this portion of the podcast, and follow along with the transcript. If you'd prefer to listen to the blog in its entirety, it's available on both iTunes and Google Play.

 

Core Values: How to Develop Company Values That Deliver Results – Part 2
Kirk Dando: You talked about the accountability of just being able to — it's just kind of putting it in front of people, just what you focus on is often times what happens. I know people follow it now, but was there a time when you kind of had a process, and it was pretty well lined out, but people just wouldn't do the follow-through; they wouldn't check back in, they wouldn't do these things —
Gabe Krajicek: From the values point of view?
Kirk: Yeah, from the values point of view.
Gabe: Yeah, absolutely. There were some. You can go look at Glassdoor and look up BancVue, not Kasasa, and you can look at the dates on those reviews and figure out when our culture was in the trough. There were a few years of some really dark times, and when I think about what caused that to happen, I see two primary components. The first is that there were some people on the executive team that weren't living up to the values, but were high performers. One of the biggest mistakes that I've ever made, and I regret it so much, was not being willing to, as you've put it, "fire the brilliant jerk." The person who is a high performer but doesn't adhere to the values. When you have, as we do at Kasasa, a value called "love," you're setting the bar pretty dang high.

One of the executives doesn't behave in a loving manner, and they feel like the CEO is looking the other way, it absolutely craters any credibility that you have in your value system. I was, in my own defense, I was trying to give them a chance, I was trying to coach them, getting them where they needed to be. I believed they were good people, and I still believe that they are. They just weren't a culture fit, but there cannot be a nanometer of separation in the way that I, as an executive, act, and what the values say I'm supposed to do. In a meeting every once in a while, I'll lose my temper. I don't know a CEO who doesn't, and if I felt that that was inappropriate, I'll immediately say, "I sincerely apologize, that was a violation of the Patch value of love. I'll try to do better."

You just can't let anybody believe that you're not constantly thinking about this stuff, because they're not going to think about it.

The other thing that I think contributed to some of the cultural problems that we had was, as the company grew, I was operationally in over my head. I'm not proud of that, it was just a reality. I was not an experienced enough manager to be able to keep up with the complexity of the business as it continued to grow. Just like so many other entrepreneurs that have a hard time taking their hand off the wheel, I was having a hard time giving other people the authority inside of the company to really help grow it and realize that I was not the guy to do every aspect of the executive function. About three or four years ago, we brought on a guy named Marty Sunde, who's our president right now, and really, a lot of the cultural improvements have happened since he got here. He does focus on culture, but mostly what he's focused on was just making sure that everybody knows how to do their jobs, that there's absolute role clarity, that everyone knows how they're going to be evaluated on their job, what's going to determine their raise, what's going to determine whether or not they get fired.

Creating that operational infrastructure that feels very crisp and creates a sense of safety in the eyes of the employee, because they know how the world works. If you get both sides right, if you get the operational stuff so the employee knows how to do their job, those are kind of the table stakes that we were missing, and you combine it with a really passionate culture, and you have executives that are living those values, the consequences… today, we've got a 57 percent net promoter score and 4.8 on Glassdoor; it really makes all the difference in the world.

Kirk: There's a lot of wisdom in the words you just shared there, and I think that it starts in your heart. I know the people who are listening to this can tell what kind of person you are; obviously, the title of this is “For You Leaders,” and it really does start in the heart of the leader. You are somebody that desperately cares. Like you said, when you left [Dealerskins, Gabe’s previous company], you were hurt that those values weren't keeping going, and you figured out a different way to do it. There's definitely a theme here about, you dream big, and you're willing to kind of step back and evaluate, so that's really big.
Gabe: My path towards executive is so weird. I'm 37 years old, I've been employed now since I was 21, and since I was 22, I've been a CEO. I don't have a lot of experience other than just this one job, and when I started off at 22, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. When you're in that situation, you really have absolutely no choice. I read a lot of books as fast as I could, and I tried to get my MBA at Vanderbilt. I was filling my gaps as fast as I could, but day to day, the only way to survive was to trust the employees. One of the things that I would say all the time is, "The best idea will be the most buoyant one." My job is to help make sure it floats to the top and try to get everybody else engaged and feeding in ideas. I think what that created for me was, if you would have known me in college, I was probably a little more arrogant than I am now, I hope, and-
Kirk: Aren't we all?
Gabe: Probably. I just think having to admit that you don't know what you're doing in front of people that see you as their boss, and having to say, "I have to depend on you guys to help me make decisions," forced an egalitarian culture. I wouldn't have gone that direction if I'd have been more confident, but what I had learned from my experience at Dealerskins was that it creates such an incredible sense of engagement. When everybody believes, because it's true, that they're a part of the strategy, that they're engaged in making decisions with the business, suddenly people that are on the front lines, that would normally just be thinking of their job as, "Here I come to turn the crank," start to think about what really makes this company different. How do we win better? Having that engagement, which I believe we absolutely have here at Kasasa today, is a big, big part of our success, and again, it wasn't anything I engineered; I got lucky and didn't know what I was doing, and that lesson got taught to me by chance.

 

Check out Part Three of this podcast where Gabe goes into more detail about each of Kasasa's Patch Values.