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What We Learned at the Small Giants Summit

What We Learned at the Small Giants Summit


Kinesis is a proud member of the Small Giants Community, an organization of purpose-driven leaders dedicated to building businesses the right way. And last month, we attended their annual Summit in Detroit, Michigan - where we met with like-minded businesses, shared some big ideas, and got to hear from community leaders doing things differently.

The week was filled with insights, and we came back to our Portland office itching to put them into action. In the interest of "Sharing The Good" with our network of business leaders, we've summarized our key takeaways in this week's blog.

The (Literal) Connection Between Heart, Mind, and Business

Tyler Mongan, Founder of HAKU.global

In this interactive workshop, Tyler Mongan taught us that how you show up physiologically as a leader matters more than you think. Research in human physiology is revealing that when the heart and brain are working together, we enter a coherent state and our frame of mind shifts.

He walked us through the unexpected connection between the physical, emotional, and social worlds (which could explain the phenomenon of someone walking into a room and you immediately knowing they're upset). Our heart rhythms and brain waves send out electromagnetic signals to people up to 6-8 feet away - and, in fact, begin to synchronize when we engage in shared activities.

“A new finding in brain science reveals a curious dynamic — a neural synchronization — during communication between leaders and followers: the brain activity of leaders and followers is more highly synchronized than the brain activity between followers and followers.”

"How Leaderless Groups End Up With Leaders”

- Srini Pillay, Harvard Business Review (Feb 19, 2016)

One way for leadership to capitalize on this is to seek a state of Brain Coherence, which is observed by synchronistic brand waves and an increase in alpha waves - resulting in increased neural connectivity, cognitive function, and body control. There are several ways we can encourage brain coherence in our bodies:

  • Left & Right Hemispheres: Doodling in the corners of our notebooks is one example of these two hemispheres colliding. Other exercises could include making "bull horns" with one hand and a peace sign with the other, and then switching back and forth.
  • Lymbic & Frontal Cortex: One simple way to do this is to close your eyes. This alone increases alpha brain waves, bringing us closer to coherence.
  • Memories & Meaning: The areas for recall and imagination are next to each other in the brain - meaning that we often look to the past to imagine the future. Because of this, it is constructive to reframe all of our past stories into positive experiences, so that we anticipate similar positivity looking forward.
  • Senses & Imagination: Then, we should imagine the future (specifically, our ideal future) in as much sensory detail as possible.

He encouraged us to move away from our perceived physiological hierarchy ("This person could kill me, so they - and by extension, their ideas - must be superior to mine") and instead strive for physiological equality. Not only does this improve physiological coherence, it also solves for inequalities like age, gender, etc.

By applying this research, leaders can consistently develop a more authentic context which inspires continual innovation and fosters adaptive and highly collaborative cultures.

Capitalizing on Your Core Purpose

Corey Blake, Founder & CEO of Round Table Companies

Credit: Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

In this breakout session, Corey Blake shared his provocative company motto - "vulnerability is sexy" - and described how he used this big idea to shape conversations via installations at corporate events. He would have folks write down things that made them feel vulnerable, and submit them anonymously on slips of paper. Professional artists then brought these admissions to life on a large black wall, displayed publicly on the last day of the conference. In this way he created stimulating conversation and authentic connections.

Interestingly, however, corporate art installations are far from the work Round Table does. They are experts in storytelling, bookwriting, and coaching. So why the foray into events? Because it allows the company to express their purpose and process (which can most readily be summarized into "Vulnerability -> Encouragement -> More Vulnerability -> Authenticity") through an immersive user experience. Only once people understand his purpose does he begin a conversation about what he does for a living.

He encouraged his audience to consider a similar approach - and create experiences aligned with your core purpose, rather than your line of work. (As you might imagine, this got the Kinesians excited - since this type of thinking is right up our alley.) He walked us through an exercise wherein we worked to hone in on this core purpose, and thought through how we might invite the community to share in it.

How to Manage Virtual Workplaces

Candice Gouge of Pegasus Logistics, Seth Derner of Vivayic, & Anna Brozek of Big Cartel

With a digital economy, more and more companies are going virtual - including many Kinesis clients. So, we were excited for this opportunity to learn more about this growing trend - and in particular, how to build and maintain a strong company culture in this environment. Here are some of the tips and tricks we learned:

  • Leadership must be 100% invested. It's easy to forget remote workers are out there, particularly if only some employees work remotely. The entire company must be committed to making it work. One option could be to have one day a week where everyone works virtually, in order to build the right kind of communication habits.
  • Hire self-managed people. This should go without saying, but there is a specific type of employee who thrives in this environment - someone who is excellent at time management, knows him or herself well, and can avoid distractions.
  • Create guidelines. One topic that came up was teams working across multiple time zones - and one presenter shared that their company requires a minimum 4-hour crossover with the workday at headquarters to ensure enough time for collaboration. Make sure these types of policies are outlined from the get-go.
  • Meeting rhythms are essential. One-on-ones should be scheduled no less than bimonthly, and you should set a limit on how long a team member can go without some kind of face-to-face interaction (they recommended 4-5 months). Regular breakout team / department get-togethers aside from whole company events are also a good idea.
  • Implement (and use!) the right tools and systems. Not surprisingly, staying in constant communication is particularly important when it comes to collaborating virtually. They recommended tools like Slack, Basecamp, Pivotal, Jabber, and Yammer for this type of ongoing dialogue - but also encouraged a video conference software like Zoom for larger discussions whenever possible.
  • Make culture intentional. As we well know, culture is not something that can be created by accident. The same is (perhaps even more) true for a remote workforce. Send out onboarding questionnaires to get to know new team members, and assign a committee to own things like wellness programs, events, and community service. And most importantly - document everything. Don't let these efforts be haphazard.

Building a Culture of Performance

Ron Alvesteffer, President & CEO of Service Express, Inc.

Ron Alvesteffer shared the story of his company, Service Express - and how they've achieved double-digit growth every year since 2001. Essentially, he has worked to help his employees achieve personal, professional, and financial goals which then empower the performance of the company overall.

He does this through a system of very specific employee scorecards:

  • He recommends starting with the desired metrics, with no more than 8-12 on a scorecard.
  • He then breaks down the individual activities associated with this metric through an R-O-I system: Responsibilities, Objectives, and Indicators.
  • If metrics aren't met or if a mistake is made, he recommends conducting an autopsy without assigning blame.

He also asserted that systems and processes should create freedom by providing guidelines that make work faster and more efficient - it should not feel like red tape. He recommends writing these plans in pencil, as they are designed to grow and change.

And last but not least, he cautioned against hiring the wrong people. A thriving culture is only possible when you have the right people in the right seats - which makes the "hire slow, fire fast" philosophy all the more important.

And So Much More...

This only begins to scratch the surface of the dozens of brilliant speakers and valuable insights from the week - including a number of "Long Story Short" features, where experienced business leaders shared their stories of transformation and authenticity.

We heard from Joe Cirulli, who went from sleeping in his car to building one of the largest fitness empires in Gainesville, Florida. We met Bill Roark, CEO and Founder of Torch Technologies, whose calling in life was to help others - and did so by growing the wealth of his employees and establishing a 501(c)(3) arm of the company focused solely on supporting community nonprofits. And one of the most powerful moments of the week was when JT McCormick, the son of a pimp and drug dealer, shared his story of overcoming the odds after a chaotic childhood of racism, sexual abuse, and neglect.

It would be impossible to summarize every lesson learned and insight gained from this week of inspiration - but the Kinesians left Detroit ready to infuse authenticity into our day-to-day. Thank you to Small Giants for such an excellent event, and we can't wait to go back next year!

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