A Company’s Vision and Mission Are Its Compass
Be willing to learn from everyone, including your team members and your children.
Jon Bolen is the CEO of EnTouch Controls, an organization that strives to create a healthier planet by delivering sustainability solutions that reduce energy usage, drive profitability and simplify facility management for multisite operators, one building at a time.
“Running a company without a vision and a mission would be like setting sail without a map and a compass.”
Jon is a business-centric technology leader who focuses on disciplined execution. While working on his MBA at Emory where he graduated with high honors, Jon cut his teeth on product marketing for NCR. After leading several groups at RaceTrac Petroleum, he helped develop technology-enabled services for companies such as Radiant Systems, Trax Retail Solutions, and Westec Intelligent Surveillance. An operations leader with over 20 years of experience, Jon has successfully scaled businesses and delivered results. Jon’s hobbies include cycling, sailing, and logging countless miles to watch his kids’ college soccer matches.
“You’ve got to have a culture that’s empowering and where people want to be.”
Michael Kurland (00:01):
Hello, I’m Michael Kurland, CEO and Co-Founder of Branded Group. Welcome to the #BeBetter Podcast. To me, our company’s mantra to “Be Better” is more than a tagline; it’s a culture that permeates our organization, propelling our team to Be Better to each other, our customers and our communities as well as to ourselves. Each week on the #BeBetter podcast, I interview leaders who authentically exemplify how they are being better in their professional and personal lives.
Today’s podcast is dedicated to the Children’s Bureau, which was founded in 1904 by Mrs. E.K. Foster, a Los Angeles community leader. This outstanding organization advocates for the rights of vulnerable children. In 2019, they changed the lives of 50,000 children and their families. Branded Group and volunteers from the Children’s Bureau assisted in the construction of a playground at The Oak View Family Resource Center. Learn more about the Children’s Bureau at https://www.all4kids.org/
Welcome back to another episode of the BeBetter podcast. I am your host, Michael Kurland. Thank you for being here today. My guest is Jon Bolen, CEO of ENTOUCH Technologies. Jon, why don’t you tell the audience who you are and a little bit more about yourself and the company?
Jon Bolen (00:23):
Absolutely. really appreciate it. Mike. I’m thrilled to be here. I am, as Mike said, Jon Bolen, I’m the CEO of ENTOUCH and have been a part of this great journey at ENTOUCH since 2013. We changed the way that multisite facilities managers run their building and manage their infrastructure. We do it quite frankly, by improving their profitability and we like to say improving the planet, just one building at a time.
Michael Kurland (00:49):
I think that’s a great tagline. We talked about that offline a little bit and it made me smile. I’m sure it makes your customer smile as well. So let’s get started. Let’s jump right in Jon. We talked offline when we were first having our get to know each other session and we started talking a lot about developing your mission, your purpose and your core values. I thought that it was something that we both shared and experienced in different times obviously. But tell us a little bit about how ENTOUCH did develop your mission, your purpose, your core values. Let’s get into that a little bit.
Jon Bolen (01:26):
Sure. It’s funny. I’m not sure if folks understand how critical a vision and a mission statement really are until they’re absent. I don’t know if we talked about this before, but I’m a sailor and running a company without a vision and a mission would be like setting sail without a map and a compass. In today’s world, it’s probably without a GPS and a chart plotter, but it really is akin to that, right? No one would ever consider doing even a short crossing without some sort of compass and some sort of directional capability. But somehow we sometimes think it’s okay to run our companies. In all fairness at ENTOUCH we had a mission statement before we kicked off a process to really refine it, but it was a marketing mission, right?
Jon Bolen (02:16):
It wasn’t a mission at our core. It wasn’t our corporate compass for who we were, who we wanted to be. We undertook over a year ago to really find out who that was. We actually engaged a strategic consulting firm to come in, to facilitate a process for us. We interviewed all of our key employees. We interviewed our key customers. We even interviewed potential customers who we had lost and our consulting partners then facilitated a multi-day workshop that included the entire leadership team and even included several of our board members. What we came to realize is that that sort of snappy little line that I started off with, that our vision really is to save the planet and improve profitability and do it one building at a time. It was something that we could rally around.
Jon Bolen (03:07):
It was really interesting the energy in the room when we got there. What made it so much more poignant was all of the leaders in the company were there. As I said, including board members, including the chairman of our board were in the room when we realized that’s who we were. Then you have to take it a step further. Now that you understand the vision for where you want to go, your mission, how are we going to do it? So we further articulated as we created a path to a healthier planet by delivering sustainable solutions that reduce energy, drive profitability and simplify facility management for multisite operators. What that really does is in a very quick, short statement tells all of our people, what are your priorities.
Jon Bolen (03:56):
What are you here to do? First big picture, change the world. Everyone, everybody wants to be a part of an organization. It’s one of the reasons I work at ENTOUCH, I wanted to work somewhere where I could say to my kids, I do that. But more importantly, it tells everybody in the organization when you’re trying to prioritize what you’re doing. Am I doing something to reduce energy for my customers? Am I making their job to manage facilities easier? Or am I making them more profitable? Am I making multi-site operations easier?
Michael Kurland (04:29):
All these things you’re saying are powerful and put all your leaders in one room and let them come up with that mission. It’s got to be empowering for them. They feel like they have that skin in the game and now they are helping to change the world. It’s all about baby steps, right. We can’t go out and stop global warming by ourselves in one day. But if we all do our part, we can feel like we’re moving towards the greater good. So I think that that is a great thing. I think that’s what we were talking about before is that we both did a survey process and then all of our employees and it gives them the skin in the game. It’s not just a paycheck, it’s not just a name on a wall that we walk past every morning. It’s actually a mission and that’s your mission, right?
Jon Bolen (05:21):
A hundred percent. We’ve not yet I would say rounded up the process by really articulating our core values. To me, that’s still a work in process for us. I’ve developed a single theme that I’m managing the business with, which is truth and transparency. It’s really become incredibly important and a really strange time to manage a business when we’re all virtual. But I’ve relied on just that paradigm to communicate with my employees and my customers. But I’m looking toward the same kind of process to craft out more holistically what the core values of the business are to support that vision and mission.
Michael Kurland (06:04):
When we first spoke, you did mention during this time going to truth and transparency to your customers and your employees. You talked about this. You were enjoying managing in this difficult time because it was a test of our capabilities and you were really embracing the new normal. Talk about that a little more because I thought that was a good take on this because we could all talk about how we were about to have our best years ever and then the pandemic hit, and now here we are. We could be a victim and say, “Oh, poor us.” I liked your thoughts on this and what you said. So give me a little bit more on that.
Jon Bolen (06:45):
Thanks. I appreciate that, Mike. I as you know, I’m pretty passionate about this topic, right? When we shut everything down and myself included with that four to six weeks, we’re good. Right? All we have to do is take our medicine here. We’ll run a few scenarios, maybe it’s eight to 12 weeks, but by July 1 this is really going to be in the rear view window and we’re good to go. Here we are coming up on Labor Day and there’s really no back to normal in anybody’s lexicon anymore. This is the situation we have to manage. When you and I talked, I shared with you that my wife and I are both cyclists.
Jon Bolen (07:26):
I do not look like a cyclist for people to watch the Tour de France. I don’t always ride up hills and difficult roads nearly as well as my wife, but we’re crazy cyclists. That you’re in that small percentage of people that are literally opened up a map, look at a road we haven’t been down, point at it, go, and let’s go here. Then we put that in our GPS and we just go. Oftentimes it’s very hilly and my wife climbs like a goat. Especially when they’re rolling hills and you get to the top of an unknown hill and you look, and there’s more hills off into the distance. You’re thinking, “Oh my gosh! This is so hard.” It’s a test. What’s interesting is, and one of our favorite rides, my wife and I did just took off and rode off into North Texas towards Oklahoma and discovered some of the most gorgeous roads, but it was one of the hardest rides I’d ever had.
Jon Bolen (08:17):
When we finished, I said to my wife, like that was really hard, but that was an amazing ride. My wife looks at me and she goes, “I know that was amazing. Let’s do it again tomorrow.” And we did! What’s, crazy about that is that we’re cyclists and we do things and we think that’s fun, but more importantly, that it was the test that made it so exciting. So when you look at the pandemic and what we’re going through now, we can choose, as you said, to just be a victim. “Oh my God. Look at the hills. It’s so hard. I just can’t wait until it’s flat road again. I just can’t wait to get back to the normal things that we used to do.” Well, that’s not going to happen. So you’ve got to decide that you’re going to this moment as a leader and as an individual. Now I’m not saying revel in all of the challenges of the pandemic. Not at all. I’m saying enjoy being tested by it. Recognize that this is when we can shine, right? This is when our teams need us to lead. This is where our customers need our help, right? This is when you can differentiate yourself from everyone else because being the victim and waiting for it to go back to normal, isn’t going to get anything done.
Michael Kurland (09:22):
Absolutely. I have actually thought about that conversation a few times since as leaders, we both have our proverbial toolbox. I keep thinking we’re sharpening those tools because it will never go back to normal. But when it does level out and we have some sense of normality back in our lives, we’re going to be that much better of leaders for having pushed through this time. Our staff is going to look up to us and say to use a sailing reference, steered the ship through that storm and we came out. I’ve thought about that quite a few times since our previous talks. I wanted to make sure we touched on that a little bit, because it’s been impactful to me and hopefully to our listeners as well. So let me jump into the next question I wanted to get to. What’s the impact of the company culture on employee engagement and retention? I don’t know how I feel about that, but I’d like to get your take on it.
Jon Bolen (10:29):
It’s funny because historically it was this significant component for us, right? We’re a venture backed technology company. Culture is everything, right? It’s been this way since the days of the dot com’s and the late nineties and the early 2000’s, where we’ve got to be pulled to recruit the right people. You’ve got to have a culture that’s empowering and where people want to be. So we had the proverbial ping pong table. We had the beer keg and the break room, our developers on Friday afternoons had their team stand up around the keg. We brought Friday breakfast in every morning for the whole company. We did cool outings. I think the last really cool one we might’ve done was ax throwing. That’s a new thing.
Jon Bolen (11:17):
Everybody goes and throws the axes. I mean, we did all of those fun events and they underpinned this environment of a tremendous amount of casual and personal communication. Right? Alot of our team members would refer to us as a family. So the pandemic though has forced us to really think about how are we digitally transforming that? That to me is one of the biggest business problems I’m trying to tackle right now. How do I continue to have this incredibly dynamic, fun, empowering and communicative culture when I can’t just jump in the break room and play ping pong. Although I didn’t play ping pong very often, I watched it and made jokes about other people playing. In all fairness, because I’m really bad at it, but certainly I can share a beer with somebody, right?
Jon Bolen (12:13):
To bring in a new employee and walk them through the building and personally introduce them to every team member and ensure that we had this very flat culture. One of the jokes I think of in the building is a lot of old school folks, we will still call senior folks, “Mister.” If somebody calls me Mr. Bolen, I say, what? Is my dad here? We had this very casual, casual culture. Now we have to figure out how we’re going to have some permanent work from home policies. We had a work from home policy a day or two, a pay period before we went to completely remote. We believe when we come back, a large portion of our organization will permanently be allowed to work from home.
Jon Bolen (13:01):
So we’ve already started looking for a new office space. We’re trying to rethink office space. How do I find an office space that’s really exciting and inviting so that the folks do feel safe when they come in, but also is safe when they get there and that I can promote the same kinds of things we had in our culture on the fun side, but also the things that get jobs done really well. So the empowering side and the communicative side of our culture that’s something that we’re turning over in our head every single day right now.
Michael Kurland (13:30):
I totally agree. We have some of the similarities with our office space as well. I actually designed it about two years ago and we moved finally into our new, big, airy, spacious with more square footage there because we thought we were going to grow into it, which we’re never going to grow into now. Because we’re going to also have the work from home, probably be a permanent thing. Instead of the ping pong table, we had the foosball table and I’ve got to say, I thought I was good from my college days and I haven’t played in 20 years. So I’m rusty and I’m not good. So I get it. We’ve grown into this new place and we’re trying to figure out how we are going to make that move forward with the permanent work from home.
Michael Kurland (14:18):
We did a lot of Zoom calls initially, Zoom happy hours. I don’t know about you, but I am Zoom “happy houred” out because I’m my own bartender and I definitely don’t know when to cut myself off. They get a little redundant, right? So there’s only so many pop culture questions you can ask every other week. So the attendance falls off. What’s the new way? What are you thinking and what do you see working going forward from home culture?
Jon Bolen (14:53):
I think you have to respect the success folks have had with work from home, right? So first and foremost, you’re going to take a group of your employees and allow them to work from home for extended periods. But what we’ve found is we’ve also got to find a way to catch the lightning in a bottle again. Some of that’s the collaboration that oftentimes only face to face gets, right? We were all in an open environment. So the ability to roll your chair back, stand up and say, “Hey guys, can we jump in a room real quick? I’ve got an idea.” It’s really hard. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but you have to be so much more thoughtful about how you make that happen with Zoom or Teams.
Jon Bolen (15:28):
First and foremost, we’ve got to figure out a way to create an office space where people want to go. If I let you work from home, great. But I want to create an environment that you want to be there. So we’re thinking more about productivity spaces. Honestly, we’re thinking about going away from open spaces to at least for some people to have offices so that they’re comfortable being there all day because that checks the safety box. It allows them to have one-on-one discussions in a relatively safe environment with someone else, as long as the office is itself large enough.
Jon Bolen (16:14):
We’re thinking through what are the dynamics to get people together so that we get that lightening in a bottle back, which is to me, how do you make major leaps forward in the product, major leap forward for customers? It’s when two or more people in your company are working on a problem in a collaborative fashion. I’ve seen some of that happen with the virtual tools. I feel like it happens a little bit more slowly. I’m, I’m excited to try to leverage the tool set with a forward-thinking office environment that allows us to do both. Then we have to start with thinking more creatively about how do we bring our teams together. So, we already had just before the pandemic and in fairness, probably about three months before the pandemic had started very structured every two weeks, all hands-on company training, right? So we believe that every person in the business should be an expert on the business.
Jon Bolen (17:03):
We have a curriculum every two weeks. It’s a new topic and we train the entire company on that topic. Maybe it could be a technical, a new technical issue. So something that we’re releasing out of R& D. It could be a sales component. Maybe a new deck that we’ve put together. We train the entire company on it. We recently did a competitive analysis. We trained the whole company on the competitive analysis. So that said, I love what we’re talking about is on that two week cycle, everybody comes in as long as we can do it safely. Then on a monthly cycle doing a barbecue or something. It’s something that we can go return to our roots of being a family. But the key is you have to be mindful. We’re going to have to think about it because we’re not all together. The culture is going to become one of the things you to work on. Not just let it happen.
Michael Kurland (17:52):
I totally agree. I think from our point of view, we don’t do the cross training, like you just talked about, but I love that. I may steal that idea from you. So it’s great idea, especially to make sure that everyone’s trained from day one in what they do, but then, once you’re trained, the sales team doesn’t necessarily work on operations and vice versa. So I love that idea. What I’ve been noticing is that we’re missing that human contact right now as well. We’re putting into effect some small gatherings, actually, at least here in Southern California, we can dine outside right now. That’s where we’re at in the COVID thing. So we’re putting together small team dinners. If you don’t feel comfortable coming, we’ll send you a Door Dash to your house and totally respect that. But if you feel comfortable and I think that’s the big thing, because we got a lot of millennials in our workforce and they live by themselves and that’s the new worry for me is that we’re going to have a lot of issues with some sort of new PTSD from working and isolating by yourself for so long.
Jon Bolen (19:07):
We’ve started having a conversation. Our Zoom happy hours started to trail off and we talked to one of the leaders in our company and asked “Hey, you guys aren’t coming anymore.” I said there’s just so many people there, it’s just not the same. You got a screen of 30 people and it’s just this cacophony of noise. Nobody knows when to talk and who they’re talking to. We really need some human interaction. So we’ve started to talk about it and I’ve challenged people to help us think through what we can do within the local guidelines, supporting both the CDC and the local governments. What can we do safely that a majority of people would want to come?
Jon Bolen (19:51):
The folks that may have someone at home that’s immune compromised or has one of the underlying comorbidities that we’re worried about. They shouldn’t be asked to come if they don’t feel comfortable. But to your point, we have all these people that are just yearning for some social interaction. We forget most of our lives is spent at our job, which is where a tremendous amount of our social infrastructure is. We’ve really started turning this over in our heads. You guys were in Texas and things are a little bit I want to say out of control, but not as under control as we would like. It makes it difficult to what to suggest right now. “Hey, let’s all go to a park or let’s all go.” But we are thinking through it because it’s going to matter. It’s going to matter a lot.
Michael Kurland (20:44):
It’s definitely going to matter. I think we’re on month five now and it’s not going away anytime soon. I think as leaders, it’s our responsibility to figure it out. Like you’re saying, working through what we can do to get where we need to be for our people. They’ve proven they can work from home from my point of view and your point of view. They’re thriving actually. Most of my employees and I would assume yours as well. But, what do they do after they shut their computers off at five o’clock? Are they drinking too much alcohol because they’re lonely or are they isolating and not talking to anyone? We had an executive dinner a couple of months ago, maybe like about two months ago. They had opened indoor dining for about, less than 30 days, because once they opened it, it might as well have just been a Petri dish.
Michael Kurland (21:40):
We did take advantage of it with the executive team, which was seven or eight of us and we social distanced. Same thing, but it was awkward. Everyone showed up and they were like, “Hey, what do you do? What do I do?” They hadn’t talked to someone in person in so long. It happened to me too. I was like out of sorts. But then after a couple of drinks, then everyone was fine, but initially it was like that. I want to move on to the next question. Obviously we’ve been talking about the COVID-19 impact on your culture. How has that affected your leadership style as well?
Jon Bolen (22:26):
I think we talked through this a little bit. It’s more about for me embracing the challenge, right? That’s the biggest thing that I’ve recognized. Like everybody else, when we first started were scared to death and what’s going to happen to the company? What’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen? How am I going to manage school with my kids? For me, first and foremost was to stabilize the organization, communicate very effectively with the team, make sure that they felt very comfortable, that they knew what was going on.. I did not tell my team, “Oh, don’t worry. Everything’s gonna be fine.” I did not on March 15th, say that. I said, this is going to be really hard.
Jon Bolen (23:16):
Then I updated them on a very regular basis. My cadence now is every week or two, quite frankly, because I need information to change. Right? Some days it feels like we’re doing business in slow motion. So I don’t want to be repetitive with what I share with the team. But the other piece is, as we talked about earlier, is once I realized there was a level of permanency associated with the changes in the business, I challenged my team to challenge themselves with the test and embrace the test. A lot of the themes and some of my folks are going to listen to this. They’re like, “Oh my gosh! All of the darn cycling analogies and the sailing analogies! Oh my God, if he sends out one more email about climbing the hills.”
Jon Bolen (24:03):
But I really have try to set a tone that is, this is a grind, right? We are in the grind and we were grinding up this hill and this is just what it is and enjoy being tested. And Oh, by the way, you’re doing a fantastic job. Right? So I don’t know that this changed my leadership style, but I did adopt very hardcore, a ton of transparency and then fairly quickly pivoted from “let’s get stable” to “let’s just accept this as our reality and do our best to just grind our way through it.”
Michael Kurland (24:40):
I like what you said there. I think also what I hear is your authenticity as well. I think that shows through to your employees when you’re being transparent and authentic and telling them it’s not going to be okay. It’s definitely not okay, but we’re going to work together and we’ll get through it. So I think that’s great. I’s very similar to the things I’ve done. Sent them home right around the same time, told them you’re working from home until further notice. We do about a biweekly update, and it’s only because it used to be daily or I check in on everyone every day because I thought it would be four to six weeks. Now it’s like a biweekly because there’s just no new news, you know? We’ve got employees that are still on furlough that I update. As soon as we can get you back, we’re going to get you back, which is a very hard thing to talk about. Let me ask you this one last question. We’ve covered a lot of topics today, we’ve covered a lot of ground, at least with culture. If you could change anything about your company culture, what would it be and why?
Jon Bolen (25:49):
That’s a really good question. I think I would change our willingness and ability to celebrate. We’re a really driven group. We’re in this high growth technology enabled service space. We invariably ended up doing two things, right. We judge ourselves really hard, right? When you’re servicing customers, especially in a centralized way out to remote customers, you’re your own worst critic. When we hit a milestone and we focus too quickly on the next one. When you think about it, we’ve never had a customer cancel our service, unless they’ve gone out of business or sold a site. We have a hundred percent renewal rate. It means we do a fantastic job, but because we sweat those details every time.
Jon Bolen (26:53):
So most days are spent with people trying to manage the mistakes and not celebrating the victory. We’re all are our own worst critics. We find ourselves just focused on the negative of what happened that day. Because we have to get it fixed. Then that’s just compounded by the fact when we get a win, we’re like, “Oh, that’s great, but we have to go there.” We just get this quick “Hey, what’s next?” If I could change one thing and it starts with me, let’s be clear, this clearly is an issue that starts with me, right? It starts with the CEO.
Jon Bolen (27:31):
I know when they listen, they’re going to be like, “Dude, you’re talking about you, right. This isn’t us.” This is you. But it is the fact that we have this culture and the reason we’re so good with our customers and the reason we don’t have people cancel is because we hold ourselves to such a high standard that sometimes we forget to celebrate.
Michael Kurland (27:55):
I love that answer and I can very much relate. We have a 96% employee retention rate and we used to be 98 and we recently had two employees leave for their own reasons. Now I have to say 96. I’m like, what the heck? We’d be 98, you know? But that’s still great. That’s still great and you’re doing a great job. If you can’t live in it and be happy in those moments, then what’s the point, right? Well, Jon, this has been a great interview. I think we have so much more to talk about, but we’re short on time here. So we’ll definitely have to have you back on the show. For the audience out there, if they want to get a hold of you, how can they look you up?
Jon Bolen (28:47):
If you want to get a hold of me, you call my mobile (214) 986-6903 or you can reach out to me at Jon.Bolen@entouchcontrols.com. I’d love to hear from someone.
Michael Kurland (28:59):
Jon, thank you so much for coming on today. It’s been a pleasure and we’ll look forward to having you back on soon.
Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Mike.
I’d like to take a minute to thank you, our valued listeners. My intention is for this podcast to inspire you, in some way, to be better. Change starts from within and radiates outward. Therefore, start with being better to yourself and only then will you recognize how to be better others and your community. Thank you for joining us today! If you want to learn more about Branded Group, then visit us at www.branded-group.com. From our website you can follow us on social media. Also, always feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. Until next time, Be Better.