World Class, Local Touch: How the Best Employee Experience Balances Professionalism with Authenticity

with Dan Weber, CHRO at Marsh McLennan Agency, Southwest

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Dan Weber

Episode 24

”I’m convinced 90% of employee relations situations are where an employee just needs to feel permission to take control of the situation.”

Dan Weber is CHRO at Marsh McLennan Agency, Southwest. Marsh McLennan Agency is a global professional services firm that provides business insurance, employee health & benefits, retirement, and private client insurance solutions to organizations and individual clients. There, Dan leads the HR team and oversees compensation, benefits, onboarding, and more. On this episode, Dan talks with us about becoming a pied piper for talent, finding the sweet spot between responsibilities and compensation, and balancing professionalism and authenticity.

”We do try to show folks that you can be a part of something that is bigger than yourself. That you are there during small business owners’ worst day, their absolute worst day. And you’re there to let them know that they’re covered. And that they are gonna be okay. That they’re going to be able to recover because MMA was there for them.”

Listen in to hear

  • How to build company culture into the supervisor-employee relationship
  • Keys to effective communication during stressful times
  • How to manage day-to-day workload as a hybrid leader

”Employees don’t stay or leave an organization. They leave a boss. They leave that people manager. Or they stay because of that relationship.”


IMG TIFF to Editor scaled aspect ratio

Dan Weber

CHRO | Marsh McLennan Agency, Southwest

Dan is an award-winning HR leader and the Chief Human Resources Officer at Marsh McLennan Agency for the Southwest Region. There, Dan leads the HR team responsible for benefits, compensation, recruiting, and on-boarding processes and execution, as well as employee relations and risk mitigation. He has been with Marsh McLennan since 2016. Prior to the Marsh McLennan Agency, Dan served as National Director of Human Resources for Grant Thornton LLP.

Episode Transcript

Narrator: There are so many dualities when we talk about the employee experience. It’s almost like those old cartoons where there’s an angel on your shoulder and a devil on the other, going, “Be professional!” And the other one goes, “Just relax a little!” So are you super buttoned up? Or more relaxed? And there are other dualities. Like whether you want your employees to be fully remote or work from home? How much of the experience do you want to be digital versus in-person? Do you focus on honing employee strengths, or improving on their blind spots? The truth is that the best employee experience is often somewhere in the middle. Professional and authentic. World class and local touch. Because there’s room for both. It’s all about finding the balance between the two. That’s what we’re talking with Dan Weber about today.

Dan Weber: We spend so much time in the business world focusing on our development areas, our weaknesses. But we sometimes forget that we bring natural talents and strengths and we can gain a lot by capitalizing on those while also looking at our blind spots. But if all we do is spend time on our blind spots, then we forget about some of the kind of the natural gifts and strengths that we’ve had, and, you know, since joining, Marsh McLennan agency, I feel like it’s allowed me to tap into some of my just natural desire to wanna connect with others on a personal and less formal way while still being professional.I think that they can coexist, being your authentic self while being your best professional self.”

Narrator: Dan is an award-winning HR leader and the Chief Human Resources Officer at Marsh McLennan Agency for the Southwest Region. Marsh McLennan Agency is a global professional services firm that provides business insurance, employee health & benefits, retirement, and private client insurance solutions to organizations and individual clients. There, Dan leads the HR team and oversees compensation, benefits, onboarding, and more. And today, Dan is talking with us about becoming a pied piper for talent, finding the sweet spot between responsibilities and compensation, and balancing professionalism and authenticity.

On Cruising Altitude, we talk about employee experience lessons from leaders at companies with over 30k employees. A lot like reaching Cruising Altitude at 30k feet, things look a little different when you’re managing 30,000 people. On this podcast, we bring you insights from the leaders who inhabit that rarefied air. Today’s episode features an interview with Dan Weber. But first, let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsor.

Dan Weber: My name is Dan Weber. I’m centered, uh, out of Dallas, Texas, and I do feel like I’ve got the greatest job in the world. I’m the chief human resources officer for, uh, Marsha McLennan Agency Southwest. Um, our parent company is, uh, Marsh and McLennan Worldwide. Um, it’s a leading firm of human resource, capital management and consultancy and risk management services. The organization that I get to lead the HR services for is, uh, largely Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, and get to lead the whole suite of HR services. And, uh, it’s a real pleasure to be here today. I was actually on a call the other day where people said, you know, none of us probably planned on doing what we’re doing and that we never wanna be this when we grew up, I kind of did. I kind of did want to, um, be a part of helping, uh, lead and see people, uh, reach their potential. And I feel like that’s what I get to do in this, uh, C H R O role, but, uh, basically I get to own soup to nuts the, employee relations and, human experience here at Marsh McLennan. Agency. So we have our own in-firm um, recruiting, um, and talent acquisition team. We manage our own self-funded benefits, our whole suite of employee benefits we handle I’m also over our employee relations um, policies and practices. Uh, I do get some great consultation from our parent company, but for the most part, we get to kind of manage our, our employee experience through the policies that we provide. Uh, so I lead the recruiting and employee relations and, um, HR generalist, um, team. And that includes working on all of our, uh, compensation and, um, employee relations and, uh, leadership development, and career and, and learning opportunities. Uh, so kind of soup to nuts when it comes to the, uh, the whole HR function.

Narrator: Let’s step back and take a look at Dan’s industry overall in The Flight Plan.

Dan Weber: So this is an industry I never thought I’d find myself, uh, in it’s called the insurance industry, but I think it’s so much more important than that. We do help manage, um, risk, uh, for our, our clients. Uh, but, um, it’s also just providing the overall employee experience and all the benefits that go into that. But in a nutshell, uh, we’re the broker that helps, uh, I like to describe helps CFOs and leaders, uh, make the most important decisions they can about some of their highest spend, which is ensuring their physical assets, but also, uh, providing benefits for their human capital. And in doing that, um, we’re often considered the largest player in the mid-market, um, segment, um, here in Texas, and Louisiana. You know, every company, every, um, organization, uh, talks about their culture and if you were to describe our colleague, um, persona it’s it’s family. And even more important than that, uh, we look for true servant leaders. We’re famous for describing, um, we don’t care where you came from, or what you look like, or what your own creed is. We just care that you, uh, put people first. And that you’re willing to, um, put, uh, your colleagues above your title and that, um, you are there to, uh, look out for others. Uh, we feel like if we take care of our colleagues, they’re gonna take care of our clients. And then magically, they take care of our owners and our overall shareholders. Uh, we’re often considered, uh, kind of a, an informal quirky kind of persona, you know, this is the first company I’ve ever worked for where I’ve, I’ve actually been okay with connecting on social media and Instagram and being a part of the personal lives of my colleagues, because, um, you know, I grew up in HR in a very corporate blue chip environment, and those were just some boundaries you didn’t cross, but, uh, in this organization, we really encourage, uh, folks, uh, getting to know each other and being a part of each other’s lives. And, um, that might mean being involved in the community. It might mean being involved in, um, your faith and being comfortable with bringing that to the office. Um, you can say that we want people to bring their most authentic selves. Uh, in fact, that’s my goal as an HR leader, is I feel like I’m successful if I’m able to help others bring their best authentic selves to work. So that means that we are often, uh, quirky, silly. We have one of our most favorite events, uh, at the end of each year is our holiday breakfast where, um, some, uh, share talents, some sing and dance. Uh, we make fun of each other and we try our best to not take ourselves too seriously because we work very hard, but we also make sure that we have a lot of fun and that we, we take time out to laugh, commiserate and honestly be a part of each other’s lives.

Narrator: Like Dan said, he grew up in HR and experienced all different styles of leadership within Human Resources. So he’s used all of that experience to develop a style uniquely his own.

Dan Weber: I was so used to corporate speak, you know, growing up and, you know, uh, through the MBA program, through working at Verizon and other just wonderful organizations that really taught me great, um, financial acumen and seeing how HR is done well and done right. But then there’s a difference between doing that, um, and making a connection with your colleagues, the folks that you spend more time with than often sometimes we spend with their own, uh, personal relationships. And it did force me in the beginning to kind of change the way I write, the way I communicate. And for me, it was really letting down a guard that became very natural for me, that I all of a sudden realized, gosh, I can actually talk like a person and not like, you know, an HR bot, um, and actually have connections and trust that if you build certain relationships that you can be yourself and trust that they’re gonna take it the right way and, and really trusting the best intentions of others that you’re not going to be quoted out of context or, um, that you’re not gonna be misrepresented. Uh, it takes a lot of trust and that is something we work very hard at trying to foster in our organization. Some days we’re great at it. Some days we make mistakes and we ask for forgiveness and we try to improve and make good on it.

Narrator: I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “putting the human in human resources,” but being human – admitting mistakes, asking for forgiveness – is part of the HR role. We’re complex, imperfect beings, and a constant work in progress. Dan’s job is to help support employees where they need it most, and to shine a light on their unique strengths. What makes them unique? And how can employees be empowered to translate that strength into their purpose within the organization?

Dan Weber: I do believe that, um, it is important to focus on your brand, your polish, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a one size fits all. How you’re successful might very well be you leaning in on what makes you unique and makes you special? Um, There’s a book. Gosh, I’m trying to remember who the author was that, uh, the title was Now Focus on Your Strengths. We spend so much time, um, in the business world focusing on our development areas, our weaknesses, but we sometimes forget that we bring natural talents and strengths and we can gain a lot by capitalizing on those while also looking at our blind spots. Um, but if all we do is spend time on our blind spots, then we forget about some of the kind of the natural gifts and, and strengths that we’ve had, and, you know, since joining, uh, Marsh McLlennan Agency, I feel like it’s allowed me to tap into some of my just natural desire to wanna connect with others on a personal and less formal way, um, while still being professional. I think that they can coexist, uh, being your authentic self while being your best professional self.

Narrator: Supporting employee growth and development becomes easier when you get to know who your employees are, understanding what they care about and what motivates them. 

Dan Weber:You know, a favorite book of mine, uh, written by Dan Pink, uh, called A Drive. And it, it talked about what motivates, uh, everyone. And it is, it’s different. It’s on an individual level. It used to always be the stick or hook, you know, you’re trying to, to give an incentive or you’re trying to punish. And we are so far beyond that, or we should be, uh, in my organization, we don’t build anything. We sell our expertise and our relationship, our ability to be able to truly take care of our clients in the times that really matter most. And Dan Pink in his book talks really well about, um, you don’t motivate through the traditional incentives or punishments, um, but all that being said, people do need to meet their bills and still, you know, meet their obligations. And so my goal is always, how can I take those basic, you know, at the bottom of the Maslow’s, uh, hierarchy though that how can I take that off the table? How can I make sure that they’re able to get paid what makes sense, get the benefits that they need. And then let’s focus on what really lights you up and really motivates you in your career. It’s tricky, and we don’t always get it right. And so it means that we, we do scour a lot of industry data to find out, okay, what is our sweet spot? Because if we don’t pay, um, at least within market, then, you’re you’re asking people to focus on something you don’t want them to focus on which is pay. Um, but if you overpay then you almost over correct, and you create a new brand for yourself that you never intended, that you only hire top earners. And so our sweet spot has always been, try to be, um, hide in plain sight where you pay what makes the most sense for what you’re asking somebody to do. And to that extent, if you can take that off the table and then find out, what are their career goals? We find that more and more, we are realizing we wanna be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Um, and it often can be being a part of a vision or a mission that an organization has. Um, and again, since we’re not selling anything, we’re selling peace of mind and a lot of our most successful, um, colleagues, uh, it’s something they can grab onto and feel like that they’re a part of.

Narrator: Shepherding employees towards that deeper purpose is a big key to success. Let’s talk about more of those best practices in First Class.

Dan Weber: So one of our mantras is always be recruiting. Our CEO, his belief is that you can’t really become a leader in an organization unless you have a following. And he will honestly look at how many people have you brought into the organization, you know, this year, uh, cuz he believes we should all be, uh, he calls it a Pied Piper for talent and that you need to be that kind of electric or magnetic individual that, that brings others, um, that have similar, um, strong values into the organization. So, we are always recruiting. We consider the recruiting function as, um, consultants and we’re there to support what our leaders should already be doing, they should already be networking. They should already be bringing referrals. And so we focus heavily on referrals cuz we know that’s how we’re going to get more of the great culture that we have. Um, and that that’s probably practice number one is to always be recruiting, um, externally, but then practice two is always be recruiting internally. Uh, we have regular focus groups with our new hires, with our tenured colleagues, um, and then, um, if anyone is ever thinking of leaving also having, um, those, uh, preventative or even, you know, exit, uh, interviews. Uh, we probably over correct in doing focus groups and surveys and trying to understand, um, where we’re at with our colleagues. Um, because our, you know, our culture is so important to us. It’s something that we’re constantly looking for ways to keep the finger on the pulse, but that’s how we feel like we, we should always be recruiting back, our colleagues. They’re here, but we wanna continue to have stay interviews and keep recruiting them. Um, I think the third, um, and before we really get into kinda the digital realm is working on an improving and strengthening the, um, supervisor employee, uh, relationship. So the things I know you and I have talked about, uh, before are, uh, how important that relationship with the boss lead or supervisor, whomever is closest to you. That person is really the company to you. And, uh, so we spend a lot of time working with, um, our supervisors pouring into them, the skills necessary to build the best possible relationship and connection, that trust that we’ve been talking about that trust, that connection with their colleagues. Uh, and we use the word colleagues intentionally because we’re all partners together. We’re all internal clients and customers to each other that we’re all colleagues. But one of the things we always emphasize, uh, with our supervisors and that’s old term, but it’s the best one I can use. Um, I often like to say people managers that we’re managers of people, and letting those people managers realize that they are often the most important conversation at their employees’ dinner tables every night. And that usually stops a lot of our people managers in their tracks thinking, wow, my role is that important? And it’s almost embarrassing to think that their name is brought up at the dinner table so often. But when you think about it, think about those who have led you in your own career. That is often the case. And, um, because I’m convinced that, uh, employees don’t stay or leave an organization. Uh, they leave a boss. Um, they leave that people manager or they stay, um, because of that relationship, um, think how hard it is to leave a, a mentor, um, someone who’s guided and helped you in your career versus somebody who was really just the person who gave you your annual review or told you yes or no on your annual pay increase. Um, if you can become that mentor, that, Sherpa, that leader, that guide, Rather than leave that mentor you, you often, uh, hook your wagon to that person and you’ll go where they go. Um, and so our goal is to always strengthen and do everything we can to improve and strengthen that, uh, relationship with the people manager.

Narrator: Dan has a handful of platforms he and his team use to communicate with employees.

Dan Weber: We have all the standard fair, right? We have our intranet site, we’ve got all of the, the standard, um, boiler plate, um, stuff We use Microsoft Teams. We use various versions of Zoom, but I think what we found, um, has been the most helpful is, uh, we have what’s called iNGAGED um, it’s little eye. And G a G E D engaged. Um, and it’s, it’s meant to resonate, like being engaged and being, you know, fully immersed in the employee experience. And it’s an app that, um, all of our colleagues have on their phone and we do sell this externally and, there’s, there’s little things that are just very common sense that they’re almost uncommon, um, that when you know, our employees don’t initially know it as the iNGAGED app, they know it as the, My MMA. Um, and so. When we work with our external clients, it’s always branded with their logo, with their tagline. And so, um, when they see it, when their employee see on their phone, they don’t see My MMA or they don’t see iNGAGED, they see, um, you know, what they decided to call it. And it’s really your homepage on the go. Um, you’re able to get to the most critical parts of the intranet site or the most critical for our sales folks, all the most up-to-dated branded, um, uh, materials that they can use when they’re on the road. Um, our colleagues are able to instantly get to, um, any identifying information they need to go to the doctor’s office or to get their prescription filled. Um, they can get, uh, really quick information on their benefits. Um, at a click at a button they can get to their virtual doctor that is a benefit that, uh, that we provide. And we tell them, this is truly your home base on your phone, that this is one place you can go to get all the information you need. Uh, we find that that’s the best place to communicate. Uh, so, you know, we do send out at the normal public affairs emails and the postings on our internet site and on LinkedIn. But our hope is that most folks, um, they get it there if they need to, but they’ll get it there, um, on their actual homepage, on their app, on their, their device, cuz that’s, you know, always with them. And you know, we rolled that out a few years ago, and it really, uh, took hold during just some major events in our company’s history. Uh, we have a large group in Houston and when Hurricane Harvey hit, that is how we communicated, uh, folks weren’t able to get on our intranet site, but they could get to their phone. And, uh, that’s how we were able to do regular daily check-ins to see how everyone was doing, who’s without power, who needed to get to a hotel. Um, and then you magnify that with, um, the COVID 19 shutdown, um, you know, became even more important. it does have its challenges. We find that, um, if we ever neglect the communications on there, that people quickly forget and they move on to other apps and other shiny objects. And so it’s one that we have to continue to work on. 

Narrator: But one simple way to keep employees’ attention is to have frequent check-ins. Communicate with them regularly, whether it’s face-to-face or virtually.

Dan Weber: As low tech as it sounds, one of the things that has really, um, strengthened our bonds with our employees is that we instantly, um, went to, uh, twice a week virtual town halls. And for an organization that in the past, we struggled to do one town hall a year, cuz we just were so, um, informal. We felt like that was just far too formal for us. Let’s avoid those. Um, to, um, twice a week, which eventually turned to once a week and then twice a month. And now we continue to, uh, once a month, virtual town hall where literally all of us, everybody rank file from the front desk all the way up to the C-suite are together at least once a month. And, you know, we start out with a lot of quirky banter. We’ve got some fun, uh, things that we do, um, on a regular basis, but we always end with one thing and it’s our COO letting everybody know that he loves them. And there’s people who will literally wait till the very end to stay on. Cuz they just wanna hear that because our COO, you gotta know he’s former military, very soft spoken. And when he tells you that, you feel it and you believe it. It was one of those things where going through COVID 19, it strengthened our culture, strengthened our relationships. And we didn’t know that that’s what was gonna be the, the situation going into it. Um, but it did give us an opportunity to show our colleagues that we are all in this together. Um, our CEO announced at the very beginning that all of our jobs were going to be safe through the thick of the pandemic. And we kept our word. We continued to do our salary increases. We continued to pay bonuses. Uh, we determined early on that we were gonna get through this. Now it wasn’t without sacrifice. Um, there were, uh, many of us that sacrificed parts of our own incentive to make sure that we could pay, uh, employee bonuses on time. Uh, we had to delay some increases, but we still made good on them. Hopefully through making the change to working from exclusively in office to an exclusively virtual environment, to now where we are hybrid and facing, you know, unbelievable market talent pressures, we hope that we’ve earned a little bit of cred, a little bit of internal equity with our folks that, as tough as it is to keep up with, um, the salaries that are getting thrown around in the marketplace, hopefully we’ve shown that we are in it in the long haul with our colleagues, if they will stay in it with us. Um, and a lot of it started when we realized, you know what? We can’t be in person, but we can get together virtually on a regular basis. And here’s some things that, with so much that we couldn’t control during the pandemic, here’s some things we can control. We’re gonna make sure that we keep everybody’s jobs. We’re gonna keep paying increases. We’re gonna keep paying bonuses. I recognize not every organization’s able to do that. Not each of our clients were able to do that. We feel very blessed and lucky that, uh, we were able to do that. Um, but it’s a mantra that a, a mentor taught me years ago just control the controllables. And that’s how you bring sanity to not only your day, but to those that you have influence around. If you can nail down the things that, that you control, um, then you don’t have to worry, spend as much time worrying about the things that you can’t control. 

Narrator: Dan has his own tools for tracking how well employees are doing, how effective his team’s communications and initiatives are performing.

Dan Weber: I have this wonderful dashboard that I’m able to see on a regular basis how many imprints we have on the actual iNGAGED app. And, um, that shows me on a weekly basis, um, how many unique one time or frequent, um, visitors. Um, this is pretty boiler play. I know for a lot of applications, but for me, you know, as an HR leader, who’s, looking at the employee experience, very important. Um, and then again, as it’s simple, as it sounds, the continued stay interviews that we do, whether it’s through focus groups with our new colleagues or our tenured employee, um, focus groups, as well as our exit interviews. Um, just keeping a finger on that pulse to see how we’re doing and where we’re at.

Narrator: Dan is keeping his finger on the pulse of Marsh McLennan Agency, especially through any change. He’s found that moving slowly and actively handling change management along the way has led to better results.

Dan Weber: One of the places we’ve had to have the most focus, um, has been, as we’ve done a gradual return to office, we build all this great goodwill and equity. We didn’t wanna blow it, you know, at the very end and all of a sudden, you know, mess up. And by just saying everybody back in the office, you know, uh, stat. And so we spent a good year, um, Yes, again, polling and interviewing our people and getting their feedback and coming to the realization that there were so many things that, um, are better remote. Um, and there’s so many things that are better when you’re in the office. Being on Zoom all day is not one of ’em. if you’re in the office, you should not be on Zoom. yesterday was one of my, I called it my Zoom days where I just, I knew I was gonna be on back to back. So I tried to follow my own advice. And so I was not in the office. I said, you know, I’m gonna be, uh, in my man cave office here at home with my wilderness, uh, picture in the background makes me feel like I’m outside. But getting all of that taken care of when I’m remote so that when I’m in the office, um, on the next day, um, I’m in and I am present and I’m able to collaborate and that’s really how we, we sold it to our colleagues. We said, you know, there are, definitely reasons why we should still embrace, um, the flexibility of a remote environment and we’re gonna do that. And so for the reasons I just described, we’re gonna make sure that we do that. But we find there still are reasons to get together. And that is for team meetings, brainstorming, um, collaborating. There are clients where it makes sense to be in person. So we said, you know, based on what we’ve looked at, there’s been, uh, it’s probably about four to six days a month that we think it would make sense to be in the office. And so we then gave all of our employees the chance to raise their hand and say what days made the most sense for them without getting too much set in stone. And we found that, um, as we’ve, um, honestly looked at our badge swipes when people come in the office and way they don’t. And just through our, uh, regular conversations have learned that most of our employees on average are either in person with a client or in person with their fellow teammates, um, about four to six times a a month, which means, you know, either one to two, maybe sometimes three days a week. Um, for many of us, it ends up averaging about two days, uh, a week. One of the best ways I gauge the success on that initiative is that my inbox has been pretty quiet from a complaint standpoint as it relates to return to office. Um, our managers who thought they always needed to have their teams physically around them have been largely satisfied. And our employees that said, are you kidding me? You’re gonna make me drive to the office that one day, just to be a part of a team meeting, just because they’ve largely been satisfied as well. Um, so you never wanna say mission accomplished, right? But our hope is that, you know, since March of 2022, we’re hoping we’ve hit the, a little bit of the sweet spot that, um, providing as much flexibility as make sense while not losing our culture because we’re not around each other. And cuz we still feel like there’s a need, uh, not every day, but to be around each other. But when we are in person, creating collaborative events that create a magnet that tap into that FOMO, that fear of missing out, that when, people come in the office, they go. Okay, this. Is not what I expected. I’m coming back. Um, so it puts some pressure on people managers to make sure that it’s a great experience, um, that it’s an experience that they wanna return for and do that commute for. 

Narrator: Creating that great experience takes intention. You could even say it takes its own committee. That’s where the culture committee comes in.

Dan Weber: So there’s so many different things, but we, you know, we, um, we announced, a culture leader for our region and she is not in HR. Um, and so that was purposeful because we never wanted, uh, these culture events to be HR driven or the HR flavor of the month. Now I’m an important stakeholder and we meet regularly and we co-chair, our various, uh, culture committees, which is how we design these events. And so all these events, um, typically are, um, under the, um, the guidance of our agencies, uh, cultural leader. And they are often designed and, actually run by our various culture committees. So most of our large, um, offices have a committee built of volunteers and we call ’em, you know, funny enough our culture committee. And in some of our larger groups, they’ve, uh, had spinoffs like the philanthropy group, where they work on, um, social, um, causes that allow us to be in the community. We even have a clean up, uh, committee. There are those that actually get excited about helping making sure that our conference rooms are tidy or that we’ve got enough, um, hand sanitizer in the lobby and, and Hey, whatever floats your boat. So it’s great that we’ve got people like that. Um, so a whole host of different committees. Um, but even if offices or locations, aren’t large enough to have those, we at least have, um, one regional, um, overarching steering culture committee, uh, that is a part of it. And you can’t imagine the, the exciting events that they, come up with. You know, everything from fun runs that that help the community, um, to, uh, volunteering at food banks, uh, to, you know, bringing in, uh, probably the most, um, exciting, um, baristas we’ve ever had that. They brought in gourmet hot chocolate that people got really excited about. um, during these hot summer months, having a gourmet ice cream brought in. Um, and as soon as those things start getting around, people go, gosh, I wanna be a part of that. And honestly, a lot of it started when our agency president just randomly, before we ever started talking about return to office, he started just buying lunch for all of the skeleton crew that happened to be in the office on a Tuesday. Tuesday started to become a really popular day. And it’s become a thing where we almost joke that our company, it’s not a job. It’s not a career. it’s a meal plan. where we find that, good meetings are made even better with food. And so we do probably spend far too much on food. But, um, some of the other things we’ve also tried to do, uh, we used to look for ways to get excited when our sales folks would finally validate, which meant they finally had a book of business that was large enough, um, that will allow them to go on commission. Um, so rather than just sending an email, congratulating them, we now invite them, uh, their families to come in and be a part of a, a largely informal event where they ring the, we have this bell that, you know, decades ago, you’d ring when you ever had a sale, but this is the bell that says this person’s validated. And we bring their whole support team in too. And we honor that support team because we know they were a part of making that salesperson successful and bringing the family in because you know, the family was largely responsible for making that salesperson successful. And, you know, you bring out the Kleenex and the tissues and cuz you know the sacrifices that are made from all those teammates, all those family members to make that person successful. Cause we all know at the end of the day, none of us are paid until someone sells something. But there’s a way of doing that in a cutthroat way. And there’s a way of doing that in a we’re all in this together, you know, way. So those bell ringing, um, events have become, must see as well. But, uh, everything from, you know, just for food events, baby showers are a big deal around here, um, to something a little bit, more buttoned up when we have like the bell ringing.

Narrator: Dan has talked about creating what he called an addictive culture. But how do you do that? How do you recruit top talent and get them hooked?

Dan Weber: We were just on a very competitive, um, college campus, where they had a professional sales program that was not focusing on the insurance industry. So we were competing with some very top tier, um, companies, and there is a barrier we first have to get past that, you know, no one says insurance is sexy. And so we have to really tell our story. Um, that’s another thing that we really instill in our leaders that you gotta be recruiting, be always gotta be a great storyteller. You gotta share the story because we feel like we have a great story to tell. So I mentioned that we’re a part of that mid-market space and, um, in that mid-market space, we have a phrase that we’re world class, local touch. Um, and so, our parent organization is global in the sense that if there is an oil, uh, leak in Dubai, we are the first on the ground. If there’s an earthquake in Santiago, Chile, that we are the first on the ground. Um, but more close to home when there’s a tornado in east, um, Texas, we’re there. When there’s a hurricane and, um, in the Gulf, we’re the first that’s there. Um, but even more than that, when someone’s small, um, three person ma pa shop, um, catches fire we’re there. Um, and so, we do try to show, uh, folks that you can be a part of, um, something that is, um, bigger than yourself. Like I mentioned earlier, that you are there during, um, small business owners, their worst day, their absolute worst day. And you’re there to let them know that they’re covered. And that they are gonna be okay. That they’re going to be able to recover because MMA was there for them. But it didn’t start on that worst day. It started in the very beginning when our very technical professionals are able to look at that risk management spend and determine what is the right mix for them. You don’t wanna overpay for insurance, but you definitely don’t wanna underpay. When those bad days happen, you wanna make sure you haven’t underpaid. And so when we sell the vision that you can be a part of something, uh, a cause uh, you could be a part of giving organizations a peace of mind, that’s one step. The next step is that your whole job is to make sure that important decision makers in the C-suite, um, from the CFO, the COO, the CEO, you’re knee to knee with them, making sure that they are taking care of their most important, um, line items, the most important spend, um, insuring their physical assets, but also insuring their, employees. Uh, you can’t get more important than that. Uh, so helping people realize that they can be a part of some of the most important decisions that employers can make. Add on top of that, we think the mid-market space is the most exciting. Our whole country runs on small and medium sized companies. Um, so that’s where the growth is. Um, our parent company loves us because we’re in the small and medium and mid-market segment because that is truly where all the growth is. And so you get to be a part of a growing organization. You get to be a part of C level decision makers, and you’re helping them make important decisions, allowing you to be there in the moments that truly matter most. Where else would you wanna be? I mean, would you wanna be selling computers? I mean, what else would you wanna be selling? Um, I loved working at Verizon. I loved working in wireless at T-Mobile, but I, I can go to a kiosk and buy a phone. How do I go and sell and be a part of peace of mind?

Narrator: That’s a powerful purpose, and having a defined purpose is crucial in hooking potential candidates. But once they’re on board, it’s important to find out what makes them tick. What drives them to improve? Like we’ve talked about, it’s different for everyone. But sometimes finding that out is as simple as just asking the question. 

Dan Weber: I It’s something I tell our people manager all the time. Guess what? Sometimes we have to ask ’em sometimes we have to say What motivates you? What gets you excited? But the real underlying message there is that you actually need to have one on ones. And, and that’s actually a phrase we shouldn’t use anymore, but I hear it’s not one on one it’s one with one, Meeting regularly with your employees. Um, it’s not something I’ve always done in my career. Um, but I later in my career had some really great mentors that they kept up with me on a weekly or monthly basis and it sold me. And so it’s something that I will always try to do is meet regularly, uh, with my employees one on one, alone. Um, I think the best one on one is outside the office, maybe across the street, maybe in a coffee shop or donut shop your favorite shop and, um, and, uh, getting away from the office and just having that conversation. You’re gonna have to talk about something and you’re gonna out of things to talk about. So one of the best things you can talk about is tell me about the things that motivate you. And I don’t wanna hear, you know, the normal boiler plate. And so ask. Um, and not, everyone’s gonna tell you. Not everyone’s gonna be honest. And so start paying attention um, when you hear things like, um, oh, where are you going on your time off? See where they spend their vacations, or tell me what you did this weekend. You’re gonna hear the restaurants you’re gonna hear, oh, how was your birthday? You’re gonna hear about the gifts, the other things that really meant something to them and the ones that didn’t. You’re gonna find out those colleagues who are coin operated, where you know, it is all about dollar where others it’s more about something, uh, it’s a memento. It’s remembering a name, remembering a birthday, remembering a special event. Others it’s gonna be travel. Um, others it’s gonna be, um, an opportunity to take someone special to a wonderful dinner, but that all starts with spending one on one time with them. And it doesn’t happen over night. It means that you gotta be consistent. And you can see how this kind of comes back to that, um, strengthening the people manager and the colleague, um, relationship. It all comes back to that.

Narrator: But not everything is so simple all the time. It’s time to get into some lessons we’ve learned the hard way in Turbulence. So how does Dan handle it when things aren’t going well with an employee?

Dan Weber: I absolutely have to just re remove all distractions and focus on them. And probably the biggest distraction is myself. Because I, I immediately think, oh, I, I feel so bad for them. And I take it personally. And so I have to just put myself in full, um, empathy mode and think about them and what they’re going through. And listen. And one of the best ways I’ve had to do that is, um, after I’ve heard them out, ask what I think is one the most important questions. What would you like me to do? And the reason I do that is, um, often I find many people, they realize, I guess I don’t want you to do anything. I wanted someone to listen. Or I wanted it noted. I wanted someone to hear me out, have someone tell me I’m not crazy. Um, and those have honestly been my most successful employee relations, um, interactions where, um, at the end of the day, they’ve either realized that they just need to be heard or they already knew what the answer was. They just needed someone to validate the answer. Um, it is so easy for me to go into, uh, advice mode, um, but then I’m not listening. And so one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in my career is to listen and then ask questions. So that first question is what would you like me to do? Um, and then what do you think you need to do? And then what do you think you need from me or the organization to help you do what you think you need to do? The best outcomes are when it’s through self discovery and someone realizes that they can take control of the situation. I I’m convinced 90% of employee relations situations are where an employee just needs to feel permission to take control of the situation, whether it’s providing difficult feedback to someone who’s In the interaction with them or to take themselves out of the equation and even leave the organization if they need to. Um, but allowing them to regain a sense of control. I think it all starts with listening and then asking questions.

Narrator: And in hard times, where maybe there’s a big transition happening, maybe an acquisition, new leadership, new protocol, Dan says the best way of handling it is talking with employees. Being consistently present and informing them along the way.

Dan Weber: I think the first thing to do is to make sure you’re communicating. And that’s more than just, um, rapid fire. I think you can actually do more damage by overcommunicating, but the worst thing you can do is not communicate. And so it’s determining what do people need to hear and what do they not need to hear? And so, um, communicating what, um, is, uh, table stakes, in other words. Those things that you, again, you can control. So for example, coming out in the beginning of the pandemic and saying we can control, , keeping everyone’s positions. That’s something we’re gonna make a commitment to. So communicating again, what you can control and then communicating what you don’t know. It is absolutely okay to say, here are the things that we know. Here are the things that we don’t know. And the type of trust you get from that honesty and transparency, uh, is amazing. I can’t tell you how many times through the pandemic I had to say, I don’t know, but as soon as I do, I’ll let you know. Um, and then giving folks something to count on. And for us, again, it was, you can know that we’re gonna come in front of you twice a week. That’s how we started out. And again, we’re gonna tell you what we know. We’re gonna tell you what we don’t know. Um, I think the worst thing you can do is, again, not communicate. But then communicate something that you didn’t know. So don’t bluff it, don’t fake it. Um, employees will pick up on it. Uh, I do think calm is so important. I have a lot of energy and so that’s something that I have to really focus on, is recognizing, okay. How do I give a sense of calm. The only way I’ve been able to do that again, is letting people know, um, when I’m gonna communicate, give them something to count on and letting them know that during those times I’ll communicate what I know and what I don’t know.

Narrator: We flew right through that patch of rough air. Let’s touch on Dan’s specific leadership style in Smooth Landing.

Narrator: Something that is reflected in Dan’s work is his connection to his faith.

Dan Weber: So one of the things that I feel just very deeply about is that, you know, each of us are unique. Each of us are a blessing. Each of us are important. Um, we’re all a child of our creator. And because of that, um, everyone deserves to be heard and everyone deserves to be honored. And that is meant, you know, in my career, um, making sure that where I can, the things that I can control, giving every person the opportunity to, again, come to a place where they can be authentic, their best authentic self, and also let it be a place where they can achieve their potential. The hardest parts of my job have been when I’ve recognized that we’re not that place. Um, that we are not gonna be the place where everyone feels like they can achieve their potential. And for some, it may be they are here for a time and then they’ve gained all that they can and they need to go somewhere else. Um, I’ve probably cherished the most those times when I’m with a really important colleague and we look at each other and we say, you know what? It’s time to move on, isn’t it? And you kind of have that define the relationship, that breakup conversation. But, you know it’s for the best and in some of those situations, they’ve come back much more experienced and they’re that much better for it. But, um, I guess what you could say is just, uh, my faith has helped fuel. Me wanting to honor what’s special about each person. And making sure that beyond the job, beyond all of this, that they’re able to achieve what they’re looking to in this life. I hope it’s with us because I feel like, again, I’ve got the best job I work for the best company. And there’s so much that we can untap, uh, so much potential we can untap for each one in their career. But that’s not always the case for everyone. And so honoring, the unique specialness of each individual, um, is a deep part of my faith.

Narrator: And lastly, he has some advice to leave you with, for any other employee experience leaders listening right now.

Dan Weber: Be prepared to be surprised. Um, no day is the same. And that’s what I love my role and my career is that, uh, you can think you’ve got everything set up for your day and it’s going to change. And to me that’s exciting. That’s not for everyone. Another piece of advice I heard was if you wanna work around people, go to the morgue. We hear this a lot in life that, uh, oh, I wanna be in HR cause I wanna work around people. Well, you need to understand that, um, there’s a lot of wonderful blessings about working with people. There’s a lot of heartache and a lot of hardship working around people. And so you need to be able to be, uh, okay with that. Um, and so as long as you realize that it’s not all, although talking to me, it’s probably not separate. It’s not all parties. It’s not, um, all seeing everyone get promoted and reach their potential. There are hard days, but if you can be prepared to be surprised, every day is exciting. Every day is full of opportunity. Be curious, On our best days, um, at work, on our worst days at home, um, the one thing I think we have in our capacities is to be curious. I had a great mentor at my last gig that, that gave me that piece of advice that you can be sad. You can be mad, but you can always find a way to still be curious. And that allows you to be open to learning. And open to hearing someone else’s experience and be empathetic, cuz heaven knows in this role, you have to be empathetic. And so at least get to a place of curiosity and uh, that opens so many doors and it can help you be successful while you’re helping others be successful. Cause I think that’s what human resource is all about. Uh, we’re successful by helping others become successful, by helping them achieve their potential.

Narrator: So be curious about your employees, control the controllables, and find the balance between professionalism and authenticity.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode is brought to you by Firstup, the company that is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up by connecting every worker, everywhere with the information that helps them do their best work. Firstup has helped over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies like Amazon, AB InBev, Ford and Pfizer stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at

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Cruising Altitude

Lessons from companies over 30,000 employees

Conversations with leaders who are designing the best digital employee experiences in the world – from the front lines to the back office. Life is different over 30,000. Welcome to Cruising Altitude.

Hosted by Firstup Founder and CEO, Nicole Alvino.

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