We talk with Mark Babbitt, CEO of YouTern and author of A World Gone Social about what it takes to be a social leader.
Jacob: Hello, everyone. I’m Jacob Shriar, Director of Customer Happiness at Officevibe. And today, I’m with Mark Babbitt who’s CEO of YouTern and co-author of “A World Gone Social.” Mark, thanks so much for being here with me.
Mark: Thank you, Jacob. Pleasure to be here.
Jacob: Awesome, yes. So excited to talk to you. You know, I did one with the other co-author of “A World Gone Social,” Ted Coine and I’ve spoken with your friend Shawn Murphy from Switch and Shift. I know you’re involved in Switch and Shift. We’ll talk much more about that but I’d say, correct me if I’m wrong, a big focus for you right now is this book, “A World Gone Social. “And it’s, from what I’ve been seeing, getting a ton of positive reception. Is that correct?
Mark: Well, we’ve been blessed to say the least. You know when you write a book you never know if anybody’s going to read it other than maybe your mother and your spouse. And Ted and I have been very lucky that the message in the book has caught on and seems to be making a difference.
Jacob: Yeah, that’s great. I think it’s almost like an unavoidable message. I think maybe that’s why in my opinion it’s picking on so much because it’s like even if you don’t take the advice from the book or you don’t read the book, whether you like it or not, as a leader, the social age is coming or it’s already here. So I guess you can ignore that advice if you want but you’ll be left in the dark when everyone moves forward, right? But you know, I guess a lot of people…not confused, maybe they don’t fully understand what it means to be social because a lot of people think, “Okay, I will just set up a Facebook account and then we’re good to go.” But maybe can you clarify for everyone. What does it mean to be a social leader?
Mark: Well, I think first of all we need to acknowledge that social is not Twitter, it’s not Facebook, it’s not a tool, it’s not even a technology. Social and social leadership is a mindset. It’s radically different than what most of us learned in business school from our mentors or from our parents. It’s all about active listening and collaboration and getting the right people in the right room at the right time, regardless of what their title is or longevity or experience levels. It’s what genius do I need in the room right now to solve the problem in front of me or to rise to the challenge in front of us. And so it’s just a different mindset. It has nothing to do with tweeting or posting or sharing. It’s all about letting the world in and capitalizing on the collective genius in the room.
Jacob: Really interesting that you said that. Something that I’m starting to write a little bit more about, and I’m actually researching for the fun of it just because I’m actually super interested in this, I like to research a lot about neuroscience in general. But one of the topics that I’m focusing on right now because…anyway, it doesn’t really matter why, but I’m focusing on the neuroscience of change and like how difficult it is to change your habits and change from, let’s say, not looking at employees just to get their ideas to accepting them. Like you said, getting them in the room and treating everybody as equals and it’s not…I mean, I guess I have my opinions on this but I’d love to ask you what do you do in that situation? It sounds pretty like an intense challenge. How do you overcome that change?
Mark: Well, I think one of the things I know you’ll find as you’re doing your research is when we embrace change, when we make change part of the behavior pattern, then it comes much easier than it does when change is forced upon us. Nobody…human nature dictates that if you tell me I have to change I’m going to resist, and I’m going to resist sometimes in a very strong manner. And that’s what’s happening a lot around social leadership. We get these CEOs or managers, even entry level leaders who say, “Look, I’ve earned my stripes. I worked hard to get to where I am and I don’t want to lose that control. I like being an autocratic leader and I don’t want to change. I don’t want to become a better listener. I don’t want to become Chief Facilitating Officer. I want to be a dictator.” And no, nobody really wants to be a dictator but that’s how it comes across.
And so when we embrace change and we say, “Look, here’s the wave that’s coming. I see the good its doing. I see what happens when Target treats a customer who needs a clip-on tie really well. I see the impact that has or could have on my business and I want to be a part of that, ” well, then change comes much easier. But if we ever walked in, you or I, Jacob, we ever walked in and said, “Hey, leader, starting Monday, you’re going to change the way you lead,” that’s never going to work. Neuroscience will not just let that happen
Jacob: Interesting. And I really want to slow down and break this down because I think this is an important topic but I don’t want to rush through it. Plus, you have a whole book on this stuff and we can’t go through the entire book on this chat. But I’d love to ask you, if you can, what specifically, and I really emphasize the word specifically, what specifically can leaders do to be more social?
Mark: Well, I think it really comes down to first of all, are you willing to lose a little bit of control? I mean, again, we were trained as leaders to say, “Okay, here’s the problem. I have a team in front of me so I’m going to dictate or delegate, depending on your frame of reference, and I’m going to have Jane do this, and I’m going to have Mary do this and I’m going to have Bob do this. And they’re all going to go do their things and they’re going to come back to me with the results or with those tasks accomplished and we’re going to be that much closer to achieving our goal.” And it was all very dictatorial and all very process oriented. Now what we do is we sit people in the room and we say, “Here’s the problem we have. What’ve you got? How can we help fix this?” And you listen. And so that’s step number one.
Now there’s so much to it, Jacob, because in order to be social, in order to get the right people in the right room at the right time, we have to expand our universe and that’s where social media comes in. What experts do we know? Who can we bring in the room? Whether they work for our company or not, whether they’re a high power consultant or not, who knows the answers to the problem that we’re trying to fix today? And the more we grow our social network and we surround ourselves with different levels of expertise and different levels of experience, the more knowledge we have to call upon. And so that’s where social media comes into play. We’re not limited by any factor on who we know now and so the more we’re active on, say, Twitter chats, LinkedIn groups, blogging, commenting, the more active we are, the more people we know, the more experts we can bring into our circles.
Jacob: Interesting. So I guess more than anything let’s say starting high level, it’s really just about, like you said, expanding your network and listening to other people. Like from there though, are there other things you need to start doing? I’m wondering is there like…not a step-by-step process but so that it’s not so overwhelming, are there things that maybe you should do first? Is that the first thing you do? I’m just wondering how to not make it so overwhelming.
Mark: Well, I think the first thing we have to do is find out where we stand right now, Jacob. We can’t institute change. We can’t convert over to social leadership without knowing the strengths of our team now, the strengths and the weaknesses of our team now. What are we good at, what are we not so good at? What am I good at and where do I need help? And so that’s where it starts is if we’re going to make this transition, then where do we need the most help? And then you go and find that help. And that’s so much different than what we’ve been taught because we were taught to work with the team that we have versus expanding the team and making it bigger and better. So that’s the first step of self-awareness. Second step is probably just purely from a logistical point of view, is ask the people that you’re used to working with, “What can we do different.” Forget that whole, “That’s the way we’ve always done this thing. How can we make a difference? How can we make this better? Let’s forget about policy and procedure. Let’s start from scratch and let’s open the room.”
And as leader, if you can create that safe environment where everybody’s opinion, again, regardless of title, rank, longevity, it doesn’t matter but every voice counts, you are well on our way to being a social leader.
Jacob: That’s great advice there. Well said. One thing I know that you write a lot about is social media’s impact on business. I just love to ask you if you can give any cool examples of companies that are doing good things, companies that let’s say get social media.
Mark: God, they’re so many now. When we first started writing the book, frankly there weren’t very many. We were trying to force it and in phase one of Social, Jacob, it seemed like it was okay as long as you had a Twitter account, a company Twitter account, a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page, a LinkedIn group, then it was okay to broadcast. It was okay to spam people. It was okay to just shout your messages at people. And that didn’t last very long. We grew tired of the noise. We grew tired of being talked at. In the social age, we want to be listened to. We want to be engaged with. We want to be part of the conversation. And so there are some great companies doing…I mean, you look at the work that The Tangerine Bank is doing up in Canada where their CEO, Peter Aceto, is a native, he’s on Twitter listening to his customers throughout the world talk about his bank. And because he’s listening, he can now engage and fix a problem or rise to a challenge, and so amazing work done there.
You look what IBM is doing. Four hundred and forty thousand employees and they’re completely shifting the nature of their culture toward social. And everybody, every employee has access to social sharing techniques and learning tools and it’s such a huge shift in their culture that they obviously need to be applauded. But it’s the little things that make the biggest difference Jacob, I think. You know I alluded earlier to the…you might have heard the story about the young man who walked into Target because he needed a tie for a job interview. And because he didn’t know how to tie a tie, he was specifically looking for a clip-on tie.
Target didn’t sell clip-on ties so the person who was helping the young man try to get ready for his job interview said, “We don’t have any clip-on ties. Let me go get somebody to help you learn how to tie a tie. So one thing leads to another and not only does he get a new tie that is tied for him but as he’s walking through the store, he’s getting all this great job interview and career advice and by the time he left the store, it had gone viral already. And Target went from being just another retail chain in the social world to the star of the day, all based on one organic process, by treating one customer exceptionally right and then somebody being smart enough to take a picture of the store employee who was helping the young man tie his tie. That picture got a million views in 24 hours and it appealed to the human side of everyone that a big chain like Target, one employee in a big chain like that went way out of her way to start this chain of events that made a huge difference in that young man’s life. And the story has helped Target’s culture, their brand substantially all based on one employee’s act.
Jacob: That’s a beautiful story. I actually never heard that one. I’m guessing, just based on listening while you were talking, one of the biggest things, I guess one of the biggest piece of advice that you probably give to leaders over and over, correct me if I’m wrong, is to empower your employees and really trust your employees. And not only not discourage them from doing those things but actively encourage them to be doing those things. Is that correct?
Mark: That’s it exactly. That’s another big difference during the social age and the industrial age and I know Ted talked to you a little bit about this when he was on the show. The industrial age was built deliberately to be more efficient, to put out more product in less time and bigger profit margins. That was the goal of the assembly line and the humans that worked that assembly line were just part of the process. They clocked in at a certain time. They went to lunch at a certain time. They went back to work. They went home at a certain time. They were just another cog in the machine. And from that begat they got process and control and even more control as different personalities in staff came in. We were taught, “Don’t rock the boat. Don’t make waves. Just do your job and go home.” And now what we’re seeing in the social age is forget process, forget policy, go treat people like human beings. Go treat people like you want to be treated.
And if we do that, if our culture is directly responsible for fixing the problem ourselves and if we’re empowered to do that, even the newest, least paid employee empowered to fix the problem, then good things happen. And we don’t need to go up to 14 layers of management to fix the problem or cite policy instead of actually creating a solution. “Boom, here’s a solution in front of us. We’re going to fix it right now and I know my management team is going to back me up,” and that’s the key. You look at what the Container Store has done for decades. Container Store goes to every employee no matter how new they are and they say, “We don’t care how you fix it, just fix it. We’ll talk about it later but fix the problem. We’ve got your back.” And that, for them, has always made a difference and now we see more and more companies doing that.
Jacob: It’s so crazy to me because in all honesty, this seems like common sense. I say this so many times throughout all of my…like a lot of these culture talk videos so it’s like when I’m listening to you talk, I’m like, “Yeah, okay. That’s not really revolutionary advice. “
Mark: No but…
Jacob: It’s so simple.
Mark: But Jacob, it’s been beat out of us, right? Think about the old days like my dad’s days. He’s 80 years old. He still remembers barn raising days where an entire community came together no matter how busy you were, no matter how crazy your life was, no matter what you were going through at the moment. Somebody in your community needed your help now and we all stopped what we were doing and we all…we had a picnic and you brought food and you brought your tools and you all went and helped for one day or one weekend. You helped that family get done what needed to be done and the industrial age beat that out of us. We stopped caring about ourselves. We started caring, you know, keep the job, no matter what happens. The job’s more important. The job’s more important than our values. The job’s more important than sometimes our families. Keep the job and just do what you’re told.
And so over time, we just got beat up and that’s what’s exciting about the social age is we’re taking that back. We’re deliberately being human again and that’s what people are responding so well to in the social age.
Jacob: That’s really, really interesting. I actually honestly never really thought of it that way. I want to switch gears for a second and talk a little bit about YouTern. I know you’re the CO of that company. Actually let me just let you do the talking. What is YouTern? Tell us a bit about it.
Mark: Well, YouTern launched in late 2010 and our primary focus was to help college students, recent graduates, and young professionals ascend into the workforce gracefully. And, as you recall, that was the height of the recession and we kind of lost sight over the past five or six years. You know, with monster.com, when we were looking for jobs, all you had to do is click that apply now button 200 times. And we lost sight of the stuff that really helps us forge a great career like mentorship, and building relationships, and knowing people who know stuff and that’s what U-Turn was set up to do. We started this community, although we didn’t even call it a community when we started it. If you go back and look at our business plan now, the word community is not even in there. That’s how new this whole process is but we started this community where people started helping each other be more employable through peer-to-peer mentoring and through a blog we call “The Savvy Intern” and by doing on-campus events in colleges and universities. And our whole goal is to help people realize that one, a college degree is not enough. It does not make you employable. It’s almost like a minimum requirement now.
There’s so much more to being employable and so we talk about soft skills and developing not just technical skills but people skills. What are employers looking for today and frankly what are they not looking for? And how do we beat down some of the stereotypes we’re fighting? And so, it’s all word-of-mouth. It’s all…we’ve been very lucky, Jacob. We’ve never spent a penny on advertising but we’ve been in The Wall Street Journal, and Mashable and Forbes several times, and Inc., and Entrepreneur magazine and the idea took off that we could build a community that’s sole purpose was to help people have better careers.
Jacob: Jeez, good for you. Congrats getting that kind of exposure without spending any money on advertising.
Mark: Yeah, I love saying that, by the way. I love saying that because some of our competition have deep pockets and they can spend millions of dollars on advertising, and I love that social has helped us do this. And the blog has helped, of course, and our passion for the subject has certainly helped but it’s kind of fun to see that you can build a community now on a shoestring budget and make a dent.
Jacob: For sure, yeah. It must be so…it must be such a good feeling to be able to say that. But you know what’s interesting about that is your target audience or all your customers, let’s say, for U-Turn are all millennials. They’re all at that perfect age, let’s say, so I’d love to get your thoughts, your insights. What are your thoughts on millennials entering the workforce these days? I mean, give me some insights on what’s going on there?
Mark: Well, we’re so much better prepared than we were say four or five years ago, Jacob. For several decades, we lived what we at U-Turn call the big lie. And the big lie simply put is you go to high school, you get good grades, maybe play some sports, show some leadership, you know, take some interest in some clubs and some activities, do some community service, and you’ll find your way to college. And then you go to college, and you get good grades, and you’re a good citizen, maybe show some leadership. When you graduate, what’s the big lie? The big lie is there’ll be a job waiting for you, right? That’s the American dream. All you need is education. And the simple reality is that’s not true anymore and so with that focus in mind, we kind of dove at it. And we were a little rebellious, I guess, and maybe a little contentious. There are a lot of higher education people that still don’t like what we have to say but the reality is people…the millennials rallied around that message and those that are getting it now are just way more prepared than they were otherwise.
And so we’re playing our little part in helping people graduate college ready. You know, soft skills, technical skills, people skills, personal branding in place before they even graduate. Four or five years ago, that was unheard of so now, I think, the millennials are ready and certainly Gen Z or whatever we’re going to call the next generation is even more ready. And we’re taking advantage of our mobile technologies and our devices and the online branding and we seem to have finally crossed over the hump where we know it’s not just the…the degree’s not enough and who our parents know probably isn’t enough and this is hard work and we’re going to invest the time.
Jacob: Really, really interesting. Yeah, that’s great. Honestly I wouldn’t have guessed that that’s what was happening. I guess my last question for you really I’d love just to ask, I know you run or you founded an organization called Forward Heroes. Am I correct in saying that?
Mark: Yes, yes.
Jacob: Maybe if you could just tell us more about that.
Mark: Yeah. I’m really proud of this. I’m a veteran of the U.S. Air Force myself. I have a son serving now. My family has served our country in the military for, I think, five generations now and we wanted a way to give back. And so we’re building Forwardheroes.org with some great business partners and it’s oversimplifying but basically it’s U-Turn for our military veterans. And it’s 100% non-profit. We’ll never charge the veterans a penny. I hope our corporate sponsors and our donations will fund the process but our entire goal is to take our veterans that struggle so badly with transitioning to the civilian career once they leave the military. I mean, unemployment rates are almost double. Divorce rates are ridiculously high. So is alcoholism and suicide.
We’re just not giving our veterans a fair shake when they get out and they’re so ill prepared to enter the civilian workforce. They haven’t been in college for the last four years. They don’t know much about personal branding. They don’t know how to tell their story. They don’t know how to represent the skills they learned in the military and we’re setting out to fix that and I’m quite proud of the work that we’re doing.
Jacob: Yeah, you really should be, in all honesty. That’s something that I talk about a lot. I could spend the next couple of hours talking about that stuff with you but I don’t know if our viewers would love a three-hour video of us chatting about that. I think we’ll end it here but honestly, Mark, I just want to thank you so much for taking some time to chat with me. This was great, honestly.
Mark: Oh, thank you, Jacob. What a pleasure. And I’m a big fan of your work and I saw Ted’s show and I was like, “Wow, Jacob asked some darn good questions.” I couldn’t wait to be here.
Jacob: Awesome. Thank you. Very kind of you to say. Take care.
Mark: All right. Bye-bye.