On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci and our Director of Branded Media, Jaime Lara sat down and discussed how the year 2020 turned out. This season one wrap-up concludes the end of a truly historic year.
On this episode of Bring It In season one, Jaime sat down with 1Huddle’s CEO and host of the Bring It In podcast, Sam Caucci, and discussed switching careers, employee motivation, areas of coaching, responsibility, pirates, and assessing your company and your own skills.
Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
Below are some of the insights Sam shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.
Jaime: Looking at 2021, what big changes do you think are in store for workers of all demographics and ages, et cetera, et cetera?
Sam: Yeah. I mean, it was a pretty interesting last few months for us, obviously launching this podcast, which you’ve done a great job, great job with, and we were also pretty awesome to run our first large virtual venture, which was supposed to be live, which was Compete.
Going into the beginning of the year, I look at us as sort of subject matter experts on the future of work. We spend all of our time thinking about how we make workers better, how we level up coaches and managers, how we connect employees quicker to the things they need to do to perform, how we fight for our community.
This year taught us a lot. I think the future of work, the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that it’s not the future, it’s here now. And that’s sort of my takeaway from listening to, I don’t know, we had like 60 plus speakers as a part of our future of work event. So I think that’s number one. It’s here, nobody’s complaining, but we should have known and been ready for it better. And that’s not just in our schools, but in our companies and the way, companies invest in technology. I heard so many companies over the last few years saying that certain components of employee experience were nice to have, which I never quite understood.
And that bit them in the ass in 2020, whether they want to admit it or not. That was one thing I learned, I think, as I looked at 2021 for any prognosticating or forecasting or pull out my crystal ball here. I think that you’re going to see as the vaccine rolls out, I think as people come back to offices, which they are going to do, and as employees come back and start to think about the jobs and how they’ve changed, I think you’re going to see a workforce that is starting to pursue careers that they’re more passionate, energized, excited, and connected to. I think that’s always a trend, but I feel like the last year, whether you’re sitting at home next to your family, or like me with my daughter running around the house, as you’re spending more time around things that are most important to you as a person and a member of the community, I think that you’re going to see sort of that hasn’t come into action yet. You know, I don’t see employees like switching jobs and switching careers out of their own personal pursuit so much in 2020, I think a lot of that happened out of just survival, a lot of people that were switching or maybe furloughed or laid off or made a career switch.
But I think in 2021, you’re going to start to see employees start to take better agency or better control over where they want to be in their career? What type of job functions do they want to do? Hey, maybe they want to carry two jobs. Maybe you want to Moonlight as an entrepreneur on something.
I have a side hustle here and also pursue a nine to five or whatever nine to five is going to start to look like with some level of remote work that’s going to be stuck around. So that’s what I would see with future work. I think you’ll see employees start to pursue, with greater velocity, the things that interest them.
Jaime: I really like what you said about the effects of being in very close, constant proximity to the things that are most important to you and how that affects work from the ground up. I feel like COVID brought up a lot of other issues like what’s automation going to do, what’s remote work going to do, with this newfound sort of human element that you just brought up, how do you think that’s all gonna mix together in 2021?
Sam: A great manager is a leader and a great leader as a coach. We need coaches more than ever today in our workforce, whether you are a retail establishment and you’re a store manager, or you are a large pharma brand, and you’re the head of an MSL group, or you are a manager of a Salesforce, coaches need to adjust. Jobs change, things evolve. You can’t continue to teach people and coach people like it’s 2019.
The best coaches in every respective sport and you know this, I’m like over the top with sports analogies, the best coaches evolve as the game changes and the game has changed in our workforce. Certain jobs are not coming back. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to be eliminated in 2021. But make no doubt about it, 2020 has forced companies to look at certain roles and say, I am about to put more money in R and D, more money in tech spend, because those roles, we can not be vulnerable to those jobs not being as effective day-to-day because of something like what took place with the pandemic.
So I think certain roles are going away, certain roles are changing, which means that we need to rescale workers really quickly. And then, I think new jobs are most definitely going to emerge. The best coaches, leaders within organizations have to have a game plan to think about how they’re going to change the way they coach and develop and lean into employees.
When I think about coaching and development programs, I think a lot of companies are well-intended; however, there are really three areas of coaching and development that I consider when I think about our team at 1Huddle, or I think that the worker workforce should be thinking about.
The first is personal. You think about how you personally develop the people on your team.
Second, how are we developing our employees positionally? Your job is changing. So Jaime, like you used to come into the office here and you had your big computer set up and you do all your editing here. Well, this year you had to do a lot of editing from home.
Jaime: Yeah. It certainly sucked for a long time before I figured out what the flow of that was going to be.
Sam: But your job is shifting. So as a coach, I think about how am I developing Jaime positionally, like where do you want to go next in your job? But there are things that specifically around your job description, your role, I can make you better at.
The third area is professionally. There are things that you need to develop as a worker that will make you more complete as a professional. might be technical skills, it might be hard skills, it might be soft skills, it might be presenting.
So my responsibility as a coach in 2021 is greater than ever, where most companies generally only focus on how we develop maybe two out of those three. They might be positional and professional. Some might do a really good job at personal because they really do that well. But then they realize that they’re only developing personally and positionally, but not thinking about you professionally. So the high-performing teams are thinking about all three of those areas and having a game plan for how they’re going to develop every one of their workers.
Because if you’re not developing every worker, I would argue that your development is not, you’re setting yourself up for major failure as employees might shift, move, or the market impacts your business.
Jaime: Yeah, I’m sure like a lot of other leaders are scrambling to kind of educate themselves and upskill themselves on what they feel are the best coaching and managing practices. And especially going into 2021 in the middle of this pandemic. One of the favorite things that we’ve done this past year is really just combing through your absurdly massive library of books ranging from coach autobiographies, to how learning works, to philosophy, to how to duel properly and pirates and stuff like that.
Sam: The dueling book’s pretty cool.
Jaime: Where do you think, not necessarily looking at specific authors, just specific books, but where do you think managers and coaches should be looking to, I guess, learn more or educate themselves on as 2021 approaches?
Sam: I always do an assessment at the end of the year and you know this, some people on the team know this. End of the year, I always sign up for one-year contracts anywhere I am. So I’ve actually not renewed for 2021 quite yet. I got another day or so.
Jaime: We got some time, you have a few hours!
Sam: Whatever, 29 hours or so. So, I always think about the end of the year. I’m going to close the last year. I’m going to recommit myself if I’m into what the next year has. And when I do that, I have to reflect on my own development. Because if you aren’t thinking about your own development, I would argue that if you’re not willing to put time in to stop and pause and think, and you’re letting life pull you in a million different directions, you are not going to be an effective leader,
Jaime: I guess I’m like, how are you supposed to do those three things you talked about previously, right?
Sam: You have to first do them on yourself. Audit yourself. Like this year, how did I do personally? How did I do with my relationships, with my family, with the people that are important to me. How did I do there? What could I have done better?
And we, as a game company, we talk in wins and losses. What did I win at? What did I lose that? And to be real and honest with yourself, and then what are the wins and losses I had professionally? Where did I get better? Was it public speaking? Was it learning about a different part of our business?
And then positionally, how did I do as a CEO? Where did I win? Where did I struggle and lose and I gotta learn from? I’m not going to bitch about Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I think is one of the worst overrated books of all time.
Jaime: I was thinking of that book too.
Sam: It wasn’t a bad book when it was written. It wasn’t a bad book in the next few years, but guess what, things change! You’re quoting books that were written a long time ago. Workforce change. People are different. I coached high school football and I used to joke that 15 years ago, I could tell a kid to do this drill because I said so, and guess what? They would do it.
If I said that today, kids would roll their eyes. They want to know why this one or this one. Tell me about the drill, tell me about this. That’s not bad, it just means it’s different. Evolving.
So to your question on what managers and coaches should be doing, you first have to make the decision: do you want to focus on a strength or do you want to focus on weakness? That’s a philosophical question. I personally have always believed that I want to double down on my strengths. I am never going to be a coder. I was mentoring a startup a few weeks ago, I was talking to a founder that is a non-technical founder, which means they can’t code, which is a really weird thing to say to somebody that you’re non-technical. Welcome to the technology world.
But he’s not a tech founder. He’s like, this year, I really want to recommit myself to really learning how to code. I’m like, why the fuck do you want to learn how to code? Like you got an engineering team to do that. Why do you want to do that? He’s like, well, I’m not good at it. No! Why don’t you study something about, how do you get more out of your technical team?
There’s a concept of the fox and the hedgehog. Like the fox is good at a bunch of stuff. The hedgehog just drills down into the ground. I don’t think you’re a fox or a hedgehog overall, but I believe that in certain areas of your life, you gotta think about where you want to be a fox and where you want to be a hedgehog. So at first you have to assess. Do you believe in doubling down on your strengths or making yourself more rounded on your weaknesses?
And with that in mind, I believe that great coaches and managers need to understand people first, product second. Like your process, the stuff you do, the scripts in the systems, that stuff is all secondary. Like you need to understand your team on the ship first and then focus on making the ship, fixing the sail. So, what are those things? I would put that to the world. What is it? I would ask yourself, what are the things that I need to do to understand people better? Maybe you’re reading books on psychology, maybe you’re reading books on how learning works. Maybe you’re reading books on teaching.
This last year I read more books on parenting and early childhood development. Not only because my daughter is the definition of chaos, but I want to understand how people get more out of other people. What are those strategies? So like that’s one thing I think that it is invested in personal life.
Then I think you need to take all those books you’re buying from Tim Ferriss and all the podcasts and stuff and burn them. Maybe donate them, don’t burn them, to something somewhere. Pick up a history book. Managers, the world repeats itself. Find something that interests you. I like pirates. I like Roman history. So I doubled down on those.
I don’t really care about the Renaissance. I read the books I enjoy. So I read a lot of history books, things that teach me about the world. And then, if you have a little bit of time left over, you know, maybe you do pick up a book from the business section of the bookstore so to speak, that’s going to teach you something different. You want to learn a strategy or philosophy or something about OKRs, pick some of those up. But it’s all about balance, you can know everything about OKR, but if your people don’t like you…
Jaime: What’s the point?
Sam: The OKRs don’t mean anything! Like, I’m an expert on one-on-ones and OKR, yeah, but your employees hate you, so it doesn’t matter.
Sam: I gotta figure out net promoter score, but your customers don’t like you.
Jaime: Customers and employees don’t like you! No one likes you!
Sam: So I think that would be my recommendation.
Jaime: So you mentioned the pirates and I remember the day you walked in with a pirate flag. I was like “What the hell is going on?” And then like for a solid four seconds…
Sam: There’s so many on Amazon.
Jaime: I was bewildered. And then I’m just like, you know what, let’s just go with it. So really briefly, what spurred the pirate obsession? Because once you explained it to us, I was really captivated by that.
And then where do you see us going maybe next year in terms of historical parties to emulate and what lessons we’re going to be disposing of from there. And maybe what lessons could other managers and coaches learn from those?
Sam: So many compound questions! Since I was a kid, an early, early book I picked up talked about Corsairs and the pirates of the Mediterranean and, early, early, early on, I started to become enamored with the culture on the ship. And there’s a lot of books on this and talks about the democratic principles of pirate ship and fairness. Now don’t get me wrong, pirates were pretty awful too. Okay. So it’s a different world, but I think that, when you think about a startup, and that’s why I’ve always, my whole career, been a hundred percent commission salesperson.
So, fact, since I was 18 years old, I worked at Bally Total Fitness, a hundred percent commission as a personal trainer. Then I worked in the sports performance world where I was a hundred percent commission sales rep. I don’t know why I did it, but I did it. And then, as I moved on into lifetime and then the franchising world, I was always a hunter in that way. I was okay carrying risk. Some people are cool, and that’s not a good thing or bad thing. Just some people you gotta know yourself. I’m okay carrying that risk. And I think the cool thing about why I came in with the pirate flag here, why I’ve always been interested in it is, to board a ship and go on a journey where you don’t know where you’re going to end up. You don’t know. You think about why people follow people? I’m always enamored with leadership in that way.
It could be beyond pirates. It could be, how does someone like Nelson Mandela move an entire country from behind bars? How does that happen? How does Martin Luther King, who’s just a small Baptist preacher, contribute so heavily to a movement? How do presidents use their platform effectively being the keyword to communicate and lead others? I’ve always been enamored by that.
I think that there’s also, like the pirate thing, there’s a mystery to it. There’s so much in a startup where you don’t know. This is a big gamble. It was just a big gamble. People don’t understand that from a founder’s seat. Like I go to bed every night, we just don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. And we see the Navy, for us, it’s like those big learning management systems and the big other e-learning things and that stuff out there.
Jaime: Like the British Navy, the Spanish…
Sam: Yeah, they’re like the British Navy, they’re all out there. They’re monsters. They can’t turn so quickly, but we can, but we see the world from a different vantage point. It doesn’t mean we’re right, by the way, and it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means that we believe in our cause. And so I’ve always seen an awesome analogy to what you do every day.
I think that people that work in a tech startup are unique too, like our team here. I’ve been super proud of the way we’ve all operated through 2020. It hasn’t been easy, but I don’t think we would have reacted as well as we did if we didn’t have strong mission conviction, strong purpose, an understanding of where we’re trying to go, and some level of alignment on everybody’s individual, personal, positional and professional development plans. But yeah, that would be like the pirate thing. I think that you did ask me about where I think analogies are going to go next year.
Jaime: Yeah. Like historical things, because you are right. History does repeat itself. And I think there’s always a time and place to kind of pull from.
Sam: It depends on what night I have too much bourbon and start pulling stuff off the shelf and maybe I’ll pull something from, maybe I’ll pick up the ILIAD and I’ll have another story. I might be pushing a Trojan horse. I might walk in with a massive Trojan horse.
Jaime: As long as you stay within the Mediterranean scope of things I’m going to be okay. No, I can see you referencing some South American revolutionaries too. That makes sense.
Sam: Want me to bring my Che book in too, or no?
Jaime: Sure. Why not?
Sam: You can’t just read one side. I think that you gotta always be curious and see where paths take you down and you never know what book you’ll pick up next.
Jaime: Yeah. As you were talking about boarding the ship and going out, you don’t really know what happens, I do remember, I don’t want to dwell on 2020 too long, but then I do remember once the pandemic properly hit around March 13th, I’ll never forget that meeting. We were all in the big training room with a whiteboard, I’m just talking about what we’re going to be doing. We still thought we would only be there for three weeks.
And I remember just a week before you were showing me footage from Italy, everything going to shit. And you were like, that’s going to be us. And I was still like, I don’t think that’s going to be us. And then lo and behold, maybe less tanks were rolling around the streets, but more or less, pretty much the same thing.
Looking back at that now, do you think that that massive course correction was 100% the right thing to do? Because I’ve certainly felt like it was, I know I had my doubts in the moment. And then, months later I was like, yeah, if we didn’t take that shift, I think we would have been in a much, I don’t want to say necessarily worse off position, but I think I felt like you kind of really making it clear, like, Hey, shit’s going down, let’s all be prepared, that was huge.
And then seeing a bunch of other companies not necessarily take that step during that time, I guess, for companies that have taken that step or did not take that step during that time, what do you think their 2021 is going to be looking like? Are they still reeling from that decision, whichever decision they chose?
Sam: I think that 2020 showed us that leaders responded in two ways. Some leaned in, some leaned back. Leaning back doesn’t mean you didn’t do anything. It might mean you just react. I know a lot of teams that their initial reaction was like terminations. Like we’re going to cut. That’s an extremely hard decision to make. For some, it was required, but for some, it wasn’t. There were a lot of folks out there that were laid off under the cloud of COVID and it was bullshit.
Like if you’re laying people off for performance, lay them off for performance. I think there were some that leaned in and they doubled down on their staff and they invested in their people and they changed course and they succeeded because they did that.
Tough times reveal true character. It’s cliche, but I felt when this was starting to happen, that, because I know history, I just haven’t lived on this earth for X number of years without diving into what’s happened in the past. I knew that the temperature of our team and the people needed to hear something. They needed leadership in that moment.
And as a coach, that’s my responsibility to say what I think and try to share points of view and perspective, and listen. I think leaders need to do a heck a lot more of that in 2021, this isn’t gone. And I would argue that a lot of teams and customers will remember how you treated them in 2020.
And if you did the wrong thing in 2020, you should think about how you fix it in 2021. How you learn from it. Not everybody is perfect. We tried a lot of stuff that didn’t work. But we had some stuff that did work because we were okay with failing. We were okay with struggling through some stuff.
But it kinda comes back to what I said at the beginning. This whole show is short and it’s all about people. It’s about relationships. And if you look at people like a line item on a PNL and that’s how you manage your business, and you’re not managing it by getting in the weeds and talking and listening and listening to customers and having a conversation with employees talking to vendors, then shame on you. And the goal shouldn’t be to wake up and try to be the best leader/manager/coach ever in human existence, the goal should just be to be a little bit better every day. I had a conversation with one of my mentors who was a pretty popular NFL coach, and he said, ‘I wake up every day and I sit in the office and I look out the window’. He’s the head coach and was talking about his job and what his responsibility is.
And he said, “my job is, I wake up. I sit in my office, I look out the window onto the practice field. I got 25 coaches out there running around, trying to get the best out of 120 players. And what I think about it, how do I make each coach, each player, just 1% better today. That’s my job”.
Just incremental. What can I do to move the needle a little bit? If I do that every day, like good things are going to happen, we’re going to be in a position to win. That doesn’t mean we’re going to win. It means we’re going to put ourselves in the game in a position to win. Waking up every day, picking up a book, and after you read it, that being like the next best thing, I just learned something, I’m going to put this into practice, thinking that there’s a magic bullet here. There isn’t. Leading a business is tough. Leading people is hard.
You gotta have transparent conversations. You gotta care about people. You have to have a game plan. You can’t just get on the ship and be like, eh, we’re going to go that way, hopefully, we find land. Your team might be with you for a little bit, but I guarantee you…
Jaime: The Columbus Effect!
Sam: Mutinies happen. They do. But they’re not always about tossing you overboard. The worst mutinies are the ones that are happening below deck that you don’t hear. The grumbling, when there’s a storm and there’s a squall hitting the top of the deck and not everybody is coming up to help. That’s when you’ve lost your team.
When everybody comes up because of a squall, you’re doing something right. If they’re doing it out of their own accord, you’re doing something right. And then if you have your leaders, middle out, getting the most out of people you’re doing something right. Then if you have your frontline people getting better, you’re doing something right. That’s what I think about when I think about what leadership looks like in 2021.
Jaime: Yeah. One of the other things we did was, really double down on our social stance. We had a really great press conference, with former Governor McGreevey, with the NJRC, at least from my perspective, I think it’s pretty clear why we doubled down on that, as a company in line with our values. Looking forward, what do you think is next for us in regards to that kind of social responsibility in 2021? And then what do you think just the workforce’s response, in general, should be to social issues like that in 2021? Because I feel like people are starting to sniff out what is a genuine corporate social stance and what’s a disingenuine one.
Sam: I was super proud of all the stuff we did this year, but I was most proud of the work we did in the community. We gifted our platform to a number of nonprofit and community initiatives, not just the N J re-entry corporation with governor McGreevey, but also to the Covenant House Newark, New Jersey, the city of Newark, Saving Jane, which fights human trafficking.
We have a number of organizations that I could keep going. It’s pretty cool. I mean, we had over a million dollars in platforms and services that we gifted this year. There are investors out there I talked to and they’re like, why are you all doing that? Focus on blah, blah, blah.
So I see us doing more because it’s our response. Another thing we talked about, with opportunity comes responsibility. So we had the opportunity to continue to grow this year. That means that we are responsible for doing more, not just skating by. So I take it pretty seriously. I think I would love to see other workforce companies out there follow suit and not just be about if you’re paying. You can only play if you pay.
So I think for us, we’re going to continue to double down on that. The thing I’ve learned is that everything is connected. Everything is connected. We wake up every day and work with workers inside of a certain number of companies and a certain number of industries to get more out of those people every day. And what I learned is that, that does not matter, if you’re not doing it for every worker inside of those organizations. It just doesn’t matter.
Someone try to convince me otherwise. Investing more in the kid that went to Penn makes no sense to me strategically if you’re not willing to invest or at least double down on coaching development, developing the person who maybe may not even have an associates degree. It has to be a full workforce.
So all companies are most definitely laying claim to their social impact positions. And this was a year where most definitely if you’re not shaken by it and starting to think about it, you probably haven’t gotten this far on this podcast. Thank God. Whether your DEI initiatives are being where you thought, other people, initiatives are being rethought, I would urge the world to think about actually making an impact and not just making a cool press release.
And that starts with people at the top, rolling up their sleeves, and getting down into the foundation. I mean, I’m on calls with our customers in these programs to learn how we can make an impact because I think it’s important. Everybody on our team has an employee benefit to give a platform to a nonprofit that they believe in.
That’s an employee benefit on our website. I see it as an employee benefit. If the employee doesn’t see it as a benefit, guess what, they shouldn’t work with us. So I think that there’s that element of your social impact initiatives that can come top-down. But you got to get your whole team involved in it. If I look at companies that only dedicate dollars to one non-profit, why only pick one?
Jaime: Well, there’s so much shit going on. So many people are doing so much good work.
Sam: Yeah. I mean, again, I understand that economics was like drilling into one, but there might be a worker on your team that is more passionate about something else. So I think that social impact cannot be just a tie. It’s not just a bunch of people getting around a board table saying this is what our social impact statement is. What’s your team think?
Your culture is evolving. It’s always changing. It’s always moving. My good friend, Martin Rooney, who wrote a book called Coach to Coach, which is an awesome read on coaching, talks about the fact that culture is not what you say it is. Culture is what your team says it is. So it’s important to get everybody involved in that process.
Jaime: Time to wrap. So we opened with the question that we always close our podcasts with, which is, what are your hopes for the future of work? So what are your hopes for this closing question?
Sam: What is my hope?
Jaime: What is your hope for this last question?
Sam: I got 20 hopes! I have a lot of hopes. I hope that more people are hopeful. That’s my hope because I think that we wake up every day and there’s a lot of crap. There’s a lot of tough stuff.
Delete the news apps off your phone. Be hopeful. It’s a choice to wake up and choose that you’re going to see that today’s going to be a great day or today is not going to be. And it’s going to be whatever you choose. You have that option. So my hope is that we have more people, more leaders, that wake up every day and are hopeful.
Because having a conversation with an employee, that will spread.
Jaime: Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
Sam: And you might have to work a little harder now you might have to actually call somebody cause you can’t see them. You have to pick up your phone and not schedule a zoom call necessarily, but you might have to just, don’t text them, get on the phone. Don’t slack them, reach out to somebody.
Jaime: Yeah. That was a big revelation for me this year. It’s challenging and almost feels impossible to be hopeful sometimes, but you just need to do it still. And I feel like a lot of thought leaders that I see on my Instagram feed and shit, they’re like, oh, it’s so easy.
It’s not always the case to feel as energized as you need to feel in the morning. Once you get that shit spinning, which I think you’ve done an excellent job of, then that gets everyone on rising tide lifts, remove all ships, pirates.
Sam: And that’s why it’s a slippery slope to talk about being positive or being negative. There’s a lot of research that proves being neutral is healthy. Well, if you’re going backward, if you’re on the highway and you put your foot on the gas in reverse, you’re going a hundred miles an hour backward, and you try to switch the gear and turn it into drive with what’s gonna happen?
You’re gonna drop the engine. You got to get yourself back to neutral and then get yourself moving forward. That’s what the best leaders do. They are able to navigate back to neutral. And when you’re in neutral, you can be more hopeful, but when you’re going backward, it’s really tough to be like, I’m getting there. No, you’re going the wrong way.
So you got to first figure out how do I just get myself back to neutral?
Jaime: I like that. That’s great.
Sam: And with that, I guess that I’ve got to get back to work.
Jaime: Yeah, we both got to go.
Sam: This was a great conversation. We can do this more often.
Jaime: We should. I thought this was a great way to wrap the year.
Topics Discussed: Future of Work, Leadership, Management, Social Impact, Tech, Jobs
Dana Safa, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle
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