Episode #5: Employees Are Customers, Too With Scott McGohan

There is an inextricable link between doing right by your customers and treating your employees right. No matter what way you put it, customers will always feel the blowback of whatever culture has a foothold in your workplace. If you foster a negative environment, you can rest assured that your customers will also feel negative about their experience. Scott McGohan is the CEO of McGohan Brabender. Scott speaks to Betsy Westhafer and Tony Bodoh about the importance of taking care of the people around you, whether customer or employee. There’s so much to be gained from a positive shift in workplace culture, so make sure you don’t get left in the dust.

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Employees Are Customers, Too With Scott McGohan

Why Internal Culture Drives Great Customer Relationships

We’ve got an interesting guest. We had an opportunity to sit down and talk with him. There are a couple of things that stand out to me that I wanted to share and get your feedback. If we’ve ever talked to anyone about the idea of human experience, Scott is that person. He has nailed it as far as how business is about people, whether that’s the employee or the customer. That stood out in the conversation we had with him and I want to get your thoughts. What was your takeaway on that?

We always talk about B2B and it’s person-to-person. We’ve talked about that in our book and how it is people doing business with people. It’s not a business doing business with a business. Scott has the ability to tap into what’s important, who’s important, as far as their team and customers, and what matters. I cannot wait to get into this conversation to go deeper into that.

Another thing that struck me is that this whole show is about knowing your customer. He talked with us about this story a few years ago where they did the SWOT analysis and they dived into trying to understand what their customers loved about them. They had all these expectations of what it might be but the number one thing was not necessarily the top of their list, and that was a relationship and how responsive his team is to their customers, so that stood out. He had some interesting comments and insights around that and how that’s emphasized how they focus their business.

What’s good about that is they didn’t just assume they knew what their customer wanted. They went and asked, and then open-mindedly listened and acted upon it. What we try to tell all of our clients is, “Don’t make these decisions in a bubble and don’t assume what your customers want.”

From that listing, it was also fascinating because he started talking about where the future of benefits management’s going and how it’s going to become rather than from this B2B2C concept, it’s going to become B2C down the road. He shared some of his insights on how they’re preparing for that.

We are excited to welcome Scott McGohan from McGohan Brabender to the show. Scott, how are you?

I’m doing good. You set that up nicely. I have a reputation to live up to.

Your reputation precedes you. Everybody knows what a brilliant culture you’ve built at McGohan Brabender, so we’re excited to have you here. I can’t wait to dive in and talk about some of these things that Tony and I were discussing. To get started, tell us a little bit about you, how you got into this business and where you’re from. Let us get to know a little bit about Scott McGohan.

I used to tell people what I do and what I love to do is talk about what I have. I’ve got a wife and her name is Laurie. We’ve been married for many years and she’s my best friend. I have a daughter and her name is Courtney. I’ve got two grandkids, Jackson and Ellison. My son-in-law’s name is Jack. I have a son named Taylor who is a filmmaker and married. I’ve got a faith that’s important to me. By the grace of God, I get to lead an incredible organization called McGohan Brabender.

We never did this to get paid back. But as a leader, you get to see the value in doing that. It takes your breath away.CLICK TO TWEET

Tell us about McGohan Brabender. Tell us about your business.

My father founded the company in 1972 called McGohan and Associates. He shared an assistant with another friend of his so it was like McGohan and a half of the Associates. I started in 1988 and I might have been the seventh person in the building. He had an uncanny way of loving and caring about people. He stepped into this business. Somebody asked him a favor, “Can you look at my benefits?” He did it and he told the customer, “You’re in great shape and there are no problems here.” The guy wanted to pay him. He came back and said, “You can’t pay me because your current consultant did a great job.” The customer said, “You should stay in this business and be in this business.” He’s been in it ever since.

Tell us how that business from when you walked in the building as number seven has evolved to where it is now.

His mindset was simple. Number one, it was like, “If you’re going to come to McGohan Brabender, expect a big income.” This is in place now. If you want to see value growth, this is the place to be because we’re going to take your income that you want to make and we’re going to invest that back into our customers. We’re going to invest back in people, strategies and technologies, and we’re not going to put that money in our pocket. We’re going to lean into our customers because he said, “Most companies build a company for ten, milk it for ten and bleed it for ten. I want to build a business I can drive by decades from now and say that place is still going. They’re still creating jobs and still growing families.”

What a phenomenal approach to looking at customers. You’re constantly investing in your customers. That’s a beautiful sentiment. Let’s talk about your customers. Tell us a description of your customers on how they show up for you and vice versa, how McGohan Brabender shows up for your customers. Talk to us a little bit about how you view your customers and the commitment that you show for them?

One of the things that we were taught earlier along is the fact that it’s simple. It’s like 1 plus 1 equals 2. It is, “Treat your employees the way you want your customers to be treated and everything will work out fantastic.” Probably the number one rule is the fact that if we love our customers, we should love our employees. If we want to take care of our customers, we should take care of our employees. That was the mindset from the beginning. We’re smiling inside, then we’re going to smile outside. We’re having fun inside, then we’re going to have fun outside. If we’re smart and strategic inside, then we’re going to be smart and strategic outside. It’s not that complicated.

Thinking about that in your customers and how they feel, say for example, you were sitting in a coffee shop and you overheard some customers talking about McGohan Brabender. What would be the thing that they could say where you’d say, “That’s exactly what we want to hear our customers say?”

Number one, they call us back or respond. We have a question and they lean in. Number two is we have three rules. Hopefully, what they see is they see us giving back to the community, supporting nonprofits and other organizations that they would say, “McGohan Brabender is a giving company. They’re a responsive company. Their people are a delight to be around. They smile and they interact. They’re smart. They are strategic and they’re unbiased.” We tell our customers that we represent insurance companies, but our shareholders or customers will tell us whether we’re doing a good job or a bad job. For the most part, I would hope we would hear things like that back from our customer base.

You told a story about the SWOT analysis that you had done and the results surprised you a little bit. Take us through that process. What were you thinking before? What showed up? How did that change your focus or confirmed what you were doing already?

For probably twenty years, we never had a budget, which is amazing. We didn’t have a strategic plan. We said, “Let’s go serve our customers,” and things worked out. As we started to get involved in Aileron in Dayton, we’ve got a business advisor that said, “You should probably use a strategic plan.” At that point, we thought we’re smart, strategic or innovative and we had all these things we thought our customers would say. During that SWOT analysis, they came back and said, “Your customers didn’t say that was the number one thing when they do business with you. They said they do business with you because you call them back.”

Treating Your Employees Right: Treat your employees the way you want your customers treated, and everything will work out fantastic.

We thought we were going to get bigger and stronger words, get the stars out, and use $0.50 words. What we heard is, “You guys call us back.” We were disappointed in one sense and then we were enlightened by another because some companies can get exhausted on how smart they think they are. When you ask a customer why they do business with you and they tell you something simple like, “You call me back,” and then internally, your organization’s number one value should be, “Be responsive,” because that’s what your customers are telling you what to do.

It’s fascinating because the name of the show is Really Know Your Customer. You went out there and had the courage to ask the question, and then when it didn’t come back quite as expected, I’m sure that probably was a little bit of a surprise to you. You had the courage to also lead in that direction even further and say, “If this is what they’re telling us, let’s go with that.” What’s evolved out of that for you? How did that shift the company or things that you were working on to be more focused on deliberately?

It allows us to be super humble and be curious when you’re listening. As leaders, we’re taught to be big, strong, tall and be vulnerable. I’ll give you an example. Right after that, we wrote our vision and it was about a paragraph long but it sounded great. We had somebody that was young in the organization and she had the courage to walk up to me and say, “I don’t think I can pull it off. I don’t think I can say all that without a piece of paper in front of me.” She pointed it along. She said, “I see three words up there. I see empowering, healthier and living. Why don’t you change that whole paragraph to three words?” As a leader, I’m like, “No, we’ve spent a lot of time on that.” We dug into that, went home that night and came back the next day. Her name was Christina. I said, “Christina, you had the courage to tell us. I’m going to tell you. I’m going to change the whole mindset. Our vision is empowering, healthier, and living or getting rid of all the other words.” That’s where we are now.

You got this feedback and they answered, “You called us back. You’re responsive,” and you started putting that into your culture. I’d like to get a little bit tactical and ask you how did you do that? How did you communicate that message back to your entire organization?

Every week for ten years, I’ve written a blog to the entire workforce on Friday and it’s called One Degree. Water is hot at 211 and it boils at 212 so one degree of separation. The other reason why it’s called One Degree is I promised the video would be no longer than 212 seconds or no longer than 212 words. In other words, we gave people a mindset. Once a week, we can lean into that and talk to that. When we bring new hires, we talk to them about the number one priority, which is to be responsive back to people.

We have to define, “What is being responsive?” Being responsive is setting up expectations. We live in a world where we think everything’s urgent. If you can’t define the difference between what’s important and what’s urgent, everything becomes urgent and nothing becomes important. We had to give them a guidepost or an idea in regards to what’s the difference between those two and we talk about that all the time. Rinse and repeat. As a leader, when you get tired of talking about it, you’re probably about 1/3 of the way there.

As we started talking about the employees, one of the things that I took away from our conversation was that the first customer for you is your employee. You know your employees and you know what makes them tick. You know if they’re not the right person for the organization or the organization’s not right for them. Talk a little bit more about your philosophy there. How do you put that into the tactical practice of bringing the right people into the organization and exiting those who aren’t the right people?

We have a philosophy and we call them the four Cs. They’re Character, Chemistry, Collaboration and Competence. We have an interview process and it used to be a few of us that would interview people. I’m a Pollyanna. I see the best in everybody. Sometimes, if you’re an extrovert like me, you fall in love with extroverts. If you need a role and it might be an introverted role, and it’s not an expert that you’re interviewing, I probably shouldn’t be in the room. We’ve got panel discussions and energy discussions with multiple people. There are about six people in a room. We have questions that each panel member is going to ask in regards to character, chemistry, collaboration, and competence. We’re asking them questions to try to drag that out of them. We have review calls and we talk about the four Cs. How are they going to fit? Do we make mistakes? All the time we make mistakes. For the most part, what’s interesting is normally, it’s not the leadership that has to ask that person to leave. That’s normally their own staff towards the person saying, “This is not the right place for me.”

That’s such a good process. One of the things that you talked about was at the start of the process when you find out how you’re trying to bring in the right people, it’s a hiring effort.

One cool thing that we do is, for example, we’ve got three people coming on Monday morning, I’ll call every new hire at home. I welcome them aboard. We send flowers to their home and we welcome them and the entire family to McGohan Brabender. We want to get the spouse and the kids involved. The phone calls where I make is simple as, “Thanks for trusting us. We’re excited to have you on board. If you have any questions, here’s my cell phone. Keep it if you have any questions about who we are. I can’t wait to see on Monday.” It takes five minutes out of your life. It’s amazing. It’s not that complicated and it’s not that hard. I send a personal birthday card to 285 people every year with a handwritten note on the inside of it that goes right to their home with a gift card on the inside. Is it time-consuming? Yes. Is it worth it? Thank You notes that come back and get a handwritten note in your mailbox at your house, we don’t get those often.

If you love your customers, you should love your employees.CLICK TO TWEET

That creates in terms of loyalty and drive. Since we’re on this topic about your employees, talk to us a little bit about the way your physical building supports your commitment to your employees.

I’m a big believer in the five senses, what you can see, hear, feel, touch and ultimately, smell. The motive is the first thing that people can smell. We went on a walk-in and we see families. There are 285 pictures on the wall, as you walk in of families, kids, beaches and Disney World. It’s like, “They mean it.” There’s a toy closet for moms and dads when you bring your kids in and their kids can take a toy home. There’s a victory card that when we celebrate something here, we put people on a cart, whether it be a wedding anniversary, you get a new customer or you pass the test. We have an immersion center, which is almost thinking of it as a living brochure where you walk in. We’re good at telling stories. People love listening to stories. When you tell a compelling story, other people want to be a part of the story. They want to be part of the next chapter. How do I insert myself into the story? As new hires come in, I’m a part of the story and they can be part of the new story. It doesn’t take us a lot of time to do that. It’s critical and important coming in.

I can share the story of when I was in your building one time and your celebration cart had a siren, noisy, bells and crazy. It came up behind me. I was like, “What is happening?” I did not know you did that but it made an impression on me because we’re all these happy employees and excited for this person. You had gotten a new client. It was such a happy celebration for the company as well as the individual who was being celebrated. It made an impression on me. It’s memorable. If it’s memorable to somebody that walks into your building cold, I can imagine how memorable it is for your employees.

I was impressed when you took us on the virtual tour, walking through the offices. In your immersion room, it was impressive to me because it was a museum-quality display. There were boards on the walls that you could turn and you could see the storyline unfold and they were phenomenal pictures. One of the things Betsy told me that I was going to see, and I had no visual image for it until we walked into the room, is the entire Health Care Act standing 7 or 8 feet tall on printed paper. It’s massive. To see all that, it gave me this perspective of, “They know what they’re doing. They care about what they’re doing. They care about the people, both your employees and your customers.”

You made this a real living experience. If I had walked into a museum and seen that display, I would have stopped, read it and thought through it and said, “There’s something important here about human benefits and the Health Care Act.” It was an impressive display. There’s only one other company that I know that has done something like that, where they bring their employees and clients in through a process like that. It’s phenomenal, especially in nowadays world where we’re focused on social media and everything being virtual. There’s a real feel, touch, and smell of what’s happening right there.

This is going to be an ongoing topic and we’re right in the throes of it. Early on in this new situation, we find ourselves in but we’re right in the throes of the Coronavirus. Talking about your inside museum in your office, maybe we don’t appreciate those physical things until we no longer have them. You said there’s a couple of people in your office and you’ve built so much importance into your physical environment. Talk to us a little bit about why you did that and what it feels now with this change that we’re going through.

Sometimes, when you care a lot about culture, some people think culture is about profitability. Those people should never be in charge of culture because culture should never have anything to do with profitability. All of this is about love and empathy, and it’s not that hard to love and empathetic towards humanity. It’s amazing when you have a great culture and something tough happens, you get to see things come alive. For example, we had a woman and she’s gone through breast cancer three times. She came into the office and she lost all her hair. Two people shake their hands when she walks in the front door. She said, “It’s okay.”

Those are special moments to see. People don’t do that stuff because they have to. They do it because they want to. With the Coronavirus, making the decision to send 255 people home and work remotely, some people had these questions, “Will they work? Will they get the work done?” Everybody’s going to have that question but to watch a workforce, looking online and see how many email traffic is coming in and how many works remotely, honestly it takes your breath away. It’s like, “They don’t even have to be here, and they care. We don’t even have to be in front of them, and they care.”

At the end of the day, we never did this to get paid back but as a leader, you get to see the value in doing that. You get to see moms trying to be moms, dads trying to be dads and people trying to be people. They’re fighting the hard life. Everyone is trying to help each other because we cared for them in the first place and I’ll never forget it. I’m sure there are more decisions I’ve got to make. As far as getting paid back emotionally and spiritually, it’s something I’ve never experienced. I’ve probably never been prouder of the workforce in my entire career.

That’s a beautiful thing, especially in a time of complete turbulence, to have that piece about your team. Likewise, I’m sure they feel it coming to them, “I know I’ve got a great place that supports me as an employer and through this crisis as well.” Hats off to you for building that kind of culture that allows for that.

Treating Your Employees Right: The world now is so focused on social media and everything being presented virtually for customers.

One of the things that stood out to me too, and this relates to how you communicate with your employees and even further how you communicate to your clients and their employees, was the studio you have. I was shocked at the level of studio you have there. You were telling us stories about what you do in that studio. Share a couple of stories about what this video studio is for, how you use it, and why you have it in the first place because it wouldn’t seem like the type of thing a benefits company would have.

We’re lucky too. We’re an industry that is in love with paper. I don’t think there’s an insurance broker or insurance company that’s a member of the Audubon Society. It’s ancient and it’s archaic. We also know that if you’re going to engage a workforce, it’s not going to be through the paper. It’s going to be through storytelling. We learn by reading, listening and experience. We believe that communication through video is the most effective means of communication. We have a podcast and Betsy has been on the podcast. We use that for a podcast studio. We have our employees tell a vision story. Why do I do what I do in less than 60 seconds, people go out and watch that. We’ll do internal communication with COVID-19 where we met for two hours with our entire team and leadership team. People are starting to type things and put them in mass communication. I’m like, “We’ve got this. Let’s talk with our hearts, do this live and throw this out to the workforce. We’ll figure out all the semantic words and language later.” It’s a real luxury that we have that.

It seems to me that the way you talked about it there, you use the word vulnerable earlier. It stands out as being able to get on camera. I know how hard it is because I’ve had to adapt to that doing live videos and even recording in my business. I know Betsy and I had talked about that when we first started this show about being in front of people having these conversations. There’s this real vulnerability that you’ve got to have to be able to get on camera and open yourself up. It’s one thing to speak from a script. It’s another thing to be willing to speak from the heart, get out of the head for a moment and into the heart. You let people feel that it comes through the video, your voice and expressions. As we look at the future of the benefits industry of how you would shift it in, it sounds like the studio is part of that front end for you. There’s going to be this human to human connection through video maybe through virtual reality or augmented reality. It seems like you are on the frontend of that and you understand what you have to do to get there. Talk us through a little bit about that.

People know when they want to buy health insurance when they need it. They know when they want to understand it when they need it. For some reason, we and even HR and companies will say, “We’re going to have an open enrollment meeting.” That’s not when people want to understand it. They want to understand it when they’ve got their kid in the backseat with a toothache and they’re going to the dentist. That’s when they want to know. We want to make sure they’ve got phone systems and say, “What do I do? I have no idea what I’m doing here.” We also want to make sure they have on-demand learning. How can I give them cues of information to educate them when they need it? We believe that the long-term customer is going to be the employees of the workforce, not the CFO, human resources and the CEO.

The CEO, CFO and HR want to invest the capital for employee benefit structure but I’m not sure they want to invest the horsepower and shutting the organization down to educate a workforce. The other thing they don’t want to do is they don’t want the responsibility for making the decision for everyone. Everyone has individual needs. I’m an empty nester. I don’t need dependent childcare. I don’t need a flexible spending account. I don’t need a lot of those things but when we put everybody in a room, we’ve got to talk about everybody’s situation. We do it electronically through video. I can talk to a Millennial, someone in my generation, single moms and a young man. I have the ability to look at that, even generational segmentation, in a completely different way.

When we started this show, we decided to make it both audio and video. When you have that ability to see somebody face-to-face and you get the real body language, the passion about your team and how much that means to you, you could see it in your face. For those of you that are reading or listening to the audio, I would highly recommend going out to YouTube and watch this interview as well. You get a different perspective when you’re having this face-to-face conversation. Video is definitely the play moving forward. Scott, I know you’re active and you do a lot of videos on LinkedIn. That’s engaging as well. There are many ways that you can put your message out there in video internally, externally, social media and all different kinds of ways.

When you speak from the heart, you don’t need a script.

Scott, I know you’re highly involved in the community, have some passion projects and things that you’re putting a lot of your spare time and energy into. Talk to us about the things that matter to you on a personal level and in terms of the community give back.

There are a couple of things. Number one is an inner-city program that I’ve run for several years. It’s called Mentors Matter. I connect about twenty inner-city students over an eight-week program over the summer and I connect local CEOs with inner-city high school students. We smashed together like grapes and we get to understand what we’re all about. We talk about life. I want people of different races, genders, ethnic backgrounds, religious structures and socio-economic issues to understand that there are 55-year-old white guys that love them and care about them. I want to lean into them in a different way and let them know that there are opportunities out there. Although we might look different, it’s the fact that we’re available to help them now and it’s been a blast.

What’s funny is the students enjoy it but the mentors walk out of there as completely different people. I’m involved in the church. It’s non-denominational. We wear sandals, casual. It’s a cool place. It’s called Southbrook. Leadership is important so we started a monthly leadership session called Provoke, where we’re focusing on emotional intelligence. I don’t think we talked about robotics, AI and a lot of different things that are happening and are going to happen in our careers and are going to replace a lot of jobs. I’m not sure emotional intelligence can be replaced. It’s important to teach people the assets of that. When you have those assets of the leader, nobody can take that away from you. That’s important to me, too.

When you tell a compelling story, other people want to be part of the story.CLICK TO TWEET

That’s a key point too. I know with people that I’ve hired in the past, if I can see that EQ out of the gate, I think I can teach them the skills. I know there’s a lot of nurturing and mentoring you can do to teach some EQ but some people just have it. That helps.

For your readers, I’ll give you a piece of advice. After we interviewed somebody, the first person we go to is Kathy at the front desk. Say, “What do you think, so and so?” She goes, “Who?” It’s like, “That’s not good. Not sure about that.” The first thing you go to is you go to her and say, “What do you think?” Handshake, eye contact, smile, and how do they sit. Did they ask you to be seated? How did they hold themselves? All those little nonverbal cues, when they’re not in front of a leader are important.

Scott, we thank you for being here. We know that life is probably busy for you, so we greatly appreciate you taking the time. You’ve given our readers some valuable and important leadership lessons and human being lessons. We want to tell you how much we appreciate your time.

Thanks for having me. It’s been great. I appreciate it. Thanks for everything you’re doing. I’m trying to do the right stuff for the right people for the right reasons.

Where can people find you if they want to learn more about you and get to know you a little bit? How can people reach out to you?

It’s a miserable email. It’s PSMcGohan@McGohanBrabender.com. I’m on LinkedInTwitterInstagram and also on Facebook under Scott McGohan. Reach out and call.

Thanks again for being here, Scott. We hope to chat again with you soon.

Thanks for having me.

Scott is a fantastic person, his heart and his brilliance. One of the things that struck me is one of the phrases he said several times. I’d like to go back and count it. He said, “It’s not that complicated.” To me, that statement shows how he has simplified and broken down what it takes to run his business and what it takes to have good relationships with his customers and his employees. That statement there, “It’s not that complicated,” stands out to me.

Treating Your Employees Right: When you tell a compelling story, other people want to be part of the story.

What’s funny about that is he’s in a complicated business. He’s in healthcare benefits. I don’t know how much more complicated it gets. It’s refreshing to see a leader that boils it all down to the things that matter most. It’s such a sign of brilliant leadership. The way he runs the company and his passion show through so much for his people, his customers and their families. It’s such a shining example of what we should all aspire to be as leaders.

What I enjoyed about both conversations we had is that he’s bringing to light in this world where we’re digitally connected. How important it is to use technology, and the environment of the office there, all of this to support human connection rather than to replace human connection. With his employees and how they do these videos, and he’s got this 212-word blog post. He’s finding ways to leverage technology, enhance and make deeper relationships as opposed to this idea of, “How do I disconnect from people by using technology?”

That’s honestly the holy grail of how it should be, using technology to enhance rather than replace.

A couple of things that stand out in that realm are the videos he talked about, how they can personalize the videos to a particular person’s situation, whether it’s a Millennial, a single mom or whatever else. Speaking to this specific challenge in healthcare that they may be trying to research at that moment. It’s on-demand. It’s where they need it, when they need it, and what they need to know. That there is self-service but because they do it through video and you have this human heart to heart and eye to eye connection, it is as good as or maybe better than in some cases. I’ve got to pick up the phone, call someone, wait for them to answer then be transferred to three different people. I love that he’s leveraging the human relationship and human connection within self-service. That’s one of the things we’ve got to do far more of, instead of just the self-service where it’s us and the machine.

That’s the bottom line right there. Thanks for being here for another episode of the Really Know Your Customer show. We’re glad you were here with us. We’d like to encourage you to think about something that you can take from what you’ve read with Scott McGohan and implement it into your business to help accelerate your organization in your success. Thanks for being here.

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About Scott McGohan

Scott McGohan is the CEO of McGohan Brabender. He works on vision casting, strategy alignment and leadership deployment. He has been with MB since 1988. As a business leader, it is always about people for Scott — always has been and always will be.

Scott believes that understanding your core is the essence of transformation. That includes being vulnerable about both your strengths and weaknesses. He believes people need to see leaders make mistakes, own them when they do and teach people through success and failure. Scott believes you cannot threaten, coerce or reward people to care. You can only awaken the desire inside of them and give them the permission and encouragement to do so. Products are delivered by people, and when people believe in themselves they will believe in you.

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