Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. My guest today is Brad Deuster, Founder and CEO of Deuster; Brad, welcome to The BusinessMakers.
Brad: Thanks Russ, thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet; tell us about Deuster.
Brad: Deuster is a boutique consultancy. We’re a boutique consultancy built around the idea of clarity. Kind of – kind of different to have a consultancy built around the idea of helping organizations achieve clarity from ambiguity. Today we live in a society that has just lots of questions with lots of uncertainty and we work to help organizations achieve clarity and drive performance. At the end of the day everything we do is – is about performance.
Russ: Okay, well I know there’s a lot of clarity missing in the business world and the world in general today, but I don’t envision, you know, being able to go even on Google and search for clarity and find a consultant that does it. So how do you – how do you take that message to the world?
Brad: Well we – the first way we do it is by focusing on the work that we have. We’re so fortunate to have amazing clients all over the country, we do work all over the world, and our work is what has led to other work; and for the last however many years – 15 or so years that we’ve done this – that’s the way that we’ve gotten the message across. But the message of clarity is one that we’ve really just instilled, um, recently and so that idea, which we – which we – which we’ve gotten from our clients who’ve said this is what you help us do, you’ve helped me achieve clarity, you’ve helped drive performance. So we’re – we’re going to be more active in going out and telling our story, in going out and telling people about how to improve performance.
Russ: Okay so what I heard is that this clarity mission evolved from, uh, a different model perhaps early on, so take us back to the beginning.
Brad: Well, the beginning, about 15 years ago I started this company and it started really what people knew me for and they knew me for solving complex problems mostly in the communications space. And you know in the 80s there was a split; there was a shift that occurred where – in our view – advertising agencies said we’re going to be really creative we’re going to be cleaver, we’re going to do what we do and give the so-called intellectual high ground to the consultancies. And from the very beginning we said no, no, no, we want that. We want to regain that intellectual high ground and find a different way to help people. And we wanted the metrics not to be based on how creative something was but on how we could drive performance of an organization. And so over the years – over these past 15 years we evolved.
One of my first hires was a management consultant and then an organizational psychologist and they convinced me we needed an organizational anthropologist and a creative team and a media team and then lots of different training and leadership coaching and certifications in all different aspects of business because we recognized that to really drive performance and really help organizations that it wasn’t one problem that an organization have. They could come to you and say we have a communication issue but the reality is that there was something right beneath the surface; there was something else attached to it. So we decided that the best way that we could drive performance and help organizations was being able to take a more holistic view and so over the years we’ve evolved. In the last number of years this is what we’ve been doing, we’re just – we’re just putting it together with, uh, with the message of clarity.
Russ: So when the advertising world sort of evolved and shifted you guys kind of didn’t go with either side but sort of took the middle and, uh, and became what I would call more on the consulting arena than in the advertising arena for sure, but do you still do advertising?
Brad: We do. So I‘ve been called a firefighter, I’ve been called a crisis PR person, an ad man, a consultant, and executive coach; you name it. We look at ourselves as a boutique consultancy; that is what we are and the composition and the kinds of people that are – that are here. But at the same time part of our product that – that helps to drive performance is advertising and so in the market we’re either the first or second largest user of television. Our relationships with the media community, um, are pretty extraordinary. We’re proud of – of the people and the relationships that we’ve had for now a couple decades.
Russ: And you both go, you know, buy the space on the media and you also have relationships or people here that do the creative and design ads?
Brad: We have a large creative team that has different skillsets from leadership presentations to culture presentations to major advertising campaigns; we do campaigns across the – across the country. What – what makes our creative unique is that it is – it is infused with an organization’s culture. We don’t just do creative to do creative no matter what the campaign is. No matter if it’s a new product launch, if it’s recreating a healthcare system or a helicopter company, it’s always ties in to an organization’s culture. We have – we have multiple purposes every time we do things. But we have a – I think each year – I think this last year we’ve produced 570 television commercials, um, and videos. So we have a very large capability on that side but it’s not what we’re known for and it’s not how – it’s not the only way that we – we drive performance, but it is something that we do.
Russ: Okay. Well speaking of culture we, uh, selected this very creative room to, uh, interview you in based on how interesting these 3 walls around us are. Carry through with, uh, with our viewers what these 3 categories are; what it’s all about.
Brad: So this room that we’re in right here is the gray area and this is called the gray area, it’s put on the front wall and it’s our place where we go to – to force us to really think creatively and to force us – and creatively not just from a creative execution standpoint, but from a strategy, from a culture; how do we look at problems differently? So one wall is a leadership wall and the leadership wall is one of the areas of our services and on this wall we show the – some of the strategy mapping work, some of the cascading accountability work that – that we do. It has a brain, the power of understanding, because we talk with a social science piece of what we do and we’re this unique blend of social science and – and arts together, so on the social science side of it we talk about really delving into to the brain to really understand how we can create higher states of productivity, creativity, leadership and ultimately again, performance.
So this was really addresses the leadership component from the work we do in strategy, how we help leaders communicate and engage with their constituencies, um, and hope we help them align. Alignment is critical in what we do.
Russ: Okay, and so you, you know, when you have a client you often spend time with the CEO, is that right?
Brad: Most of the time I spend with clients are with people in the C suite seats and so so much of my work is working hand in hand with a CEO.Whether it’s on the delivery of a message, whether it’s on making sure it’s the appropriate message to deliver, we’re looking at the long range strategy of an organization. So we work with all different folks within an organization, um, and sometimes it – can – it can vary, but ultimately when you’re talking about leadership and culture it rests at the highest level of an organization for it to truly be embraced and understood and driven. So, you know, as – as part of leadership leaders are faced with issues all the time.
Brad: Very complex issues and some of them relate – some of them go to – rise to a level of being in a crisis. And so we spend as much time dealing with crisis and helping organizations, um, not only take the crisis but again, protect before we build, so we – we’re helping organizations in crisis overcome the crisis and then leverage it to improve performance down the road.
Russ: Oh wow. So I mean you’ve been involved in big ones where, uh, somebody maybe lost their lives or somebody in the company did something against the law; those sort of crisis?
Brad: We have dealt with legal issues of CEOs, we’ve dealt with people losing their lives – multiple fatalities, um, we’ve dealt with very complex healthcare, uh, crisis both from a community perspective and, uh, inside – inside healthcare organization, um, and education. There’s very few areas that we haven’t dealt with very, very significant crisis. And it’s crisis that quite honestly, if it’s not handled right, the leader may not survive the crisis.
Brad: The organization may not ever be the same and so the counsel that we provide in times of crisis is really critical to their long term success and the ultimate performance of the leader and the organization.
Russ: So do you have somebody on staff that specializes in that or is that a all hands on deck issue?
Brad: We have a couple people who do specialize in crisis, in issues – in the kind of what we call issues management; that’s what they do. It also happens to be a passion of mine and in my working with leaders invariably there are issues that come up, that rise to that, that they say hey Brad. And so what we do here is we – we form what we call collective impact teams. We bring people from different disciplines and while my expertise may be in leadership and culture and this person’s may be in crisis management, we bring different people and different disciplines together to help inform and make sure that we are able to address it from a media perspective, from a constituency perspective; but in crisis the piece that we really care so much about is making sure that the internal constituents who are impacted most – maybe more than anybody – that they’re appropriately communicated and engaged and we’re able to address their issues.
Russ: Wow, interesting stuff. Okay, so let’s move to culture now…
Brad: The culture piece of this – of this wall, really one of my favorite things is the little hamburger at the bottom that culture eats strategy’s lunch every single day. And while we work with organizations on their strategy – on their long range strategy and making sure that it gets executed, we also work with leaders to understand that the culture determines the success or ultimate failure of a strategy. The organization’s ability to accept it, to embrace it, is critical. So when we talk about culture we talk a lot about first of all protecting the organization; and so we live in an environment right now where there are some organizations that are in extraordinary high growth modes and some that are in modes where they’re – they’re shrinking their workforce. In either case one of the things that we don’t always think about is what do we do with our culture? In a fast-growing organization we hire a number of people, we hire new leaders.
And before we look back and say wait, how did we shift over here; how did this happen? Well, we didn’t do what we needed to do to protect what we talked about, the behavioral norms of our organization. So they shift and they sometimes shift unintentionally.On the other side of it, when we’re reducing a workforce, there’s more stress, there’s more anxiety that’s placed because more people – people aren’t asked to do less, they’re asked to do more. And so it’s again, making sure that the culture is appropriate in helping that workforce. So in the culture area we’re working on cultural transformation, we deal with workforce alignment; we deal with engagement so that people are engaging with – within the organization and the culture in the appropriate ways.
We do a lot of work – there’s a model behind me that we do a lot of work in safety and we have a very unique view of safety because most safety organizations look and say that the leadership component goes on top but in our model it’s just at the opposite; that the leader takes – is at the bottom of it, it forms the foundation, the rock and it’s the largest piece of it. And so our safety model has been presented in Europe and other places and it’s something we’re really proud of.
Russ: But do you get called in – probably not – people say hey we’re a little bit worried about our culture, come check us out; I would assume it’s from another direction, you’re just helping them with a project and you discover that, uh, the culture isn’t exactly what it ought to be?
Brad: Sometimes. But sometimes we deal with some of the highest performing organizations in our community and – and in the country and their culture is what they want. They’re simply seeking to say we need to protect it; we’re a great workplace, we need to protect it. But – but to your question no, people don’t always call and say we have a cultural issue here. That’s not – that’s not the conversation.
Russ: They don’t usually think they do, do they?
Brad: No because most organizations say we have a great culture; our people are happy, we pat them on the back, we tell them they’re doing a great job. We have a great workplace.
Brad: But that doesn’t really define an organization’s culture. So when people come in and tell us that they’re looking to improve performance or they tell us that they’re going through a transition, there are certain buzz words that immediately rise to the top. So if we are going through a transition that means change. Well one of the things that we want to protect are our people, our way of working; our way of – of how we do things. So depending on what the conversations are and what the people ask from us culture gets brought into it.
Russ: Okay, but I’m curious, you know, how does that actually happen? I mean it’s a business show and there’s operators that are watching and stuff that – that run businesses, I mean you go out there and you sense it or do you have questionnaires? Or do you have a team here that goes in that you come in this room and talk about it?
Brad: Sure, we have – we have very defined processes and a major part of what we do is it’s the science. There’s a science behind everything that we do and so there’s research, there’s science, um, there’s PhDs, anthropologists, MBAs, there’s – there – there – there are experienced business consultants that – that have skill sets to understand. We have proprietary tools that we use to – to help get to understand what’s really happening within an organization. So if someone comes it’s not – it’s not looking at an organization saying this is what I feel, this is what I see or – or a lot of times what we hear is well someone else came in and told us this. That’s fine, but to us we believe differently than most consultancies that organizations are good. Organizations are – there’s a reason for all organizations to exist.
And instead of going into an organization to identify what’s wrong with an organization we go the other side; we go in from the inside of the organization – what we call inside out – and we look and we try to identify the – the kernels inside. What’s good, what’s true, what’s pure about an organization and take that. That becomes the foundation of what we do and again, there’s a scientific way to pull that out even in the way that it – that – that we interview. I mean there are – there is a science behind it, it’s not just random questions. So we – we understand an organization from the inside out and pull out the good and build upon that.
Russ: Fascinating, very fascinating. Okay, so the third wall.
Brad: The third wall. The third wall is our engagement wall and this is for some people the fun wall because it’s the creative expression of what we do. It’s – it’s the creative – it’s what we take from a leadership standpoint and how we execute it creatively. Um, you know a lot of people today talk about communication, communication, communication; well we’re all over-communicated. If you think about the number of messages and the number of time people communicate with us via email, via text, via television, via every media possible there’s a lot of communication. Our view is that it’s not about how we communicate, it’s how we engage and so it’s a different level. Obviously there’s a science to help us get there as well, but it’s a different level of communication. We don’t want just to give information, we want to pull information, we want to share information and that’s part of the engagement process.
So in our engagement area we have a full creative team that interacts with our social scientist to – to make sure that A, we’re creating creative work that is appropriate to the strategy and the culture, but that it engages and it connects with the – the end user. The end user can be first, the internal employee of a company and secondarily the external constituents around it. So in the engagement area we, uh, we have Einstein in the middle, um, which – which talks about if – you know, it’s supposed to be Einstein.
Russ: Okay. I see the resemblance.
Brad: You know there’s a resemblance. It’s in chalk so it’s close enough – with his quote. But this is the area that, you know, whether it’s television, whether it’s print, whether it’s a leadership presentation, a Ted Talk type presentation, this is the area – this is the part of it that we bring it to life.
Russ: Really cool. So you mentioned it’s chalk, I didn’t tell our viewers this in the beginning; these are actually old fashioned black chalk boards, right?
Brad: This is – this is – this a chalk board. Yeah, and so…
Russ: And does it change often?
Brad: It does change. So our goal with this is, we’ve created this and we change it quarterly; the entire room, start from scratch, still on Leadership, Culture and Engagement because that’s the core of what we do and what we believe drives performance in an organization. But just like – just like chalk changes, every great strategy eventually fails. And so we look at this and it’s challenging our people to think and rethink ways to showcase what we talk about and do it in a – in a visual way. Um, we – we put these up – up on the walls and in August and already, um, our team has different ideas of we want to add this and add this. So we’re going to continue to add to these walls and let – let them stay up through the end of the year, but the beginning of the year we’ll have a whole new – a whole new…
Russ: I want to come back and see it.
Brad: I’d love for you to.
Russ: All right, I will.
Brad: We love showing this off and it’s kind of fun because, um, we’ve hosted some pretty spectacular events with – with leaders from around – around different industries and invariably you walk in and you see someone take their phone out and take a picture with – of them with the wall in the background so it’s a soruce of great pride.
Russ: You know, we’re about out of time but I’ve got to tell you that I – I feel like you enjoy what you’re doing. Am I – am I accurate there?
Brad: I love what I do. I love what I do and you know, we talk about values – core values and behavioral competencies and one of our core values here is we love what we do and it shows – we hope it shows.
Russ: It does, believe me.
Brad: And, you know, when you get to experience a business that is not successful and you’re able to look and create solutions that turn it around, when you help an organization from a negative – from – from negative financial position to 60+ million dollars a year in the positive, when you – when you look at recreating a healthcare system for an entire community; when you look at doing some of the things that we get to do it’s hard not to – it’s hard not to love it.
Russ: Well Brad I really appreciate you sharing your real cool story with us.
Brad: Thank you Russ, I appreciate it. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Brad Deuster, the Founder and CEO of Deuster. And this is The BusinessMakers, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
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