How Acceleration Partners made Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list two years in a row

December 10, 2018
16 minute read
Last updated December 12, 2018

When you want to learn leadership lessons, look to the people who aren’t just talking the talk but also walking the walk.

Acceleration Partners landed a spot on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list two years in a row, and CEO Robert Glazer generously agreed to sit down with our own CEO, Mike Zani, to share some of his secrets.

From building an intentional culture and developing managers to being self-aware and giving feedback, following Bob’s advice will benefit your business and your Glassdoor rating.

Watch the video or read the full transcript below.

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Mike Zani: Great. I’m here with Bob Glazer, the CEO of Acceleration Partners. Bob, you are very fortunate to be a multi-year winner of Glassdoor’s Employee Choice Awards. What’s the secret sauce? How’d you do it?

Bob Glazer: I wish it was one thing. I mean, overall, I think probably the biggest thing for us is being really clear about who we are and who we’re not. I think one of the things about developing a great culture is also having that picture, almost opposite modeling, who would this not be a good place to come to work for?

Bob Glazer: Because I actually don’t think there’s a universal great culture. I think there’s some things that we associate with great cultures. Treating people nicely, paying people well, having healthcare benefits. And those are great, but really what makes a culture great is that it has a specific set of principles that people identify with and that it’s consistent about those.

Bob Glazer: So, I think a lot of companies, one of the struggles is, they’re trying to be everything to everyone. And we’ve gotten really comfortable about, you know, we’re a great culture for the people that work here and that want to work here. We’re probably a terrible culture for a whole set of other people. We just try to make that really clear.

Mike Zani: Right. Right. So, it sounds like you’re very intentional about it. Do you use any tools that help you make sure that “yes” on this person, “no” on this one?

Bob Glazer: Yeah. I mean, we built out a couple things. We have a clear vision that people read when they apply. And so, does that excite them or is that not interesting to them?

Bob Glazer: We have real core values that are ingrained in everything that we do. And then we have goals and objectives. When you think about someone coming in, or an interview, it’s like, “Do you like the vision?”

Bob Glazer: We really dig in on, are they the core values? Not, do they like the core values? We’ve learned there’s a big difference between, Hey, I like own it versus, I am own it. And then again, do they want to be held to those golden standards? And do we believe that they will hit those targets?

Bob Glazer:  So, it’s really a combination of making sure we get right person, right seat.

Mike Zani: Great. How personally involved do you get in helping to curate, either that hiring experience, or making sure that people are testing that out right?

Bob Glazer: I’m not involved in the hiring process at all, outside of the executive team. I’m involved in the hiring algorithm, on the process, but I stopped interviewing people years ago because again, our value is “own it.” And so, we want our teams to make their hiring decisions and not say, “Hey, I interviewed this guy and Bob liked him.”

Bob Glazer: Well, I liked him. He’s a nice guy, but it wasn’t my job to figure out whether he could do the job.

Mike Zani: I think “I liked him” might be the worst response coming out an interview.

Bob Glazer: Yeah. If I’m doing an interview, at this point, it’s not a coronation thing. It’s someone on my … I’m probably the worst interviewer in the company, because I interview someone once every two years, because it’s either a personal role for me, or it’s on the exec team. And other people are doing it daily.

Mike Zani: How many employees are you?

Bob Glazer: 130.

Mike Zani: 130. So, when did you stop being able to interview everybody? When was that transition?

Bob Glazer: About 40 or 50.

Mike Zani: Around 40?

Bob Glazer: Yeah.

Mike Zani: So, the first 40, you interviewed everybody?

Bob Glazer: Most of them, I would be in on it, or if they were a manager, I’d be the last interview.

Bob Glazer: We had a client, a well-known company on the West Coast, and the CEO was interviewing everyone. Had a thousand people, or was literally interviewing them in their first week of work, and then deciding if they shouldn’t be there. And going, “This company’s Glassdoor ranking is not pretty.”

Bob Glazer: I mean, the micromanagement around that. At some point, we always say, the job of a great team is building a team. And so-

Mike Zani:  Yeah. Letting go.

Bob Glazer: I needed to trust the person to build a great team if I want to hold them accountable.

Mike Zani: So, this is not your first year on Glassdoor’s awards, so-

Bob Glazer: Oh, last year was, yeah.

Mike Zani: How the longevity?

Bob Glazer: It’s hard to stay on top on these things. I think-

Mike Zani: But you’ve seemed to crack the code.

Bob Glazer: Well, two years.

Mike Zani: Two years.

Bob Glazer: Yeah. Look, we get feedback. We try to be responsive to that feedback. I think you can never believe that you’re perfect. And even if 99 percent of the people say great things and 1 percent had some not nice things to say, or room for improvement, and we try to take that seriously and see if that is something that we can use that feedback to improve what we do.

Bob Glazer: But we’re also not afraid—and I think this is really important in this—we’re not afraid to say, “We’re not going to do this. This isn’t us.” I think I’d rather have two people who are the wrong people have something negative to say when everyone else loves the thing that they hate, rather than change who we are to try to make everyone happy.

Mike Zani: Everyone happy.

Bob Glazer: Yeah.

Mike Zani: You can’t do that. You’d fail.

Bob Glazer: Totally. And so, I like this phrase these days and I use it a lot in the culture. It’s, “Fly your flag.” As the CEO of the company, what are you? Who are you?

Bob Glazer: And if you actually look at our Glassdoor reviews, a lot of them are employees and the ones that have written good reviews have gone out of their way to try to scare off certain types of people.

Bob Glazer: “This is a fast-paced place. You shouldn’t come here if you’re looking for the middle lane or … ” And they’re very clear on … Or, “If you’re really not an accountable person,” or “You like group decision-making and don’t want to make a call, this isn’t … ” So, it’s interesting. I mean, they go out of their way to curate.

Mike Zani: Yeah. We’ve seen some of that on our responses too, that some people said, “Hey, if you don’t like change, this place isn’t for you.”

Bob Glazer: Right. And that’s everyone.

Mike Zani: That’s great.

Bob Glazer: So, I flip it back to you. You guys, you beat us this year. I think you were one spot above us on the list.

Mike Zani: Yeah. We’re going to get to the hundredths decimal place to figure this one out.

Mike Zani: But, yeah, this is our first time on the Glassdoor award and we feel quite honored and thankful to be recognized there. It seems crowdsourced and it’s everyone in the country. So, it’s pretty cool and it’s from your people. And you invest so much in them, so it’s nice to get to celebrate with them for them.

Bob Glazer: Yeah. And it’s a time-lapse view, right? It’s not something you apply for or something you can get everyone doing in a month. I mean, it really reflects whatever the world wants to say over the last year.

Mike Zani: Yeah. Yeah. That’s very true.

Mike Zani: Many of the things that you’ve done. We’ve been very intentional about culture. Really trying to codify it, write it down, but not make it aspirational. So, members of the company actually contribute to it and say, “That doesn’t quite land right. It’s almost there, but … ” Tweaking our culture, and capturing, it and writing it down.

Mike Zani: And it’s fun to hear people repeating it on their own in the middle of a meeting. Someone will make a mistake or screw something up and you’re like, “Hey, errors of action.” And one of our cultural mores is, errors of action are better than errors of inaction. So, it’s okay. You went for it. You took a shot. Not every shot goes in.

Mike Zani: So, when they’re sort of owning the culture and telling each other about it, that’s when you know you’ve really got some traction.

Bob Glazer: Yeah. I think when you see that language. I do the cultural onboarding, so I don’t interview everyone, but I do the cultural onboarding for every new person and I always ask them, “What are your thoughts?”

Bob Glazer: It could be someone who’s been here for a day, or usually, a couple weeks. And how does that compare? And nine times out of 10, either their company had no defined culture, which means they have a culture, it’s just by default and not by design.

Bob Glazer: Or they had these things on the wall that no one ever talked about or behaved around. And actually, that drives people more crazy than anything to walk in every morning and see this

Mike Zani: Something that they like.

Bob Glazer:  Behavior on the wall in which the CEO, or the leaders, are completely acting in a

Mike Zani: Different way.

Bob Glazer:  In a different way and I mentioned before, one of our core values is “own it” and people might like that. Like, “Oh, that’s great.” But then, very early in their time, that gets tested and they realize, they’re not really an “own it” person. They liked that core value, but …

Bob Glazer:  One of the things is when we make a mistake, probably similar to what you just said. When we make a mistake, we write an after-action report.

Mike Zani:  Oh, do you?

Bob Glazer: Yeah. So, we have certain things that you have to write one. Bad hire, client leaves, monetary. What can we learn from it? Part of our thing is, we fail-

Mike Zani: That’s great.

Bob Glazer: But we don’t repeat it.

Mike Zani: That’s great.

Bob Glazer: Yeah. And I can tell you, based on someone’s first after-action report, whether they’re going to be at our company in six months, because did they talk about what they could control? Or the things that they did? Or is this just blaming-

Mike Zani: The question before the question stuff.

Bob Glazer: Environment and circumstance-

Mike Zani: Do you own it?

Bob Glazer: And all that stuff. And even in that report, it is, own it. But that report, in itself, is a manifestation of all of our values. There’s own it, embrace relationships. You got to share it with the team. And excel and improve, which you got a list at the end. What can we fix?

Mike Zani: Yeah. That own it piece is really interesting. We do a lot of work on self-awareness. Testing and checking to see how aware someone is. And do they own some of their stuff?

Mike Zani: Because no one’s perfect. You’ve got a bunch of stuff that you need to work on, but have you thought about what they are? Do you know what the triggers are? Are those things … Are you in control of them? Or do they control you?

Mike Zani: And I’m sure some of those out-of-control things pop up on people’s after-action reports.

Bob Glazer: Yeah. And there’s ranges, right? In terms of how you behave. But we’ve found is, there are just people who look inward and there’s people who look outward at these moments and it’s a huge difference.

Bob Glazer: And it’s hard to … I always say we can train … I don’t advise people to change their core values, but over time, you might go through an upgrade and we did. Accountability used to be one of our core values years ago and we went through our vision process and narrowed them down.

Bob Glazer:  We actually moved from accountability to own it. Same concept, but different. What we found was there are a lot of people who wanted to be accountable for inputs, but not outcomes. “Hey, I worked really hard on this. Fourteen hours,” right? “I did this,” or “I tried,” but if there was any ambiguity or anything like that, they didn’t want to own that. And we realized that that wouldn’t work.

Bob Glazer: We wanted people to say, “Yeah, I will hit that outcome and I understand that, that has natural ambiguity involved.”

Mike Zani: No, that’s good. Own the outputs. That’s really great.

Mike Zani: I’d be curious … We spend a lot of time on developing our people. So, really working on developing the youngest managers. They might have managed a project. Now they get to manage some people for the first time. So, how do you go about developing your people to really invest in their careers and their arc?

Bob Glazer: Yeah. We do a lot of investment and we’re actually in the process of redesigning and relaunching all of our leadership training. We’re trying to create leaders in our business and we think it’s what our industry doesn’t have. And it’s a competitive advantage. And, it’s interesting, it follows three paths.

Bob Glazer: There’s inspiring people to lead, like a program that will tap young, up-and-coming folks who maybe have just been doers before and give them that inspiration to want to lead. “Hey, a lot of people have called you out as someone who could lead.”

Bob Glazer: Then there’s the new-to-manager training, which is, you’re flipping from being a doer to being a manager. You have to undo a lot of that stuff and probably you need to manage for a year or two and figure it out. So, now it’s going to be a little bit messy.

Bob Glazer: And then, three, is this really more advanced program that we’re layering on top. The inner journey where we go back to beginning around, again, what are your core values? What is your authentic leadership style? And be a little more reflective about what great leadership is for them.

Bob Glazer: And we’ve talked about this, but I don’t think you can go through that process until you’ve had a few reps around the track, right? Until you’ve tried out some stuff and felt like, “This just doesn’t feel good for me. This works.” And those are the people that then are leading at the highest level in our company and we need them to then make a real quantum leap.

Bob Glazer: So, we’re approaching it in those three stages.

Mike Zani: We started investing in developing people when we got some feedback on an engagement survey that was about career and also, getting feedback.

Mike Zani: So, we’ve actually started practicing giving feedback. Really direct feedback. And we picked something up from the Harvard Business School negotiation strategy where two people are going to have a discussion and they have different information.

Mike Zani: So, we actually role play. You’re going to be a manager and I’m going to be your subordinate and I have goals and different information than you. And we have a third party observer watch what goes on.

Bob Glazer: That’s awesome.

Mike Zani: And it’s amazing how easy it is to give misinformation when you’re trying to dance around an issue. Like, what if you were my problem?

Bob Glazer: Yeah.

Mike Zani: How do I tell my boss that you’re the problem?

Bob Glazer: You’re the problem. Yeah.

Mike Zani: And practice that. And it’s exciting to watch our employees really embrace some of these things that are hard to do.

Mike Zani: And they really appreciate when you invest in their career, and them as people, and know their name, and care about them. And maybe they didn’t work in a position, but you find something else for them to do in the organization that really lets them blossom.

Bob Glazer: Yeah. I mean, we have a whole program around that where we’ll find … If it’s not working. I think having that feedback, being open and honest, but then also being realist, right? At the same time. If something is not working, the right answer is not to keep doing it.

Bob Glazer:  And so, we first look at, “Hey, is there a different seat?” Or, “Could we find you a job elsewhere? Would you be happier elsewhere?” Because you got to hold these things separate of, this is a great person and they’re just not fit for that role. They’re not getting the outcomes that you want.

Bob Glazer: But you can do that in an embrace relationship way or in a way that makes them feel bad. And, I think, same outcome can have very different types of circumstances around it.

Mike Zani: So, I’ve got to ask. You’ve been on this award two years. We’ve been it one. What advice do you have for us to get back on the list next year?

Bob Glazer: It gets harder. Yeah, I think the stakes will be higher. More of a target. I actually think you need to even, up the feedback game and figure out the next set of things that, as you grow, there’s new challenges that people want you to solve, because actually, their expectations are higher. And I think that’s what we’ve seen.

Bob Glazer: Instead of buying you a free pass, it ratchets up the target on your back.

Mike Zani: Okay. Good. So, we have a gentleman’s bet. We’ll buy each other dinner. Whoever gets higher on the list next year, we’ll buy each other dinner.

Bob Glazer: Absolutely.

Mike Zani: Perfect. Right. Thank you.

Bob Glazer: Thanks so much.