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How to harness a learning environment at your company

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The Predictive Index (PI) CEO Mike Zani chatted with Bankers Financial Corporation’s Learning and Development Specialist Max Redd on retentionengagement, employee development, and how Bankers successfully approaches these hot human-capital topics. Take a listen or read the full transcription of the interview below.

Mike Zani: Hi I’m Mike Zani. I’m the CEO of The Predictive Index. I have the great fortune to be here today with Max Redd, who is a Learning and Development Specialist at Bankers Financial Corporation. Diving in and speaking with Max about his background and looking at his LinkedIn profile, he’s a life-long educator, incredibly curious about life. You should read some of his posts. They are really intriguing and very inquisitive. And someone who is committed to constantly learning, not only for himself, but for his people.

At Bankers Financial Corporations, Bankers is an insurance, warranty, and bond surety company. Of some scope, I would say in the insurance world, they might be a medium sized player, but for the rest of us with normal companies, it’s a really big company with a lot of complexity. It’s a company with a uniquely small company feel. You read the letter of the CEO, you look into their website, and it talks about people, the importance of their people, and the importance of community. I’d like to introduce Max Redd.

Max Redd: Hey Mike. Thanks for having me. Welcome into my classroom here in Bankers.

Mike Zani: Is that your classroom?

Max Redd: Sure is.

Mike Zani: What’s the capacity of your classroom there?

Max Redd: We keep it pretty small. I can take up to 16 at a time. We’ve got a bigger conference room when we have more students than that, but most of my classes hover between eight and twelve.

Mike Zani: That’s great. You can spontaneously teach whenever you want.

Max Redd: Absolutely.

Mike Zani: Tell us a little bit about Bankers, and some of the strategic human relationship, or strategic human capital challenges that you face?

Max Redd: Bankers is an odd duck. We’re a holding company that does a lot of different things. We’ve got an insurance group. We’ve got bail bonds. We’ve got a PEO, so we’re all over the place. I think one of the biggest challenges for us is figuring out how we hold on to our talent, and how we develop across so many different areas, and really keep people engaged and on our mission for the broader Bankers Financial objectives, while still maintaining their understanding of what they need to do within their own departments, which go all over the place.

Mike Zani: Great. Retention, engagement, development, these are things that a lot of us face. How did you approach it? What things were you doing, specifically around any and all of those topics?

Max Redd: Sure. I think one of the biggest areas that we really try to focus on this past year in particular, was how are we developing our leadership core here at Bankers, to really be able to deliver the message, and deliver the story about why we’re doing what we’re doing? How we go about achieving the company goals that are set forth by our upper leadership. It was an area that we gotten away from. Everybody gets in the weeds, and the development piece kind of gets lost. You just get mired in the day-to-day operations about how do I get from point A to point B, each and every day?

When our President, Rob Menke, came back to the organization after an absence where he went and did his own thing for a bit. He’s actually the son of the man who founded the organization, Bob Menke. He left an organization that had a really big footprint in L&D and really developing the people at Bankers. When he left, that mentality left with him. It was important to him to bring back.

We were trying to figure out where to start. We decided to start with leadership development. We brought PI back. We actually had it at Bankers before he left, so early, early 90s PI, back when they were still all on paper-

Mike Zani: On paper forms, yeah.

Mike Zani: I’ve done it myself, yeah.

Max Redd: We had fun with that. We had a lot of the executives are still here from back then, so we pulled out their charts, and looked at where they were then, and where they are now, and had good time with that. That got everybody excited to go again. We decided on a tiered approach. We decided to foundationalize Predictive Index, so everybody at the company takes it, which is pretty cool. Then we use that to help our mangers dive into situational leadership, which is another program that we really enjoy here at Bankers.

It’s a program that really helps our managers meet our employees where they are, and gives them another piece in the toolkit to really drive home message of productivity and how to do those kinds of things. Then we have a coaching class on top of that. We had this pyramid idea, and it’s actually been working really well. We’ve been really pleased with what’s been happening.

Mike Zani: It’s amazing. So many companies that I talk to, they’re leadership training is nil. “Hey, you managed a project well, we’re going to actually give you some people. Good luck with that.”

Max Redd: Isn’t that the worst?

Mike Zani: You’ve been good at managing technology or meetings, so we’re going to actually give you human beings, with no training. It’s amazing, you’re using situational leadership. What elements of PI are you pulling out? Are you doing needs-based communication?

Max Redd: What we’re really doing is we’re taking teams together. We’ll pull a manager and their team. We’ll have them all sit down and pretty much everybody at the company has taken the assessment at this point. We’ll pull all their reports. We’ll do the Group Analytics report. We’ll show them what their PIs are. We’ll run through, “Hey this is what it is. This is what it means,” and all that kind of stuff.

Then we’ll have them trade, back and forth, and we’ll use the Peer Score Cards, and have them look and see, “Man have I, have I really been communicating with this person in the worst way possible?” A lot of times, you see that born out. Then I have a follow-up meeting with the managers where we do the manager’s Score Cards with them and how they work with their people. Then they bring the … Working with my Managers Score C ards into their one-on-ones.

Mike Zani: That is great. I mean, using that breadth of tools. Most companies don’t go that deep. I have two questions as follow-up to that. One, reminded me of the golden rule. Treat others how you would want them to treat you. A great way to be a human being, but not a great way to be a manger, which is manager others the way you want to be managed. It’s classic mistake. I had a good manager because they made it just the way I liked it, and then you manage everyone that way and think that they should like it as well.

Max Redd: Then you’re flummoxed by why they don’t, right? This works for me, why doesn’t it work for you? I think PI is cool in that way because what it does for our managers is it helps them to identify where people are, when they’re using situational leadership. I like to talk about PI, specifically when we’re talking about the willingness question. Are they willing to do it? Why or why not? What’s holding them up?

We can pull into that PI and say, “Man. We’re asking them to do some tasks that are really, it requires a lot of focus, it requires a lot of minute attention to detail. And man, that is just not who they are at all, so we’re going to have to give some extra managerial love to get them to do that task, just so that they can make it, because it’s out and around from who they normally are.”

Mike Zani: We talk about that internally, that ability to stretch. Some even refer to it as being ambidextrous. If your drives are very situational, or close to the norm, you can stretch either way, but if you’re really committed on one drive or factor, that you’re not going to stretch or be very ambidextrous is that dimension.

Max Redd: Yeah. It’s hard. I think for managers in particular, when you’re really looking at what can I get my team to do? What is reasonable? Where are the expectations, and what should I have? The work’s got to get done. How the work gets done, is where managers can really step in and say, “Okay. How do I allot my resources in the best way possible?” If I’ve got a bunch of people and I’m looking at what has to be done, and who I’ve got on the bench, what am I doing to make sure that I’m pulling the right people to do the right job?

Mike Zani: The second question I had for you, I wanted to get back to it. You had a perfect situation. Senior-level buy-in, you had an organization that had used it in the past successfully, you through the learning and development group were really pushing it. How long did it take for a language, whether it be PI, or some other tool, how long did it take for it to become cultural norms?

Max Redd: I think we’re still in the middle of it. There are some groups, like I said, when you’re dealing with an organization that’s diverse as ours, if you walk into our surety department right now, you’ll see PI placards everywhere, you’ll see people with the situational leadership banners. You really get a lot of buy-in there, because they took the time out of their schedule to go and do the full set of classes that we had.

You see other organizations that have still been in the weeds trying to get through it. Our claims division is a good example of that, we went through two major hurricanes this year. They don’t have time. They flat out do not have time. They’re on my list for next year, weather permitting, right? I think some have taken to it more than others. It’s nice when you have that top-down pressure, because Rob will come in and say, “Hey, who’s still lacking? Who still needs to go through, and who needs to kind of do this?”

Then when I have him using the language with them and then saying, “Wait, wait. I don’t understand.”

“Okay. Well why don’t you understand?”

“Well I haven’t done the class yet.”

“Okay, why not?”

Mike Zani: It puts a little heat.

Max Redd: Yeah. I suddenly have four more classes on my calendar real quick, so that’s nice.

Mike Zani: How hard do you think it would be without senior-level buy-in?

Max Redd: Here, almost impossible. Again, because everybody has so many different priorities and so many different things to focus on. It can be done. You need a very persuasive group in HR to do it, but it can be done. I think when you introduce something like that big leadership development plan, and you don’t have the buy-in of the highest leaders in your company, you’re not going to get anywhere. You might have pockets of people who take it in and run with it. Sometimes that’s enough, but if you really want to get substantive change, you have to start with at the C-Suite and go down, otherwise you’re going to run into trouble.

Mike Zani: Is your highest level under the C-Suite, is that SVP level?

Max Redd: Mm-hmm. We’ve got SVPs and presidents, it just depends on title. It’s kind of weird, depending on which vertical you’re talking about.

Mike Zani: How many SVPs and presidents would you say have been trained through you about some form of the language that you’ve been rolling out.

Max Redd: Every single one.

Mike Zani: 100%.

Max Redd: They all went together, and Rob made them go together.

Mike Zani: 100%. On situational leadership and The Predictive Index?

Max Redd: They’ve all been.

Mike Zani: Which are two pretty advanced tools. What level of time commitment was that?

Max Redd: For PI, the class that I normally run them through, so they get an accurate understanding, it’s about 90 minutes. Then they have a couple of follow-on meetings with me, where we start really digging into their teams individually. Those are between an hour and 90 minutes. Total time commitment on that’s eight to ten hours, just to start. Then Predictive Index, an eight hour class. They’re with me all day. That was fun to schedule. I had a lot of admins very mad at me, but we did it and it worked.

Mike Zani: Really, all day? The time is a big pushback for them.

Max Redd: It is. It always is. What we wound up doing, what we found works really well is if you’ve got those big eight hour chunky classes, be they situational leadership, or a lot of Franklin covey content, and that kind of stuff, it’s big, it’s eight hours, it’s 16 hours to allot. We found that there’s a natural break somewhere in the middle. We would cut it in half and we do one half one day, wait a couple of days, and then do another half the other day.

Mike Zani: That’s great learning best practices.

Max Redd: What I caution people who have asked me about this in the past, how we’ve done this is you need to be really careful you don’t get too far apart on the two days. A week is really pushing it. You don’t want to go more than about three or four days, between when you do the first half and the second. I won’t teach them more than two days apart.

Mike Zani: Really?

Max Redd: Yeah.

Mike Zani: That’s great. That is great. Let’s not just take the SVPs, but your managers, your work courses, what to do they say when they come out of one of your classes?

Max Redd: I’ve been doing it all wrong. I’m like, “No, no, no. You’re not doing it all wrong, you’re just, you’re doing what we talked about earlier.” You’re saying, “What worked really well for me? What worked when I was kind of in that spot?” We’re trying to preach, everybody’s different. You have to meet people where they are. One of the big things that we’ve noticed is when managers get people that do things really well, they just assume that they do everything really well. They just lob stuff at them.

A lot of times it works out because often times, the people that are really good at stuff are intrinsically motivated to learn and do, but every once in a while you run up into a wall. All of a sudden, I’ll get a manager in office that says, “Max. This person, they’re just, they’re failing. And now it’s sucking the life out of them and they can’t do anything else.”

I said, “Well, what did you do?” They say, “Well, I just handed it to him.”

“Really?” They’ve never done this before, it’s a brand new task, they’ve never had anything to where they could leverage it, and they just can’t. We have to go back and reset expectations and really get ironclad on objectives. What does good look like? How do we get from point A to point B? Manage them like they’re a new hire. For a new task, sometimes you have to, regardless of whether the person’s awesome at everything else.

Mike Zani: What do they say about the time commitment? They were maybe complaining about, “Eighth hours, really?” What do they say on the way out? They’re like, “Wow that was worth it,” or … ?

Max Redd: A lot of times people will walk out of class and say, “Okay I see why were in there for that long. It really does take that long to show me how to do all of this stuff.” I don’t necessarily get a lot of pushback anymore on the time commitment. I’ve had enough people run through the class now to where they know what to expect. Yeah, I’m a department of me, so I’m talent and development for about 800 people. That’s scary in and of itself. They’re used to seeing my face all the time and I’ve built up enough credibility with the team where they’ll just do it.

They might complain a little bit at first, and then they get really upset when I say, “No, no, no. You can’t bring your computer.” It takes some time at first, you’ve got to find that group that’s just willing to say, “Okay. Yeah. We’ll do it.” And then have them go through it, get their experience, survey the hell out of them, so that you make sure that what you’re doing is actually working, and they’re actually using it. That doesn’t have to be something that has a cost with them.

I use Google Forms when I do surveys. Just really make sure that what we doing is hitting the mark, and then follow up, follow up, follow up. Once you’ve gotten that message out, it’s easy to get people to go to class. I never have trouble filling classes anymore.

Mike Zani: Clearly you did the full on attack on leadership development. How did this affect the other ancillary things, the retention, the engagement? Have you been able to see a mark of different there.

Max Redd: Yeah. Absolutely. Right before I started at Bankers, which has been about two years ago now, we were feeling a little bit like a turnover factory. We’re putting this really good effort into teaching people what they needed to do for the industry and then they were leaving, and taking the stuff that we taught them how to do, and going somewhere else and doing it. Some of that was leadership.

Some of that was other opportunities in other areas. We’ve got a lot of our competitors in very close proximity to the office, actually. There’s a lot of give and take between those organizations over time. Sometimes people will go start with us, then go somewhere else, and then come back. There’s a lot of people that have gone back and forth a bunch of times. What we’ve seen is, when we stopped and focused on development, and we really decided to say, “Okay. This can’t all be about the work. It’s got to also be about how are we building people up.”

It seemed to make a difference, in terms of the stickiness of those employees. They’re sticking around a little bit longer. They’re seeing a little bit more of a career path, and a career trajectory going forward because they’re seeing how what they’re doing with me is translating into increased opportunity for them, whether it’s here or not, but it really has helped. It’s helped a lot. The turnover numbers are way down.

I’m not going to say that all of that is because talent development at Bankers rocks, but some of it definitely is.

Mike Zani: It has to be in part, I mean when you invest in people, they feel it. They feel that investment not only in their career path, but just in, I left the workplace today a better person than when I walked in.

Max Redd: That’s right.

Mike Zani: It’s pretty nice when your employer does that for you.

Max Redd: Absolutely. Just the ability to learn and do, and the ability to say that the president of the company, when he puts out a little communication, not every week but every couple of weeks, and probably two out of three times in the last year, it’s been development-focused. That really tells you something.

Mike Zani: That’s a wonderful situation. Well, I really appreciate you sharing this story at Bankers. Can I shift to a personal item?

Max Redd: You can shift wherever you want Mike.

Mike Zani: I was tickled that you shared a story that your mother was trained by Isabel Myers, famously of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Now that you’re a PI practitioner that can actually train The Predictive Index, you qualify as dual psychometric household. I too share that. My wife is a Master MBTI Practitioner.

What sort of conversations do you have at home with your mother about behavior, personality, and people.

Max Redd: I always feel sorry for my wife in this case, because inevitably she’s in the room, so she’s got people coming at her from two different perspectives. My mom is in the room and she’s always looking at that PJ split, where do you fall on it? She’ll walk in and the house is messy. Now mind you, we have a four-year-old and an eight-year-old, so our house is messy all the time.

She’s like, “I can see that this is a P household.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” We’ll launch in the litany on that once again about how just because I am a self-identified P, in Myers-Briggs, that’s not necessarily the reason why my house is messy. It is, but I’ll never tell her that. Then I’ve done the PI with her, and she thinks it’s a really cool tool, but her big thing is about the more emotional side of it. Where are we really getting to on this feeling sense of how this works?

I’m sitting here thinking this is very strange, coming from an extraordinarily strong T female. Whereas I am a pretty strong Feeler male, but that’s really where we talk about it a lot, is where is the emotional side of this coming into it?

Mike Zani: That’s great. It’s great to be able to share that. I do feel for your wife. We say the same thing about when friends come over, they’re like … It’s insufferable to have people who can analyze you with two frameworks.

Max Redd: That’s right. Both of us are kind of anthropologists by training too, so it adds another layer on top of it. Everything goes back to Neolithic Revolution or somewhere in there in my house.

Mike Zani: That gets me to your last question, in looking at your background, I’m a sailor and I saw that you have a lot of naval history, and seafaring research, even construction of ancient ships. Wanted to ask you, what have you learned from the naval lore that helps you in the world of human capital?

Max Redd: I love that I actually still get to use it. The degree that I went and got was a degree in Maritime Studies. I started in engineering at Texas A&M, and wound up feeling like I didn’t want to be buried in the bowels of a ship, six months out of the year, so I picked to only liberal arts major on campus, which was Maritime Studies, which my buddy Matt, who’s a MAST major when I was, he said, “You know, we’re basically studying shipwrecks and piracy,” and that was really it.

I said, “No, no, no. We’re doing way more. It’s maritime culture, and all of that.” For me, if I’m going give one piece of advice, I would harken back to Bronze Age seafaring in the Mediterranean, those wonderful long haul voyages that Canaanite seafarers were doing. People like those who were on the Uluburun shipwreck that sank off the coast of Turkey. I would say when you look at the diversity of goods that was found on that wreck, I would say that all things are obtainable with the right resources, with the right mentality, and with a stern resolve for shaky seas at times.

Mike Zani: These people did that back when they thought the world was flat.

Max Redd: Yeah.

Mike Zani: That’s pretty fantastic. Well thank you Max Redd. Really have enjoyed our time together with your insights into learning and development, The Predictive Index, the Myers-Briggs, and even naval seafaring lore. Have enjoyed this sorely. Thanks so much.

Max Redd: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Jillian is a marketing coordinator at PI.

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