Attracting and Building A Rock-Solid Team [Podcast]

December 18, 2017 Maria Abbe

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In this podcast, we're joined by Mikey Trafton, serial entrepreneur and expert in building high performance teams with amazing cultures. Mikey was a speaker at the first annual BankOnPurpose Conference in 2016. He's continuing the conversation by sharing how to attract the best talent, how to interview, and how to build a team that's a solid culture fit and incredibly productive. 


Helpful Information

How to Build a World Class Culture in 3 Easy Steps - Mikey Trafton, BankOnPurpose '16

Mikey's LinkedIn

Mikey's Twitter

Podcast Transcript

Jim Young: Hi and welcome to The Purposeful Banker, the podcast brought to you by Precision Lender where we discuss the big topics on the minds of today's best bankers. I'm your host Jim Young, director of communications at Precision Lender. Today we're joined by Mikey Trafton. Mikey is a serial entrepreneur and an expert in building high performing teams with amazing cultures. He currently leads technology initiatives at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, and prior to that ran technology companies in IT services, real estate, and healthcare IT industries. Mikey, if you might remember the name, was a keynote speaker at our first Bank on Purpose conference in 2016 where he shared how to build a world class culture. We'll link to that talk in the show notes. This year he'll be continuing that conversation at Bank on Purpose, but he'll be talking about how to attract and hire the best talent. Welcome to the podcast Mikey.
Mikey Trafton: Thanks Jim, thanks for having me.
Jim Young: Well to kick us off and I know this actually could be its own podcast, but just for a brief version can you share a little bit about your background?
Mikey Trafton: You bet. I spent my career, almost my entire career has been spent in technology. I have started a bunch of companies, I started my first company about 20 years ago, and most of what I've done has been in what I call technology consulting, which is really building custom software solutions for large companies. I call them BFCs, big freaking companies.
Consulting is really a great fit for me because it kind of marries two things that I'm passionate about, the team side of things and the technology side of things. About eight years ago or so I started with some colleagues of mine, I helped to form a incubator for technology startups here in Austin, Texas and it's called Capital Factory. I do a lot of coaching and mentoring of first-time entrepreneurs there at Capital Factory.
Today, as you mentioned, I'm an executive over at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. We are one of the fastest growing movie theater chains in the country with 30 locations and just growing like a weed.
Jim Young: Again I could probably talk to you about Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for a while but we'll try to stay on the topic here. First, I mentioned just a little bit about your talk at Bank on Purpose in 2016, can you give kind of a little bit of a recap on what you covered in that conversation?
Mikey Trafton: I'm a huge believer in company culture, and what I talked about in 2016 was how does a company build a really world-class culture. I really think that if you have a great culture it becomes a competitive advantage for you. If you take, for example, a company like Southwest Airlines. They are famous for their culture, they have their flight attendants are singing on the microphone on the airlines, and everyone's really friendly and empathetic, they have a very service oriented culture. They hire, of course a ton of people, but the number of candidates they have for their positions far exceeds the number of positions they have available.
They are able to hire the absolute best candidates because they have so much demand for people who want to come work in that environment. In fact I have a friend that works at Southwest and he took a 20% pay cut to leave his current job and go work at Southwest Airlines because basically wanted a more fun place to work, he wanted a place that he didn't dread going to work everyday. If you think about in your companies, what would your company look like if you could pay 20% less for your people just because it was a great place for them to work and they were willing to take a lower salary in order to come work for you? That's the kind of competitive advantage that you can get from having a great culture.
What I talked about in 2016 was kind of what I called the three steps to building a world-class culture and the first is you have to figure out just what kind of culture do you want in your company? I give a lot of advice and thoughts on how to come up with that culture. Once you've determined what kind of culture you want then step two is to hire people who already fit with the culture. I'm a believer that it's really hard to change peoples sort of fundamental personalities, and if you have someone who's not a good culture fit for your company it's unlikely that they're going to completely change. If they're a big picture person it's unlikely that you're going to get them to be super detail oriented, or if they're introverted it's unlikely you're going to get them to become extroverted. The second step in building a great culture is to hire the right people.
Then the third step is to reinforce the culture all the time through kind of a system of communication, incentives, processes, systems, things like that to constantly tell people what the culture is, reward them when they're following the culture, slap them on the wrist when they deviate a little bit. For example, here at one of my companies Blue Fish, every week we start the week out on Monday morning with a company wide team meeting. One of the things we do in that meeting is we have a moment of praise where anyone in the meeting can praise someone else in the company for something they did the previous week. It just takes a few minutes, but the things that people choose to say about their colleagues and thank them, that reinforces sort of the things that are important in our culture. That's what I talked about in 2016.
Jim Young: Is it fair to say then that what you'll be talking about this upcoming April will be more maybe a deep dive into step two there, which is hiring and attracting that talent into the culture?
Mikey Trafton: Exactly, you've got it exactly right. Step two I think is the hardest part, and if you think about all the job interviews you've ever been on, I know when I was younger in my career I would go on an interview and I would sit in a conference room or something for an hour talking to one person and I would get a job offer. I always thought they have no idea if I'm a good fit for this job or not. I talked to one person for one hour and I think a lot of hiring still happens that way where we're not really spending enough time with the candidates, we're not really exploring all the different facets of the candidate that will indicate whether they're a fit for the company or not.
What I'm going to be sharing this April is my sort of tips and tricks, the whole process that I use to recruit and assess talent, and make sure that I'm hiring people who are not just a good fit but a great fit, and not just a fit for the role from a skills point of view but a fit for the company from a culture point of view.
Jim Young: I can say to our listeners that we have shamelessly ripped off from Mikey on several of his hiring tips when it comes to the process that we tried to create at Precision Lender, which I would also say that Mikey encourages people to steal and rip off from his techniques and tips when it comes to this sort of thing. What I'm curious about though Mikey is is that you're a software guy and you spoke at Business is Software, which is where I think a lot of us you turned our heads. If I'm a banker I might be sitting here saying, "Okay, well that's all well and good and there's a lot of demand out there. People want to be working at these tech companies, that's kind of the cool, hip thing, particularly for millennial generation, how am I supposed to attract top talent and also be able to then sift through it and find the exact fits I want at a commercial bank?"
Mikey Trafton: I think it's a great question, but I don't think it's actually as big a problem as you might think it is. Because it's true that some technology companies attract a lot of candidates, but Southwest Airlines is not a technology company and they have a long list of people who want to go work there.
Jim Young: Good point.
Mikey Trafton: Whole Foods is not a technology company, but they have a long list of people who want to go work there. Companies with strong cultures will attract great talent, and they key sort of point of view that I have about this is that a hiring sort of job employee employer relationship is a lot like a marriage or a dating relationship. It really is about a fit.
I always tell this story. I'm married to an identical twin. I went to college with my wife's twin sister. I knew this wonderful woman in college and she was one of my close friends, but I never considered dating her. She was never going to be a fit for me in a relationship, but I fell madly in love with her identical twin sister. They are as close as two people could possibly be to being the same person. They look the same, they were raised the same, they have the same values, but I'm a fit with one of them and I'm not a fit with the other. That's the secret in hiring is it's a two-way street, that's the first thing to remember is that the candidate is looking for a job that is a great fit and the employer is looking for an employee that is a great fit.
The secret, I think it doesn't matter what industry you're in, this is a truism. That some people are not going to be a fit for a technology company, but they might be a fit for the local bank. When I think about a bank that is maybe interested in recruiting younger talent and they think they're competing with technology companies, maybe they are, maybe they aren't for that talent, but what I would encourage them to do is to really think about recruiting as sales and marketing. If you think about the product that you're selling is really your company culture, and if you think about the candidate as being the prospective customer, and put your sales and marketing hat on and position the company the way you would position your product or your service that you're selling. You have to identify the target audience that you're going after, you have to figure out if the product is a fit for that audiences needs, and you have to come up with the right messaging to paint your product in the light, the best light that will make it attractive to that audience.
Jim Young: Well there's a lot there to unpack. First off when we finish with this podcast I want to talk to you about optioning a screen play at Hollywood based off of you life because I think that in itself is fascinating. Second off, let's say I really like that idea of adopting a sales and marketing approach to it. Along those lines then what's maybe one way you could suggest to be able to know then if the person you're recruiting is, to go along with the analogy, marketing qualified or sales qualified? How do you know that or what's kind of a good way to really be able to get to that core of that quickly?
Mikey Trafton: I love it. First I think you have to decide what does a qualified lead look like? For example, imagine that your bank has ... You're selling your services to the public, so imagine that your bank has a great phone based customer service, and imagine that this bank has kind of an awful online banking system. You're probably going to fail if you go after millennials as your target customer because they don't like to talk on the phone and they love to do everything on their computers.
If you're targeting the wrong audience from the beginning you're probably not going to have much success. You'd have a lot more success if you were targeting an older generation, maybe someone in their 50s or 60s who thinks about using the phone first rather than their computer first. If you apply that same sort of thinking to candidates this is where you have to start your thinking. For example, you have to kind of think about the assets of the company culture and what is valuable about your cultures? Maybe it's that you give every customer a personal touch, and if that's the case then your company is going to appeal to people who are more community oriented and you might find them working in a non-profit today or something like that. They like that human relationship with someone. Maybe you are the fastest growing bank in your region or something, well that might appeal to someone who's very ambitious and who's looking for lots of career opportunities down the road.
You kind of have to look first inside the company and figure out what is different about us, what's special about us that we can then use to target an audience of potential employees who might be attracted to this thing. I think a lot of companies are too generic in the way they describe themselves and that's the biggest problem. What you want to do is I call it to fly your freak flag high, figure out what is it that's different about my company that's even a little weird. At Whole Foods all the employees, at least here in Austin, they're all got piercings and tattoos and dreadlocks, and Whole Foods is okay with that and they kind of fly that freak flag high. They attract other people who maybe would not be as happy working in a different grocery store where it's maybe more conservative. It's really about identifying what's special about your company, what audience cares about that quality, and then attract to them.
You are asking about how you identify an individual then is potentially marketing qualified, you're really looking at those cultural items in the company, what are the touchstones of the company? If you're a very people oriented, extroverted bank and you have a candidate who's super introverted and you can't hear them when they're talking to you on the phone or they don't make eye contact with you in the very first meeting then maybe you can eliminate them from consideration right off the bat because you know they're not going to be comfortable in this more extroverted culture.
Jim Young: Doing that internal accomplishes two goals. It helps you identify what's the target audience essentially of the potential candidates we're going to go after, and then once we start to get in applications how are we going to essentially sift through them? It's going to be by how well we think their skills match up with essentially who we believe we are. Is that a decent synopsis?
Mikey Trafton: It is and there's a third piece that I think is maybe even the most important from a point of view of filling the funnel of candidates, which is when your candidate, if you think about their ... Just to beat this sales marketing analogy to death, if you think about their buyers journey. I'm a candidate, I'm working somewhere today, maybe I'm working in an existing bank or I'm working in a related field and I'm thinking I want a new position, so I go onto the job boards and I start searching around for some keywords. If all I see is bank teller wanted, bank teller wanted, bank teller wanted, those three job opportunities all kind of look the same to me.
If the fourth description there in the job board said something like seeking the most extroverted person in the world to touch the hearts of our banking customer, then if I'm extroverted and care about people relationships that is going to jump out at me, but if I'm introverted and I really would rather stay in the bank room and crunch number then talk to human beings then I'm going to be repelled by that job description and I'm going to want nothing to do with it. That's what you want.
You want people who are not going to be a fit for the culture to be repelled by your culture and not even apply so don't clog up the funnel, and you want people who are going to be a culture fit to see it and be just attracted to it like a moth to flame. Doing that internal work of figuring out what's special about our company and then positioning the company, just like you would market a product or service, position in the eyes of your candidate so that it leaps off the page at them and makes them feel like they have to learn more about this opportunity and they have to apply.
Jim Young: Yes, it's a really good point because we talk a lot in commercial lending about how money is a commodity. Cash is green everywhere and so how do you differentiate yourself? In this case the title commercial relationship manager would be the same at just about every commercial bank, but how are you going to differentiate what you expect from your RMs from a different bank? If you can do that in a way that you can attract a type of, in this case, RM that you want at your bank. That makes a lot of sense. We could keep going into this but I don't want ... It's like spoilers here, I don't want to give away too much of your talk in April. What more can people expect when you do speak at Bank on Purpose?
Mikey Trafton: What I will share is the whole process that we use, we call it the gauntlet in my companies, and it's the exact opposite of that one hour interview that I eluded to earlier that I had gone through in my youth. The gauntlet is typically a multi-step, multi-day process of attracting an employee and then assessing whether they're going to be a fit. I'll tell you all about that process, I'll actually share my favorite interview questions that I use to weed people out. I'll teach people how to create what I call land mines, which are questions that sound like they have an obvious answer but the obvious answer actually indicates a bad culture fit. A lot of people will step on that land mine trying to please the interviewer instead of answering honestly.
After you have assessed and identified your candidate I'll teach you how to make an offer to the candidate that they will say yes to. I'll teach everybody how to prevent the current employer from coming back and making an offer that the candidate accepts and stays with their current employer. Then I'll give you some tips on onboarding and how to make the first couple of days in this candidates new role special and meaningful for them so that it gets the relationship off on totally the right foot. Those are some of the things I'll be sharing.
Jim Young: That sounds like invaluable information for a lot of the bankers that'll be attending. As I mentioned, it's a big issue in the industry right now is how to attract in particular commercial relationship managers and how to get the best ones and how to keep them. I think that people will come away with a lot of really practical tips and suggestions from Mikey's talk. In the meantime, if our listeners want to find out more about you Mikey, where can they find you online?
Mikey Trafton: My Twitter handle is @mikeytrafton, M-I-K-E-Y T-R-A-F-T-O-N, and it's all one word and that's probably the best way to find my musings. If you're interested in what I had for breakfast this morning that's the place to find out.
Jim Young: Fantastic, well that'll do it for us today. Mikey thank you so much for coming on the podcast to share your expertise.
Mikey Trafton: My pleasure Jim, I'm looking forward to speaking in April.
Jim Young: Again, you'll be able to hear Mikey at Bank on Purpose April 25th through the 27th in 2018. If you haven't signed up for Bank on Purpose yet be sure to do that at Don't forget to use the code podcast18 for 10% off. Thanks for listening. If you'd like to learn more visit our resource page at If you like what you've been hearing make sure to subscribe to the feed in iTunes, SoundCloud, Google Player, Stitcher. We love to get ratings and feedback on any of those platforms. Until next time, this has been Jim Young with Mikey Trafton and you've been listening to The Purposeful Banker.
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About the Author

Maria Abbe

As a Content Manager here at PrecisionLender, Maria develops the messaging, stories and content pieces for prospects and current clients – showing them the value in PrecisionLender. Her passion for serving others is evident as she leads the volunteer program here at PrecisionLender. Maria’s ability to be organized and constructive, along with her ability to be practical makes her an exceptional addition to our team.

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