The Primitive Podcast: Leticia Saiid

Posted by Kade Wilcox | March 22, 2021

Leticia Saiid and Annie Gilbert

Rules are great.

If every day looked the same.

But when your day is filled with caring for individuals and making sure their needs are both met and aligned with the company, creating systems and processes can be a hard task to accomplish.

Guest host and Primitive’s chief of staff, Annie, sits down with the chief of staff of technology and software company CoNetrix, Leticia Saiid, to compare notes while also providing wise warnings along the way.

Connect with the folks behind the episode: Leticia Saiid and Annie Gilbert

Annie Gilbert: My name is Annie Gilbert. I'm the chief of staff at Primitive, and I had the opportunity to host The Primitive Podcast. Today we did a special episode for chiefs of staff, and we had Leticia Saiid on the podcast and we discussed the chief of staff role, what it looks like at CoNetrix and Primitive, and all of the benefits of hiring a chief of staff. Thanks for listening to The Primitive Podcast. Hope you enjoy it.

Leticia Saiid: The first thing that I really want to say about personal development and health is that only you can give yourself self-care. So I guess another way to say it is nobody can give you self-care except for yourself. And I think sometimes we start thinking, you know what, I'm just going to push and I'm going to prove, and then once I have earned it, the world is going to give it to me. And it's not, no matter how awesome and amazing you are, no matter how much you give, no one's going to say, "You know what? Hey, you stop and just take a breath there." It's not going to happen. You have to give it to yourself.

Annie Gilbert: Leticia, we're so excited to have you on The Primitive Podcast today. And just can't wait to dig into all kinds of things about the chief of staff role and what that looks like for you. So let's start by just having you tell us a little bit about yourself.

Leticia Saiid: Okay, great. Thanks, Annie. I am excited to be here and to learn about the chief of staff from you, too. It's kind of a new, sort of popular thing, that's happening. But, I guess a little bit of my history. So I grew up in Odessa, Texas, and then I came here for college to go to LCU. And it's just such a nice place to be that I stuck around. And so my first grown-up job was at CoNetrix almost 10 years ago now. And so there, I started with a, one of our software divisions and so I was the first support specialist for that group. And then from there, I moved to be the manager of the support group, which was super fun to have like a little team. And then I got pulled into being an executive assistant and then that kind of morphed into chief of staff.

Annie Gilbert: Okay. And so how long have you been in the chief of staff role at CoNetrix?

Leticia Saiid: So it's just under two years, I believe.

Annie Gilbert: Okay. Awesome.

Leticia Saiid: How about you?

 

The Three Ps 

Annie Gilbert (02:29):

So I, two and a half years, I've been at Primitive. And I've been in this role here my whole time here and was the first person to come into this role. And I got to kind of create what it looks like today. So tell me what, for you and for your company, what does the chief of staff mean? What does that look like for you?

Leticia Saiid: Okay, so I was talking to the president to my boss, Russ, about this and we came up with; oh, it was perfect. He was saying, "Oh, it's three Ps. I can say it's the three Ps." So here's, here's what it is for chief of staff, it's three Ps. So the first one is projects. I do corporate projects, so stuff that we want to do at that level, but we didn't necessarily have resources prior to doing that. You know, the CFO needs to do the CFO things, and the COO needs to do the COO things, and things will get started. And then it was kind of hard to, you know, just have someone responsible for those projects. And we don't want to pull from those employees who are actually serving our clients to do these more corporate things. So that's a big one. Some examples are things like training for our teams of different kinds. Even projects like a document restructure.

We moved from one server to another server and someone had to make sure it got moved over in, ideally, an understandable way; a new, better structure. We moved from one building to another building. So just another person to be part of that kind of strategizing. So really projects that are gonna make us more effective internally is one of the big roles for chief of staff. So that's projects.

The second one is people. So I, when I was offered the chief of staff position, I was like, that sounds like it's about people. Okay, I'm excited about that part. So, you know, we have operations, we have HR, but what we didn't have was someone focusing on the development of our employees. So I get to do that and, you know, just providing resources for, for managers, just that extra person. Some examples of that are things like I started a new orientation for new employees, instead of someone showing up and us turning around saying, "Oh, welcome. It's your first day. I'm sure there's a desk around here for you. Just a second. Let me dust this off." It's more of a plan and preparation. We've got a schedule, there are different people that they're going to meet and talk to. So things like that. And one that I'm excited about that we're about to start is some leadership training. So focus on soft skills. We are in the technology industry. So we spend a lot of time and attention developing our technical skills. But if you want leaders and you want effective teams, you also need time and attention in soft skills.

And then the third P is president. And I did not fully realize how important this particular part of the role was or how desired and needed it was. Until I really got going, but, and I'm so interested to hear if this is the same for you with Kade, but for Russ, I am the president's go-to strategic counsel.

I am a sounding board and a listener. I'm a coach and a truth-teller. You know, some may kind of describe that as a partner. So I'm just a go-to trusted person for exploring an idea or for him to be able to humbly say, "what am I missing here? What, you know, what do we need to do differently?" I provide him that, which I absolutely love. Now I have to be a vault for sensitive things. So that's kind of a new thing for me there. And then also with the president, I make sure that his intended message is actually delivered to the people. So we know that our leaders have great things to share and to say, but they don't always have the way to deliver that clearly, accurately, et cetera. So that's, that's a big part of what I do.

Annie Gilbert: That's amazing. There are so many parallels between what you just said and exactly what I do at Primitive. And so that's really exciting to me. There are some differences and some variance, but I think it's probably just due to, you know, the structure of our companies and how it's a little bit different.

Leticia Saiid: And industry as well. So what are those?

Annie Gilbert: Okay. So whenever I had the first conversation with Kade about coming on board, as in this role, he specifically reached out to me because of my counseling background. And so my background is in education and counseling, and I was finishing up my hours for licensure, and he knew that, and he wanted a counselor in this role. He was very, you know, specific about - he's a very focused person - and so he knew what he wanted and the reason he wanted that is because the main focus of this role, in the vision that he had for it, is culture and its people. And so I loved when you said people, I'm sure I just lit up because that's what I'm all about. Sounds like that's what you're all about, too. And so that was, that's always been the priority, is people. There are a lot of hats that we wear and a lot of different things that, and ways that, that plays out, but it always goes back to the people.

And that's the main reason that I'm here. And so that kind of falls in the bucket of culture. And so it's, it's very much about the people. And I'll never forget in our first meeting when he was casting the vision for this role. And he's the salesman. So he was really selling me on the role. It didn't take much though. I was, I was all in. But he said something I'll never forget. He said, "We know that our people are our biggest asset and we need to take care of them and we need somebody who can come and just focus on our people." And so I was sold from that point on.

Leticia Saiid: I love that.

The Value of “People First”

Annie Gilbert: Yes, it's just, it's so important. And I think it's so unique and maybe becoming, you know, more common. I hope that leaders see things that way; that they value their people. And they know that they can't have a healthy company without healthy people that make up that company. And so that was one of the buckets. There were four buckets that he was like, this is what I want this role to do. These are the lanes that I want you to run in. And so culture was the first. Accountability was another one. We have a really talented team and we always have, and that's only grown and gotten better. But we entrusted people to do what they do really well, and we still do, but there was no accountability by way of support. We weren't communicating, you know, where people were and maybe areas for growth. And so I think that development piece that you were talking about is what I've been able to bring to this role. How can we support people and then hold them accountable for performing at their best? Because that's also how they're going to be most fulfilled and satisfied.

A third one was recruiting. And that's kind of a process one. So in the hiring process, we didn't have one. And so I've gotten to develop that out and do it in a way that makes sense. Because now that we have built this culture, and we're still working on it, we want to protect it and we don't want to just let anyone in, you know, that that could potentially damage it or bring that negativity in. And so our recruiting and hiring process is something that I get to own, and I get to do a culture interview with everyone and make sure, even before we do a skills interview or something like that, make sure that they align with our core values. Make sure that they feel like it's a good fit.

A lot of times I spend my interview process sharing more than even asking questions because I want them to feel the freedom to ask me questions about Primitive. Because it doesn't only need to be a good fit for us. It needs to be a good fit for them as well. And so we're very transparent, you know, about those things. And then the last one that I think this one's a little different from yours, is collaborative HR. We don't have an HR department. I kind of am that along with our office manager, Liz who's been here longer than I have. And so she, she knows a lot and we work together really well to manage just a lot of those processes that have to be established and in place for things like onboarding new employees and making that a great experience and, and all of that. And so those are really the things that I still, today, I mean, that was the vision and that's really where I still operate. Some things we've been able to put in place that they're not as much of a focus anymore. But there are still things that, you know, I'm overseeing and making sure they're healthy and that we're updating them as needed.

Leticia Saiid: Yeah. Talking about, you know, getting started and finding where things belong and kind of shifting through stuff. As I started the role, me and the president and (the president Russ) and the COO Carl, we had to sit down, you know, pretty frequently and say, "Who does this really belong to?" Because we were sort of re-dividing responsibilities. And we talk about HR. We do HR by committee as well. So our CFO and COO, and then chief of staff (me) and the president, we kind of work in that role. I think part of the reason we can do that without having a specific person (I imagine it's the same for y'all here at Primitive as well), is that we hire such high caliber people that we don't need that traditional HR role who's dealing with as many like problematic types of things. So that's interesting you brought that up.

Annie Gilbert: Absolutely. I love that. So sort of piggybacking on that, what is like, where does your role fall into the structure of your company? You mentioned that you work alongside and with, you know, these executive-level people, and I think the chief of staff role, this is something that I've found can vary. And so what does that look like for you? Are you considered a part of executive leadership? You know, do you have that seat at the table? Sounds like you do. And what does that look like?

Leticia Saiid: So that's a good question. We have, and just a little bit about our company. We have a parent company that's CoNetrix LLC, and then we have four child companies. They used to be divisions and I don't know, five or so years ago, we actually split them out into four companies. And so as I was making this transition, I started as an executive assistant. And so in that role, I was under the corporate heading, but not an executive seat per se. You know, not that, that C-level type of thing. And one thing that we found in that because the executive assistant is something that was coming up a lot in the technology industry, and it was really a kind of a high-performance, high caliber sort of seat. But in the rest of the industries, that assistant word didn't quite make a whole lot of sense. It, you know, sounds like I'm, I'm doing time logs and receipt reports. So anyway, we discovered that what we really needed for the role was that authority that comes with the chief of staff. And that's one reason that we made that transition is so that, you know, I could speak with authority and participate with authority. So, yeah, I am on the executive team, which is, you know, owners, general managers of each company, and then that C-level staff.

Not power. Influence.

Annie Gilbert: I think that's so important. And I love that you brought that up because I was having a discussion with someone the other day about that particular aspect of a role. And we were talking about a company that really is lacking a healthy culture. And the importance of having someone, not just to be an advocate for people and listen to people, but someone who can actually affect change. And so that's something similar to my role here. I've always had a seat at the table and that's not that I have power, but that I have the ability to speak into things because I have the context from the people.

Leticia Saiid: Not power but influence.

Annie Gilbert: Exactly. Yes. And so I think that's so important, too, to have that ability to really advocate for the people. Because then, you know, they don't feel like they're just sharing things that aren't going to go anywhere, but they feel heard and they are heard, and it does impact the decisions that are made that affect them. And so I think that's a really important piece and I love that you saw that need and that Russ and everyone there saw that need and then did it. And I think that's the next step for a lot of places. If they can recognize that and then move into that and take action, and create it. I think it just, it's been a game-changer for us here, and I'm sure at your company as well.

Leticia Saiid: Yeah, absolutely. And kind of what you're describing makes me think of how we have this concept where we talk about champions. And so if we care about our people, having someone in that role who is focused on that and is a champion for taking care of people, makes sure that something happens because we can want it all we want, but if we're not moving strategically in that direction, things fall by the wayside.

Annie Gilbert: Absolutely. I love that. I'm writing that down. So you answered one of my questions a little bit. "Why was your role created?" Do you have anything else to add to that, or do you feel like we've kind of covered that as far as why you moved into that different role?

Leticia Saiid: Yeah. As I was thinking about those two questions, I felt for us, because it was a strategic move, the questions are very entwined. You know, we created it because of what it is and that we needed that thing that it is. So far it's proving to be valuable.

Annie Gilbert: Yes, absolutely. So what are some tangible differences that you've seen in the organization since you've been in this role?

Being on an Island

Leticia Saiid: So this is a hard one for me because I feel like it's asking you know, what good have you done? I'm like, okay, I am going to ask a few other people about that and sort of seeing what the feedback is because I thought, "Gosh, what, you know, what has changed tangibly? Really?" So two things kind of came up from that question. One of them is so, you know, as the president being one of my focus things, confidence in decisions and announcements. And so when you are a leader and you're kind of an island by yourself (I mean, we, we do have a CEO. We do have, you know, we have all of these people that you can talk to, but at some rate, you know, there's a bit of an island nature whenever leadership is involved.) having someone else who is able to look at the details of your messaging, or to be a sounding board in certain things, there is a level of confidence when you're ready to make a change, deliver a message, that just makes things go better; less cleanup as well for potential mistakes.

And so that's one thing that I have seen change a tangible difference. And then another one is just consistency across companies. Because I am kind of a cog. I am a connector between all of these different groups and seeing, you know, what's one doing and could we all be doing it, or could we really be saving each other time by not all reinventing the wheel? And so I would say those are the two things for us. What about you?

Annie Gilbert: So you know, when I look back and think about, okay, what have we accomplished? I mean, I think that's what it is. What, what did we set out to do? And how far have we come and that tangible progress? Sometimes it's hard when you're working with people. There are not always measurable things. And you're, you know, sometimes I think it feels better, but I don't know why, or I can't exactly quantify what, specifically, is better. And so I agree. I think it's hard sometimes to find those tangible things. But I think that one of the things that we've established that we didn't have, we've kind of grown up as a company. And so we were a startup and this has given us the opportunity to really mature and do things the way that they should be done. And now we're able to do that because I can focus on those processes and putting those in place. And so we've done things with accountability. We never had performance reviews. And so we've established this process where we do annual performance reviews and we're in our second year of doing that. And it's so exciting. It's so empowering for our people. You never realize how much everyone needs to know. "Okay. Where do I stand?" They want to be better. They want to grow. They want those opportunities. If you're not evaluating performance, they never really get the feedback they need.

Leticia Saiid: I love that you said that so much because yes, we have had performance reviews for a while, but it's like, some people would do them. Some wouldn't. And now we're in the place where we're saying, "No, everyone needs to do them." Because I know starting, you know, as an employee, that was my moment for you to also say what I've been doing well. And you know, the phrase, "Well, I don't need to keep telling you. I told you I love you." Like, no, we need to, we still need to hear it.

Annie Gilbert: Yes, absolutely. I agree. And so that's that consistency piece that you were talking about. And I've seen that in a lot of different areas since we've implemented this role. Another area is really just in a lot of HR. We've developed a culture guide that really defines it. We didn't have core values. We didn't have anything defined. And so we talk about really discussing our culture a lot and discussing our core values and documenting them and then demonstrating them and really walking that. And it holds us as leadership accountable to that. If we're going to talk about it, you know, we need to follow through. And so we have a culture guide that walks through all of those things that are really expectations. But it's both ways. It's not, we expect this from you.

 

It's like, you need to expect this from us as well. And you need to call us out on it when we're not making decisions that are through the lenses of these core values we've established. And then we also have a distributed culture; distributed team, which has always been the case. So we have remote employees all over the place. And so that, that was a challenge. That was probably one of the biggest challenges for me to adjust to coming into this role.

Leticia Saiid: Like what percent of your people are...

Annie Gilbert: Almost 50 percent are not located in Lubbock. And so we have a little more than half who are, who are here in Lubbock. But it's, the number is growing of remote employees. And that's amazing because it enables us to hire people not limited to location, but based on talent and fit and all of those things.

Leticia Saiid: And it's a totally different management style.

Remote Culture Roadblocks and Wins

Annie Gilbert: It is. It is very unique. And so I think that when I first came on and started thinking about, "Okay, what steps do we need to take to make our culture healthier?" That was my biggest roadblock. I'm like, how do you do that when people are not here, they're not in the office. And I think I have this limitation in my mind that culture is about location. And it's not, it doesn't have to be. And so we just have amazing people on our team who have made it work. And then we were uniquely positioned well for the pandemic in that we were already set up to be remote and already pretty good at it. And so we definitely amped up our communication and our virtual hangouts, and really tried to care for our people in that way.

But everyone, even in Lubbock, could work from home really pretty easy. And so that was a huge blessing for sure. But we, as part of our culture guide, have that information for, okay, even our remote culture. You know, that's important. And really just, instead of feeling like it's two separate teams, our local team and our remote team, really just combining that like we're one team. We're all valuable and valued and important. And so that's been really helpful, I think just to have that document that we can refer back to and be reminded of. The other thing that we've created as our team guide, which is basically our handbook, and just needed that consistency. And it has our core values that run throughout. Why do we offer these benefits, you know? And it makes us be intentional and really create meaningful benefits for our people that sometimes we think outside the box and we like to do things that are just going to really be a blessing to them.

And one example is a book club. So once a month every employee can request a book and we'll buy it for them and give it to them. And so that's just, you know, increasing learning and their desire to grow and be developed and pursuing that. And it's a small thing, but it really is a big deal to a lot of our people. They love the benefit that they can order a book and have that once a month. And so little things like that just are small but have made a big impact and a big difference. So those are, those are some of the examples that come to mind of where we've just seen this difference with our recruiting, you know, not having a hiring process or an onboarding process.

I mean, I remember my first day walking in and it was a little hectic. I mean, I could tell people were like, okay, this is your computer. And, you know, there wasn't really a plan. And you think about someone coming into their first day of work, it's already a little bit scary. You don't really know people, you know, you want to be received well. You're learning so much and taking in so much new information. And so I think the smoother we can make that process and the more comfortable and more welcome we can make people feel and that's going to happen by being prepared. And so I'm reading a book right now called The Power of Moments, which is one that Russ loved. And it has that example in there of this is such an opportunity to make this a great experience. And it really sets the tone for their time at that job.

Leticia Saiid: And somehow even represents like, this is how we care for people and take care of people. Encouraging them that this is how you're going to take care of our clients going forward.

Annie Gilbert: Absolutely. So I just have seen more and more how important that is. And we're continuing to revamp how we do that. And even having a remote team, our last employee that we hired pretty recently did an interview with her and that's how we introduced her to the team. Because we have remote employees who aren't going to meet her face to face until our all-team meeting in October, we wanted them to see her and hear from her and learn a little bit about her. And so we just recorded an interview and sent that out on her first day. And that was just a fun way to kind of welcome her and make her feel valued and important. So yeah, those are just some examples that come to mind for me.

So you do a lot of things. You wear a lot of hats. There's a lot of different things going on, I'm sure. What does a day in the life of chief of staff look like for you? And I know it's probably not typical or the same on any two days that's.

Leticia Saiid: Oh, did you read my notes? It says there are no two days that look alike.

Annie Gilbert: Yeah. I live it. So I understand.

No Two Problems (or Days) are Alike

Leticia Saiid: Yeah, no two days that look alike, which is part of the purpose of the role, right? It's all sorts of new, crazy things. So you know, going back to my, my three Ps. So a day looks like I'm sitting in the president's office, something has come up, we gotta figure it out. In some cases it's something small, in some cases, it's a pandemic. So, you know, how do we, what do we do next? How do we remove obstacles for our people? Let's divide and conquer. So those conversations are happening a whole lot. And then for projects. Man, they're always for me, because it's usually focused on like corporate efficiencies, you know, always new and different. That's something I really love about it though, as compared to some other roles that you can have in a company is it's kind of, you know, you start something new and then it ends. Like school. And then you get to start something else new instead of something that just kind of goes on forever.

So you know, a real kind of start and finish. And it might be a few weeks, some things can take a few months. So, you know, like COVID, for example. So at the corporate level, you've got this whole new issue that you have to solve for people. And there are all sorts of questions and things, chief of staff is right in the middle of that, you know, daydreaming and obstacle removing and, you know, announcement-writing and listening in and hearing and talking to employees and saying, "Oh, we need to be considerate of what's happening there." And so all of those elements kind of play into the daily, as projects are moving, hearing the employee feedback on some of those things and seeing how that needs to affect change. And then, you know, von the topic of people, it could be that a new employee is coming in or it could be that.

So something that I get to do and enjoy doing is we use all sorts of, you know, technologies. One of them being Microsoft teams for all of our chats. So I may be sitting down and researching a feature and then writing a tutorial on it that's specific to our staff and how we would use it. And then I distribute that in this channel we have for tips and tricks. And so people, you know, read and like, and whatever. And my favorite is getting those emails like, you just saved me 20 minutes a day for telling me this trick here. It's like, yes, that's, that's something that I'm trying to do. So yeah, I could be writing or chatting. It's such a communication-based thing. So constantly communicating, even when it comes to those projects, it's usually a lot of different people I have to work with because they're going to affect so many different employees.

Annie Gilbert: Absolutely. I agree with that a hundred percent. And mine is very similar. Just depends on the day. Sometimes I have a lot of meetings and sometimes I have a lot of project work where I'm writing resources or preparing for a presentation that I'm going to share with the team or planning for our all-team meeting. It just could be anything, but I also love the variety and the opportunity to do a lot of different things. And, and again, to even just different skills that I can develop, you know? Whether it's my writing skills or my communication skills or learning about something new.

Leticia Saiid: I really enjoy the combination of how there's a lot of like big picture strategy, which does have this more kind of long drawn out feeling to it. But also I have to be available to stop at a moment's notice if something comes up, you know? Whatever those things might be, the things that belong in the vault as those things come up, everything has to stop and do that. And that's exciting. That's enjoyable. I like, you know, a new problem to pop up in front of me and then say, "Okay, what do we do?"

Annie Gilbert: Yes. Okay. So that brings up a question that I'm going off the script with. So I'm just going to put you on the spot a little bit here, but we use something called CliftonStrengths. Are you aware of CliftonStrengths?

Leticia Saiid: I am.

Annie Gilbert: Do you know what your top five are?

Leticia Saiid: Okay. So I don't actually remember all of them, but I know one of them is Focus and another one is Significance, and let's see. Oh, Achieve.

Annie Gilbert: Achiever? Those are good. Those are all in different categories.

Leticia Saiid: And I do remember one more. It's like Individualization. Yeah. Those are the ones I remember. The other one is apparently forgettable.

Annie Gilbert: Four out of five is not, I mean, that's more than the average person remembers when I put them on the spot like that. So that's incredible. Do you use it in your company?

Leticia Saiid: So I, not currently. It's something that I really am starting to look into though. So we've done a little bit with Enneagram, which is more simple because everybody has like one number, and then if you want to understand more, you can kind of spread out more. I noticed that, so our CFO, Tia, had the Strengthsfinder book in her office and she's got like a little picture frame where she has her five strengths, like set out in that. I love that. And then Russ, as well, the president had, I know, done it you know, within a few years or whatever, and I'd heard of it. And I thought, Oh yeah, it sounds interesting. I don't know if Enneagram is better or whatever. Well, I happened to be teaching/visiting an LCU business class. And the next session they were about to do was about the book and Tracy Mack, who was the teacher at the time said, "Oh, I have two extra books if you and your husband want it."

I thought, you know, I've been thinking about it. I've been talking to my friend, Kathy Crockett about it. Like, okay, I'll do it. And so I took them and we did them that night and it turned my life upside down. I was just like, "You mean other people don't care about these things?" Like I had no idea. And then for my husband's as well, it was like, you are not in the right place at all. Like you need chaos is what I just learned from yours. But yeah, for me, it was like, "Oh, that's why these things matter so much to me."

Annie Gilbert: They do. Absolutely. I love that. It's been something that has revolutionized our culture and our ability to understand each other.

Leticia Saiid: So how do you use it with a whole staff?

Identifying a Whole Staff Worth of Strengths

Annie Gilbert: Yeah, it's been a slow implementation over time. But we're slowly becoming experts in self-awareness and awareness of our teammates and their strengths. And it's been so worth it. When I first came on board, Kade had mentioned to me that a mutual friend that we have, LeAnne Lagasse, had this company called ROI Talent Development. And so they're here in Lubbock and she and Joy, who they used to be professors in the communications department at Texas Tech, and now they've moved away from that and just run with this new company. And they are strength coaches. And so they take this and they go into companies and they teach companies how to utilize this, for whatever pain points they might have. And they do consulting and coaching and sessions and workshops. And so we invited them to come and they worked with just our leadership team and we did a workshop and we all learned our top five.

We learned how they, you know, how we could interact together more effectively really by understanding our own strengths and our own tendencies. And then also those of others around us. And so from there, we took that information, and then we have everyone in the company get to take the assessment. A lot of people take it during the hiring process. And so when we have some final candidates, we'll send them a strength code and they'll take the assessment because it really helps us understand how this person would fit on this team? It's not really about you, you need these specific strengths to do this role well. It's more about wanting a balance. You don't want everyone on a team to have the same strengths or even the same strong theme. You want them to be balanced and you want people to be able to bring different things to the table.

But of course, that can cause some friction and conflict sometimes, too. And so we need to understand to manage that. And so everyone has their top five, actually quite a few know all 34 strengths in order which is also really enlightening. And so, and then I do a strength session with each person one-on-one where we really dive deep into their top five strengths and what they mean. Because you know, those words can mean different things to different people. And so we try to understand what does this mean for you and how does it show up for you? It's all so different. You and I could both have the same strength in our top five, but it'll look different for you than it looks for me. And so I actually finished up a strength session this morning. It's one of my favorite things to do.

And it's fun to watch people do what you just did. Like it changed my life. It turned my life upside down. And for people to say, "How did they know that? How are they inside my brain understanding that this is how I think, and this is how I work?" And so it's been incredible. But you've said a lot of things that correlate to different strengths. You've talked about strategy a lot and so there's a strategic thinking theme. And then the big picture makes me think of Futuristic. And so you'll have to let me know what that fifth one is. And if it's one that I'm thinking of.

Leticia Saiid: I will. So have you had much pushback? Because I know with these kinds of things, there are certain kinds of people who feel like, okay, I don't want to be put in a box. I'm not taking your tests. Have you had to overcome that?

Annie Gilbert: We really haven't. And I think the reason is that the strengths assessment is through Gallup. And it is so research-based, and there is so much data to back it up, you know? They've improved it over the course of years and years.

And so it's really grounded in a lot of data that backs it up. And everybody's unique. And so I think that's the difference in something like Enneagram where you're a number and they're a number, so you must be the same. It's not like that with strengths. Because even if I haven't met anyone who has all five of my same strengths, you know, I've come in contact with people who have, we have four of the five that are the same. We're still very different. And like I said, they show up in different ways. And so I think it still allows for that uniqueness and that individuality. And we really empower people and continue to learn about how can you apply your strengths in this situation to solve this problem, or, you know, in this way.

And so we're constantly going back to the drawing board of like, okay, let's talk about this. And, and how, how you can leverage your strengths for what the outcome that you want to accomplish. And so I did a workshop last week about applying strengths to wellness. That's the core value we're focusing on this quarter. And so we've talked a lot about wellness and so we're like, okay, let's take something that we have, that's a natural strength and benefit, and let's use it for this purpose and for this goal. And so it's just, people really have enjoyed it as far as I'm aware. If they don't like it, they just haven't told me and that's okay. But it's been really well received and something that people have at the very least they have become more self-aware.

Leticia Saiid: So I have a question. About how much, what percentage or hours (however you want to say it) of an employee's work time are spent on these kinds of things?

Annie Gilbert: That is a great question. So we use a project management system called Hive; most of our team does. It breaks down their work so that we can have that visibility, into capacity mostly, so that they're not overloaded and we're not giving them too much. And so I really think it would be a small percentage honestly, probably two to five percent. And that may seem large. I'm not really sure. And it's really up to the individual person because these workshops we do are optional. So not everybody attends, but we record them and they can go back and watch them. Some people use some of their own time to dig in more. People who really love it and just, you know, they have the Learner strength and so they want to learn more about it. So it really depends on the person.

But I don't think that our goal is to really limit that. You know, our philosophy is really, if you're getting your work done and you're doing it with excellence, we don't really care where you're doing it. You know, you can come to the office or you can work from home or you can work from a coffee shop. We don't really care when you're doing it as long as you're available when you need to be available for your team or for clients. You know, we don't want to put those restrictions on there. And so I think it's the same with this type of personal and professional development. We're not really going to inhibit that. We want to provide freedom and flexibility for you to do that because it not only makes our employees more satisfied and fulfilled but it increases their performance. And you know, when they're well, and they're healthy they're going to be energized and they're, they're going to be more excited about their work. And so it really is a win-win for everyone when we allow them that freedom and flexibility.

Leticia Saiid: Yeah. I think that's something that people, it's very hard to move from, even from like, just, I don't even know what to call this. Just very business, I'll say, production. This very production-minded business structure, to hearing about companies like ours, where it's like, "Oh, chief of staff? Why are they investing in something like that?" Or, "Why are we spending time on these kinds of skills?" Or whatever, but you're right. Those investments make people happy to be where they are. They make people more effective in what they're doing, their communication, their focus, all of those really important things. And so that's a hard shift that is going to happen. So jump on board or it's going to happen without you. Right?

Annie Gilbert: Right. Absolutely. I agree. And I think having this, you know, having these experiences and even these tangible examples to share are the key to helping people see the value in it. And so I love that. So kind of in that direction, how do you focus and prioritize your personal development and health?

 

Decision Fatigue and Personal Development

Leticia Saiid: So I can talk about this for a super long time because I love discussing personal development. I love reading about it. I love practicing it. I turn everything into a program that I do which drives my husband crazy. But, the first thing that I really want to say about personal development and health, is that only you can give yourself self-care. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. So I guess another way to say it is nobody can give you self-care except for yourself. And I think sometimes we start thinking, "You know what? I'm just going to push and I'm going to prove. And then once I have earned it, the world is going to give it to me." And it's not, no matter how awesome and amazing you are, no matter how much you give, no one's going to say, "You know what? Hey, you stop and just take a breath there." It's not going to happen. You have to give it to yourself. So mind, body, and soul, right? So for the body, and my number one thing is water. You know, physical health is a huge part of being an effective person, a happy person. So if I'm unwell physically, or if I'm unwell emotionally, sometimes the answer is a glass of water. And it's almost embarrassing, but it's true. My husband calls me his little flower because, with just a little water and little sun, I really perk up.

So for the body that's one thing. For the mind is always learning. So books and Ted talks. As I said, I really, I study things. I don't just read them. So, you know, Russ and I are different in this way. He listened to or listen/read like 50 books. 30 books? I don't know what the number was. It was a number that was outrageous to me last year. I was like, I think I did maybe like six, but when I read them, I read them fast one time, because I'm so interested. And then the second time I like to go slow and I make notes and I've got all of my little like, okay, what are we going to implement? How are we going to do this? How are we going to apply it? How are we going to teach everyone around us about this great thing that we just learned? So I love doing that. If I just read it, they would just disappear from my mind entirely. So I've always got one that I'm reading. One of my favorite memories about reading books was I took a day off one time and was like, I'm just going to read a book today. And so I read a book called, appropriately called, Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt. Highly recommended. And it was just a delightful day.

So body, mind. I guess another one for the mind is I need routine and I make a lot of routines. So a natural habit that I have is I'm always, so I guess this is a strategy thing, I'm always calculating effectiveness. So is what I'm doing right now the most effective thing I could be doing with my time? Or as I'm looking ahead, the next thing that I'm going to do, should I do A, B or C? And sometimes I spend so much time just deciding what I'm going to do to be effective, that I am wasting my time instead of just picking something and doing it. So, one way I kind of combat that habit is for things that are overly simple, I literally make a list. I make a routine. So if it's about, you know, yoga, I do yoga in the mornings.

And it's just, it's built into the routine. So there's not a question about it. I'm not having to decide. I even have it in that Free to Focus book. And also I recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear. So those two kinds of mixed together can just make some really amazing things happen in your life. But I have this list in the bathroom of how to get ready in the morning, which sounds great. But it's like at this time we do these five things and then by seven o'clock, we're moving on to, you know, light the candles, do the yoga, and then three it’s like make the bed, have some coffee, prayer time. But I'm not spending time like re-deciding all the time, what to do. And that's part of me maintaining my emotional health, as someone who thinks.

Annie Gilbert: Yes, I love that that's so important. Yesterday afternoon I was going for a walk. It was a beautiful day. And it was about four o'clock and I was tired from the day. And I make a lot of decisions all day long. I have three young children. And so I'm going for a walk and I can't decide where I want to go. Like I live out in Ransom Canyon. There's a lot of beautiful places to go. But my kids are at the house, and so I'm like, do I want to go over the walking bridge and around the lake? Or do I want to stay in my neighborhood or go up to the chapel? And I was paralyzed by this. And I had this realization that I was tired and when we get tired and we start having that decision fatigue, we can't make even the simplest decisions. So I think your strategy is because it's built-in, it's already been made. And why would we want to waste our energy on, you know, unnecessarily on decisions that could already be our minds made up? And it just saves us that additional, just little decisions that really, it doesn't really matter.

Leticia Saiid: Yeah, because we have important things we need to be deciding during the day. So if I waste all of my decision-making capacity before 7:45 AM on, would it be more effective to wash my face before I put my contacts in? It's just like, okay, we don't need to be doing that. I'll tell you another one that I hadn't planned to share. But I just do it for fun. I do it for that kind of getting stuck. And I call it chaos cards. There's some Ryan Reynolds movie from forever ago called Chaos Theory. I do not recommend it, but from the movie, I got this idea. He had these cards and he would use them. I do not use them to make decisions. But he would like to write down the three decisions he can make about this scenario and then pick one and whatever it said, he would do that.

And so I don't use it for that, but I use it for me, like my chill time at home. Because a lot of, you know, do I want to study my Spanish? Do I want to read a book? Do I want to clean the kitchen? Do I want to call a friend? And it's again, it's like, there's so many I could be strategizing. I could be making these things happen. And I put so much value on them. It's like, none of these things need to happen. So I just shuffle the cards. My husband will do it with me. He's like, oh, it's time for the chaos cards. We need to get those things out. I'm like, okay. And so, yeah, I just picked one. I'm like, all right, I'm gonna read a book for 20 minutes. And then I do that. And it's just I'm like, this is what we're doing.

Annie Gilbert: That's so great. And it's almost a reward, too. Like, you know, it's going to be good, whatever it is

Leticia Saiid: Yeah. They're all good. And so it's like, Oh, how exciting. This random thing is happening to me. So I'll say one more for health and that's spirit, and that's- the word I'm gonna use is, "Stop." Which you can already hear from talking to me that that is something I have to force myself to do. And for someone who likes to be really effective, it seems counterintuitive to stop. But you know, God talks about stopping and resting all the time. It was literally built into the Israelites rules and schedules were stopping. Jesus would always stop to rest. I'm not sure why we as mere humans think we do not need to do that, but we absolutely do. So, you know, even what was recommended to me is, can you just do nothing for 15 minutes every day?

And I told that person, if it will make me feel better, I will do it. But it does. I mean, just that literally stop and remembering you are not in control of everything, is fantastic. The visual I've been using lately is a couple of years ago, I took a trip to the Netherlands. And while I was there, I was more relaxed than I've been in a million. And so I was trying to pick out what was it, you know? "Oh, maybe it was the bed that we slept on." It was like a junkie Ikea, like, fold-out. It was not the bed. I was like, maybe it was like, it's more humid there or maybe it's... And so I've just been going through all of these things. And then one that finally came to me was, you know, we spend a lot of time on the train. And I would trust our friends who were there tour-guiding us around to get me on the train and to tell me when to get off the train. And my only job was literally to sit there. I could not get us to where we were going faster. I could not make our fun, more fun or effective by doing anything on that ride. My job was to sit there. And so that's been part of my visualization for, you know, for my personal health is I just get on the train with Jesus and that's it. That's my job just to sit there.

Annie Gilbert: That's so great. I think that you know, the connotation sometimes with rest is laziness. And I think in our minds and in American culture, we equate it with we're not doing anything; we're wasting time or we're being lazy. And I really think it's just the opposite. I think it's so productive. But it is really difficult for all of us to do nothing. We actually watched a Ted talk recently before our last all-team meeting that we had, so we could discuss it. It was about mindfulness and it was about doing nothing and asking everyone to think about the last time that you intentionally did nothing. And it's so hard for us, you know, we get caught up in busy-ness and just our to-do lists and there's always something we could be doing. And so I think that we don't value stopping and resting nearly enough.

And I think it's so important. So I'm glad that you brought that up. We have a lot of similarities, which isn't a surprise, but one thing that, one way that I practice just self-care and prioritizing my needs and is just healthy boundaries. And I talk about boundaries all the time and I'm not always the greatest at practicing them, but I'm really good at telling other people when they need to do it. But recently I've really been intentional about setting good boundaries with my time and with my energy and even with my decision-making, you know? And just really practicing self-care because I think in positions like ours, we are in this role where we're caring for others constantly, and we can't do that if we're not caring for ourselves. And so it goes back to, you know, self-care is not selfish.

It is taking care of ourselves so that we can be better for others and you can't pour out from an empty cup. And so you have to do those things that fill you up and that really position you well to be healthy so that you can support the people around you. And so I think that's really important.

Wise Warnings for the Chief of Staff Role

Annie Gilbert: So this last question I think is really just at the heart of what my hope is for just helping business owners and leaders see the value of having a role like a chief of staff. It's not always called chief of staff. You know, some people call it different things, but someone who can really focus on the people at the organization. And so if you are to encourage business owners or executives to consider creating this type of role in their organization, what would you say to them?

Leticia Saiid: So I think we have already told them why it's awesome and why they should do it. So what I really have are some warnings. So as an owner or an executive, you have to be ready for a challenger. And for someone that you're going to pass responsibility off to. If you're not ready to put your people in the hands of someone else, or you're not ready for someone to humbly and appropriately question, you know, the direction of things, then you're not ready to have a chief of staff.

Another thing is don't just hire anyone. Not just anybody can do this. This is a trusted role. It has to be someone that you can trust. You trust them with being in charge of your workforce. You trust them to keep your confidence. You trust them to be honest about what they see. So there, there has to be a relationship there and a relationship built. And then the third warning would be, don't do it until it's the right time. So it is a strategic decision. And if you are too small, it could be good, but it could be too early. So for startups, you're so agile. And you've got everyone energized and everyone's invested in all of that, but as you start to grow, that's when it kind of, you, you can feel it as a business, like it's becoming time for someone to be focused on this thing. And so, you know, as if you're in that place right now, and as that's happening, have your eye out. There's probably someone around or someone not too far away that, you know, and they could be, be just right for that role.

Annie Gilbert: Wow. That is such wisdom. I love the warnings. And I, you know, my personality sometimes is to be a little too quick to solve the problem and rush in. And so I think it's important to be thoughtful and really consider is this the right thing and is this the right time? And then find the right person, you know? All of those things are really essential in setting someone up for success in this role. And to, you know, essentially set the organization up for success. And so those are really great, and I agree.

I think, you know, it takes a really self-aware and humble leader. That first warning that you had; be ready for a challenger. I mean, you have to be able to let people push back on you and call you out when, you know, everyone's gonna make mistakes. But if you can't own your mistakes it's going to be really hard to be an effective leader. And so I think really taking stock of if you're ready if you're really committed to that, and then you're able to delegate, and again, that goes back to trust. It goes back to that relationship. There has to be trust built there, whether that's, you know, someone that's already at the company that would fit into that role or someone that you take the time to really build that relationship and build that trust with. I think that has to be there for it to be a healthy transition.

It's just been so great to discuss these things with you and to have you and thank you so much for your time and for just being with us today and sharing your knowledge from your experience.

Leticia Saiid: Thank you all for the invite. This has been the best part of my week.

Annie Gilbert: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Have a great weekend. Thanks.

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