People provide the ultimate competitive advantage
One of the hats I have the privilege of wearing is Partner at Roam Innovative Workplace. Offering convenience and flexibility for both corporations and remote professionals alike, Roam serves the Metro Atlanta area with five (soon to be six) shared workspaces located in the city’s most prominent economic hubs. None of that would be possible without the partnership of Roam’s CEO and my friend, Peyton Day. Peyton’s experience with building a business and establishing company culture actually started as a young child when he witnessed his father start and develop the Days Inn Hotel Chain. I sat down with Peyton recently to reflect on what he’s learned through his diverse experiences about growing a company culture, and I’m thrilled to share a bit of that conversation with you today!
DS: Peyton, you and I are like-minded and like-hearted as it relates to building a business based on culture. Tell me a little bit about your thoughts and experience with that, and why you see it as a major foundation of a strong business.
PD: In my first job out of college, I was working in a toxic culture. In short, I was working for a leader that I didn’t believe in, in a culture that I didn’t want to be a part of, all around a cause that I cared nothing about. I realized that I had experienced something that was very different than the thriving culture concept that I learned from my father at a young age. So, needless to say, I was not very successful in that job. Literally, I failed in that culture because it was not inspiring and it was not a good fit for my skill set.
Yet, I knew what a great culture looked like because I’d seen it in Dads business. At that point in time, I said to myself, if I ever get the opportunity to be a part of a startup culture, it’s going to be 180 degrees different than this. It’s going to be a culture that lends itself to the family and toward giving people the ability to make decisions. It would also be a culture that centered on a big vision, while offering employees the freedom to navigate within certain guardrails in order to ensure that those who were closest to problems could solve problems quickly and effectively.
David, when you and I got started here at Roam, we talked about the importance of work being fun, meaningful, and purposeful. Most companies are not that way. In most corporate environments, people think about work as drudgery or a J-O-B, or a means to a paycheck. We felt like work should be meaningful, purposeful, and fun. So, we set out to create a culture that was just that. That culture was built on the pillars of trust and servant leadership. If you can’t trust the person in the foxhole next to you, then you’ve got the wrong person there. Those elements came together to create a very different culture than the culture that I first experienced out of college.
Bonus question & answer:
DS: Most people don’t build a culture like what you just described. What is it you see that they don’t see?
PD: In lots of the companies I’ve seen, most of the decisions are very top down driven, very hierarchical. That’s not where today’s culture is. I think this younger generation wants to be able to make decisions. They want to unleash their creativity. They want to have autonomy. I believe that people should have the opportunity to make decisions at all levels in the organization. If they’re making the wrong decisions, it’s not because you gave them autonomy, but it’s because you may have the wrong person or they haven’t been trained.
I’m a big believer in autonomy with accountability. The way I think about it is autonomy divided by responsibility should equal one, meaning that, yes, people should be given the freedom to make decisions. If they’re constantly making the wrong decisions, after being held accountable, you may learn that you have the wrong person or there’s an opportunity for training or coaching.
Additionally, in these larger companies, employees often have to go through a committee or report back. It almost feels like government work in many cases. It is very inefficient. That’s what I’ve experienced. In the companies that I’ve studied, decisions aren’t made quickly enough. There is too much “red tape”. Leaders often don’t think like entrepreneurs. They think more like a bureaucracy or a government. Because of that, I don’t believe that these companies grow as fast as they otherwise could grow. Why? Because the corporate culture is not built on trust and transparency.
DS: I know you looked up to your dad and that your dad was one of your mentors. Tell me what you learned about culture from him.
PD: The first thing that I learned from my Dad was that it was not about him. It was about other people. From the very first time that he came up with the idea for Days Inn, he got our family involved. He gathered the family’s trust by allowing us to vote as a family as to whether or not he was going to start this company which is just mind boggling to think about. I was nine years old and I had a vote. The vote was 6 to 1 in favor. My mom was the only one who voted against it because she knew what was going to be required!
My Dad did a great job of getting the family involved right out of the gate, which I think is a wise business principle because I know a lot of business leaders that kind of go off on their own without getting the family behind their idea. That leads to all kinds of problems. My Dad was a leader who got the family involved. He was also incredibly generous. He was always looking for ways to share the success of the company with others. After Dad’s passing at the age of 44, my mother continued on with that legacy by sharing the profits with all Days Inn employees. For instance, we sold the company in 1983. Every single team member, including housekeeping, received a minimum check of $1,000 as a result of their efforts. For someone making $2/hour at the time, $1,000 was a lot of money. My Dad always wanted to share the success of everything that he had experienced and been blessed with because he knew that his success was not about him and what he did, but it’s about the people that were in the trenches, those in the day-to-day operations of the business, those who did the heavy lifting. Those were the people that he always wanted to honor.
Another important principle that I learned from him is that “a deal is not a good deal unless it’s a fair deal for both parties”. Oftentimes, there’s a zero-sum game in negotiations, meaning that there’s a winner and there’s a loser. But my dad was always looking for a win-win. While that may seem cliché, it’s true! My dad really lived it out. I’ll give you an example. In the early 70’s, the United States government under President Eisenhower was building interstates across the United States. During that time, Dad was seeking to purchase property from a farmer in south Georgia for a new hotel site. Dad asked the farmer, what is your asking price? The farmer replied, it’s $300,000. Well, Dad knew that the interstate was soon to run contiguous to the farmer’s property. So, he said, “Farmer John, this property is worth twice what you think it is. I’m going to offer you $600,000, not $300,000. How does that sound?” Farmer John thought that he had won the lottery. Dad was always thinking about all stakeholders in the business deal. Fairness was a principal that was very important to him. He didn’t want to win at the expense of others. He wanted everybody to win. By coming up with creative solutions, he always seemed to find a way to make that possible.
DS: Peyton, this next generation is working very differently as we see day-in and day-out here at Roam. Tell us about the kind of the culture that appeals to the next generation, and the culture in a co-working facility versus traditional office space. Thoughts or observations about the co-working culture versus traditional office culture?
PD: One of the things that we’re seeing in the co-working space is that this younger generation wants freedom. They don’t want to be confined to the traditional way of thinking about office space. When I was coming along, my goal, my dream was the corner office; 200 square feet, one person. Today’s worker is different. They often like to work in groups. This new generation likes to collaborate. Sometimes they want to work alone at the coffee bar, sometimes they want to work on a couch or in a nook. Sometimes they want to work in a booth. They want options. They don’t want the same predictable workplace day-in, day-out like I did.
The space that we have here at Roam certainly lends itself to that desire. We’re trying to give todays worker different experiences. They want creative work space. They want to be productive and they want to work according to their own terms. The ultimate goal is to help them be as productive as possible while providing a fun and enjoyable experience.
Bonus question & answer:
DS: When you think about culture, if you were articulating your definition or your picture of it, how would you articulate that idea?
PD: Culture, in my mind, is the soul of the business. It is a company’s number one competitive advantage. It is the lynch pin to employee retention. It’s not one size fits all, but it’s one size fits one. Cultures certainly can vary from company to company. Our culture here at Roam is specifically oriented toward the millennial and this next generation of workers. Roam’s culture is centered on this idea of trust and transparency. While I’m not sure there’s one culture that fits everywhere, I think there are principles that work across the board. I do believe that the culture in a Roam-like atmosphere, which is home to a lot of independent contractors, a host of millennials, and entrepreneurs may look different than that of a more traditional, established Fortune 500 company. Yet, the principals still apply.
Some common themes of successful cultures are this idea of fun, people being a part of something bigger than themselves, doing something they’re passionate about, and ensuring that the role that they’re in is making the company better. When we think about roles within culture, we think about the importance of people living out of their sense of personal purpose. In my mind, my purpose is why I exist, this is why I live, this is why I’m here. I think this next generation of workers is very purposeful in what they do. They also need to be passionate about what they do. Their work should be life-giving to them. So, whether you’re a scrappy entrepreneur of a Fortune 500, I believe that it’s incumbent upon us to be certain that we’re setting our people up for success by ensuring that they’re living at the intersection of purpose, passion, and talent.
So, what is it that makes our culture different? I think that we do a really good job of helping people discover roles where they will thrive. Then, we find leaders who are worth following, who create inspirational culture, and who are on an exciting mission that will empower and encourage their teammates to do their very best work. When you get those elements to align, you have something that is really special. I think that we’ve done that here at Roam.
DS: What are the principles you would give someone who wants to do something great with their culture? What are the things that you keep in mind?
PD: As a wise man once told me, businesses don’t succeed or fail, people do. We believe that people matter. We believe their work matters. So, if I were giving advice to someone who’s trying to create a strong business, it would be: be a leader that others believe in, create a culture that people want to be a part of, and lead them to a noble cause that they can get excited about.
It starts with every single hire that you make. Our goal here at Roam is to never lower the bar on that next hire. Sadly, a lot of companies do just that. They need a person, they need a body, and they hire too quickly. We have a principle here that we date before we get married. That works well for both parties.
We want to ensure that a person coming to Roam is bringing a skill set that we need. It is our responsibility to set them up for success in that specific role. We do that by spending a lot of money and a lot of time on the front end of the hiring process. We take our people through the gauntlet, honestly. They’ll interview with seven or eight people at a minimum before they get hired. That goes for all levels of the organization. Why do we do that? We know that it is a lot less expensive to hire well than it is to fire.
People provide the ultimate competitive advantage. Great service will come as a result of hiring individuals who are other-people centered. I think that’s what makes Roam different. We talk about the fact that people matter. We also believe that work matters. Therefore, people’s work matters. Having that mindset can be life changing, and even be world changing. In the United States, roughly 70% of the workforce in this country is not truly engaged at work. That’s mind-boggling! Seven out of ten people are not into what they’re doing. What if we saw 100% engagement? Imagine what that could mean for our country. What if everybody loved what they were doing? What if they worked according to their gifting? What if leadership gave them the freedom to navigate within guardrails toward a big vision? That could change the world!
DS: The mission of Roam is to renew and inspire the way the world does business by partnering in the story of accomplished dreams. Tell me about that mission statement and why that’s so important?
PD: As you mentioned, our vision is to renew and inspire how the world does business. That’s a pretty big idea for all the reasons that we’ve mentioned! Most people are disengaged from what they do. If you’re going to spend 100,000 hours of your life doing something, it just makes sense that you want to enjoy what you do, to love who you do it with, to be on meaningful mission, and to like who you are becoming in the process. I learned that from another wise man that I know.
There’s so much talent out there that wants to make a difference. I don’t think anybody shows up and says, “I want to do a bad job today”. I think they come in and they say, “I want to make a difference in this world”. They just don’t know how to do that. So, part of what we’re trying to do is to challenge team members to do their best work and to free them up to do their best work. One way we can inspire people is to create the conditions under which their work is breathing life into them. That’s what the word “inspiration” actually means; “to breathe life into somebody”. If I’m always telling them bad, bad, bad or they can’t do, they can’t do, they can’t do, then, I’m actually doing the opposite. Because of that, we don’t have cultures that are excellent and we don’t have cultures that are making a difference.
We’ve often talked here at Roam about how most people’s view of work is broken. I think a lot of people would agree with that. The view is often about what I can get out of it, how I can get rich versus how I can do things for other people. Our goal should be to help that other person be all that they can be. That’s a much more meaningful vision in my mind. Our mission is to partner in the story of accomplished dreams. When you think about that, everyone that walks in that door, and it starts with our own employees, comes in with a dream. Some people come in for a dream to have fulfillment in their career. Others come in with a dream to start a nonprofit or to start their own business or to have a successful meeting. But everyone walks in with a dream. Our job is to come alongside them to help them accomplish that dream.
For every brand that walks into that door, it’s incumbent upon us to represent their brand well. So that’s the partnering part of the equation. We’re partnering with them to help them fulfill their dreams. We’re providing affordable work and meeting space in a fun, creative, and inspiring environment. In short, we are aiming to create a workplace environment where our employees, members and guests alike can do their best work.
Two Bonus questions & answers:
DS: We also partner with our employees at Roam to help them accomplish their dreams. Tell us a little bit about partnering with employees and an example of a time we got to do that.
PD: Not unlike our guests, we have team members here at Roam who come in here with dreams. Every dream is different. Honestly, some of those dreams probably don’t fit here. We don’t have roles for everybody, and that’s OK. It’s not always going to be the ideal fit because of purpose, passion or talent don’t match up with that specific role or they may just have a completely different cause they want to pursue. On the other hand, we have seen countless stories where we have seen dream alignment.
I’ll give you an example. Chad Kimberlin, our Director of Operations, once worked for a consulting firm who was a member at Roam. For two years, he experienced the Roam culture. He will tell you that the people and the culture attracted him to our cause. He is now one of the key leaders in our company. His dreams are now being fulfilled because he feels that he’s a part of a story that’s bigger than himself. Because of that, he’s doing his best work because he’s found a role that fits his skillset and sense of passion. I think that’s what all people want!
So, we endeavor to provide the environment for those types of folks where they can grow and thrive. If our people feel inspired and if they feel that they’re being energized when they come in here, that’s going to have a positive impact on the guest experience. If they come in here with a sour look on their face every day, that’s contagious in a negative way. We talk about the importance of hiring smiles. That doesn’t mean everyone is just smiling all the time. But it’s a mindset. It’s this attitude of gratitude. Every day, they have an opportunity to be their best self and make a difference in the world. It’s contagious because it rubs off on every customer that walks into that door.
DS: You know, it’s interesting, because sometimes in the process of partnering in the story of accomplished dreams with our employees, they leave us to pursue that dream. And I’m thinking of one in particular: Corey Wardell. He was a critical part of our organization before we helped him transition to another organization he felt called to. But just this weekend, did you see what happened? He’s helped make that organization so successful that they are now becoming members of Roam and just rented our biggest office at Lenox Marketplace. So, it comes right back around! He and his team are now members of Roam. We have to be a very open-handed with our employees and help them pursue their dream even if their dream takes them beyond Roam. But then it’s pretty cool when it comes full circle like that.
PD: I could not agree more. Roam is not for everyone. I find it interesting that all roles are changing and evolving as the company grows. Sometimes the person that’s in the current role doesn’t want to move or adapt into that new role, so to speak. Their needs change. So, they may opt to move on but we celebrate that because it’s not about Roam. It’s not about us. It’s about that person. We don’t believe in burning bridges – we want to build bridges. When someone leaves here, we want to do it differently than the way that most people would do it. We want to celebrate them as a person. We want to let them always know that they can come back here whether they work at Roam or not because they are family. In the case of Corey, previously our Director of Finance, he felt compelled to help launch another startup. We celebrated that. We’re like, man, go for it, that is awesome! This is exactly what we want to be about. This is your dream. We want to partner with you, even though you’re not working here anymore. Because of that, because of the fact that we had a great partnership with Corey and there was trust established, now, in turn, he’s actually coming back and doing business with us. How cool is that?
DS: Is there anything we haven’t talked about you think would be important for our audience to know as it relates to culture?
PD: Find the right partner!
DS: I’ll second that.
PD: The journey here at Roam has been amazing, in large part because we formed a partnership that complements each of our skill sets. You’re amazing at things that are not necessarily my strong suit and hopefully the vice versa is true. It’s this idea of one plus one equals three; we can do so much more together than we could apart. I’ve experienced that with you. But I know a lot of horror stories about people who have the wrong partner. And boy, you can’t have a cultural alignment if you’ve got two partners going in different directions! It just doesn’t work. So, you better share those same core values, that same sense of mission, and that cause or else you’re not going to find fulfillment and joy at work.
DS: Agreed! Thanks for being a great partner, Peyton, and for sharing your wisdom with us today.
About Peyton Day
Born and raised in Atlanta, GA, Peyton Day grew up watching his father build the Days Inn brand. After graduating from Georgia Tech and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, Day got into the commercial real estate business. Since then he has held a series of progressive roles in the real estate, hospitality and investment industries, including having served as Chairman and CEO of Day Hospitality Group, which developed and managed award-winning properties for the Marriott and Hilton hotel brands. Day contributes his hospitality experience and leadership to Roam as the organization’s CEO. He enjoys having the opportunity to watch countless entrepreneurs and non-profits start, grow and scale their businesses because of the Roam community.
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