Ep. 11: John Garrett - Creating Unique Cultures That Attract and Retain Top Talent

August 12, 2019 | 16 Minutes

John Garrett, the “Recovering CPA” and author of the upcoming book What’s Your "And"? talks to us about how he helps companies recognize why their culture matters. Current keynote speaker, emcee, and host of What’s Your "And"? Podcast, John graduated from the University of Notre Dame and became a CPA with PricewaterhouseCoopers before working several years in industry. Since then, he’s written two Emmy-nominated awards shows, has a comedy album on Sirius XM, and has been on stage over 2,000 times, opening for the likes of comedian Louie Anderson and the band Train. He received his Certified Public Accountant Certificate from the State of Illinois. As a former CPA, Senior Financial Analyst and Business Development Director, John’s experience ranges from being an integral team member for his Big Four Firm’s largest financial services client to helping launch a startup company. The CPA-turned-Catalyst for Culture Change has been researching how professional’s hobbies and passions impact their career and in turn, create a stronger workplace culture. Now he works with organizations to attract and retain top talent by adapting to “the future of professionalism.” He steps up to shatter the stereotype about accountants and explains that everyone has a unique skillset or passion that should be brought to the office to build trust and create a high performing culture.


Music: (00:00)

Adam: (00:04)
Welcome back to count me in. IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm Adam Larsen and with me as always is my cohost Mitch Roshong. Today I know you can count on another great episode. We were joined by the host of the, what's your and podcast keynote speaker and MC John Garrett. John is an engaging motivator who looks to shatter accounting stereotypes and encourages everyone to develop stronger relationships with colleagues and clients. Tell us, Mitch, what was John's message throughout your conversation?

Mitch: (00:35)
John is referred to as the CPA turned catalysts for culture change and his message is all about the future of professionalism. He has done extensive research on how people's hobbies and passions impact their careers and in turn create a stronger workplace culture. On his podcast, he talks to accountants, consultants, lawyers, and other professionals about all the things they do outside the office. His emphasis is on identifying how these interests positively impact the work they do for our podcast. He shared some of his background and gave us a few interesting examples from his former guests to help explain the value of recognizing and calling on an individual's passion.With an accounting background and a unique perspective on workplace relationships. John explains how and why organizations can and should create cultures that attract and retain top talent. 

Music: (01:31)

 Mitch: (01:33)
I want to hear a little bit about your journey and how did you become, what you call the recovering CPA?

John: (01:38)
Yeah, so I, graduated from the university of Notre Dame and then started at a PriceWaterhouseCoopersand I did that for three and a half, almost four years. And then in the meantime, I was at a training? One of my first trainings was in LA, and so I took a, there were four or five of us that every way was like a three or four week training. And, we would drive down on Thursdays to the improv in Hollywood and watch whose line is in any way would tape in the studio and then they would come to the improv and do an uncensored show, in the middle of standup comedians before and after. And it was amazing. You're hanging out with Drew Carey and Collin Mockery and Ryan Styles and all these, and then comedians, Adam Stanley would drop in. And, you know, It was just like nuts. And and so, you know, you see these standups in Hollywood and you're like, well, I can be as funny as some of these people. And yeah. And so I just started to do stand up for fun, just as a hobby. It was clearly the exact opposite of, doing internal audit and mergers and acquisition work. And it was, you know, just a creative outlet. And, yeah. And then over time, I accidentally got really good and you know, I started to take vacation to go, do it. And then I left public accounting and went into industry, so that then I could, you know, have a little more of a regular schedule and, yeah, I just kept pursuing it. And then in may of 2005 left altogether to do a stand up full time, although I don't ever advocate that anyone does anything that ridiculous. Like it's insane. It's insane. Don't quit your job, keep it as a hobby. Like it's nuts and, yeah. And then about four or five years ago, kind of married those two lives together and bringing some engagement and a unique thought to corporate events. you know, all staff meetings, partner retreats, executive, new manager training type things or even just as an emcee and hosting panels. Because let's face it, I've been in the audience for a lot of these and, they are not, stimulating, I guess is the nicest way to say it.

Mitch: (03:45)
Very fair. Well, a definitely an interesting journey, you know, not one you hear too often from, from an accountant. But yeah, out there though, man. They're out there. They're, we're cool. Don't tell anybody. No, no, no. I, I really enjoy the stories. So yeah. Where are you are now how you married everything together? I guess in a nutshell, kinda tell me, you know, what, what's your vision? What's your goal? What are you doing here to help companies kind of recognize why their culture matters and, and what do you have to offer them?

John: (04:13)
Yeah. Well, the ultimate goal is that when a teacher asks a kid, Hey, what do you want to be when you grow it up? They say, I want to be an accountant. And instead of astronaut or fireman or whatever ridiculous other job, no, I'm just kidding, they're not ridiculous obviously, but, but yeah, I mean it would be just so cool if people just quit looking at us, and we quit looking at ourselves in this way and so I'm out there just shattering the stereotype of what people and, and the saddest thing to me is that I think the people that believe the stereotype the most are accountants themselves. And it's just trying to get them to see that, we all have a unique skill set and a unique talent that we bring to the office and that expertise isn't always in our degrees and letters after our name with certifications, sometimes this expertise is, outside of work passions and interests that we have, makes us better at our job. You know, it gives us unique skill and or, and makes us human and relatable to, good coworkers to people in other departments. And, and so it's been fascinating and about four years of research now that I've put in and just, just finding all kinds of examples, and , interviewing 'em over 200 people, and of all kinds and , just just finding out that, you know, hey, the stereotype is upside down. Actually the stereotypical professional is someone who has multiple dimensions to them and the sooner that, organizations accept this and celebrate this and shine a light on that, the better it is going to be for everyone, including your bottom lines. So, that's basically what I'm out there doing is yeah, just working that, shattering that stereotype.

Mitch: (05:57)
Well, I know here at IMA we've released our competency framework recently, you know, enhanced it with a couple revisions to it and one of the, you know, central elements is our leadership domain. So, you know, in talking with you a lot that you are sharing with organizations, I feel kind of fit into those competencies, you know, are very relevant to, the industry even though it is a little bit off kilter. You know, it's a little bit different perspective, but you know, how can you provide some highlights for our listeners on how important, you know, motivation, inspiring a lot of the key attributes of leadership apply to understanding who they are outside of the office.

John: (06:37)
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I mean, because you can't really develop trust, with people if you're trying to be super manager, super accountant, super technical expertise person No one believes you. No one trusts you. That's very surface level. And so actually showing a genuine interest in people and admitting that people are working so they can live. I mean, yeah, sure, they're really good at their job, but, is, you know, that really their true passion would you do your job if you weren't getting paid while you're painting and playing the piano and not getting paid or riding a bike and not getting paid. So, you know, it's, it's just admitting that, and actually I interviewed a guy named Mark Windburn works for a firm in Houston. He's an amazing singer, amazing singer. And he referred to singing as his breathing and happy. And I was like, wow, that's so perfect. And I said, well, what about your it audits? And he just laughed and you know, and it's like, well, there you go. I mean, you know, and so a lot of organizations that they hire people because they have these extracurricular activities on their resume, but then they never let them go do their extracurricular activities, or they don't ask about them or they don't, you know, shine a light on them. And so it's, it's really looking at your organization, the core of your organization is people's outside of work, passions and interests. That's the core of your culture. And because if we take your department and replace it with all new people with the same technical skills and same degrees, the work gets done just the same. But, clearly it's a completely different department and it's because of the personalities and the passions of the people. And so, you know, if you're able to reach that human connection with your people, then all of these things that are in the competency framework for leadership are nailed. I mean, as far as motivating and inspiring people, you're able, if you're able to dovetail a little bit or even talk about people's passions and bring that into the office and have them talk about it. Or maybe if someone has a skill like there in community theater, well, if someone, if it's time to give a presentation, pick that person to give the presentation, they're going to light up and they're going to be way better than anyone else in the department. But they're also going to be super engaged and super excited about that project. And so there's a whole untapped well of talent. Think that we leave behind that. I think, you know, you wouldn't take a tax expert and put them over in a financial analyst role. Well, in the same way you wouldn't take someone who loves jigsaw puzzles and throw them up in front of an audience, tell them to go knock it out, you know? And so why do we only care about one of the skill sets and not the other? I mean, I think the way we define expertise is a little too narrow. And so, you know, when it comes to collaboration and teamwork, you know, you, get the, those connections going with the chemicals in your brain with epinephrine and oxytocin and it creates trust and bonding and the lows aren't so low. And conflict management, I mean, that's huge right there. So if the only time you talk to somebody is about work and about what they did wrong at work, well then guess what, your is going to be pretty terrible. But if you actually talked to them about what they love to do, when you show that you care about them as a whole person, because hey, you hired the whole person, not just the 20% that knows the technical skills, then, you know, the conflict management isn't so bad because now it's someone who cares about me, is giving me feedback to make me better, not someone who hates me and I'm going to quit because where I, you know, and so it's just being more human and just, just admitting that, you know, hey, we, we've all got something outside of this work, so let's talk about it. I mean, it's, it's crazy to me that we don't, or that it's, you know, frowned upon.

Mitch: (10:20)
Yeah. You know, it's , just the first time I talked to you, it was such like a obvious perspective and an obvious theory yet you don't really hear a whole lot about it. You know, it was something that was new, but it was like common sense. So, I'm just curious what kind of results you've seen, you know, as far as feedback, followup, anything like that. When you talk about developing these skills in the workplace and these relationships and trusting each other, you know, what kind of results have you seen as far as the bottom line for businesses who you've done this for?

John: (10:49)
Yeah, I mean, it's been awesome. , there's a a firm in Ohio that have offices in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Florida and New Jersey. And so you have a lot of these people that are talking to each other and working with each other and virtually and so, the head of the learning and development there saw me speak at a conference, went back and implemented this, which was amazing. We talked about it and then he put it into action. And so they had a video conferences, over lunch, like once a month. And it was couched in a, a Toastmasters training sort of a thing. So you had five minutes to give a talk. And the topic for everyone is your outside of work, passions and interests. So you're getting public speaking experience, you're getting coaching and feedback on that, and you're developing that skill, but you're accidentally becoming best friends with everyone who's in the video conference. And so now all of a sudden you find out that somebody that's in another office in Florida does the same thing you do. So now when you pick up the phone and you ask them for something, it's not your friend and it's like, hey Mitch, can you hook me up with this? I'm like, I need this like right away. And then they'll get it for you as opposed to, you know, hey Mitch, someone who I never talked to unless I need something work related. Well, you're not going to get that to me very fast and you don't have this very strong relationship. And then turnover and engagement. I mean, that's where bottom line is hit. I mean, you know, if you have a sticky relationship with your people and you care about them and they care about you, well then turnover is going to go down and they're going to be way more productive. So, you know, and that's expensive when people leave. And I think a lot of people just think that it's natural and well it just happens and it's always been double digits or whatever and you know, it sure there's going to be some turnover but does it have to be that high? And looking at it from that perspective, it's pretty scary, like the impact that it can have and, and it's pretty cool how just taking a little bit of time can actually, you know, save a lot of money in the long run.

Mitch: (12:43)
Yeah. That's awesome. That's a perfect example. It kind of leads me nicely into my next question too, cause I saw on your website one of your taglines is the future of professionalism. So I'm just kind of curious, you know, in your words, what is the future of professionalism?

John: (13:00)
Yeah, well, I mean the future and honestly is the present, but I call it the future cause it, it doesn't make me angry as much. The future of professionalism. It's someone that is good at their job, but they are also good at something else as well. And they love to do other things as well. They're multi-dimensional. And there was a study done at Duke that showed that people that have more dimensions to them are less prone to anxiety and depression because if everything's work-related and, and you're all work all the time, then every decision that's, that's lingering, you're so anxious about, and I mean you're on edge and then if you don't get that, well now that's a hundred percent blow to the face. You know, where if you have other sources of confidence and other sources of your identity, then you know, you're okay with that. Yeah, it's things a little, but that's fine. You know, sun will come up tomorrow, we're all good. And then when you go to retire, you'll actually have something to go do because you have a life, you know? , there's some people and organizations that I consult with and some of the executives are like, hey, you know, I'm getting ready to retire and I don't really know what I'm going to go do. And that's super scary to me. Like that's super scary cause you've got another, I don't know, 20 plus years of good life left and you don't know what you're going to go do with it. Like wow. Like that's nuts. And so it's just trying to get people to see, you know, just the human side to all of us. And, you know, cause actually I did a little research, about a hundred years ago, and up until the 1920s, at the largest bank in the UK if you wanted to marry someone, you had to get permission from the bank, who to marry. That was considered professional. And then at some point in time, everyone was mr so-and-so and mrs. so-and-so, and, in the office. and then we stopped doing that and we just started using first names. All of a sudden that's considered professional. And then at some point we stopped wearing ties and then at some point we stopped wearing suits all together. And then at some point we stopped even going to an office. And so it's the, you know, the, the accountant, who, you know, works from home in a hooded sweatshirt and you know, gym shorts, less professional and less good at their job than the person a hundred years ago that required permission, who to marry. No, they're just as good at their job. And, you know, so it's just acknowledging that and looking at people and kind of meeting them where they're at is where it's at. Cause that's how you attract and retain top talent.

Announcer: (15:28)
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