hirobe talks: Brett Birschbach on Building your People Culture

Part 3: Building your people culture 

*Please note the video is the full interview across all four subjects. Jump to 25minutes for Part 3.


Hey, everyone, it's Tom Johnson at hirobe. And welcome back to our video series. Today, we're joined by Brett. Brett is VP of AEM Engineering at Bounteous, an Adobe Platinum solution partner. He has been with the business since 2008 and has built and led the AEM practice from its infancy, just five short years ago. 

I think many of you will know Brett in the industry and seeing Bounteous around. It's a highly recognised and successful business within the Adobe platform world, so I wanted to invite Brett here today to tell us a little bit about that journey and how they've been so successful. 

Last session we delved into how Brett and the guys are Bounteous handled remote working and keeping their team engaged whilst spread out across different states. 

Today we’re focusing on the culture that the team have fostered and how they’ve gone about building a people-centric culture of excellence. 



So Brett, over the last two sessions about building your team and remote working, we’ve discussed that it's all the little things that add up. And I think something that you've said that stuck with me for a long time is that at Bounteous, you've got a real culture of excellence, you want to be the best. You want to make the most of everyone that you've got, not from a bad way in the sense that you're pushing people, but that you really want to encourage people to be the best that they can be and deliver the best.  

It'd be great to discuss your advice to a business or a team or an individual even, how you make the most of business culture, and how you've built yours? 



Sure, I think there's two sides of this. And I'd be curious if we want to go to both sides, or if we want to start on one and go to the other.  

First of all I think there's the practical blocking and tackling part of this, how do you actually foster a team? Because there are a lot of pitfalls. As the work is tough, it's very easy to fall into patterns that are going to give you short term success at the expense of your long-term. So, there's the actual, how do we do this on a day-to-day basis? And then there's the mentality that backs it up, that actually makes this possible. And you need both. I'm curious which way you want to go with this Tom? 



It's a good one, I'd love to cover both. So let's talk about the culture first, the mindset of it, how you build and foster that environment? 



Absolutely. What you think and what you expect is how you make those things a reality. And I tell you, part of it is just setting "being the best" as the expectation. It's not even like a bar that we're trying to reach. You're like, no, we're going to be the best. We are the best. We're like, that's who we are at the company. This isn't something I came up with. This is something that when Phil was hiring me - going back to what you were saying before that the hiring is so important - in the hiring process, Phil, when we were a tiny little company that nobody had ever heard of before. He said, in his pitch to hire me, we're always going to be the best. Frankly, I've never heard that before from somebody in business. I always kind of thought, well, we're always going to pinch pennies, we're always going to build what makes the most sense from a business perspective. We're going to make sure that we're profitable. And you've got to do those things in business, don't get me wrong, but his focus was we're going to be the best and everything else is going to work itself out. 

And ever since I've been here, I've had that feeling. And as I run the practice here, I routinely tell people I run the absolute best AEM competency in the world. And I hope that everybody out there that runs their AEM competencies feels the same way. But I don't mean just say it. It's not a mantra. It's not just something that we're going to say, and we're going to all sing and say yep, we're the greatest. Like, no, really, that needs to be at your core. And that then dictates how you act, that dictates who you hire. 

We're in an industry where it's not about punching the clock, it's about getting a job done. There's a mentality difference. And there are different types of people that work well in one mentality versus another. And if we do this, right, getting a job done doesn't mean that you're going to work 50-60 hours every single week. That goes back to some of the things that we were talking about earlier, that you’ve got to make sure you're doing this in the right way. But the mentality needs to be results-oriented. People who are like, you know what? We are there to make a client successful, and whatever that takes to make that client successful. I'm not doing that for Bounteous, I'm doing that for me. Like, I have this in my core that I need to make that client successful. Like, those are the types of folks that you're looking for when you're hiring, in addition to having the right skill sets, of course. 

But if you truly set that expectation of "we're going to be the best" and you make those hires, it also dictates some of the things that you do as a practice that are hard to justify sometimes in terms of if you're looking at just the dollars and cents in the short term. Things like hey, you know, if we're going to be the best, we're going to get our name out there as one of the biggest contributors to ACS, AEM comments - let's say that's your goal. You know, since that's the main open-source project in the AEM space.  

Well, investing features into that open-source project is going to cost you time and money. But if you're looking to be the best, and you're looking for a team that truly believes in being the best, like, it's not just about you, as the leader of the practice, or whoever you're having lead the practice believing that. You need the whole team to believe that - we're all the best. Every company out there has their couple of one or two rock stars, but does your entire team, top to bottom feel like the entire team are rock stars? Well, when you do things like this, you contribute as a team to these areas, these are investments, you know, some of the things that we'll talk about in the other path of like, how do we actually grow people up again? Those are investments, they cost. But when you set the expectation that we're going to be the best, you have to keep moving, you have to keep taking steps forward. Adobe, AEM all those things keep moving, you have to keep moving to where that thing is and enable people to stay there. 

And then lastly, I will readily tell people this in the hiring process: Bounteous is not a perfect company, your company, whoever, you're not a perfect company, none of us are. And the sooner that you recognise that and are willing to tell your team members, we're not a perfect company, and therefore we want your honest feedback. And then giving them real ways to send that feedback, whether it's through an individual career coach, whether it's through access to the lead of the competency, whether it's access to leaders, like the actual full leadership of the company, there are ways that you can provide feedback mechanisms.  There are tools out there that you can use to get that feedback. A lot of times we encourage people to do it not anonymously, because that's most productive. We're all grown people here, like it's okay to bring up challenges, we want to solve them. But even if they're only comfortable bringing it up anonymously, so be it, we would rather hear about the problems and try to fix them. Because you hear it here too.  

As you're growing your AEM competency, when you start with 5-10 people, you're going to have certain types of problems. Once you have 20-30 people, you're going to have other types of problems. And once you get to 100, you'll have yet more different types of problems, so even if you think you've got it all figured out, as you grow, new problems show up, because you're just in a new space. So having that feedback mechanism is super important to make sure that you're maintaining that we truly are excellent. And we're not just reading the fact that two years ago, we were excellent. 



Yeah, absolutely. And I think that there's probably a couple of points I take from that as well, that ring quite true with me personally, is that I think whenever you’re growing something I've always felt that it's really successful to look at the future picture of, if we were going to build the greatest AEM team or AEM commerce competency in the world, what would that look like? And then, like you said, build that backwards. Okay, we need to do this, we need to do that, and build it out that way, which is phenomenal. And I know we've mentioned it before, not on this video, but the mentor programme that you do have, which I think is incredible as well. 

But the other point is that during the hiring process, having the ability to sort of feed that through everyone that you're bringing in and being completely honest about the environment, I think it is so important that you can be very honest. And we see this a lot with job adverts that get put out there. Everything's a really exciting opportunity. Everything's fantastic. And actually, for a growing company, it's not going to be. There was a video done by Simon Sinek. I'm not trying to rip this off, it was an advert that was posted by someone looking for an exploration mission. And it wasn't that he said this was going to be incredible. I think they said basically everyone survived this mission, and it was really successful. And they just advertised it that they needed people that were willing to work really hard. It was a deadly scenario, the likelihood of coming back was ultimately nil, but if you wanted to take that on, great. And they had an abundance of applicants, I think being completely honest about the environment breeds that culture of excellence. 



I think it's very insightful Tom, I've actually heard that exact same story that you're talking about. And it's funny because, going back to when we were that five-person crew, and we got brought on to this project where we said, we literally had never touched AEM in the past. And it was hilarious because I was a developer / architect at the time. I was on this team and my manager goes, by the way, if we fail this project, that guy at the client gets fired. And granted that guy's not in our company. But like, again, going back to that personal value of I need to make people successful. You tell me if we fail this job, that guy is going to get fired, like, that was motivation. And even as a small group of people, like we were going to take over the world, like, we're looking at all the big companies out there. And here we are with our little practice, and that's where you're going to be when you start, right. But that alone can be exciting, like, it could be hey, we're going to be the next big thing. 

Sometimes when you're already the big thing, people are less excited to join. Why do people join start-ups? Because it can be exciting. But you're going to need to find people that are, you know, long haulers. Right? It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be all fun and games. Some of the toughest parts of leading this practice, I'm not going to lie, they were when we were small. Because there are just challenges, fundamental challenges of doing some of the things the right way and making sure people are growing, when you're trying to also be profitable, trying to be known in the industry, you know. Adobe's got a lot of partners and you’re trying to be a big enough partner that they care to send work your way, and they know they can trust you. There are a lot of things when you're small that you do need to be concerned with and it's just extra important that you find the right people. 



Absolutely, and there's a quote that I'm very fond of that the solution to your current problem is then the cause of your future problem. If you're a small business and you need to grow, your issue is that you need to grow. And then when you grow, you've got the issue of managing that growth and tackling that, and everything spirals. It's a never-ending journey of just facing the next challenge. And I think as long as you're doing something that you love and you love solving those problems, then no doubt. That's why we see rapid growth from someone like yourselves that five years ago, you're now one of the largest platinum partners out there. 

That brings us onto our next topic around fostering those habits to create the right environment. If you’d like to carry on reading this conversation, skip to the next post by clicking here. 


Enjoyed this session? Watch the video in full over on out YouTube channel or read the rest of our chat with Brett by clicking into the topics below: 


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10th May

hirobe talks


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