Podcast

Episode: 18 |
Soyini Coke:
Creating a Radio Show:
Episode
18

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

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Soyini Coke

Creating a Radio Show

Show Notes

Soyini Coke is a McKinsey alum and independent consultant based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is also the host of CEO Exclusive, a radio show in which she interviews a mid-market CEO every week. In this episode we discuss how she has invested time to build her visibility and thought leadership, such that she now has CEOs reaching out to her to get on her show. You can learn more about Soyini’s firm on her website: http://annonaenterprises.com/

And you can listen to her show at http://ceoexclusive.businessradiox.com/about/

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman: Hey there podcast listeners, welcome to Unleashed. The show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the worlds first global community of top tier independent management consultants. I’m your host Will Bachman. Our guest today is Soyini Coke, who started her consulting career at McKinsey Company. 

She now runs her own consulting practice based in Atlanta, Georgia, and she’s also the host of a radio show CEO Exclusive, where she interviews a CEO every week. We talk about that on today’s episode, and I’m fascinated by the way that Soyini has been so thoughtful about building up thought leadership as way to really drive her practice, and how to build a platform. So I learned a ton from our conversation, and you hope you enjoy it as well. 

Soyini I am so psyched to have you on the show. We’ve known each other for a few years, and you have a ton of you know, on air experience, magnitudes more than I do certainly. So I’m really thrilled to have a chance to talk to you and hear about your work.

Soyini Coke: Thank you. I was actually really, really honored to get the invitation to be on your show Will. It actually really means a lot to me, so I appreciate it.

Will Bachman: That’s very kind of you. I know you have sort of an unusual story. I’d love to hear your story of have you came to be doing what you’re doing today.

Soyini Coke: Yeah so I was a McKinsey consultant, a bright eyed bushy tailed analyst and for those who are not familiar with the McKinsey hierarchy, that’s somebody right out of college, like a little slave they get right out of college. I worked at McKinsey for three years and found out that I was really quite a horrible employee, like I was just not built to be an employee. In fact in doing personality tests since then in my own professional development, I actually had somebody look at my Birkman, for those who familiar with that percentile test and look at me and be like “You never ever ever, need to work for anybody.” So at the tender age-

Will Bachman: Wait can I just jump in and ask can you give us an example of how you were a terrible employee, like?

Soyini Coke: Yeah. Oh yeah, so you know that thing that partners or more senior people will do, or they will wait ’till the last minute? You’ve given a deliverable and plenty of time for them to review it. It’s Monday, the meeting with the client’s on Friday. They’ll wait until Thursday at 6:00pm to give their feedback, and you’re like, “I gave you this thing on Monday! Why are you waiting ’till Thursday at 6:00pm when the meeting is tomorrow?” And most analysts will be meek and you know nice, and sweet, and I coped an attitude. I was just … but you don’t get to do that as the low person on the totem pole, but I did and I still kinda do, and that’s why I work for myself. You know? So, that’s one small example of how I just wasn’t built to work for somebody else, you know?

Will Bachman: Awesome great. Okay, so I interrupted you. You were talking about the … so you did the three years, and then what?

Soyini Coke: Yeah, and then it just became … I felt that thing in my soul that said it was time for me at the … now in hindsight it looks insane that I would do this but, at 25 I decided to go independent. I started off with a real estate business, and that also taught me that I was a terrible landlord. So obviously the theme that you’re hearing … the listeners will be hearing, is that learned a lot about my self in the beginning of my career. But within 18 months I came back to consulting, and that has been my career since then as an independent consultant, and one of the pieces of advices that I was given very early, and did not take much to my chagrin is that I needed to start doing some thought leadership right? 

So, the way that I have learned, the hard headed way of building a business that has value as a knowledge worker, which is one was to talk about consultants and lawyers and accountants, people who deal with intellectual property. Is that you have to become an expert, you have to … people have to want what ever it is that you have in your brain. The only way that people find out that you have something in your brain that’s of value is you’ve gotta write, you gotta talk, you gotta do stuff, and I did not take that advice early enough I don’t think. Partly because the idea of writing an email, or writing a book that no one ever read just didn’t appeal to me. That’s how it occurs when I get the email newsletters that I delete. 

So I know that if I wrote stuff, it’s likely that other people might delete my stuff. So it took me a long to really get that, okay I’m going to have to become an expert, a thought leader, people are going to have to read or buy something that I’ve written in order for me to build my value as an independent. So many years later, far too many years later, I finally figured out what it was that I wanted to do to start to build my thought leadership, and that lead to an online radio show called CEO Exclusive, which I’ve had for two years now.

Will Bachman: Yeah, and that’s amazing I love your show. Could you tell us a little about it? I mean in terms of who are you interviewing, practically how do you get guests and how do you find them, and invite them, and tell us about this show. I’d love to hear about it.

Soyini Coke: Yeah so, CEO Exclusive and the tag line is, “Emerging trends from CEOs and their most trusted advisors.” Is a show that takes the essence of what a CEO has learned, in both in their industry, and in leading their companies, and shares that in a way with other CEOs. Because what I’ve found is that there is no substitute for experience. There is no substitute for that moment, that every single person who owns their own business has had, when they’re starting at the end of the month, and they’re looking at okay, “How is the money going to work?” That experience, which I think in many cases defines the entrepreneurial career, or defines the business owner, is an experience that you never get when you’re working for somebody else. And so, I can talk about that as I’m doing on this show, but there’s no substitute from having going through that. 

There’s no substitute for having to hire somebody, having to fire somebody, those kinds of things, negotiating a difficult transaction. I can’t describe the feeling of having that conversation with somebody else who gets it. So CEO Exclusive is a show that takes that experience from CEOs and shares it with other CEOs. It also for me, captures a burning commitment that I couldn’t articulate at the age of 25. But I have since figured out that I have a real commitment to seeing people build businesses, that have them express the truth of who they are. 

For me there’s this magic that happens when somebody has an idea, a spark, a product, and they see that truth inside themselves and then can get other people, you know, in some cases in employees, partners or whatever to see that spark and everybody gets excited. They create something of value, and then they share that with other people, which is in the essence of what it is to build a business. And CEO Exclusive is for that, right? That helping people understand the truth of what that CEO has experienced, and packaging it in such a way that it resonates with other people. 

Will Bachman: And how can folks listen to your show?

Soyini Coke: They can go to CEOExclusiveRadio.com, and they can see the list of all our past guests, who’s coming up. We broadcast on Business Radio X, so you can listen to our new shows on Tuesday at 8am every week. So www.CEOExclusiveRadio.com.

Will Bachman: And I should probably know this but- And I should probably know this but Business Radio X is that like, some kind of satellite radio, or a local station?

Soyini Coke: Yeah, it’s an internet radio station here in Atlanta, and they have lots of other shows, and my show is one of the shows that they have on their station.

Will Bachman: Okay. It’s really impressive to be for two years getting a CEO on each week. How do you find the guests, and get them to come into the studio?

Soyini Coke: When I tell people about why the show exists, and what we’re trying to do, it resonates. So there’s one guy who said, “As soon as I heard the name, I said I was gonna do the show,” and he doesn’t do a lot of shows, but they really get it, you know? Okay so I’m going to be, you know he said, “I’m gonna be talking to my peers about what I’ve learned in building this business. I’m really excited about that.” 

Will Bachman: Is it … do you proactively reach out to folks? By now is it people telling other CEOs, or people who hear this show and say, “I’ll be on,” or? Like how do you go out and find the folks that you wanna interview?

Soyini Coke: Not as all the above, so it’s started off with us, me, actually calling CEOs that I’d saw either in the Atlanta Business Chronicle which is a business newspaper here, business journal here in Atlanta. Or people on the [8500 00:09:43], or people on the Fast 100 those are the fasting growing companies in the city of Atlanta, and just you know calling up and dialing dollars and saying “Hey listen I have this show …” I did my homework so I knew who I was calling and I said, “Hey listen you did this, I read about it, I’m really excited, I wanna have you on my show to talk about it.” And now we’ve gotten to the point where I have PR people calling me to have their CEOs on the show, and I actually have people flying in, which is really exciting to have people flying in to Atlanta to be on my show.

Will Bachman: That is amazing. That is so cool. 

Soyini Coke: Yeah.

Will Bachman: That’s I mean … and it’s such an amazing flip of the traditional, you know you talk to a lot of industry professionals and it’s like how do you get in front of somebody, and how do you cold call, or pitch, or getting introduced. But you flipped it, and people are actually flying to town to talk to you. That is incredible.

Soyini Coke: Yeah, it comes from passion I think. Even though it took me too long … you know in my mind took me too long to where I am. I’m really glad that I didn’t write the book. Actually I wrote a book and it was awful, but I didn’t write the book, or write the blog. I really waited until I found something that was meaningful for me. I think that’s the reason why it’s catching on, is I wasn’t … I may end up writing a book, but that just isn’t the thing for me.

Will Bachman: Yeah. So practically …

Soyini Coke: It isn’t, and so … yeah go ahead.

Will Bachman: I’m sorry, so practically like, how does it work, like you know you say “In the studio.” Is this at the radio station, is it in your office? And then how do you record it, the audio? Walk us through some of the practical factors of how it goes just from just this idea to actually being on the air, and is it on iTunes and so forth or?

Soyini Coke: Yeah, the CEO Exclusive is on iTunes, you can also … and sometime in the not too distant future, we will be … it’s on Business Radio X’s feed on iTunes, but sometime in the not too distant future we’re gonna get our iTunes channel, and iTunes feed as well. I’ll be launching … we’ll be launching our own CEO Exclusive website with our own stuff. Right now everything is housed on Business Radio X, that’s something new and upcoming over the summer, so we’ll get our own home and everything, and a little [inaudible 00:12:10].

But to go back and answer your question Will. I’ll take you back to two years ago, so I knew as an independent I needed to start building my thought leadership platform. I didn’t wanna write a book, wasn’t gonna do a blog, I didn’t wanna do an email newsletter. I started to do some speaking, and that was kind of catching on, a little bit. I was invited to be a guest on Business Radio X, and I did my first interview and they said … thankfully Stone, and Lee, the two guys who own the station were my interviewers. They said “We think you should have your own show,” and I was like, “Oh get out of here leave me alone. You know like whatever.” You know? No way. And because I don’t have any radio experience, I don’t have any broadcast anything, and they kept after me, they literally kept after me for six months.

Finally I was sitting in their studio doing I think their third test … they kept inviting me back to interview me, just because they wanted me to do the show, right. So in the third interview, I was sitting there in their studio, and I had the idea for the format for the show, and I said, “Okay, guys, I’ll try it for like two months, and if it works then I’ll continue.” And without exception every single advisor person mentioned it to said, “Soyini it will work, this is the thing for you.” And so Business Radio X handles all the backend stuff, so I can’t really answer the question about the production and how that works. But ostensibly what happened is that I created a show concept, right. We speared out the schedule for recording the show, I started calling people and asking people to be on the show, they said yes, and here we are two years later.

Will Bachman: So you physically go to this radio station’s offices, and they have a little booth with microphones?

Soyini Coke: Exactly.

Will Bachman: Okay. That’s great.

Soyini Coke: And they do a really great job for me.

Will Bachman: Yeah that’s awesome. So I wanna keep on this theme, because this is I think is super cool. Tell me a little bit about what you have learned aside from kind of business part right, of learning what CEOs think and all this. What have you learned about just interviewing skills, or like voice, or getting people to come. I’m curious, you know I’d love to hear some of that, then we can also talk about some of the … what you’ve actually learned in terms of thought leadership around the business side, the leadership side.

Soyini Coke: So I will make a plug for an organization called The National Speakers Association. One of the past presidents was the person who got me the interview with Business Radio X that started all of this off. So, the National Speakers Association is a trade organization for people who want to become speakers. When people hear that they think of the keynote speaker like Les Brown, or Tony Robbins, and there’s certainly that group of speakers. But the vast majority of people … so the industry has evolved that the vast majority of people in the National Speakers Association are really folks like you and myself who are using speaking as a tool to build a platform for their business. So a lot of what I’ve learned is one, platform skills really matter, and so when I say “Platform skills,” to people who are not familiar with that term. That is being able to speak clearly, being able to be [piffy 00:15:57], be humorous, entertain, engage, have the snappy one liner. 

Those things really matter and one of the more experienced speakers mentioned that one point in speaking when you’re delivering a talk, like what we’re doing right now, or a platform speak et cetera. There needs to be a payoff, whether or not it’s a laugh, an insight, an aha moment, an emotional high, an emotional low. There needs to be a payoff about once a minute for people to keep listening to you, and so learning how to deliver something that is of meaning, you know once again a payoff for a listener every minute, is actually a really difficult thing. I struggle with it even on my show, I go back and I listen to my shows, or even in the moment when I’m doing the interviews I thinking, oh my god it’s been kind of boring for about five minutes, I may have lost people. But basic blocking and tackling about delivering a product that people will want to listen to is certainly just an area of growth and development for me in general, and I continue to learn to get better.

Will Bachman: Yeah so, it sounds like this is not something that you are born with, you’re saying. But how practically have you worked on improving those platform skills, is it a coach, do you just listen to yourself and self-evaluate, or … so how have you been working at deliberately trying to get better at that?

Soyini Coke: Not enough first of all, not enough. The speakers that I am aware of who lets say command the 25000 dollars a speech, or people like you and I, who are in consulting or some other knowledge work to end up getting to the point where they can command 25000 dollar a day, or what ever the top of the market is. They’re practicing an hour to two hours a day. They’re in the mirror, they have small groups, let’s say workout buddies they’ll sit down with and deliver their speech over and over again. So for example for me, I have had to deliberately practice the opening for my show, and the closing for my show. When I started just to go back and listen to my earlier shows they were very sloppy. I was told that they were boring and nobody would listen to my show past the first 30 seconds, because the intro wasn’t interesting enough. That continues to be a place where I am working. I do, or I should, I want to continue to listen to myself, to my own interviews and get better. 

I think it’s all of the above, and getting a media coach is certainly a strategy. I haven’t hired anybody yet, but it’s something certainly that I am looking at. It’s all of those things, Will.

Will Bachman: Okay so, you’ve put a ton of effort into this and it’s obviously, you know, successful I mean in terms of building an audience, and get people wanting to get onto your show. A lot of people will ask, okay that’s great, raise your visibility, and you mentioned the word payoff a few times. What’s been the pay off for you in terms of business development? How has that thought leadership lead to actual project work?

Soyini Coke: I’ve gotten people calling me and interested in working with me from seeing me on CEO Exclusive, which is great, or listening to me on CEO Exclusive. The other thing I will say is that its allowed me to build more value in my practice. So I’ve noticed that my per diem has gone up, I’ve been able to command higher rates, just because people are like, “Well you know, she must be pretty good, she has this show you know.” So all of a sudden people are like, “Okay she has her own show, she must be worth paying more on an hourly basis.” So both more work and a better rate for me, it’s been really good.

Will Bachman: And what about in terms of actually working and doing the projects, I’d love to hear some of the insights that you’ve gained from interviewing the leaders of the last two years ever week showing up every week and doing that. What are some of the things that you’ve learned that you’ve incorporated in your consulting practice?

Soyini Coke: The second half of my show focuses on leadership and the relationships that helped these CEOs be successful. Every single CEO without exception has said that it’s their team that has allowed them to experience the growth and the success in their business that would have me want to have them on my show. Why I knew that, and I knew it as a platitude before, what’s been really important for me to see and has actually changed the way that I relate to my business, is that creating emotional resonance with the people I work with is the most single important thing that I do in my own practice. It is the single most important thing that I do, it’s not a nice thing to have, or let’s talk about team work, and cohesiveness after we’ve done the client work. It is the work, and I didn’t have that visceral understanding of how important it was before I started doing the show.

Will Bachman: What are some of the things that you do in practice then to kind of build that collaborative environment on teams?

Soyini Coke: So last year I invested in doing a retreat for my entire team. I took them to a beautiful place outside of Atlanta, we sat down we … and it was really fun actually. We focused on having fun with them and just really had a good time with them, and it made a huge difference. It was an investment; it was an investment of time and money. But I see the impact that it had on the team immediately afterwards, and even in the upcoming month, and it’s actually time for us to do another one. That reminds me I need to schedule the retreat for this year, that’s one thing. The second is I focused more on really making sure that the people I work with understand that when they’ve done something that I like. Focusing on praise, acknowledgement, re-enforcement, it is also a changed behavior for me. 

I was all … I had gotten better about making sure that I had acknowledged people for good work, but now it’s a real commitment. Like every time I see something that one of the people that I am working with does that I really like, I make sure that I say it, and I said it immediately. What that has done has made it easier when I’m trying to remediate something, it doesn’t sting as bad because I have over the course of weeks or months being telling people, “Listen you’re doing this great, this great, this great, this great, this great. You know this one thing I really need you to correct it.” It doesn’t hurt as much when I have to put in corrective action, because the basis of the relationship is one of acknowledgement.

Will Bachman: So if people have not heard your show before, and wanted to jump in. Are there any episodes that have been particularly memorable for you, that you’d suggest people start with? I’m sure it’s like children, you know they’re all your favorites, but any ones that you think would be a good entry point for folks if they wanna go back to the archives?

Soyini Coke: So yeah, I’m like oh my god, if any of my guests listen to this show, they’re are gonna be like, “She didn’t pick me.”

Will Bachman: I’m sure they’re all great, I’m sure they’re all amazing.

Soyini Coke: A couple of places that new listeners could start are, some of the on-site broadcasts that I did at Executive Summits lead by Vistage. These were events where Vistage has on-site events at conference centers where they invite 300, 400, 600 middle market CEOs to spend the day listening to speakers, sharing knowledge et cetera. They invited my team to do a show for the entire day at these events, there was one in Boston, one in Atlanta, and one in San Francisco, or San Diego. Those are just fun very short interviews where each interview is about 15 minutes, so people can just go and listen, and listen and listen, and see what happened during the day. Those are definitely really fun.

Will Bachman: That’s really cool. Where you kind of up on stage interviewing people or, how did that practically work?

Soyini Coke: So what we did is we had our own booth, and pre-scheduled CEOs that we wanted to interview, so people would just come to our booth and interview them, and then they would go off and have fun for the rest of the day.

Will Bachman: Oh that’s very cool.

Soyini Coke: It was awesome.

Will Bachman: Maybe we can transition a little there. So I’m so fascinated by this, and what you’ve built in terms of thought leadership. Tell us a little bit about the kinds of projects that you do. So thought leadership we’ve talked about that, but in terms of the actual consulting work that you do. Can you give us some examples of the types of projects that you have been working on?

Soyini Coke: Thanks for asking. Most of my career has been built in healthcare, and one of the interviews that you talk about, interviews that are really important that I did was with the CEO of the Georgia Hospital Association. And so, the Georgia Hospital Association is the trade organization that represents all of the hospitals in Georgia. So I think that they represent of over a 180 different hospital systems, and one of the areas in to which I am taking my practice … so I’ve built my practice on healthcare working a lot on the provider side. So with physicians, and hospitals, and care providers. There’s so many important changes that are happening in healthcare right now, that where I am working is on helping hospitals deal with all that change, especially in physician engagement.

My brother’s a doctor and I remember having this conversation with him about two or three months ago, and he is just like, “You know what, I am just so tired of everything that’s happening. I am actually … I’ve decided that I’m gonna merge my practice with another practice, probably with a hospital system. Does that make me a bad person?” I was just like, “No, I get it. All of the changes and pressures that are assaulting physicians, it makes it really hard for them to do their job.” So there is this whole movement and discussion around physician engagement, and how to keep physicians engaged despite all the pressures that they’re facing. So that’s one of the key problems that I am working on in my practice, and I’m really, really excited about because I know it’s gonna make difference.

Will Bachman: And could you say a little bit more … I mean I suppose I might be the last person to know but, what does that term “Physician engagement” mean? And what is, and how do you improve it?

Soyini Coke: So another way that you could think of it is “Physician morale,” right? So I was working on a project with the state of Pennsylvania, and you’re familiar with this project Will. We were looking at the entire spectrum of all the things that are necessary to transform healthcare delivery in the state. There was a doctor that we were talking to, and he was sitting there, he almost had tears in his eyes. He was like, “Between having to deal with the payment reform, having to deal with now all of this EHR stuff, having to deal with more patient flow, and not being able to be an independent physician. I can’t practice medicine, the way that … I just wanna see people and make them better.” And that feeling of not being able to just practice medicine, is very demoralizing for doctors. So one of the trends that one is seeing, is the death of the solo or small physician practice right? It is pretty much impossible now for a physician practice for let’s say that’s under four people, to be profitable. 

They just can’t do it with all the economic pressures, and so if it hasn’t happened already, pretty much within the next 5 to 10 years, you’re not gonna see a doctor who is practicing on his own. There’s not gonna be like a doctor so, and so, where you can just go to his office and he’ll be your family physician. That kind of practice doesn’t have enough scale to make it profitable for the doctor to work, and that for many doctors that is very very demoralizing. They don’t wanna work for a large physician practice, so they don’t wanna work for a hospital system. They wanna be independent and they always have, and being able to practice medicine in that way, this isn’t possible anymore, at the kind of profitability that would make it it worth while for a Doctor to practice. So they are either retiring, they are forced to merge with larger systems, as I mentioned with my brother, or they’re just starting to other things.

Will Bachman: So what was sort of the situation be where you would be called in and what’s some of the work that you’ve done to help on that physician engagement?

Soyini Coke: So this is a … I mean it’s really, really a new frontier, and I am working with a team of people to understand exactly how that morale piece works. So a lot of it is not the kind of hardcore analysis that one would think although, I do know that most hospitals are gonna have to re-build their P&L and we are working on that a little bit as well. But the study and the work on culture building, how to build morale, but there is a whole lot of science around it. So you have to you know, interviews and understand exactly why it is. What the source of the demoralization is, how to engage with them differently, how to change their work flow. 

Change physician workflow so that they can get more done with the time they have, and with the resources that they have, and then understanding exactly where those leverage points are in terms of the workflow. And then developing a series of recommendations that one, how they interact with the rest of the hospital, and then two, how to change the workflow so that they can be more efficient. But it’s definitely kind of the frontline in a lot of the methodologies that we’re developing are very new, and they are still kind of nascent.

Will Bachman: You know, this is a pretty broadly applicable topic. I mean we were just talking about healthcare and physicians but I imagine a lot of listeners may be in situations where they’re working with highly paid professionals. I mean who knows, Investment Bankers, or lots of different professions. Where some how just the system isn’t letting them do what they’d love to be doing. You mentioned workflow a couple of times, can you talk about any kind of tools or analyses, or whether it’s qualitative, or quantitative that you found have worked well. For work flow do you sort of map it out in kind of a process flow diagram? Or just tell us a little bit about some of the very practical tips and tricks you’ve found useful in helping to improve that workflow or other aspects.

Soyini Coke: What is it? There’s a saying that I’ve heard recently, and hopefully I won’t get it wrong but what is it, “That culture eats strategy for breakfast?” And so in a study, or a project that I was on recently what we did is first of all tried the baseline what the culture actually is in the organization. That is a very touch feeling, you know what are the words and emotions that evoked when people think about their workplace? A good example is an article that I recently read in the New York Times that … about rudeness in the hospital and rudeness amongst Doctors and how that actually affects how they treat patients, and clinical results. So the place to start is to do some sort of assessment or study that says, what is the culture in the workplace right now? 

How do I feel when I come to work? And then the process of changing culture, and then assigning behaviors to … once you’ve based on and say, “Okay now I feel pressured. I don’t feel like I’m being heard.” What ever those actual cultural norms are in the environment, the place to start is really figure out what’s going on. It becomes difficult because people often … this is where things get sticky. People may not wanna say, right? So you have to make sure that methodology to capture this information has integrity and people feel safe enough to actually honestly air their feelings about what’s happening in their workplace now.

Will Bachman: Any tips on that? I mean measuring culture is something that I mean is probably useful in so many different projects. Are you doing kind of a quantitative survey? Is it based on one to one interviews, like what questions are you asking? What are the tips and tricks on measuring culture?

Soyini Coke: Yes, so there’s definitely survey’s that you can administer to the entire population, and then you code the words that come in. For example, you know fear may show up as a bunch of different words. Hostility may show up as a bunch of different words. Positive things may show up as a bunch of different words. But what happens is that people … you’ll code the answers that come in, and then try to synthesize those down into a few core categories that then define what the culture is. And that can happen in both, the tools that I’ve used are quantitative culture survey, and then some specific interviews, maybe a focus group to flesh out and develop a deeper understanding of exactly how these behaviors are manifesting in the work environment. 

Then there’s the what do you want the culture be? Okay, like documenting that and people may have these broad usually pretty worthless mission statements, or value statements. So the values that they want to have in their culture, but the magic comes in then tying those broad sweeping, usually useless statements of culture down into specific behaviors that can be managed and measured and tracked on an ongoing basis in the work environment, and tying those behaviors to specific initiatives. And this I hear a lot from the CEOs on the show is that one, it comes from the leadership and the leadership actually modeling the behavior. 

That may be the single most important thing is it really is a monkey see monkey do. So if they see their leaders, I think to use a case which is very topical right now, United right? The initial reaction the United CEO to what happened on the plane with Dr. Dao was not one of compassion and you know? It just wasn’t! You know? And you’ve seen his reaction, you know? You see his reaction and you’re like, “No wonder?” But that really is how culture works, like people mimic what they see the leadership do, and it’s not what … they don’t mimic what the leadership sez they are gonna do, and they don’t mimic what the leadership sez that they want, they mimic what they see their leaders actually doing. 

So that is the single most important thing, and the top line leadership needs to say, “What specific behaviors can I do, on a daily basis that will actually demonstrate this specific value?” So one of the words that comes up very, very frequently is this culture building thing is “Transparency.” Transparency is a great word, everybody really loves transparency, and when this comes up on the show I also push well how do you actually demonstrate transparency? One great example that has come up more than once, is a number of the CEOs will actually share this financials. Like they will have a town hall where they really do share the financial performance of the company and not just top line stuff, but you know, here’s where the money’s being spent. Here’s how much money I’m making, here’s how much money I’m paying different people in the organization. And those kinds of things, you know that is a concrete very real demonstration of transparency.

So when you’re doing this culture thing and you are saying, “Okay here are the values that I say that I want to instill in my organization.” Where the magic happens is then figuring out what are specific behaviors that both the leadership can do, and the middle management can do to model those behaviors for everybody else in the organization. And there is, even though I say it’s magic, I mean there’s no silver bullet for that, that’s the hard work of building culture.

Will Bachman: [crosstalk 00:35:54] Yeah, can you give us any specific examples of specific behavior changes in a hospital setting that you’ve been working on driving?

Soyini Coke: Yeah so … yeah what comes to mind is an example that a friend gave on the show with Earl the president of the Georgia Hospital Association. So there was a … and listeners may or may not remember, there was a lot of flooding in South Georgia a few months ago. And she actually as the hospital CEO took off her suit, took off her beautiful shoes, put on her real sneakers and she actually went to work. Her initial training was as a nurse, when they were flooded with people, when the disaster happened, she went out and actually started to treat patients as a regular hospital nurse. Now I know that this isn’t exactly an example from my practice but it’s that kind of thing that demonstrates and shows the real demonstration of the culture that that CEO is trying to build.

Will Bachman: Right, you know I mean that reminds me one framework that I guess I learned at McKinsey was that if you wanna change people’s behavior four things have to happen. One, the people have to understand and be committed to the new behavior that you want them to do. So they have to first understand it. Number two, they have to have the skills to do it. Number three, they have to see the leaders role modeling that behavior, and number four you have to have some kind of measurement system in place over time to keep track of it.

Soyini Coke: Right.

Will Bachman: So I mean it starts with your point about the leaders saying, “Hey, in times of trouble. Let’s all hands on desk.” So that sounds like really powerful work. There’s one question for you, is beyond your thought leadership which is incredibly impressive, are there other things that you think about over time in terms of where you want to get your practice? It sounds like you really thought about how you are … it’s not just the one year time frame, but a kind of longer term time frame you’re thinking about. What’s your sort of longer term vision for your firm?

Soyini Coke: A few things. So I really want to continue to build the audience for CEO Exclusive, and as with any thought leadership effort that’s gonna take some time and investment et cetera. But after I have a really good engaged audience, you know they’re listing to the show they are getting lots of value, they’re any number of profit centres that can then come from breeding a lot value for the CEO listeners of the show. Certainly it will continue to drive value in my consulting services as an independent. 

The second is in some cases it may … I may be able to get sponsors, which would be great. I may choose to publish, you know finally get that book going, maybe I’ll finally have the inspiration for a book I really do wanna write. And I can continue to do on-site broadcast like I did with Vistage. So there are any number of profit centres that may continue to grow and develop as I continue to build the CEO Exclusive brand. That’s really where my thinking is.

Will Bachman: Yeah, and you mentioned speeches a few times. Do you have a handful of different topics that you have really worked out a speech on? Or how does that work, I’ve done none of that and I’m curious on how that whole world works.

Soyini Coke: So I am a speaker in the Vistage system. So Vistage is a community of CEOs that are typically in the mid market right. So CEOs of companies that are like 10 – 100 million revenue, and these CEOs meet in small pods of 20 typically about once a month. Vistage has a whole network of speakers that will go and then talk to these groups. So I’m a speaker in the Vistage system and I speak on strategic planning, you know one of [Markie Cox’s 00:42:12] 10 Strategies for Business Planning Excellence. And talking with … that talk is around how to develop a business plan and strategic plan, that will allow them to achieve the levels of growth that they want.

So that’s pretty much the one that I like the best. I did some work around strategic planning for the EB 5 Visa Program which for people who are not familiar that. That’s a program that where investors can come to the United States, and if they invest over a million dollars they can be eligible to receive a visa and be on the path to receive citizenship. And there’s an extensive strategic plan that they need to do that. That’s a little bit of a niche market, but those are the two speeches that I’ve really been doing a lot lately.

Will Bachman: That’s very cool. Any thoughts of kind of how … can you have a multi pronged approach? Right, you’re doing speeches, radio, consulting. Tell me a little bit about the freedom of being on your own, running your own show allows you to do things that may not have been possible if you had stayed at McKinsey, and you know gone back after business school, and taken that more traditional path.

Soyini Coke: It all comes down to time. Unfortunately as human beings we’re all bound by the same 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week. I didn’t realize it as I was becoming independent in the beginning but, I made very very different choices about how to spend my time. The rule for me is as long as I meet my financials … I’m using the time I have to meet my financial goals, I can do anything else that I want, and that perspective I’m beginning to realize is quite unique. And so, that continues to be for good or ill, right, it used to be the way that I look at my practice once I have used my time to cover my expenses and what ever profit margin I wanna achieve, the rest of my time I can do what ever I want with it. And that allows me to experiment and do some of these other cool things. 

Will Bachman: Yeah that’s great.

Soyini Coke: That perspective is incumbent upon me generating enough value in the time that I do spend. You know you can’t do that and charge five dollars an hour.

Will Bachman: Right. Yep.

Soyini Coke: If that makes sense.

Will Bachman: So one question I ask people is, any books that have had a real impact on you. Either books that you’ve found yourself gifting a lot, or books that you’ve returned to, book that has some how shaped your thinking. Any recommendations?

Soyini Coke: Oh yes! Oh I love this question. So the first book that I’ll recommend is Rich Dad Poor Dad by [inaudible 00:45:19] Kiyosaki. I swear this is the book that had me go independent, because I started reading about this book and I realized … reading this book and he was the first person who introduced me to this idea of passive income. That for me and my world, I can’t build true wealth if I … in the business of trading time for money. Because there is only, you know I just mentioned, that there’s only 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week. So if I want to build real wealth I need to be able to leverage and have ways to generate income that are not a function of my time. That concept blew my mind, and so even as wonderfully paid as I was at McKinsey at the age of 25. I was like, this was a losing game, and I got that very early.

I don’t understand more people who go to business school are not familiar with this. I talk to people about passive income and they’ve gone through two, three years of business school and I’m like, “How come people at business school they don’t talk about this?” And that for me was really the holy grail of being in business, is to generate passive income that allows me to exactly what I just talked about right?

Will Bachman: Right.

Soyini Coke: So I got into that game, and Rich Dad Poor Dad was the book that introduced me to that idea. And fundamentally if you start to take on that perspective you’re gonna become an entrepreneur because you have to. Then the second book that was really important was E Myth, I can’t remember the E Myth guy’s name but E Myth is fundamentally about building systems. So the vast majority of people who come out and become entrepreneurs they become technicians, and that’s why they fail. They are still in the business of trading time for money, the only way that one can leverage is to build systems, and E Myth goes into that in a lot of detail. It talks about how to build systems in the business … in one’s business. 

And then the last book which I’ve read much more recently, read last year is this book called the Charisma Myth, and it was recommended to me by somebody at National Speakers Association. And Charisma Myth is exactly what it sounds like, it talks about how to build charisma. The myth around charisma is the author discusses is that you’re either born with it, or you’re not. And what she espouses is that charisma is something that can be developed, so that’s been a fascinating book as well.

Will Bachman: I’m delighted to hear you mention the Charisma Myth that was written by a friend of mine, Olivia Fox Cabane, so. It’s definitely … I love getting a plug for that.

Soyini Coke: Oh right, well I might actually ask you for an introduction, because I am a big big fan.

Will Bachman: Alright, alright. Get her on your show? That … okay great set and we’ll include those three books in the show notes. And one final question that I ask folks is, if you think about there’s a short take away that you would wanna leave listener with, you know and there’s probably a bunch to choose from but … and sometimes I phrase it as, you know, what would you put on a billboard. But if there’s one take away that you’d want to leave folks with, what would you put on that billboard for all our listeners to see?

Soyini Coke: For me it’s have the courage and the discipline to find out who you really are, what’s important to you, and then figure out how to express those things in your business.

Will Bachman: And the courage piece is I think is a key word in that, right?

Soyini Coke: I know.

Will Bachman: Because sometimes it kind of goes against what we’ve been trained and it can be scary to take that path.

Soyini Coke: It is.

Will Bachman: Soyini this has been great. Thank you so much for spending some time with us, and I hope we can definitely do a part two, because there is I’m sure a ton more to explore and I wanna hear more about other episodes of what I think will definitely need to get back. This has been great.

Soyini Coke: Thank you very much for having me on this show Will. As I mentioned at the outset it’s been an honor today.

Will Bachman: Thanks a lot. Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed, the podcast that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’d love to get your feedback and hear the questions that you’d like to see us answer on this show. You can email me at unleashed@umbrex.com, that’s U-M-B-R-E-X.COM. If you found anything on this show helpful, it would be a real gift if you would let a friend know about the show, and take minute to leave a review on iTunes. That really helps. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the worlds first global community of top tier independent management consultants, our audio engineer is Dave Nelson, and I’m your host Will Bachman. Thanks for listening.

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