Jordan Cram | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jordan Cram

Background:  

Enstoa is a professional services company that helps organizations with capital spending for engineering and construction. The industries it focuses on are healthcare, energy and real estate. 

The Mistake:  

If you have great ideas and they are disruptive, people will not believe in you if you don’t go out on a soapbox and spread that message outside the walls of your company. If you really want people to believe in you, if you really want them to get on board and row in the same direction, authenticity is paramount. Because I didn't make [my value proposition] public, people doubted my authenticity.

I had pushed internally, very aggressively, on our need to meet diversity targets. I had been adamant about our need to hire five men and five women across functions. I never wanted to walk into a meeting and see a dominant majority on either side.  

For three years, I did this, and I was unsuccessful internally to get people to take me seriously. I tried metrics. I tried processes. I tried all-hand meetings. I tried propaganda. I tried absolutely everything that a leader uses to win over the hearts and minds of people. But internally, no one took me seriously.  

We would be out at happy hours, people would loosen up and I would hear people say, "Bullshit." "That's not true." And that doubt was very damaging, even if it was in only a minority of people's minds, and not front and center. That little residue of doubt was extremely destabilizing. I had an executive leave me in around 2013, 2014, in disbelief that all these great philosophical things that I had been promoting were not just a bunch of horse shit.  

So I went out and made a public statement. I wrote a blog post and I hit Twitter saying that Enstoa would be at gender parity by the time we hit 100 people. I thought, "OK. If you don't believe me, I am going to tell the whole world," and once I start telling the whole world, you are going to believe me. Now you are going to believe that I am very serious about this.   

Once I went public with that [statement] a year ago, my staff of about 60 people also hit social media about six months behind me. We moved from being introverted to extroverted. We moved from sitting on this treasure to promoting this treasure publicly.  

As a leader, my team would have had more belief in me if I had more confidence. 

The Lesson:  

The onus is on a company to be crystal clear about who they are and what they stand for. It should come out in their blogs. It should be visible in all their social media. It should be visible in how they treat partners and how they treat competitors. It should just be visible in everything.  

If you look at Zappos, it infuses its values into everything that it does. Then, if you look at another company and you can tell that its values were created by shareholders, it's not what the people are. It's what the shareholders want them to be. Zappos doesn't have that problem. Zappos's values are a reflection of who the people actually are, and you see it in everything that they do.  

As a leader, my team would have had more belief in me if I had more confidence. They would have been more confident that I actually meant what I said. All that energy I was putting in to keeping the team together and continuing to reinforce those values and philosophy could have been repurposed.  

Once you get up and make the statement externally, people no longer doubt that you are inauthentic. It’s like when someone says, "I love you," but it's just a secret and only those two people know it. Those two people are going to doubt the authenticity of the other. Now when one of the two or both of them start to tell their friends and families, "I love this person," there is less doubt in the authenticity of that love.   

Follow Jordan Cram on Twitter at @jordancram 

Photo courtesy of Jordan Cram.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jfisher@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.