PODCASTS

Building Safe and Sustainable Plumbing Products

Matt Lemke: Building Safe and Sustainable Plumbing Products

 

Kip welcomes Matt Lemke to the show to discuss how his background prepared him for his current role, and how is thoughtful and strategic approach gets the most out of his employees to create a fun and productive work environment.

 

 


 

 

Podcast Participants:

Graham: Product Director Concora
Kip Rapp: CEO Concora
Matt Lemke: VP of Marketing and Sales for PRIER Products

 

Graham:

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Concora Corner, a podcast dedicated to bringing you interviews with folks working in the AEC and BPM industry. I’m one of your hosts, Graham Waldrop, a Director of Product here at Concora. Today we’re talking with Matt Lemke, VP of Marketing and Sales for PRIER Products. Matt discusses his background of rising through the ranks of Payless Shoe Source and how that prepared him for his current role.


Graham:

He also discusses PRIER’s unique approach to creating commercial and residential plumbing products and how his balanced strategy and working with his employees creates a stable and strong environment for his company. We hope you enjoy today’s interview with Matt, but before we begin, here’s a quick word from our CEO, Kip Rapp.


Kip Rapp:

I wanted to thank everyone again for listening to our podcast. And if you’re interested in knowing more about Concora, we help building product manufacturers get specified and purchase more by providing a great web experience that’s bolted onto your website. It makes it easy for your architects, engineers, and contractors to do business online with you.


Kip Rapp:

We sum it up as three things, it’s providing a good web experience, good content and good tools and we have some great tools such as submittals, sustainability, project showcases or anything else needed by our design community to specifying purchase products. We’d be more than happy to show you a quick demo and you can go to concora.com, to learn more, re-case studies and see how other customers have grown sales with our partnership.


Kip Rapp:

All right. Well, hello, Matt. I do appreciate your time today before the Memorial weekend and I’m looking forward to chatting with you. It’s definitely always a good chat talking about leadership and culture and mission and company. It’s certainly defining and similar across companies that care about that and love to get your views on that in how we start. If you can just introduce yourself and what you do and what your company does.


Matt Lemke:

Yeah. Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. I love doing these types of activities or podcasts or such because I’ve got some experience, but more importantly, I learn from you guys. Anyway, I head sales, marketing and customer service for really two companies. One is PRIER Products and that side of the business manufactures hydrants, silcocks, plumbing products, anything.


Matt Lemke:

About 95% of what we manufacture, you can hook a hose too. So if you go outside tonight and you look at what you hook your hose up to and it says PRIER on it, that’s us. We have grown quite a bit in the last few years and they brought me in a couple of years ago to run sales, marketing, and customer service. I had 30 years of retail before that, so manufacturing was a little different for me but running sales is, and marketing customer service, right up my alley.


Matt Lemke:

The other side of our business is called Stern-Williams. We manufacture terrazzo mops sinks and shower stalls and drinking fountains that you would find in a park and things like that. So Stern-Williams is that side. We just purchased that company in January, January 1st.


Matt Lemke:

So when we talk in a little bit about culture, it’ll be really interesting to talk about how PRIER, an established company with ownership that’s been in place for 20 some years versus a company that we just purchased that’s now going through some of those culture changes and that’s a petri dish in and of itself to learn how to do that and do that well so that you retain all your quality employees.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. No, that’s interesting. I know we didn’t really talk about Stern-Williams in our prep. Is the goal then to merge the culture and the operations, or is there some separation of something?


Matt Lemke:

We’re operating them separately in almost every aspect other than some leadership and some natural efficiencies like in finance or maybe some sourcing or something like that, but we are operating completely separate marketing teams, separate sales team and then I head both of those. But where the merge comes in is merging cultures or operating them with the same approach to culture and mission.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. No, that’s great. And as you mentioned, I think I remember that from the prep is your vast experience in retail. And I thought I remembered that correctly, because a lot of what you do is retail at PRIER.


Matt Lemke:

Yeah. At the end of last year, it was about 60:40 wholesale to retail. But prior to that last year was a huge retail, actually, it might’ve been a little bit higher than that. 42 or 43% retail. But prior to that was in the 30s. With COVID last year, I was talking to somebody last night and they asked, why the increase in retail? And I said, it was so funny.


Matt Lemke:

It was like somebody flipped a switch on May 1st last year and they were forced now to stay at home and somebody said, “I’ve had that leaking faucet for years, and now I’m at home, I’m going to take care of it.” And that happened with millions of households last year. And so they went to their Home Depot, their Lowe’s, Menards, whatever, and said, “Where can I get stuff that would fix this or replace it?” And fortunately we were there and we were able to supply for those retailers.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. It’s actually quite… I never really thought about the impact to residential, but it is across the board. I have talked to lots of people on the residential side and it’s just about everything has gone up from the fireplaces, the heating, to painting, to the outdoors. And as you talked about the faucets on the outside too. Yeah. I can imagine if you’re sitting at home for a year, it’s like, well there’s nothing else to do-


Matt Lemke:

Right.


Kip Rapp:

Thing’s has been dripping for forever, or the spouse has asked me to fix things up now and I can’t.

 

Matt Lemke:

I don’t have those excuses anymore, “I got to go to work,” or, “I have this or whatever.” You’re sitting at home. So a lot of work got done. I heard a podcast last year on Economic Forecasts or whatever. They were talking about stuff that was up and stuff that was down. Companies that sold suitcases were way down companies that sold gym equipment in home were way up. So nobody was traveling and everybody was staying home and trying to do the best they could around their house.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. And on the flip side, there’s been some good commercial companies too. Now it’s hit or miss the people I talked to where projects are stalled, if you’re maybe a critical part of the construction, maybe you did better. Others have tempered it well with inventory, but all those things have made commercial a little more of a ride, I guess, based on COVID.


Kip Rapp:

But yeah, thanks for sharing the background, how you got there and then the two companies, and then I guess the different operationally, but culture the same. And I wanted to dive a little bit about your product, right? Because I was talking to someone else who was on the outdoor in the faucets.


Kip Rapp:

It was really fascinating for me because I didn’t know all the led and bacteria and all of that stuff, and it’s hugely important, right? So I assume that’s all the same as far as a health and sustainability benefit, that it is a very important part of your building and house and.


Matt Lemke:

Yeah. Absolutely. The led-free probably started off the west coast, but it’s spread to quite a few different states. And now a hydrant on your house, it’s hooked up to a hose. It doesn’t have to be led-free in most cases because it’s not potable water. It’s not something you’re going to drink out of, and we did as kids. When I was a kid, we always drank out of the hose because it was the coldest water there was in the middle of the summer, but that isn’t…

 

Matt Lemke:

So you don’t have to be led-free in most cases, other than there’s some municipalities, especially in California and some in Texas that require it on just about anything that services water, especially to the outside or that could be consumed. So we’ve had to revamp or add those things to our line to make sure that we could service that type of customer.


Matt Lemke:

It still is a smaller part of our business but I would see that’s going to grow as things go forward, especially a couple of years ago with that debacle in Michigan that is still fresh on people’s minds. So we provide it and manufacture it here for those that need it.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. Good stuff. And then is the other company you mentioned, the Stern-Williams, is that a spec product too?

 

Matt Lemke:

Yes. That’s all commercial product, all specs. We use a variety of different platforms for that, but all spec product, 99% commercial. There’s hardly anybody that in their house is going to put a terrazzo mop basin or a drinking fountain. Actually, there was a house here in Kansas City that has just a big backyard with a pool and all kinds of stuff and they put in two drinking fountains. So it doesn’t happen very often, but it’s almost all commercial in that case.


Kip Rapp:

That’s good. Yeah. No, thanks for sharing that. You mentioned obviously you started their new area of category, right?


Matt Lemke:

Yeah.


Kip Rapp:

To building materials and then certainly being yourself very strong in culture and leadership is an asset, I would say, right? Obviously, and especially now you have another company. So could you walk us through what’s important for you? I’m sure some of that’s important for the peers and the management, but what’s your philosophy around growing a successful company and focusing on people?

 

Matt Lemke:

Yeah. I think we’d start probably where our mission statement starts. We have a very distinct well-articulated mission statement that’s on our PRIER website and you can find it also on the Stern-Williams’ website. But it starts with that we’re in business to build with a purpose that our purpose isn’t just to be profitable that is in there because we’re not a not-for-profit company, but it is built around people.


Matt Lemke:

That’s number one, that you can’t do anything here, manufacturing-wise, selling-wise, on either side without people. And therefore you have to have some type of purpose in ensuring that your people are taken care of, because if you don’t have them operating really well and through our mission statement, which I’m going to get to in a second, you just can’t do it really efficiently and you have…


Matt Lemke:

It’s like the old rowboat, if oars are going in different direction, your boat goes nowhere, or it goes around in a circle. We need everybody to go down the same path in unison and together. So our first bullet in our mission statement talks about to operate under the will of God. Now, God, we ask everybody that we interview and we talk about that, God is different to a lot of different people.


Matt Lemke:

So in your mind it might be something, in my mind it might be something different. And I guess at the end of the day, we just believe that there is something bigger than us that we need to make sure, our CEO calls it the chairman of the board, that we got to make sure that what we’re doing the chairman of the board would sign off on, that we’re doing the right things at the right time for the right reasons.


Matt Lemke:

So there has to be that old golden rule of treat others the way you’d want to be treated yourself. So that operate under the will of God is a big deal for us in the sense that there’s a bigger purpose than just manufacturing silcocks and hydrants. So we’re not curing cancer here, but we are offering a service that is needed. So we always want to put it in perspective here.


Matt Lemke:

And sometimes in companies, things get to be blown out of proportion that, “Oh my goodness, if they didn’t have us, they would go… I don’t know what would happen?” And a old boss of mine long time ago, I was in the footwear industry and he goes, “We’re just selling plastic shoes here, we are not curing cancer.

So let’s all put it in perspective.” And I thought that was something to really follow. And it went to operating under a little higher purpose than just us.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. I mean, that’s certainly… You don’t hear a lot about God in mission statements and it’s certainly probably less common nowadays too, I would say. And I do really like what you’re saying there, because there’s a tie into, well, why God? Right? And the things that you mentioned from a altruistic point of view, higher purpose, a servant attitude in that case, right? Where you are helping others and that’s awesome because I do think a lot of.


Kip Rapp:

I mean, look at these guiding principles and mission statements, there’s definitely either see leadership things in there, sometimes it’s personality things and culture things. So it’s really cool that you really framed it under one sentence there with God.


Matt Lemke:

You mentioned something about servant leadership or just being a servant of the community or the community inside PRIER, or Stern-Williams, the community outside of it. And that’s our second bullet point is to help all partners. A partner could be people that we’re buying from, the suppliers to us, the partners that we’re selling to, our representatives in the company that sell PRIER for us, our customers, our employees, that we help all partners trying to be all they can be.


Matt Lemke:

So if we operate under the first one that we’re operating under the will of God, and then we say, “Well, what’s next?” It’s to help all our partners be all they can be. You could probably stop right there in our mission statement, we have about five or six others, but those are probably the essence of what we do is understand that there’s a higher purpose, something that we got to make sure that we can sit back and say, “I did the right thing for the right reasons because I’m grounded in my values and that means that I can serve others and in turn will get rewarded for that.”


Matt Lemke:

When I came on board two years ago, that was a big deal in our interview process. And it’s been a big deal in my interview process of other people to ensure that we’re hiring people that fit our culture. Now, there are people that don’t, and they’re great people, but they just maybe don’t fit our culture. And that’s okay. You don’t have to force yourself to change who you are to be at PRIER.


Matt Lemke:

So I’ve turned away some really good people that may be just aren’t going to fit our culture, and that’s okay. So we’ve said that it’s okay not to fit in the culture. They’re still valuable people. We just want to make sure that our culture is sustained for a long period of time.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah, I know. I forgot what book I read, Built to Last or Good to Great. I mean, they talk about the five leadership and the one, absolutely, if you want a lasting company, generational, it is the top thing that I remember, and I forget a lot more than I remember, but it’s about the servant-leadership style, right?


Matt Lemke:

We have it. I turned over here because I have a review on my desk and those five traits of our tiers of leadership, level five is executive, which is built enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. So it’s taken right from that and it’s in our review and we talk about that every time we have a review.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. It’s so cool. And then I think for even I would say today. Well, I wasn’t born 100 years ago, but I’ll just say today’s culture it’s not common sense. And I think a lot of that is personality driven in DNA. Some people just really get a lot of great things done, but they’re a little more introspective, right?


Matt Lemke:

Yes.


Kip Rapp:

In that sense, which is great. I mean, that’s a good style if you’re a salesperson or you have your own business, or if there’s a similar culture for that. But I think as you mentioned, the theory is if you want a generational company, then at least that book is telling you, “This is the behaviors that we’ve seen across all these other companies,” right?


Matt Lemke:

Yeah.


Kip Rapp:

That’s awesome. And was that something then you alluded to. You certainly was attracted to that company based on the mission and I assume that matches your style, right?


Matt Lemke:

Yeah.


Kip Rapp:

And then the executive team matches their style, right?


Matt Lemke:

Right. Well, I think the. I said this the other day that it’s funny how. I’m not the most outwardly religious person. I certainly have certain values and beliefs, but I believe God put me in a place for a reason. And I had lost my job with Payless. Payless Shoes was where I worked, and they went bankrupt for the second time in a couple of years. And it was probably a sign that I should probably leave plus they closed the door so I didn’t have another paycheck.


Kip Rapp:

You couldn’t get back in.


Matt Lemke:

And the president of PRIER was in a round table with a CEO of a company that my wife works at and was talking about his need because of the growth, the need for a leader of sales and marketing. The guy was like, “I got the perfect guy for you.” So I believe those things put together were for a reason.


Matt Lemke:

And it has been not without its challenges, because this is a industry I knew nothing about. I had a PRIER hydrant, three of them on my house and had no clue who made them. I had them on my house, and I’m not the most handy guy either. So, I guess the thing I do well is I serve humbly. And I believe that the reason why we are growing and doing what we’re doing is because of the great team that we have, that knows how to do their job and do it really well.


Kip Rapp:

Oh, that’s awesome. And one thing I wanted to dive a little deeper into because it sounds like with that background, the company culture, the hiring process, the good kind of homogenous of similarities of great things that you mentioned from the humility and the servant, and then being a leader in general, once you have a team, how do you then manage that? Because we’re not working at a church, right?


Matt Lemke:

Right.


Kip Rapp:

So how do you then manage that with meritocracy and performance? Certainly if you have any examples of how it’s worked for you, because sales and marketing they’re both disciplines that can be measured well, right?


Matt Lemke:

Yeah.


Kip Rapp:

And there’s certainly a relational people side. I always think of people, people, people, and right? A lot of people process and product, right? And measuring all that, right? So could you walk us through a little bit about how you actually execute accountability on that?


Matt Lemke:

A couple things that are a little tiny things, but I think they’re important. My office is right near my team and I have a big wooden door that when closed, it’s hard to hear me when you’re out there, or I can’t hear them. I keep my door open 95% of the time. It’s closed now so that they don’t hear me saying all this, but anyway, I hear almost everything they say.


Matt Lemke:

So to me, my approach is not… We can teach what people do, processes and what to say and all that, but it’s the, how, we do it, it is the nuance, it’s a science and the art of how we do things. So I’ll give you an example is, with my door open I heard how we were talking actually to another employee. This was an employee to employee and it just was not right.

 

Matt Lemke:

The words that were being used, how we were saying them, now, if you’d put it in a transcript, you’d say, “What was wrong with that?” But, what is it, 85, 90% of communication is nonverbal, the body posture, the inflection and so on and so forth. So the words weren’t necessarily wrong, but how we were saying it. So what I end up doing is I listen, try to understand, “Am I hearing something different? Or am I interpreting any different?”


Matt Lemke:

Anyway, I brought the person in and I said, I started reading the mission statement, “Let me walk through what we’re all about. I know you know this, so here’s what I heard. Tell me how I am wrong or different, or maybe I misinterpreted.” So we walked through. I just went bullet by bullet through the mission statement and it was very evident. So at the end of the conversation, I said, “Here’s the thing, we’re either in on the mission statement or out, there’s not a gray area here.”


Matt Lemke:

So that I heard and how I heard it now that we’ve had the conversation, you’re not in. So you have a choice. You have a choice to either say, “I’m in or out,” and if you’re out, no bad actors here. It’s okay. There are plenty of other companies that would take a person that is a pretty good performer, but it isn’t that all the time. It’s the how we do things, and that’s really important.


Matt Lemke:

And how I operate here is if we do the how’s right, that we can tweak and change and whatever. But how we do things is really important. And I think it’s a really big reason for the success of the company.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. No, that’s a great story. So what you’re talking about is that there’s a very strong emphasis on how you collaborate and communicate with others, right? It’s, assumingly from the mission statement of a respectful outward-in type of empathetic way of communicating, right? And being able to have those since you’re in room already, right? You’re not 1,000 miles away.


Matt Lemke:

Exactly.

 

Kip Rapp:

You have a kind of pulse, and natural pulse, it sounds like, to be able to hear things every once in a while and then it also sounded like there’s immediate type of conversation. So it’s not a year later.


Matt Lemke:

Right.

 

Matt Lemke:

That’s such a good point about, first of all, praising publicly and coaching privately, but immediately when you see something so that it’s fresh in everybody’s mind. And certainly in this situation, I might’ve misinterpreted. So having two ears and one mouth is really important because that listening part of, “Tell me your side, because I want to hear that. I want to hear the explanation, but understand I’m going to come back to the mission statement.” It’s got to be in line with the mission statement.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. No, that’s also a great point. A lot of empathy is just listening, right?


Matt Lemke:

Yes.


Matt Lemke:

Right.


Kip Rapp:

Listen and hold your breath.

 

Matt Lemke:

I had an old boss that we had a Monday morning meeting. He’s very, first of all, really successful guy. Moved up company ladders and he was brought in in an organization I had already run, but they wanted somebody with more experience. It’s fine. I wasn’t happy about it, but that’s okay. I didn’t quit.


Matt Lemke:

And I remember his Monday morning meeting he said, “This is your chance to impress upon me how you are doing your business and it’s your chance to shine.” And it struck me in the wrong way because it was all about him and how I was going to present to him. It wasn’t about collaborative effort about running the business or moving it forward. It was about serving the king, if you will. And the guy wasn’t there that long, but he moved on to another organization. He’s been successful. It’s just different ways to operate.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. They like kings, I guess.

 

Matt Lemke:

Yes. That’s right. He’s a very strong personality and he’s got great ideas. And I learned things from him. What I did tell people is I probably learned more about how not to than how to, but how not to is really important also.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. Well, I tend to learn through just modeling and seeing others and so if it’s good behavior or bad behavior, right? And that’s cool. Well, that’s great. I do appreciate the kind of cultural and the relational side of what you’re talking through. And maybe if we can hit a little bit on the performance side, because I get that it’s very important, the culture and the personality and the collaboration.


Kip Rapp:

And then when we look at the balance of having competent people that are accountable and responsible. So could you walk us through a little bit of part of your philosophy there, of how you make sure that’s consistent and healthy?


Matt Lemke:

Yeah. I think I’ve always operated… All of your really, really, really hard work when you have a team comes on the front side. If you train them really, really well, especially from day one, you have a new employee.

And if you do that really well, there’s four steps of training. Preparation, observation, practice, and certification, and if you do each of those really well, then your job becomes much easier.


Matt Lemke:

So now they have the what. You hopefully hired them for the how, that they naturally have that, how, “How I’m going to deal with a customer or how I’m going to execute my marketing plan,” or something like that. But if you do that what’s up upfront really well, then you can come back to, “Hey, remember when we sat down and we said we were going to enter orders every day and how we did that or what we did in that process?”


Matt Lemke:

And they’d go, “Yeah, I know you trained me on that, or somebody trained me on that.” “Okay. So now let’s get back to that.” So it becomes easier to coach if you’ve done those really good training on the front side from day one. And most times I’ve felt like performance either comes from either we didn’t do a good job of training, which is probably most of the problem, or they’ve refused to do it later.


Matt Lemke:

The people that refuse to do it later, that’s easy. You get rid of those people. They’re choosing not to. The people that you haven’t done the training right, well, that’s kind of easy too. Well, let’s go back and train, and hopefully they accept that training again and move forward. So those people that aren’t performing right, it becomes a reminder more than a corrective action, a stick or something like that.


Matt Lemke:

If you do things right on the front side and… I have four kids, and you train them to do the chores around the house. And recently I have garden beds and I hate weeding. I have a boy that isn’t real keen on going to get a job, but I’ll pay somebody to weed those beds. And I said to Luke, I said, “Go out and weed those beds. Get all the weeds out of there.” And he came back in half an hour done. And it takes hours to weed.


Matt Lemke:

And I went out there and I said, “I see a lot of weeds,” and he goes, “Well, I wasn’t sure what was a weed and what was grass.” It wasn’t his fault. It’s my fault because I didn’t go through, “This is a weed. This is where I want you to weed. This is how you do it. This is when you should do it. Here’s the timeframe. Here’s the expectation all the way through,” and then watch him do it and then say, “Luke, you’re good. You got it down. Now I expect, this is the job that you want.”


Matt Lemke:

I didn’t do those things. It wasn’t his fault that he was failing at my expectation. It was my fault. And most times when we have a performance failure, it’s one or two things. And most of the time we didn’t do a good job at training. It’s usually us. The other part of, I refuse to, or I don’t have the aptitude for it or something like that, those aren’t usual. If they choose not to, like I said, those are easy to correct.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. No, that reminds me of, I guess, as you join a team, right? I haven’t played sports, I can only guess, right?


Matt Lemke:

Yeah.


Kip Rapp:

Here’s my guess. You join a team and they got to train you really well upfront to be a part of the team. There’s some rigor there, right? There’s some that are a little more directional, right? Like the process and that and then once they embrace that, I mean, maybe there’s some trust at the beginning of, “Why am I doing this?” And, “Let me do it.” And, “Oh, I’m getting results-”


Matt Lemke:

Right.


Kip Rapp:

“and I’m happy,” right? So I kind of akin that to what you’re saying. And I guess another piece to that though is I can see another reason is maybe they’re competent, they have the how, you show them the why. And then I think there’s an underlying passion too. So how do you know that they’re passionate? Right? Because if you’re not passionate about it, maybe they lose their passion and maybe they weren’t passionate. Maybe it’s easy to see that in a interview, right? But any thoughts on that?


Matt Lemke:

Yeah. Those are a little bit more difficult because you hear about burnout in an organization. So as a leader, you really need to make sure that you’ve identified what those passions are or what makes a person tick so that you can make sure that you accentuate that. I was going to say take advantage of that, but that’s not really the way. We just want to make sure we accentuate.


Matt Lemke:

I have a guy out here that he’s been with PRIER for 14 years. He certainly knows way more about the business than I do but he is… So his tick is let him go. Keep him between the ditches, but let him go. He can go operate his own region on his own. And it’s more of checking in and keeping guiding him.


Matt Lemke:

Now there’s another person out here that’s newer but they have a real flare with people and customers. Now we have a whole different thing there. We’ve got to teach a little bit different and over time make sure that they get their passions come out.


Kip Rapp:

So, are you saying the training is different or the actual playbook there is different based on a person.


Matt Lemke:

I think the playbook, I would say, NFL camps just. And I’m a big NFL fan. I’m a Viking fan. You can see it in the back. NFL camps just went into place and a lot of rookies came in, they don’t know the playbook or anything, but each of them were drafted because they had a certain flare. They had a certain skill that the team and the company needed, but they certainly need to train them in what their footwork is, some of the basics, blocking, tackling just the simple little things that we do as a team to be successful.


Matt Lemke:

But then bring your flare because that’s why we brought you here. We want you to bring your own personality to it. We don’t want robots out there. So you have to do that training right up front and then let them be who they are. They can’t be who I want them to be. They have to have their own personality to it.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. It goes to something else that I remember about some other book. I don’t like to read, I like to listen and watch.


Matt Lemke:

Yeah. You’re right.


Kip Rapp:

I don’t know exactly what YouTube session that was or audio book, but fitting the role to the person’s strengths, right?


Matt Lemke:

Right.


Kip Rapp:

On admission, right? The flare that you just mentioned, right?


Matt Lemke:

Yeah, absolutely. There’s Justin Jefferson, a great right wide receiver for the Vikings cannot play offensive tackle. He just doesn’t have that skill, body frame and all that. There’s somebody else. But then Christian Darrisaw who was just drafted by the Vikings, there’s zero chance he’s going to play wide receiver, but they’re both really valuable to the team.


Matt Lemke:

They do different things, bring different skills, even two wide receivers, bring different things to the team. One has speed, one has the route running, whatever those are. And that’s part of my job. I have to identify what those are in each of our people, what is that special thing they bring to the team, and then make sure that they are able to go do that.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah, no, that’s great. And then as we talked about the culture, mission, hiring, training, and the basic blocking and tackling and the what, and then they can flourish on the how with their differentiation. So how do you then look at accountability and performance to know that it’s all actually making a result?

 

Matt Lemke:

Yeah. I think the biggest thing with accountability is to make sure that we have clear expectations on the front side, because a moving goalpost as we know from COVID doesn’t work really well. One day it’s this and the next day it’s that. Now, COVID was a little bit different because we were unsure of what everything was. But here in the business world, we have clear expectations, goals, and sets for each job role.


Matt Lemke:

So if you have clear expectations on the front side, much easier to do the coaching and the corrective performance on the backside. We ask you to do 80 activities in a month. It’s a number. Now you did 60. Oh, that’s pretty good. Or 75, that’s good enough. Now, did you get revenue from that? Now, if you had a ton of revenue and you did 30 activities, I’m okay with that.


Matt Lemke:

If you did no revenue and you did 100 activities, now, how are we doing this? What are we doing that is or is not getting the revenue? If we’re doing 30 activities and getting tons of revenue, I want to know that. Let’s replicate that because I’d rather do… I told this when I used to run a Payless store, we can go home every day early, every day, if you sell everything in the store. Everything in the store, it’s all up for sale.


Matt Lemke:

As soon as you sell everything, you can go home early. So same out here on the sales side. If you do lot less activities, but your revenue is way up, great. I want to know how that is and see what the best practice is so that we can give that to everybody and teach that to other people too. So I think it’s about clear expectations on the front side.


Kip Rapp:

That’s great. Yeah. So it sounds like clear expectations. There’s some goal. It’s not a whipping post, I guess, in that sense.


Matt Lemke:

Right.

 

Kip Rapp:

But it’s a way to know if you’re doing well or not doing well and it provides, it sounds like in your coaching sessions, in that case where you’re listening, right? And you’re looking for, “Hey, maybe we can double down on this or let’s unpeel the onion. Maybe there are things we can tweak.” Now, how do you… Because I believe in personal self-awareness on those things where someone to own something that they need to have the ability to create in that.


Kip Rapp:

So could you walk us through that? If someone’s not performing or if they have a new idea or they think through it, and you’re like, “If you’re telling me what to do, then it’s less about me being accountable with the results,” right? I mean, there’s a balance there, right?


Matt Lemke:

Absolutely.


Kip Rapp:

So do you have any thoughts on that?


Matt Lemke:

Completely agree. So Fridays are my touch bases with everyone that reports to me on my team. And that is their time to tell me what they need from me, obstacles that need to be removed or things like that. When they come to me, that’s part of my job is to remove those obstacles. It’s my time to listen. Now, when we have, I don’t know, an issue with a customer or something that one of the salespeople brings to me, or maybe customer service, usually, not always, I try to do this 90% of the time.


Matt Lemke:

I try to ask them, “So what do you think we should do?” And they usually have the right answer. They’re closer to the situation, they have a lot more information than I do. And most of my people have more experience than I do as well. So they’ll say, “Well, I think we could do A, B or C.” And we would walk through those and say, “Well, if we did A, what would happen there? If we did B what would that be?” And it’s a collaborative effort.

 

Matt Lemke:

At the end of the day, it becomes our decision. And sometimes they do come and say, “Just tell me what to do. I don’t want to go through the exercise. This is painful. Just tell me.” And I’ve had that before. I said, “That’s fine. I can tell you what to do, but then I’m not teaching anything.”


Matt Lemke:

So the next time if I ask, “What do you think we should do?” And they come up with good answers, most of them are, a vast majority of them are, then they’ve learned something and next time they either, “Hey, I’m just checking in. I have that same situation. Here’s what I’m going to do.” “Great. Sounds good.”


Matt Lemke:

And it becomes empowerment and that’s a big deal for a manager or a supervisor of people because you can’t do all their jobs and make all decisions. You need to have them teaching or learning how to make those decisions on their own within the framework of what you’ve put together here. It can go rogue, so I do… And that’s the other thing is, I want them to come check with me. It’s like that, I’m football fan, college football. They do that check with me.


Matt Lemke:

They all get up to the line and then you see them all turn to the sideline to the coach and the coach sometimes says, “Yeah, just run it. Okay, good. Well, just do that then.” And other times he goes, “No, we need to course correct. Here’s what we’re going to do.” So it becomes a, “Just check with me.” Because usually if we’ve done the right things on the front side things go a lot easier on the backside.


Kip Rapp:

Well, that’s awesome and I would say certainly very impressive, Matt.


Matt Lemke:

Thank you.

 

Kip Rapp:

And I know we’re running out a little bit of time here, but yeah. I mean, I really applied what you’re doing there and it’s rare, I think, because what I started working many years ago, no one teaches you these things, right? And they’re like, “Is work this bad?”

 

Matt Lemke:

You’re absolutely right that maybe years ago, and sometimes now, there aren’t always great leaders, but we can teach upward too. To me, I guess it comes from some of our values that we hold that are teachable upwards as well as across and downward. So I think if I was in that situation like this guy that I had before, some are teachable, some are not. And sometimes if you waited out, they weed themselves out.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. I just really appreciate your time because it’s [crosstalk 00:45:48]. I always think about it of, well, how can we make it easier? Right? Because some people like to read and there’s all different kinds of companies and you get out of school and they don’t really teach in high school and college these things [crosstalk 00:46:04]. I mean, I haven’t been there in a while, but I would say probably not, right?


Matt Lemke:

Right.


Kip Rapp:

And then you’re expected… It’s kind of interesting in a way because to be successful and happy at life and happy at home your work environment is hugely important because you’re there most of your life. And there is a playbook for these things, right?


Matt Lemke:

Yes.


Kip Rapp:

And it’s not a perfect playbook, but there are common grounds, which I completely agree with you as a… I don’t even think it’s as a generational company, it’s as if you want to feel appreciated at work, be happy at work, be passionate at work, then everything that you’re saying also, I think applies, right?


Matt Lemke:

I think so. And I really applaud, Kip, your group putting these together because you’re absolutely right. I’m not a reader. I drive quite a bit. I drive an hour and 20 minutes, one way to work every day. So I’m listening to podcasts and things like that.

 

Matt Lemke:

So I think these are perfect for a lot of people that just fall asleep when they open a book. So I think this is a great thing. So I applaud you for putting this together and thank you for having me on board. And I hope whoever listens to it, I hope I was able to give some nugget of something you can use.


Kip Rapp:

Well, it’s really, really valuable, I must say. So I appreciate your stories from how you started, your philosophy, the mission, how that’s affected in the hiring and the collaboration, leadership, the accountability, the training. So if people needed to reach out to your company, Matt, how could they do that?


Matt Lemke:

Well, they can go to prier.com and you can use the Contact Us, there’s a form there and all that. I’m on LinkedIn, so it’s Matt, two T’s, L-E-M-K-E and @prier, P-R-I-E-R. So if you want to send me an email, do that at mlemke@prier.com. So open to anything. If anybody has a question or if they want to give me some wisdom, I got two ears, one mouth.


Kip Rapp:

Well, thanks again, Matt. I appreciate your time and looking forward to chat with you again.


Matt Lemke:

Yup. Thanks a lot, Kip. I really appreciate it.


Graham:

All right, folks that wrap us up for today’s show. So you can find our podcast on Apple podcast, Spotify, and SoundCloud by searching for the Concora Corner. And if you’d like to, we’d love a rating and a short review if you listen on Apple. Any feedback is appreciated on any of our shows that are coming out, or just the show in general, or if you just want to say hello.


Graham:

You can find out more about Concora and our services at www.concora.com. We’re on Facebook at facebook.com/concorallc. We are on Twitter @concora and you can find us on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/concora. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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