As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Moran, CEO of OutMatch.
Greg Moran has more than 20 years of human capital management, sales, and leadership experience. He is also the author of Building the Talent Edge: A Field Managers Guide to Recruiting the Best (Spring 2005) and Hire, Fire and The Walking Dead (June 2006, W Business Books). Previously, Greg served as Founder and VP of Sales for PeopleAnswers America, a leading provider of behavioral assessment software to mid-market and large companies in North America. Before PeopleAnswers America, he founded and served as President of Pinnacle Technology Solutions, an executive search, staffing, and human capital management services firm. He has also served as Vice President of Best Resume/Career Management Services. During his tenure, he co-authored Job Hunting: The Ten Best Steps to Success, a job search workshop and audio/video tape series. He is a thought leader in the field of human capital management, having been quoted in national publications such as Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and Inc. Magazine. On the personal front, he is an avid athlete, having successfully completed multiple Ironman triathlons and marathons. He resides in Evergreen, Colorado.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My first job after school was in music marketing, working with artists at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. I met many artists as they came through town to accompany them in press interviews and often ended up showing them around the city after sets. I realized pretty young that I didn’t want to stay in the music industry, though I did get to meet and become friends with some pretty famous musicians!
Starting businesses was what I truly wanted to do. Both of my parents were entrepreneurs and their advice and stories cultivated my entrepreneurial mindset. They were constantly encouraging me to build a life for myself, instead of just finding one. I went on to start a couple businesses before founding OutMatch.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My first business was in executive search. When we started, we didn’t have meeting spaces or even an office for us to work in. So when candidates came to meet us in upstate New York, we’d have them stay at the Albany Marriott and would conduct all of our business in the lobby, trying not to raise any eyebrows. Eventually, the hotel manager discovered our secret and kicked us out.
While this is a funny story to share over dinner, it holds a great message about building a business. We didn’t have an impressive meeting space that many of our competitors had, so we had to get creative and we made it work for a while. We often see luxuries as need-to-haves, but in reality, they can sometimes be distractions from the people and the quality of work.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My parents certainly gave me the entrepreneurial bug. Growing up and getting a traditional job was never something we talked about. Ask any entrepreneur, and they will tell you the fear of starting your own business is the biggest obstacle you face. Fortunately for me, that was never something I had to overcome, thanks to my parents.
I think I’m more fearful of working for someone else. My parents taught me failure is part of the process, so rejecting that fear of failure has been one of the most empowering things in my professional life.
The other is my wife. When we first got married, I had no income. She was a schoolteacher. As you can imagine, we couldn’t afford much. In fact, we’d intentionally have parties so people would bring beer cans that we’d return just to get the money to buy bread and peanut butter. She was even gracious enough to use her savings to buy a PC so I could get my business started.
Without their support and continuous belief in me, I wouldn’t be doing what I love every day.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
No bad hires, ever. If I’ve learned one thing after nearly 20 years in talent acquisition and HR technology, it’s that the way most companies hire makes no sense and hurts both candidates and business performance. To build a competitive, high-performing company, it’s critical that you match the right person with the right job. OutMatch builds bridges between those gaps and enables sensible hiring practices for candidates and recruiters alike.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
It is difficult to share a single experience about dealing with uncertainty. However, I’ll say that for the past several months, my focus has been ensuring that our team at OutMatch is safe, healthy, and secure — both mentally and physically. How did we do this? By being transparent and acting quickly. For example, we cancelled travel and sent everyone home from the office during the first week of March. We didn’t yet know the extent of the virus, but we did know that potentially putting teammates in harm’s way was not the right thing to do. We also prioritize communication, not only about the state of the business, but also with each other on a personal level. Our team is always our number one priority.
At the end of the day, I love what I do. The only way you’re going to get through impossible situations is if you’re fighting for something. I love our mission, “Matching people with purpose,” the inherent energy of building a company, and the people at OutMatch. It’s a much more internal drive that fuels me when times are tough, like right now.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
My motivation has changed over the years. My main driver has always been my own entrepreneurial genetic code- the pursuit of personal freedom to do what I want to do. As can be expected, when my kids were younger, I was financially motivated. I wanted to provide for my family and my kids’ education. But, now that they are older, that has shifted a bit.
Frankly, I think I’m absolutely unemployable at this point in my life. I don’t know how I would work if I had to do the same thing every day. Now, I get to be involved in all facets of the business and be creative, something I do not take for granted.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Empathy. I don’t think I would have answered this question that way a year ago. The demands of leadership now are like nothing I’ve seen in my 20 years of business.
These are never-before-seen challenges we are facing, and people are truly scared. Mentally, emotionally and financially, this year has taken a toll on people across the globe. Even though we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to keep most of our OutMatchers, the reality is that parents get sick, spouses get laid off, and young children can’t go to school.
As if that weren’t enough, there is a necessary and powerful racial reckoning in this country that has rocked us to our core. I don’t remember a time before now that has affected everyone in such a profound way. That’s why it’s critical that we show up every day for our teams and be the leader they need. We have to fully understand not only the business’s obstacles, but our people’s obstacles, and help navigate solutions.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Business leaders always say employees are our number one asset, and that’s truer than ever. Today, the primary concern has to be the health and wellbeing of your team- mental and physical.
Leaders have to remember to be explicit when we tell people to put family and wellbeing first. It’s okay to miss a deadline because someone on the team was homeschooling their kids and needed to take an hour (or honestly, probably more) to walk through math homework.
Businesses are shaking up their priorities and identifying their core values. When we look to the future, organizations will be better for it- and leaders as well.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
People rely on stability and clarity at work, which is why transparent, fast communication is so important. At OutMatch, instead of gathering everyone in our biggest common area (which isn’t an option now anyhow) for a formal quarterly update, we started “Keg of Greg,” which you can probably guess is less formal. Each week I get on camera for a quick company check-in. People are free to ask questions, voice concerns, and even suggest special topics. By making this a recurring meeting, people can stay connected and get regular face time with me, each other, and leadership.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
In my experience, I consistently bet on two things when planning for the future. The first is building an adaptable structure. Situational awareness can only get you but so far when you’re a CEO in a pandemic. That’s why we really flex adaptability and resilience as we build plans. In a crisis, structure, normalcy, and routine are the first things to go. Leaders must re-establish structure by adapting strategies and processes to the current and changing needs of the business. Structure doesn’t mean being rigid or inflexible- it means anticipating problems and addressing them quickly.
Second, if you have the right people on your team, curveballs don’t throw you off as much. Great people drive winning companies and create winning cultures. Setting yourself and your company up for success starts with the people around you. We invest time and effort in our employees to create a resilient culture that can withstand any situation.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Take care of your people and live your mission each day. Navigating a crisis isn’t a pleasant experience, but leaders who respond with composure, optimism, and hardiness will gain the trust and support of their people. No matter what adversity the company and employees face, leaders must think quickly and decisively, remain energetic, and persevere through challenges.
As an entrepreneur, I’m passionate about building winning teams, companies, and cultures everywhere I work. I’ve learned over the years that service starts from within. This has been a hard couple of months- and will no doubt last a while longer. The fact that we have been able to stay intact as a company and continue performing our mission each day is a testament to our team of OutMatchers and the winning culture we’ve built together.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The most common mistake I’ve seen is showing your own fear and consternation when leading. Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall into that habit — because fear is universal. When the pandemic started, we were afraid. No one knew whether their businesses or people would survive. However, people look to leadership for that source of confidence. It’s up to leaders to stand up and take action to protect that future state. When a leader is afraid, it magnifies itself at all levels of an organization. That’s why the ability to project certainty and confidence, even if you don’t feel it, is key.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Especially in a crisis, be transparent. If we, as a company, have done something right in this crisis, it is being truly transparent. The first thing we did was shut down early; we sent our people home the first week of March. Then, our executive team sat down and identified key metrics that we would look at to judge the health of the organization.
The executive team built a dashboard and met every day to review it for changes. We shared and explained it on a weekly call to every single person in the company. We showed that info to the entire company because we didn’t want anyone to be surprised. It’s become a fundamental part of our culture that I wish we’d done years ago.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
A lot is weighing on American business leaders right now. On top of keeping the business alive while also supporting disrupted teams, we’re adding new and necessary responsibilities of safeguarding employee health and morale.
Put people first. Above all, support is what people need most from their leaders during a crisis. Leaders must provide clear direction, positive connections, and decisive judgment — not only to keep productivity up, but to help people see the light at the end of the tunnel and find meaning in the work they’re doing.
Communicate. In a crisis, the need for clear, concise, and timely communication is more important than ever. There are new policies to communicate, along with state-of-the-business announcements, town halls, and team check-ins. Leaders must be ready to engage the right people at the right time and inspire action.
Innovate. Outside of crisis, innovation can take shape through ideas or experiments that help the business stay sharp or get ahead. But in crisis, innovation becomes about survival. Leaders must be able to embrace challenges and change calmly while thinking outside the box to drive the business forward.
Use your network. In times of uncertainty, leaders must still be able to make decisions with confidence. They may not have all the answers, but they can proactively gather input from diverse sources so that they understand how all groups are impacted. This is how they build influence, get buy-in, and drive change.
Be confident. We tend to think of confidence as assuredness in the future. While that has some truth to it, confidence, to me, means promising guidance, accountability and genuine effort in your company and its people, no matter what. None of us know what the light at the end of the tunnel looks like, but that doesn’t mean we should sit in a stasis. Leaders need confidence in their decision-making to cultivate buy-in from their employees, especially in times of crisis.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
What would you do if you were not afraid? I don’t remember where I first heard it, it has become the key question I try to live my life by and lead the business by.
How can our readers further follow your work?
The best way to keep up with what’s happening with me and at OutMatch is by checking out our blog or attending our webinars. You can follow me on LinkedIn or read my books, Building the Talent Edge and Hire, Fire and the Walking Dead. Keep an eye out for OutMatch in the news! We were just named one of America’s fastest-growing private companies on Inc. 5000 and are regularly featured in HR news.