Love As a Business Strategy (w/ co-author Chris Pitre)

Zach sits down with Chris Pitre, co-author of Love as a Business Strategy and VP of Softway, to talk empathy, accountability, and equity in leadership.

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(00:59): What’s up you all? This is Zach with Living Corporate and I’m really excited about today’s podcast. We had a really great conversation with an author talking about the concept of love as a business strategy. I’m not even going to hold you all too long as I really want to get into the show. What I will say is that, what I found intriguing about the discussion and I really want leaders to tap in and pay attention is that irrespective of what you may see from a policy-making perspective, as the GLP continues to do what the GLP does. And frankly, just as government, continues to take this really scary, frighteningly, fascist turn. It’s really scary. Honestly, if you’re paying attention, there’s plenty of things to be afraid about right now. As it takes a frighteningly fascist turn, the people, not the politicians who claim to represent the people, but the people. The people are continuing to demand a higher level of respect and empathy from their leaders. So I really think we’re coming into this season, where there’s going to be this one prevailing, almost kind of governmental voice. That’s going to claim to have the right answer and there’s going to be this overwhelming, popular voice, representing the people, that’s going to have a different answer. And we’re coming to a head with these two different voices.

(02:38): So even when you think about where we are, as a nation, when it comes to discussions on race. A year ago we were in a racial reckoning, and now there’s this, seemingly this narrative that we’re talking about race too much. So there’s an extension, and then a retraction. There’s a protraction and then there’s a retraction, it’s almost like a rubber band and eventually, it’s going to break, one would think. So I don’t know what it looks like when that rubber band breaks, but I certainly can look at the signs and tell that what we’re doing right now is not sustainable. And it’s very, very scary. As you look at even just this Kyle Riddenhouse trial. And then you look at seeking justice for Ahmaud Arbery, I mean, we’re looking at the system fail us in real-time. And we’re looking at frankly, the system once again, proving that it cannot hold itself accountable. To hear these white men behaving clearly unethically, and yet, there’s nothing that seems to be, that can be done about that. There’s theater, so you’re going to have these black pastors show up at Ahmaud Arbery’s, at the trial where we’re looking for justice for his murderers. And Kyle Riddenhouse, maybe there’s some protests or some picketing, but again, these things continue forward. Aand so, I say all this to say I really enjoyed my conversation, this interview was great. Make sure you check out the book, link in the show notes, learn more about Chris, learn more about his business and the things that he’s doing. And look, we’re going to go to that, but before we talk to Chris, we’re going to tap in with Tristan. I’ll see in a minute.

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Zach (08:10): Chris, what’s going on? How you doing, man?

Chris (08:12): I’m doing great. Thank you for having me.

Zach (08:14): Well, thank you for being here. You sound wonderful. I’m excited to have somebody on the pod who also has the mic man. You sound really good. Look, let’s talk. Let’s get started, man. Let’s talk about your journey. I became familiar with you because of Pam of Franklin Covey. She shared your content, I have mad love and respect for Pam and the work that she’s doing. And I said I have to really check out this Chris dude. So talk to me about your role, your journey, how you got to Softway? And then we’ll talk about your book, but let’s just get started with just your background, how you got to Softway.

Chris (08:51): Awesome. Well, let’s just actually start with Pam. We met in college, so we went to a PWI, a private white institution, the George Washington University. And on campus during that time period, all the people of color sort of hung out, Latinos, black, Africans, we all sort of stuck together. Indians. Everybody sort of went to each other’s events and community celebrations and whatnot. After, GW, I really wanted to get primarily in the marketing world. And I thought that the best way to meet Beyoncé would be to go into advertising. And so, that was my original sort of aspiration was to work in marketing agencies or advertising agencies and get exposed to some client that would endorse Beyoncé and I would be on a commercial shoot. That was crazy dreaming, and then when I was in college, my sister got married, and had kids. And we are from Houston, and I was like, man, I really don’t want to be a long distance uncle, I don’t want to just be someone that sends gifts, and my niece and nephews don’t know who I am. So I made the decision to move back to Houston, once I graduated. And the thing about Houston is that it’s not the major ad mecca like New York City, or Chicago, or some of these other major centers of creativity. So it definitely changed my journey, so to speak. And over time I got into sort of the start-up space in Houston, started working for some sort of technology development companies. And sort of went from one to the next, and then there was a digital agency that was in Houston that I found. And they worked primarily with HP and Microsoft.

(10:40): So luckily, got hired on there, built my career in sort of social strategy back in 2009, when it was emerging and everybody was scared of it from an HR perspective, and nobody really understood it. And started working with a lot of our clients because we were eventually bought out by a staffing organization, believe it or not. A digital agency owned by a staffing organization, it’s the most bizarre story and everybody’s like, how does that work? It happened, yes, they don’t go together and they didn’t go together, which is why we got spun out. But during that time I got in a lot of staffing and HR conversations, especially as it intersected with social media and digital and as a result got introduced to the society for human resource management, SHRM which I’m sure will come up in our conversation because they are part and parcel to some of the things that we are trying to solve in this work that we are doingand over time just built this career around first digital strategy, then getting into HR, sales, business development.

(11:51): So I got exposed to just about every side of business, because I had a mentor who wanted me to get that exposure so she put me on to sales, she put me on to numbers and she educated me, took me under her wing, so to speak and now I found my way to Softway where I am vice president and I look after and support everything, from HR and hiring to sales and business development, to delivery, to customer support and operations, and even facilitated events where we are sharing our story and the ways that we came about our own self-awareness when it came to our behaviors and how that was impacting culture, how that would then led into the systems that we created and how systems then led to oppression and discrimination even and then how we had to dismantle that by starting with our mindset. So that’s a long story to just to tell you that I’ve touched us about every side of business you can imagine, as well as with my own, the agencies that I work for and the services firms I work for, as well as the customers that we consulted with. So there is nothing that surprises me but that doesn’t mean that I’m not still learning and not still finding new things and new lived experiences that people have had that are like, whoa, that’s different. But it allows me to walk into organizations and sort of be able to listen without judging.

Zach (13:13): It’s interesting, I want to get to this. Talk to me about this book, man, Love as a Business Strategy. Let me tell you straight up, let me just tell you how I feel. So I looked at the title, which, I mean, again, it’s phenomenal, it’s part of like really good marketing on the book, right? It’s like what do you mean Love as a Business Strategy? We have these institutions that have been historically on our necks, are being black and brown people, being queer people, being everybody that isn’t a straight white man for centuries, these things are complex. Even on the book cover, you got love and it’s like this arrow and it’s like cutting through everything. Talk to me about what you; why this title, what does this mean?

Chris (14:00): So we chose this title with intent. We knew that it was going to polarize. That was a decided thing, we believe if you’re going to go, be bold and go or go home. So Love as a Business Strategy for us means we put people at the center of our decision-making. In many corporations, we’ve learned, I’ve learned, I’ve observed that people are typically pitted against process and profit, it’s one or the other either/or, and we believe that when you actually make people-centric decisions, you don’t have to have that sort of combat between those two realms when it comes to business because all of it has to work together. Without people, you don’t have profit, without people you don’t have effective process, but also with people with the wrong mindsets and with the wrong attitudes and with the wrong communication, you can create processes and systems that sort of impact the vision and goals that any leader is trying to achieve.

(14:54): So looking at sort of that title, we really wanted to sort of push people to that place where they question, they ask that question that you just ask what, love as a business, like those things don’t go together or traditionally we’ve never seen those words together and then when you think about the world of DEI or diversity, equity and inclusion or belonging, or all the words that we are hearing in the now alphabet soup around culture, you start to understand that when you use love, that is more universal than any of those other terms. No matter what culture you come from, no matter what your background is, no matter what side of the fence you sit on on major issues, you probably have someone in your life that you love and you understand the concept of love, but we’re not looking at the romantic side of love or anything. We’re not trying to create HR risk but we’re just simply saying if you know what it means to be loved and if at the base most humans are looking for love, or to feel valued and cared for then that should be within the walls of any organization that is really about, and sort of considers their people their greatest asset, which you hear a lot in many employer marketing campaigns. We’re going to get our next greatest hire, you’re going to be our next smartest hire and then you get in their walls and that’s not how they treat you.

Zach (16:14): We’re going to keep it going, before that though, apply it practically. So let’s look at tech, tech is an industry going through a lot of reckoning, a lot of major tech companies, big multibillion dollar companies getting exposed for racism, HR not doing what they need to be doing, double speak in terms of what some of these professional services firms are marketing compared to how they’re actually treating their black employees, apply love as a business strategy in those contexts.

Chris (16:51): So a simple, practical example would be I usually like to start with something like bereavement leave. So in many companies, depending on where you sit in the organization, the way that you can take bereavement leave might be different than your black and brown coworkers who are typically in lower fields, more closer to entry level or hourly and when you think about love as a business strategy, loss is loss, but many policies today reflect that it has to be a mother, father, daughter, brother or your name has to be in the obituary for that to be considered sort of time off for that non-executive employee. Then you think about the difference in communities of color, chances are someone was raised by a non-mother or father so when they experience loss and they have to prove that they were close or related or whatever the case may be, they have to jump through hoops and then you compare that to an executive who this has happened to me, their best friend’s childhood pet passed away and they take off to go in support of that friend, no questions, no applications, no requests for time off, they just get to go and take it off and they don’t get that same sort of process.

(18:16): So when you think about love as a business strategy, if loss is loss and we’re all human, should I need to justify everything that I need to do and if you have someone that you don’t trust with that type of policy, or with that type of request, that’s a different conversation. You’ve hired someone who fundamentally is abusing the system and you should deal with that person as one versus creating a policy that impacts everybody unequally. So if you make that people centric decision, you can see like, hey, we can build trust inside of the policy, but if someone is abusing it, we don’t have to take that theory X approach and punish everybody, we can still be theory Y and talk to the person who might be, if they have situations where they’re taking time off every week, that’s a totally different situation. But typically when humans are trusted, they want to protect that trust and they don’t want to abuse it.

Zach (19:09): So talk to me about the process of writing this book, where did this idea come from? How was it nurtured and then like why the decision or how did you come to the decision for it to be a book?

Chris (19:20): So in 2016, right when I first started, our CEO admitted that the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. We were negative EBIDA, we had like no pipeline and we were about to close our doors. We were experiencing miracle after miracle to stay open but in that process, he had the self realization, his name is Muhammad, that his behaviors created a culture that was so to toxic that nobody wanted to fight for it and nobody wanted to sort of fix the issue, but everyone loved to complain because that was the environment that had been created. So rather than force process onto everyone, and rather than sort of get stringent with all the things that happened and typically, if you’ve been through a business that’s going through a downturn, you start seeing things cut off and processes get more stringent and people get meaner, not nicer, you start to experience a different environment and we were very intentional. He was very intentional about not letting that be the situation and instead of just looking at creating new processes, we wanted to understand the behaviors that were driving the numbers that we were seeing.

(20:36): So I don’t know if you’ve been in many executive conversations where numbers are not looking good, they start to cut. They just take a pen and they just start cutting line items and that’s the way they get back to profitability, if they’re lucky. But few, if not any, actually go to the behaviors driving the number. So if our sales are not good, if our pipeline is not good, what behaviors are impacting that? And so that’s a lot more work, that’s a lot more difficult and that’s a lot more, I would say that’s a longer term plan to get things underway and so that’s what we did. We did the hard work of dissecting and understanding our own behavior as leaders and then helping our teams understand the behaviors that they would have to adopt, to appeal to customers, to change the sort of lines that we were looking at from a numbers perspective and from there, we started to really change how we work together as a team, as leaders, as leaders with our teams, thinking about more, or I should say introspecting on our own behaviors and treatment of others and after we had this, we did this offsite and we had this really raw content.

(21:45): If you can imagine, we’re talking of about unforgiveness, we’re talking about misbehavior, we’re talking about retaliation and what that looks like. We’re talking about the stuff that most people rarely, actually, discuss when you’re talking about culture, put it all on the table, got back, and actually started changing that. And one of our biggest clients noticed the difference. And they pulled us aside and said, well, help me understand.

Zach (22:10): What changed?

Chris (22:10): I’m in meetings with you guys, I can’t tell who’s the leader and who’s not. I can’t tell who’s the executive and who’s not, everybody’s collaborating. I found out that the CEO was in there taking notes, while someone else led the meeting. This is bizarre and I can’t explain it. What did you guys do? And we were like, oh, we did this offsite thing and at least tried to dismiss it, because it was just an internal thing. And he was like, can I see it? Can I see the content that you guys used? We were like, oh client, this is not for client eyes, this was just internal. And he was like, I really would like to see what you guys created. So, of course, showed it to him and he said, I need my leaders to see this. This is exactly the issues that have not been discussed, that we need to start discussing, or else we’re going to always have this divide between leaders and non-leaders.

(23:08): Right now, there’s not a lot of trust between the two. Right now there’s not a lot of inclusion happening, right now everyone feels like it’s every man for himself, and we need to bring this to light. And so, he paid us, trusted us, we had never been trainers, we’ve never done anything like that. And put us on the road to train over a thousand leaders across the globe, around the same thing that we use for ourselves. And during that process, people said, you should write a book about this.

Zach (23:38): That is fire. I’m curious, it’s interesting because it’s like the scarcity mindset that is born from things that aren’t love. That I’m out here for myself, I have to take care of myself. I’m really intrigued by the concept. I agree. So, I’m a Christian, so fundamentally and principally I understand love being critical and important in life, and I do believe it’s important in business, in terms of treating people with respect. Treating people as image bearers of God, and treating people as you want to be treated, even if one is agnostic or an atheist, you should treat people the way that you want to be treated. I’m curious, if folks want to learn more about where to get the book, and why they need to get the book today, give me those things.

Chris (24:27): So you can visit If you are interested in learning more about the book, or if you already have the book we have resources that you can download to support some of the content that we’ve put into the book. And if you’re asking yourself why should I get this today? The conversation or the thing that I like to tell people is, there’s never the wrong time to do the right thing. And whether you are a sitting leader, whether you are an aspiring leader, your legacy will be the way that you treated people, not the achievements that you’ve made. So, think about the leaders that you’ve interacted with, those who’ve gone on to retire, those who have passed away even, chances are you don’t remember how much they actually saved on the balance sheet. Chances are, you don’t remember how many accounts they brought in, the amount of those accounts, what those accounts were, what they left them, anything like that.

(25:26): But you can remember how they treated you, the way that they greeted you or not in the hallways, the way that they addressed you, the way that you felt around them. And many leaders oftentimes, think egotistically. I’m not trying to be offensive when I say that, but they do think about ego, and legacy, and they don’t always put into their minds that, what I leave behind will not be financial and physical, it will be those feelings, those softer things.

(25:57): So for anyone who is looking to understand how they can leave that type of impact, but also with that impact you have influence. So as we talk about dismantling systems or auditing policies, having that influence and that impact through your critical skills, some people call them soft skills, we call them critical skills, you actually can be more successful in getting things done, regardless of what things are for you.

Zach (26:25): Chris man, it’s been fire. Thank you so much for being a guest. The book is called Love as a Business Strategy, sound man put some air horns right there. You hear that in post, Chris, it’s going to be fire watch. It’s going to be listening to sound horns. Chris, we count you a friend of the show. Make sure you all check out Love as a Business Strategy, link is in the show notes. Chris man, we’ll talk to you soon, man.

Chris (26:49): Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.

Zach (26:51): Peace. And we’re back. Yo, shout out to Chris. Shout out to Love as a Business Strategy. Look, human-centered leadership, empathy, and grace will never go out of style and I’m telling you, when you talk about attracting the talent of the future, if you’re not centering your strategy around people and how you develop them, how you listen to them, how you seek their feedback, how you take accountability, you’re not going to be successful. I’m really excited about this next season. It’s scary, but I have hope that with this tension and eventually again, the breaking of the rubber band that we’re going to actually see some real change. So until next time you all, make sure you all check out Living Corporate on all platforms, give us five stars on Apple podcasts, check out the merch, check out our content on LinkedIn Learning and we’ll talk to you all soon. Peace

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