The Invisible Organization: Going Virtual

Russo, Mitch

This week we have the opportunity to talk with Mitch Russo, his book is called The Invisible Organization. Mitch co-founded Timeslips Corporation which would later become the largest time tracking software company in the world before it was sold to Sage in 1998. Mitch then went on to join his long-term friend Chet Holmes, as President, later to join forces with Tony Robbins, together they created Business Breakthroughs International with nearly 300 people and about 25 million in sales.

In 2013 Mitch began writing The Invisible Organization: A CEO’s Guide to Transitioning A Traditional Brick and Mortar Company Into a Fully Virtual Organization. Don’t we all need that kind of information?

Mitch started his public life as a lead guitarist of a rock band called Absolutely Free.  Mitch has been quite productive using the proceeds from a real estate portfolio in Massachusetts that he built through the 80’s and he generated the working capital for his next venture, and that was Timeslip. We’ll hear a little bit about that.

He is an avid travel and landscape photographer. He has won prizes from the Sierra Club on his work. He has also, in his past, been nominated in Ink Magazine as an entrepreneur of the year on two separate occasions, ’89 and ’91, and won the best entrepreneur in 1989 from a list of 4,000 other entries by the National Association of Legal Vendors.

Welcome Mitch, we are glad that you are here with us.

Mitch Russo: Thank you so much, I’m delighted to be here. It’s such a great show, I’m really privileged to be on with you guys.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Thank you. We always ask this first question and then Cathy and I will jump in and out asking some of the questions that we have for you. Who have been some of your major influences in your life around leadership which allowed you to achieve some of the things that you have?

Mitch Russo: This is such a great question.

The first person that comes to mind is a person who I guess I was following around the country for a little while, wherever he would speak I would show up and be in the audience, and that is Tom Peters. Tom, for me, was the prototype of thinking back when I started Timeslips Corporation because I think he broke down some of the problems I was having to very clear and precise solutions that I needed at the time. So Tom was wonderful at helping me understand the dynamics and side of my growing quickly/rapidly company. He gave me the tools I need to really ascend through the multiple millions of dollars as we kept growing, and growing, and growing. It allowed me to stay in control and really have a terrific culture inside of our company.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know Mitch, as you talk about culture and you talk about the work that you have been doing, how did you come up with the book called Invisible Organization, and why did you write it?

Mitch Russo: Well, that is an important question. The book was written after I left BBI, after I left Business Breakthroughs, after Chet Holmes which was my dearest friend, lifelong friend and mentor, passed away. At that point I felt like I had five intense years with Chet and Tony and I didn’t really know what my next project was going to be. I got some advice from a friend, Jay Abraham. Jay said to me, you’ve got to write down what it is that you know about this because if you don’t it’s going to be lost and it’s too valuable not to share it with the world.

So, Jay was my inspiration, and I got busy making notes about what I did and how we did it. It was really a year of writing that went by until I realized what the theme of this was about. It was really about this transition that CEO’s need to make if they are going to stay vital and they are going to be future-based companies. They need to transition to operating virtually.

Being a virtual company is more than just having a bunch of software. It’s really about the mindset of the CEO. You guys are in the exact right space for this because you talk about emotional intelligence and so much of what I do with my own clients and what I do in the book is help those CEO’s get their mindset right, before changing a single thing inside the company.

Having had the experience of running BBI with 300 people all operating remotely, me running the company from a spare bedroom in my house generating 25 million in revenue; those were the ideas that I was able to encapsulate in the book. I actually blueprint the entire process of starting from scratch, building your plan, and then taking it forward.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Wow, so I can wait to get into this more, first hear about some of your experiences of being a CEO yourself and then about what you have in the book. We also want to hear a little bit about what it was like working with Tony.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Mitch tell us a little bit about your key message in this book and also tell us a little bit about, perhaps, your experiences that led up to writing it.

Mitch Russo: Sure. The key message that I think I’m trying to say in the book is that it’s vital that we move into an environment where we serve not just customers which has been the rant of so many business owners for years, but to serve the people who work for us.  Being invisible, being a virtual company, is probably a much more enjoyable place to work if I can work from home part, most, or all of the time.

The rewards to the company are substantial. They are beyond what most CEO’s could imagine once they dig into what it really means when a company decides to go virtual. To do it right, I say they go invisible. The distinction there is between the difference between doing it the hard way and causing a lot of friction, or doing it the right way—have everything go smoothly, have customers feel that the people who they work with and deal with on a daily basis, your staff if you are the CEO—be happier doing what they do. Be more interested in serving you, the client. So these are the things that the book is designed to address. It’s not a software manual, it’s not a techy book, it’s not about what systems to buy, although I do cover that part. It’s more about the mindset of the CEO preparing the company, working with your teams, making sure that you understand how to get buy-in at every level, and then moving forward cautiously and slowly, one division at a time, sending people home, measuring, making sure that productivity is soaring, and then proceeding to the next.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Wow, that was a mouthful. We want to definitely jump in there. Cathy, I have a question and it sounds like you have one too. For our listeners, for the CEO it’s around engagement. You said there are many benefits for working at home. Maybe you can kind of share that for someone who will think, well, wait a minute, I don’t know what to do, and what are some of the benefits first and then we can talk about the other stuff.

Mitch Russo: Sure. From the CEO’s perspective, the benefits are there are no expenses related to real estate; no expenses related to infrastructure that they used to have. When we introduced this idea to Tony Robbins and he thought about it and decided to do it, he reported saving about $1 million in year one after it was done, in real estate management expenses alone.

But the thing about it is that it’s not so much the CEO saving money, it’s about changing the culture of the company. It is about increasing the communications between the CEO and staff. It’s about best practices and making sure that everybody in the company is bought in to the CEO’s vision. With that comes the systems to make sure that the training is in place, that people are connected, that conversations happen, and most important, that profits soar.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Tell us a little bit about these experiences that you write about in the book and how is it that you can instruct someone at that level who is trying to make so many virtual systems work to achieve their goals. Just give us some ideas and some examples, perhaps, from the book.

Mitch Russo: Well the basic philosophy of trying to make the decision to go virtual is to understand that everything must be interconnected. It’s sort of like life. We are all interconnected, right? So we have to stay interconnected and we have to share data and do it in a way so that there is no duplication. So if you go into the average company, you’ll find that there are silos of data in different companies. There’s a customer management system where there is a silo of data, there’s probably an accounting system where there is another silo of data.

One of the first things that we do on a pragmatic basis is we go about identifying these silos and trying to map out how they can be combined and shared among all the systems that we are about to put in place. That, from a standpoint of how we do it, is the blueprint part of the book.

When I work with clients today, what I basically do is I first find out why the CEO thinks they want to go through this process and make sure that they want to do it for the right reasons. There’s also another whole part of the book that talks about not just the CEOs mindset but helping the team come up to speed and understanding what leadership is about in a virtual company verses a traditional brick and mortar company.

My experience has been in both. I built a software company. It grew and was all brick and mortar, and then later I transitioned into operating and running a virtual company which was much bigger than my brick and mortar company. What I noticed was the difference in me; the difference in my desires and abilities to communicate and to make clear what the mission of the company was.

When I worked in a building and I walked around, I felt like I was in control. Well I was wrong. I was less in control walking around than I was when I was finally able to master both the technology and the mindset of being able to manage people from my office in my house.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So hearing more about this, because we want to get into the specifics, is what are some of the mistakes that a CEO may make in trying to go virtual? Then we can hear about what you’ve done and make it work.

Mitch Russo: Sure. Well, one of the key mistakes that people do is to ready-fire-aim, on a process like this. So they decide that, hey, what the heck, we didn’t want to pay the rent on that extra sales floor anyway, why don’t we just send everybody home and have them just work from their houses.

Well, if you are not prepared and if you don’t prepare your staff, if you don’t have the systems in place to both train and monitor them along with the management in place to make sure that your virtual staff is productive and happy, then that is going to fail. When it fails you will immediately be turned off to the entire process, and probably would never do it again.

Those are the types of pitfalls I think you would find. People have tried something and it didn’t work, and now they are done. They are convinced that it would never work.

What we do instead, is we work with leaders, we work with CEOs and management teams and we get them to understand how, first of all, we start at the very basic part of what is a leader. We start with understanding the vision of a company. What is the why behind the CEO, the company? Why is this company in place? Who is a creator of this vision and that vision must permeate the entire corporation and it must be done all of the time.

That’s not like what most CEOs do as we find. Would you agree with that?

Dr. Relly Nadler: I could hear in your talk Mitch, in the brick and mortar verses virtual, you have to do more work and maybe because it’s virtual you are not only doing more work but you are working on the right things.

How does a CEO communicate the vision? What are some of the methods about that? Is it weekly conference call, or using technology where they get a voicemail every day? How does that work?

Mitch Russo: Again, I’ll go back to my experience. When I ran my software company, my staff probably saw me every day but rarely heard from me. Particularly once we got north of 100 people, and then when I managed Sage as the COO, I had over 300 people indirectly reporting to me, I knew hardly any of their names. So, what the difference is now is that when you are virtual, it’s part of your agenda every day to communicate. If that’s nothing more than an email to the troops, then you send that email. If it’s a voicemail, then you send that voicemail. You schedule internal teleconferences for your teams. You get people on the phones, you make random calls one-on-one and you talk to people and find out how they are. The idea here is simply to stay in constant communication with your staff, with your teams, and with the people who make a difference for you and your company.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I think that is so important. I think people forget that they are dealing with individuals, and as Relly would say, who are a reflection of the leader’s qualities and emotional thermostat. What do you think about that, Mitch?

Mitch Russo: Well, you are absolutely right. One of the things that I have on my website is a test that leaders can take that define the 10 Key Leadership Traits of an Invisible CEO. I even provide a download so that they can distribute that for talking points and management meetings to their top leaders.

If everybody did this whether they were virtual or not, people would be happier, companies would run more smoothly, and overall I think customers would be better served. The difference is that in a virtual environment, when you shift that focus to staff, you are changing the world. Why? Because now we are not wasting energy anymore making people drive somewhere for an hour every morning to get to work. We are not wasting resources on buildings we don’t need and powering them. We are not wasting time commuting. That time incidentally is happily given back to the employer who is now saving a fortune on all of these other things. They are actually getting a more productive employee at the same time.

So these are all of the things that make being a virtual company truly valuable to everybody involved.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Mitch, give us your website so if people want to take that assessment.

Mitch Russo: On the website there is a resource center that is available partially for free, and then if you buy the book and you put in your Amazon receipt number, you get access to the entire resource center which is, by the way, how I update the technology sections of the book. As you can imagine the moment the book is written it’s almost obsolete. So I use the website to constantly be improving and adding products as they come out.

Listen to the complete interview with Mitch about becoming a virtual company, above, without commercials.


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