Q&A with Career TEAM founder Chris Kuselias on building and enhancing a culture of success
Chris Kuselias is a self-described “venture philanthropist” whose passion includes helping individuals maximize their potential. He has built one of INC Magazine’s 500 fastest growing privately held companies, appeared on 60 Minutes in front of 18 Million viewers, authored a highly publicized career management book (The Career Guarantee) and participated in a White House conducted workforce strategy session with the President, Vice President and CEO’s from several Fortune 500 companies. His latest launch is CAREER EDGE, a revolutionary 24/7 online career management portal.
What was the reason you started Career TEAM in 1996 & most recently the Career EDGE Portal?
Millions of people in unhappy, unfulfilled careers drives me crazy…that passion fueled the launch of Career TEAM to help government and education create better systems to connect job seekers to employers. Finding and maintaining employment is radically changing as technology advances access to content…that passion fueled the creation of Career Edge. There is no more blue collar or white collar, there is only “new collar” a combination of tech and entrepreneurship. Learning is now a 24/7 endeavor. Our view is who needs a career coach or advisor when the advisor (Career EDGE) comes to you?
How would you describe yourself?
I am not a serial entrepreneur or a hoodie wearing millennial, I am a husband and father of 3 who deeply cares about advancing the human condition. The best vehicle to contribute on a mass scale was to create Career TEAM, which provides solutions to government and education for complex social challenges such as closing the opportunity divide, reducing unemployment, and eradicating poverty. Through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Youth awards and various state and federal grant funding, we blend traditional high-touch approaches (comprehensive job readiness, case management, skills analysis, job placement and retention) with hi-tech services (EDGE Learning Management Systems, virtual reality and social media).
Career TEAM has built a world class organization and attracted elite level talent, how would you describe the atmosphere?
We have a family atmosphere where we share successes but also our vulnerabilities. We advocate praise but we also keep score. From my extensive sports background (Division 1 scholarship athlete, former national broadcaster at ESPN), I learned early that the scoreboard matters. We seek team players; people who set goals, thrive on pressure, embrace competition and can overcome adversity…and who like to win. As a company, we analyze industry trends (e.g. game flow) and reward innovation and performance. This competitive, family atmosphere creates a positive culture. Companies like Amazon, Apple, Tesla are the inspiration. We want to be a company that actively looks for ways to engage customers at their convenience. We aspire to be a disruptive career company and see careering as a service. We are a career coaching company enhanced by technology; not the other way around.
It is a major accomplishment to launch a successful product or service, but to maintain a thriving organization requires creating an eco-system where all staff are inspired and adopt next level thinking. They must be happy. One must commit to join, and be part of something of value. We feel like the alternative is depressing and scary. Happiness is summed up in one word…progress. A positive culture thrives on continuous improvement and shares that energy with customers. Customers trust brands that represent their values. My advice is to spend time figuring out how your brand represents the values of your customer and build an awesome leadership team that compliments the CEO strengths.
How important is it that employees are happy vs simply competent?
Very. The tip is to not just hire people who are competent, instead, hire people you want to spend your time with. By doing so, the long hours, pressure to perform and constant reinvention of best practices is easier. My primary job is to help people see what they do not see, and push them beyond their own limits. I am a firm believer that to attract and maintain top talent, a leader must share 3 things: tell them where we are going, outline how we will get there and show them what’s in it for them. If a leader fails on any of these items, staff challenges will occur.
How do you keep staff inspired and passionate through tough times?
Tough times are inevitable. To overcome, you must identify must haves, meaning what your core group of leaders values most from the venture. Our focus is on 3 must haves: we must all be challenged, we must all provide tangible value to others through our actions and our compensation must be commensurate with our contributions. The greater the value and contribution, the more compensation one receives. We also teach staff that the ultimate resource is your emotional state, which each of us control. Many people who fall short of goals say they did not have enough resources, but in reality, it is often the case that they were not resourceful enough. Our leadership focus is to continuously reshape the company into a harmonious collaborative place to improve the outcomes of our inventive culture. We feel if we align all of our people to a common vision, we obtain a multiplicative effect in a company.
What advice do you have for building a winning culture?
First, embrace a companywide state of healthy obsession. Establish clear objectives and a common master mission: ours is to accelerate the human condition. Then, divide that master vision into components so each department or task force knows exactly how it contributes. Next, ensure each individual in the organization understands precisely how they impact the outcomes, thus making each person relevant, important and accountable. Truly knowing that one matters is incredibly powerful! Organizations where people feel irrelevant underperform and display dysfunction. Lastly, we feel the greatest predictor of both success and happiness is complimentary people…so the advice is to build a support network of leaders and share your knowledge. Be sure to include your trusted leaders in all major decisions. As CEO, I invest considerable time to understand the priority of each core leader: love, inspiration, inclusion, challenge, etc. And then pull these levers!
What mistakes should be avoided when trying to build or enhance an organization?
Take nothing for granted and recognize that the competitive landscape is continuously shifting. There is no room for complacency, ever. Even large companies like Lehman Brothers, who at over 100 years old, went bankrupt. It is advisable to study successful firms in your space. Learn from but never try to duplicate another organization without understanding the unique value proposition (UVP) of your own team or family. There are many ways to classify success; define yours and stay consistent in thought and action towards it. Lastly, “Ideas are cheap, execution is what matters.”
What are some of your favorite sayings?
You have to learn the rules of the game, and then play better than anyone else – Einstein
The only person you should try to be better than today is the person you were yesterday!
Kindness is a language the blind can see and the deaf can hear – Mark Twain
You are the chess player, not the chess piece!
None of us is as smart as all of us – Ken Blanchard
Career management and job security are under attack; the signs are everywhere flashing red. We are in crisis mode, as the labor market shifts, technology evolves and robotics replace human capital. There is an expanding gap between skills required and the skills we possess. The psychological and financial implications of job loss and worker identity can be devastating to families. The solution? Workers need to continually reinvent themselves, identify their Unique Value Proposition (UVP) and remain relevant; but often don’t know how. Career TEAM and our Career Edge LMS aspire to impact this revolution and help job seekers be proactive, learn where and how to obtain skills and attain gainful employment. Our business is a vehicle for social progress.