Episode 36

Published on:

19th Sep 2022

How a Red Bandana can Increase Employee Engagement with Scott Hanton

Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturer's Network Podcast. I'm excited to introduce our guest today. Scott Hanton. Scott is a Ph.D. chemist with over 30 years of experience in the lab who has recently changed careers to media. He is now the group editorial director at lab manager, responsible for the editorial team for four science-based brands. So Scott, welcome to the show.

Scott Hanton: Thank you, Lisa. I'm happy to be here.

Lisa Ryan: Scott, please share a little about your background and what led you to do what you're doing.

Scott Hanton: It's an interesting story. I was a good student. I liked math and science. So I got a Ph.D. in science, and I thought my path was clear until one day, my boss came to me and said he wanted me to be a supervisor. And then he wanted me to be a group manager - and that's not what science is. But he saw things that I didn't see in myself. So it's been a great journey being a lab manager for a long time. And then, more recently, taking this knowledge into the media, working for some magazines where my goal is to share my experience as a longtime scientist and lab manager with people who are in those careers or who wish to be in those careers.

My goal is to help them prevent the scrapes, bumps, and scars I have from learning it on the job, and maybe I can facilitate a little learning and make their journey a little more pleasant.

Lisa Ryan: One of the things that you just said about your manager seeing more in you than you saw in yourself. That's a mark of what makes up a good manager because they are not always the easiest people we report to, but for some reason, they see bigger things than we see in ourselves.

See, what happens is that people get it. I was one of them. I was so focused on the tactical work that needed to be done that I didn't realize I had broader strengths and skills that could benefit the organization. So I needed someone to point it out. And that lesson wasn't lost on me. I've done it as a manager as well.

Lisa Ryan: You and I connected at an event I was speaking at, and I was intrigued by a couple of things you're doing. Number one, the focus on the workplace culture that you have. But also the fact that you have a remote team right now. It has been a real struggle for some people in these last two and a half years. How do you connect with people when you're not sitting in the room, drinking coffee with them? With culture, what are some of the things that you've seen, that you've done, that you've incorporated, that have helped you in your career?

Scott Hanton: When it was time for me to leave the lab environment and start something new, one of the things I specifically looked for was a company with a positive organizational culture. One of the things that I liked about the LabX media group is right on their webpage. When talking to potential recruits, they state that we have a positive culture. I was looking for that as part of my next career, I'd had enough grind in the laboratories, and I needed to do something surrounded by people enjoying themselves. I can see it in this culture. Some of the things that I like about this culture is they know how to celebrate.

We stop and cheer each other on. We thank each other for the work that we've done, and it doesn't always happen at year-end. It occurs along the way when the projects get done. Another thing that I like about the culture is that it's candid. We can speak our minds. We say what's important, and that's everybody in the room. It could be the newest employee in the most junior position. The room will stop and listen, no matter how many gray-haired people like me are around the table. We value everyone's opinion, and we can candidly discuss what we want to accomplish or what's going wrong without anybody feeling like that was a dumb idea. I don't have the authority to speak, or my experience isn't noteworthy. Those things make for a fun place to work. And besides the fact that the people are awesome, it's just an absolute joy to work with them.

Lisa Ryan: I think it's about creating that safe environment. I was listing to an audiobook by Gary Vaynerchuk, and he was talking about radical candor and being okay with being respectful, but that open, honest what's going on, no matter what position they are in the organization. So everybody feels safe sharing their opinions.

Scott Hanton: Yeah. Our leaders are responsible for providing emotional and psychological safety for everyone in the organization. You can't.

Lisa Ryan: How do you think that happened? Was it always like that, or did it take somebody to come in and start the process? Because in the beginning, it seems that employees would test you as far as how much they can get away with before they realize that this is real, and we really can.

Scott Hanton: The company started small with people who trusted each other. They needed every idea they could get their hands on in an entrepreneurial spirit. And so they were successful by trusting people, taking their ideas, and pushing them out into products and the marketplace. And that then became part of the culture. I think our owner, Bob Kado is just a wise man; he attracts talent and listens to them. That's a hallmark to me of a successful business.

Lisa Ryan: Being open to people who may not know the industry but see the world differently. They have different access to technology. They have additional knowledge levels. Even though they don't know your industry doesn't mean that they can't come up with some really good ideas if they just listened.

Scott Hanton: For example, we hired a new person maybe a month ago. The project that we hired her for was a little late to start. She had a little time on her hands at the beginning, and now she's come up with a software application that none of us had ever heard of. But it will now be a critical new product for all the four brands I'm responsible for.

And it was just a blank sheet of paper; on it was a new idea. But she had skills, knowledge, and understanding none of us had. So even though she was in her first month, this idea was recognized. It's been celebrated, and we are pushing it forward right now.

Lisa Ryan: Wow. So what are some of the things that you do to celebrate?

Scott Hanton: One of the things that I do specifically remember is that every meeting I host is a remote team. We're all squares on a screen. The very first agenda item for every meeting is celebrations. Every team member is encouraged to participate. No one's forced to share, but we encourage people to share and want to get well beyond the work celebrations.

We want the family, the children, the grandparents. We want all the celebrations. And that starts a lot of nice discussion at the beginning of our meetings and allows us to get to know the people better and what's important to them. So I budget 10% of every meeting I run as this informal sharing time starts with celebrations.

Lisa Ryan: Wow. And that's so important because let's talk about that from the remote team standpoint. You're starting with celebrations. What are some of the other ways? Because not only are you running a remote team but you were hired remotely. So it's not like you ever worked together in person. All of a sudden, poof, overnight, you started that way.

So take us back to the beginning regarding initial contact, building the relationships, and how that has blossomed into what you've made it today.

Scott Hanton: I was hired during the pandemic, and we were still figuring out how to do remote onboarding. It was a struggle, but one of the things that benefited me was I was given a mentor or an onboarding coach, somebody I could go to any time with any kind of dumb question.

And I did. I asked lots of dumb questions. And that process benefited me so much that now we use it for all our new hires. They get an onboarding coach. Who's not their supervisor, right? People are reluctant to ask their supervisor what they think might be dumb questions or to ask the same question five times.

But the whole role of this onboarding mentor is to do that. And to make them feel comfortable and show them access to information, but also model for them. What behaviors are a success? And so we choose the people we want, their behaviors modeled, and copy them.

Lisa Ryan: So, are they peers? Are they colleagues? What level in the organization do your onboarding coaches come from?

Scott Hanton: They can come from anywhere. Most of the time, it's peers, simply because we have most of those employees. But if the right onboarding mentor is above them, hierarchically in the organization, or below them in the organization, that doesn't matter. It's about how they can help the new employee.

Lisa Ryan: In many of the programs I do, onboarding is a vital part of the retention process because you have that vulnerable time between when the offer is made and when the person starts.

And if they don't feel connected with you, whether it be phone calls, a welcome email, a welcome package, or a swag bag in the mail sent to them, you want to make that first day magical. In your case, it sounds like they have the onboarding coach. But whoever that connection is, just make it as memorable as possible.

It sounds like you've done some great things with onboarding. Anything else besides that coach that has also helped in that process?

Scott Hanton: We actively plan a new employee's first day, the first week, and the first month. The hiring manager is responsible for long checklists of activities that need to be accomplished but that all of us on the team contribute to. We won't make that just what you said. We want to make that experience memorable and magical to make them feel included quickly. Belonging is a really powerful force for most of us as humans. We want most people want to belong, and we want people to feel like it's easy to belong with us.

We sand down the rough edges, fill in the potholes, and make that path to complete belonging as easy as possible. We also craft 30, 60, and 90-day objectives so they know immediately what's expected of them, and they'll get feedback right away to help correct issues or to help them find the people or the information they need.

Most people want to feel like they're contributing. They're getting paid and want to be attached to the organization's purpose and mission. And they don't want just to be reading all the time. So we want to get them to the point where they're actively contributing to the organization as quickly as possible.

Lisa Ryan: Taking that extra step, being remote, and letting them know the goals, so they're not flailing, like where swim with the sharks and see if you sink or swim.

Scott Hanton: As a remote organization, it's hard for someone unsure to wander down the hall and ask questions. The hallway is virtual. They may not know who they need to wander into. And so a lot of what we're doing in the first month is introducing them to a wide range of people, not just the name and the face and the role, but what are they doing? How can they help? What sort of knowledge do they have and then set up meetings?

So they get comfortable talking to these people and feel like they can set up a little zoom call, a 10-minute one, and get a question answered, just like they might wander down a hallway in a brick and concrete environment. Is that something that you set the one-on-one meetings with different people, the various introductions for those 10-minute meetings? How do those happen?

Scott Hanton: As soon as their email is active in our system. Before day one, we schedule meetings for them. The hiring manager will prepare a wide range of meetings with people. It shows up on their calendar right away when they show up and shows them the people that they need to know.

We'll review that list of people with them, so they have context, and they're not just going into a meeting blind.

Lisa Ryan: Wow. It makes so much sense to do that. Let's go back to day one. What does day one look like for that person?

Scott Hanton: So there's a formal company onboarding run by our HR department, and they're going to go through the whole company and the procedures, the employee handbook. One thing I like about this company is it has an employee handbook that makes sense. It's not legalese. We document. They go through that in detail. We'll go through it. Where is information stored? How do the different systems work? And it's not a 15-minute. She usually schedules two hours.

There is lots of time for questions and interaction to ensure that the person has a good foundation. The next step is to talk to the hiring manager directly; they should have had multiple conversations. That person who led the interview probably communicated the offer, right?

There's been a lot of interaction between the new person and the hiring manager before day one. But now it's to reinforce. We are so excited to have you here. Here are the reasons we are so excited, and let's start talking about how you can help. First, we'll go through our objectives. Then, we'll begin with the roadmap.

We'll give the background information about the people we're going to meet, but we also want to leave time for questions. And in every meeting along this onboarding journey, we'll probe the new employee for what questions they have because none of us are mind readers, and I might think the onboarding process was designed very well.

We make it tailored to the individual. And the only way to do that is to make it safe enough for them to speak their mind. And that starts on day one. Then the group manager will interact with the person to discuss the broader role, the bigger organization, and the purpose. And in many times day, one's done.

But now we're going to get into meeting the teammates and figuring out how they fit into this team so they can learn from them. They can bring their skills and talents, and we can do something new and exciting.

Lisa Ryan: Let's back it up a little bit, even more. How do you determine the right people even to hire? How do you figure out who will be successful in this remote environment?

Scott Hanton: I saw this line from Southwest airlines years ago, and it was a higher attitude and trained skill. We are looking for people with the right attitude who will join and contribute to our group and company culture and not detract from that culture. We have certainly looked at resumes that are fantastic, right? You would expect all the big gold stars from a resume, but after a phone screen, it's like, No, it doesn't mesh with where we want to go. Isn't showing any kindness, compassion, or empathy, and those are things you've got to have to be successful in this virtual environment? As far as the skills, we can train them.

We have people who can train them. Suppose we find somebody with the passion and perseverance we're interested in. If they don't have a particular skill, we'll teach them, and we're not going to let you know some perceived gap in a resume stop us from hiring the proper human being.

Lisa Ryan: Wow. And this is all the remote, but before you started, before you had this remote career, you also saw a culture from the in-person. One of my favorite things that we've talked about is, of course, the red bandana. So tell us some of what you did with your culture and what I'm talking about.

Scott Hanton: What Lisa is referring to is a long career in analytical research labs and contract labs, and the lab life can be a grind. People are executing these tactical bench experiments, and their hard life in a research lab is complex and challenging. We have to support each other. One of the ways that I wanted to support the lab staff was to be directly available to them in times of crisis. Every new employee received a red bandana on day one from me, and the concept was here is your red flag. I'm the general manager of the organization. And I'm a very busy human being.

And I attend meetings all the time, and I'm on calls all the time. I can't walk down the hallway without somebody stopping me. But if there's a problem and you think I can be part of the solution, seek me out and throw that red banner at me. If I'm in the middle of a meeting, maybe I'm in on a call with a customer, and if that red flag comes flying, you are now my top priority. If it comes washing with tears, blood, or some other indicator of urgency, then I'm going to excuse myself from that meeting. And I'm going to give my full attention to that employee. It worked. I would get about one red bandana monthly with something truly important to the individual.

And sometimes, they were things that I could readily fix a decision that I needed to make. Other times they were complex, big picture, strategic issues that took time and energy to address. But if they don't throw the red bandana at me, I don't know. It's a crisis for them. And it may be a lower priority for me.

One of my best days in the lab was walking past a conference room and hearing two employees talking, one saying you should throw that red bandana and the other saying, " Oh, I don't know. I'm not sure it's that important. And the other one's saying, do you believe it's that important?

Yes. Then you should. And I kept walking down the hallway, but within minutes, somebody chased me back to my office and threw a red bandana at me. And that told me that this process worked, that the staff reinforced it. And they trusted that things might not be solved if they threw the red bandana, but they would be better. The person was going to be supported through whatever their crisis.

Lisa Ryan: I think the fear that people listening to that idea would have is that you would just have people throwing willy-nilly, throwing red bandanas at you all day long. But when you take the opportunity to trust your employees that these are red bandana moments, they trust you that you will act.

Scott Hanton: That's right. It was never a problem from the first day that I instituted it. I bought 30 or more red bandanas because I had to start one day with all the employees in the lab. It was never a problem. Did I get two in a day? Sure. But did I get one from one individual every day or every week? No, it was not a problem.

Lisa Ryan: You have a good point. It is valuable to leadership to trust the staff. If you correctly do your recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, and developing, they've earned our trust.

Scott Hanton: Exactly. It's creating that culture where it's safe for people.

Lisa Ryan: There are way too many times too, that, and in, in your case, it doesn't sound like you had a lot of those people, but there's always going to be employees that are going to take advantage of you. There's a tiny percentage. You try these things, and they try to jack the system. But unfortunately, many managers make their...

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About your host

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Lisa Ryan

As a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), an award-winning speaker and author of ten books, Lisa Ryan, CSP, works with her clients to develop employee and client engagement initiatives and strategies that keep their top talent and best clients from becoming someone else’s.
Lisa’s expertise includes: strengthening workplace culture, improving employee engagement, increasing customer retention, and initiating gratitude strategies (“Grategies”) for personal and professional benefit. Lisa’s participants enjoy her high energy, enthusiastic delivery and quick wit and they leave the session with ideas they are committed to acting on immediately to make positive workplace culture changes.
Lisa costars in two films with other experts including Jack Canfield of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” She is the Past-President of the National Speakers Association, Ohio Chapter and holds an MBA from Cleveland State University.

Relevant Experience

• Keynote, breakout or workshop speaker at more than 100 national and international conferences
• Thirteen years of industrial marketing and sales experience, including seven years in the welding industry – and yes, she does weld
• Host of “Elevate Your Engagement Levels: What You Need to Know” on the Elite Expert Network and the C-Suite Network
• Creator of “The Seven Mistakes Managers Make to Crush Company Culture” video series
• Best-selling author of ten books, including “Manufacturing Engagement: 98 Proven Strategies to Attract and Retain Your Industry’s Top Talent”
• Award-winning speaker