Drive Leadership and Culture

Drive Leadership and Culture

with Brittany Drozd

How to drive leadership and culture

It’s not just big businesses that struggle with creating a company culture where people want to work and having leaders who can drive the behaviors they want to see.

Small businesses struggle, too. No matter how small your business, it’s not too small to have a culture.

My guest, Brittany Drozd, helps small businesses master leadership and company culture. She empowers agency owners and marketers to become confident leaders, build better teams and catalyze culture change.

Learn how to drive leadership and culture in your business in this episode of Profitable Joyful Consulting.

Key areas discussed in this episode

  • 0:00 Introduction
  • 2:00 How Brittany helped a leader create a beautiful culture aligned with the organization’s values
  • 6:07 The highs and lows of ongoing culture and leadership work
  • 7:01 What causes culture problems
  • 7:40 Moving away from the fear and control style of leadership
  • 8:52 What actually drives employee engagement and performance
  • 9:32 Empathetic leadership
  • 12:15 Getting to the next level by doing things differently
  • 12:44 Unique culture issues and problems of $5-20M organizations
  • 15:22 Creating space between stimulus and reaction for more thoughtful and strategic responses
  • 16:25 What creates HR nightmares for small businesses
  • 19:08 Navigating the growth point where the business is about to either explode or implode
  • 21:37 How Brittany uses her psychotherapy background in client work
  • 23:20 Brittany’s signature systems that include tools from coaching, psychology, and organizational behavior 
  • 27:01 How Brittany works with key team members to shift culture
  • 28:24 What she’s keeping an eye on over the next year in culture and leadership



Podcast Transcript

Hey, it’s Samantha Hartley of the Profitable Joyful Consulting Podcast. This season we’ve been talking about the drivers of consulting businesses. Today I wanted to talk about other factors that can impact small businesses. Now we may feel like we’re a little too small to have a culture, but really every business has a culture and leadership is relevant to all of us.

My guest, Brittany Drozd is going to talk about her work with small businesses. You may find that it’s work that is relevant and similar to your work. You may also hear insights, as I did, about what we can do in our own businesses to create cultures where people want to work.

Brittany Drozd empowers agency owners and marketers to become confident leaders, build better teams and catalyze culture change. She hosts a weekly podcast, Eye Openers, to share stories of overcoming challenges and running a small business and capitalizing on your best opportunities. Businesses hire Britney to improve performance, develop leaders, and improve company culture. Britney is a licensed psychologist and has business training from Harvard. Away from the office, she is a mom of two little girls and loves to kite surf.

I will be very interested to hear your takeaways from today’s interview so take a listen.

Samantha Hartley: Brittany, welcome.

Brittany Drozd: Thank you for having me, Sam.

Samantha Hartley: It’s wonderful to have you on. I love to start every show with hearing about transformation. So a client that you’ve worked with in the beginning why they came to you and then what you did with them in the middle and then what was the glorious result of that?

Brittany Drozd: Well, I’m so excited to share with you. I have a thing for working with marketing companies and they really are creative, so they use that part of their brain. But then leadership sometimes isn’t a strong suit because they’re really technical experts at what they do. Some founders, agency owners find themselves in this place. That is what happened when this client in particular came to me and he was really struggling, just feeling overwhelmed, and had lots of opportunities because they were growing.

But couldn’t bring people on, develop them, grow them in a way that was really representative of the company he truly wanted to build. He was a true visionary, which is what I get when I work with these agency founders. They really have a strong vision and that’s an important first step. But if you don’t know how to get people bought into that vision, then you will really be struggling with, even grappling with having it, and in the disparity between where you’re at and where you want to be. That can really be frustrating for people.

That’s where I found this guy and we came in and just really uncovered the importance of that alignment for him. From how he wanted to show up and his business, who he wanted to be, and what those strong values were that he held and how they needed to not just live on a piece of paper somewhere. Even if it was coolly designed like they have in their agency, but to really be living it.

What we did was figured out, Well, what would that look like? A miracle question, right? Three years from now we have this awesome engagement, everything goes as we discussed, what does it look like when you live those things?

And he was able to really tell me about that. From there, we built out a process that would help him become a much more confident leader, how to help him take risks, but in a way that we’re stratified, that he could manage that level of uncertainty.

As you become more of a leader and step away from individual contributor roles, you are tasked with doing things that don’t have such a clear path or you’re not really certain about, and that can be really scary.

There’s ways to go about it that don’t have to be scary. We really leaned in and he was able to create this beautiful culture that was reinforced by the rest of his team.

There were these little awards he gave people that were representative of the organization. Peers were congratulating each other, which is what you always want to see. They had really cool artifacts that became part of the culture and were really meaningful to people.

Then they made it through COVID extraordinarily because of the way people wanted to show up for each other because of the relationships they had built, and the greater community and culture that was representative of the organization.

I still work with them because they felt what we did was so valuable and they understand that it’s not a one-and-done. Leadership and culture building is never a one-and-done; it’s a journey.

Now we’re at a phase where we don’t meet as often, but we’re always checking the temperature of leadership in the culture and looking for opportunities to make it even better. I’m just really lucky to have been a part of that.

Samantha Hartley: It’s amazing. I really love taking something that is a fluffy concept: culture and leadership and values. It’s like, what does that really mean once it’s externalized?

So I hear you really like turning that into something that we can look at and I love the awards. I think we don’t do nearly enough celebration of all of the things that we want to mark and have happened in our businesses.

When you talk about the kind of ongoing culture work and ongoing leadership, what are the highs and lows of that?

Brittany Drozd: The lows are often when I get the phone call or the email that comes through that says, I need help. That feeling is often overwhelm, frustration, feeling like maybe members of the organization aren’t as engaged as you’d like them to be and therefore not as productive.

Sometimes that even looks like lower revenue than you’ve had in the past, and it can be a symptom of employees not being at their strongest. That happens for a lot of reasons. But people often look at the symptom and decide that correlation is causation when that’s not the case. All humans are so dynamic and complex that we really have to go in and figure out, Okay, what is this related to what’s causing it, and create strategy from there.

Samantha Hartley: What’s an example of something that can cause a problem in a culture that shows up? The symptoms of it show up one way, but actually the cause of it is something very different.

Brittany Drozd: Oftentimes it’s a bad leader. Somebody who is hyper focused on an objective goal or maybe some metric that they believe is really central to the health of the organization, and they do it all at any cost.

They are not concerned about the humans in the room. Sometimes in sales that might look like you have to hit your number or else. That fear mongering, or leadership by fear, or command and control style of leadership is outdated. You’re going to lose talent and that’s expensive for an organization.

Samantha Hartley: Absolutely. It’s funny you say command and control. It makes me laugh because I’ve just heard other people say that and I feel like I’m so far away from that. I hear my clients use those terms and that does not work.

Are we still doing that patriarchal thing, Brittany?

Brittany Drozd: We are. We are in it. I heard this example the other day of somebody talking about their female boss, and why are they experiencing something like that from her?

It’s like, well, she’s in that system too. She might identify as a woman, but she’s still a victim to the system and she’s trying to survive in it. So we have to look at this from a much bigger scale and we have to look at it from the top. Asking, how do we make changes there?

As a leader in your own organization you are someone of influence. Influence happens at all levels. You can choose to do this differently. You can choose to elevate people who treat others kindly. You can choose a different style of leadership because guess what? They’re actually more effective.

When people see you driving effective change in the organization through a way that actually promotes empathy, kindness, and compassion it actually drives employee engagement and performance. This is the business case for it. You might get promoted too and actually get more visibility. That’s how we can drive this change.

Samantha Hartley: This is what I love, all of the studies show and the evidence shows that way is the wrong way to get anything done. So many of my clients are working in trying to bring in more, I would call them feminine essences, which is like support, collaboration, sharing, coaching, those kinds of things too, as ways to get things done and empathetic leadership.

Why do you think that it doesn’t get as much traction as this banging people on the head kind of style of leadership?

Brittany Drozd: I think that for certain groups that works. I’m obsessed with organizational culture, so I’m reading a ton.

I’m looking at all that research and understanding what sticks. For most people, that’s not their thing, you know? So it’s understandable that not everybody knows that actually doesn’t work anymore. You’d have to go seek that information out. That’s what’s broken about it, that you’d have to go do your own work to figure that out.

The way that I look at it is it’s actually not our natural state. It’s not a natural state to be mean to each other. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t create successful communities of people where we have self-preservation. I always bring it back to what are my basic human drives, and where am I at my base state and what makes the most sense there?

Behavior change is so hard and so we want to actually shrink the change. We want to ask people to make the smallest amount of change possible in order for it to be sustainable.

When people are coming from this challenging leadership place with a micromanager of command and control, asking, What’s that one smallest change? If we can ask them to track differently or Hey, even doing that sandwich feedback—let’s give positive reinforcement first before we give criticism. Shifting it little bits at a time can really make that change.

Really examining that they don’t want to be treated that way and really stopping them in their tracks with that like, Well, what’s your base state? Is this how you talk to people at home? It’s often not the case, right? I think we show up differently. So highlighting that dis-integration of these two selves, that’s not a natural state.

Samantha Hartley: Right. It seems like stress behavior. Then they’ve gotten into a stress situation and then a stressed behavior has become a habit. I know that’s what has happened for me and a lot of people that I know. The years of struggle as you’re building your business, you’re in a lot of stress behaviors and then you stay in those habits.

Even when your business is flourishing, it’s hard to let the foot off the gas and be like, Oh, now I’m going to try different behaviors but I’m in a different place. I feel like they just get trapped in the stress behavior.

Brittany Drozd: Completely, people do what works for them. Oftentimes what got you to this level won’t get you to the next level. Maybe grinding out and doing those 12 hour days and really being on people to make sure things got done when the organization was small, and they didn’t have a lot in the bank, that got them to this next level. It’s hard for them to release those old behaviors that won’t serve them anymore. Yeah, you’re completely right about that.

Samantha Hartley: The coping mechanisms that no longer apply to this situation. I’m wondering about the different sizes of clientele you tend to work with?

Brittany Drozd: I find that I am most effective with organizations that are in that $5 to $20 million range. They have 5 to 50 employees. That may seem like a big range, but really they’re small enough that they can still make change fast. They can make quick decisions, which ultimately leads to a successful engagement. But they’re big enough that there’s enough people in the organization that we can help implement that change. They’re not a one or two person shop.

Samantha Hartley: Amazing. So this is one of my favorite niches for consultants to work in because the other little secret about them is they’re small enough that they don’t have the corporate bureaucracies.

You can sell $100K engagements to this kind of client all day long because problems are expensive. A lot of them are accustomed to investing and they’ll get you paid, and get you paid faster and will invest in people. So what do you notice is unique to the cultures and this size of company?

Brittany Drozd: So they’re at an interesting inflection point because usually the founder is still there at this level. That brings with it its own set of positive and challenging things. It’s somebody there who is super involved, who holds the institutional knowledge of the entire history of the organization, and they have a really strong vision that is usually still working towards. That’s what comes through as pretty strong leadership, which can be a good thing, but it can also be out of balance.

One thing a second leader or a CEO could bring that a founder doesn’t is a bit more balanced, or a bit more long term thinking. That might take the cortisol level down a bit for people, and the pressure. There’s sometimes a lot of urgency in the startup or a founder-led organization because that’s how they’ve had to operate to get to this point.

Those are some of the main differences, I’d say length of goals in what they’re looking at trying to achieve and the way things are communicated is different in those two regards.

Samantha Hartley: Speaking of culture, I’ve also heard that this size company can very often be HR Nightmare Central because for some reason people who either create these companies or gravitate towards these companies they just seem to have their own rules about the way things are happening.

Do you encounter that? If so, what’s a graceful way to handle those kinds of things now?

Brittany Drozd: Here’s the thing, we’re talking a lot about these challenges and negative ways that things show up. I believe that most people are doing the best that they can do with the resources and the knowledge that they have.

Like you said, these habits get established early and they’re hard to break. It might just be a stress response. They’re reactive. What I’m trying to do is create that thinking space between stimulus and reaction to give them tools and ideas for more thoughtful response, or a more strategic response that aligns with their values, or the goal they’re trying to achieve, or the culture they’re trying to create with their team members.

That’s where that opportunity exists in each one of these individual conversations. So I’m trying to slow it down enough to change that. But I just veered off course a little bit of your question.

Samantha Hartley: I appreciate you saying that let’s assume people are trying.
I was talking about the HR Nightmares that can be like, Oh my goodness!

Brittany Drozd: It often happens when it’s the covert policies and behaviors that run the organization. There’s the overt culture which is like, here’s your handbook. This is who we are, this is our mission statement, this is what we do.

Then you get and I’m sure a lot of people have had this experience of, Oh my gosh, this is not what I signed up for. This is so different. You’ll even hear people at the company say, Oh, well, this is how it’s always done. This is how we do it over here, and it doesn’t match.

When you have discrepancies between covert and overt cultures or behavior patterns, you have an HR Nightmare. You have some problems.

I don’t think there’s necessarily malintention there. I think that it’s just something that hasn’t been addressed head on for long enough that it got shaped piecemeal. Now we have this kind of bad apple thing over here when it wasn’t intentionally built to be negligent.

Samantha Hartley: Yeah, I do assume people are doing the best they can. I sometimes hear things that I feel like, Oh, I don’t think they have the perspective. It’s a little bit of the corporate thing like when you’re in corporate you’ll get fired for that or someone will sue you, especially coming from a strict corporate culture.

I know a lot of the founders that you’re working with are not going to necessarily have come up through a corporate culture, and it’s just such a different environment. I’ve also worked with family owned businesses, which I love and you also see like, Oh, that’s not actually how things are done. I don’t think a lot of them have HR manuals so that’s usually a good entry point for a lot of us.

Brittany Drozd: I see a lot of people say, Oh, the person who answers the phones, they’re admin or that’s HR, or if you have an issue, you go tell HR. I’m like, Np, that’s not how it works.

Luckily there’s a lot of fractional CHROs out there now so if you’re in need of one of those, please reach out. You need to have HR because ultimately it really benefits you.

Samantha Hartley: It’s going to make a big difference. It could cost a lot of money. When you talk about institutional knowledge, I know my clients who are fractional CFOs, but one of the things that they’ll encounter is there’s one person who’s doing the books and the company grows and grows and grows, and she’s still doing some certain things by hand, like writing some checks and stuff like that. The business has really hit this growth point, which is, speaking of stress, like about to explode or implode. So how do you help your clients navigate that kind of point?

Brittany Drozd: Right. Those businesses have these natural inflection points over time at different points in their growth. It really can start to feel like that pressure is mounting. For the CEO or the founder, it is so stressful. I mean, they feel like they’re being pulled in every direction. I often hear, I don’t know why I started this business. I want to leave. I want to run away.

I completely understand that it’s a lot on their shoulders, but you have to come back to why do we exist? What do we do? Who do we serve?

Coming back to why we exist can help you figure out, Okay, what if we could do one thing, what is the one thing that we should focus on right now? It’s the cumulative effect of all these things coming at you. If you can break it down and start to look at, Well we need this new accounting system over here, but we also need this. But right now, we have more orders than we can fulfill. Does that mean, we need to address that first and then we need to have an updated bookkeeping system by the end of the year?
You can start to really figure out what are your hottest fires and what needs to be addressed. Strategically, you can’t do that if you don’t give yourself any room to think.

Creating more space between stimulus and response is ultimately the most helpful thing you can do because then you can introduce more strategic thinking, you can prioritize, and consult other people.

Samantha Hartley: Yeah, I talk about that a lot on the show because I’m a believer in thinking, but then specifically in having intentional time to think. I think that a success metric for a lot of people is to be booked solid. I’m like, No, actually the success metric is to work a third of the time with clients and then a third of the time developing your IP. Then a third of the time you can just be thinking thoughts, thinking about how to get better results for your clients and things like that.

I applaud the idea of giving founders time to just hold on and think, what do we want to do here?

You have a psychotherapy background, I wonder does that always come up in your work with your clients or is it more in the background the longer that you work?

Brittany Drozd: Yeah, that’s a really great question. I feel like I can’t not see things through that lens. Ever since I was in high school, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I think it’s my gift, I can just see the deeper layers of people. I can see how what they’re showing is maybe like a defense mechanism or a response to something else.

Now since being trained, I have tools to help open up that conversation or approach that in a way that doesn’t feel confrontational but can really add value to the organization so while it is a tool in my tool belt. It is also the glasses that I see the world through that I don’t know if I can take off because that training is so integrated.

I’ve been so intellectually curious about what makes people tick since I was a little girl and mastering that knowledge or getting more and more information about understanding the human condition and motivations has served me so much, and it’s fascinated me. I feel so lucky that I get to combine my passion with my zone of genius to really create that joy in the work that I do.

Samantha Hartley: Amazing, I’m glad you get to too. It feels like kind of an amorphous field. So do you have signature systems that you use when you’re working with clients?

Brittany Drozd: Really great question. I have been doing this work for over ten years and I have a process that I definitely use and it is my own, but it is a mix of tools from the coaching world, tools from psychology, and organizational behavior because I love working with organizations.

I always start with clarity of vision because if you don’t know where you’re going, then any path will get you there, right? It’s not possible to achieve the goal that you do have if you’re not ready to say it out loud or be held accountable for it. But somewhere in there, you know the direction you’d like to go in. Really bringing that into the world, speaking it out loud, figuring out what it looks like, feels like, who’s there.

Really getting into a super, super detailed articulation of that vision is the absolute first step of the process, even if it’s as simple as building out a new revenue stream for your organization. It doesn’t have to be some fantasy dream life that you get down the road. It can be much closer to home and in the short term, but that’s definitely the first step. Then I do a lot of behavioral work. So helping people first reflect on and look at their own behavior. I always hold the mirror up first.

When leadership is going wrong or when the organization feels very stressful for people, there’s a lot of blame game and finger-pointing that happens. If that’s happening in an organization, leadership is reinforcing it and supporting it somewhere. It probably has to do with your incentive systems, metrics you’re tracking, or your performance management.

That is something I absolutely love to get in the weeds with because every organization thinks they’re unique, and No, no, no, we have to do it this way or whatever. Or it’s old and it doesn’t serve them anymore, they started this system when they had two employees and now they have 25 and it’s breaking down. So it’s time for a new evaluation system.

I love to incorporate people’s strengths, understanding what they’re great at, what is their hidden skill set that maybe wasn’t part of their job description, but that they can really bring to the organization. Most people don’t ask, and most people, and 95% of organizations don’t keep an inventory of this kind of stuff.

So what’s really fascinating and something new I’ve been doing is helping organizations build out this inventory of skills that maybe aren’t so apparent from that person’s current role, but you can really benefit from down the road, or on a specific project or whatever. It’s starting to just see people beyond their current role and what they can bring for the organization because ultimately that serves them too. People who want to live in that zone of mastery and that’s the way you can do that.

Samantha Hartley: I love that idea. It reminds me of how an actor will have on their actor’s bio other skills they have like playing the saxophone. Then years from now they’ll be in a movie playing saxophone. It’s like, is that a coincidence? No.

More practically when I bring people onto my team, I always ask them, I’m hiring for a specific role, but what is a gift of yours that I would be crazy not to have you do it for us as well? Then it tells me opportunities that maybe that’s a thing that we aren’t even doing or I’m like, Wow, interesting, now I have a backup for somebody who’s doing that, or he might want to take over that role. So I think it’s always good to know those kinds of things.

Brittany Drozd: There’s one last component to my work it feels like I need to mention so that people understand the model completely, and that’s how the culture works. I use different tools to assess where your culture is today and where the team would like it to be.

That’s anonymous so we get really awesome information there. I even interview key team members to add context to their experience working in the organization. What things are they doing well, and what things can we improve?

A lot of people I work with say this was worth it if this was all we did because you can’t get that information any other way, you have to have a third party person kind of come in and get it.

I know what to ask. I know where to dig in a little bit or look for those nonverbal cues to ask for the deeper answer there. That information I present thematically and really helps drive and steer the direction of the strategic work we do. Whether it’s developing more leaders, or shifting the key influencers and how we engage those people more, or building out value alignment in the culture.

All these things we have to look at where we are trying to get to, and what behaviors are great and we can just amplify those. Which ones do we need to change? Then how do we make that work as a whole culture and community?

Samantha Hartley: Terrific. What are the things that you’re keeping an eye on over the next year as far as in the areas of culture and leadership?

Brittany Drozd: Definitely the return to the office is something I’m looking at. There is fresh research coming out all the time now as different organizations are doing this differently. I have some companies in the field work like engineering and they have to be on the ground no matter what this whole time. I’m looking at what and how did that work for them? How is it now that they’ve been in that environment for the past two years? What kind of TLC does their organization need or do those guys need as individuals?

I’m also looking at it in professional services or knowledge workers, how is it different? What has their experience been and what does return to work look like when you can technically do your job remote? It looks like we need to be a bit more thoughtful on when and why we ask people to come together.

There is still lots of value in being together in the same place, but we need to be thoughtful about how we do it. Now people know they don’t have to do that dreadful community everyday. So it’s figuring out that value alignment piece of what would be worth it to you to come in? What kind of work would we need to create some of those serendipitous collisions is what we say in organizational behavior. How do we create these meaningful collisions that actually boost that creativity and innovation that our organization has been missing but not burn people out of the process?

Samantha Hartley: Totally. I’m also keeping an eye on that. I just met this month with clients in person. It’s different from a Zoom and it just has a different impact. But I don’t think we can just be doing that for the sake of doing it day in and day out and again having the commute, I think it’s way too stressful.

I love watching that and what’s happening with it and I love that you’re helping these organizations lead and do culture in a better way. If somebody has heard this and is like, I think one of my clients needs her, or we need her, where can they find you?

Brittany Drozd: I am all over the Internet. You can find me at and from there you can email me. I am on LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram for fun, so you can find me in all those places.

Samantha Hartley: Perfect. We will put all the links to all those places in the show notes. Britney, it was just super, super fun geeking out with you on this. It is one of my favorite topics, just talking about people and change and how to make things better for people inside of companies. So thank you so much for being with me.

Brittany Drozd: Of course. Thanks so much.

Samantha Hartley: I’ll be excited to hear your takeaways from today’s interview. Brittany and I are wishing you a Profitable and Joyful Consulting Business.

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