What I Wish I Knew When I Started My MSP: Building a Company Culture

Building a Culture

Like most MSP owners, it didn't take long for me to realize that my people were the most critical part of my operation. As MSPs, we are really in the business of selling time and tools to our customers. Tools are a known commodity. The ability to sell time is only made possible by the people you hire—and people are the difficult part.

There is no easy solution to solve people-challenges, but the MSPs who become leaders in this space have a significant advantage over those who lag behind. Those MSPs are the ones that have uncovered the secret to creating a company culture that attracts and retains the right people.

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In my journey taking Greystone Technology from a single technician business to 100 staff members, I followed much of the traditional culture advice I've received. The results were underwhelming, and I was miserable.

Several years ago, we rechanneled our culture focus in unconventional ways that have been the key to our growth, our reputation, and our workplace achievements. We are proudly the most desired IT workplace in Colorado. Even more than that, we have a team that I can trust to do the work I need them to do.

I look forward to sharing the stories of our journey and the processes that we've developed in my session, "Boss or Babysitter?" at IT Nation Connect this year. Here are a few short examples of critical lessons we have learned that have unlocked our success:

1. Good Intentions Are Not Enough

When I began hiring at Greystone in my early twenties, I was very conscious about how I treated people, and I truly cared for my team. I quickly learned that good intentions only take us so far—seven employees, to be exact. Once we reached the point where I could no longer easily see everything that was happening in my business, I had to make a switch. Caring about my people was a good start, but my actions mattered more. Specifically, I mean the actions and processes I used to connect with people in my organization.

Implementing consistent processes and structure for our employee check-ins, performance management, team feedback has brought a clearer consistency of communication that outperforms my own good intentions.

2. Employees Are Selfish… and That's Okay

Show me an owner who is trying their hardest to inspire their employees to put the company ahead of their individual needs, and I will show you a ticking time bomb. There is a general lack of understanding about how people operate. People are inherently self-protective, self-focused, and driven by their own needs and desires. This spells doom for companies who are looking for an easy approach to culture. The key to success for organizations is to figure out how to align company interests and employee interests.

All employees want to get better at what they do. They also want to make more money. They want to grow and evolve. All of these things are true of our companies as well. Creating realistic alignment doesn't mean we cater to every employee’s needs and desires. It means we recognize the parts of humanity that will never change, and we use them to the advantage of the team and the company.

3. Employees Really Can Be Trustworthy

When we change our perspective of people, we gain new insights into building teams we trust. This is badly needed in our industry. I was at the hotel bar (remember hotel bars?) at IT Nation a few years back, sharing stories and challenges with other MSP owners. Many were complaining about the people aspect of the business.

"I'd love my job if I didn't have employees."

Story after story came out about employees doing things that seemed unconscionable from the owner’s perspective. As the wave of complaints grew, it became clear that most people in the room were convinced employees are not to be trusted, and we just needed to accept it. When we stop trusting people, often they become less trustworthy. The more we micro-manage, the less they think on their own and the more micromanagement they need. This vicious circle is a miserable place to be. We call it the “Babysitter’s Club.”

Most of us have joined the Babysitter’s Club at one some point, but we can start to escape this hell when we truly understand that trust is built in a cyclical fashion that has to start with the company.

At Greystone, we don’t trust employees implicitly the moment we meet them, but we start the journey of trust from the moment they walk in the door. We map the journey of how we build trust together, we acknowledge each of our self-focused reality, and we define how a trusting relationship together will bring both parties what they want and need.

Overall, taking critical steps forward in culture development requires an understanding of what culture is and what culture is NOT. Foosball tables, beer in the fridge, after-work social events, and unlimited vacation do not create culture. Don't get me wrong, Greystone has each of these things; however, we recognize they are perks and benefits. Culture is the sum of the human interactions in our company.

We need to be as intentional about how we facilitate interactions as we are in planning perks and benefits. Greystone has formulated our unique communication practices into a simple structure that I look forward to sharing with you in November. See you all (virtually) soon.

Boss or Babysitter?

Peter Melby dives deeper into developing a sustainable company culture at IT Nation Connect.