Meet Darren Virassammy, a co-founder of 34 Strong! Darren helped many companies to create and reshape their organizational culture and is here today to advise you how to play on your strengths and weaknesses. Learn how he approaches and helps his clients, what the strengths-based approach is, and how our strengths can become our liabilities.
What You Will Learn About Organizational Culture, How to Create it! with Darren Virassammy (Interview):
- What Darren Virassammy did before he got interested in organizational culture and how he got inspired to create the business he has today
- Who his ideal clients are and how he helps them
- What the process of building the culture of an organization looks like
- The strengths-based approach
- How Daren measures the employees’ engagement
- What the link between the organization’s culture and its brand is
- How our strengths can become our liabilities
- The common mistake companies make in regard to organizational culture
- How you can get in touch with Darren Virassammy
- Discover your areas of Grind, Greatness, and Genius with Darren’s free exercise
Whenever you’re ready, here are a few ways we can help:
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Matt Theriault: Hey. Welcome, rockstars. It’s Matt Theriault at Epic Real Estate. I’ve got a hot show for you today because it is Thought Leader Thursday.
So on today’s episode of Thought Leader Thursday, I am joined by co-founder and chief operating officer of 34 Strong. They leverage the strength-based approach to human development to create massive shifts within organizations, both culturally and on the bottom line. So our guest and his team have created sustainable change in small micro businesses all the way up to large organizational teams. At the FDA … Excuse me, I’m reading. You’ve got a bunch of stuff here, so I’m excited to talk to you.
At the FDA, Bank of America, and the California Department of Public Health, he has recently been a keynote speaker for Hitachi Global Women’s Conference, the Rotary World Peace Conference, the Professional Grounds Management Society, and the author, Mike [Mischelowiz 00:00:47] at Profit Con, a big friend here of the show. So please help me welcome to the show, Mr. Darren Virassammy.
Darren, welcome to Epic Real Estate Investing.
Darren Virassammy: Thank you, Matt. Truly a pleasure to be here.
Matt: Yeah. Glad to have you. Virassammy. Did I say that correctly?
Darren: You nailed it, man. You nailed it. Good job.
Matt: Unlike my name, I just sounded everything out. My last name, everything is silent.
Darren: Right. Right. Yeah.
Matt: Great. So, glad to have you here, Darren. Tell me, what were you doing just prior to becoming the go-to person to help organizations create these cultural shifts and what inspired that transition?
Darren: Great question, Matt. I was actually working for a commercial construction company. So I live up in the Sacramento area. I used to commute down to the Bay Area about four to five days a week. After my daughter was born, she was about four and a half months old, our family took a trip to the big island of Hawaii. Sitting one morning on the balcony, I was sitting there having papaya. Off to my right-hand side, the Pacific Ocean was roaring and my daughter Kira looks up at me and she laughs out loud for the first time. And Matt, that was one of the most amazing and terrifying moments of my life simultaneously.
It was amazing because I’m sitting there staring at my daughter and her eyes and saying, “Wow, you’ve got so much potential. There’s so much that you have to do. You’re gonna talk, you’re gonna walk, you’re gonna run. Who knows what you’ll be.” But looking into those little eyes, I was kind of looking back into my own soul and saying hey, what happened to you? Because here I was on vacation with the two most important people in my life, my daughter and my wife, but yet I wasn’t living a life that was making them the most important people in my life. I was leaving before my daughter was awake in the morning and getting back and she was getting ready to go to bed. Really wasn’t tapping my own potential and really making an impact that I could. And all at the same time, I was actually teaching up at a college here up in Sacramento, and I was helping my students to unleash their potential and even team members that I taught alongside. And I knew there was more.
So that was just kind of my wake up call if you will. I came back from that trip, Matt, and within about two weeks of that my business partner in 34 Strong, and really thinking about how do we want to create culture. I always say this: I had the privilege of working with great leadership and also the privilege of working with not great leadership. That’s all part of the core story that’s helped me say hey, I want to actually do something about that.
Matt: Right. The business culture, it’s kind of a big deal these days. A lot of people are really focused on it, especially the bigger companies. Who is your ideal client and how do you help them?
Darren: Our ideal client, I don’t know if you’re familiar with [Vistage 00:03:32]. Vistage International. But we actually do a lot of work with Vistage sized companies. Those are typically organizations that are somewhere in the range of about 25 to 30 million, all the way up as large as 400 to 500 million dollar companies. What we actually do, Matt, is we don’t step in and do just a single day of hey, feel good, kumbaya workshop, hey play to your strengths and different things. We actually get in and do the hard work alongside those companies. We really empower those companies to take ownership of creating their culture.
Here’s the thing with a culture like you mentioned: You can either choose to create it intentionally and design it or you can create it by accident. But at the end of the day, you’re creating it. If you create it by accident, it can have an incredible cost to us, like retention, turnover, profitability, productivity. Things that really matter to us in our organization.
So we’re really able to start with the leadership teams, focus on them, and really focus on how they take that ownership of creating that culture and we work alongside them so each client we work with is going to be a little different in how we manifest. It’s not just an out of the box package because each company has its own existing culture. Sometimes, truth be told, we have to break through on some areas where there’s not a lot of alignment on the top end leadership. So that’s where we actually start.
Matt: Got it. So practically speaking, you go into a company and what does that process look like to create the right culture and how do you know what the right culture to create is?
Darren: Well, what it really is, the overarching piece of what we do, we create great places to work. It’s not us that creates it, it’s actually our clients that do that.
What that actually looks like is we create cultures of engagement. So what does that mean? It means that people are able to show up to work, they’re able to be valued for being valuable. They’re being able to be seen for how their talents align towards these organizations, the goals, the purposes. So we start often times by taking a measurement, honestly, of where employee engagements are actually at. Employee engagement, we use the Gallup Q12 tool with our clients to measure that. And what they did when they were studying engagement when Gallup was studying engagement, they actually went into the organization and studied not hey, you’re leaving, why are you leaving the company. They actually spent 25 years studying why do the best employees stay.
So it was actually the process of looking at who the best of the best are, why they stayed. We start there ’cause that’s a pulse for that leadership team of just understanding where are we actually at. And then we have the leadership team actually take the strengths finder assessment, identify where their talents are, their natural patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be productively applied, and start figuring out how that aligns on the team or even why there are things that maybe I do that if we’re on a team together, maybe those things that I do, Matt, might totally push trigger points for you. But in that clarity, we can find how do our talents actually align towards getting to the outcomes that we seek as an organization.
Matt: Okay. So you go in and you do maybe an assessment of the staff, the employees. Why is it that you’re staying? You talk to people that have been there the longest, so you get some clues and hints there. Is that right?
Darren: So the engagement assessment, it asks simple statements. I’ll give you an example of it. One of the statements … There are 12 key statements that it looks at, but one of them is I know what’s expected of me at work. People rate that on a scale of one to five. For instance, we might think as a leader, I’m clear. I give clear instructions of what’s expected of this team. I wrote it clearly in an email. Matt, you remember playing telephone as a kid where you whisper something into somebody’s ear and it goes around the classroom and it gets to the 15th kid and what happens? It’s totally different, right?
Well, oftentimes in companies, what we find is managers, leaders, as they’re trying to set expectations, they’re playing a game of telephone. They haven’t found out how is it that you set expectations with each person. So it’s a series of metrics, just very simple things like that. I know what’s expected of me at work. I have the tools and resources to actually do my job effectively. They rate that and that’s the feedback that we give to the leadership team and it starts really honing in on what are the things that are getting people excited to show up to work, what are the things that they’re feeling valued, and what are the things that they’re feeling like we’re asking them to do a job that’s impossible, ’cause we haven’t even given them the right tools. They’re completely in this space.
So it gives an opportunity to open up that conversation.
Matt: Got it. Okay. I’m trying to make this really relevant for the audience.
Matt: The audience is comprised of, I don’t know, two types of people. People that are learning how to get their first deal done and they’ve got a real estate challenge. They’re trying to overcome the real estate challenge. Then we have other people that have accomplished great things, they’ve been doing it for a while, and they’ve got more business challenges, right?
Matt: And so for those that are looking to build a business, those that have the existing business, they’ve got employees, this survey, I guess, this assessment that you do, is this a proprietary thing for you?
Darren: No, Matt. It’s actually something that’s great for people to think about. I actually, I’m one of your clients. I’m very familiar with the process of how things work. As I was preparing for today’s show I totally thought of this question and the audience that’s listening to this. There’s an African proverb that simply is this: If you want to go fast, go long. But if you want to go far, go with others.
Darren: If you really think about it, if somebody wants to-
Matt: [crosstalk 00:09:27] said that this morning, by the way.
Darren: Oh, fantastic. Great minds think alike. Right, Matt?
Matt: Yeah, absolutely.
Darren: There we go, man. So if you think about it, if somebody wants to be epic in their life, if they want to be epic in real estate, but they’re like me, you’ve got a company to run, you’ve got kids that are little, should I really spend my time trying to get my real estate license? Should I try to focus on my areas of weakness or partner with an organization or with the other team members that have talents and strengths that I don’t have? It’s not a matter of trying to ignore your weaknesses. It’s a matter of really identifying what’s the level that I want to live at. What are my unique strengths that I bring? What are the things that I do best that I can create the most impact with? And in the process, we actually take ownership of our areas of weakness, much like your investors can do, your listeners can do. What are the areas that I really don’t have time for, but this still really matters as part of the process?
So what we do is instead of trying to pretend that we can get better at our weaknesses, manage around them. We’re confidently vulnerable, Matt. That’s actually at the core of a strengths-based approach, whether you’re in an organization or it’s a way of life. [crosstalk 00:10:44]
Matt: You’re confidently vulnerable.
Darren: Confidently vulnerable. And I’ll unpack that with just a simple quote. You’re confident in where you shine and you’re confident in where you’re blind. The greatest leaders in any organization in any aspect of life, they have one single trait in common. And what that is, is self-awareness. They know who they are and who they’re not. When self-awareness moves from just self to what’s the team awareness, and what’s the team that I need around me to be successful, that’s when great things can happen. In fact, for us personally, for myself and Lisa, I know that’s been a key part of why we’ve joined The Epic Team and we have The Epic Team behind us, because it’s helped us to tap into a level of our life from an income generation standpoint that we were ready to go to. But we didn’t have all the know how to do it and the lift in getting there would have been pretty ridiculous for us. But we were able to accelerate that process and go much further and at a speed that we couldn’t have actually imagined, coming back to that African proverb. Does that give you a little context for your listeners?
Matt: Yeah, totally. Totally.
Matt: Yeah. You want to focus on your strengths and hire weaknesses, right?
Darren: You got it. Manage around those weaknesses. Really, at the end of the day, man, how can you aim high if you’re focused on your own weakness? Right?
Darren: Manage around them. Own them by managing around them.
Matt: I like that. I asked you to get practical and you got really practical, but culture seems like a little bit more of an intangible thing and you mentioned something about you measure employee engagement. What does the engagement mean? What does that consist of?
Darren: There’s an assessment within organizations and what it is that we use. It’s called the Q12 tool and it’s something that’s administered by Gallup. All that is is measuring employee engagement: How engaged are your employees? Are they showing up feeling valued for being valuable? In the United States [crosstalk 00:12:51]-
Matt: Does it mean are they awake?
Darren: Yeah. Are they awake, right. So I’ll give you an example of this, man. 65 percent of our workforce in the United States is disengaged in some capacity. Some are just disengaged meaning I’m just showing up, I’m collecting a paycheck, you’re definitely not going to catch me on the extra mile. That’s not gonna happen. Then you’ve got, within that 65 percent, a group that’s actively disengaged. These are the folks, Matt, they’re walking down the hallway and they injure their finger bumping into an air molecule, then they’re gonna be out for the next month and a half, and they’re cave dwellers. They’re consistently against virtually everything. So they pull down others in the organization that are trying to move forward.
Those that are engaged are the ones that you’re gonna find on the extra mile, that you’re gonna find really connected to what we’re doing and moving things forward. That’s one piece of the puzzle. So that’s just taking a measurement, a pulse of where the team is at as an organization.
The strengths finder measures our natural talents, our naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be productively applied. And the example of this, maybe you’re a proverbial list maker. You love to make lists, get things crossed off the list. Maybe you take psychological ownership of what you say you will do. That might seem like everybody can do that, but those are actually examples of unique talents. Some people are incredible of going out influencing or breaking the ice with perfect strangers while other people when they think of I’ve gotta step in a room with 100 strangers they want to bang their head against the wall, somebody else comes to life.
Those are examples of our talents, those patterns. We’ve got to identify them in a way that we can think of how do we productively apply that and how do we productively complement that with the partnerships that we’re building.
Matt: Got it.
Darren: That’s what strengths finder will do and that applies organizationally and very much to your listeners when they’re thinking of growing their investment portfolios. What’re the teams that they want to be surrounded by or even business owners that are looking. How do I balance around who I am and who I’m not?
Matt: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Got it. That’s helpful. I can relate. We’ve done a couple of those things here in our office.
Matt: I don’t know. They were a little bit intentional the way that you’re talking about it. So you talk about pieces of the puzzle. So we’ve got engagement and we’ve got measuring our strengths and weaknesses. Am I following you?
Darren: You’ve got it.
Matt: Is there another piece of the puzzle or is that pretty much it?
Darren: With it, the overarching piece when you talk about engagement and strengths, what’s the end all be all that we’re getting to? The end all be all of what those are pointing to is culture. Culture isn’t just something that we check the box on and we do it one day. It’s the natural recurring patterns of actions and thoughts and feelings that are shared across a team.
Now you can’t just do that in a single instance. It’s the day in and day out that creates and manifests the culture of what peoples’ experiences are like. And culture, a lot of times, Matt, we think about that as just the brand. So what’s The Epic Realty brand externally? But how do we create that? Well, Epic Realty, as far as I’m concerned, it’s been your team internally. So I work very closely with Mercedes. Mercedes is Epic Realty to me. My point being is your internal employees, your brand is your culture. Your culture is actually your brand as you connect it outwards. That’s why having a culture where people are focused on their strengths, where people are engaged, completely impacts where you want your brand to get to because your people are your brand. That’s ultimately what they are. So when they feel valued for being valuable, they’re going to show up for that. You and I would never squeeze a tomato and then look at it and be mad that it didn’t give us orange juice. You’ve gotta have the inputs match the outputs that you’re looking for and people and culture is a critical part of getting to the brand and brand experience that we want people to have.
Matt: Got it. Is it possible to take this too far maybe and maybe empower the employee too much?
Darren: It’s a great question. One of the things that do have to be managed is when we actually talk about our strengths, there are two sides to it. Our strengths can be our greatest assets and our greatest liabilities. We can overuse them. We can be in a place where maybe we’re not using them enough. Some can overshadow them.
If you’re in a position as a leader where you take this on and you’re actually looking at it to say how do I press my staff’s buttons or how do I press other peoples’ buttons, that’s not being effectively confidently vulnerable from a team standpoint. That creates the complete opposite of what we want on teams where we’re actually playing together. You’re starting to get to play for I as opposed to for we. Because what’ll happen is then people can’t actually press those buttons and looking for how do I trigger their strengths to be on the not so helpful side. How do I actually get to a place where this person’s not showing up as good as we can? That’s a big part of where taking that ownership, it’s gonna start with self.
That’s a big part of what we work through on the front end with the leaders and managers before they go wide and pushing it out to the employees. ‘Cause if it doesn’t stick within the leadership of an organization, there’s no way it’s going to stick within the company. No way it’s gonna happen. So it has to start there.
Matt: Right. What do you like best about what you do, Darren?
Darren: You know, Matt, it’s a longterm vision of what my business partner, Brandon, and I started with. Making an impact at a company or an organizational level is powerful. But the more that we can get people to show up and feel valued for being valuable at work. They spend so much of their time at work, but the real question is not really the impact that you have on the workplaces. What does that person go home as? How are they better as a spouse, as a parent, as a child, as a friend, in their community? What are the ways that they’re being empowered to show up a better version of themselves and as such, giving others permission to do that?
So the real impact for us is the generations to come. The exciting part of my business partner Brandon, him and his wife actually just wrote a book called Play to Their Strengths. It’s actually coming out in June of 2019 and it’s actually taking the strengths-based approach to the parenting side on the home front. They’re the parents of, together, seven kids. No foster kids, no adopted. They’ve naturally had seven kids together and they’ve had many trials and tribulations. But taking it to that next generation. Because we spend so much time at work, what happens when people go home and they’re actually giving their children hope that hey, you can go to work and work can be a great place to be, and I can come home inspired and energized to give back to my family, not just feeling crushed and the soul sucked out of me, which has been a traditional space for many people [inaudible 00:20:11] for many generations. Doesn’t have to be that way. So it’s a change that happens for years to come.
Matt: Got it. So as you’ve gone into these different organizations and you’ve turned their culture around, have you noticed one thing that you see recurring right when you get there? Like the big mistake, this is the thing we’ve got to fix right away. Is there one thing that is common that maybe the audience can look for and assess themselves and how they work with their own team?
Darren: Yeah. I think that’s a great question. I think one of the things that’s common in many organizations, and it goes beyond organizations, it goes into our conditioning from young all the way up, we’ve been conditioned to focus on our areas of weakness. What does that mean? It means most organizations operate in the space that our greatest opportunity for growth … So when we’re thinking about this from a human development lens, our great opportunities for growth lie not in our area of strengths, but in our areas of weakness. To make this super simple, Matt, a lot of times we look at a report card, we see the As and then we see the one C. We think that the greatest area for growth is in that C in handwriting, when actually the greatest area for growth in terms of that individual’s potential actually lies in that A. It might lie in that A+, ’cause that’s just the beginning of their potential. What they can lead to in terms of a space of excellence is on a whole nother level.
We invest in our areas of weakness, you might get to mediocre. But none of us wake up every day saying, “Boy, I have I can be as mediocre, below average as possible,” if we can choose between that and excellence. So it’s shifting. It’s that fundamental, just turning that dial and saying your greatest opportunity for excellence is not your areas of weakness. It’s actually focusing on your areas of talent and strength and realizing even if you’re great there, there’s a whole nother level. That’s just a tell as to where you should be investing your time. That’s a huge path that we have to cross.
Matt: That’s a definite shift, I think, for most people.
Darren: That’s exactly what it is. It’s that shift.
Matt: [crosstalk 00:22:23] The report card was a perfect example.
Darren: Yeah. That’s the shift that we all have to make. We’ve all been there, man. I know I sucked in handwriting when I was in the first grade. I still suck in handwriting today. I wrote a note to myself the other day, the name of who I needed to call when I was going to a client’s down in Southern California, and I couldn’t even read the name, Matt. I thought I had written it legibly, but it’s still a challenge that I have. So I’m so grateful I have a team that handles the handwritten portions of any of our training that we do. We do some really customized stuff where we write out peoples’ talents and different things like that.
Matt: That’s great. That’s great. So if someone wanted to get in touch with you, Darren, what would be the best way for them to do that?
Darren: You know, Matt, the best way to get in touch with me is to visit www.34strong.com. You can learn a lot more about what we’re doing in that space. You can reach out to me directly there. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, all the traditional avenues, I’m right there. But check us out at 34strong.com. We’ve got some great nuggets that are available.
In fact, in the show notes, one of the things that we have for your listeners that can be really, really beneficial, I think there will be a link for it, we have an exercise called Grind Greatness Genius. It’s really simple. It walks you through what are the things that you do that are a grind and that make you feel like you might rather consider breaking your ankle than do these tasks and do these things. Greatness, what are the things that you do really strong, and Genius is you’re just in a league of you’re own. You just really, really excel in that space. That’s something that we wanted to extend to all of your listeners. It’s a free download. It’s a great exercise to get them thinking about this. Whether they know strengths or not, it forces you to think about what are the things that you do that make you feel strong.
Matt: That’s great. Thank you for that. We’ll definitely put that in the show notes and we’ll put this below the video if you’re watching this on YouTube. Darren, it’s been a pleasure. Let’s stay in touch. Let’s do this again.
Darren: Matt, I’d really appreciate that. Thank you so much and thank you so much for all you guys do. I know you’ve made a lot of dreams come true one day at a time, one transaction at a time, and can’t thank you and the team enough. You guys have been remarkable through the process.
Matt: Great. Thank you very much. It’s a testament to how separate that Mercedes and our efforts are in this business.
Matt: I didn’t even know you were a client.
Matt: [crosstalk 00:24:44]
Darren: It’s playing to our strengths, man. I feel like I get to play to my strengths by building with your team and with you and Mercedes playing to your strengths in the different areas of the business that allows it to grow. It’s a great example right there in the closing comments. Take care, man.
Matt: Awesome. Thanks, Darren. Talk to you soon.
Darren: Thank you.
Matt: All righty. So God bless to your success. I’m Matt Theriault. I’ll see you next week on another episode of Thought Leader Thursday, right here on The Epic Real Estate Investing Show. Take care.