Find Silver Linings to Lead Your Company Through the Crisis — and Beyond
Listen to Episode 173:
Episode 173 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. And sitting right across from me, as always, is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. It’s always a pleasure to be sitting across from you with another episode of Growth Igniters Radio. And as always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves and their companies to their next level of game-changing innovation growth and success. Now Pam, as our listeners know, over the past few episodes, we’ve been focusing on the emotional impacts and the leadership challenges created by the disruption and economic volatility associated with COVID-19. But now, we’re hearing many more leaders asking, “Well, what’s next?”, even as they’re still coping with the immediate crisis.
Pam Harper: And that’s the right direction to go. Now is exactly the time to be actively shaping your strategy for what’s next. Instead of just coping with the changes, it’s time to consider how you and your teams can take the lessons you’ve learned from adapting to the crisis and discover the silver linings that are going to enable you and your company to move forward. The leaders who are able to do this are going to be the ones most prepared to take effective action as we re-emerge from the worst of the pandemic.
Scott Harper: And we will re-emerge.
Pam Harper: We will. A leader who embodies this approach is our friend Shari Spiro, CEO and founder of AdMagic Games and Breaking Games. AdMagic Games is one of the largest independent printers of tabletop games in the U.S. Their games include the wildly popular, Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens, as well as other customized playing cards and board games. Shari is also the CEO and founder of Breaking Games, an award-winning game publisher and manufacturer that has grown substantially since its 2015 launch. They have games on the shelves of Target and Walmart, games that are recognized by Mensa International, and are also responsible for the launch of dozens of other critically acclaimed tabletop games.
Pam Harper: Now, regular listeners of Growth Igniters Radio know that Shari has been our guest before. In fact, the first time was in 2015. And she’s been back since then to discuss her company’s growth journey as well as how playing games can build critical thinking skills. And you can see much more about Shari’s bio and get links to our previous conversations with her by going to growthignitersradio.com, episode 173. Shari, welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio.
Shari Spiro: Thank you, Pam. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Pam Harper: We’ve been watching you and keeping up and we know that you keep changing your game, literally, and you’ve diversified even more since we’ve interviewed you last in 2017. How is your particular approach to diversification helping your companies to survive the crisis?
Shari Spiro: It’s interesting. Some of our diversification is really coming organically. For example, with the advent of COVID-19, people are home, they’re looking for activities. And one of the activities they’re looking to do is to work on puzzles. And it was never a huge area of concentration for us before. But now all of a sudden, not only are clients coming out of the woodwork with puzzles, but we have also created our own puzzles. In fact, we’ve geared up our two United States manufacturing facilities to make two different kinds of puzzles on the West Coast, Print & Play in Vancouver, is making jigsaw puzzles. And on the East Coast, Your Playing Cards which we purchased, is making playing card puzzles, which are actually puzzles that you put together with playing cards. And I can’t believe no one ever thought of that before. And then what we’ve done is we’ve combined both of them, working with an agent who has very, very famous clients, into a website called, Puzzles for the Pandemic. And these influencers are directing people there and a large portion of the proceeds will go to first responders.
Scott Harper: Now, this is very interesting because you’re showing a lot of agility, which is terrific. And it’s also interesting because AdMagic as a game publisher and game printer is considered to be an essential business during this pandemic crisis. Now that’s obviously not easy. What’s been the biggest impact of the crisis and the economic volatility on your company’s business, on the products and services you have, and your ability to bring them to market?
Shari Spiro: Well, it’s interesting. Part of the reason why we’re able to stay fully open is that we also do warehouse and fulfillment work. And probably a month and a half before COVID-19 hit, I signed the biggest lease I’ve ever signed in my life, for a 100,000 square foot warehouse. I mean, it’s enormous. And it was kind of an intimidating undertaking at that time. But once COVID-19 hit, it became a question of, was this a big mistake? Was this a lifesaver? And it did out that based on the fact that they deemed warehouses essential businesses in New Jersey, it turned out to be a lifesaver for us because the warehouse is so large, we’re able to socially isolate the workers much better. So we’re in the process of moving there and moving all our work there. So slowly but surely, we’re migrating from a 16,000 square foot warehouse into a 100,000 square feet.
Shari Spiro: So the fact that we were able to stay open actually took a lot of pressure off of me because I was saying, “I’m not shutting down. There’s no way I’m stopping.” I mean, we can all work from home. The office workers have no problem working remotely. Everyone always had remote access. I never had a problem with anyone working from home because I find that I’m much more effective working for home from home. You know what I’m saying?
Pam Harper: Yes.
Shari Spiro: I get a lot more done, I always did habitually in the past. And I got a lot of pushback from some members of my team saying it’s not fair for some people to stay home and others to go into work. And then with the advent of COVID-19, everybody’s working from home. It’s a level playing field. So in one way, it took a lot of pressure off of me because I wanted people to be able to work the way that I do because I know how effective I can be. And in another way, it put the pressure on because now I’m not traveling, I’m not going anywhere. So I have so much time to think and organize that I have just taken on so many more meetings. I’ve filled up my time with focusing the team to be more effective, to develop and solidify processes we didn’t have solidified before, to departmentalize even more. Our team meetings have close to 47 people on them. So, everybody who’s associated with the company, including our extended team, like our PR team and our subcontractors for freight, everyone is on the meeting. And there are close to 50 people on these meetings.
Shari Spiro: And so I’ve figured out a way to organize them by department. In other words, I’m trying to find the good. And the good that’s happening is that we’re getting much more focused, we’re much more organized and I even have time for one-on-ones, so I’m rotating the team and I’m doing one-on-ones with each member of my team.
Pam Harper: Okay. So, Shari, you’ve summed up beautifully that you are a big believer in silver linings here. And in fact, one of your blogs actually talks about silver linings. I think it takes a certain mindset. The one thing that enables you to be looking at these silver linings, what would you say that is?
Shari Spiro: It’s interesting. I wake up in the morning and I wake up happy, and I just try to maintain that throughout the day. I think maybe it’s just my makeup, maybe it’s just who I am and what I’m made of.
Scott Harper: Wow. Back when I lived in Ohio, there was a saying.: There are two types of people, there are those that wake up and say, ‘Good morning God,’ and there’s those that say, ‘Good God, it’s morning.'” You’re the first type, I think.
Shari Spiro: “Good morning God and good God it’s morning.” That’s great! Can I quote you on that?
Scott Harper: Sure.
Pam Harper: Yeah. But the point is that every time something happens, there’s a counterpoint to it. And so when we’re working with our clients, for instance, we help them to look at things in different ways and you naturally exemplify that positivity. So we’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, we’re going to talk more with Shari Spiro, CEO of AdMagic and Breaking Games, about more silver linings and how she discovered them. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. And as always, we focus on enabling visionary C-suite leaders to ignite, sustain, and boost the momentum it takes to have growth, as well as to respond to emerging challenges and opportunities. Now, Pam, neuroscientists tell us that when we’re in a crisis, it’s natural for our brains to go back to tried and true ways of dealing with similar situations.
Pam Harper: That’s true, but there is nothing similar about what we’re facing. And while the tried and true can work in a stable environment, it doesn’t work when we’re in the uncharted territory of today and the rules no longer apply.
Scott Harper: Yeah.
Pam Harper: And that’s where we come in as advisors. Our clients have told us that we’ve helped them gain new perspectives, think differently and most importantly, take new actions that have led to game-changing results worth millions of dollars. You can learn more by reading our success stories and testimonials on businessadvance.com.
Scott Harper: And to arrange for a brief conversation with us to see if we fit with your needs, contact us today at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper, that’s me, and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Shari Spiro, CEO and founder of AdMagic Games and Breaking Games, about finding silver linings to lead through the crisis and beyond. Shari, how can people find out more about your company and some of these games that you’re starting to mention, and puzzles?
Shari Spiro: Well, they can visit AdMagic.com, or they can visit breakinggames.com. And now, if they’re interested in supporting Puzzles for the Pandemic, they can visit puzzlesforthepandemic.com.
Pam Harper: We will definitely have a link to that on growthignitersradio.com, episode 173. Shari, let’s talk a little more about these silver linings you’ve been discovering. You’ve talked and written about how one of the silver linings you’ve found in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is that it’s created the necessity of finding new ways to get things done in a profoundly changing business environment. Let’s dig deeper into that. For instance, you talked about the need to shape a new work culture. What did you mean by that?
Shari Spiro: Well, to me it means a different way of people interacting with one another and then understanding their relationship to each other in the company. Because they can’t actually see each other anymore, they have to understand what it is that each team member does. One of the things that changed in our culture was I began to really build out departments within the company so that people knew exactly who they were reporting to and what their primary responsibilities on a project were. So what I did was I truly departmentalized, which is something I hadn’t done previously, and I began to take management reports weekly. So I chose the managers for each department to report and what I wanted them to report on.
Shari Spiro: And in that way, we’re able to keep projects moving forward. And then we have regular project meetings. Now one day a week we have a certain kind of meeting for marketing. One day a week we have a certain kind of meeting for production. One day a week we have our PR meeting. So we have specific meetings that keep people focused and moving forward weekly. In addition, we started to build out a project management app inside of Salesforce to better help people manage their projects and see how each project task was moving forward. That really helped us a lot because it helps each team member focus. And in addition, we posted a sheet that everyone could access where people could see what everyone in the company did so that if they needed to reach out for a resource, they were able to access that resource knowing what person they needed to reach out for, whatever particular project they were working on and whatever their needs were.
Pam Harper: This is very interesting because the last time that you were on Growth Igniters Radio, I guess it was three years ago, you were talking about the importance of the culture that you had. And how does having departments now stay true to that culture that you’re very proud of?
Shari Spiro: Well, we still have a giant team meeting, which I think is really, really important. So we have about 47 members on our team meeting at any one time. And the team meeting is broken down by reports from managers of each department. Now that doesn’t mean only the manager can speak. Anybody from the department can kind of chip into the conversation. But it does lend a better organization to the meeting itself. And in this way, the entire company can see what each section of the company is working on and they can kind of interact with each other and understand what problems are arising or what suggestions need to be pushed to the forefront, or what tasks need to be incorporated into the tech teams, Sprint for that week or that month. It’s helped a lot.
Pam Harper: The essence of your culture remains consistent even as the shape of your organization grows and changes. Would that be accurate?
Shari Spiro: It’s accurate because I’ve always believed that everyone in the company should have access to the CEO. Because I think when you’re compartmentalized too much and people have to go through a manager to reach the upper management, that you lose something in translation from the beauty of how quickly a small company can pivot, to the bureaucracy of a large company. So while I appreciate the need for management, I also want to be able to have access to everyone on the team. So what I’ve begun to do is set up individual calls with each team member and I rotate them weekly.
Scott Harper: Now, as any company grows and we’ve seen this lots of times, there is this push and pull with communication and independent decision making because someone being able to have the freedom to make decisions and know what to do for their accountabilities is really important. But there has to be some amount of coordination. You’ve actually coined the phrase, freedom with limitations. What do you mean by that?
Shari Spiro: Well, freedom within limitations, I would love to claim that one, but I actually believe that was Carl Jung. But I learned that one in college and when I first learned it, it kind of fascinated me because once you know your limitations, once you know what you’re allowed to do, or once you know what you can do, inside of those parameters, the sky’s the limit. And that sounds kind of funny. I mean, the fact is I think my limitations are, even though we’re locked inside most of the time, we are free to figure out how to work around that in any way we have access to. So we’ve taken advantage of it with things like Zoom and Skype calls. But the way that we actually keep track of what’s going on is I set up different team meetings every week. So there’s a marketing team meeting, there’s a PR team meeting, there’s a game development meeting. I have individual meetings with designers and then with the marketing team for that designer’s project so that those things move forward on a weekly basis.
Shari Spiro: So even though I oversee, I don’t have to micromanage. And people have specific goals that they’re looking to meet and then they report back weekly and we see how far the project has come. That’s why that project management app has been so important to us because I can look at the company as a whole, and once this app is actually done, I’ll be able to look at anything and see in oversight what’s actually happening. Another thing that I do is I do oversee a lot of email chains. So I don’t oversee every email chain in the company, but I oversee a lot of email chains in the company. And then after a time, I drop off or I asked to be removed.
Pam Harper: So that’s a lot of silver linings. And this is just a fraction of what you wrote about. What was your biggest aha from finding all of these silver linings?
Shari Spiro: It’s interesting that you ask that. So my biggest aha was I actually have been able to make more time for designers to pitch me new games and to sign more designers to contracts, believe it or not. So I have been meeting weekly with different designers, two to three a week. And so in the past six weeks, I’ve probably met with 20 designers, and I’ve either moved their projects forward or I’ve reviewed their games and haven’t made a decision on them. Or one of the most interesting things that has happened is we’ve started to push our games into Print & Play. We have a site called printplaygames.com, and it’s print on demand. So now when I sign a publishing deal, I can get the game up within two weeks if it’s ready to go, if the artwork is ready to go, and put it up for sale on Print Play Games and people can see their game selling right away.
Pam Harper: So for you, this whole crisis sparked a lot of new ways of looking at how you’re doing work. What you’re all about, I mean, has stayed true. But how you’re doing it has really launched a lot of growth for you.
Shari Spiro: I can’t believe I didn’t think of some of these things before. I mean it’s kind of funny that I thought of it now, only under duress. And my mother always said that. She used to say stress becomes me, which I thought was funny. She’d be under tons of stress and she’d say, “Stress becomes me.” And I’m starting to think that that’s true of a lot of people. I think that some people just really step up when the going gets tough. They just have this grit inside. It comes to the forefront. And I would like to think I’m one of those people.
Pam Harper: Out of curiosity, how much of this do you think you’ll keep on doing? In other words, some of this is sparked by crisis. Do you think that a large part of this will continue on after the worst of the pandemic recedes?
Shari Spiro: So, these changes are permanent. One of the things I’ve decided is that we’re going to pull out of trade shows probably for 18 months. My team was surprised by the length of time that I put forward. They thought, “Oh, within six months and we’ll be back.” I’m putting all the money that we’re saving from not going to trade shows into online marketing and building our online marketing expertise. And I really truly believe that online marketing expertise should be internal to a team and that every team member has something to contribute to that because everyone experiences online advertising.
Shari Spiro: So I don’t anticipate these things changing and I don’t anticipate going back out and putting my team at risk at any trade shows in the near future. I think there’ll be a lot more virtual trade shows. I think that’s going to be an avenue that we’re definitely going to participate in. And I think we’re going to do a lot more live game plays, where you can play games over Zoom with your friends and we’re going to be doing a lot of online pushes for our games. Like right now, yesterday we launched a Kickstarter for Rise of Tribes expansion. I was curious to see how it would do in this environment, and it’s doing very well. I think we’ve already got a thousand backers in one day. And that is for a game that had 6,000 total backers overall. So already one-sixth of that audience and maybe a new audience has backed this Kickstarter.
Shari Spiro: So I think we’re going to concentrate a lot more on putting our games directly out to consumers and I don’t anticipate there will be a lot of changes in the way that we run the management. Why do people need to go into work if they can work from home? It saves them time. Do I want people in my office buildings? Yeah, I would like to see a few people in my office buildings. It’s kind of sad that it’s empty. I have two office buildings that are virtually empty. But like you said, I see the silver lining in this way of working as well. People are home with their children if they want to be, they’re home in time to cook dinner if they want to be.
Pam Harper: Yeah, there’s a lot of different opportunities that we hear you recognizing and that’s what we’re trying to say. A crisis is a crisis, but sometimes there are a lot of silver linings to be found within that. So we’re going to take another quick break and when we come back we’ll talk more with Shari Spiro, CEO and founder of AdMagic Games, about finding silver linings and how you can find the silver linings that can help you lead through and beyond the crisis. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated and we’re on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: Our conversation today was Shari Spiro, CEO of AdMagic Games, is part of a series of episodes where we’re focusing on emerging leadership issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic volatility that it’s generated. For additional insights on leading through these challenging times, be sure to listen to our conversation with Amy Lee Segami, President of Segami Studios and Consulting, about how embracing turbulence can help you and your teams increase innovation.
Scott Harper: Just go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 173, and scroll down to resources. Then click on the link to our conversation with Amy Lee Segami.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking with Shari Spiro, CEO and founder of AdMagic Games and Breaking Games, about the silver linings that you can find in the midst of a crisis and beyond. Shari, remind us again how people can find out more about you and Breaking Games and AdMagic.
Shari Spiro: They can visit us on the web at admagic.com and breakinggames.com.
Pam Harper: Okay, and remember that you can always go back to our conversations on growthignitersradio.com, and this one is episode 173. Scroll down under resources and you’ll find links to all the resources that we’ve been talking about in this episode. So Shari, as you know, this is the part of our podcast when we discuss the practical ways to bring all of these ideas we’ve been discussing to life. You talk about finding opportunities for what can be changed to carefully move forward. I’m quoting you, what is one way you can do this?
Shari Spiro: Well, the main thing is to set weekly meetings for each division of your company as a way to monitor what people are doing without micromanaging them. What I do is I get little teams together and we weekly monitor progress and make changes on the fly to see what’s working, what’s not working. That’s been one of the most interesting and successful things that we’ve put forward in the past couple of weeks. While we always had a certain amount of meetings, we never had quite as many small organized meetings as we have now. And these are not long meetings. These are 15 to 20 minutes get-togethers. And then, along with those planned meetings, we do have impromptu meetings to bring up issues. And the beautiful thing about that is people don’t have to be in a certain location. We can just reach out to them and now it’s more accepted to just grab somebody in the middle of the day if you really need them and say, “Listen, in 20 minutes we need to discuss this. This is really important. Is everyone available?” If they are, we get together and we knock it out.
Shari Spiro: For example, two days ago, we had a warehouse issue that we needed to go over with the client. So in a half hour or so I’ll be meeting with our client and the warehouse team briefly just to go over a few things and clarify some details. The number of small meetings has definitely grown, but the productivity has increased.
Scott Harper: Okay, so building on that, what’s a useful idea for gaining comfort in yourself and in your team members with what individuals and teams are actually able to do?
Shari Spiro: So that’s a really, really good question. Again, I don’t want to micromanage people.
Scott Harper: Right.
Shari Spiro: So what I’ve come to do is ask them to advise us in sprints. We use Agile, which is a method of keeping track of what people are doing. So the tech team instituted that some time ago. And so people on the team provide me with daily scrums, which means that they tell me on a daily basis what it is that they’re doing, what they hope to do that day, what they accomplished yesterday. And then if they have any blocks, they explain what the block is. And then I review the scrums, and if there are blocks, I free them from those blocks and they’re able to move forward. And this way we are able to keep track of pretty much what everyone is doing.
Pam Harper: Wow. And I imagine as you’re continuing to grow, that there’s going to come a point where all of your leadership team, your management team, is going to be doing a similar kind of thing.
Shari Spiro: Right. The management team does that now and then they report to me. I don’t take individual scrums from everyone. I take them mostly from the leaders of the teams. But, I still do reach out to individuals. I think it’s important. I want to keep the dialogue open with the people that work for me. There’s not that many. It’s not like we have 1,000, I have 47 people. I feel like I should be able to have an intimate relationship with 47 people right now.
Pam Harper: Right. But I have a feeling, Shari, knowing you as we do, that you’re always going to find a way to reach out to the people you need to reach out to.
Scott Harper: No matter how big you get.
Shari Spiro: I hope so. I hate to think that I wouldn’t be able to do that because I think that’s when you become inefficient.
Pam Harper: So what’s the final immediately useful idea for responding to people’s fears? Because you talked about that too in your blog.
Shari Spiro: So we still have a lot of that. People are, they’re afraid. And in the warehouse, we have a couple of people who have a high level of fear. So what we do is we’ve taken every precaution, we clean every hour. We’ve moved into that very, very large space, which has given people a lot more freedom in that they have so much more space around them. They feel a little bit more comfortable. They are still required to wear masks and gloves, but they are not right on top of each other. They’re way more than six feet apart. And so that’s helped a lot. But in general, people do have fear. So in the meetings, I try never to dwell on what is going on around us. I try to focus on what the team is doing and keep people’s minds busy with what their work is because I believe that a good company can work through this and just stay focused. I do not watch news. I got on the team meeting one week and I said, “Please don’t watch the news. Watch a little bit so that you know what’s mandatory in your State, but do not sit in front of the TV for hours and watch the news.” The news is not there to help you. They are there to sell advertising.
Pam Harper: It’s hard. I mean people are stressed out. Again, you are an essential business, so people do have to show up in whatever way they can.
Shari Spiro: So the warehouse people do have to show up and we have made all kinds of accommodations to make people comfortable and safe. But they do want to work. If a person really didn’t want to come into work, at this point, I would not force them to come into work. I would say, “Do what makes you comfortable. Work as much as you can from home.” But people in the warehouse actually, they have to be there or the warehouse won’t survive. So, fortunately, we have a lot of really dedicated and devoted people and they’ve been very, very careful. These people are quarantined at home and they do very little besides go to work so that they can keep each other safe. Now the people that are working from home, I try to keep up conversations with them.
Shari Spiro: For example, I’ve been making sourdough bread and I started my own sourdough starter. And I’ve encouraged other people to do things that they’ve always wanted to do that they’ve never done. And I find that being in the kitchen more is something I’ve never done. I mean, sometimes I don’t even know who I am. I like baking, I made pancakes this morning. I think encouraging my team to stop working, because some of them will just work until they drop. And I’ve encouraged them to stop working. If it’s a beautiful day, go outside for a couple of hours, walk away from the computer, try to round your life out as much as possible. I’m just giving them the advice that I’m trying to give myself.
Pam Harper: So not ignoring the fear, helping them work through it, and be able to be comfortable working. And that’s a lot of where everybody needs to be right now. This is a longterm marathon. It’s not a sprint. And the important thing is figuring out how to move forward. So final thoughts you want to leave us with, with regard to finding the silver linings and leading to advance through the crisis and beyond?
Shari Spiro: Well, the truth of the matter is, I had to find my own inner strength. So I try to keep myself focused and I think that’s what everyone needs to do. You need to focus on what you can do. I think people have to dig down and you have to find that grit inside of you. Look, we’ve had an easy time in the United States for a long, long time and some people were waiting for the other shoe to drop, and the other shoe dropped. And it could be a lot worse than it is. As I said, the glass is half full for me. Things are not as bad as they could be, for sure. I hope they never get as bad as they could be and I hope that we’re able to keep working, indefinitely like you said, through the marathon. And all we can do is just stay as positive as possible, be realistic, but stay positive and be strong.
Pam Harper: Absolutely. And do games and do puzzles.
Shari Spiro: And play games.
Pam Harper: Well Shari, thanks again for being our guest on Growth Igniters Radio. We wish you every success as you keep growing your businesses through the crisis and beyond.
Shari Spiro: Thank you, Pam. It’s always a pleasure to speak to both of you.
Scott Harper: Thanks so much Shari and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, read Shari’s bio and the episode transcript, or even open a conversation with us, go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 173.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to consider.
Scott Harper: How can we look at our limitations with new eyes, with new eyes so we can find silver linings that can help all of us move forward during and beyond the crisis?