I have had the pleasure of knowing Matt Umholtz for over five years. When he launched his own payroll company, PaySphere, after a wildly successful career in sales for one of his now biggest competitors, I knew enough to watch him closely. I didn’t know then that I would one day follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps.
Five years later, PaySphere has just been recognized as Houston Business Journal’s #1 Best Company to Work For 2017 in the small business category out of 53 finalists. I took this opportunity to ask Matt to reflect on his business’s success thus far, to find out more about the evolution of PaySphere’s culture, and how that culture played a role in such remarkable success.
I encourage you to read and share his interview. If you would rather read a bit at a time, follow Culture Spark on LinkedIn. We’ll be sharing it over the next few weeks as our #MondayMotivation.
What were the first steps you took to be deliberate about building your company culture?
Culture has always been important to us although it became a daily talking point after we grew to a point where you can’t communicate with every employee every day. In the early start up days, that was really easy. But when you start to get to the 12 to 15 employee mark, having a daily conversation with every team member is virtually impossible.
Since that was the case, our team as well as other leaders were responsible for helping to building the culture of PaySphere. We’re of the mindset that whether you focus on culture or not, a culture develops. If you have a vision of the culture you want to build, then build it, teach it, coach to it, and support it.
When was that in your history?
This was some time in year 3 as our team started to exceed that 10 employee mark.
What signs did you see that told you “now” was the time?
We had a few instances of “well so and so said to do it this way or handle this situation that way” which were in opposition to the way our leadership at the time felt, and contrary to the leadership that we know will help PaySphere achieve its goals.
So the thought was, how do we globally set the precedent of how we’d prefer to operate. At that time, we started a Mission, Vision, & Values exercise and came up with our “north star” if you will. We simultaneously regrouped around our goals and started instituting quarterly themes centered around those goals. This has allowed for everyone to celebrate in the successes of PaySphere.
What is the long-term vision (10-15 years out) of PaySphere?
When a business owner, HR Manager, CFO, or Controller wants to find a company that listens to and understands their needs and flawlessly delivers the services and technology to solve their Human Capital Management challenges, I’d like for PaySphere to be the company that they immediately think of. In 10-15 years, our goal is to pay 1,000,000 employees a month.
What are your firm’s stated values?
Self Reliant Trust your instincts, form your opinions, make good choices
Play Hard No one looks back at their life and remembers the nights they got plenty of rest.
Hard Working Successful people are not gifted, they just work hard and succeed on purpose
Ethical Doing the right thing doesn’t automatically bring success. But compromising ethics most always leads to failure.
Responsible Accept responsibility for your actions. Be accountable for your results. Take ownership of your mistakes.
Energetic There is one thing we ask that you bring to work each day: Your Positive Energy – the attitude and enthusiasm that only you know how to tap in to.
How do these values guide your business?
After we instituted these, we immediately started managing to them. It’s truly amazing how much easier it makes managing your team when the values that they are expected to live by are on the office walls and the walls of their desks. It’s as simple as, “in this situation do you think you’re living by our core values?”
How do these values guide your hiring and firing?
In the hiring process, for some, they may serve as a deterrent, which is great. Also, it has the impact of really exciting some folks too. Those are the ones we want! It’s also really nice to set very clear expectations from day one (pre hire). For separation, it’s works quite similarly. Progressive discipline relative to our core values encompasses the majority of challenges leadership has on a day to day basis so it’s a pretty simple conversation.
What successes are you most proud of?
Our biggest success (and most recent) is Winning the Houston Business Journal Best Companies to Work For 2017. Out of 53 small business finalists, we took the cake! Pretty awesome achievement and an accomplishment that our entire team can share in. What makes it more surreal is the fact that just two weeks before Quantum Workplace sent out the employee engagement surveys to our team, we were literally knee deep in water in our offices and were forced to move our entire team to a temporary office space. Thanks Harvey! The team work, camaraderie, and resilience I witnessed during that stretch will eternally make me proud. Our team has even joked that Harvey cost us a few points on the survey, otherwise we would have got a 100.
What role has culture played in your company’s success?
Quite simply, happy employees make happy customers. Our clients give feedback constantly that they love our team and our client retention shows it. Also, something that I’ll point out is that it’s not all fun, games, and fluff. Statistically, I’ve read from Forbes, Fortune, etc. that happy employees are more productive and more efficient as well. All that being said, giving a team a vision, a purpose, and a direction, where every individual is a piece of the overall success, and can directly see their contribution, is more important than anything else we can do as a company and is truly the most defining element of our culture.
What role does culture play in getting you through tough times?
Our values of Energetic and Responsible have played huge parts in our success during times of adversity. From office floods to mistakes in the high stakes world of payroll, we constantly lean on these values to guide and lead our team. After all, if you can accept responsibility for your actions and have a positive attitude while shaping and deploying a solution, you’ll win. It’s like going in to the 9th inning down by 5. If you can stand up at the plate with a winners attitude and think about the what if’s of the future not the what if’s of the past, you’re very likely to have a great outcome.
I thank Matt for sharing his time and thoughts about PaySphere’s culture. He is an example of the types of award-winning, performance-impacting cultures I set out to build for my clients when I created Culture Spark. Matt is one of the few who have successfully built his firm’s culture on his own, the right way, from the very beginning. Most entrepreneurs are living with years, even decades worth of inadvertent, or worse, poor culture development, making it tougher to right the ship. With Culture Spark’s expertise, and great examples like PaySphere, great culture is within reach!