Aug 28, 2020 6 min read
A Wish Fulfilled: On Loving and Leaving Highland
Glenn Bernsohn, Director of Delivery, shares his reflections on his years at Highland as he prepares to retire
Over the course of the past 4+ years with Highland, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many candidates for open positions. Invariably, the conversation turns to questions centering around why I initially joined, and why I continue to work at Highland. I love answering this question because it comes straight from the heart.
The people at Highland are real.
I’ve worked in software services for approximately 40 years. I have experience at a wide variety of companies: large ones (IBM was my first out of college), startups, consulting, financial services, healthcare, insurance, etc. Some were good, healthy places to work, learn, and grow. Unfortunately, some were not. So, when searching for this position I was focused primarily on culture.
During my interviews, I did my best ask questions such as:
What are the company’s core values?
Do they even express them?
How do people treat each other?
Are people engaged and excited to come to work?
Is the company a place where people can learn and grow?
My search was much less focused on the organization’s use of technology or the methodology employed (although I guess Agile/Lean was actually a must). Fundamentally, I was looking for a place I could make use of my 40 years of experience and eventually retire. And I found it! In spades, as they say!
The people at Highland are real
I’ve become very close to many of them and we’ve certainly learned and grown a lot together. The organization has also changed significantly since I started. There’s a new President, who I couldn’t respect more. We’ve self-implemented the EOS® business framework and continue to leverage and value it highly today. I have had the honor (I did volunteer) of heading up our self-implementation of EOS®. We’re a few years in. It works. Period.
We’ve upped our hiring standards and have brought on some outstanding contributors. We changed our go-to-market strategy and are now considered experts in the CX (Customer Experience Research) space.
On the personal growth front, we’ve done some incredibly impactful things. We brought in a leadership coach as we read and lived The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. As I’m leaving I’ll miss the periodic book group discussions as we read and work through the exercises in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead.
A colleague and friend of mine at another company mentioned that they have weekly company-wide check-ins, so I started that up at Highland. They’re fun and they help keep us connected, especially now with COVID-19 and everyone working remotely. We go around the ‘room’ and describe a personal best and briefly state what we’re working on. We also cover the sales pipeline so everyone knows what lies ahead, or not. Lately, others have been hosting and giving different prompts each week, like “what’s on your bucket list” or “tell us something no one here knows about you.” That was one of the most fascinating by far.
So what about the culture I was seeking?
Over the last few years, we’ve been refining and redefining our core values. We now have four core values which I truly believe embody who we are:
People-first: What we make and how we work should make it a little bit better to be alive: for us, our clients, and their customers.
Be curious: The big picture is everyone’s responsibility. There is always more to learn, and we are generous in sharing what we know.
Be transparent: We’re accountable to our clients and to each other, and respond to problems with solutions, not blame. Vulnerability, while risky, leads to trust and understanding.
Give-a-damn: Our client’s goals are our goals. We share the passion for the work you do and the impact it can have. We do work we can be proud of: quality is non-negotiable.
I was pleasantly surprised when I recently received a t-shirt in the mail with our newly branded logo on the front and our core values displayed on the back. I must say that I’m proud to wear it. I only wish others could see it so I could tell them about Highland. Under the present circumstances, I don’t get many opportunities for that kind of interaction.
I will fondly remember our quarterly and annual off-site planning events. We held a two-nighter at a house in Lake Geneva. I love hosting and cooking so we ate really well. Other very special and memorable trips were held at my cottage in wine country in southwest Michigan. We managed to squeeze everyone in for the night. It helped that some were inclined to sleep in tents out in the backyard. Evenings were spent sitting by the fire telling stories and getting really vulnerable with each other.
When COVID-19 hit we had to adjust big-time. It’s been incredibly challenging but we’ve adapted and persevered. Our office closed. Everyone is working from home. LOTS of time spent on Zoom. We still have Monday company-wide standups and Thursday Beer:30’s continue to be popular. Active book club. Checking in on each other. Totally people-first!
So, it is with a combination of excitement, happy anticipation, nervousness, and deep sadness, that I will retire from the corporate work life on September 1. Quite honestly, I don’t think I’ll miss the work but I know I will miss the people.
My wife who is from South Africa taught me a phrase which is apropos under the circumstances: totsiens — which in Afrikaans mean goodbye until we see each other again…
My love and well being to my fellow Highlanders. Totsiens to you all.