How Jay Bousada Built His Executive Team

Episode #8
Nov 7, 2018

Having a strong and reliable team is one of the foundations of a successful organization. Jay Bousada, president and owner of Thrillworks sits down with Jon to talk about the process of hiring the right people and how to get them to work as a team. Join us as we learn how to effectively scale organizations and empower people to make decisions.

 “If I really want to be effective, I can start working on myself.”

Jay Bousada


2:23 – How Jay Bousada started Thrillworks and the challenges he encountered

6:49 – The difference between accountability and responsibility

9:50 – A proven and effective method of hiring people

13:57 – Benefits of making decisions ahead of time

15:33 – How to get your people work as a team

24:48 – Advantages of bringing in the right people and having a strong executive team

26:40 – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

31:38 – Tips on how to build a strong and reliable executive team




Connect with Jay:


Jon Voigt:                        Welcome to Agile Living, The Entrepreneur's Journey. The show dedicated to discovering how entrepreneurs and digital leaders are doing more with less. I'm Jon Voigt, your host and CEO of Agility. And we're on a journey across the country to learn from top digital entrepreneurs on how to live a more agile, adaptable, and fulfilling life. Thank you for joining me today and let's dive in.

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Jon Voigt:                        Please note this contest will only be open to those in Canada and the U.S. I'm really sorry for anyone internationally and to win you have to do the following: Subscribe on iTunes to the show. Go to and enter your email, so we have a way to contact you, and share the show with a friend who wants to start living a more agile lifestyle, on Twitter or Facebook, with the tag, #bemoreagile. That's it. Pretty simple. Can't wait for you to hear some of the episodes, and hopefully, you can start living a more agile life.

Jon Voigt:                        Today we have Jay Bousada from Thrillworks. We got together earlier this week with a bunch of Agile leaders and started to discuss some really big things that really influence flexibility and scalability. One of the big topics that Jay brought up was building up your executive team, and I jumped on the opportunity to get him on this podcast.

Jon Voigt:                        Jay, perhaps you can introduce yourself. Talk about what you're up to at Thrillworks, and we can dive into your story about how you built up your team, and I have lots of little things I can throw in there too, for sure, over my ups and downs.

Jay Bousada:                    Sure. Thanks for having me Jon.

Jon Voigt:                        For sure.

Jay Bousada:                    So, Thrillworks is a 18-year old digital marketing agency. I started the company just on my own as a developer and then grew it from there. As a result, as most small businesses do, we ended up bootstrapping the entire company, meaning we didn't hire a leadership team to begin with. We grew one from within.

Jon Voigt:                        Yep.

Jay Bousada:                    In the process of doing that, there were things that I just assumed would make a lot of sense, from some of the things that I had read about proper leadership, and so forth, and that is, that grooming individuals from within to take over managerial roles, was the ideal model. Read about Jack Welch doing that with a lot of success.

Jay Bousada:                    When I decided to start growing the company, and required people overseeing the staff, instead of hiring a leadership team or a managerial team, based on managerial skills, I decided to promote some of the people that we had doing the work. At about the five year mark, we'd hit probably, 10 or 12 people. I had three people on the management team. We were just doing whatever we thought we needed to do to keep the company moving in the right direction, and three years later, we ended up growing exponentially.

Jay Bousada:                    The next time I stopped to look around at my management team, I had 10 people sitting around the table, that managed 50 different people in the company, and realized I'd made a serious mistake. [inaudible 00:04:06] ratio was off. The team wasn't effective. We weren't getting a whole lot of traction, and we certainly weren't staying focused on any of our goals. So, I pared the team back, thinking I'm just gonna keep the people that I thought were most effective on that team.

Jon Voigt:                        How did that go, in terms of culture and adjustment for those other people?

Jay Bousada:                    Some of them took to it really well. They went back to the roles that they had and did a really good job. Others really didn't want to take a step back, as they saw it, so they decided to leave, and that was fine. The problem was, the people that I still had on that team, weren't being scrutinized for leadership based on the qualities of leadership. They were still sitting on this team as a result of being really good at the thing that they did before they became managers of people who did that thing.

Jon Voigt:                        Right. This reminds me a lot about how everyone talks about how a good sales rep is not a good sales manager, and that whole topic of why managing and doing is very different. You can become a great manager from being a great person at doing, but you have to adjust who you are and how you do things.

Jay Bousada:                    Yeah, and it takes an entirely different worldview, from an individual when they start managing people who do, versus just the doing. So, one of those worldviews that has to shift is, that you have to be aware of the concept that consciousness comes from the top, so if you're one of the leaders inside a company, and you're overseeing other people, who are doing some work, if you really want to be effective, you need to start focusing on how you're showing up, and less focused on how you're telling other people to be. So, it's that same old adage, "Do as I say, not as I do," except it's do as I do, and ignore what I say, almost.

Jay Bousada:                    You know, you want people to really start getting their lessons from watching you, and how you act as a team, as opposed to, how you tell them to act as a team. That was the lesson that took me a long time to figure out. So, at our 16th year, when I was looking at the state of the company, I realized that what got us there, was not going to get us to our future goals. So, I decided to make some changes.

Jay Bousada:                    When I got my own Leadership Coach, there was a lot of things that started to show up that I couldn't see for myself.

Jon Voigt:                        Right. I've gone through that one too.

Jay Bousada:                    Yeah, and for the listeners benefit, I think, I could probably mention that we share the same Leadership Coach.

Jon Voigt:                        Yep.

Jay Bousada:                    So, some of these lessons have been pressure tested, not just by myself, but I think you've done similar things. And some of those things include just recognizing the difference between accountability and responsibility. And that was a concept, you know, a lot of people use those words interchangeably-

Jon Voigt:                        Yeah, totally.

Jay Bousada:                    Yeah. Part of the lessons that I've started to learn by working on myself, as a potential source of the problem, like I said earlier, consciousness comes from the top, so all of my flaws as a leader are going to be vended into the company, and they're gonna show up at scale. When those flaws make their way to the front line, there's 50 different people. So, if I really want to be effective, I can start working on myself, and part of working on myself is distinguishing the difference between accountability and responsibility, where accountability you might be the person who ultimately has to see that a thing gets done, but responsibility means you're the person who actually has to do the thing. And realizing the difference between those two things is really important, because somebody else might be accountable, for something, say like our financial results, but I might be responsible for doing something that actually generates results, even though I'm the CEO, and somebody else might just be, say for example, a director of finance.

Jay Bousada:                    So, accountability doesn't work in the same sequence as the org structure, where the highest ranking person always holds the accountability, and the responsibility always goes to the lower ranking person. It doesn't have to work that way.

Jon Voigt:                        Yeah. Yeah. Not that, that's ... I'm sorry.

Jay Bousada:                    When I started to practice some of these things, what I started to realize is, bootstrapping the company by taking people who are good at their thing, and making them managers, and even if you were teaching those people these lessons, it didn't mean that they were capable of executing on some of these things. So, thankfully for me, the team of six that I had created for the company, the leadership team of six that we had here, around year 16, had four very strong characters in it. And I had to ask two of those characters to take a step back. I had to let one of them go, but the other one took a step back into a role that he was incredibly effective at.

Jon Voigt:                        Great. Awesome.

Jay Bousada:                    Yeah. So, that was very fortunate for the company. So, the person that I had to let go off the leadership team was filling a role that I had had almost zero success in filling. That was the person that would oversee some of the technology here at the company, so the bare elements, some of our quality assurance tests, and some of the production work. And I had probably put four or five different people in that seat over the 16 years leading up to that moment. So, when I let that person go, I left that seat vacant, which I thought was a least, worst evil, because I had had no success putting the right person in that seat, and I was determined to go on a hunt to find the right person.

Jay Bousada:                    One of the techniques that I stumbled across in a book called, Who, which is all about hiring A-level players, talked about mining your network and asking people in your network, who they know that is awesome at the thing that they do. One of the things I started to do was to mine my network, and ask those people who they knew that I might want to talk to. It didn't take very long for a certain individual's name to just show up. I contacted that person, asked them if they would come and have a conversation with me. That conversation led to about four conversations, and the next thing you know, an offer was being given and that person, thankfully, joined the company. Now, that process, as much as it sounds short, took about 18 months.

Jon Voigt:                        Yeah. Yeah. Well, Who, is the second version of Topgrading, right? So that's a pretty rigorous process, but it really does bring in amazing people.

Jay Bousada:                    Yeah. And what made this individual amazing, is that unlike some of the people that I had on my team, who I knew really well and I understood their philosophies, because I'd been working with them for years, hence the benefit of promoting from within, this individual who I'm trying to parachute in, which was something different for us, it just required a whole series of conversations, in order to uncover his philosophy, and make sure it aligned with our philosophy. Because I could certainly see that he had the skills that I didn't have in-house, so there was no opportunity to promote that person. But at the same time, figuring out what their philosophy is, is in some ways, a lot more difficult, that figuring out if they've got the skill to do the job.

Jon Voigt:                        Right. Right.

Jay Bousada:                    Anyway, as that person came onboard, suddenly I was able to say to that person, "Hey, do you happen to know anybody who can actually take over more of a tactical role? They'll be reporting to you." Within 24 hours, that person had a name for me, and within 48 hours we were interviewing this person, and I think it was in under 96 hours, we had had an offer go out to that person.

Jon Voigt:                        Wow. That's crazy.

Jay Bousada:                    The point here being, when you bring in the right people, who know how to do-

Jay Bousada:                    When you bring in the right people who know how to do the right kind of work, they also bring a network of really talented people with them, and suddenly things started to get easy. As great as that sounds, when you've spent 16 or 18 years making life hard on yourself by trying to accomplish things with, in some cases, the wrong people, you don't know what to do with things and you tend to doubt easy.

Jon Voigt:                        Right, it doesn't feel right.

Jay Bousada:                    Exactly.

Jon Voigt:                        Yeah.

Jay Bousada:                    There's an ongoing battle internally with me when now that I have a management team that I've put in place that is a whole lot more effective. When it gets easy, I catch myself wondering what's wrong.

Jon Voigt:                        Yeah. What are we missing? What's happening that I don't see or am I going to get surprised by something?

Jay Bousada:                    Exactly.

Jon Voigt:                        Yeah, yeah.

Jay Bousada:                    Exactly.

Jon Voigt:                        It's also a loss of control, right? Because the whole great thing about an executive team is, they can shield you from so many things and take so many things off you that allows you to be more flexible and focus more on the important things that you need to do. But to do that, you have to let go of all these things that maybe you used to get pulled into because somebody in that position wasn't as good as the new people.

Jon Voigt:                        You'd be pulled into things that you didn't need to be, but you were aware of what was going on. Now when you have these competent people, they shield you, which is great, but you lose that control and you lose that awareness of maybe what's going on, and if you have the right people, that's amazing. If you have the wrong people, that's scary. But really that's the end goal, but it's just a big shift. Especially since you've been running your business for so long and you're now into that type of scenario now.

Jay Bousada:                    Yeah. I mean, it's almost like you don't know what to do with the extra time that you ended up having because you're not fighting fires anymore. There's a multi gain here. I think this was one of the topics that we were discussing at the dinner that you referenced earlier in the conversation today.

Jay Bousada:                    You're so used to fighting fires and having so little time to do your actual job that when those fires aren't burning, because the right decisions are being made ahead of time, not only do you get benefit from a profitability standpoint and client satisfaction standpoint, and even happier team, happier staff. But now you have exponential gains in the matter of time that you have to do your job. By doing my job as a CEO, I can avoid leading us down paths that either start a fire or lead to additional challenges that we don't need.

Jay Bousada:                    You find yourself in this foreign land, if you will, with time on your hands to do the right job. You get a chance to do that thing, whatever job you weren't doing before, and the entire thing starts to become easy. It's strange. It's great, of course, but at the same time, you're again, so used to having a different way that takes some adjusting.

Jon Voigt:                        Yeah.

Jay Bousada:                    One of the things ... 

Jon Voigt:                        I'm sorry, go ahead.

Jay Bousada:                    Sorry. One of the things that that ended up surfacing as soon as we started getting the management team into a better state of affairs was that we had shifted the problem or we noticed the problem now shifted from almost a well-intended, but dysfunctional, management team to a group of individuals that were working really hard inside the organization, but they themselves weren't acting like a team.

Jay Bousada:                    I often use the analogy of a hockey team instead of acting like one team on the ice, we were five well-intended players on the ice. Six if you count the goalie. But our efforts had to shift from figuring out how to do the thing that the individual teams we're struggling with, and now there was a lot of need to put some attention on how we were going to get the individuals to start acting like a team.

Jay Bousada:                    I think these are where the real work happens inside an organization. There's a lot that you can draw from sports analogies. I mean, it's no accident that I use a hockey team or you can use any team for that matter. But it's easy for any entrepreneur or it's easy for a manager who's come up through the ranks to jump in and start helping out by doing the thing that they used to do, when that need arises because something's gone wrong or we need extra horsepower or something like that. But I'll try to remind my team that you never see a coach get on the field and say to the quarterback, "Give me the football, I'll throw this play because you seem to be tired," or, "You don't seem to have what it takes to get the job done today."

Jay Bousada:                    That doesn't happen. When we do that, we failed the team. If we have to keep doing that, maybe we got the wrong people on the team, but if we catch ourselves doing that, we've got to figure out why do we have to keep doing that. Have we not given the latitude to the team members to do what they need to do? Have we not given them the right kind of coaching? But I find that it's just something that is a habit that you really have to figure out how to get rid of because it doesn't help the team.

Jon Voigt:                        I wonder how much of that was there before, but maybe you just didn't have the capacity or the time to see it as well, right? Because you were so worried about each individual role and whether it was actually performing. Maybe the teams weren't working as well as they used to.

Jay Bousada:                    Yeah. It's entirely possible that we just didn't have the bandwidth to notice that the team may not have been working like a team.

Jon Voigt:                        Yeah.

Jay Bousada:                    I think one of the things that started to surface in addition to the fact that we had a lot of hardworking people that may not have understood how to work together as a team was that that concept isn't something that necessarily comes naturally to everybody. By that I mean, just throwing people into an environment that is a team environment. Let's think that sports analogy again. If I have a high performing team of hockey players and I swap one of them out with somebody who maybe isn't predisposed to being on a team, they can't just adopt those skills because they have the knowledge. We want them to act like a team.

Jay Bousada:                    I mean, there are certain people who just aren't cut out for it. There's an expression that I've heard my coach use often, that recruiting trumps training, and what he means by that is that finding the right individuals that suit not just the culture, and don't just have the skills, but have the capacity to operate in the environment are super critical. We started to dig into that whole concept of recruiting trumps training by looking for people who wanted to win more than I wanted them to want to win.

Jon Voigt:                        Right, right.

Jay Bousada:                    You can see that I'm really successful with sports teams, right? The players themselves so desperately want to win. All the coach really has to do, and not to take anything away from very successful coaches, but all the coach has to do is create a repeatable formula for success, like a repeatable process.

Jay Bousada:                    Find the right people who want to win and put them into that process. That process doesn't mean it's autopilot. It's not some kind of assembly line. There's a whole lot of positive pressure that you have to put on people in that scenario. But using that same model when we started hiring, after we had the right leadership team in place, we really saw a difference in the kind of people that we were shortlisting, and we were seeing the difference in how the teams were performing.

Jay Bousada:                    When you bring a person in who's really determined to [crosstalk 00:20:18] all the team members, which includes pushing the other team members because oftentimes the leadership team is nowhere near the action. In our world, if we're building an enterprise level website or if we're building an APP, the team that's working on this really is responsible for the success of it, because by the time that I might find out that there's a problem, it's several days or weeks or iterations in, that's the worst time. You don't want to try to start shifting the tide on a game after you realize that you're losing 47 to nothing.

Jon Voigt:                        Right, right, right. It's amazing how, we think about, "If I had the right executive team, it would take so much off me," but then you get some new things on you, which is, how do you make them work as a team more effectively? The problem shifted a little bit. It's maybe not as freeing as one might think. Is that a good summary? Or is it just a different type of challenge?

Jay Bousada:                    I think without the right kind of leadership team ... I mean, which entrepreneur isn't used to working hard? You just mistake activity with accomplishment, and you don't realize that the kind of work that you're doing is not the work that you should be doing as a CEO or a president or whatever your role happens to be.

Jay Bousada:                    When you bring in the right leadership team and they're able to, like I said, prevent the fire from starting in the first place and create the future gains where your team is well lined up to tackle the next more complicated thing, and everybody is working, again, not only as a team but bringing their full capacity and owning their full authority on the job.

Jay Bousada:                    You suddenly have time to do the stuff that you should have been doing all along. Becoming territorial about, "I need to do this stuff and if something tries to steal back or burglar this time away from me too, the way it used to," you need to get very territorial and say, "I can't

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