Kavaliro, an award-winning, high-growth staffing firm based in Orlando, FL, continuously proves that innovation is a mindset that can generate widespread results when ingrained into the culture and encouraged at all levels of the organization. We recently spoke with Bill Peppler, Managing Partner of Kavaliro, on the heels of Fyre’s acquisition about the culture that sparked this entrepreneurial spirit and impact on the company’s growth.
Innovation is an overused business buzzword. What does it mean to you at Kavaliro?
To empower our people to think about new ideas that will make a difference, while keeping an open door policy to hear the solutions they are bringing to the table. They can’t just come in and complain. They have to think outside the box and are encouraged to not only approach challenges with an entrepreneurial mindset, but also bring those ideas to our leadership team. In many companies, you’re just a cog in an enormous wheel. Now, post Fyre (a company initially launched within Kavaliro and acquired by PeopleNet in 2017), we tell our staff: what’s your Fyre? How can you make your workflow better and improve things? How can you do something to make an impact? There are a few things that are in the works right now that we’re excited about that originated from our team.
Can you share an example of how your team embraces innovation?
One example that comes to mind is Tim Davis’ contribution to how we view our data and approach to technology overall. Tim started as a recruiter and was always amazing at analyzing data and then started translating it to dashboards. He came up with dashboards and reporting for everything from back office to Bullhorn to phone systems to create actionable insights for our front line managers. It’s digestible for our teams. Further, we can share the concept with Round Table, which is another company that was launched by our internal experts at Kavaliro to provide back office support for staffing firms. Now Tim’s the Director of IT Operations for Kavaliro and is also responsible for managing our vendor relationships. He is an example of somebody who had a passion for technology, brought ideas to us and we had the confidence to invest resources in him and his idea to make the vision a reality. We’re also proud of Tim and his recent recognition as a finalist for the Bullseye Award as Rising Star in Operations and Technology.
How do you encourage idea generation in a more formal way?
We’ve had processes where people can submit ideas via email, but we always encourage people to have conversations at the executive level. At our annual conference, we also host a breakout session where people can form teams with other people outside their immediate group for diverse thinking to solve a problem or generate new ideas together. In addition, Kavaliro has publicly supported initiatives externally that drive innovation with positive byproducts for us. For instance, we support an incubator at University of Central Florida (UCF) which has helped us connect with great internal talent. They have a professional selling program at their college of business which turned into introductions to many individuals that have grown into top performers for us.
There’s always a risk of failure when innovating. How do you overcome setbacks or failures?
There are a few things that haven’t gone extraordinarily well. For example, we’ve stumbled a bit when taking the risk to open branches in new markets or launching new divisions that didn’t ramp as quickly as hoped. However, we all came from an environment as founders that encouraged people to dream big. When I started in this industry, I had the opportunity to open an office in Seattle and Mark did the same thing in NYC. We lived the experience of people having faith in us when you’re performing. And we wanted to offer that to our teams. There have been a few initiatives that didn’t go well and we own that, but we believe that the culture needs to support people in their dreams and let people know that the reward is worth the risk.
How much energy do you put into these new efforts until you divest?
For one of our clearance projects, we were beating our heads against the wall trying to find candidates and we had to ask ourselves: is this us? Are we wasting too many resources on a speciality that’s outside our niche? We decided to give it a couple more weeks to recognize the broader strategic goals at play and then make a decision. In another MSP relationship, we had to accept that we couldn’t deliver and walk away from the program. That brutal honesty has to come into the conversations and your approach. We would rather maintain the relationship with the MSP in this case and be transparent than underperform in one small area without addressing it together. It’s really hard, but you have to rely on your data and make the decision.
What would you share with your peers about innovating internally?
I think when you invest in your people, the opportunity to grow your company becomes that much more apparent. We also created an education reimbursement for our team knowing that many people want to keep investing in themselves and be exposed to different perspectives and schools of thought – which ultimately brings new ideas back to us. Putting myself in the shoes of my 23 year old self: why was I working crazy hours? Why did I want to do well? Inherently I hated to lose and I loved putting people to work which is so personally rewarding. But if you’re doing it right, you can also make a lot of money. But I recognized I was in a company that fostered that. When we founded Kavaliro, we wanted younger people to feel like they could create something and feel supported as well. Listen to ideas as you never know where they come from.
How do you manage the ambitions of your team with the company’s strategic growth goals?
There is a need to know the limitations you can offer as an organization. Our trajectory has been like a hockey stick historically, and last year we had significant growth but not as aggressive as in years past. We did divest Knight Federal (a company with origins in an employee idea) and then looked at our company with honest eyes, bringing in an executive coach to help us stay objective. We started the company with $0M and 6 years later were at $50M in revenue, but we recognized that we weren’t going to get to the $100M level without making changes and thinking honestly about what’s necessary to get to that level – and then go beyond. We did some heavy lifting and implemented systems and software to support and sustain that growth. We’re honest with our staff about what we’re building. There is complete transparency with our financials, down to net income on the P&L. They understand the bottom line and how that impacts our trajectory. By highlighting the current state, planned path and encouraging them to perform in the meantime, it’s clear there are growth opportunities for those that perform, but it might not happen today, it could be in 12 to 18 months. There is nothing but upside for people that are work hard and committed to growing with us.