Mike Rose, the founder and CEO of award-winning account-based marketing agency Mojo Media Labs, candidly admits something most leaders never would.
He once led an organization with a poor, uninspiring culture.
At one time, Mike was passionate about every aspect of entrepreneurship. He thrived off of the energy behind the growth and success of something built up from nothing.
But after years of grinding away and despite bringing high revenue, the turnover rate was high, employee morale low, and any love he once had for his company was quickly draining away. It’s not that Mike was happy with the state of his company’s culture. He just didn’t know there was a legitimate alternative.
That is, until Mike chose not to accept the status quo and began actively searching for a better way to lead his team. It was by no means a quick fix. However, with a drive to take risks, make connections, and keep an open mind, Mike transformed his business, his leadership, and his life.
Today, Mojo has earned recognition for its culture and marketing services from names like Hubspot and Inc. Magazine. They’re also in the 1% of top inbound U.S. marketing agencies. Mike also travels the country as a noted speaker and is the author of the book, ROE Powers ROI: The Ultimate Way to Think and Communicate for Ridiculous Results.
So, how did Mike transform his leadership from the inside out? He credits much of it to trust, transparency, and empowering your people.
A Better Way to a Better Culture
“You can’t really appreciate a great culture unless you’ve had a bad culture,” says Mike. “Honestly, at that time, it was a bad culture.”
Despite his business being financially stable, Mike found himself struggling to attract talent. Once he did, he was failing to retain them. The past love for his company had vanished. “I just started to lose my drive,” he remembers. “That’s a slow death to add to any business.”
Still, he wasn’t ready to turn his back on entrepreneurship. Instead, Mike embarked on what would become a multi-year search for what his leadership was missing. Soon, he began to realize that the change had to happen first within himself. “I needed to shift from an old to a new way of thinking,” he says. “That’s when things began to work out.”
To jumpstart his journey, Mike connected with peer groups like the Small Giants Community and Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). He credits connecting himself with like-minded people as pivotal in supporting his endeavors and introducing him to new ideas. “It was a major boost,” he says.
Some of these ideas included prioritizing the growth of healthy visions, goals, and values within the company over the external growth he initially sought. “Before, I was in such an external, top-line growth mindset,” Mike says. “As soon as we started to say, ‘Let’s start investing internally,’ it all started to change.”
But perhaps the most significant change of all came when Mike heard about a businessman named Jack Stack and a concept called open-book finance.
Opening Up a New Chapter
He first discovered open-book management while attending a conference put on by the Small Giants Community. Unlike other business peer networking groups, Small Giants specifically unites people-forward organizations that prioritize growing smart rather than growing big.
It was here that Mike first met the legendary business visionary Jack Stack and learned more about his book, The Great Game of Business.
In the book, Jack explains the story of his floundering company beating the odds and achieving immense success largely thanks to teaching his employees financial literacy, responsibility, and transparency. He also introduces the term open-book management, or open-book finance, which offers a framework in which to implement the practice.
“Meeting Jack Stack was one of those light bulb moments in my life,” says Mike. “That was the missing piece.”
Together, the two sat down. Jack and Mike talked in-depth about finances and why opening books could transform Mike’s company, its culture, and the way he led. “It was magical. We didn’t know what that piece was until we saw it, but it fit.”
After leaving the conference, Mike knew that open-book finance would someday become a pivotal part of operations at Mojo. Today, the company considers the practice and the principles taken from The Great Game of Business to be core foundational tools. “Financial literacy is one of our deepest passions,” he says.
So, what are the benefits of open-book management? As a devoted practitioner myself, I can safely say there are too many to pack into one article. However, one of the biggest advantages is the strengthened bond between the team members and their organization.
By understanding the business’ financial status, and how their own role contributes, employees feel more connected to the mission. With this comes heightened empowerment and a greater responsibility to contribute to the organization’s success.
“I have to believe that people are driving into the office like that every day,” Mike says. “When they leave, I feel like they evaluate, ‘Have I contributed to something larger than myself? Was I able to go outside of my job description?'”
With open-book management, they can see how their position, no matter how small they believe it to be, truly does impact the entire company.
It’s Ok to Be Open
Perhaps more than anything, opening the books shows trust. With this trust comes pride, loyalty, and stronger working and personal relationships.
“At the center of any healthy relationship is trust,” says Mike. “To prove that you’re going to trust people with your business, or with decision-making, and truly be transparent is to open the books.”
The more Mike practiced lessons from The Great Game of Business, the more he fully understood the power of transparency. This led him to not only open his finances but also open himself up to vulnerability in other aspects of leadership.
Mike says, “I’ve learned to be able to say the words, ‘I don’t know,’ and ‘What do you think?'” He realized that, even as CEO, he didn’t need to have all of the answers. It was a realization that was as liberating as it was challenging. “It’s a scary transition to be that transparent,” he says.
However, the more comfortable he became with vulnerability, the more rewards Mike began to see. For one, he started noticing that the conversations between him and his team felt more authentic. This allowed for more genuinely productive discussions without fear of what might be hiding underneath.
When everything is already out in the open, there is simply less to fear.
If you’re still skeptical about opening the books, or even just about being a more vulnerable and transparent leader, Mike gets it. Before getting to the confident place he’s at today, his mind was full of questions like—what if my team sees the truth behind the numbers and they leave? Or, maybe they don’t want the responsibility of financial literacy. Could it scare people away?
In fact, it was these exact worries that he expressed to Jack Stack during their first conversation. So, Mike will leave you with the same words Jack said to him years ago, and he still thinks about today:
“If you’re concerned they might leave the company, then maybe you want to look closer at your culture. Amazing people will want to help lift that bottom line and help you do amazing things together.
“We’re all in this together.”
Listen to my entire conversation with Mike Rose on the donothing podcast. You’ll learn more about the benefits and challenges of open-book management, his decision to start using the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), what his favorite leadership strategies are, why he loves account-based marketing, and so much more.
Also, I’d love to connect with you on Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as have you keep up with my company imageOne. Learn about my mission to show business leaders how mindfulness can transform you and your business in my book donothing. Visit www.donothingbook.com for more information.