An Interview with Banfield Pet Hospitals President Brian Garish

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to know the team at Banfield Pet Hospitals, a division of Mars, through a speech to their leadership team and some advisory work. During this time, I’ve had a chance to see Banfield President Brian Garish working on his top strategic priority, creating a great company culture. We recorded a short interview at Banfield’s National Field Leadership conference in which Brian shares why culture is THE most important thing on his agenda and how he uses Instagram strategically to connect with employees.

I’ve also included a few observations and photos from Banfield’s headquarters that gives a few more insights into the company’s culture. For all those dog owners out there, it will be sure to create bring-your-dog-to-work office envy!

Banfield Pet Hospitals Headquarter Visit

When I visited Brian and the Banfield team in their headquarters just outside Portland, Oregon, there were three things that caught my eye and demonstrate the importance of culture at Banfield.

1. The openness of the office space. The space is gorgeous and modern, with a sweeping lobby dominated by a living wall.

As I walked up to the second floor, the space opened into lobby where the executive team was having their daily huddle. They were assembled around a whiteboard showing the status of various strategic initiatives. This was out in the open where anyone in the company can come by and see it. You’ll hear in the interview how Banfield started using huddles to better communicate with Associates in their hospitals and it extends up into the executive team as well.

There are no offices but plenty of collaborate spaces where people can meet casually or escape for some quiet thinking time. Brian himself has no office—he has the same space as everyone else. Here’s a picture of him sitting at his desk—which remarkably has almost nothing on it! In the interview, Brian shares how he tries to reduce the power distance between him and the Associates at Banfield, and his own workspace demonstrates that commitment.

2. Keeping Associates at the center. I love the use of symbols to remind people of what’s important. With over 1,000 hospitals spread across the US, the headquarter team needs to constantly think about the implications of their decisions and actions on Associates in the hospitals. On the back of every meeting room door hangs a lab coat as a physical and symbolic reminder of the Associates who are not in the room with them.

3. Dog-friendly workplace. Of course, the office is open to dogs! (They tried having a cat room but that didn’t work out for the cats). Dog-friendly ramps make it easy for the dogs to get between the three floors of the office. Many of the coffee stations have foot operated water fountains. And there is even a dog-dish chandelier hanging in the cafeteria.

Transcript

Charlene Li: Thanks very much for joining us. We have Brian Garish, who is the president of Banfield Pet Hospitals. Thank you for your time.

Brian Garish: You’re welcome. Thank you.

Charlene Li: And we are here at the National Field Leadership Program here in Atlanta, where you have, how many leaders here?

Brian Garish: We have about 700 people here today.

Charlene Li: And these are all the leaders in your organization, right?

Brian Garish: Yes.

Charlene Li: And you kicked off this morning talking about culture being the one thing that keeps you up at night.

Brian Garish: Yes.

Charlene Li: And the one thing that I thought was really interesting, and we talked about this beforehand too, you are really active on Instagram in particular.

Brian Garish: Yeah.

Charlene Li: And you’re clearly over the age of 30. So talk to me-

Brian Garish: Unfortunately, I am.

Charlene Li: So talk to me about how that fits into your vision of what leadership looks like at Banfield.

Brian Garish: Yeah, so I think culture has been my top priority, and it’s really because I think back to leaders that I’ve been inspired by and what they meant to me. And some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked for were very inspirational. They showed an interest in me, but they listened to me. They connected to me. And in doing so, they made me feel really important. And I’ll never forget how they made me feel, and that was always a trait I wanted to be as a leader is always being available for anyone, answering any questions, and listening and learning from them, to really make a better role for them.

Brian Garish: And as I increased different roles in leadership, it became harder and harder as you get further away from the client. And so I was always trying to figure out how else can I connect with them. And I wish I had this tool of social media 20 years ago, because that would’ve been even more effective. But it’s the quickest and easiest way to really be connected to your people, to understand what’s happening in their life. But more importantly, what do they need to make their jobs even better?

Charlene Li: Now what’s interesting is it seems like you really accelerated your use of this tool, though.

Brian Garish: Yes.

Charlene Li: Over the past year or so.

Brian Garish: Yes.

Charlene Li: What was the shift? Was there a pivotal moment? Was there a realization this is really powerful? What was that? Tell me the story about that.

Brian Garish: Yes, there was. So when we visit hospitals, we changed how we would visit. It went away from the traditional hierarchical approach, where the senior most person does the talking, or the senior most person does the leading of the visit. So when I joined Banfield, we changed that all up. We did a huddle, we started our visit with a huddle, where every associate had an opportunity to speak. Every associate understood why we were there, so we declared, “Here’s why we’re visiting, here’s how we want to help,” but then we just asked some powerful questions.

Brian Garish: What’s working? And if you could change anything, what would you change? And I was just really impressed with how much passion all the associates had, but they had great ideas because they were closest to the work. They were the ones doing the work, they were the ones closest to the client. They knew what worked and what didn’t work. So, after every market visit, I was always inspired by our associates’ willingness to have their voice heard, but then when I went back to the office, I wouldn’t hear from anyone.

Brian Garish: And so I started questioning, well, why is that? Well, maybe once a month, I’d get an email, but we then thought, well, how are people communicating? So when I go back out in market visits, I started to ask questions about how are you communicating? And where are you active? And it just kept coming back to Instagram, Instagram, Instagram. And I thought, would there be a way to truly show up in a transparent way, in an authentic way, where they could see that I was so passionate about getting their voice and could I hear from them differently.

Brian Garish: So we tested something. One was creating an Instagram account. So I did that, and associates started to follow. It was kind of small at first, but I didn’t get a lot of questions. I may have got a lot of likes on pictures, but I really wasn’t engaging with them. But then we tried something differently, something we called “Banter with Brian”.

Brian Garish: And we used the Instagram story to fully connect with them. Once we did this and sent a direct message to our associates, I had over 350 questions the first time and the second time we did it, I had over 500 questions. And I made it my priority to answer every single question.

Charlene Li: Every single one of those?

Brian Garish: Every single question I answered. It took me five days, by the way, but I dedicated that time and it was the best time I could’ve spent because almost every single person responded with, “I cannot believe you responded. Thank you so very much.” And you could see, I could just see the impact through their words. And since then, we haven’t changed anything else. I get about two to three questions a day from our associates every single day since then.

Charlene Li: I saw some of those questions, these are not easy questions.

Brian Garish: No. They’re not easy questions. They are questions about our strategy, they’re questions about some real life examples of pain points and frustrations that they have. But I actually love those questions, because when we take those questions and post them, and some of these questions, we’ll actually post publicly through our intranet for every associate to see. We’ve actually done some FAQs based on a number of the questions. We’ll create themes and really educate everybody. But what I love about the tough questions is it shows that we’re here and willing to answer anything and everything. And those are some of the best responses we get. Even when it’s a no, at least they understand why we’re doing it. And what’s so great about it is it creates that trust, that good, they are listening, and they are approachable, and they’ll answer any question.

Charlene Li: I have one last question All businesses are under a lot of pressure, change, disruption. What’s the biggest disruption that you’re facing in your business, and what do you see yourself being five years on the other side of that disruption?

Brian Garish: Yes, so we’re trying to create a future roadmap and strategy, but that’s pretty typical to any business. And every business leader I’ve been able to fortunately talk to always talks about strategy and the future. And while that is a priority, culture is my number one priority. And why I come back to culture is, I think the biggest disruption are the next generations in the workforce.

Brian Garish: Generation Z will represent 40% of the U.S. population in 2020. This is a generation that’s starting to graduate college, and they view businesses differently. Their styles are completely different.

Brian Garish: I think too often what’s happened in the past is that business has defined the individual. These new generations are going to define how business ought to be. And I think individuals are the new disruption point. They’re the ones that are going to vote with staying for companies. They’re going to be the ones that vote for brands, and they’re going to determine who’s relevant and not relevant. It’s up to us to understand those generations and prepare for those now.

Charlene Li: Great, thank you so much.

Brian Garish: You’re welcome. 

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