Meet Dr. Ian D. Brooks. His career spans 24 years – covering clinical psychology and personal development – with the mission of helping people move incrementally toward sustained achievements. His early experience in clinical psychology taught him a valuable understanding of how history and choices influence the direction taken. The power of this experience transitioned to working with organizational leaders and individuals – who are already successful – but want to expand beyond their current boxes.
He invests in – time, money, and energy – and is willing to take risks toward improving his life. He challenges himself to extend beyond his comfort zone to see what’s next. This is not in comparison to others, but in comparison to his personal bar.
Dr. Ian earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Marshall Goldsmith School of Management at Alliant International University and a Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Auburn University at Montgomery. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Morehouse College. He also pursued a National Academy of Sports Medicine certification and a bartending license, furthering his development to understand individuals and build connection.
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We’re happy that you could join us today! Please introduce yourself to our readers. What’s your story?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: From an early age, I’ve held a curiosity of understanding “Why do people do what they do?” So psychology was a natural calling of listening and understanding others. That decision authored a life’s journey of gaining my bachelor’s degree in psychology, a Master’s degree in Clinical psychology, then a PhD in Industrial Organization Psychology. My educational experience gave way to work experiences from working in a mental health ward, to working internally at companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Bank of America, IBM, and Slalom, to partnering with companies as a consultant supporting the likes of Shondaland, Netflix, Sony, Guitar Center, and Nike in change management and as a leadership development coach.
I treated each job as a 2yr internship. Where the first year allowed me to learn and develop a skill. The first 6months of the second year provided opportunities to refine, while the last 6months I treated as excelling and finding a new opportunity. My personal path allowed me to learn about people in different environments, industries, stations in life, ages, and starting points.
The driving force to become an entrepreneur and start Rhode Smith Consulting started with a 15-minute meeting at a big corporation I worked for. To paint the picture: my work volume started to slow down. Strategy meetings cancelled. Programs that were previously burning platforms and required immediate action, no longer held the furor. There were rumblings throughout the organization about layoffs in many departments. Such decisions were not uncommon at the time, having been on the opposite side of the table and decision-making processes in deciding an employee’s fate. But this one felt different.
So, I began working my network for potential roles but found none that appealed to me. I began to ask myself: what do I have to learn within an organization to attain the clients and have the impact I want that I cannot attain or learn by myself? From that personal question, I realized there would be no lesson learned or joy experienced from an organizational role that I couldn’t experience by running my own business. I also realized I had the expertise to be effective. I realized that I am the commodity. And I could offer that commodity for someone else, why not do it for myself?
Shortly, I received that 15-minute meeting with my executive to then inform me I would not be let go but would be taking over a new team within a new line of business. They were a group I had never heard of, nor had any experience with. I realized in that very moment, the organization controlled my role and whether I stayed with the company or not.
While I enjoyed the new role and team, I took steps to build my own business and gain clients. From that 15-minute discussion, I lost trust in the organization, while gaining trust in myself. Five years after leading that team, I was let go— after another 15-minute meeting.
That experience shaped my desire to have a positive influence on the employees who are part of Rhode Smith; as well as impacting the care I use when working with organizational leaders through my coaching. All told, my individual path to CEO of a small minority owned company authored a story – while planned – that I could not have written or imagine and continues to be written for myself and my clients.
CEOs and leaders usually have different motives and aspirations when getting started. Let’s go straight to the beginning. What was your primary goal for starting your business? Was it wealth, respect, or to offer a service that would help improve lives?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: I wanted to have a greater impact on leaders and individuals without the boundaries offered by corporate hierarchy, managerial direction, or prescribed roles. While working for corporations, I was expected to be nothing more than a pawn in a role they needed me to play. My personal expectations and aspirations exceeded the box they assigned me. As a businessman, I hold the accountability for helping my clients based on my expertise. I am also able to choose the clients I have the pleasure of impacting. At its core, my passion to start – and continue – my business is to offer a service that improves my clients lives.
Tell us about 2 things that you like and two things that you dislike about your industry. Share what you’d like to see change and why.
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: There are numerous areas of strength and opportunity within the fields of technical change management and talent development. Two areas I like include:
Like 1 – Organizational Change – What I like about organizational change is that the work is constantly evolving. Digital-first workplaces, analytics to deliver decisions, and a desire to manage employee attitudes (not just behavior) – each offering an example of the evolution of change managements support for organizational development. As an expert and practitioner, I am at the forefront of change in helping leaders impact their employees.
Like 2 – Personal Coaching – Similar to organizational change management, what I like most about the coaching industry is that it offers niche opportunities for those who need coaching to receive the exact coaching they need, when they need it. Each person I coach comes from a unique perspective, industry, and background in trying to become better. There is nothing more inspirational and motivating than seeing and experiencing personal growth of someone.
Several areas I dislike within the industry include:
Dislike 1 – Organizational Change – Organizations often promote that their employees are their greatest asset. However, change is often assigned as a job, rather than integrated into the culture for sustainment. It’s unfortunate that change management is sold as a back-end benefit or becomes a need only when there is already an issue. This directly flies in the face of a culture exhibiting employees as an asset, when the very mechanisms to support said employees is after thought.
Organizational change – much like the establishment of a sound culture – starts with building the right organizational behaviors and routines that are constantly checking on and developing our assets. This is through building accountability and expectations for leaders to communicate, engage, develop employees on a regular basis. This shift must tie into how leaders are incentivized for performance, extending beyond ROI to employee retention, employee moves within the organization, and employee satisfaction results.
Dislike 2 – Personal Coaching – As coaching is an unregulated industry, deciphering who has the experience, credentials, and integrity to care for the client experience is a challenge. Anyone can hang a shingle out and call themselves a coach which makes separating good coaches from poor ones difficult.
The top obstacles and opportunities can be used in developing strategies for success. Coaches should first, set themselves apart by getting quality training and then make sure everyone knows about their education, training, and credentials. Coaches should also be able to demonstrate how they’ve helped others – and how they continue to benefit from coaching themselves – to show expertise. Examples of success and failure go a long way towards mirroring the pendulum swings experienced in changing behaviors.
Companies around the world are rapidly changing their work environment and organizational culture to facilitate diversity. How do you see your organizational culture changing in the next 3 years and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: As a minority-owned small business, Rhodes Smith continues to evolve its culture, but stands on the foundation it has established to reflect its values and authenticity. More poignantly, Rhodes Smith was started with a diverse mindset to start – because that’s who we are. Those companies that are having to rapidly shift their environments and culture to facilitate diversity are experiencing a different change curve than Rhode Smith.
As the CEO, founder, and the professional service being offered, I am continuously identifying where society and generational behaviors are evolving. As such and within the internal culture of the organization, the behaviors and routines are founded on trust, collaboration, integrity, enjoyment, and transparency – all of which are transferrable to any 3yr stretch of change and beyond. I create that foundation by having a transparent strategy and direction for the organization. I then engage my team to provide their expertise in how they believe we can achieve that direction – both strategically and tactically. This builds empowerment of decisions and actions where employees take ownership. Thus, I am fostering an internal environment that starts with my own behaviors and mirroring what I expect within Rhodes Smith’s culture.
Externally speaking, the world is changing to facilitate more diversity – race, gender, sexual orientation, thought, and ways of working. Just as we could not predict the evolution of our world over the past two years, it would be foolish of me to believe I am influencing an external environment in the next 3 years. What I can predict is that the foundation of the values built into the fabric of Rhodes Smith are intended to act as the catalyst in continuing to meet the internal evolution of my employee needs as well as responding to external factors I cannot predict and that my clients are reacting too. For those companies that are experiencing a steeper change curve to facilitate diversity, I would suggest them revisiting their values and determining where diversity fits in to each. As diversity is not a strategic goal to be met in 3yrs, but foundation of which the business must now stand moving forward.
Richard Branson once famously stated “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” and Stephen R. Covey admonishes to “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. What’s your take on creating a great organizational culture?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: The creation of a great organizational culture starts with the reflection in the mirror. Treating others how I want to be treated or treating them as I would our customers – then I am creating a culture in my image and more likely to be aligned in expectations and experience. As small business and the professional service being offered, that image becomes more paramount. The values that drive our culture starts with me and what I expect of myself and others. I acknowledge that Rhodes Smith’s culture extends beyond me, to the employees who reinforce the fabric of our values through their actions. Hiring, coaching, and positive reinforcement of our inclusive culture allows employees to expand our values broader than I can do individually. It is everyone’s job to create a great culture.
That said, not every culture – much like the individual reflection in a mirror not being reflective of an entire society or group – is meant for everyone. The expectations and the formula I treat myself may not align with others. Employees have a responsibility to acknowledge alignment or misalignment between a corporate culture and those they carry as individuals. I have found where there is misalignment, employees are caught chasing a job title or experience, when the value (read culture) match wasn’t there to start. Thus, we must continuously check-in on our values and ensure they are aligned with our direction and purpose.
The overwhelming majority of more than 9,000 workers included in a recent Accenture survey on the future of work said they felt a hybrid work model would be optimal going forward, a major reason for that being the improved work-life balance that it offers. How do you promote work-life balance at your company?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: At Rhodes Smith, work-life balance is critical, but has been replaced with life-work integration. The past two years ushered in a new perspective that life is more important than work and our working model needs to fit the life we want – not vice versa. To that end, we promote life-work balance in several ways, the first being by scheduling meetings around life events. This approach allows employees to manage their days in a way that prioritizes their life, where work is a singular component. To achieve this balance, transparency of clear expectations and timelines is key, along with trusting each other to accomplish their specific tasks and being present during this working time. Another way we promote life-work balance the additional focus on mental and physical health. Employees are asked to prioritize their health through taking walks and taking time to unwind are critical to success and will help them feel more energized when they’re working.
For a small business, these practices have galvanized employees rethink how they balance life and work at Rhode Smith.
How would you describe your company’s overall culture? Give us examples.
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: The culture at Rhodes Smith is built on employees having flexible roles, self-organization, and where collaboration is highly valued. As a small minority owned business, this structure allows employees to focus on their expertise and rolling up their sleeves to get work done. As an example, the public relations team is able to leverage its expertise in marketing, while also being involved in the coordination of technical platforms such as Anchor, Streamyard, and Zoom to facilitate the production of messages. One’s newness in a area allows them to ask questions and not become boxed in too old patterns or expectations – while allowing them to see more of the organization they are impacting. This also builds a culture of collaboration and transparency that is a core value of Rhodes Smith.
Further, Rhodes Smith has a mantra of treating failure as a “place of reference, not of residence.” I expect each employee to expand the boundaries of the coaching market, of our teams, and of themselves. This expansion comes with excitement of what is possible; yet, is also met with failure. So failure is treated as a moment to learn and determine what else can be done. Failure takes trust and care for one another and our clients.
Finally, and as a result of an environment where employees have flexible roles and where failure is expected in order to expand, the measure of success is based on the consistency of client experiences. The number of speaking engagements and finances – while always on my mind – are treated as a reflection of the consistency of actions and creativity employees take to move Rhode Smith forward. Here, consistency of behaviors requires that employees are intentional with their actions and decisions.
It is believed that a company’s culture is rooted in a company’s values. What are your values and how do they affect daily life at the workplace?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: Rhodes Smith’s values are:
- Be Intentional – ensure actions and decisions have a clear purpose and impact for our clients and organization
- Transparency – honest and open communication with clients and coworkers
- Trust – demonstrate consistently strong performance so clients and colleagues can rely upon us
- Collaboration – nurture and embrace differing perspectives to make better decisions and grow collectively
- Expansion – vigorously search to push boundaries in the search for new ideas and are not afraid to fail; we must take steps to transform in same way we are asking our clients
- Care – intensely about our clients, colleagues, and are passionate about improving peoples lives
These values ensure employees are working towards the same goals and aligned purpose. They are a reminder of the employee experience we deliver as well as the relationship we develop with clients.
In daily life, each value influences meeting cadences, the clients we attract, and how work is prioritized, distributed, and accomplished.
An organization’s management has a deep impact on its culture. What is your management style and how well has it worked so far?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: My management style is one as a visionary, collaborative, innovative, and authentic. Each requiring me to flex the skills of listening, trust, being vulnerable, search for progress over perfection, all with the purpose for the team to excel. As the CEO and product my employees are selling/marketing, its critical I manage in a way that creates clear direction, open to dialog, and expands boundaries. While not always pleasant in the moment as we have to be careful of what we ask for sometimes, my style has proven effective in business outcomes and more importantly creating a positive experience for my employees.
As example, my employees created an “Dr. B. Day” and presented me a PowerPoint card, where each employee included their picture, what they appreciated most about me , and provided me a gift card in appreciation for our experience together. By far, that was one of the most gratifying rewards I’ve ever received.
Every organization suffers from internal conflicts, whether functional or dysfunctional. Our readers would love to know, how do you solve an internal conflict?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: When there is internal conflict, trusting our values of transparency and collaboration come to fore. These values are tested during conflict when emotions can run high. I bring the team together and we start by identifying the issue – focusing on facts, then outline how it impacts the business, our process, or clients. This foundation allows for differing perspectives to take shape and informs various options to move forward. The premise being, I am comfortable with conflict when the team is arguing to “solve”, but I do not allow it when the team is arguing to be “right”.
When we start the conversation from a place of transparency, collaboration, and seeking the best solutions, I have the team has better success in moving forward than not.
According to Culture AMP, Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organization (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention. What is your organization doing to facilitate an inclusive and supportive environment for women?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: As a small business owner, three-fourths of my company is comprised of women. Thus, with their engagement, support, and ability to make decisions – it could be successfully argued – is more important than my own. That said, inclusivity is for all, not some. It is based on building trust, being accountable for decisions, and collaboration across all employees irrespective of race, gender, or sexual orientation. At Rhodes Smith, this is facilitated by the roles women play in my organization.
From public relations, coordination and scheduling events, creation of communications and marketing, and coaching – each role is led by a woman, and they have the responsibility to provide a strategy and direction of the organization. While I sign-off on the direction, when there is a difference in opinion it is discussed in an open dialog. We come to acknowledgement – not necessarily agreement – on how to best move forward. This creates a culture of shared thought leadership, inclusion in decision making and expansion through dialog.
We’re grateful for all that you have shared so far! We would also love to know if there was one thing that you could improve about your company’s culture, what would it be?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: While culture can always be improved, the one area I have placed additional focus this year is on transparency. The past two years adjusted how we’ve defined and experience transparency with our employees. While not a big organization, it was important to be transparent on the emotional toll our employees experienced as well as the demands of managing our client needs. It required more diligence in two-way dialog – listening and speaking – that there is transparency in what others are saying but also in the acknowledgment of what they are feeling on a regular basis.
For us, that means more face time and checking in; communicating growth, care, and expectations. That transparency extended well past a job, but to one’s life. In order for this improved transparency to stick, I and the remainder of the team must leverage the good will built from the other values – such as being intentional, trust, and caring – to ensure are carrying authentic conversations forward.
This has been truly insightful and we thank you for your time. Our final question, however, might be a bit of a curveball. If you had a choice to either fly or be invisible, which would you choose and why?
Dr. Ian D. Brooks: Invisibility has benefits of being more “personal” by creating a human interaction. You get to know a lot about a person such as how they respond and gain insight into their personality.
However, as a CEO and entrepreneur, the choice to fly is more important than being invisible. Flight allows for longer range sight (without being in the weeds) and move at speed (without getting slowed by unnecessary daily traffic). Flight also offers the chance to land in specific locations and cities to refuel, take inventory, and then take back to the skies. All told, flight within the business provides me the opportunity to offer a strategic view, make quick decisions based on direction, and meet my employees at an individual level as needed.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Dr. Ian D. Brooks for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Dr. Ian D. Brooks or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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