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Kim Shepherd on Her Personal Snow Goose, Finding your Inner General and How She’s Like Keith Richards

For those who weren’t able to attend the NAWBO-OC Remarkable Women Awards Ceremony last week, we thought we’d give you a retroactive seat at the Decision Toolbox table to “hear” Kim Shepherd’s Innovator Award acceptance speech. Following is a transcript of Kim’s speech. Have a seat right here, we’ve saved it for you.

Kim Shepherd delivers her acceptance speech

(Photo credit:  Margaret Brown,

“Wow, this is just crazy.  Beverly (Bailey) and Susan (Scott) are amazing and I am honored to be among their company.

Thank you NAWBO-OC, the Board of Directors and Remarkable Women Committee.  Thank you to Barri Carian for taking the bold move to even nominate me.  I so treasure your friendship.

And even though she couldn’t be here tonight, I want to send a virtual shout out to Camille Jayne, past President of NAWBO-OC and my personal snow goose…you know those squawking geese that are always behind you saying…go faster…do better…be all…yadda yadda.  Annoying, but so pivotal for your personal growth and always reaching out of their comfort zone to make you better…thank you.

So, tonight I want to talk about some of things that tie innovation and leadership together.  But before I do, allow me to set the stage…

My Mom is here tonight.  Just a little background…She raised 4 kids by herself, me being the oldest.  She had a coffee shop in Silicon Valley before there was such a thing.  There, at age 13, slinging hash, I learned EVERTHING I needed to know about business…

Know your audience, think with your heart more than your head, respect time, everyone can bring their A-game to the table, lead with empathy, work hard but know that we’re not curing cancer, smile often, live large and always do the right thing…thank you Mom…I’m trying.

Can I also thank my brother who is here tonight on his actual 50th birthday – happy birthday Jeff…and my sister Kaliegh, niece Syndey…and my life partner Laurie.

13 years ago, I met Debra and Jay Barnett.  They had a company called Decision Toolbox.  Debra, who brought me into NAWBO by the way, was smarter than a fox.  She wanted to retire and brought me in to replace her.  For the past 13 years, she’s been off exploring her passions: art, photography and writing books, and I’m looking at ROIs, KPIs & P&Ls…clearly I did not read the manual.

But I was left with her husband Jay.  The term yin and yang is so us.  We come at issues from very different vantage points.   Jay’s a brilliant, tempered, analytical, technology guru…I’m like Keith Richards.  If the world were to end, there would be Keith, me and cockroaches left on the planet.  But even though we are different, we are 100% aligned in our hearts, our mission, and the legacy we wish to leave behind.

Jay gave me some very wise words very early on…design what you want or deal with what you get.  Those words reset my personal business compass.  Design what you want or deal with what you get…

We set off to do just that and the first thing we did was to bring in Loren Miner, our COO.  She was a twofer…a CFO & COO who didn’t know a thing about recruitment.  It didn’t matter.  A CPA with an extraordinary amount of common sense – jackpot!

Several years later, our Chief Recruitment Officer, Nicole Cox joined the team and voilà, we had the ingredients for one spicy meatball.  With their incredible talent at running and growing the operation, I was set free to think and dream and muse.  They took my rearview mirror away and allowed me to turn on my headlights.

Sometimes innovation is proactive, and sometimes the best innovative ideas come from having to be reactive.  The events of 9/11 changed many lives and business – including DT.  About 65% of our competitors went out of business…many of them went into the fetal position.  We put on our boxing gloves.  We tore the company apart, and completely restructured it to the 100% virtual model that it is today…no sticks or bricks, minimal hierarchy and extremely nimble and scalable.

Early on, we strategically set out to create a canvas where everyone could innovate and encouraged innovation from the bottom up.   Why not foster an entire environment of innovation?  It’s like those steel balls on the Executive’s desk where you put one in motion and they all follow…it’s exponential and it’s beautiful and then it becomes the power of the team or force.

So innovation?  What does that mean?  Turn this do-hickey sideways, start at the end instead of the beginning, challenge your assumptions…anyone can do that, but it’s about creating innovative models…models built around character, integrity and passion.

To do that in a creative way is the trick.  Let me share a few examples that perhaps you could use.

To me, time management is not just a trait, it is part of culture.  If you’re sloppy with your time, you’re sloppy with your work.  At DT, no one is empowered to disrespect one minute of someone else’s time.  So to lock that down, years ago I came up with “sit or sing.”  Back before we went virtual, we had a clock on the wall.  If you were one second late to a meeting, you had to sing a song of the team’s choosing and no one is exempt.  One time, they made me sing “She’s a brick house.”  What does that do to your culture?

From this one silly exercise it says we honor your time…we don’t throw money down the drain by having you sit around waiting for something to begin and we’re in it together.  If the CEO is late – the CEO sings.

Having over 100 Employees scattered in home offices across the country meant digging deep to create cultural glue…and you couldn’t do the obvious.

To tackle challenges, we put everyone in pods of 3 or 4 people who meet weekly on the phone.  Their goal is to identify the largest cockroach or problem and kill it with their collective brain power.

Among the Leadership Team, we have weekly Tiger and Tsunami calls.  Tiger calls are to take an hour chewing on an existing issue.  The Tsunami calls are to identify something that hasn’t happened and blueprint the solution in advance….what if business doubled next week or I got hit by a bus tomorrow…what would we do?

We all have egg timers on our desk to help with focus.  We set our timers for 45 minutes and run off at the task at hand.  At the end of the 45 minutes, we have 15 minutes to return a call, get a snack, walk the dog, and clear the head.  The philosophy here is that 45 minutes of intense action beats an hour of unfocused energy.

Together, we have created green flags, opey reports, happy-ometers, rally monkeys, pony bonuses, dodge balls and Presomatics.

Innovation also demands that you engage your gut.

Look for Generals in your organization and give them the reins.  As I said earlier, Loren didn’t know anything about recruitment and now she is the best in the business.

The first time I met Nicole, I was interviewing her to be a Recruiter.  The whole interview was about her parenting skills.  I was looking for a special type of person, who could lead and love.  At the end of that lunch I told her that one day she would lead our entire team.  She probably thought I was crazy, but here she is 10 years later.

In 2 weeks, we have our annual All Staff where we fly in everyone in the company.  This year, our theme will focus on everyone’s strengths.   We sent the book “Strengths Finder” to everyone and will use the morning identifying and expanding on who we really are and what we’re capable of doing.

The book talks about our natural talents and passions…you know, the things we truly love to do.  But all too often, our talents go untapped while focusing on things that we think we should be.

In the book, Mark Twain tells the story of a man who died and met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.  Knowing that Saint Peter was very wise, the man asked a question that he had wondered about throughout his life.

He said, “Saint Peter, I have been interested in military history for many years.  Who was the greatest General of all time?”

Saint Peter quickly responded, “Oh that’s a simple question.  It’s the man right over there.”

“You must be mistaken,” responded the man, now very perplexed.  “I knew that man on earth and he was just a common laborer.”

“That’s right my friend,” assured Saint Peter.  “He would have been the greatest of all time, had he been a General.”

Find your inner General.

Again, I am honored to be recognized by the National Association of Women Business Owners and to be recognized for innovation is the icing on the cake.  But I didn’t do this alone.  I’m just the one who gets to come up and give a speech.  So on behalf of all the people who really earned this award – my Partners Jay & Deb; our leadership team, Nicole, Loren and Jeff; and the entire Decision Toolbox team – I thank you.”

Connect with Kim on Twitter and LinkedIn.

To learn more about Decision Toolbox, send us an email – we’d love to hear from you!

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