Creating A Company That Puts Its Values Into Practice – with Shannon Adkins

What kind of difference would it make if a company were run by women who are committed to authenticity, transparency, and connection? What if that company’s leadership put their values into practice, developing a workplace culture where diversity, self-expression, and creativity thrive? If this sounds like a place where you would love to work, then you’ll want to hear more from today’s guest. 

Shannon Adkins is CEO of Future State, a woman-owned, employee-owned consulting company that she returned to revive after a downturn. Future State works with Fortune 100’s and non-profits, treating their clients as the smartest person in the room, making them feel cared for and collaborated with. Shannon originally planned to be a women’s rights lawyer, but when the dotcom boom hit, she found herself working for a small company full of wacky women with magical powers who were not playing by the rules, and a new passion was born. In this episode, Shannon shares how she was able to build and create a team and company culture focused on leading with heart, the roles of empathy, intuition, and transparency in business success, and the 21st-century skill sets leaders need to rise to the occasion during times of great change and ambiguity in order to rewire organizations and people for adaptability. 

Future State values

When Shannon says that Future State is a woman-owned company, what she means is that 100% of the C-suite and board members are women. To go a step further, Future State is also owned by several hundred employees, 87% of that ownership being held by women. What makes the company unique is the deep commitment to community, team members, and sustainability. Shannon explains that it’s important that people can work for Future State and take good care of their families, sit on managing boards, and experience success. The leadership at Future State is committed to using best management practices in several key areas.

Practical application of values

It’s important to Shannon and the other Future State leaders to create a culture of care, connection, authenticity, and transparency; they are committed to these values, which means a lot more than merely saying you hold them. Because the company is employee-owned, Shannon answers to the shareholders, who just happen to be Future State employees. She strives to be an open book to the team members because it’s their company. This foundation of trust allows Future State to reassure their employees in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic that the company will survive and thrive on the other side. Even though challenging decisions and policy changes have happened, as with any company’s growth, the leaders have remained authentic and transparent while holding their commitment to the company’s purpose.

Empowering employees

Shannon believes the key to empowering employees is role modeling. As she stepped into the CEO role, her authenticity and transparency freaked some people out because she was so frank and open about asking people to contribute answers and solutions to problems. She believes the answer is to share more with team members, so they are in on every decision and every problem, even the minute details of banking and company finances. 

Downsides to being a woman-owned business

It’s not only that women compete with each other and bring each other down, but it’s true that women have higher expectations of each other than they do of men. We tend to have less tolerance for missteps, mistakes, and struggles. Shannon had to learn to let go of the fear of hurting people’s feelings, even though she doesn’t do it intentionally, but it’s something that comes with any leadership role. That fear was just one of the limiting beliefs she had to overcome as she learned to listen to the people around her. 

Unique employee interviews

In interviews, Shannon likes to get a sense of people’s aspirations and how they see the company. It took a certain amount of selling the company’s values and vision for the future,, because it’s difficult for someone to come in from the outside and immediately catch sight of that vision. Shannon shares a story of how showing up to an interview in leather pants in a moment of self – expression made all the difference in an interview for her. 

Embracing diversity

Diversity is more than just a buzzword at Future State. Shannon says that leaders have to be curious about the things that trigger them, like disharmony, for example. A leader has to learn to integrate different voices into the organization and listen to those who are different than they are. A culture of growth won’t happen if everyone thinks and speaks the same way, so there is value in varying opinions and voices. Disharmony becomes unproductive when people don’t agree on the vision and the path ahead. Diversity means differences of opinion can still keep you aligned with the overall vision. 

Handling differences and suffering

Through her personal experience with her mom’s early Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Shannon developed a philosophy that life is for living, and that there are no guarantees. She learned to step up and do what she wants instead of toughing out a bad situation. In doing so, she formulated a policy about allowing herself to suffer. She vowed that she would quit any job at which she suffered for ten days in a row. This philosophy has led to a proactive approach to anything that brings her suffering, either by having a necessary conversation with someone or deciding on another way to take action. 

What’s next for Future State?

The company remains committed to transforming the world of work and creating organizations where human beings can be self-expressive and creative while they work on meaningful projects. Future State wants all of their work to be purpose-driven for their clients. Shannon says they recently added 15 people to make the team number about 100, and they are committed to creating wealth opportunities for their employees-owners. The leaders there want to be role models while keeping the company human-centered, responsible, agile, and purpose-driven. 

Highlights of this episode:

  • 5:48 – Future State values
  • 8:16 – Practically employing the values
  • 14:22 – Empowering employees
  • 20:25 – Downsides to a woman-owned business
  • 27:47 – New employee interviews
  • 38:05 – Embracing diversity
  • 41:54 – Handling differences and suffering
  • 51:30 – What’s next?
  • 55:27 – Fem Five

Resources mentioned:

  • Find Shannon Adkins on LinkedIn
  •  Get Shannon’s free webinar series on Leading From a Place of Resiliency
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle

The Fem Five:

1. Favorite book to recommend for women?

  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle

2. Favorite self-care hack?

  • “Snuggles with the dog.”

3. Best piece of advice and who gave it to you?

  • “Meryl Natchez told me the first thing I need to do is to ask for feedback.”

4. Female CEO or thought leader you’re into right now?

5. One piece of advice you’d give your five years younger self?

  • “Trust yourself.”

Last Time on The NextFem Podcast

Trust Your Body to Tell The Truth – with Lyn-Genet Recitas

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