Planning is Essential for Growth and Success

Posted by Casey Hildebrandt on Nov 9, 2021 10:45:00 AM
Casey Hildebrandt, Owner of Hildebrandt Tree Tech, tells Steve how being a Great Game company helped to calm the storm, built his confidence as a leader and allowed him to not carry the entire burden of the business alone.

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CTGP EP65 - Casey Hildebrandt


Episode with guest: Casey Hildebrandt

Owner of Hildebrandt Tree Tech

(This episode was recorded in November of 2021.)


Key Episode Take-Aways:

1. How do you know where you're going if you do not have plan? (click to jump to this topic below)  But when they really don't know what's going on, and they I mean the rest of the team, financially with the company, how can you really function as a team? You know, it really makes you question that. And then I know, you asked me for one, but I think these are equally important. The importance of just having a plan, you know, if you don't have a plan, then you're just flying by the seat of your pants. And that, for some, that may sound like a good idea. But yeah, how do you know where you're going if you don't have a plan?

2. Huddling weekly helps to keep a positive culture and also with alignment in the company. (click to jump to this topic below)  And so there was still communication, it just we didn't have our weekly meet, you know, our Friday huddle, slash safety meeting. And we did that for a couple two or three months. And finally, it was like, You know what, and we're gonna be smart about it, but we're getting back to our meeting. And that was the absolute best thing that we could have done. I mean, it was something that from from the new guy to the veteran guy, everybody was like, man, we missed these meetings, and you didn't even realize you missed them until you got back at him.

3. Using Great Game practices to help retain employees. (click to jump to this topic below)  And he looks at the scorecard when I bring this up. And he's like, Well, if you just look at the scorecard, we're about $25,000 ahead of plan meaning more money in the bank for direct labor than we planned on being. But the revenue is over plan. So, we made more money with less labor. So, we've got 25 or so $1,000 to play with. And I'm like, Man, that's a really good perspective. And so you just got to the scorecard. And so we took all of our veteran guys that had been part of this thing for a little while and, and we're definitely here all year getting it done, because they busted their butts to make that revenue this year and we figured out a way to do a wage adjustment on all those guys out there getting the job done everyday. And so we made that adjustment to be more competitive in the market and retain people 

Continue scrolling to read the full episode transcription.

Announcer 0:00

Welcome to the "Change the Game" Podcast where we share stories of open-book management and highlight capitalism at its best. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the "Change the Game" Podcast with special guest, Casey Hildebrandt. In this episode Casey tell Steve helping a Great Game company helped to calm the storm, built his confidence as a leader and allowed him to not carry the entire burden of the business alone. Here's your hosts Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker.

Steve Baker 0:30

Welcome to the "Change the Game" Podcast where we are changing the game by doing business differently and highlighting stories of capitalism at its best. I'm Steve Baker with the Great Game of Business and we are really excited about our special guest today, Casey Hildebrandt. Owner of Hildebrandt Tree tech, a family operated and owned full-service tree care company in Lubbock, Texas. Now, Casey earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech as a certified arborist. And I'm pretty sure he's a pretty cool guy because he's married to a speech pathologist just like I am not the same one, of course, but it is raising three kids. I think I'm just a little further ahead of you, Casey, how are you today?

Casey Hildebrandt 1:13

I'm good. Four kids now. We got the number four in there. 

Steve Baker 1:20

There you go. You're an overachiever. That's good. You've been, you've got a really interesting story and I've enjoyed getting to know you through the years. I want you to tell us a little bit about it. I know that tree care has been a big part of your history, but not the first thing you thought you'd go into. Can you talk about your background a little bit and the history of Hildebrandt for our audience?

Casey Hildebrandt 1:45

Yeah, you betcha. So, my dad growing up, started in 1977, with a large tree care company that did utility line clearance work. So, cutting trees out of powerlines. So, he was the bad guy coming down the alley, you know, when everybody's mad that they're cutting trees out of powerlines. So, we grew up around that stuff. And back in the day, the early days when I was young. You know, those guys almost encouraged their folks to go make a little money on a weekend, you know, doing some what we'd call private work, which is more of the type of work we do we do now. So, in that, man starting, probably, we couldn't have been more than I say, we are meaning my brothers, I'm the oldest, two younger brothers. And so, we started going out on three jobs on the weekend with the old man probably, you know, 6, 7, 8 years old. And of course, we were paid very much, but we probably didn't get much done either. And we live briefly in, in the town in Dallas, Texas, right? So, in Dallas a lot of people have swimming pools, and we'd work for these sweet little ladies and things like that, that had these wonderful backyards and cool swimming pools. And we were young dudes and, and they, every time they come out of the summertime, they come out and they say boy, you boys are working so hard. If y'all just had swimming trunks with you, man, I'd let you swim. So, it took about one time of that happening. And so, we started packing swimming trunks on the tree jobs, right. And so, we were half day helpers at best back then. So, growing up, it was a, it was a lot of hard labor, you know, there's nothing, there's nothing easy about tree work. It's just good, honest, hard work. And so fast forward, we get a little bit older, we finally get to where we make a hand and dad starts paying us a little bit of money. So, I remember my senior prom and went to senior prom with a group of friends, you know, guys and girls together. And, and I kind of got chastised a little bit by the group, because that day that particular Saturday, the old man had a job scheduled, and I went made 100 bucks that day. And that was that was good money, you know, and I missed out on prom dinner. And so, I got chastised by the group, and I'm like, hey, had opportunity to make a few bucks. So and so that was kind of cool. But we, being the brothers again. You know, it's kind of one of those deals in the day, and my dad always jokes around. He says, Man, I'll work those boys butts off when they were young, because I didn't go get a college education. And I wanted to make sure they did. And so, we all went got college education. So, mechanical engineering was mine, middle brothers business, he played football at Texas Tech, and the youngest brother is a doctor pharmacy, that pharmacist you know, in the family that legalized drug dealer, right. And so, we all got education's, I guess, in some form or fashion. And it's funny because now we look back and all three of us are involved in Hillenbrand tree tech now and so it's kind of a cool family story, but you know, I just and this nothing bad about engineering at all. It just I got through it. Glad I did it. Now I know a lot of really cool engineers. But I did have a guy at church tell me a joke one time I'm while I was in engineering school that got my attention. And again, no slide to the engineers in the crowd. But he said, what's an engineer use birth control? Man, I'm scratching my head. He said, personality. I was like, Man, that sums up about 80% of the guys in my classes. So, I just knew one for me. Locking me up in an office for 30 years with a bunch of fellow engineers was just not going to work. So, I ventured out, tried a couple different things, and kind of came back to trees, I think it's one of those things, maybe like a lot of industries. You get it in your blood, we always kind of say, hey, yellow sawdust in your blood, sometimes it's hard to get it out. And so came back 2010 launch Tree Tech, officially as a company and then rest is history. And we'll talk some more about that.

Steve Baker 5:47

No, that's great. So, you have been doing this, obviously, your whole life, on and off at different levels, that sort of thing. And once it became a business, this is where you chose to make a living. You had a lot of options on how to run it. And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about kind of what was it like before you found the Great Game of Business? Running the business? And then why were you looking for something like Great Game or, you know, tell us a little bit about that Genesis of, of running a business? And then how you found Great Game, why that sort of thing.

Casey Hildebrandt 6:26

So, we come from a long family of three guys, and my dad's brother also runs a tree care company up in Colorado, okay. And I remember when I've kind of made the decision to go into the tree business as a full-time gig. He made a comment to me, and he said, well just go make 100 grand this year. And to me, that was like, you know, that was that was an unfathomable number, right? I'd always worked for somebody else and those kinds of things. And so that that just that didn't compute. First year in business, we gross, not net, gross $120,000. And it just shocked me, you know, I'm thinking, wow, we actually did that. Second year, we doubled it. Third year, we doubled that. And so, we started this, well, we're doubling well, then it actually took about to year seven. About 2016 was the first time we hit a million in revenue. 2017 rolls around and, and in 2014, just give a little background, my dad actually retired from the other company he worked for and came to work with us and helps us with sales. And so, him and I obviously talk every day. And one of the things that was hard for me at that point in time in the game with the companies, I'm a pretty, I was already kind of an open book guy, pretty transparent. Here's what's going on, here's what's not going on. And so, in 2016, hitting that million dollars in revenue, and that was something I never fathom what happened in blood, it's not a huge town. You know, at that time, we're 250,000 people or something. And we're in the Great Plains of Texas, there is not a native tree here. So, to be able to do that in the tree business just shocked me, I never again, thought it was possible. So, to do it was pretty cool. And at that time, we ran the company, there was no talk about money inside the company. I mean, the guys didn't know what we charged how much jobs were worth. The only type of tracking we did was based on percentages. And so, we would just say, hey, guys, you hit 100% your goal today or 80%, your goal, whatever it might be. So, there was a lot of, you know, cloudiness as far as transparency inside the company. We hit that million dollars in revenue, and only people I felt like I could tell was my dad and my brother, you know, so we had a little mini celebration with us, I guess. And it was, it was cool. But it wasn't fulfilling. It wasn't exciting for the team, the company. And we were small group of guys and back then part 10 or 12 guys or something. So, is a little less than exciting, you know. So, 2017 rolls around, we lose a couple guys just you know, normal stuff, turnover. And we had built a bonus that was pretty proud of my cousin also is in the tree care business in Colorado. And so, we had kind of mastermind together this bonus structure where we were going to pay based off a percentage of production and, you know, with kind of the understanding that you know, if you're hitting your production goals, and you're probably making money, but we really didn't tie it to the bottom line.

Steve Baker 9:29


Casey Hildebrandt 9:29

Rookie mistake. So

Steve Baker 9:31

Happens a lot, man.

Casey Hildebrandt 9:33

It happens. And so, we lost a few guys in spring of 2017 and we're out there cranking away and the guys that were working production guys are working, doing a hell of a job. I mean, they're still getting it done. They're making money every day as far as their side of it and production goals. And so, we're writing bonus checks. We were doing it monthly at the time. And I quickly after about a month or two of that and not having those guys I quickly realized that, hey, we need those extra boots on the ground to be profitable. And we're writing bonus checks, and we're losing money. And so that month in June, probably, I think, I don't know how much we lost. To be honest, it's hard to remember that far back, but maybe 20 $30,000 Potentially, and net as a company loss, for various reasons, right. We done a good job on saving money. So we weren't in a bad spot, as far as, you know, having to shut the doors or paychecks not getting cash, something like that. But it was definitely concerning as an owner. So had read the book scaling up by Vern Harnish, I think is his name. And Great Game was mentioned in there. And then I plugged into some of the Dave Ramsey stuff EntreLeadership materials back in the day and still enjoy those materials and had spoken with somebody on the phone with Dave Ramsey's organization, and they mentioned Great Game of Business. And I'm like, I don't know what this is all about. But I need to get my hands on that book. And I'm more of an audible guy than I am. Just straight up reading the book guy.

Steve Baker 11:07


Casey Hildebrandt 11:07

So, jump on Audible, listen to the book, and I'm a book guy, you know, like, listen to books. So, I've had there been a lot of other materials I'd listened through in the course of starting Tree Tech. But that the Great Game really stuck out to me as a, as kind of a business book that really had a lot of application to just the regular hard-working blue-collar guy. Yeah. And it just jumped out. And it really spoke to me on the fact that it's a way to share numbers, because I felt so frustrated with not knowing how to share the goals that we had hit in 2016 on being a million dollar a year company. So immediately jump out, I'm like, I got to know more about this. I call up to your office. And I'm like, what's the next step? What do I do? And I've talked to a guy on the phone, he's like, hey, you probably need to come up here to Springfield, and go through about a day and a half two-day class with us. And that'll teach you the ins and outs of the Great Game. And by the end of that class, you'll know whether you want to pursue this with your company or not. So, I’m like alright sign me up. Jumped on an airplane, got up there did the class was fired up about it came back told the guys I said Hey, we're done paying bonuses for right now. But just go with me on this guy's I said we can't afford that right now. I got something in the works. Trust me a little bit. And we're going to work on this. So, you all’s Gathering is in September every year. And it's an it's, you know, it was in Dallas still is. And so that was pretty close to home for me a five, six-hour drive. So, I learned about the Gathering. I'm like, Okay, I'm going to go down to the Gathering. And so, what I was told is that it's going to be, you know, 500 to 1000. practitioner, guys doing it every day, coaches are going to be all this different stuff. The problem solver engineer side of me is like, all right, I don't need a coach, I can go down there. I'm a numbers guy, I can get down there, I can talk to a whole bunch of guys doing this stuff, get some phone numbers, make some friends and get this thing off the ground. And that was my intent. So, I went to the Gathering, and did exactly that talk to two or three different coaches, talk to a lot of practitioners gathered up some phone numbers made some friends. And what I left there realizing is that how fast do we want to make this thing happen? And how accurate do we want to be when we launch it? And that's really what stuck with me talking to a couple other practitioners was like, hey, yeah, you could probably figure this out. And I honestly talked to folks that did coaching and didn't do coaching and got both sides of the story. And brought that home back to my team. And you know, the cost of coaching is not cheap. And especially for a little company that's losing 20-$30,000, the previous couple months or whatever. So, I presented to the team on my guys, here's where we're at, here's what this is going to cost. Here's my thoughts on it. You know, what do you guys think? And my little group of leadership team, they were kind of like, man, we were kind of leaning towards you, and what's the cost of not executing this well, and executing it quickly.

Steve Baker 14:11


Casey Hildebrandt 14:11

So that was our that was our big decision, you know. And so that was fall of 2017. We hired coach Kevin Walter. And we began our design of our game and then we launched it at the January of 2018, is when we started officially playing the Great Game.

Steve Baker 14:30

Gotcha. I love that story. Because you're kind of recounting a lot of people people's journey, right? I mean, we talked to folks, I talked to someone yesterday, Casey, whose father read the Great Game of Business. They're in a woodworking company down in Florida, and it was just really, I met him at a conference I spoke out a few weeks ago in Houston. And basically, this was a kind of a catch up and I was just like, fascinated by their story. And so, he got it secondhand from his dad. They've been open book for now decades, didn't even know we existed, right? So that tells me they didn't really read the whole book. Because at the very back of the original copy, there's a phone number but the thing is that I love the fact that the spirit for it, and yet they didn't take it. So, they've been struggling with, you know, how do we do all this stuff? And they just didn't know there was help. I love that you went to the conference and asked people who'd been there before? So, you were really analyzing do I self-implement? Do I get help? And I love that your team? Or they're the ones that said, go for it. Because your first year, I think you've doubled your revenue, didn't you?

Casey Hildebrandt 15:40

Yeah, it was, it wasn't quite double. But since we've been playing Great Game, we have more than doubled our revenue and company size. And this will be our fourth year playing The Game. So, it's been a, you know, I actually ran some numbers recently. And we've averaged just based on what we were, we think will land this year, averaged about 21% growth, year over year, since we started playing The Game. And, you know, we had kind of flatline once we hit that million it was, we were struggling. And I remember, in 2016, I think it was 2016 or 2015 speaking with one of my competitors, actually at an industry event. And he made the comment, he's like, you know, I feel like, you know, you think in business, the more revenue you make the more money in your pocket. And he said, I've realized that he said, I think the more revenue we got, the less money was in my pocket, because it just overhead and things and, and so, you know, obviously a Great Game gives you a framework to kind of plan and forecast that and hopefully that are not the case.

Steve Baker 16:42

Yeah, because more revenue without more profit is just more work.

Casey Hildebrandt 16:46

More work a lot more work.

Steve Baker 16:49

Yeah, no, and that's natural, right? In any business. You there, there are some places plateaus, as you say that you hit that you're kind of in no man's land, as Doug Tatum says in his book, No Man's Land, is that, you know, there's maybe it's 1,000,000, 5, 10, 20. But there are those levels where you you're just not making more money. It's just, you know, getting harder and harder. So, you have to break through. And, and so when you when you think about this first part of your Great Game journey, you know, you decided to go with coaching, you've been doing it about four years, what's your biggest takeaway in the four years that you've been playing?

Casey Hildebrandt 17:28

I think a big part of it, obviously, is teamwork. And it's hard to really operate fully as a team. In kind of the analogy, Jack made in the book is when the team doesn't even know what the scorecard or the scoreboard of the game looks like.

Steve Baker 17:47


Casey Hildebrandt 17:48

So yeah, you can, you know, have your kumbaya moments and pretend to be a team or whatever, you know, but when they really don't know what's going on, and they I mean, the rest of the team, financially with the company, how can you really function as a team? You know, it really makes you question that. And then I know, you asked me for one, but I think these are equally important. The importance of just having a plan, you know, if you don't have a plan, then you're just flying by the seat of your pants. And that, for some, that may sound like a good idea. But yeah, how do you know where you're going? If you don't have a plan?

1. How do you know where you're going if you do not have plan?

Steve Baker 18:22

Exactly. I think Zig Ziglar is the guy that used to say, if you, you don't have a target to hit, you will surely hit it, meaning, you know, you're going to you're going to get nothing. And I've totally butchered that quote, but hey, the so let's talk about this. So, you, you're in the game, and you had to adapt it, you already had a culture, you already had a relationship with your people? How did you adapt The Game to fit Tree Tech? You know,

Casey Hildebrandt 18:56

You, you know, The Game is different for every single company, and group of people that plays it, it's, it's, you know, it's a big picture, and then you fine tune it to work for you. So, it's not something that's a hardcore set of rules, it has to happen a certain way. So, one of the first things we realize is we went through our first year playing The Game. And we've got our scorecard, right, that shows our monthly revenue that we're forecasting. And for a lot of guys, if you're making, you know, maybe that first year, you know, playing The Game, a new guy coming in the company back then at wages at that time, might have been a 10 $11 an hour guy. And he's seen this number on the scorecard of, you know, 10s of 1000s, maybe 100,000, you know, dollars in revenue, you know, and then you know, 1000s and expenses, and it's just hard to put all that together when you haven't dealt with those kinds of numbers ever in your life. And that doesn't matter if you're an 18-year-old or a 50-year-old. So, we quickly after that first you realize, man, there's a disconnect in line of sight between these big monthly numbers and these annual numbers. And the day to day, get it done numbers. And so simple concept, but it produced favorable results was departmental scorecards. And being a small company is not like we had a lot of departments, but we broke it down by crew. Yeah, and we just, we just broke down our annual numbers and the monthly plan numbers, which we already had, but we took it, the next step--broke those down to weekly numbers, and then daily numbers. And so, each crew had their daily number, and they come in the office, at the end of the day, grab their number from the office manager, and write it on their board. And depending on if it's above or below plan, it's green, or red. And breaking that down those daily small bites was a big deal for us in playing The Game and getting that line of sight from, you know, the field perspective all the way up. One other thing was bonus structure, you know, we played the game, kind of follow the pretty close to the Great Game template the first year. And then it made some minor tweaks along the way to our bonus structure, you know, like we pay, and this was a team decision. You know, I presented it, thought out pros and cons. And basically, the guy's decided that they agreed, and they wanted to do it, but we pay based on actual year to date wages earned instead of projected year to date wages earned, you know, so, so that quarter, one bonus is pretty small, you know, if we hit bonus in quarter one, you know, it's just based on three months of working wages. And it's a reduced percentage of earned payout. And it's not real big. But the flip side is the back-end bonus around Christmas times, if we if we do well, which we've traditionally have, is a pretty healthy little check for everybody.

Steve Baker 21:48

But so, protecting the company while you're protecting your people, you know, it's kind of symbiosis or whatever.

Casey Hildebrandt 21:56

And that's kind of what brought our attention to that was the first year we had a, I think we might have had a real good quarter one, and then quarter two wasn't quite as good. And we started thinking, well, you know, I guess there's a chance we could not finish a bonus. And if that happened, when we wrote some checks, that's the last thing we'd ever want to do is pull checks back, you know, have to do payroll deductions for overpaid bonuses or something. So, we made some tweaks like that. You know, Minigames are awesome. They can also be a challenge to design. And so, we've tweaked Minigame sometimes. I'll give you an example. We looked at our plan numbers for our, what we call PHC. Plant Health Care. And in this time of year for our company, that's primarily fertilizing trees, fall fertilization. And so, you know, we had a planned revenue, let's say, I think it was about $68,000, in planned revenue for the month of October this year. And then we looked at our workload, well, our sales guys have been kicking butt taking names. So, we, we needed to hit higher revenue than that, to be able to get the amount of work done in the amount of time we had available to do it, because that's a seasonal service needs to be done a certain day.

Steve Baker 23:10


Casey Hildebrandt 23:11

So, sit down with my PHC manager. And we iron out a plan. And that plan comes up to about just north of $100,000 in PHC revenue. It's a big difference. And getting that amount of work done in the same amount of time is a little bit challenging sometimes, right? So, we put a plan together. And it's, it's not about purpose or anything, but kind of just quit the dilly it seems like all my PHC guys have bought in moved into houses in the same little subdivision in the last two years. So, they're all neighbors now, right? And so, it's kind of cool, you know, they get to hang out with each other pretty close group, you know. So, one of the guys that is now a full-time sales guy, been with the company, almost 10 years. He used to be the PHC manager promoted into sales. So, the guy took his job, made a comment that, hey, you know, Jose's got a pretty nice tree in his front yard. And Tree Tech, help plant that tree. And he said, you know, the other three guys, you know, we got these new houses, no trees should be nice to have a nice tree and a front yard. And I said, hey, let me tell you, man, this, this will be like an adapted Minigame. It's only four weeks long. And he probably didn't follow all the Minigame rules. But if these guys go out and get those kinds of numbers done in a month, I said, we'll be planting trees this winter and you all’s yard. And, and so you know, he just you have to tweak it sometimes to what fits for you. So, they killed it, they got their goal, they hit their numbers, and so we're going to plant some trees in the next month or two for them boys, and they did a heck of a job. So, you're all the time figuring out how you can be ease, you're still using the framework, you know, the structure and the and the general concepts are still applicable, and you're just tweaking them to make them work for you.

Steve Baker 25:01

Yeah, but the best part of that story is that you listened. You heard what they were asking for and you adapted, right. So, people support what they helped create. Somebody in the team comes up with the idea of a tree, it'd be nice, and you were there to listen and hear. Now, let me let me ask you a question. If we go down that because you're talking about young people getting an opportunity growing in their jobs, moving up in the business, making money, getting rewards getting bonuses. It sounds to me like there is an ancillary benefit here, would you say that your people, as they work in the company, are taking that knowledge home? Are they better with money because of living this Great Game at work?

Casey Hildebrandt 25:45

Yeah, there's definitely some of that. And in fact, my PHC manager joked around, and we haven't got into details on exactly what it is. But he made a comment the other day, he said, I have my five-year plan for my personal stuff. Now, I do know, one part of that plan involves a CA Corvette. I'm not sure how that plays into it. But I know that's on his radar. So, I have a feeling the Corvette is part of the five-year plan. But I don't have all the details at the moment of the five-year plan, but it was just cool. hearing him talk like that. And several of the guys

Steve Baker 26:18

You'll have to get me an update on that one, because I'm very curious. I love to hear it, when somebody says they've got a plan that's more than just right here in front of their nose, you know, and that means they're thinking differently. And, and what I love also is the for everybody that's listening, take special note of what Casey's telling you here. Anytime, you know, we say Minigames shouldn't have monetary rewards, because money just disappears. Right? Minigames should be driving the big critical number, which should drive your bonus plan. That's the cash, right? That's the cash part. So, a tree planted in my front yard, no matter what happens, that tree is probably going to be around for years and years and years growing and getting bigger, and I can always look at it and go, I remember what I did to get that. That is the ultimate expression of what Minigame rewards are supposed to be about. We say, you know, group activities and memorable stuff. But I've never ever, ever in 16 years thought of planting a tree. That is awesome. I'm stealing that totally. I'll call it the Hildebrandt method. But that's definitely going in my bag of tricks. So, within the last couple of years, as you've grown, everybody has growing pains. I know, I'm curious about what practices really helped you get through the last couple of years of growth?

Casey Hildebrandt 27:38

You know, when if we look back at last year, with COVID, coming into play, and things like that, the first thing we did, you know, there was a lot of talk about, you know, essential businesses and everybody was a lot of industries, were worried are we going to be able to work? Is there going to be work? All those sorts of factors that came into play. So, the first thing I did was just ran some simple numbers and looked at, okay, total payroll, total necessary operating expenses, what's that going to cost us a month? And in right at the beginning, all that threw that out to the guys and look, guys, this is what it takes for us to operate per month, where everybody had a paycheck, nobody's going hungry. So, at least for the moment, that's the number we worry about. And if it gets if it gets tough for us, you know, that's what we're going to focus on. You know, thank the good Lord above that, if for some reason everybody staying home with COVID got everybody thinking about trimming trees, because it you know, it just got busy for us. And I think a lot of service industries ended up that way. Most guys in service that I've talked to, whether it's plumbers or mechanics, or whatever, got pretty busy. A lot of them did. And so, we ended up getting really busy. We took precautions, you know, changed, changed how we approached business, you know, our day-to-day work, to be safe. One thing that came out of it, and I know, you know doing remote huddles with a bunch of you know, 20 and early 30s guys is kind of tough, I you know, getting them, all sit still that long is tough. So, we really didn't get into the remote huddle thing. We got away from our, our company meeting for about two months probably. And, you know, I might send out a short little video we have a GroupMe, you know, text chain with all the guys and everything.

2. Huddling weekly helps to keep a positive culture and also with alignment in the company.

And so, there was still communication, it just we didn't have our weekly meet, you know, our Friday huddle, slash safety meeting. And we did that for a couple two or three months. And finally, it was like, you know what, and we're going to be smart about it, but we're getting back to our meeting. And so, we moved it from our meeting room into the main shop. Spaced out tables, you know, did the whole nine yards, and by that time of the year, temperatures are warm. We've got five big old garage doors on the shop. It's an open-air shop at that point time right So, but we got back to our meeting. And that was the absolute best thing that we could have done. I mean, it was something that from the new guy to the veteran guy, everybody was like, man, we missed these meetings, and you didn't even realize you missed them until you got back at him. And, and that just solidified for us how important that weekly huddle is. And that we will never abandon that again, for any reason. I guess unless we have to unless we're forced to. But you don't have to really come after us to force us not to have our weekly meeting. So 

Steve Baker 30:35

It's the weekly huddles and key practices.

Casey Hildebrandt 30:39

just critical. You know, it's a time for the team to gather around and then you check the pulse find out where you're at where you're going. What do we got to do if we're not on track? What do we do to fix it? Or celebrate if you are kicking butt taking names. 

Steve Baker 30:52

Yeah, I love it. I love it. Well, there's a, there's of course, a lot of questions that we could talk about specific to COVID. But let's, let's flip it and go the other way. Next couple of years. What's your outlook in your industry? And for your people? Do you still see the same level of growth 20, 25% a year? Or, you know, what are you looking at? 

Casey Hildebrandt 31:13

We kind of adopted the mindset over the last few years. And since we started a Great Game is 15% growth a year seems like a pretty sustainable pace, it's not easy, by any means it's a stretch. That's kind of where we base our plans around. And we have also found that it seems like we have ebb and flow a little bit seems like we might have a real heavy year where we grow more than expected. And then we might the next year go just a little bit less. And then the next year a little more. And that's kind of been the flow of things. For us. And that may be the same for other folks, too.  

Steve Baker 31:48

For sure.  

Casey Hildebrandt 31:50

We went through the you know, the high involvement planning accelerator with Coach Kevin recently and kind of looked into that looked at some you know, contingency planning, we're pretty hardcore into trees. So, the main focus for us right now is where else can we start dipping our feet into, you know, spreading out revenue streams. So, we're looking at things like firewood, possibly mowing, getting into lawn care different, different avenues like that, that, you know, we've learned a few things we're pretty good at, we're going to scheduling, we're good at showing up, we're going to take care of the customer. And we can apply those principles with our financial principles of forecasting and Great Game to a lot of different things. And so that's what we're working on right now.

Steve Baker 32:37

That's really great. Because you see beyond the, we're good at trees, you're looking at the core like the human part of it, which is, hey, you know what, really good. It's good. I'm glad you brought that up. Because I think that's important. When you think about showing people a potential future, because maybe somebody that works for you is going, I don't know that I want to be a tree guy the rest of my life. You know, subconsciously, they might think that but if you go, hey, we're a bit we're building a great business. It's not just a tree business, it could be anything who knows. We don't even know yet. But we can look at all these things. So, let's, let's go this way. Everybody that I talked to, and that we talked to at Great Game is talking about two things. And that's supply chain and retention of employees, attracting employees, recruiting employees, its people and supply chain. Now we know supply chains working its way out. In fact, the economists are telling us me don't watch the news, because they'll tell you, it's never going to be better. The economists are saying we have record throughput in our ports and record numbers of tonnage being hauled. Yeah, we're short drivers, we're short trucks. But this is all time high productivity when it comes to logistics. What I'm asking you right now is what are you got to have an issue with attracting and retaining employees right now. Does the game make any impact on that at all? 

Casey Hildebrandt 34:03

How much time do you have Steve? 

Steve Baker 34:05

How about we go for the shorter answer. 

Casey Hildebrandt 34:09

I've got I've got three or four examples I can give you this this year. Number one, we had intentions are four or five guys by March. We hired zero by March. Like a lot of folks are struggling. So, we went, you know, back to the war room or whatever and said, what are we going to do different? So, we've raised our minimum, advertised starting wages significantly this year, a lot of companies have done that, you know, I'm part of a CEO peer group through the Great Game organization, and pretty much every CEO in that group has made those made some of those adjustments this year. We talked about that recently. So, one of the big challenges that came out of that is like okay, so what you've got this guy that's been with you a year or two, and now he's had a bump or two, but he started off at a lower wage. And now you've got this new guy that you know, just to keep the keep the keep the thing moving, right? And the growth happening, and customer served and all that you got to be bringing new guys in. So how do you how do you deal with the wage gap? You know, or, or lack of gap now, right? Because your new guy started pretty close to where that one- or two-year guys at.

Steve Baker 35:21


Casey Hildebrandt 35:22

How do you adjust that. So that was a problem I brought to my team, we hired a financial guy this year to help with the books and the finances of the business and things like that sat down had a brainstorming session with him. And you know, he looked at the scorecard. That was his first go to and you know, first time this, this guy has ever been around Great Game things, you know, and he's three months into the four months into the process.

3. Using Great Game practices to help retain employees.

And he looks at the scorecard when I bring this up. And he's like, well, if you just look at the scorecard, we're about $25,000 ahead of plan meaning more money in the bank for direct labor than we planned on being. But the revenue is over plan. So, we made more money with less labor. So, we've got 25 or so $1,000 to play with. And I'm like, Man, that's a really good perspective. And so, you just got to the scorecard. And so, we took all of our veteran guys that had been part of this thing for a little while and, and we're definitely here all year getting it done, because they busted their butts to make that revenue this year. And we figured out a way to do a wage adjustment on all those guys and put some more money in their pockets. And we talked about with teams like hey, yeah, this will take that 25,000 Out of the bonus pool. But it's going to put it in the pockets of those guys out there getting the job done every day. And they produce that revenue. And so, we made that adjustment to be more competitive in the market and retain people. And it's, it's it, it definitely was noticed, by our guys. I've had and I think probably this is this has happened in a lot of industries. I've had at least three guys come into my office this year, with offers from either other job markets, maybe not even the same, you know, industry, right? Like, hey, boss, you know, and there, you know, these guys are good dudes, they're not trying to strong arm anything. But you know, they've got to look out for them too. And I don't blame them a bit. And I would never want to hold anybody back. But they're like, hey, you know, I'm looking at this deal. And so, we've had some real good conversations about Great Game and growth and bonus. And so, for example, one of these guys that came in earlier this year, few months ago, said, hey, you know, here's kind of where I'm at, I'm thinking about moving. And I've got some offers, and this and that be look closer to my girlfriend, he's got an out-of-town girlfriend. And, you know, the ornery tree guy. I mean, what's there, you know, there's girlfriends in every city, but I was trying to be nice. And, you know, I said, okay, okay, I get it. I'm totally with you, man. And so, we made some adjustments to PayScale that were probably warranted. But not only that, you know, but part of my sales pitch was also like, hey, we've got, you know, this structure, you've already worked half a year to work towards bonus, when she finished the next six months and get your bonus check, I'm not going to look bad on you, if you stick around to get your bonus check, you earned it. If we finish this year out strong and everybody bonuses. And maybe some guys, you know, in non-Great Game businesses would probably have a hard time looking at it that way, you know, stroking that check nor guy might be out the door January one. But you know, he worked hard all year to help are in it. So, I said stick around, earn your bonus check, you know, and then if you got to go, you got to go. And if not, gives me time to convince you otherwise. And plus, you know, your integral part of this year's plan, and gives me time to train somebody else to take over that role, etc. All the things, you know, that's happened a couple two or three times this year, you know, and so that was a big deal. And so, he actually came back into my office yesterday, as a matter of fact. And a week ago, I'd sat down as we start this thought process on high involvement planning and a 1, 3, 5, 10-year plan, right? In our forecasted some numbers, just rough numbers of Hey, what is 15% growth? Look over the next 10 years what's 20% growth? Look over the next 10 years, we've averaged 21. So even at 15, you know, company, our size is going to put us around 10 and a half million a year. That's four times where we are today. And so, he's in my office talking about the end of the year. And he said, Man, I'm 60-40 like I'm not convinced 100% I'm leaving, but I'm still leaning towards, you know, getting a little closer the girlfriend. I'm like, that's cool, man. I said let me show you something. I said just something to think about between now and the end of the year. I said here's our revenue projections for the next 10 years at 15%, 20% growth. I can't promise you a single thing. I can't tell you this is going to happen. But what I can show you as the last four years, it did happen. And that's our focus. So, what that means to you is that there's four times the opportunity between now and the next 10 years. 

Steve Baker 40:14

And he's sees people growing in the business to right and so  

Casey Hildebrandt 40:17

He's watching it. He's watching it, you know, he's seen it every day. So it was, you know, it's just cool conversations. And maybe, maybe he'll be with us next year, maybe won't be. Anyways, cool conversations, and it's fun watching these young guys grow up and get a get a taste of business. You know. 

Steve Baker 40:33

It is. Do you think, I don't know if this is a fair question or not. Do you think that you would have had that same conversation? If you've never heard of the Great Game of Business?

Casey Hildebrandt 40:42

Absolutely, not.

Steve Baker 40:44

Really? Okay. So, it's opened your perspective to, hasn't it?

Casey Hildebrandt 40:48

The conversation would have been much vaguer, you know, would have been like, hey, you know, we're growing, and there's going to be opportunities in the future. But when you can put, I mean, it's like saying, hey, we're going to go on a really cool vacation, but I'm not going to tell you where we're going. And it's like, okay, well, is it going to be good one or not, you know, the kids are looking at you like, okay, last time you took us, you know, down to Chucky Cheese dad, that wasn't really vacation, you know. But now you've got the destination pick, you know, you got to figure out your route to get there. And that's not totally clear just yet. But we've got a place. This is where we're headed.

Steve Baker 41:26

That's great. So, actually, that's huge. And I appreciate you being vulnerable enough to admit that it did make that difference for you. Because that's a huge deal. I think people sometimes miss the nuance of it is it's not just for you, the business owner, right? It's, it's improving the lives of the people that that drive the results to. So, that idea of whether it's planting a tree in the front yard I can look at and be proud of, or it's, hey, I might be able to run a business, let's say we get into something diversified, like, you know, lawn mowing, or landscaping or what I mean, who knows? Because I'm already thinking, I just heard about this. I'm not at liberty to say who it is. But we just learned that two Great Game companies in the same industry are merging. And it's all because they go, we you know, the cultures fit, and the idea fits, and we can be much better together. I just think that there's so many opportunities for folks who think you know, outside the lines, I guess that's where I would go next is let's color outside the lines a little bit here. You told me a story about your plumber. So, this isn't about trees. This isn't about Casey; this is about your plumber. Would you mind sharing that with our audience? Because I just got a big kick out of it. 

Casey Hildebrandt 42:40

Yeah, so this guy that does some plumbing work for us does work at the shop has done some work in my house. I mean, just a solid individual top-notch dude. Cool dude, hardworking guy knows his business. Super down to Earth easy to get along with easy to get ahold of type guy. He comes down, fix some stuff in my house. Got a little call back issue, right? A little, call back issue, nothing he did just something weird going on route with a shower bow. So, getting back out to the house last week. And it was it was about it's been about three plus weeks since he did the original work, okay. And he gets out the house and the dadgum shower valve doesn't act up. And so, I'm feeling really bad. I'm like, Man, you came all the way out here. You know, and I know you got a busy schedule. And man, nothing happened. I said, hey, while you're here, let me get you a check. Because I haven't paid you for the original work. I said you have sent me an invoice yet. So, you're here, let me just get your check right now. He's like, dude, I don't have time, I only put an invoice together. And so that just prompted a conversation about business. And we started talking about systems, you know, and systems on invoicing, systems on scheduling, and systems on paying bills, and management systems, all those things. You know, it just started this about 30, 40-minute conversation is crazy to the chaos. And I remember being in the middle of all that chaos, you know, and here's this guy that's, you know, reasonable amount older than me and further along in business and been doing it a lot longer than I have. And he's like, you know, I had a, I was up to about 15 guys, and you know, one or two guys left, and then it just all kind of now it's just me and a couple guys. And just it just stressed me the importance of you know, succession planning, having a plan, knowing where you're going, not just letting it happen. And you know, at the end of the conversation Oh man, I'm so sorry. This, you know, was a wasted trip for you. He said no, I think it was a really good trip. He said I needed this pep talk. And he said you and I are going to be talking more about all this stuff here in the future. And I was like, man anytime, anytime come by the office or whatever, we'll talk so it was just a good reminder of you know, how much something like an operating system like Great Game can give me a structure to your company. And you have a plan. And otherwise, sometimes it's just, it's chaos every day.

Steve Baker 45:08

Yeah, there's always going to be chaos. The question is, can you make sense of it? And can you help your people survive that chaos, you know, because they're dealing with a lot of stuff, too, every day, you know, and having a plan, as you say, and a vision of where we're going makes a huge difference, especially if it's credible. So, if we take it more personal, I am curious, your kids are still young, mine are a little bit older, because I'm older than you are, obviously, and I'm curious, are you taking some of this home? Like, how does it trickle down to your kids? Do you mind talking about that?

Casey Hildebrandt 45:44

Yeah, there's, there's definitely, and I don't have anything specific just off top my head that comes to mind. But there's, there's a lot of opportunities that we tried to follow the people support what they help create scenario. And you can do that with the kids big time, you know, on hey, well, this or that, and they get a pick. And because it was, you know, they helped create it, they're, they're involved. You know, my oldest is about to be 15. And so, this is my first time, you know, 15, you know, year-old son, and he's, he's a heck of a little guitar player and totally into music. And, but, you know, I mean, I'm sure I was the same way, maybe. But, you know, getting to the age dad not cool anymore, mom's not cool. Let me hang on my friend, you know, all that stuff, that typical teenager, we probably all were there. And so, I guess an example that I might throw out there is I've got this little plan to add on a little, quote, man cave or something to my, my garage, right. And it just hit me the other day, the whole people support what they helped create, and I thought, what an opportunity to connect with my son. I'm, handy, you know, and so it's like, hey, there'll be certain things we hire out, right, then we're going to have somebody do the plumbing work and, you know, pour the slab, whatever. But I thought, Man, this would be a great opportunity for us to do something together. And if he helps create it, and, you know, my, quote, sales pitch to him is, this is going to be a space where you and I can hang out. And it's going to be a space where you can come out and crank that guitar as loud as you want and jam out all night if that's if that's what you want to do that night. You don't have to worry about waking up brothers and sister and all that stuff. And, and so, you know, I you know, it hadn't happened yet. But it's definitely something on the radar. And he just goes back to the people support what they helped create, and if he helps create it with me, it's going to be a great opportunity for us together. You know, I was talking to my wife, looking back in the younger age, you know, I was griped and complained about having to go work with dad, right? But then as you grow and you get older, you look back on those, those memories and you're like, man, some of the best times you don't get a chance to spend with dad and working hard and feeling like you got something done that day. 

Steve Baker 47:57

I love it. Thanks for sharing that, man. I can't wait to hear but what happens? What's his name? Your oldest. 

Casey Hildebrandt 48:05


Steve Baker 48:06

Okay, well, we're going to be looking for Caleb on the top 10 charts. And yeah, it will be because of the people support what they help create. That's so cool. Well, okay, so that's I asked for a personal story from you. If you were, you know, you're talking to everybody in the audience. If you were just standing there having a beer at the conference with somebody, what would you tell them one thing that practicing Great Game could do for them personally, what would it be?

Casey Hildebrandt 48:35

I would say the owner, and or, you know, co-executive in a company. At least the way I feel about it is it can give you a lot of confidence. Because now you have a plan. You know, you kind of you know where you're going. And you can always usually, I mean, folks at those levels are pretty good at figuring things out, right? But sometimes the hardest part, if you don't know where you're going, how do you figure it out. And so having that destination set and giving you a plan, and then you just you just figure out how to get there. So, it instills a tremendous amount of confidence in the ownership situation. It's hard to emphasize how much it takes the burden off the owner shoulders of bearing the entire weight of the company, and where we're headed because now it's a team effort. Hey, you guys know the numbers you see it as much as I see it. If you want to know something, ask you know if you if you're not understanding it, or it doesn't make sense, or maybe you need more information to make a decision, and it gets everybody falling in line executing their roles that are at a higher level. Because you're focused on a common goal.

Steve Baker 49:57

I love it. I love it. That's so cool. And that's exactly the kind of thing that people need to hear these days because they're trying to carry it all themselves. And you know what, you don't have to have all the answers you got a lot of people there to help you if you can just capture the wisdom of the crowd. Well, let's look future wise what's next for Hildebrandt?

Casey Hildebrandt 50:18

We will most likely we've talked about it as a leadership team, and we're beginning putting numbers to paper on our annual plan for next year. And with that, we'll probably we'll get into the level three coaching, the high involvement planning, really focusing in on, you know, those longer-term goals, contingencies. And something that's really been on the radar lately a succession planning, you know, figuring out who's filling what role next. And we've been doing a lot of that just by happenstance, got to you got to, you got to keep it rolling, but to have a little more structure to that, and a better map of that. And that gives a lot of guys and a company, good perspective, and lets them know, the opportunities that are available to them in the future may not happen tomorrow. But that's where we're headed. And if you can show that vision show that plan, I think that's huge, to creating a lasting company.

Steve Baker 51:18

I love that. And I would agree with you, because everywhere I ever worked before it came to work at SRC, it was always just what are we doing next year? What do we do, and it was, you know, a fabrication because they'd say we need x many million dollars of sales, and I would go split it up on a calculator and in a spreadsheet, and it was just made up because they said, get us this much, you know, it wasn't what's possible. What's the market? What else can we do if that blows up? And when I came here, Jack is doing the crazy thing of asking people, what is possible? And the more that I learned, the more I started to see Holy crap, I've just been shooting in the dark my whole career, because that's the way you did things. So, it is it makes a big difference. I think people that work for you, Casey will really grow to appreciate it on a whole new level. So, I you know, one of the things that Rich and I always tried to do on the podcast is end by asking this question, which is, what's the one question that we should be asking you that we haven't thought of?

Casey Hildebrandt 52:20

Though know, anything that comes to mind on that is if I was phrasing that question, I'd say, and I was in your shoes? Could you ever imagine going back to running your company without Great Game of Business? And the answer would be a resounding no. I can't. It just, it doesn't, it's so natural. Now. It's so normal. It's, it's, it's the way you're supposed to do it, you know. I've talked to guys that, you know, that are in bigger companies and explain these concepts. And it's just it's so foreign to them and us it's so just how we do things, you know, and it blows people away, blows people away. So, that there that there would be the first thing that comes to mind is just, could you ever imagine going back to not doing business this way? And heck, no. 

Steve Baker 53:16

I love it. Well, it's always good to talk to you, Casey. Thanks for doing this. Now, I may mess this up. But I always try to kind of summarize some of the big ideas that I got out of the conversation; I'm going to share those. Now. Some of my takeaways were how important departmental scorecards and team scorecards are to really keeping people connected to the numbers and their how their daily actions and decisions make a financial impact. Planning is essential to growth and success. Weekly huddles really make the difference. So, keep them up. Listen to your people, they probably have great ideas for improvement and rewards. Adapt the game to your particular business goals. Identifying what you're good at. This was a big takeaway for me, identifying what you're good at, meaning the example was weak and we're really good at scheduling we're not just good at trees may help you in looking on how you could grow and diversify the business. Talk to your peers at conferences, peer groups, etc. To grow and accelerate your own learning. The Great Game and high involvement planning allows you to paint a believable vision of the future for not only your team but yourself. And then just a couple more utilizing the higher law business people support what they helped create. You said that a lot. I like how you use it in all different aspects of your life. That's cool. I think we could all take a lesson from that and then finally, totally paraphrasing the conversation. What I took from you Casey is the Great Game helps to calm the chaos that that the game can give you a lot of confidence as a leader because you have a plan. And as an owner, great game can kind of allow you not to carry the whole burden of the business all by yourself that kind of wrap it up? Most definitely. All right, good, good. Well, I always learn from these conversations, but I also find that I tend to grow a lot closer to folks and I've enjoyed getting to know you. I remember when you were your first workshop and it's great to see how much you've grown and what you're doing with your people. So, let's keep this conversation going right here and let's have you back on and see how you're progressing on your plans. Thank you, Casey. 

Casey Hildebrandt 55:30

Yeah, thank you guys. Appreciate it very much. 

Steve Baker 55:32

You got it. Well, folks, let's keep this conversation going. Send us your questions, your stories, all those best practices and ideas, of course, your challenges and your victories that is capitalism at its best. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time. 

Announcer 55:47

The "Change the Game" Podcast is produced by the Great Game of Business. To learn more, visit

Topics: Company Culture, Employee Engagement, Financial Literacy, Leadership, Transparency

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Hosted by Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker the Change the Game podcast highlights true life stories of organizations influencing positive change by doing business differently. They’re teaching people how business works and closing the gap between the haves and have-nots. It’s capitalism at its best. Inside each episode, you’ll discover stories of entrepreneurs who are Changing the Game.

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