Stacy bakes her way to better coworker relationships
Stacy Mueller sure knows how to become the most popular person in the office, taking the time to bake cakes to celebrate people’s birthdays. Seriously, who doesn’t love cake?!? She’s also known for quilting and making ginger bread houses, both things that she’s perfected through years of family gatherings.
In this episode, Stacy and I talk about how these passions help humanize her and give the office an opportunity to take a break from only talking about work demands. We also discuss a new policy INT implemented during the interview process where the candidate meets with a few people for a cultural fit interview. The staff don’t ask any technical questions at all but instead focus on the candidate’s outside interests and personality, two things that are vital to a healthy work culture.
Stacy Mueller is the Executive Vice-President and Chief Value Officer at INT.
She graduated with a BA from Concordia College.
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Now it’s time for this week’s guest, Stacy Muller. She’s the Executive Vice-President and Chief Value Officer at INT, a company that focuses on providing entrepreneurs with business, technical, and creative solutions. Now, Stacy, you’re the first Chief Value Officer I’ve had on the Green Apple Podcast, so I’ve got to ask what degree is required for that. With the word “value” I’m guessing something like accounting?
Stacy: Not at all, no. Like many of your other guests, I do not have an Accounting degree. I came to it really growing up, my parents owned a business, all of my grandparents were business owners and so I saw from the age of three what it was like to run a business and was involved in that from a very young age. And then late 90s got a very unexpected job offer to move to a city that I had never been to before and now almost 18 years later I’m still with the same company that made that job offer.
John: That’s fantastic.
Stacy: And my degree is Social Work Sociology with a minor in Psychology and I did a lot of work with nursing home settings where people had memory issues and declining health. And so I worked in a setting that had people with a lot of different disciplines and backgrounds which I find very helpful and I also like to joke that I know how to work with people who are out of their minds and that can apply to a lot of different settings.
John: Yeah, that’s fantastic. What an excellent background. I would imagine that that helps you at work some, maybe some patience or explaining things in a better way, or things like that.
Stacy: Sure, absolutely, just picking up on some of those interviewing skills when you’re talking to clients or when I’m training some of our staff, not everybody learns the same way. So kind of picking up on what’s the best way for them to absorb this information and have it stick.
John: Yeah, that’s fantastic, really cool. And so when you have some free time in your nights and weekends what sort of hobbies and passions do you enjoy doing when you have some free time?
Stacy: Well, when I told other staff members that I was going to be talking to you I had one camp that was “You’ve got to tell him about your cakes”; I had another camp that was “Oh, you’re going to have to show him all the gingerbread houses that you make”; and then I have the third camp which was “Every time we’re on a web conference with one of our other staff members, we can see in the background in her office she’s got a quilt that you made hanging up.” So it’s baking, quilting. Yesterday I brought some cookies to our local Woodard group meeting because our leader had won the the 2017 Scaling New Heights “Face the Yeti” Challenge so I made some little yeti cookies for her to celebrate, so that sort of stuff.
John: That’s great! You’re just a high school home ec come to life, like between all the crafts and the baking and everything, that’s fantastic. Have you always been baking from when you were little or is it something that you took up as you got older?
Stacy: I remember when I was still carrying a blankie around putting my blankie up on the counter, gotten a little too close to the oven burner when I was making my breakfast and burned the corner of my blankie. So it’s something my parents have allowed me to have sharp knives for a long time.
John: Yeah, look at you, just getting in there and getting involved, that’s fantastic. And luckily, no more burned blankies after that, you just do that once, right, that’s a one-time thing.
John: That’s really cool. And then gingerbread houses, that’s certainly something that like we’ve all done maybe once and it’s been really ugly. I remember when I was little it was how much candy can I pile on this house before it collapses, that was pretty much my motto. But what makes you get into that?
Stacy: Well, when we come home for the holidays there’s always time with the family and rather than look out at the foot or more of snow or sometimes blizzard conditions when you’re in the middle of North Dakota, what sort of project can the family do together. And it really is a project management exercise because to do a really nice large house is a three- or four-day undertaking and there’s a lot of planning ahead and thinking what are we going to do this year that’s going to be different or challenge ourselves with a technique that we haven’t tried before, or something like that.
John: Yeah, so it’s a family group project, it’s not you’re each doing your own and have a little competition sort of a thing. That’s awesome.
Stacy: Yes. And we also do little ones, the kids tend to be the John Garrett method of piling as much candy as we like. So we like to give especially when they were younger we would give them their own little house to do what they wanted.
John: Right. It’s either pile it all on or eat it all and just have an empty house. That’s fantastic, though, and really cool, and what a neat tradition to do every year especially. So is this some things that you share with people in the office? I mean, clearly, since you asked everyone, what do you know me for, and they’re bringing this up. How does that come up in conversation?
Stacy: Well, certainly it was the cakes. When I was still local and going to the Chicago office every day, I got in the habit of bringing a birthday cake once a month and that really started by bringing one or two cakes for particular people that I work closely with and then everyone else saying, “How come she didn’t bring a birthday cake for my birthday?” So I had a coworker who we were chatting, her grandson’s birthday was coming up and we were thinking what sort of cake she could make and I came up with this design of a frog cake that she can make. She came in after the birthday and said that the head had fallen off and it was a disaster. So when her birthday rolled around I made the cake and my head stayed on.
John: Oh, nice!
Stacy: So just kind of listening in to what other people like, for eating one person’s cake and someone says, “Oh, I like this but I really rather have had chocolate.” I made a mental note that’s what they like, or if they had a particular interest in some particular thing I would try to incorporate that into a theme so we had a lot of different designs over the years that I know no one else has picked up the mantle since I don’t have a kitchen close to the office that I can use. But I did make a cake for a coworker’s baby shower while I was still able to cook there so that was the last one that I did there.
John: That’s neat, though. And it’s cool that you just took it upon yourself to be like, hey, I just enjoy these people and it’s a gift that I have and so why not share it with people. I mean, who doesn’t like cake, seriously, that’s a slam dunk right there so that’s really neat. And were you ever apprehensive to bring in a cake or you were just like, hey, this is what I do and I’m happy to share it.
Stacy: No, I don’t think there was any apprehension about doing cakes. I certainly wasn’t going to make them and keep them to myself. And like you said, who doesn’t like cake.
John: Yeah! And you know what’s funny and this is a huge thing for me is I never realized and of course you’re making them from scratch and for real, but if you’re like me and maybe baking challenge, you can just buy the box at this grocery store and you can make a cake for like less than $5 and I couldn’t believe that it was so cheap and I was like, why don’t we have cake every week. If I ever run for political office there are going to be cakes in every house every week, like that’s my stance, like a high school student council. But it’s like, man, it’s so good and it’s awesome and of course yours are much, much better and well-designed from scratch. But yeah, that’s really cool, though, and neat that you wanted to share that with everybody. I think that’s great.
And so then gingerbread houses, is it more of, “Here’s a picture of what we did” then you’re sharing it?
Stacy: Yes. During one of the company launches they did a little gingerbread house decorating contest. I just submitted my entry remotely for that.
John: Right, that’s funny. Did you win?
Stacy: I don’t think I was eligible but I would have won if I had been there.
John: Right, it’s one of those where, “Whoa, who brought the professional in? Slow down!” That’s funny. Really cool, though, really cool. I skipped over on the quilting but is that something that you’ve been doing from when you were young, as well?
Stacy: Yes. So that’s a grandmother-mother passed down that hobby and it’s something that sometimes we collaborate with each other and definitely there are shopping trips where we help each other fill our quilting studios with more and more fabrics. Something that we do whenever my mom comes to town or just go around with my sister and do a little trip from shop to shop picking up different fabric that we don’t necessarily have any use for but we absolutely must have.
John: But one day you might and so there you go. And I love how you called it a quilting studio, that’s intimidating.
Stacy: Yes, that’s a work in progress but I’m going to dedicate a room to organize all of my fabrics and things like that.
John: That’s impressive.
Stacy: All the things that I needed to bring home that I actually remember I have them and put them to use.
John: Right, that’s a good point too, excellent. So would you say that any of these hobbies has benefitted your career in any way? Clearly, stronger coworker relationships, that’s a slam dunk right there with the cake, for sure.
Stacy: Sure. I think being able to talk about things that are not related to the job that you’re doing just humanizes us and makes us more memorable. And I think that opportunity to talk about things that are not necessarily “I’m waiting for you to get this done” or “When can I have my report?” cannot hurt. We ruled out value pricing in our firm, we got together small groups of staff and we pulled people from different departments that didn’t necessarily interact closely on a regular basis. And part of it was, yeah, we’re going to talk about how we’re changing our pricing model because if you’re going to be executing on these statements of work and engagements that we’re going on, you should know how they’re priced and if there’s a scope creep, you’re the one that’s going to raise the flag that we need to do a change order.
But another big part of that endeavor for us was having people interact and get to know people within the company and we’re at a point where only about 40% of our staff are in one building together and that building is not very conducive to interaction the way that it’s laid out. So even if somebody was coming to the office every day they might not run into somebody else from another part of the building, naturally. And then we have 60% of our staff who are scattered around the country between Las Vegas, Denver, I’m in Minnesota, and we have some folks out in Connecticut, and we even have one staff member who’s in Sweden. So kind of building in those ways that people can interact and get to know each other is really important when we’re starting to fold new people in to the organization and hiring so that there’s not isolation of the staff just by physical location.
John: Right, yeah. That’s even more critical when you’re not able to see everybody face-to-face all the time. So are there specific things that INT does to kind of foster this? I love that idea of when you’re rolling out a new program just get everybody in a room that are in different departments at a time, that way then it’s the same message to everybody and then people can chime in on, hey, I don’t think it’s going to work from our point of view, or things like that. Are there other things that INT does?
Stacy: Sure. We have a book club and we have actually done that in conjunction with one of our clients and they have multiple locations, as well. And so, we take turns between the two companies, who picks the books and who moderates the discussion, but we have folks in Colorado and North Carolina and Nevada and Minnesota, everyone jumping on once a month to discuss whatever book that we’re talking about. And we have people that are together in conference rooms in some of those locations but some people just work at home, remote people that are jumping on and talking about that. And oftentimes it’s a book that has some relevance to business or things that apply to people’s jobs but not always.
John: Sure, but then you’re able to have a human conversation about it and then it’s not trying to get business or trying to get someone within your company to get you a report, like you said, things along those lines. So yeah, that’s an excellent idea, that’s really cool. And I also love the interview process that you guys rolled out, I think it’s really fantastic. If you want to tell everyone a little bit about that, I think it’s so great.
Stacy: Sure, so we hired for two positions in our tech department. And while the candidates went through the normal vetting process, interviewing with people from the tech department, finding out about their tech skills, we also did a cultural fit interview where somebody from our HR group, somebody from our creative group, and I did an interview with them where we didn’t ask them any technical questions at all and we tried to ascertain what are they interested in and what can we learn about their hobbies that maybe tells us something about them and who they are beyond what we would just read on their job history on their resume.
And I think that was really helpful just to see is this person really going to fit in with our existing staff, are they kind of onboard for the type of company we are, give them a sense of the kind of place that they’re considering joining because we wanted to be not only us really excited that they’re joining us but we want them to be excited to come onboard also. And it also gave them a little bit of a sense of what a typical meeting might be because we had our HR person in the room with them and then the two of us were remote on the screen and it’s not unusual given the disbursement of our staff all over the country that meetings will have people that are remote and people that are local, just giving them a little bit of a flavor of what that’s like, too.
John: Yeah, that’s really, really neat, with some no, this is what it’s like. And I love that the way you said that is not only are you excited that they’re coming on board but you want them to be excited that they’re a part of the team now and it’s you guys kind of selling INT, as well. Because a lot of times in interviews it’s “Why should we hire you” sort of a thing and I love how it’s a balance of they’re thinking “Why should I come work at INT” type of thing. But yeah, that whole approach of what are you interested in and things that aren’t on your resume necessarily, let’s talk about those just a little bit. And that’s cool that you guys made a dedicated time for that, I think that’s great.
And how did that feel doing that interview? Did it feel kind of weird or was it pretty natural?
Stacy: It helped to have three people so we could kind of play off of each other and it wasn’t just a one-on-one situation. And we made it very conversational, so we had our list of questions that we could go to but if they took the conversation in another direction we just let it flow. So it was pretty natural for us.
John: Nice, very cool. Did you find some people were a little reluctant or hesitant to share some of that stuff?
Stacy: Maybe a little bit. We didn’t do what I would consider representative sample, the candidates have already been narrowed down so it was a fairly short list that we were dealing with at that point.
John: Sure. Yeah, because I always just get perplexed when people tend to not want to do that, they want to have their like work self and they want to have their outside of work self, I guess their real self, and sometimes people are reluctant to be a little bit vulnerable and let their guard down. I was just curious, is that something you’ve come across in your career that you’ve seen from some people?
Stacy: Certainly, in those interviews there were some questions that they weren’t as open about answering. Anything that we saw in those interviews was not going to necessarily make or break their chances but certainly if everyone else loves them we’ll give them the thumbs up, too.
John: Right, right. But, certainly, it’s just one of those things where it seems like if you have the skillset or you have these things that you’re doing outside of work, that’s really part of you and that’s who you are. And so, sharing that at work, whether it’s baking cakes for people to celebrate things, or showing pictures of having your quilt hanged behind, those little things make you memorable and those skills that you’re developing while you do those, you can bring those to the office. So I think that that’s really neat that you can explore that in the interview process right away, that’s for sure.
So one thing that I like to throw out to people just to see because it’s something that I wrestle with myself is just how much is it on the organization to create that culture where people feel safe and secure to be able to share, versus, it’s on the individual to just create your own little circle and go from there.
Stacy: I think it’s both. But if the organization is not making it comfortable or sends the message that we don’t care about this, that person is going to self-select out of the organization if that’s something that they’re… If they want to be more social and share things that are from their outside life they’re going to select out if that’s something that is not supported by the organization and vice versa, where if someone really wants to have a clear separation and the organization is the opposite they’re going to eventually self-select out of that situation.
John: Right, yeah. It will all work its way out, that’s for sure. Yeah, absolutely. And so, I guess one other thing is what might be some barriers that people see to being able to share or why people might want to have that separation.
Stacy: I think for me, personally, growing up in a family business, I was eating breakfast, driving across town, perhaps in separate cars, parking our cars next to each other again at the family office and walking in and sitting literally inches away from my parents. And so I definitely like to have my weekends or time after work but not to the degree that when somebody asks, “Hey, what did you do over the weekend,” I don’t want to share that. Or when I’m in Chicago on my next trip there’s a giant quilt festival and I’ve taken some coworkers with me to that so that they can share the hobby. And they might not be into quilting themselves but they can appreciate the artistic nature of it and the amount of work that goes into it and all of that.
John: Right, right. And it’s something that you guys then have a different connection level than you did beforehand, that’s excellent. That’s such a perfect example of something that people can do that’s really simple and then vice versa, they can take you to whatever they’re into sort of a thing.
Stacy: Right. One of our tech staff is one of the founders of one of the most prominent Tolkien movie fan sites in the world and when all of the Peter Jackson films were coming out they would do midnight showings and organize fans from their site to go to the theaters. And if I hadn’t known the coworker that was into that would have I been standing on line at midnight to go see a Tolkien film? Probably not. But there were several of us that went out and did that.
John: That’s great, that’s really fantastic. And it opens your world just a little bit and then yeah, you can understand them a little bit better, as well. That’s really cool. So do you have any words of encouragement to anyone that maybe is a master baker themselves but they’re a little reluctant to share that?
Stacy: Well, I think you said it earlier, everyone loves cake, just bring it.
John: Right, just make the cake already and invite John while you’re at it.
Stacy: And try something new outside of the box.
John: Yeah, exactly, pun intended. I love it, very good. Well, this has been really, really fun, Stacy, but before I make the flight up there to Minneapolis and we do a little baking ourselves or even quilting, I do have to run through my 17 rapid fire questions, a little bit of get to know Stacy edition. So let me fire this thing up, I hope you’re ready, it’s going to be all good, I can feel it.
So we’ll start you easy. Do you have a favorite color?
Stacy: Peacock blue.
John: How about a least favorite color?
John: All right, fair enough. When it comes to movies, more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Stacy: Oh, Star Wars.
John: When it comes to computers, more PC or Mac?
John: And on a mouse, are you more right click or left click?
Stacy: Right click.
John: Fancy. Do you have a favorite band or musician?
Stacy: Based on number of times I’ve seen them live I guess we would go with Pink Martini.
John: Okay, and what’s that number of times?
Stacy: Three or four.
John: Wow, that’s quite a few for a band, yeah. I used to live in Chicago so when it comes to pizza are you more deep dish or regular?
Stacy: I don’t think they’re the same food, I like both of them.
John: Excellent answer, that’s actually the best answer possible right there. When it comes to financials are you more balance sheet or income statement?
Stacy: I want both so can I have like the trial balance and give me more than one period?
John: Now you’re getting nosy, that’s what you’re doing. Do you have a favorite Disney character?
Stacy: No, I don’t think so.
John: Just all of them? All right, how about favorite number?
Stacy: Well, I am a child of Schoolhouse Rock! and a value pricing student so I think with both of those things in mind, three is a magic number.
John: Pens or pencils?
John: How about Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Are you more cats or dogs?
Stacy: Grew up with cats, I’ve fallen in love with some other dogs later in life, kind of an individual basis.
John: All right, fair enough. Diamonds or pearls?
John: And how about on that pizza, favorite toppings loaded up?
Stacy: If I’m in Chicago, it’s Lou Malnati’s, Lou which is tomato, spinach, and mushroom.
John: Oh, wow, that’s really good and that’s the deep dish, too, that’s so good. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Stacy: Not really, no.
John: All right, how about a favorite comedian?
Stacy: I really admire what Chris Gethard is doing with Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People.
John: Oh, yeah, absolutely, definitely. And two more, early bird or night owl?
Stacy: I can do both, I would probably lean towards night owl.
John: All right. And the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Stacy: So my grandma was a Modern Woodmen insurance agent and she had a home office when I was very small. When I moved back to Minneapolis and setting up my home office, my dad brought a desk that she used in her office. So now I have that desk in my home office.
John: Oh, wow, that’s so fantastic, that’s really cool. And you can sit at it every day, that’s really neat, very cool. Well, thank you so much, Stacy, for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This was so fun.
Stacy: Yeah, thanks!
John: That was really, really good. And I’m also really, really hungry for cake right now. I particularly loved how Stacy said that her hobbies help humanize her and give the office an opportunity to take a break from only talking about work. If you’d like to see some pictures of Stacy’s baked goods and quilts and unbelievable gingerbread house, go to greenapplepodcast.com. And while you’re there, please click that big green button and do my anonymous research survey. Thank you for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.