Culture shapes success! Josh Block unlocks the secrets of a thriving work culture, sharing how his company, Block Imaging, makes people matter the most.
Josh Block, put it perfectly; "Culture is something you don't notice until it's not there anymore.". Josh and I talk about his company, Block Imaging, and their work culture and how he turned it into a place where people matter the most. Josh Block is the President of Block Imaging, a second-generation family business in Lansing, Michigan specializing in refurbished imaging equipment, parts, engineering service and mobile solutions. Josh also runs an organization called People Matter At Work which helps businesses and organizations of all shapes and sizes find new ways to lead and shape work culture such that both the business and team members grow and thrive. He and his wife Lacey have been married for 15 years and have two children; Annalise (11) and Benjamin (9).
BLOCK IMAGING: https://www.blockimaging.com/
PEOPLE MATTER AT WORK: https://peoplematteratwork.com/
LINKED IN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joshblock1/
All we want as bosses or owners is for our employees to enjoy their work and to love coming to work. A lot of that starts with culture and my guest on the show, Josh Block, put it perfectly: "Culture is something you don't notice until it's not there anymore." Josh and I talk about his company, Block Imaging, and their work culture and how he turned it into a place where people matter the most.
I got Josh Block on the episode with me from Lansing, Michigan. He's the President of Block Imaging, which is a second-generation family business, specializing in refurbishing imaging equipment, parts and engineering services, and mobile solutions. He's also a husband to Lacey, has been married for many years, and has two children with him. He has 160 people that work for him, and he talks about culture. When I think about Josh Block, I think about this amazing culture. He loves people. He has a website that is called PeopleMatterAtWork.com. Make sure you guys check that out. I wanted to introduce you to Josh Block. What's going on, Josh?
Not much. How are you, Brett?
Not much, man. Thank you again for being on the show. President of Block Imaging, a second-generation family business, you lead an amazing team and an amazing culture. I've met some of the people that work for you and all good things and all amazing people. Let's start off the show with you to give us a little taste of who is Josh Block.
I've been married for many years. I have two kids. I spend a lot of time raising teens and then ultimately lead this team in the healthcare and radiology space.
That's awesome. What's one tip for teenage parenting?
I am trying to remain calm in this season. I'm fascinated by the way that our anxiousness can shape our home culture and influence our kids. Managing anxiety and trying to keep a sense of calm as they go through this so much transition in their life is probably something that I'm thinking a lot about as a parent of a teen girl.
That's a good advice. I was telling my wife I flipped my lid on something. I was like, “That is not me. I hate that ugly coming out.” You are the President of Block Imaging, a second-generation family business. Tell us about this journey. You've raised up presidents. Tell us about Block Imaging.
My family has been in the coffee business for several generations. My dad, at almost 50 years old, tripped and fell into an imaging trade business. It was a small business that an owner had asked him to come and sell some equipment, mostly brokering CT scanners to China. That business ended up folding. My dad bought the pieces of what was left and started Block Imaging out of a home office many years ago.
There was no thought at that time. He had five kids getting ready to move through the college era, a very expensive season of life. He was trying to provide for his family. The thought that many years later that we'd have 160 people spread all over the world and we'd become a very familiar company in the radiology and imaging space was hard to believe. For me, there are four sons in the business. I have a sister who's not in the business, but I have 3 brothers and myself and started leading a couple of years ago. I've been with the company for a couple of years. We have a co-president. Jason Crawford and I co-lead this organization.
With 160 people, you guys are leading in this organization. For me, I have ten people and I'm like, “This is crazy.” To lead that many people and to keep the culture alive and thriving, you've done very well. We're going to talk about culture and how you've been able to do that because I know even your website at People At Work Matter, even that title, when I think of Josh Block, I think this man cares about people. Talk to us about that. What has your passion been about people in your workplace? Also, let us go into what you think about the people that work for you.
I love people and I'm a little bit of a unique person, I've enjoyed every job I've ever had. I was raised in a home where we were working whether it be around the house. Ultimately, I've waited tables at Cracker Barrel and cooked at restaurants. I always enjoyed work. I was talking to our leadership team about this. There was this collision as I became an adult that this isn't most people's experience. Most people don't like work, don't respect their boss, and don't appreciate their organization. That collision of my experience and others came together. When I think about leading the organization, my dream is to create a place where people love to work.
They don't love to work and that it's cozy, but they're challenged and stretched. In five years, they look back and say like, “I cannot believe how much I've accomplished. I can't believe how much I've grown.” The final part of my dream in the workplace is that people would go home and that kids would be recipients of parents who love what they do. Those kids would grow up and say like, “I want to work at a place like my mommy or daddy work.” When parents go home, they'd be better parents and they'd be better spouses than if they were at a place filled with politics, toxicity, and all the other crap that comes into so many workplaces. There's a little bit about what gets me going in the work realm.
To do that with 160 people, to come home, and to love their work, I want to get this practical. I know a lot of business owners read this and the culture is like, “How do I do this? How do I create a good, positive environment, still challenge and keep people accountable, but still have fun and still do some of those fun things?” Take us into Block Imaging a little bit. What are some of the things you guys do? What does it look like?
For us, that's a huge question. Culture is a word that means everything and nothing. I almost imagine it like oxygen. Nobody cares that it's there until it's gone, then it starts to impact our lives. Culture is you don't always know when it's healthy, but you for sure know when it isn't. For us, people aren't looking for cozy. People want to be challenged and want to be stretched. You see these companies that are vacillating between being warm and then harsh. For us, it's like, “How do we walk the line of being caring, having a high-challenge environment, and pushing people not because of what we can get out of them, but because of our belief in them?”
I love that. You talk about challenging people. Certain people are like, “I like to win and I like challenges. You put a challenge in front of me, I want to achieve it. I'm the achiever mindset. In the Enneagram, I'm the achiever.” What are some things that you do in your business to set some challenges for people, have people feel like they're winning, and they're not making you successful? What are some things that you guys do?
For us, our mission, as you mentioned briefly, is that people matter. Our belief is that people matter more than anything, more than cars, more than houses, more than market share, and more than profitability. When we are born out of our belief that people matter, we seek to create a thriving team culture. When we do that well, then our team cares for customers. When we do that well, our customers care for patients. Those patients are representative of tens of thousands of people through the work that we do impacts every day with moms, dads, aunts, and uncles. For us, starting with meaning and then building a place where people care for one another is that in so many workplaces, it's transactional. The boss provides the money and the team member or the employee provides the work.
It's a simple exchange. Everybody gets what they want and then leaves as quickly as they can. For us, trying to shift that to say, “If the company and the leaders care for the people,” and that usually is making it safe, making sure the people are seen, and then making sure the people are successful, “People will bring their best.” They'll walk over hot coals. When they bring their best, it makes the company want to care for them. When the company cares for them, the people bring their best, and you start to have a relational leadership model, which is us caring for one another rather than us simply mining what is on the other side of the equation, whether that be a team member or a leader.
You talked about meaning. In my world at least, we talk about visionaries a lot. “I'm a visionary, I cast the vision. Here's the vision of the company, here's the purpose, here's where we're going.” That's great, but a lot of times, my vision relates to where I want to go. The difficult part is to try to get the team to buy into that vision. That's always been the difficult part because they have their own things going on. They have their own families. Maybe they don't want to hit that big hairy goal ten years from there. Is there any way that you've helped cast that vision into the employees so they can buy into it as well?
For us, we invite people to write an uncommon story. Some people say, “One hundred sixty people, that's a lot.” Once you have a culture moving in the right direction, it begins to perpetuate more of the things you want to see. The opposite is true. When I think about vision, the reality is if the team doesn't move the company forward, we will not create opportunities to care for people. If everyone stagnates, imagine if we had done that when we had 80 people, you wouldn't be here. Maybe you're glad you're here or maybe you're not, but if you're glad you're here, let's do it for somebody else. Having a culture where people are looking out for other people is a huge difference because you can only look out for yourself. Self-care is important, but at some point, if you only care for yourself, you begin to live in a navel-gazing universe. There's not a lot of fulfillment in that.
Let's think of practical ways. Are there ways that you as a company talk about this a lot? Is this something you're constantly talking about during meetings, emails to employees, and leadership meetings? How much do you talk about people matter and your vision? What does that look like?
Probably 60% or 70% of my life is focused on shaping culture. That could be an individual conversation about inviting or challenging someone into something, that could be speaking, but ultimately we have Block University. You're driving me to the tactical stuff Block University. Whenever somebody starts, we spend six sessions inviting them in and sharing that our culture isn't accidental and this is what we're after. We share from our mission to our core values to what we call thriving mindsets. We demystify all of that because if left to our own devices, it becomes a playground where, “The reason why Brett got promoted is because he's related to so-and-so, or they get along.” It's a popularity contest. We're constantly trying to say, “No, these are the values. Here's our mission, here are our values, and here are the behaviors that will lead to increased influence here.”
Block University is one way. Every third Thursday of the month, we have an all-team meeting where we're very transparent about what's going on in the organization and have opportunities for people to celebrate each other. There are 1,000 other ways that we try to walk out our mission from Mario Kart days to tournaments, to kickball games. That's all the fun stuff, but it has to be dovetailed into the performance side. It's not about work and work and then go have fun. It's about actually doing life together, whether we're selling an MRI, installing an MRI, fixing an MRI, or frankly playing cards in the boardroom.
I want to talk about Block University. Is this something that's been around for a while? Is it something that you came up with? This seems like a great process. Let us say I'm interested in working for Block Imaging. You hired me and sent me through Block University. My question is, when did you come up with that idea? It's brilliant. Where'd you come up with that?
Zingerman is a famous deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They have a training institute, a restaurant, and all sorts of cool businesses. We went to a two-day session, and Ari, who's the Founder, was talking about the way that they orient people to their culture. That was a real kick in the pants to how we do it. What we've essentially done is we've built it over the course of about four years. We've had probably 100 people go through it. We say, “You've got so much to learn. You've got your team, you've got your job, and you've got a new industry.”
Let us go ahead and take some of that off your plate and try to share right up front of here's what we're after. Otherwise, you get people six months in who, “I didn't know integrity was important here. I didn't realize that that together was a value.” For us, if there's 100% that someone needs to learn in the first six months or a year, how quickly can we wipe 50% of that off the table so that they do not have to work their way through a cloudy tunnel of culture and know where we stand so that they can focus on their team and their role?
I love that. A lot of times, people even do have core values. A business does have the mission and the core values they talk about at the beginning, but they're not consistent with it later on. In six months, they're like, “What are our core values? What's one?” No one knows.
I always joke that Enron probably had core values hanging up on the wall. They're shredding papers and whatever. For us, we have this organizational identity, and you can certainly show a picture of it if you want. When we're at our best, every conversation we're having with a team member, whether it's vision, challenge, or inspiration, is tying back to that. It could be a strategic piece, it could be a values piece, a thriving mindset, or a mission. The more that we can demystify and bring clarity around what we value, the better off everybody is.
You talk about that cozy family-like type of environment. Since I'm a visionary, I love talking about that, but I don't necessarily like talking about processes and systems as much. With 160 people, you have to have these processes and systems in place. It sounds like Block University is a process in the system. You onboarded someone, they go through this. Are there other ways that you've learned to pass the communication message on since sometimes the communication gets lost, like the telephone game? I tell you, then you tell him, and eventually, it's a whole different meaning at the end. Processes and systems related to culture, how important has that been? What's something you guys have done?
We have a lot of processing systems here that are not related necessarily to the culture, the way we serve customers, and utilize our salesforce and things like that. As far as the cultural systems, there are a lot of them. I still think they all flow out of our deeper beliefs about people and what we're after. Sometimes, I get a little bit hesitant talking about how to create a culture tactically because somebody who doesn't care about people pretends to like, “Do X, Y, and Z,” is deeply inauthentic people. Honestly, if your deep passion is to grow a business, sell it, and make $400 million, tell the people that. At least then you draw the people who want to do that and repel the people who don't want to do that.
The worst thing is when we talk about one thing, we do another. For people, my biggest encouragement would be authentically you. Whatever it is that gets you out of bed in the morning and stirs you as an entrepreneur or as a leader, tell people that. Even if you're not that good at faking it for very long, whatever that driver is, if your number one goal is to have your kids work at the company or to own a 50-foot yacht, whatever it is, I would challenge some of those things in some ways as far as how compelling they are to the people who follow you. I would still say being authentic to who you are and what stirs you is super important.
I love that. You come out, and all of these values are who you are. Let's transition that into the leadership. You're leading this company. Even on your website, you talked about identity a little bit. You said on your website, and I'm not sure if you came up with this or someone else, “Once you know who you are, you will never want to be anyone else.” Talk about you, for example. Did the light bulb go off where you were like, “This is who I am?” Has this been a journey or is this something you've become self-aware of? Talk about that.
First and foremost, yes. That quote was taken from someone else. To anyone who accuses me of plagiarizing, I promise you that everything was taken from somebody else like Patrick Lencioni, Brené Brown, Jim Collins, and Bain & Company. There are so many thought leaders, like Simon Sinek and Dan Pink, who have shaped the way that we think through leadership and culture. From an identity perspective, I came across a book called Resilience. It's written by a Navy SEAL, Eric Greitens, who became the governor of Missouri. In the end, this arena impacted his life in a significant way for anybody who follows him. In his book, he talks about how many people start with their feelings and act based on their feelings, and then their identity is shaped by their actions.
We ask people, “Brett, how do you feel?” You say, “I feel tired.” When people feel tired, they lie down for a nap. Eventually, they start to have an identity as whatever that activity is over and over. He says, “What does it look like to start from identity, who I am, what I'm uniquely created and wired to be and to do, and then allow my actions to flow from that, and then my feelings flow from my actions?” It's only a couple of pages within the book Resilience, but that has taken me on a journey of, “Josh, what is it that uniquely I carry?”
You talked about systems and processes. We have team members here who are extraordinary. Honestly, the worst thing I could do is get in their way. I have zero skill whatsoever and we laugh about this. I couldn't turn on a CT scanner, truly. If the engineers were to look at me and say like, “Josh, would you change out this CT tube? Would you flip?” it would be like a toddler. This piece on identity is like, “Who am I, what do I carry?” and then having immense belief and security in what I bring, and also great humility in recognizing, “There's someone else who's incredibly amazing at what they bring.” That’s a windy story of what it's looked like for me to lean into the identity arena.
That's awesome. Let's get back to the team, people, and culture. You read this book, you start to go on this identity journey, and you start to figure out, “This is what I'm designed to do. I'm gifted at this.” You have to pass that on and figure out and have them be self-aware “This is what you're designed to do. This is where you are gifted at.” Is there a process, a system, or a personality thing that you do with your team to help them be more self-aware and for you to know who they are as well?
We sometimes refer to it as seeing the gold in one another. There are people who know some of the things like, “Josh, he's set up for this. He's gotten a lot of practice or he's wired uniquely.” We then have other people who are wired in different ways. People have told me, for instance, that I'm a catalyst. I have a tendency, when I'm in a room, to impact that room in a significant way.
That can only be taken so far. I understand that's just a piece. I would say for other people as well as we have people within the organization, the people in our community, and friends who are like, “You're this. It helps to know in this that you're going to be great at this or that.” It’s a great reminder to live from who we are versus how we feel in a moment or in comparing ourselves to others, which is the trap that gets so many of us.
How do you help yourself or other leaders in your organization not to fall into that? Even very successful people get on this podcast and I can feel or see that they're comparing themselves to other people, even though they have so much.
The great separator is the difference between drafting and comparison. For drafting, if you're on a bike or swimming or any motorsport, whatever it is, you can get behind someone and have them reduce the friction that's coming at you. One of my close friends is a road biker. I can get behind him. He's got big, broad shoulders, and he can make it easier for me or I can get alongside him. I can go, “He's a great rider and I'm terrible.” I say you can use the people around you and hang out with people. I love the quote, “You'll become your five closest friends. Choose carefully.” It’s that versus always comparing yourself, “I'm not as good as this person,” or whether it's, “I'm not as good as that person,” or “I'm better than.” Probably either of them, quite frankly, they aren't all that helpful.
That's true. We're about out of time, but I want to dive into this question here. We talked about culture, and I want to talk about the health of an organization. Some people have amazing cultures, or maybe it's cozy, but the health of the organization isn't top-notch. What other things do you look at in your company to analyze the health of your organization besides the culture?
There are a couple of things. We took an annual survey and asked Gallup questions. Every year, I cringe and get ready for, “This is going to be the year that we've lost it.” In this last survey, 100% of people who took the survey said that their manager cares about them as a person. That's one of the questions that we look for. Two, people sometimes leave companies, but oftentimes they leave leaders. For us, we're watching turnovers. Not all turnover is bad, but there are times when we celebrate that someone's developed and grown, and they should move on to do something else.
Turnover is probably a huge piece. The last one may be funny, but it's laughter. Laughter is an incredible indication of culture. If all it is is laughter and it's fooling around, that's not what I'm talking about. Laughter is one of the key indicators of safety. If you go into a home and there's no laughter, it's probably an indication that it's not safe. That's the same in the company. I'd say that engagement survey, turnover, and laughter are a few pieces that tell us where we're at on the organizational health side of the coin.
It's interesting that you said laughter because I've been almost married for years. One of the things that my wife and I'll both say together is we need to laugh more. We had a date night. I was like, “Let's go skating, bowling, or do something off the wall.” It's funny that you said that.
Nothing that will get you laughing like bowling.
That's right, especially if you're terrible at it. Awesome, Josh. Any other resources? You mentioned Resilience, the book, but any other resources or books that you recommend on developing the culture or health of an organization?
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team has changed my life and our organization more than any other. That book was given to me a couple of years ago. I cannot imagine having led the last decade without it. Brené Brown's Dare to Lead is some great stuff in terms of the way that we show up as leaders. I love Dare to Lead. Jim Collins’ Great by Choice. The Founder's Mentality was helpful for us. The last one I'd say is The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. That way that we can leverage little moments to make a significant impact in people's lives has been great as well. There are a couple of them.
Thanks, Josh Block, for being on the show. It's been awesome. This is also on our YouTube channel. Go check that out and subscribe. Thanks, Josh. It's been a blast.
Thanks, Brett. Have a great day.