In this episode, we speak with Dwayne Tucker, Founder of DT Consulting, CEO of LEAD Public Schools and Senior Advisor with Compass Executives as he talks about how his passions for recruitment, entrepreneurship, and equality in education shaped his journey from HR exec to CEO along with how he is now infusing the organization’s leadership model throughout.
Dwayne Tucker is a proven senior executive with over thirty years of leadership experience directing Human Resources and P&L responsibilities in small entrepreneurial and Fortune 500 companies. Specialties include Human Resources re-engineering, senior management consultation skills, culture change leadership and strategy development, process improvement, total quality management, workforce and culture integration due to mergers and acquisitions and utilization of effective communications techniques. He has significant experience in establishing Board of Director and Compensation Committee strategy, governance, and compliance related programs.
Dwayne started his employment career in Human Resources at UPS, where he received his first management promotion at the age of 17. He served as chief human resources officer, chief administrative officer and general manager with First Data Corporation, Northwest Airlines and Alliance Data Systems, as well as CEO of TMT Entertainment. In 2010, he began his association as Senior Advisor with Compass Executives.
Troy Blaser (00:05):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Simply Feedback. The podcast produced by LearningBridge. Our guest today is Dwayne Tucker, Founder of DT Consulting, CEO of Lead Public Schools and Senior Advisor with Compass Executives. He has over 30 years of leadership experience and his specialties include HR re-engineering senior management consultation, skills, culture change leadership and strategy development. Dwayne's career has taken him to a variety of jobs from managing a Pizza Hut to leading HR for several Fortune 500 companies. He has an incredible story and a passion for equality and education and giving back to his community. Dwayne, it's great to have you join us on the podcast today. I look forward to our conversation.
Dwayne Tucker (00:52):
Well thanks for having me.
Troy Blaser (00:53):
You bet, you know, the podcast is titled Simply Feedback and one of my favorite questions is to just ask you to tell us about a time that somebody gave you feedback personally. Some feedback that perhaps had a significant impact on your life. Is there a story or an anecdote you could share with us?
Dwayne Tucker (01:10):
Yes, I do have a great story and it was probably over 30 years ago and I had the pleasure of working with First Data corporation and we had elected to put in a leadership development program and our focus was on developing credible leaders across our organization. So I partner with Paul Gasket, who was a Founder of Leadership Research Institute out in California. And through that process, Paul became my personal executive coach and I'll never forget the first feedback session where I received my 360 results and what a humbling experience it was to understand that other people were perceiving me differently than I thought I was performing at. And that allowed me to learn a lot about how to become a better, a better leader and how to process feedback and become more self aware. And at that time I was a HR executive for First Data and through Paul's ongoing coaching process and continued 360 feedback programs that I went through, I was able to transition out of HR over time and actually get a real job and run a P&L business with total revenues over 500 million. So I attribute all of that success to Paul's consistent support in terms of providing executive coaching feedback to myself and always will appreciate that opportunity to go through the process.
Troy Blaser (02:40):
That's fantastic. They make a difference as you start to get that feedback From other people, like you said, as 360 degree feedback, getting all of those different perspectives and really comparing that to what your own perceptions of how you're doing. And you can really, you see those differences and you can start to make changes based on that feedback. That's great.
Troy Blaser (03:01):
Tell us just a little bit, Dwayne, you mentioned a few different areas where you've worked and I talked about it in that bio at the beginning of the episode, just a little bit, but how did you get started? What was it that drew you towards the areas that you've worked? What's some of your background?
Dwayne Tucker (03:17):
I actually started my career in logistics. I worked for United Parcel Service through high school and through college. And quite candidly, I sort of backed into becoming an HR exec because my first seven years at UPS was all focused on operations, which were presorting packages, loading packages, unloading packages. And then if you've ever worked for UPS, it's a great opportunity to stay in shape because it's very hot inside those trailers. And then as we began to enter into the winter season and as I graduated to go to Tennessee State University, I needed more flexible time and UPS created a part-time, human resource recruitment job specifically for myself. And that allowed me to quote unquote, move into an office environment and get out of the extreme conditions in the home operations. But it taught me a lot about hiring and recruitment of staff members and then it became my passion and something I wanted to devote my career to.
Dwayne Tucker (04:22):
And that led to an opportunity for me to manage labor relations and employee communications as part of that part-time management role. And I met some senior executives after completing my tenure at UPS who were connected with a lot of large companies that were based in Nashville. And one of those executives that I partnered with took interest in myself and I then left UPS to go to Dallas to work for Nortel in their headquarters there. And from there I blossomed into a senior HR executive for them, had the opportunity to go through several organizational transformations there from de-centralizing to centralizing them, to get closer to our customers and always had a passion for becoming an entrepreneur. So my initial approach to human resources was to ensure that we were meeting our internal customer expectations and that the organization was more run efficiently like you would a business. And that led to developing certain metrics to measure the return on investment for HR expenditures, which was a little bit unique at the time. And then that opened up other opportunities to work in all the organizations and the human resources there earlier. But my passion was always running a business. And by the time I got to the twilight of my career, I made the complete transition over to running P&L's for Alliance Data Systems based in Dallas which allowed me not only to use my people skills, but most of my time there was transforming underperforming business units. And that's probably my last seven years of my career, but I'm most proud of running a successful set of businesses.
Troy Blaser (06:14):
That's fantastic. So Dwayne, I wanted to ask you a little bit about the project or the area that you're focused on right now which is education. Could you tell us a little bit about what you're doing with Lead Public Schools? And kind of how you got into that area?
Dwayne Tucker (06:30):
Sure. That's a great question, Troy. And after retirement, I wanted to figure out what my next career focus could be. And I like to try to get in most organizations and been transformational with those. And academia has always been an area, which I thought I could bring some of the best practice from the people development side into that kind of environment and be successful. So Lead Public Schools is the largest charter school network in Nashville, Tennessee. We we run a total of six schools, four middle schools, 5 through 8, and then we have two high schools, 9 through 12. So roughly about 3000 students. And most of those students are in the inner city within Nashville and have been in schools which have underperformed for decades. And what we do is go in and transform those schools into high performing schools.
Dwayne Tucker (07:27):
And I'm proud to serve as a CEO. I joined the board back in I think 2009 and worked my way up to become board chair. And then we had to make a difficult decision to change out the CEO and the board asked me to serve as the interim CEO. And I thought what a great option to run a collection of schools and try to take some of the best practices and bring them into making this environment sustainable over time. And I use the Southwest Airlines analogy and what we've done at Lead Public Schools over the past two years is to create a culture that is performance based. So all about teachers were the only charter school network or public school network in Nashville that has a pay for performance component. So a hundred percent of our teachers' pay are based on their performance and can earn up to a 10% raise every year is pretty innovative in terms of the plan design, because it's not tied to standardized testing results, it is tied to the individual teacher's performance in the classroom.
Dwayne Tucker (08:32):
So we take four observations over the course of the year and we average those together. And then my teachers can actually predict what rates they're going to receive on July 1st of each school year, a couple of months in advance. So it's fascinating this year, we retained our first year of having that program in place. We retained a 90% of high performing teachers across our network. So the lagging indicators there suggest that the plan is working. We also introduced this year pay for performance for all other non-teaching roles. So we have a total of 350 staff members at Lead Public Schools and all of them are on a pay for performance compensation plan. We had an opportunity to take another best practice. And one of the things that I've seen in education, which I believe contributes to the inability to make transformational change that's sustainable in academics is not investment into the leadership development component of that.
Dwayne Tucker (09:32):
So if you take one of our middle schools, as an example, if we have 500 students that we did, roughly $10,000 per student, that's taxpayer funding to run that school. So you may have a fresh out of college individual who performed well academically, who wants to be an administrator in a school system, but are under 30 years of age running a $5 million business, if you want to call it that, but with no prior leadership training for that role. So we instituted two years ago, executive coaching, and we take all of us school principals and our senior staff through a 360 feedback process. We also use a four sacrum metric assessments to help them better understand their personality type, we create an individualized executive development program for each one of our executives. And we assign them an executive coach to work with them for six months. That has foundationally places now in a position where we're creating a pipeline of leaders across a network.
Dwayne Tucker (10:42):
And the second phase of what we do with that is creating a sustainable culture where leadership looks consistently being implemented through a common set of behaviors. We call it Ethos, which in most organizations are their values that they have as an organization. So our leadership model has been custom made in terms of a custom made 360 around a set of leadership behaviors that we have normed on as an organization, as the culture that we want to create for leaders, which is a unique way of looking at it, as opposed to taking a generic set of management competencies and reviewing you through a 360 process on those we're using actually, well, we agree to that we want to model as an organization. So I think that's going to be transformational for us over time, have incredible leaders that go through this process and you can see the maturity and how they grow in terms of leadership capabilities. I believe are going to have an impact in terms of family engagement, staff engagement and their abilities to continue their long-term for our school systems. And it's a different approach, but I think has had some very positive outcomes.
Troy Blaser (12:00):
That's really fantastic. It's interesting and exciting to me to hear what you're doing there with Lead Public Schools. I was going to ask you about how you're using feedback in the organization, but you really hit on a number of different places. It sounds like you've got, you're using feedback for the teachers who get observed four times a year. You're also applying that to your staff now, and then the feedback that you're giving to your leadership at each school with a 360 degree feedback, the personality tests, the executive coaching, it seems like there's really feedback going all over the place and is really able to make a difference it sounds like.
Dwayne Tucker (12:39):
Yeah. And a part of that too, Troy, is that I had the privilege of working on a couple of organizations where, you know, how do you create a culture that's sustainable over time, right? And we picked our ethos, which are our values. And one of those for example, is being committed. So in order to bring that to life with my 12 senior leaders that report directly to me, I hosted a opportunity where we all came together and said, okay, let's go around the table. What does being committed mean to each of us? And obviously we got 12 different answers about what that meant. And for myself, it means always being available and having an open door policy where you can be able to respond to any employee across our organization who has an issue or an opportunity to have a conversation about things we can get better at.
Dwayne Tucker (13:32):
So for each one of those five Ethos we came up with five, non-negotiable leadership behaviors that we all agreed to and said, okay, let's load all those into our 360 feedback process and then seek feedback from individuals who report to us through that. Now that's only one part of that. So we're really trying to get the values or the ethos off the wall and make them into our day to day activities where it looks consistent across our network. But there are other components of that that really bring it to life over time. And what we're doing now is re-evaluating all of our recognition programs. All of our recognition programs now have those same non-negotiable items in there that are criteria for you to be recognized by our standard performance, whether it's in your bonus plan, whether it's in the stipend that you receive, it's all being recognized on a common set of behaviors that we agreed to. With that we're changing all of our social engagement surveys.
Dwayne Tucker (14:36):
So we're now asking the staff to give us a measurement or a data point on how effective we are consistently reading across the organization. So those same set of non-negotiables are the items in our survey that we are measured on each year. On the back end, we just started this year of changing all of our performance management systems so that everybody who's on a pay for performance program has a component where it has to be in the context of those non-negotiable leadership behaviors. On the back end for exit interviews, instead of saying, okay, I just didn't like my leader, we're asking staff who leave to evaluate us on those same non-negotiable behaviors. Early next year, we're going to flip to the front end piece where we're going to start screening new applicants who come to work at Lead Public Schools about 50% of their time is going to be on the core competencies required to do the job, or watch this 50% is going to be on screening for a culture fit in the organization against those same non-negotiable behaviors. So now applicants will be asked on the front end, tell me about a time that you were committed in an organization to validate that they're going to be a good culture fit. So when you do the pool in the end process, it's hard to hide in the organization and not be culturally aware of what it takes to get a rewards, promotions and the abilities to take on a responsibility because it's demonstrated excellence across those areas that we've committed that we wanted to focus on as a leadership team.
Troy Blaser (16:17):
So you're really getting that Ethos built in across the board. Everybody's aligned to the culture even before they apply for the job, potentially making sure that they're aligned to culture. That's really fantastic. So as I mentioned, a number of different, you've worked in a number of different areas and almost different careers of a sort, or certainly different industries, different areas. If someone is kind of early on in their career, is there some advice that you would have for them as they're trying to figure out their career path?
Dwayne Tucker (16:48):
Yeah. A couple of things come to mind. I've tried it a couple of ways in my career and what I advise people on is to try to figure out what you're most passionate about. And if you can solve that one, then it's not work. And then you're going to have a great career because if you're passionate about it, it won't feel like work to you, but more importantly, start with the ending in mind. So I probably spent the first decade of my career taking every assignment that was offered to me to fulfill on behalf of the organization. The next 10 years I realized that not all of those opportunities prepared me to where I really wanted to go with my career and I wanted it to be an accessible profit and loss CEO of a division and get out of being just a human resource executive.
Dwayne Tucker (17:49):
And then I realized that in order to get there, I need to be intentional about what new assignments that I took on and to ensure that those assignments were preparing me for where I wanted to end up, right, as opposed to turning around an organization where you're not really learning any new skills that allow you to be perceived as credible, driving revenue and profitability and growing new sales. So my second 10 years, I then decided that in order to get to be a CEO, not only assignments that I need to take to prepare for that, but more importantly, learning from other CEOs about what competencies they relied on and seeking them out as mentors so they could help prepare me for those experiences. So that second, 10 years was all geared and focused on taking other responsibilities that are uniquely built the capacity within myself to be qualified, to run, you multi-million dollar organizations.
Dwayne Tucker (18:59):
And so my advice would be to pick something you're passionate about, decide where you want to go with that in terms of career, and then figure out what their requirements are internally within that organization around career experiences. If you want to be the chief operating officer, what prior experience did you need in the operations to be viewed as being qualified, assuming that you perform for that kind of role? So I begin to then say, okay, let's, let's figure out what it is with the end in mind. And then that helps you determine and prioritize what kind of career investments you want to make with your time.
Troy Blaser (19:38):
That makes a lot of sense. I think that's fantastic advice and something that I'll think over as I, as I start into, you know, I've been working here with LearningBridge for 20 years. So I've been through the first two decades, if you will. And I have to think about, okay, what's the plan? What's the end in my mind, you know, for the next 10 years and make sure that I'm on the path that I want to be on. So over the years, you've served as a coach. You've been in HR quite a bit. Can you share a specific experience or a time when you've seen feedback that someone has received kind of cause a point of inflection in their career or in their life as you've had a chance to work with different folks in a coaching role?
Dwayne Tucker (20:22):
Yeah. I've had many executives where, well, I've had some who received a very challenging feedback about behaviors that were not appropriate in the workplace who took that feedback and made some significant what I call behavior changes that are hard because in some cases it's, you know, stop lying to people kind of thing, right? Stop giving people a loyalty test to consider working for you as opposed to just holding them accountable for performing the work. And I've seen some individuals who have transformed themselves well beyond any expectation going into it. When I received that feedback and shared it with them, that I thought they'd be able to achieve.
Dwayne Tucker (21:10):
But you know, I think the one that's even most simple for me is in the schools. You know, one thing that I value the most about a lot of our kids who have been raised by single parents who have two jobs, a quarterly, we have a opportunity for all of our students to sit down and share their academic performance with their parents or family member. But in many cases, parents aren't available to attend those sessions. So there's a fifth grader, I get a chance to fill in and other staff members and members of our board and other community people in that role for the parents. So you sit down and hear a fifth grader talk about what their goals are and what they would like to accomplish. And they walk you through their Math and English and other subject matters in terms of their performance and explain what they want to do differently about that. But in that dialogue for 30 minutes, you can actually see in the eyes of the student, something that resonates with them that puts them on a trajectory in a different path that could impact their entire life going forward. You know, it's one thing to give feedback to an executive that's already a multimillionaire that sometimes you have to slap him upside the head to respond to the feedback, but for a fifth grader, just to have a conversation with them and talk about their performance in the classroom and where they want to go and things that they can consider is like probably one of the most rewarding kind of conversations I've ever had in my career.
Troy Blaser (22:44):
I can imagine and rewarding for you and what a lucky thing for that fifth grader to have you. That's a great exchange in both directions. Dwayne, this conversation has been really fascinating, really interesting to me. If people want to know more or if they wanted to continue the conversation with you, is that something you would be open to?
Dwayne Tucker (23:08):
Troy Blaser (23:09):
What's the best way for them to contact you? I mean, there are different options. If you have a website or if you want them to contact us here at the podcast and we can reach out to you.
Dwayne Tucker (23:18):
I can be reached on LinkedIn. I'm perfectly fine with those who would like to reach out through LearningBridge and contact me that way. Or I'm very open to be reached by email. Any one of those three options work.
Troy Blaser (23:39):
Awesome. Well, thanks so much for your time today. Like I said, it's really been a pleasure to speak with you and hear some of your story. And frankly, I admire you for the work you're doing post retirement to take on practically a whole new career. So it's been wonderful to speak with you. Thank you so much for joining us today.