Talent Development Factory

Frank Milner, President of Tutor Doctor

Frank Milner, President of the Tutor Doctor franchise brand, joins the show to discuss the award-winning people practices at Tutor Doctor, or as Frank calls it, a “Talent Development Factory.” Tutor Doctor is constantly developing their talent and is often named a top employer, find out how they do it on this episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast.

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Connect with Frank on Linkedin and Twitter.













































Adam Robinson: Welcome to The Best Team Wins Podcast, where we feature entrepreneurs and business leaders whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results.


  My name is Adam Robinson and, for the next 25 minutes, I’ll be your host as we explore how to build your business through better hiring.


  Today, on the program, we’re so happy to have Frank Milner, the president of Tutor Doctors. Based out of Toronto, Canada, Tutor Doctor was founded in 2000, has around 60 corporate employees, and, Frank, currently, how many franchise locations does the brand have?


Frank Milner: We have 300 franchisees that operate about 550 or so franchise territories, operating in 16 different countries around the world.


Adam Robinson: Pretty amazing, so, Frank, welcome to the show.


Frank Milner: Thank you.


Adam Robinson: We are so happy to have you.


Frank Milner: Great to be here.


Adam Robinson: We’re going to focus on the people side of Tutor Doctors today, so to set the stage for everyone, give us 30 seconds on the company and what you’re doing in the market.


Frank Milner: Again, the name of the company is Tutor Doctor. Tutor Doctor’s mission is to change the trajectory of students’ lives. We do that through our network of 300 or so franchisees and we do that by delivering one-to-one tutoring in the home to students, and we found that that one-to-one experience between the tutor and the student really is the difference-maker, so we don’t necessarily follow any set curriculum or anything like that. The key ingredient in our methodology is really around the one-to-one nature of our program and really being there for the student. Meeting the student where they’re at is what Tutor Doctor is all about.


Adam Robinson: If listeners want to learn more about the brand, where, what’s the best way for them to do that?


Frank Milner: Tutordoctor.com or tutordoctoropportunity.com is the best way.


Adam Robinson: Okay, let’s talk about the people side of Tutor Doctor. Before we dive in, I want to go all the way back to when you started the business. Talk about the founding team. What did it look like when you launched the brand?


Frank Milner: We actually relaunched the brand. The original founder was an old friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in many, many years and happened to bump into him at a restaurant here in Toronto. At the time, I was an executive with another franchise brand, and he was struggling to get Tutor Doctor off the ground, meaning, he had built a really successful tutoring business, he knew he wanted to scale it and expand it, he had began franchising, but he was really struggling with it and struggling to get traction.


  Because I was in the industry, I offered to help him, and I did so. I started helping him and, as I began to help him, I really began to recognize what an amazing opportunity Tutor Doctor was, so my modus operandi shifted a little bit from helping him to actually wanting to acquire the business. This is late in 2007. I put an investment group together and landed up acquiring the business from him, and we relaunched Tutor Doctor early in 2008. We started from scratch. After making some investments in technology and operations and the training side of the business, and we sold our very first franchise midway through 2008, and here we are 10 years later, and so far so good.


Adam Robinson: Yeah, I would say, so let’s focus on that transition from your friend-founder prior owner to you leading the business. What tools or techniques did you use to navigate the leadership change for the team members that were working there at the time?


Frank Milner: We treated it very much like a startup. At the beginning, we had the founder involved. I wanted him to remain involved and to really grow the business with him. I really liked him, his passion, the story, et cetera, but there were just some challenges with that and, ultimately, that didn’t land up, but it was just me and one other person when we started out, but we knew right from the get-go that people and having the right people in the right roles was going to be the key to our success and, from the get-go, we really wanted to pay attention to the people side of the business being, realizing or recognizing that that was some of the most valuable assets that we had.


  Our approach was certainly to hire people for a specific job that we needed done today, but, as we were doing that, what we were really doing was looking to bring people on board that had the potential to grow in the future and that we could grow with and that had the ability and the desire to take on more responsibility, and that strategy has remained intact and core to our business all these years later, and we’ve now grown, as you mentioned, to over 60 employees.


Adam Robinson: Let’s talk about how that process for finding the right person has evolved. You’re in a people based business, and you said as much. Talk about how you approach that. What systems or process do you have in place that increases your hit rate?


Frank Milner: There’s a number of systems. Obviously, there’s a … we … and it’s kind of like something that we laugh about internally because we’ve got a very kind of defined hiring process in terms of a series of interviews.


  I have to be honest, we kind of put people through the wringer as they’re coming into Tutor Doctor, again, because these decisions to us are some of the most important decisions that we make, so we really want to get it right and we really want to get it right the first time, so we’ll have the initial screen interview, which typically takes place over the telephone, then the hiring manager will meet with a candidate in person for the first in-person interview and, depending on the position, then there’ll be or there’ll always be a second interview.


  Between the second and third interview, we also do a psychometric profile, and that psychometric profile isn’t … It’s not really a decision-making tool, but it’s a decision-influencing tool. We want to get a good sense around fit, culture fit, et cetera, and then there’ll be a second interview and then a final interview, which often I’ll be included in in terms of any key decision or key positions that we’re hiring for, and that’s often kind of … not kind of, excuse me, that’s often a group interview that takes place.


Adam Robinson: You mentioned culture fit. Are there particular core values that you’re screening for or the right fit [crosstalk 00:09:04]?


Frank Milner: Yes, there absolutely are. We are very mission and values focused, and certainly that is a part of the process to make sure that there is that value, that values fit, so we want to make sure that the folks coming in share the values that we do, and not only just share them, but believe in them really strongly as their own core values.


Adam Robinson: Can you take us through what a couple of those maybe?


Frank Milner: Sure. We have a value around understanding, which is about presuming the goodwill of others; listening, not necessarily telling; empathizing, not necessarily criticizing, but really seeking to understand, so understanding is one of those values.


  We have a very strong value around curiosity. We’re an education company, so we want to demonstrate the power of learning by learning. We want to be interested. We want to be inquisitive, and we want to see the possibilities, so that value of curiosity is a core value of the company.


  Ownership is another value. That’s really all about being accountable, being willing to make commitments and living up to those commitments, so that’s another value, and our final value is around grit, and grit to us means we just don’t quit.


Adam Robinson: Thank you for taking us through the company values. What happens in your organization when you believe someone meets the value system, but you find out 30, 90 days in or longer in that they’re not quite a fit? Talk about how you address those situations.


Frank Milner: We address it. We have follow-up conversations at various [inaudible 00:11:34] as you laid out to give feedback and to also get feedback. If it turns out that it’s not a fit, then we make a decision, and if the decision is to part ways and, of course, we want to be friends and we are happy to continue the relationships, but we just make a decision that we’re just no longer going to work together.


  We really take our time at the front end of the process before making the hiring so that we can limit those situations where we have to take an action after hiring, but we do take action and we do take action quickly because that’s just key to our organization’s growth and our culture.


Adam Robinson: Yeah, what you said there, Frank, is just so critical. When you do make a mistake, even though you try to minimize, the likelihood of that happens in terms of culture fit, when you realize you’re making a mistake, it sounds like you take action. So many leaders do a version of sticking their head in the sand and hoping it gets better as it just gradually gets worse and makes things bad for everybody, and so kudos for taking the action. That’s the hard part.


Frank Milner: Yeah, and that is hard, Adam. I have to be honest that it’s hard for us, too, and I have in the past been guilty of being slow to act when in my gut I know I have to act and I need to take that action. I have been guilty of being slow to act because sometimes I really like the person and sometimes they’re really popular and they fit from that perspective, but we really work on that, and that’s where the team comes in and we really help each other with that so that we can have an awareness of it and do what we know we have to do and do it quickly so, but my point is it’s not easy for anybody, and I think awareness is key and just being committed to doing the right thing for the organization, and that’s what … It ultimately always comes back to what’s the right thing to do for the company, and that makes it easier.


Adam Robinson: Your company has developed a great reputation as a place to build a career. I want to talk about how you manage the team from two sides of the coin, one, pay, promotion and rewards and, on the other side, performance management when things aren’t going to plan, so let’s start on the front end. If somebody comes to work for Tutor Doctor, what is the promise or message or deal you’re making with them? If you come to work for us, this is what the future could look like for you. Walk us through how you brand or sell the opportunity to come be a part of your organization.


Frank Milner: Yeah. Sure. We’ve got a very big vision at Tutor Doctor. We’re every clear about what that vision is and what we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re working hard every day to accomplish, and we’re also very clear that we want to be kind of a talent development factory, if you will, because we are growing so rapidly, we have grown really rapidly over the last number of years and yet, when we step back and look at it, we’re still very much in our infancy as compared to what our longer term objectives are, so, really, it’s about attracting people who want to participate in that, who are willing to obviously come in and prove themselves and strut their stuff, so to speak, and develop and grow along with the organization and what that looks like.


  For example, we really believe in pay for performance, so a lot of our comp structures as much as possible have a performance component attached to them. Again, that’s very much a part of our culture. We’re a company that’s striving for excellence, and, in fact, we’ve won some business excellence awards from third-party organizations, which tells me that we’re on the right track certainly, but we don’t give automatic pay raises every year.


  We don’t do that. What we do is people get pay raises as they take steps in the organization and as they take on more and more responsibility within the organization so that their compensation is impacted, so, rather than a 2 or 3% annual raise, we say, “No, we’re not going to do that. What we are going to do though is, as you take on more responsibility and as you, um, achieve more in the organization, you can have the opportunity to earn much bigger, um, pay raises, so to speak,” and that tends to happen in big chunks as opposed to little incremental steps, and that’s our philosophy. It’s been our philosophy since day one, and it works very well for us.


Adam Robinson: It sounds like it, and, intuitively, it makes sense for the … and based on your cultural description, grit and things like that, I mean, for people that want to get ahead, that pitch is … the kind of situation I’m sure those folks want to opt into, it sounds like it pulls the right people towards your brand.


Frank Milner: Exactly. We want people who are excited about the opportunity, the potential. They believe in themselves. They’ll go above and beyond and stand out and grow and learn, and it, ultimately, lands up being a win-win.


  As I look around our organization, I mean, some of the growth that’s taking place is … It’s amazing, and it’s really exciting for me because some of these people are hired as junior employees, coming in at a very junior level, have grown into really senior executive positions, and that’s … I look at that and, for me, that’s … It’s just incredibly rewarding to see that, to see them grow.


  Just a couple of weeks ago, I’ve got a young lady who’s been with us for just over five years, and she just got promoted, and she’s had a series of promotions, but she’s just got promoted and become a director in our organization, and I just get a huge kick out of it because I’ve watched that growth happen, and to see her achieving those goals is really exciting. It puts a little pressure on me because she’s already gotten the next [inaudible 00:19:58]. It’s like I want that, and she’s going for [inaudible 00:20:03]  heads up, and she’s going for it, and that’s what it’s all about.


Adam Robinson: That’s great. Those kind of stories, when you tell them to prospective team members really helps seal the deal and get people excited.


Frank Milner: Absolutely. Absolutely.


Adam Robinson: Let’s spend a few minutes on the other side of the coin though, so, all best intensions moving forward, new individual joins and a couple of months in, for whatever reason, it’s just not happening either through a lack of result or lack of fit or whatever reason. How has your philosophy pertaining to coaching and performance management evolved over the last 10 years?


Frank Milner: It’s evolved quite a bit. We believe in crucial conversations, and we have those conversations. We have coaching conversations. We have regular weekly debriefs just to make sure that employees are on track in terms of their objectives.


  Internally, we call them rocks, and then we have a formal quarterly conversation, which is, again, the employee just completes a short documents that just highlights what their objectives are for the quarter, or were for the quarter, how they did in achieving those objectives, where they did well, where they had challenges, what could their manager have done to support them more in achieving that, and we have a very open dialogue, and that happens every quarter with every employee. It doesn’t get too deep into it. It’s not like a performance evaluation. It’s a 20-to-30-minute conversation that happens every quarter.


  We used to, talking about the evolution, we used to have this really big process around the annual performance reviews, et cetera, and it was just a really big deal that we’d go through every year and, quite frankly, I got frustrated with it because we’d have these big in-depth performance reviews and there was a lot of prep work and a big meeting and, at the end of the end, we did nothing with it, and that was just really frustrating to me, and to do it on an annual basis, it just … When we stepped back and looked at it, it didn’t make sense.


  We don’t want to wait a whole year to course correct. We need to be course correcting all the time. If we’re going to course correct all the time, we’ve got to be interacting a lot more regularly, hence, the weekly debriefs and the quarterly conversation, and the quarterly conversation works really, really well for us.


Adam Robinson: Yeah. I love that, Frank. That’s incredible, and you’ve used some words that our listeners will recognize as being part of the EOS methodology. Let me just take a wild guess. You guys run EOS at Tutor Doctor.


Frank Milner: We run EOS, absolutely.


Adam Robinson: Okay, very cool. We at Hireology are hardcore EOS fanatics. We run it to the books, so I’m always excited when I find out someone else in the industry is doing it as well.


Frank Milner: Yeah.


Adam Robinson: Pretty incredible processes.


Frank Milner: Yeah, it works very well for us. We’re pretty hardcore around it as well. In fact, we’ve got a [VTO 00:24:17] meeting coming up early next month, so …


Adam Robinson: I love it.


Frank Milner: … I’m very excited about it.


Adam Robinson: Yeah, and one of the things on this program we haven’t spent a lot of digging into with guests is how an accelerated, more frequent performance review process, you call it faster course corrections, which I just love, can really impact the velocity of the business, and it sounds like it’s had a real impact for you.


Frank Milner: Huge impact for us. Absolutely, huge impact for us, and, for me, it also … I like simplicity. We went through a stage where we were growing and we started becoming a big organization and acting like a big organization, and we lost a little bit of that simplicity as we were in that kind of growth mode, and that’s why I love the whole EOS system because it really brought us back to that state where … It’s just very easy to provide clarity, a very manageable system, easy system to run, and it’s just about being disciplined around it, and we’ve become very disciplined around it.


Adam Robinson: A couple of questions as we wrap up here, is there a particular book that has influenced your journey as a leader and an entrepreneur?


Frank Milner: I’m an avid reader, so I think … so Traction, obviously, you can hear, has had a big influence on our organization, but, personally speaking, the book that’s probably had the biggest impact on me as a leader is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I read it many years ago. I followed and … not an easy read. I’m not sure if you read it. It’s not an easy read, but-


Adam Robinson: It was an assigned reading for me in a graduate program …


Frank Milner: Oh, really?


Adam Robinson: … back in the day, yeah, and it had a similar impact. I haven’t been in the workforce long enough to really understand how powerful those concepts were. I probably need to go back and reread it. It’s timeless.


Frank Milner: Yeah, it’s just, really, I believe and … It just helped me to develop some emotional intelligence. I mean that’s what it did for me. I followed that book up with Principle-Centered Leadership, which was another one of his books that kind of followed the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and it’s just had a huge impact on me just throughout my career, and I still know those values and draw from those values and talk to those habits even as … I’d do a couple of the sections of new franchisee training, and I’ll often find myself referring to those seven habits as I’m training new franchisees coming into our system.


Adam Robinson: All right, so final question here, Frank, as we wrap up, if you were to come back on the show a year from now and report to us on whether or not you and Tutor Doctor were successfully able to tackle the biggest people or team-related issue or opportunity that you have in front of you, what would you be telling us happened this year?


Frank Milner: That’s an interesting question. One of the challenges that we have is we have 60 people here at our home office, but we also have a whole lot of remote team members because we’re a global company. We have a country manager in the UK. We have a country manager in Australia, et cetera, so a lot of remote people and a lot of remote leaders, and finding a way to really stay connected and on the same page continues to be a challenge, and, actually, I think we do a decent job of it considering, but I do think that there is lots of room for improvement, and what I’d hope to be telling you a year from now was that we have really been successful in leveraging technology to help us build those bridges amongst the team.


  As an example, within the last I would say maybe six months or so, we’ve really started using Slack as a technology tool to help with that communication and working with remote staff, and we’ve actually really begun to get a lot of traction with it, so that’s replaced … I’ve seen a lot of my emails go down, et cetera, and whatnot, so I think we’re on the path, so that’s an area that I really hope to make a lot of progress in over the coming years, and I’m feeling very confident about that right now.


Adam Robinson: Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the final word. You’ve been learning from Frank Milner, president of Tutor Doctor.


  Frank, thank you so much for being with us on the program today.


Frank Milner: Thanks, Adam. I enjoyed that.


Adam Robinson: That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of The Best Team Wins Podcast where we’re featuring entrepreneurs whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results.


  My name is Adam Robinson, author of the book The Best Team Wins, which you can find online at www.thebestteamwins.com. Thanks you so much for tuning in, and we will see you next week.