Terry M. Isner

Terry M. Isner – How Being A People First Organization Leads To Greater Profit And Success

People Strategy Forum | Terry M. Isner | People First Organization


Do you believe people are the heart of successful organizations? This episode dives into the transformative power of putting people first with Terry M. Isner, a visionary executive coach and brand consultant. Terry discusses how he shifted his leadership style to embrace a people-centric approach, the benefits of trusting remote workers, and the importance of vulnerability in leaders. Discover how his forward-thinking approach reshaped brands and corporate cultures while prioritizing well-being and trust. Join us as we explore how prioritizing your people can elevate your brand and your bottom line.


Terry M. Isner – How Being A People First Organization Leads To Greater Profit And Success

Welcome to the show, everyone. We’re a show that guides leaders on how to elevate the workplace. We believe that people are at the heart of successful organizations. Team members’ well-being, rewards, and career development are all essential to a happy, healthy, and productive workforce. This show discusses the practical and effective leadership strategies for top executives, senior professionals, and talent managers.

I’m sharing the scene as a host with Sumit Singla. Welcome, Sumit. He is broadcasting out of India and is known as the culture guy. Sumit and I have written a book together on the workforce experience. I’m pleased to have him here on the show with me. We are diving deep into the transformative power of putting people first with Terry M. Isner, a visionary in the realm of executive coaching and brand consulting.

Terry brings to the table a rich tapestry of creative direction, underpinned by core values like empathy, inclusion, and creativity. He believes that it is crucial for organizations to have a people-centric approach to be effective in the workplace. His expertise in marrying modern marketing techniques with a people-first approach has not only reshaped brands but also has proven that prioritizing people creates a direct path to profit and success. Join us as we explore with Terry how being a people-first organization can elevate your brand and bottom line. Welcome, Terry.

Thanks for having me. This is going to be a fun conversation.

Terry’s Origin

As we start, what I would love to do is learn a little bit more about you. How did you get into the practice of where you’re at? Tell us a little bit about your life, Terry.

Where I am was not my strategy. It was one of those paths and processes that happened. We are a 22-person PR, marketing, branding, and business development agency for lawyers and law firms specifically. When the Supreme Court said it was okay for lawyers and law firms to begin to market themselves, Jaffe, our company was instantly formed within the law firm. It was formed by a gentleman, Jay Jaffe, who created in our minds legal PR and legal marketing.

I joined the firm as the Creative Director and moved up and stayed alongside Jay as an Executive Vice President for many years. He unfortunately died years ago. At that point, I had the opportunity to either go back in-house or step up to the plate and take over a brand that I felt had great equity. The marketplace considering in my mind created the services that we have to offer still. I ended up stepping in with two business partners as CEO of our agency.

I was a Creative Director. I was the guy who had on Pink Floyd and the lights were dark. I was doing ad campaigns, learning what websites were going to be like, and figuring out how we promote, market, and be creative. The next thing I know I’m in charge of not only our agency but I’ve taken a lot in how we change the cultures of law firms and the business models of the law firms and how we create a dynamic in which emotions and whole selves are welcome into a place. It’s so pragmatic, black and white, and reserved.

It’s been an interesting journey but one I’ve enjoyed very much. Throughout that, I discovered that my platform was about people. It’s not about business but how if I focused only on people, the business would be greater than I could have ever envisioned it to be. I believe that is exactly the secret sauce that the legal community needs, especially when you have this equity-based format where you have a lot of people say that’s involved through their money. You don’t get to the people-first format so quickly.

People-Centric Organization

What was the telling moment that drove you towards creating more of a people-centric approach in your organization?

We were virtual before virtual was virtual. When the pandemic came along and everybody was making sourdough bread and doing TikTok, we woke up the next day and it was still the same day. We’re like, “Wait a minute. What do you mean that everything is shut down? We work from home. We do this.” That dynamic right there is where it started. You start to lose those things that we were given from the Industrial Revolution, mentality, accountability, automation, being more micromanaged, having these expectations of being there and being there for a certain period.

As an employee, that’s how I measured by showing up at 7:45 when I’m supposed to be there at 9:00 and staying until 7:45 when I’m allowed to leave at 6:00 or whatever that is. When all that went away and I couldn’t manage the day-to-day moments of a person, I had to put trust in those people. Putting trust in the people changed a very different dynamic in the way that I had to manage and lead.

People Strategy Forum | Terry M. Isner | People First Organization

People First Organization: Putting trust in the people changed the very dynamic in the way I had to manage and lead.


It was a whole different dynamic because all of those things that we were taught about how business was supposed to be, how we buttoned ourselves up, and how we presented ourselves were starting to go away because I didn’t have those forms of measurement anymore. Therefore, it became measuring the person, gut instinct, relationships, being more curious, and understanding who I’m working with and how I can better relate to their situations, successes, and failures. It added a lot more dynamics but they were dynamics that I live every single day. It was easy to apply them from a leadership role and how I could measure success.

You mentioned that a lot of your people have been remote and have been remote for a long time. A lot of the struggles that leaders have had over the years are trusting people who are doing their work, being effective, and engaging on a remote basis. Is there something that you’re doing that gives you confidence in your people?

I did start to understand there’s a dynamic that you have or don’t have when it comes to working at home, like the sense of accountability and the need and want to not have to be managed to be successful. You have to have those drives. When I go and pull somebody from an in-house position and bring them to our agency, and I have not vetted the idea that you can work alone, that you thrive in working alone, and that you find innovation in working alone, or if you have these needs for collaboration, how could I provide those so you can operate within those, it’s usually those people that were coming out of an in-house situation who failed in our work environment.

I had to learn to vet that, look for people, and attract people to the culture and the business model we had. What it turned out to be was predominantly moms. You have these professional great experts at what they do like PR, business development, and these things that fit within our service offering. You don’t conform to 9:00 to 5:00. Many of us don’t conform to the pressures and the things that we lose in life.

We value life so much more that if we can find a way in which we combine our personal life and professional lives and create one brand that people can trust and gravitate to, we find in line with those people that we can then begin to trust. You’re here because of something that you provide, you value, and you look at what this organization offers you from a work-life balance. Therefore, financially, you can see the differences where you need it from dollars versus time.

You can be a mom sitting in the doctor’s office and you’re still fully connected to anybody and everybody by your phone. You don’t have these pressures and stresses like, “I’m gone, missing, and not accountable.” If you free these people, your team and staff, to realize this and you align with the people who can manage that themselves, then you start to get success in the idea of trusting in people, not trusting in a process.

If I have a process, it’s cookie cutter and I expect you to fit into my mold. If I have a problem and we collaboratively open up and let ourselves think about how to solve the problem together, then we probably find more efficient, effective, and even infectious ways to succeed. That’s putting trust in people but I have to first vet the fact that you can manage this at home or in this environment that does not have accountabilities, water coolers, and collaboration on a day-to-day.

Seeing if a person is going to be successful in that remote environment when they’ve never been there before, which brings me up to you, Char. You’re a very social person. You love to talk and interact with people but you are almost entirely remote and you have been for several years. Was it a big adjustment for you?

I’m very social so my biggest challenge was the technology side. Everybody knows that. I don’t have a full IT department helping me. It has been an adjustment. For me, it’s more of technology, microphone, and all that. When I was running my company, I realized some of my challenges about being in that face-to-face contact so I structured my company so that my business partners and I would fly home to Colorado and do the face-to-face.

I structured my meetings, one-on-ones, talent management coaching, and all of the things that I did so that my employees never felt that I had abandoned them. Quite honestly, many of my employees were all over the world, mainly the United States. If I can say one comment, when I was an HR executive in healthcare, I did have many departments like the coding department or the physician billing department.

We had a lot of real estate and healthcare systems that were dedicated to the cubicles and office seating. Even back decades ago, I was always a champion of leaders trusting their employees. Employees can monitor themselves. I had many light debates about, “How do I trust my employees are not looking at their phones all day? How do I trust my employees not playing solitaire on their computers when they’re supposed to be working?”

I had leaders say, “I know they’re logging in but they’re off getting their coffee and taking the dog for the walk but they’re pretending to be logged in.” There’s even a mouse thing that moves your mouse around so that it looks like you’re logged in. I was like, “I didn’t understand that.” However, I would always champion and say, “It’s about productivity, outcomes, and doing the job.”

Trusting Employees

Frankly, I don’t necessarily care as long as they’re not doing anything inappropriate from a company policy. If an employee is looking at their phone, as long as they’re being productive. It’s interesting because of the pandemic. I don’t work in the healthcare system anymore but I’m curious. I may call some of my leader colleagues and say, “How are you adjusting? Remember those debates we talked about about trusting your employees? I’m wondering how you’re doing with that.” Times have changed and it’s made a difference. Terry, what are your thoughts about the leader who’s resistant to trusting their employees? How do you coach that leader to maybe have a paradigm shift?

If you do not have an Apple TV subscription and do not watch Ted Lasso, then you’re not doing yourself justice as a leader. It is a case study on how to be a leader. In every presentation I’ve ever given, I wish I had these case studies about culture and empathy, aligning emotions, and letting them come to work, and then along comes Ted Lasso. Every episode is a case study of exactly how we should be as leaders. It comes down to some of these core basics of trust, curiosity, and communication.

What happens as leaders is we also do. We forget that what we do then sets a stage for what’s expected. Just because I might be somebody who enjoys working 24/7, which I do not, but there are those people that do thrive and work. There isn’t a boundary in their mind to the idea of work. It’s a pleasure for them to be able to focus, strategize, think, and move things.

You communicate from odd hours at different times and days. All you’re doing is setting these expectations and creating these anxieties for your staff, especially in a virtual dynamic in which you’re not seeing and communicating. That creates these hard expectations. One of the first things I realized was communication and transparency were critical. If you’re going to do what I do as a model, then I needed to be as vulnerable and the human example of how business was run. That was the trickier part.

I’ve got two other business partners who are like, “I don’t know if I’d say or do that.” I don’t live that way. I live very much in the idea of understanding what you bring to the table, expecting that you’re going to bring that to the table, and then allowing you the freedom to bring that to the table. Looking at your phone during the day, according to what you do, could provide you with great insight and information. That could be updated to a court ruling, laws, changes in that, or natural disaster. Creativity happens. You’re stuck in TikTok and the next thing you know, you’ve solved an ad campaign.

People Strategy Forum | Terry M. Isner | People First Organization

People First Organization: Understand what you bring to the table, expect that you’re going to bring that to the table, and then allow yourself the freedom to bring that to the table.


Terry, a final point here I want to say. You’re right. I’m not saying I am a very highly intelligent person but my mind is always spinning and thinking constantly. “What’s the latest news, statistics, and information that would gain credit because I research a lot?” It was frustrating because when you’re on a Zoom call, you’re looking at the little hole right there. Sometimes we look down and we have something important to interject with. Since my brain’s constantly thinking about other things, I could be focused on the material and what I need to say if I’m able to look down briefly, pull up an article, or look at my other screen, and not look eyeball to eyeball with my little hole at the top of my computer.

Technology is a barrier. It’s another thing that creates these dynamics of uncomfortable situations and anxiety. A lot of working at home from my perspective is to eliminate anxieties, gain time and your life back, find more freedom, create great service offerings, and solve problems. I get frustrated as a leader when technology isn’t working because we’re all operating from the same technology but so many factors can affect it.

Another wonderful thing that came out of 2020 is enough of us were exposed to those issues that we’ve become numb enough to say, “Chill out. Relax. Technology happens.” We understand that. We cannot control certain things. We’re coming out of a business mindset and philosophy where there was so much control. We’re losing control and opening it up. By opening those things up and creating those cultures that are more relevant, then the dynamics are changing a bit. You’re getting greater innovation and collaboration, even though there are barriers between us. We’re not even just offices away but you have to trust in that system.

The beauty of COVID is it ripped this Band-Aid off or the situation and said, “Tough, you’re going to do it anyhow.” The real struggle is where those leaders who are saying, “I want some of that accountability.” We thrive better in-house versus out-of-house or those who still are questioning the dynamic of what that means to have that sense of freedom. I had to go back to what were my anxieties. I am not that big corporate business leader who wants to work all the time and make all of this money. No. I want to live my life. I want to go scuba diving. I’m a painter. I want to spend time with my kids and my husband. I love to travel around the world.

I want you to do that too every day. I try to travel and stay accessible. We love to travel to show that we can do that. I realized I had to start getting down to the nitty-gritty of some of the things that were affecting us. The idea that your pet has died is equally as stressful as anybody else dying in your life. You can’t roll your eyes at the idea that I have to understand and create a dynamic in which that person has the ability to mourn. I feel that so I should allow others to feel that.

The biggest win I have ever had as a leader was coming again out of the pandemic and the whole sense of well-being and how well-being had such a part at the table. I became a co-chair of the well-being committee to the Legal Marketing Association because I knew this mattered. We had to change cultures, events, and things. People felt comfortable and included.

I was going through a terrible time. Never in my life have I ever experienced depression, sadness, or anything that’s affected me in a way that shut me down. I ended up getting COVID. I was upset about the fact that I did. I was scared. We did everything right. Other things were happening personally and I was in a bad place. I sat back and wrote a letter to my entire company. I told them, “It’s okay to not be okay. I’m not okay. I’m not okay for you, guys, and for me. I’m going to check out of the game and be gone for ten days. You cannot reach me. Don’t try. I will not respond.”

I did. I came back and was ready to go. I addressed things but the outpour that came from my team was unbelievable. As a leader, it lifted me in a way that I’d never been because I was vulnerable. I told people, “It’s okay to be a human being, make mistakes, and learn from mistakes.” It changed a lot around here. A lot more people found the need. Empty nesters were experiencing these things. I was sensing them.

It's okay to be a human being, make mistakes, and learn from mistakes. Share on X

I’m a cancer so I’m empathetic. I can feel anything and everything. I sensed this. I had to create a culture and a dynamic in which you had to put your oxygen mask on first. If you did, then you can successfully help the rest of us. If you didn’t do that first, then you’re no good to me, the client, and your team. That was a huge lesson for me to start to trust in people, feelings, and emotions, and create trust as a real sense of how we would succeed and how I would lead.

Lessons From Ted Lasso

Such wise words there, Terry. One of the most important pieces as a leader that made a change in your organization was showing that vulnerability. I want to go back to what you said a little bit in the show, Ted Lasso. I’m starting to watch that show as well. Sumit, I would love to hear from you because I know that you’re a huge sports fan. Do you get Ted Lasso in India?

We do, although I haven’t seen the show yet.

You will.

It’s a good one. You should look at it. It’s a show.

I have to renew my Apple TV subscription for that.

You’ll enjoy it because your soapbox is culture. There’s a need to change a culture here and a dynamic of the way we look at something like sports, masculinities, and expectations but when you watch a person be vulnerable, corny, and just be themselves, and you watch a dynamic of change, you know you can do this. You watch this. Whether it’s optimism, curiosity, motivation, humor, vulnerability, or even love, these are things that mostly didn’t fit in a corporate dynamic in our ’80s and ’90s industrial mentalities.

This is what it’s about. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are so big in the way that we should be operating. Ted Lasso gave you the ability to step back and say, “I have the right to be me as a leader. You have the right to be yourself on my team. I would rather put value in my player than the results out on the field.” When you start to learn that, it changes the dynamic in your boardroom quite a bit.

I haven’t seen the show but I’ve got a question. I know what the show is about. Essentially, he’s got all the luxury to fail in his role, which helps him to succeed. Maybe that’s what leaders should be doing more of, not hiring people with the intent of making them fail but not making failure a punishing experience. It probably happens to them.

There’s one good episode that deals with this. There’s a player who miserably fails on the field and they lose the match. People are very upset with him and he’s very upset with himself. I’ve used this in my presentations as an example. Ted tells the player, “You need to be a goldfish. You need to learn from this and move on.” That’s a big thing for us because we harbor these things and hold on to them. They fester and grow. Other people also hold on to them and harbor them, and they fester and grow, as opposed to letting it be a learning moment to say, “We learned something here but we can move on from this.”

Too many times, I’ve seen in business where somebody’s made a mistake on a team and they’ve been canceled. “Done. I’m not working with this person.” You can’t do that. We don’t know the factors that happened and came into life every day. I have to remind people, “We don’t know if that’s a mean person or what happened on the way to work. Did they get a flat tire or bad news? Did they spill coffee all over the front of them?” I don’t know. I can’t project those thoughts. I have to welcome a situation and build from there.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from this was failure is okay. I can fail as a leader and still be okay as their leader. They can look at me and go, “Even Terry is human enough to have a typo in something he put together.” The hardest part is leading others to take that deep breath, let that be a learning experience, and then still have trust and a colleague. I deal with that every day. That’s a tough one. I’m projecting what I want onto somebody. As a leader, what I’m learning is to stop projecting and allow it to happen. It is hurting cats. You’re hurting emotions and thoughts. You’re understanding dynamics.

People Strategy Forum | Terry M. Isner | People First Organization

People First Organization: Failure is okay. You can fail as a leader and still be okay as their leader.


When you put a team dynamic together, a good leader should understand all of those things. “I understand there’s a sick baby involved in this one. I understand this one’s been traveling for me and is tired. I understand the client is beating up this one. All of those emotions are coming to this meeting. I’m aware of this. I have to let it happen. I have to trust in the fact that you all are allowing your process to happen. In the end, we’re going to get to where we need to get. I didn’t dismiss those emotional factors that are coming to the table.”

I can say one thing that was a lesson for me too as the Chief People Officer and Owner of my business. An example is I had an employee and her husband both work for my company. We had a location in Texas that was opening up. She would have to move and sell all her stuff. Her mother-in-law was going to move with them but there was some miscommunication between the CEO and the employees about the moving budget. We thought they were only going to have $10,000 and ultimately, it was going to be $12,000.

I began to reflect because she was the primary person coordinating the move and then she was afraid to talk to us about her real concern about the financial impact of this move. I had to hear about it through my director. Thank God, my director had a close tight relationship with her. I reflected, “What are we doing about this manager feeling such anxiety talking to us about her concern about the cost of her move?”

I thought I was creating that open HR with a heart as my motto. I felt I was creating that culture for my employees but somewhere in the CEO dynamic and this manager, she didn’t feel safe enough to talk about what was going on. I lost sleep over that because I thought she was picking up her entire house, selling everything, and moving to Texas. No offense, Texas. It’s a lot different than Colorado. I agree with you 100%. One last comment I’ll say is you also have to think about the wage and hour implication.

When I was a leader addicted to my BlackBerry, yes, I’m a BlackBerry girl, I was available 24/7. It’d be 9:00 at night and my leader had a crisis. The problem was my hourly employees didn’t have the freedom to respond to emails and texts. We had a huge wage and hour audit. Luckily, we were able to work through it but we weren’t thinking about the 24/7 access. It’s important that we allow our employees and leaders to have that downtime for weekends and not be on the clock 24/7. Some of us are BlackBerry or smartphone addicts. There are a lot of HR implications too that you need to evaluate about setting up that culture.

I go back to what we do as leaders. I talked about it from a well-being perspective. I was also trying to say this and I want to make sure it was clear. Just because I operate a certain way doesn’t mean I expect you to operate that way but if I don’t articulate that or discuss that with you, you will always think, “This is how I operate. Therefore, you should operate.” What we forget as leaders sometimes is to talk about certain things that we do that might affect others.

We just think we’re a leader so we’re going to do but there are ramifications in the fact that because I do something some way, it puts anxiety, stress, and expectations on people when they shouldn’t be there but we don’t realize we’re doing that. That’s an important part to step back and say, “As a leader, I’m a human being. I have a family, hobbies, and all of these things that I need to do on a daily basis. Plus, I have this to do. How does this all fit in? How can those working with me trust they’re going to get what I get? How can I do it my way?”

That’s a hard thing to give everybody. How are you going to do it your way? However, there are still expectations and ways into this work. Yes, there are still anxieties and accountability because you’re working with the team. Yes, you have a client but I’m telling you to try to do it freely. “What are you telling me to do, Terry? How do I do this?” It is a struggle.

I say this because not everybody can lead this way or work on teams this way and I understand that but in my mind, this is where we are going in businesses in general whether you’re spinning off and creating your own because it should be or as a Corporate America, you somehow drank the right Kool-Aid and you’re doing this. It’s not like we’re creating something that’s a trend in any way. Humanity is not a trend. It comes together for us.

Humanity is not a trend. It comes together for us. Share on X

A lot of this is also generational. Let’s throw one more mix into this. There are five generations in the workforce. The dynamics between each one of these is very different. When we apply mentalities from Gen X and Boomers downward, we’re creating a battle for ourselves. How do I, as a leader, in one of the older generations or as a Gen X-er say, “How do I appeal to alphas and others?” What’s going to happen is the business that you’re working with one day is going to have the younger person on the other side of the table.

You’re going to bring the older person still at the table. There’s no alignment and adjustment. In my mind, it’s greater than even leadership. It’s looking at the world and people and realizing that every email I send goes to a human being and every text that you read is a human being. With every tweet and everything, there’s somebody on the other side. It’s not technology, a phone, a wall, or a screen. It’s a human being that is affected in some way by what you have put out there.

If I can keep reminding everybody every day that there’s nothing robotic about life and that if we can bring those experiences comfortably, trust the ultimate goal here and the result, and work together as a team to provide a solution to somebody who needs it, I don’t care where you are or how you get to it. I don’t care if your sweet spot of working is 10:45 at night until 2:00 AM. I don’t care. What I care about is that I’m going to get unique, innovative, out-of-the-box, good results, and hit the mark. That’s all I ask of you. That’s hard for a lot of people to accept that I’ve given you that much freedom to succeed. When they all fall in line, it’s all success. You win awards, have profit and growth, and attract more people. I fully believe that how we will increase profits is within our people.

How we will increase profits is within our people. Share on X

Adopting A People-First Approach

It’s clear when I go to your website there, Terry, the Jaffe website. It reports that you’ve been successful in doing this for your organization, as well as others. You’re primarily in the marketing and PR business for legal companies. Can you tell us a little bit about how you have coached them to adopt a brand that is people-centric in a way that is helping them attract the right talent to their organization?

The first thing I’ve ever done in helping write a ship’s culture is telling them to go down to the mailroom. Go down to the lowest positions that you have available, not your rainmakers, executives, or executive committees. Go down to the people who are running your organization every single day and start there because that’s where the culture is. That’s where you start to understand where the cultural problems are. If you can tap into the real people who are there with those anxieties, dealing with those situations, because they don’t have the luxury of being the executive or rainmaker, that’s where it starts.

When I can get a managing partner or an executive committee to understand that if you look at it from a law firm’s perspective, people don’t hire the brand but they hire the lawyer and the relationships with the lawyer. The lawyer has a lot of power to retain because of the clients. It’s the same way that you do business development to get more clients or customers. The law firm has the opportunity to bring in a new lawyer with a book of business but you’ve got to create a culture that attracts that lawyer.

You’ve got to start to understand, “What is it that I’m looking for out of people? What type of culture do I need to retain these people and/or attract these people?” A lot of it for me also says, “Are you spending time to even understand your client’s boardroom talk and how they’re operating?” A lot of times, the clients are way ahead of the law firm. Therefore, with their expectations of social commitments, culture, and diversity at a table, they’re ahead of it and the law firm’s a bit behind because of the dynamics and the way they work.

The way that I try to get them to understand a culture is what’s happening to your client. How do you walk the walk and talk the talk to them so there’s alignment? How do you find a way to listen, not to those who are in your meetings every day but to those who are supporting the real ones behind success, I believe in an organization? What is it that they’re lacking? What do they need?

That’s where you can start to develop what you can do to alter and change your cultures. I work in an industry that’s very set up to communicate hierarchy, the corner offices, and the big cocktail events and stuff. If you neutralize all that and all those corner offices become common areas and you change a dynamic of office space and alter the obvious hierarchies, you begin to change a dynamic instantly within those walls that seem so much more collaborative.

That’s what 2020 did. The same managing partner was sitting in his bedroom having a Zoom call as the assistant in her bedroom was having the call because we didn’t have an office space. We’re seeing into people’s homes. You stripped away a bit of that hierarchy sense and we all became more human. That’s usually where I start. Where can we tap into where it matters? Where it matters to me is those people doing the work on a daily basis and have the expectations being set at their desks. That’s where we begin to alter culture.

That is super powerful. Working with Sumit and Char here, I’ve gotten to know Sumit’s cats and also Char’s. It brings a dynamic of not just equality and fairness but humanity that we are always thriving and trying to have a greater relationship with. This has been a good evolution in the work environment for sure.

I’ll tell you a simple story of where we connect on this. I have a great client that I love. She became a lawyer because she wanted to buy a plane and she wanted to be a pilot. I love her story. She’s like, “I only became a lawyer because I’d make enough money so I could buy a plane and fly around.” I tell her story all the time. It created these incredible videos like a Netflix series, her from a pilot and a woman in power, leading a firm, being in intellectual property in Detroit, and these great things.

I was nominated for something. They needed somebody else to add a comment so they reached out to her. She said, “I was at a conference and I saw Terry talk but what it was was his stormtrooper sticker on his computer that made me say, ‘I like that guy. I’m going to get to know that guy. We’re going to work together.’” She’s one of my most successful clients.

It happened because I was comfortable enough to go to a conference, stand on the stage, let my computer tell you the story of everything about my life, and connect on a very different level, not on a level of what I was preaching that day or any of my history of success or anything. We connected on a human level, something that we both agreed on and that started our relationship.

Building that brand reputation and changing that leadership mindset is extremely critical. Doesn’t it feel better when you go into an organization, even these big box organizations, and, they appear happy? You feel that warmth, love, and kindness. When you talk about branding and reputation culture, oftentimes operationally, we have the departments that do all the branding and the marketing for the company. We’re the best company out there but our number one asset is our people who need to be the number one branding and reputation.

Employees do go out there and say to their uncle, sons, daughters, cousins, or neighbors, “I work at XYZ company. The culture is so bad and I have anxiety every time I drive into work.” I call it the White Knuckle Syndrome. That gets out there. People go, “I would never want to work for that company or a boss like that. I don’t want to work with a company that doesn’t even allow me to work remotely on a hybrid system or whatever it may be.”

Branding And Marketing Your Culture

Terry, when you talk about branding and marketing your culture, in the job description or the job posting alone, you can mention, “We have a great culture and people-centric,” but a lot of people don’t know what the word people-centric means. What are your feelings about helping your employees promote working for this organization?

What I said to my employees is, “Wouldn’t you help us recruit people like you who have the same value system that we do? I would like you to be involved in the recruitment process and maybe get a recruitment bonus, referral bonus, or something like that?” What are your thoughts about engaging your employees in that process to attract the right culture and exemplify that culture to our customers or clients?

There are two answers to that. One is to incentivize. I will give you something if you bring in that great person but I have to create the culture in which you’re comfortable and bringing them to. That was my challenge, which I believe I’ve succeeded in. It isn’t something I could ask you to do. I can incentivize you but if it’s not real, authentic, or organic, you’re not going to market and sell it to bring anybody else into this.

Our agency had a not a great reputation with the previous owner and working for them. Part of me knew that I had to change that dynamic of the brand. I was going to hold onto the brand equity of the company’s name, which made a lot of sense. My ego was not going to get involved and I wasn’t going to change it. It’s smart enough there.

I also realized there was a reputation issue that had to be fixed. It’s critical. At that point, I probably would not have had the recommendations of people wanting to come work if I hadn’t changed the dynamic of the culture to be people-centric and understood the way that we operate. The expectations of those are very different of other corporate businesses. Once I figured out some of those things and I was able to start to write that, I saw that more people were bringing more people and opportunities to the table.

Somebody had asked us, who was a consultant, to come in and speak to the law firm they were working with. I never met her before at all. She wasn’t even in the meeting because she was a consultant and they didn’t even invite her to the meeting, which I thought was weird. I met her afterward. We had coffee and I hired her on the spot.

She is one of my biggest champions. She’s a young mom going through a lot. I told her about the environment, what we had, and what I expected. She came in and revamped a department for me. She’s doubled it alone by simply living up to those things that I said that we did as a culture. The funny part of that, when you go back to me talking to other leaders and helping them change the culture, the right things to say, the right things to do, taking your values off the wall, living them, and showing this through all of your marketing, is we were in a meeting talking to this new recruit.

I was about to talk about our culture and he said, “Don’t start going down this road about your culture and your culture does this and that. Your culture awards this and your work-life balance because I’ve heard it from all of them.” I sat there for a moment. The managing partner said, “I didn’t know what to say. I’m following a lot of what you taught me.” Those were the same things that I wanted to tell him.

I decided to get up, take him, and show him. That was it right there. We can talk about these processes and beliefs. We can champion Black Lives Matter, Black history, or women’s history. We can have women’s initiative things on our website. People are going to call BS on you. That’s the world that we live in. We’re not authentic or organic. You can’t create a culture and it not be the culture you’re going to fail miserably but he succeeded because he took this person around and showed them as opposed to listed it. They hired him.

That’s an important thing for us to remember and understand. I will create salespeople, champions for what we do, and followers to believe in me. I’ll do all these things if I believe in them back and create a dynamic in which they can succeed. We purely have success. There are hiccups along the way, typos, and mistakes. Sure, things happen but other than that, we have a strong working environment. We have great collaboration, innovation, and communication.

In the end, we have great solutions and successes. That has to happen by going back, being vulnerable, recognizing where you have failures in your culture, and adapting to those changes. It’s the only way that as leaders, we can succeed. The other side of that is leaders, if you’re not making the adjustments to attract, succeed, and be relevant, and you the employee, you’re not in the environment that allows you to thrive, grow, and be who you are, get out.

Don’t feel you’re stuck in these situations based on the same mentalities that we’ve been put on by our parents. “You have to have this paycheck and do this. Bills have to be paid and other things have to be done.” You could be a happier and more successful person if you’re in the right culture and environment. That’s become our biggest measurement. If leaders do not realize that’s how they’re being measured, shame on you. That’s the due diligence that’s being done before they come to join your company.

People Strategy Forum | Terry M. Isner | People First Organization

People First Organization: You could be a happier and more successful person if you’re in the right culture and environment.


It’s been a wonderful conversation. The amount of wisdom that you’re bringing us is substantial for our audience so thank you so much.

Thank you all.

When you’re thinking about the key messages that you want our audience to take home and understand as far as how to build their brand and attract and retain the best people for their organization, what are the things that you would like them to keep in mind?

From a leader’s perspective or anybody in general, there are three things that we can apply and practice. We can apply this on autopilot every day. Simply be a good person, first and foremost. The other is to respect others. Don’t judge at all in any form. If you cannot judge, show respect and trust, and simply be a good person, you’re already changing a dynamic very easily. Those are three simple things that we can do.

Treat others with dignity and respect, do what is right always, and inspire folks to succeed. Those are the things that from human nature, we should be doing. That is humanity. We’re dealing with people every single day and not just standing on the line creating a widget. That’s my job, a widget. I need my machine to operate every day. I have a quota. That’s not the case in most business cases. How does this affect each and every one of us?

At the end of the day, as a leader, be a good person. As a human being, be a good person to your colleague and anybody next to you. Have respect and trust. From Ted Lasso, have curiosity, ask questions, and get to know your people. I have found people to be more valuable to me for things I didn’t know and I found out because I was curious than what I hired them for in the first place. That’s where we get short-sighted as leaders and people.

Thank you, Terry. For our audience who want to learn more and reach out to you to understand some more of that wisdom, what are your recommendations for them?

You can find a lot of the articles and things that I write and my colleagues at If you want to follow me anywhere on social media, I’m @SharingTMI. TMI is for my initials. You can find me on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, anywhere you want.

Thank you everyone for reading. We’ll see you next time. Take care.


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About Terry M. Isner

People Strategy Forum | Terry M. Isner | People First OrganizationTerry M. Isner is a seasoned business strategist and brand consultant with a rich background as a creative director and artist. He blends this unique skill set to address emerging business challenges for professional services firms, championing values like empathy, inclusion, compassion, and creativity as the core of successful companies. With a philosophy that prioritizes humanity in business strategies, Terry helps firms adapt to generational shifts and competitive markets through innovative marketing strategies and internal culture enhancements.

His approach to marketing draws from diverse industries and the latest technologies, ensuring that his clients stay at the forefront of innovation. As a management consultant, Terry elevates firm reputations and internal cultures by focusing on the human elements of brands, enhancing connections with prospects, and boosting employee engagement. He also excels in multi-media marketing, coaching, and delivering empowering presentations that drive sales, branding, and positive workplace culture.

Terry’s expertise includes navigating generational changes within workplaces, creating engaging internal campaigns, building teams through unique activities, and maintaining client relationships through thoughtful brand revisions during critical transitions like leadership succession. His specialties encompass branding, creative strategy, multi-media and advertising campaigns, photo and video direction, and web strategy and design.

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