Nikki Lewallen Gregory is the Founder and Chief Meaningful Work Officer at People Forward Network. She loves to focus on the vision of the organization, its culture, and their go to market strategy (all things sales and marketing). She helps clients to stand out with their sales, marketing, and culture efforts.
The following podcast is intended only for listeners who are intent on growing the business. Welcome to innovate marketing, where we are bringing you interviews with the brands, the influencers and the nonprofits that are making waves and growing a business. We are brought to you by MyPodcast.Media. MyPodcast.Media produces high quality podcasts that authentically connect you to your ideal audience. And now I'd like to introduce you to your host for innovate marketing, Sherry Peak.
Sherry Peak (host) 0:41
Hello, and welcome to Innovate Marketing. And today, our guest is Nikki Lewallen Gregory, and she is the Chief Meaningful Work Officer with People Forward Network. Welcome, Nikki.
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 0:53
Thank you, Sherry. I'm so excited to be here.
Sherry Peak (host) 0:56
I'm excited to have you here. And just to share in this conversation, as I think it'd be very relevant, and fitting for people today as they're looking at their career, future choices, and most importantly, the current employment state that we're in as a country, Nicky, and I just want to spend some time talking to you about People Forward Networks. So can you tell us a little bit about what that is? And the vision that inspired the People Forward Network?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 1:23
Yeah, absolutely. I love talking about this. It's like, my entire life's work compiled into this one thing that I get to do every day, that half of the days I say, gosh, I just I just feel like I got to pinch myself, do I get to do this. It's so amazing. So, People Forward Network as a global community of leaders that share the same mindset or way of being around leading people first, with the people for style. And we typically serve b2b organization's leaders, to help them advance their efforts around culture, and driving employee engagement scores and attracting, you know, the types of people that are going to help them grow their business and building diversity initiatives. All those things that today are so important to help these workplaces build thriving organizations where people thrive and experience meaningful work. So we provide resources and connections to help advance those leaders.
Sherry Peak (host) 2:23
Why was that important to you to start a business such as this?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 2:29
Yeah, so I love to tell people, if you have a young person in your life that is like a teenager, or maybe even a little bit younger, help them understand themselves and do like an assessment of themselves at an early age so that it's not like, well, what do you want to do when you get older and a lot of people don't know, and you go to college and you're down this path, and you've paid you know, four years, in my case, six years for college before I did some assessments that helped me to understand like, really how I'm wired and where my strengths are. We all have God given strengths and unique things. And to know that early is so important, but I didn't learn that until after six years in college. I had my master's degree, I knew I wanted to help people. And so I went down a path of becoming a mental health therapist. Once I was wrapping up my graduate degree, I was in my fourth internship experience and happen to finally land somewhere that helped me to, you know, it's such a I feel God thing that I landed at this final place, because the first three internships I was like, nope, nope, nope, they taught me what I didn't want to do. And then I landed at an employee assistance program, an EAP they call those a lot of times, and what that is, as employers pay to have, you know, counseling and coaching services for employees as a supplement to their benefit plan. So like when you're going through grief and loss or divorce, or something like they have a third party outlet, or if you're like, I really want to level up, I want to be a better leader, I want to, you know, be a better parent, you can go to these services to really help you. I really thrived in that space. And I'm like, This is so cool. But wait a second, employers pay for this for their people. I had never, I never even knew there was anything out there like that. And bottom line, there's a lot of story to it. I got on the path of saying, I want to use the strengths that I found out through all of this, which I can talk a little bit more about in a minute to impact meaningful work experiences, because I believe that when we contribute to the world through our work, which is a majority of our time, we are better in every other area, better parent, better community member, and all those things. So that's just a little bit of the backstory.
Sherry Peak (host) 4:36
Wow, I think that's so good. I like the whole people first leaders, you know, and you mentioned how that where leadership and people first leadership are synonymous. So can you go a little bit more into that because leadership, that's a favorite subject of mine, so I love to hear what you have to say. Just around that right there and leadership.
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 4:57
Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, to put it very, very blunt, you know, as a leader, your job is to advance people and you, to help people grow, leader leading other people, how many times do leaders get caught up in the title or the control or the, you know, those things that, you know, those things are not a leader. And when you think people first, you know, we say it should be synonymous, because it's like that, that, you know, obviously, like it being a leader, that should be the number one priority. However, you know, there isn't the mass population, you know, portion that does operate that way. But I feel like now today, there's such a spotlight on it. It's like, you know, margins are very small, on, you know, the margins are very big, let me say that, again, margins are very big on, you know, the talent needs gap, you know, and people are very selective, like the whole great resignation. People are very selective about where they're going to work now. They're like, hey, COVID showed me that, like, I value my family time, and I'm not going to work somewhere that I'm not cared for, or that I don't have a voice or whatever. So it's really forcing a lot more of that, which is actually pretty great and healthy. But we believe that, you know, that is the way of being Why would you lead any other way than people first?
Sherry Peak (host) 6:18
I agree with you wholeheartedly with that. Now, how does leadership and the people first leadership, how does that tie into employee engagement?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 6:27
Yeah, I would say very heavily, I think at the core of employee engagement, if you were to look at a grid, and you cut the grid into four boxes, right, so there's a rectangle, and you get four boxes. And in the core of the center, if we're talking employee engagement, there's a heart. And that heart is what's going to bring the four of these pieces together, right. And I learned years ago, from a Gallup study, just sometimes, you know, models, like just latch onto you, and you're like, oh, I really liked this one, I'm just gonna keep it forever. So I'm still talking about it. But these four boxes are Purpose, Status, Money, and Influence. And I believe that all of those things have to be at play to really experience meaning in our roles, it's like, you have to feel that you are purposefully impacting something right like that, you're not just like, coming there to just, you know, clock the time; there has to be purpose. You know, from a status perspective, and this is a lot of ground recognition and there's very, a lot of different areas of status, but recognizing someone and helping them advance to the role that they should be in, right, and really pouring into giving them the accolades and helping build them up building people up is in this other category. So purpose, status, money, you know, obviously, at play today, more than ever. Like comp plans are so hard, because there's so much competition. And, you know, in order for us to feel like we could have a purposeful job but not making enough to even really take care of our family. So therefore, we feel like we're not, you know, contributing how we want and it's the struggle, you know. And then finally, is influence having the opportunity at any role to feel like, you know, you're on a call or you're in a meeting or you're serving someone at the at the counter, and to feel that you're really making an impact, like on influencing this person. So that whether that is like, they walked away happier, they felt like they were heard, whatever that may be that you're helping to really influence through the role that you're given. And I think, you know, people first leaders keep the eye on the juggle of all of those things.
Sherry Peak (host) 8:34
I like that you talk about that, because I remember employment, you know, the EAP plans and things that employers used to offer. And it seems that a lot of those have gone away today and they were very instrumental in me building my career and leadership skills. And, and I do miss some of those opportunities, even in the area that I work. But I think it's so important, because like you said, it really does translate how you feel about your work. It does translate into other areas of your life when we spend so much time at work. So I know you're focusing now on growing the people forward network. I know that's your mission. That's your passion in doing that. So as a network, you have a website that has some wonderful information tools, you've got a blog section there, you've got podcasts there, you've got some events that you've got coming up, and we'll talk about that. But I want to talk about podcasting, because you've really used that as an instrument to kind of share this message and also to bring others into the light of what you're talking about when we talk about people first leaders or even people moving forward. Yeah. So your website. Let's talk a little bit about there. You've got some wonderful content there. How are you getting this message out to individuals about the people forward network? How are you sharing some of that through your podcast? How has that been working for you? You see people coming to the page and all that good stuff?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 9:58
Yeah, let me take you back just for just a moment when I was sharing with you that I highly recommend that, you know, at a teenage young years, you know, we're helping people understand. So you don't just go into school and then come out and you're like, well, all that college, but that's not what I'm doing. And so many of us do that, right. So when I did get to that fourth practicum, or internship experience at the EAP, the lady that was the own the company, I worked for entrepreneurial EAP, which is very rare, actually. And she said, "Have you ever taken an a DISC assessment or the Myers Briggs?" I was like a what? Uh. You know, like, I don't know what you're talking about. And she's like, "would you take you know, these assessments, I kind of have some thoughts about how we can shape your role here." And so I take these assessments, and they come back, like, you know, screaming loud, flashing sales, entrepreneurship, well, I just got out of six years of mental health, you know, counseling, therapy type stuff. And I won't tell too much more of that story. But it was my pivot point, I started to help that company, I did like half time, half of my time therapy, and started to go into a training program for sales to help grow this business. I fell in love with it. And my trajectory from from then was really sales and marketing all intersecting with meaningful work experiences as my why my strength area is, you know, that sales, marketing influence, you know, helping businesses do that. But my, you know, my heart I would never have left since then, really impacting meaningful work. And so, today, you know, how did we get to people forward network, podcasting is what I found five years ago to be the best way to build relationships and create maximum content around one activity. So you can you can record one episode, you can flip the video on, you can then take those episodes, cut them into pieces, you can create blogs, create newsletter content, social posts, right? Every one episode is able to be maximized. And I'm like an efficiency person like, love that. And so, five years ago, I was working on a project with a tech company to grow their partnership program. And we were like, how can we show the world that the companies we really want to work with like the true best places to work? How do we work with these CEOs and help them maximize their their vision for their culture. And so we built this podcast and started to bring these CEOs on to the show, which I still have, Gut Plus Science, five years later, to really be a mentoring platform for other people first type leaders. So once CEOs on there, we have this audience, they're learning from the CEOs, failures, or you know, successes or whatever they've done. And it really be started to become a mentoring community, and help the brand to showcase companies that they love to be brand aligned with. And here's the real big key to help them build relationships through podcasting. Every time you have a you're doing a podcast, it's a conversation, you're building a relationship with someone else. And so that's a little bit of the backstory, which got us to the vision for people forward network, which is now not just one podcast, but lots of podcasts, that have different niches, like where one niche is to serve HR leaders. And another niche is to help middle managers and another niche is to serve DEI initiatives in business. And that is really like where our website serves is, you know, all these different disciplines of leaders that impact people first leadership that we refer to as moving people forward. So you know, now it's like, you know, we use LinkedIn as our main social media to drive traffic and build connections, because that is where our people are. So I'm very, very honed in on the way I do business. And it all starts with focus on the ideal client that your business serves and say no, if it's not in that realm, and so it's like, okay, well, then we do we need to be on Facebook, do we need to be on Instagram and all these things? That's not where our people are. I mean, some of them might be but LinkedIn is where our people are. So we really spend a lot of time there. Being great content experts, if you will, sharing content that helps to advance these people, versus like sharing promotional things like hey, people forward network is, you know, doing this or doing that it's really content that moves leaders forward. And then, you know, shares with them, hey, if you like this, we'd love to have you come visit our website, we have all kinds of downloadable tools and resources. But LinkedIn is one of those main places that we go to drive inbound traffic from from the activity that we do there. We also do bi monthly minimum email, mass emails. So we are you know, sharing kind of like what's new at people forward network highlighting people giving shoutouts sharing stories, big storyteller. So in podcasting, that's what you do all the time. And so emails to really highlight things that it's like, Hey, if you want to learn more great, go to our website. So email would be the second way that we're driving people there and then And finally, this is just kind of just in my DNA, we have a lot of partnerships. So a lot of partners that we have agreements, hey, we'd love to share this for you, you share this for us, you know, when it's this win-win, we're targeting that same, I would call it a strategic partnership. We're targeting the same end user, we do different things, let's add value to each other and share. And that's a lot of how we're driving traffic to our website as well.
Sherry Peak (host) 15:27
With those different modes of driving traffic to your website, how do you measure success to know what you're doing is working?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 15:35
Yeah, so we do monthly reports, I know we can get better at this for sure. I love data to help make decisions. So I will just say, it's one of the reasons why we named my podcast and Gut Plus Science, the science is the data side, you know, I feel like you have to have a marriage anywhere where it's like your gut and how you feel and like, oh, I have red flags then say "peace out." Because like, if you've got a red flag, it's you know, just, you know, telling you the writing's on the wall, but also that data side. And so we pull reports monthly, and we look at a large variety of things from, you know, different page traffic levels, right. And if there was a significant change one month versus another, we're looking back to see like, what was it that drove people there. We look at Click Rates on our site. So we have one particular page that's all about the podcast shows that people can go to. Another one that's downloadable resources for tools that people could take advantage of, and really looking at not just like, who's going to the page, but then who is clicking, you know, and taking advantage of those things. And then we're taking a look at our pipeline to look at, like, how are these numbers comparing to the people we're talking to? And what's the gap there? Between, you know, who's clicking in the context that we're getting or seeing and who we're actually talking to? And is in our CRM?
Sherry Peak (host) 16:51
What are some of the things you hope to do with the network, you know, you've got a nice platform, a nice sized platform. I've seen the content on your website, lots of free resources there and things that we can listen to while we're driving and stuck in traffic and all that good stuff. So you're, you're steadily growing, gaining new viewers for your content? How do you see the People Forward Network growing in the future? What type of offerings, you know, that are trending do you see you might add to the network?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 17:20
That's a great question. And it's all in the midst of so much excitement that I am experiencing right now. Because we're just really getting clear on you know, where that is, as you just keep evolving and growing. But yeah, so we have a lot of different clients that we work with right now. Right? We call those partners that would be different than a strategic partner, because when I was talking strategic partner, it's like, people that you're kind of scratching each other's back and helping each other grow. You know, from a marketing partnership perspective. We have what we call people, forward network partners. And they cover the gamut of these different disciplines underneath People Forward Leadership like I was sharing earlier. Like employee engagement, versus DEI versus talent acquisition, you know, those kinds of disciplines. One side of where we're going is we're going to limit our partners to there'll be 13 categories, we already have the 13 categories, but we're just trying to figure out who really is the right partner to own each of those categories. And then underneath those partners that own those categories. So let's say Leadership Development is owned by HRD Advisory Group, okay, so they own that category. Now, there's different content contributors that can come in, you know. HRD Advisory Group doesn't do every single thing ever for everybody, right? So we help them build partnerships underneath that sub-umbrella, if you will. And so we're really limiting the partners that we pour our time and energy into, and then teaching those partners to be great partners to others. So it's kind of like a, you know, a tiered approach, if you will, that's one side. The other side of what we're doing that is so exciting, is we're now building podcasts for internal company efforts. So inside show podcasts for brands call it you know, let's just say Starbucks. So Starbucks, they are looking to really be better at communicating with their people. And having the CEO reach every employee on a smart device, whenever, you know, they want to take advantage of listening to the CEO. So very on-demand oriented and very like work/life integration oriented- hey, you know, while you're driving or take a walk or whatever, and you're getting the update from the CEO. And employee spotlights we're also doing like, Hey, John in Denver is doing amazing things. Let's highlight John and let's have other people learn from John and doing a you know, a recognition meets mentoring episode with with employees regularly. Sharing customer stories of how this brand is impacting customers. Like, let's let's tell the greatness of why people chose to work with us. And then finally, the very big bucket is development, you know, people development. So everything from whole life development topics of like how to be a better parent or self care, to technical talk of like how to, you know, build a great cup of coffee and keep it warm, you know, if this was Starbucks or whatever, you know. Also onboarding. You could you can take on a large majority of your onboarding to podcasting. And it's like, Oh, you just joined this organization, we want you to be able to, you know, kind of ease in the first season has six episodes, if you can accomplish that in your first month, like do it while you're on a walk, do it, we're in your favorite comfy chair, but really taking onboarding to the On-Demand Learning as well. So we're so excited, we will be launching lots and lots more of these inside shows, because we're seeing the impact of what that does to drive engagement inside of organizations.
Sherry Peak (host) 20:51
You've got a lot going on, and congratulations to you, because it sounds like a service that's well needed as we're looking to help our employees better navigate, if you will, the work environment today. So Nikki, let me ask you, for someone who is interested, hey, you know, sounds like this might be a good thing for me to do, I really want to stretch my reach, you know, for clients, or even just to get my message out... Could you tell us how would one become a partner or have your assistance in building their podcasts or some of those other things that you mentioned?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 21:26
Yeah, you know, for us, because relationships are really core to how we operate. And it really starts with a conversation. And so you know, to go to the website that we've been referring to, peopleforwardnetwork.com , and, you know, just submit the contact form, to reach out, that's a great way or if you want to just direct message me, inbox, message me on LinkedIn, that is a great way, and just to start a conversation. So everything for us starts at that place, because we're not a great fit for everybody. And not not everybody is a great fit for us. So we love to just make sure in the spirit of true partnership that we've spent time getting to know each other and making sure that match is there.
Sherry Peak (host) 22:06
That sounds really great. Nikki, what would be one final piece of advice, or a story you'd like to share about someone, you know, maybe that was where you were, you know, a young adult, not quite sure in their career wanting to make that advancement or change, or can even be a business owner wanting to uplevel their business strategy, what would you share with the listeners today?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 22:31
Yeah, so I've learned the hard lesson, or I've learned the lesson the hard way, that less is more. And I'll give you an example. For myself, I've always done a lot like a lot of different things, and done those things... Okay. You know, like some people might be like, She's killing it. But to me, like, did I really have the peace around all of those things I was juggling? No. And could I could have done things better if I didn't have all of those things? And so this is the first time since the EAP, which was my first job after working in restaurants, through college and all that, that I have done one thing. And you know, even even at the EAP, I was still working in restaurants, when I first got my first job, I mean, I would that would show I truly never until now done one thing and professionally. And I just see how, you know, just the opportunity for a peaceful experience working and the trajectory, let alone the like the path that I look back and see like the growth that we're experiencing, and how much fun it is, because I can enjoy it. And I can really double down on what we're doing because I don't have all this clutter. You know, I've definitely submitted seven W2's one year. And it's just crazy like to do all of these different things. And and at the time, you know, you just don't see the writing on the wall then. But I will say on the other side of it, everything I've ever heard around less is more pick a niche or laser focus, is so important and powerful.
Sherry Peak (host) 24:10
So true. So true. Well, Nikki, I've enjoyed our time together and you actually sound like you could be one of the runners for the upcoming award ceremony that you have coming up. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 24:25
Yes. Oh my gosh, I'm so glad that you asked about that, too. So prior to people for a network becoming a thing like back when I was telling you about the first podcast that we recorded and why we were doing it was to highlight CEO's and the great workplaces. You know, what was it that you've learned? You know, you're not perfect, but like you look like you're doing great things. Let's hear your story. And ever since I started to get this vision with my friend Rachel for People Forward Network to become a thing, I was like, I want to tell stories about these workplaces that they're really driven just by this story and the walk the walk versus like competition and getting this award and, you know, really just recognizing people through their stories and awarding them for their story. So when people are there, it's like, it's not necessarily like, Oh, we got 70% of people to vote by Friday, and all this and all this, like gamification to it. It's just simply stories that are of greatness that illustrate people first, or people-forward leaders. And those people that sit there and listen to the awards, they're jotting notes like crazy. They're like, I should try that, oh, I want to follow up with this person and learn from them. And that is what we're finally bringing to life. So this is the first awards is our inaugural, it's the People Forward Impact Awards. And we're just so excited to see what happens with this first year.
Sherry Peak (host) 25:44
Could you share the date and how people it's going to be a virtual award ceremony? Is that correct?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 25:50
It is, however, for this first year, it is just limited to these VIP invites only based on our partners because we're trying a new platform. So this first year, it isn't an open forum. But we can't wait to see how it goes. It's like a test year, and, and all of that. And then we'll be sharing lots of goodies afterwards for everyone to participate in hearing the stories.
Sherry Peak (host) 26:11
Nikki.. final thoughts before we end our time today?
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 26:15
Spend time in reflection and using assessments to really understand who you are, and never stop that journey. It's an ever-evolving thing. We change. You know, it's not like the assessment that you did when you were 22 is exactly what it is when you're 40. So always be doing that introspective, deep dive to really understand who you are, and tap into your superpowers or your strengths. Number two is, you know, stay focused on the things that bring you meaning in life, you know. And so those things change, and it's your job to design your life and to get really clear on what those are. Because without clarity without vision people perish, right? You have to have vision for your own life. And so you have to know who you are and what your strengths are, and tap into those. But you got to know what you want. And as the life evolves, and you get older and you change and you learn, that has to be a constant effort, like at minimum, once a quarter, spend time with yourself getting clear. I use a process called The Life wheel. And it helps me to get really clear. My husband and I do this together. And so I'm happy to share more on that as well. We are, actually my husband and I, are getting ready to launch a podcast, the trailer goes live next week, it's called Addicted to Betterment. And it is really tapping into this, what I was just sharing with you about design the life experience that brings you the most meaning. And we all have different buckets that you know, or pieces of pie in the life wheel, you know, model that bring it all together. And we have to not only design that, but then work on it and take action and be accountable to that. And so, you know, if you're right now just like frustrated with your job, frustrated with how things are going, or you just haven't been feeling good, you know, I think a lot of it is really looking at what have you designed? And what are you working on, you know, and of course engaging doctors to help or engaging friends to help. But you have to get really clear first and then design what that looks like and then go after it and look for the help that you know ties into that. So that's a soap box for something I could talk about for hours.
Sherry Peak (host) 28:19
We'll have to have you come back and share more. We'll have to have you come back and share more. We'd love to hear more from you, Nikki, we've absolutely enjoyed our time with you today, learning more about you and the work that you do with people forward network. And we just want to say we wish you all the best in your future endeavors. And please come back and join us anytime. So Ladies and gentleman, this has been Miss Nikki Lewellen Gregory and she is the Chief Meaningful Work Officer for People Forward Network. Thank you for joining us, Nikki.
Nikki Lewallen Gregory 28:49
Thank you so much Sherry really appreciated the time it was a lot of fun.
That brings us to the close of this edition of innovate marketing. We're glad you tuned in. Innovate marketing is brought to you by MyPodcast.Media. MyPodcast.Media produces podcast for brands, influencers and nonprofits. Find us online at MyPodcast.Media. Your producer for Innovative Marketing is Beth Fried. Executive Producer Shawn Neal. And your Host is Sherry Peak. We'll see you next time. Be sure to tune in...