DEFENDERS Grows Leaders With Intention
Founded in 1998, DEFENDERS (formerly DEFENDER Direct) began as a one-man-show run out of Dave Lindsey’s extra bedroom. Today, it is the largest authorized dealer for ADT Home Security systems in the United States with nearly 2,000 employees.
We spoke with Dave Lindsey, Chairman and Founder, of DEFENDERS, to find out how he developed DEFENDERS’ positive, generous culture. Maintaining a positive culture in an organization with a large sales force is a challenge. We were inspired by the way Lindsey implemented processes to intentionally cultivate DEFENDERS’ culture and investment in their people.
Businesses Don’t Grow, People Do
“At DEFENDERS, our sustaining legacy is that we grow leaders,” says Lindsey. “We believe businesses don’t grow, people do.”
DEFENDERS’ mission statement reflects a desire to invest in the personal growth of the individual: We are called to grow and inspire leaders who love and serve people. In DEFENDERS’ vernacular the word “leader” applies to everyone. This is exactly why Lindsey and his leadership team recognized that self-improvement had to be the first of DEFENDERS’ four “passions” or core values.
On their first day on the job, employees attend a DEFENDERS Culture Day—a full day dedicated to educating new employees on the core values fundamental to DEFENDERS’ culture. Self-improvement is one of the primary principles discussed.
“We ask all employees to make a commitment to work harder on themselves than they do on the job,” says Lindsey. “If someone works hard on the job, they simply make a living. When someone works hard on themselves, they build a life worth living.”
“All meaningful change starts on the inside and works its way out,” says Lindsey. “When an employee works hard on themselves, their capacities increase, their ability to lead others increases, and naturally that division of the company will grow as well.”
The DEFENDERS Leadership Advantage is another tool used to encourage self-improvement and personal growth. Employees receive a customized Monopoly board look-alike on their first day.
“Each square on the DEFENDERS Leadership Advantage represents a life experience we want every member of our tribe to have,” says Lindsey. “The personal and professional development opportunities range from reading the book Good to Great to going to Mexico and building a home for the poor or taking a Successful Life Course in Texas.”
“The company commits to sending every employee around that board, as long as they are willing to sign up for the opportunities when they are offered,” says Lindsey.
The cost to send an employee through every experience is a significant financial investment—$16,000 to $20,000 per employee, according to Lindsey. Yet Lindsey considers the investment in each individual well worth the price.
“It has become a systematic way for us to define our culture,” says Lindsey.
Today nearly 1,000 DEFENDERS employees have completed the Leadership Advantage. The completed boards hang proudly in employee offices like trophies, but the true reward is seeing how individual employees grow through their shared experiences.
An Outward Focus
While DEFENDERS’ first passion is self-improvement, their ultimate goals are externally focused. DEFENDERS focuses heavily on developing leaders and creating an ever-expanding influence for good.
“Today we have a giving committee,” says Lindsey. “A group of employees get together and carefully decide where we give 10% of our profits each year.”
More than simply making financial contributions, DEFENDERS has a culture of serving.
“We believe part of growing a leader is providing opportunities for individuals to serve and practice servant leadership,” says Lindsey.
The Leadership Challenge provides employees and their families an opportunity to take a service trip to Mexico to build houses for the under resourced and homeless. Over the years, DEFENDER employees have built almost 300 homes!
Rather than a company-mandated service day, Lindsey offers his employees up to four days of time off per year dedicated to serving an organization of their choice.
“When we began to allow our employees to decide where they serve, participation in service days went through the roof,” says Lindsey. “Our culture changed from a giving company, to a company of givers. And it’s great to work at a company of givers.”
Super Service Challenge
Once employees were allowed to choose how they used their service days, “the conversation around the water-cooler changed,” says Lindsey.
Employees started sharing stories of how they used their time off and connecting with one another in new ways.
“For example, five women in our office learned they had a similar cancer story,” says Lindsey. “They came together as a team and began serving cancer patients together.”
Eventually, Lindsey decided to continue the positive momentum by launching a contest. The Service Project Challenge was rolled out to all DEFENDERS employees across the country with the goal to engage their local communities in ways that align with the DEFENDERS culture.
The instructions were simple: within a given timeframe, participants were asked to form employee teams of five to 10 people and select a nonprofit organization of their choice to serve. Teams were then encouraged to submit a short, 2-minute video highlighting their service project to be eligible for prize money for their charities.
In subsequent years, DEFENDERS opened the internal contest up to their local community of Indianapolis and today the Super Service Challenge is a nationwide movement. Today, over 1,200 companies have participated in the challenge, resulting in over $5.5 million in donations awarded to 1,600 nonprofits.
The Challenges of a Sales Culture
No matter how values-focused a company is, organizations with large sales forces must learn to manage against the challenges associated with the competitive, performance-driven nature of sales. Often a sales culture can be a cutthroat environment where only the top performers are rewarded. Even with their commendable achievements in building a great company culture, Lindsey admits DEFENDERS is not immune from working through these issues.
“80% of our employee base is involved in sales,” says Lindsey. “We absolutely face all the challenges that come with a sales culture.”
According to Lindsey, improving in this area is one of DEFENDERS’ top priorities this year. They look forward to moving toward better alignment of incentives and processes to overcome some of the issues common in sales-oriented companies.
“I believe we can still have a thriving culture, while living in this competitive environment,” says Lindsey. “We won’t apologize for achieving, but will always stay true to our values.”
It is clear Lindsey is purposeful in the way he manages his company. His philosophy that businesses don’t grow, people do has proven itself out over the years. Lindsey is appropriately concerned with the results and the values of his organization. Both matter.
“When it comes to our sales strategy and the interactions with customers, character and competence must both be high,” says Lindsey, referring to John Maxwell’s theory. “We are conscious of this at the employee level but also at the company level.”
Intentionality Is Critical
As we concluded our conversation, we asked Lindsey to share any advice he would give to leaders working to shape their own great company cultures.
“Be intentional about your culture,” says Lindsey. “Like Jim Rohn says, you are going to have a culture, [but] are you going to have one on purpose? 80% of having a great culture is having clear intention.”