Strategic Partnerships in Action: Ross Paterson, President of XM Performance, and Fanni Gambero, Chief Business Xcelerator

In this series, Strategic Partnerships in Action, we highlight some of the Executive and Force Multiplier duos who are doing it right. This week, we chatted with the powerful strategic partnership behind XM Performance.

Hallie Interviews Ross and Fanni About Their Strategic Partnership at XM Performace

Could you tell us about your position within the company and the primary responsibilities in each of your roles?

Ross: Title: President. Key roles: Vision/strategy, sales, delivery, and coaching internal talent.

Fanni: Title: Chief Business Xcelerator. My title is not one you’ll often see in the marketplace, but our hope is to encourage Admins in the SMB space to see their value as true Xcelerators of business as the strategic partner for the Entrepreneurs. There are many hats I wear at XM Performance: I am the Chief of Staff, Client Consultant and Coach, Ross’ Pipeline Manager, and Comptroller for XM Performance and Ross’s non-profit, Global Fusion.

What have your career paths been and how long have you been working together?

Ross: Army Infantry Officer, Business Leader at General Electric, Non-Profit founder and director Global Fusion(current), Serial Entrepreneur (Growth Coach, XM Performance (current), Innovative Seating and Mobility, Pomtech Global (current), plus 12 more ideas). Fanni and I have been working together for 3 years, mostly driving growth in XM Performance.

Fanni: After working as a Sales Rep for a telecommunications firm, I learned a lot about how large corporations work and had to realize that I was looking for something different. My good friend recruited me into XM Performance, which was 3 years ago. I started as an Office Administrator, not knowing what I want to do with my career. If you look at my progression over the years at XM Performance, you’d be surprised to see how much I’ve grown in my positions, from Office Admin to Ops Manager, Force Multiplier to Chief Business Xcelerator. My role is still evolving.

Successful strategic partnerships look different for everyone. What is the one thing that makes the partnership between you work?

Ross: We have a big WHY: Making small/medium businesses the best places to work in America. United under that WHY, the biggest thing that makes our partnership work is serving each other. Though I am the founder and president, Fanni owns several key business deliverables, and if someone caught a glimpse of us in action, they might think I work for her.

Fanni: Ha! No doubt, I’ve had to learn to manage up and keep Ross on task. What I love about our business partnership is that he creates clear goals with set timelines we need to go after. It’s up to me to keep track of all the growth, different initiatives, and client work in the DFW market. Lisa Valle, our other Admin Guru runs our Phoenix expansion project.

Communication is a common challenge between leaders and their Chiefs of Staff. What communication failures have you had, what lessons have you learned, and what systems have you developed for communicating effectively?

Ross: Most of our communication misses are caused by my fast pace. I fail when I don’t take the time to give the full context for Fanni and the rest of the team to take successful action, assuming they know, see, or understand everything I am thinking. We teach Rhythm and Routine hacks to all of our clients, so we practice what we preach. Weekly Chief Business Xcelerator meetings and daily huddles keep things flowing. We also have a very active Slack channel that buzzes all hours of the workweek. When we are working with new prospects, Fanni will attend every meeting with me to see/hear/contribute to the conversation. With just a few big ideas from me, she can put detailed proposals together, close deals, and get the schedule started.

Fanni: Yes, Ross is very fast-paced, which is the opposite style of mine. In the past, I might have missed asking for the details because I thought “I should know those by now”. Then when it was time to start working on a project, I had to get another quick recap. My biggest failures in communication are not taking detailed notes during an important meeting, and not asking for more details on the spot. Thankfully, Ross is always open to follow-up questions. I now prepare for those ahead, so I have all my questions answered that require only one quick meeting.

What are the biggest challenges you have working together?

Ross: We are very different people in personality, motivators, strengths. In our DISC profiles, I am a high D, and Fanni is a high S. I can move very fast from one objective to the next and not take time to provide the structure or relational context she craves and needs. This has the potential to be frustrating in a working relationship. However, we have worked hard to fully understand each other’s gifts and talents, and it turns out that we complement each other perfectly. We can cover blind spots for each other, and she is very strong where I am weak.
One way this frequently plays out is Fanni will ask for permission to take action when she already knows what to do better than I would. I used to encourage her, ‘if you are 80% sure, just make the call.’ Over the last year, she has continued to grow as a leader and businesswoman so now I say, ‘If you are 51%, sure just make the call.’

Fanni: I tend to overanalyze a lot when making decisions. I rely on historical data vs. looking at the future. I’ve just had to learn to communicate with my teammates that I need time to make the decision. I truly believe our opposite styles have benefited us in this Strategic Partnership. Ross takes the time to get to know his employees personally, know what motivates each of us, and how we prefer to be communicated to. These insights allowed us to appreciate those traits that would naturally frustrate us in the other.
One challenge we are facing is extremely fast growth and constant change. I can get stressed in such an environment, while this fuels Ross. I’ve had to learn to not worry about him so much, as well as take the time to fill up my own well. It takes a full well to fill others.

What’s one thing that comes easy to you both when it comes to working together?

Ross: We love (strong word, but true) our clients and when they have breakthroughs it is a magical experience. We both have an abundance of initiative and intensity to deliver excellent results to our clients. New employees can be overwhelmed by this intensity, but we believe it inspires the right ones to want to keep up with us.

Fanni: We work hard and play hard. We have fun at work, and our values align both personally and professionally. He is a great mentor and an amazing leader in my opinion. I simply get motivated to work for a leader that teaches me, invests in my development, and challenges me every day.

What is one of your proudest moments or achievements while working together?

Ross: The global pandemic was hard on every small business owner. We had the particularly tough challenge of helping 30+ businesses navigate the chaos created. I am a little strange in that I love messy, chaotic, and tough challenges, so I was having fun creating solutions to new obstacles on multiple fronts. Fanni proved her mettle throughout the year by seeing what I was seeing, making dynamic pivots with me to keep our team whole, and our clients well-served. She even wrote an awesome article on hiring a Force Multiplier/SBX. She earned the promotion from Force Multiplier to Chief Business Xcelerator with the results she delivered.

Fanni: Ross helped me realize that I’m a life-long learner, helped me find my calling for this profession, and listens to my feedback. My passion aligns with how we can help small businesses thrive. I love that I get to pair Business Owners and Business Xcelerators to improve the business. It’s always a proud moment when I find the right match.

What’s one thing that others would be surprised to learn about both of you and/or your partnership?

Ross: Fanni is one of the nicest people you will ever meet…except to me. I gave her permission to be tough on me, to keep me on task and on track through the chaos of our growth and our pandemic pivots. I accidentally unleashed the ferocious side of this servant leader, and we are better for it. People always comment how nice Fanni is, and when I reply, ’She’s not nice to me,’ they don’t believe me. But, it is true. I can’t even get her to schedule a lunch break for me on busy client days.

Fanni: A surprising find for me was that he needs a lunch break each day… In my early days of managing his calendar, I made the mistake of not scheduling him time for lunch, just back-to-back meetings. I had a good reason for that: a few days before he told me a story about the Army, and how they starved him for days at some point, and how he learned to overcome the challenge of starvation and sleep deprivation. I thought his point was to tell me he can push hard because he had a lot to accomplish. I learned my lesson. He is not as tough as he remembers being. Also, I am not as mean as he says.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to leaders/CEOs?

Ross: Clarity precedes results. Leaders create clarity. Put it in writing. (This is our mantra). The CEO must do CEO work:
· Long term strategy and planning
· People: hire, coach, develop, set free the ones who aren’t in alignment
· Establish the Rhythms and Routines that let the team run the show
The question we ask is: who works on this when you don’t? The answer is no one. Force Multipliers & Chief Business Xcelerators should block time for this on your calendar, so you always have time to be the strategic leader.

Fanni: I can’t pick just one.
• Respect and appreciate what your Force Multiplier & Business Xcelerator does for you.
• Communicate constantly about your goals for the year, quarter, month, and for the week.
• Give them feedback; it’s a gift.
• Remember to listen to their feedback.
• Encourage them to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
• Honor your weekly 1-on-1s.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to Force Multipliers/Chiefs of Staff?

Ross: This is fun because one of the first things we demand of our SMB clients is to put at least a part-time administrator in place. When we promoted Fanni to Force Multiplier, we read your book together and it greatly accelerated our progress as a team. We have since bought and given your book to dozens of our business owner clients as a starting place for developing these roles.

Fanni: Here’s a list again:
• Take a leadership course.
• Manage up.
• Speak up.
• Spend as much time with your executive as possible and try to get on the same wavelength asap.
• Fill up your own well first, so you can serve your Executive best.

What books have had the biggest impact on your personal or professional life?

Ross: As a Christian, the Bible is the single greatest influence on my life personally and professionally. Jesus was the ultimate servant leader. Recently we have read The Last Arrow, by Erwin McManus, inspiring us to leave nothing left in the quiver, there is one life, and we are in charge of our impact and legacy. Empty Quivers, Full Hearts. My current favorites on the professional shelf are:

• Dare to Lead, by Brene Brown. She covers the hardest parts of leadership: self-care and healthy conflict with powerful ideas for implementation.
• The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek, is a fresh and encouraging look at playing the long game with your business and your life.
• Range, by David Epstein, takes an in-depth look at what backgrounds are best suited for the massive acceleration we are experiencing globally.

Fanni: My current favorite is Atomic Habits by James Clear and I am about to listen to Soundtracks by John Acuff. For my professional journey, the FM book has laid down the yellow brick road leading to OZ, but it takes a lot of work to get there. Forming a dynamic partnership like ours is an immense undertaking, but with the right habits and eliminating unnecessary ones, it’s a fun challenge.

What other CEOs, EAs/Chiefs of Staff, or strategic partnerships do you admire?

We both look up to you, but we’d like to give a shout-out to all Business Xcelerators and SMB Owners who work hard to grow their business year-over-year.

What’s next for you both?

Ross: I have a dozen ideas for growing our impact and expanding the range of problems we solve for the SMB community. I have a long-term commitment to our aspirational vision, “What if we could make Small/Medium businesses the best places to work in America?” I must keep selling the vision and growing the team to expand our impact.

Fanni is one of the most unstoppable people I have ever worked with/for. She also has a serial entrepreneur emerging from inside her soul. I hope I can keep her around for a few more years, leverage her awesomeness, and help develop her to be a great CEO of her own empire. I will never be able to replace her when she graduates to the next level. It will be an amazing party, but I will be left with a big hole to fill. We will probably have to hire three people. (Don’t tell her I said that, or she will hit me up for another raise.)

Fanni: I still have a lot to learn from Ross and a lot to experience in business. While I am still at XM Performance, I’d like to serve our clients at the next level. I am graduating into a consultant, and my focus is around pairing up Owners with their Business Xcelerators to enhance business performance in the SMB space. I am also a certified DISC and 12 Driving Forces coach, and I am leveraging this knowledge to help create a solid communication foundation for FMs and their Founders. Ross is helping me experiment with this business model because it aligns with our aspirational vision. One day, my family and I will move to my home country, Hungary. Who knows what that market will look like, but my hope is to be serving the Force Multiplier community in some capacity there as well. Maybe Ross will keep me on the XM team as a remote consultant.

To learn more about XM Performance and to connect with Ross and Fanni, please visit their LinkedIn pages. You can connect with Ross here and Fanni here. Fanni even wrote an awesome article on hiring a Force Multiplier/SBX.“

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