Skip to the main content.

13 min read

CWJJ Episode 137: Tiffany Hopkins

Thursday, October 13- We continue the Kickstart Your Culture Series and focus on the most important action item, “getting started”. Tiffany Hopkins from Shactee joins the guys and they talk culture and the importance of starting.

Quick Links:

James Cross on Linkedin
Jim Schauer on Linkedin
Tiffany Hopkins on Linkedin

Episode Transcript

 [0:00] [music]

Jim Schauer:  [0:24] Welcome, everybody to this edition of “Coffee With Jim and James.” I was shocked. Hold on a second…

James Cross:  [0:30] Oh, he spent…I feel like you spent six to eight minutes on that joke.

Jim:  [0:34] I went 30 seconds. We’ll get to that a little bit, but I was so happy that we were getting together this morning with our good friend Tiffany. We got to meet Tiffany at SGA, a few months back and then I ran into her and her Chief Operating Officer. I believe that’s the title, Linda, in Orleans at AGA.

[0:51] I found out that we’re going to be in California next month at AGA. Actually, this is wonderful, all of us getting together today. Before we bring Tiffany in, James, how are you doing today?

James:  [1:03] I’m doing well. Great to be amongst friends. Great to see Tiffany again. It has been a little bit longer for myself and Tiffany, since SGA when we first met. Welcome to the show, Tiffany, how are you?

Tiffany Hopkins:  [1:19] Thank you. I’m great today. Great.

James:  [1:21] Awesome.

Tiffany:  [1:22] Summer dwindling away but…

James:  [1:24] I know and the pre‑show we were all…I don’t know, were we happy or sad that some…I will tell you in Texas, I’m happy summer is exiting. Fall is fantastic here, but summer has been hot. It is sad to bring summer to a close.

[1:44] I’m not sure when this one’s going to air, but it sounds like you and Jimmy, we’re going to be at another event soon together, so I’ll miss that one, too. I’m sure y’all will talk about me.

Jim:  [1:55] We’re going to be at the AGA committee meetings out in Anaheim, which is a wonderful event. When you talk about bringing energy industry professionals together and the collaboration and the sharing of ideas, I am absolutely excited for that.

[2:12] They’re not little committees. When I say committees, they are generally two‑day sessions, 7:00 in the morning, till 5:00 at night, so they’re heavy duty. Go ahead, James.

James:  [2:23] I was going to say, I’m going to miss that one. I got invited to speak, right at the last minute, wasn’t able to make it, but I’m looking forward to hopefully, getting out to the rest of the events and getting the rub elbows again with Tiffany soon.

[2:38] Tiffany, before we dive into this series, and we’ll talk about that a little bit more. Tiffany, we always ask people when they come on to give us their origin stories because everybody’s is different. There’s those crossroads in life and those different paths that we take that lead us here, and I think each one is so interesting. We want to hear yours and the story of Shakti as well.

Tiffany:  [3:07] Well, thanks you guys, and it’s great to see you again and I look forward to seeing you in person, soon.

[3:13] If anyone would have told me, I would be lucky enough to have an engineering firm with close to 50 employees. I would have never believed it could happen. Shakti’s been in business for about four years.

[3:26] A little over four years ago, Linda and I were working together at another engineering firm and recognize this need out there for diverse‑owned businesses, highly qualified diverse‑owned businesses, and it’s really not any more exciting than we should fill this gap.

[3:45] We have the skills. There’s a need out there, and we should fill this gap. As time went on, and we started planning, we realize not only was there a need for a highly qualified diverse‑owned business, but also this need for a business that really puts employees first. We’re both moms raising kids and we needed to find a way in life to integrate work and life together.

[4:14] Shakti was born, and born with this very interesting model of reporting which is work from anywhere, literally, anywhere in the world, and work when you’re at your best. It’s been really exciting to be so employee‑focused, and we see that translate to the service we offer to our clients. The quality, the passion for the work that our staff is doing, it’s been an incredible ride and we’re really thankful for it.

James:  [4:46] Tiffany, I think that’s where we originally kind of synergized when we were at SGA, and you sat down with us and came on for 2‑3 minutes and we talked about culture. I think you were as fascinated as I was. With my role, and what we had done at Energy World that as well. We just back and forth and back and forth.

[5:11] I remember you saying and actually, I wrote it down a lot poor paraphrase version. But, work where you’re at your best when you’re at your best, right? That’s where the invitation came to join this series and I’ll catch everybody up. Just in case you haven’t been around for everything, but we started a series based around culture and kick‑starting a culture.

[5:37] Because, as well as I do, Tiffany, that culture’s out there cooking and working right now whether we’re curating it or not, that’s kind of how it works. You can get involved or you cannot but culture’s still going to be there. What we’re trying to do is activate folks around how to get started and what to do and where to lean in and some of those I don’t want to say low‑hanging fruit because it’s all fruit, but where can we go to work?

[6:09] When I told you about this concept, you said, “I’m in. I’d love to talk about it and I have the perfect one and that one is getting started.” I want to talk about that with you.

[6:21] I know Jimmy is excited about this one because this is very at home for us these topics obviously coming from Energy Worldnet, but we love seeing a perspective from another company that’s leaning in the same way. I want to start with you and y’all’s culture at Shakti and tell folks what are some of the hardest parts about getting started?

Tiffany:  [6:49] Taking that first step. You have all these ideas and things you want to do, but fear is always out there, fear of failure, fear that you’re not going to do it quite right. As engineers, we want to plan and we want everything to be planned out line by line.

[7:08] Maybe there’s some of us that aren’t that way, but I think the greater amount are. You can be in the cycle of planning forever and ever but eventually you have to decide that something is better than nothing. Imperfect is better than nothing and make that leap and stay open to pivot and open to change and implement.

[7:34] Implement, see where it goes, see what sticks, pivot and move until you get to perfection. Then we’re far from perfect. [laughs] None of us is perfect. None of our cultures are perfect, but we’re always looking at what can we do differently to make it better every day. Just start.

Jim:  [7:52] This is an important thing and I just wanted…This is where I got energized when we were at SGA. You said that four years ago when you folks started the company and had this vision for your employees working in the best way that they can in the best environment.

[8:09] Again, for the last two years during COVID, a lot of us in the industry have gone to remote. At the first, it was hard. It took a long time. I remembered, we were sitting there and I looked over to you.

[8:22] I’m like, “You started this four years ago, well before that taking this initiative.” It’s interesting to hear you say that. It was a little, I don’t want to paraphrase, but a little scary just to take that first part? Did any of those fears come true? Did your thought process hold true at that initial part?

Tiffany:  [8:46] First of all, when COVID hit, we were so thankful. We stood our ground, and figured it all out ahead of time. There were a lot of naysayers early on when we would talk about this platform and they would say, “Oh, people aren’t going to think you’re a legitimate business,” “You have to have people in an office,” “You’ll never be able to train.”

[9:06] Not only is it your own doubts, but the doubts of everybody around you, because they’ve never seen it done.

James:  [9:13] This is not how we do business. We do business where we’re comfortable. For years, that’s how we were comfortable.

Tiffany:  [9:21] Absolutely. We’re a very conservative industry. Sometimes, maybe those fears do come true but not at the level that you think. Maybe there’s a hiccup and you have to react and pivot, but honestly, I just can’t think of anything that’s happened that would make us do anything differently.

James:  [9:47] It sounds very brave, right Jim? Wait, we have a campaign currently called “Be Brave” and it’s really about having hard conversation stepping out when you know it maybe isn’t the easy route or the most common route. This sounds very much along that vein.

[10:07] I always think about it, Tiffany. My wife will laugh when she hears us if she ever watches it.

[10:12] [laughter]

James:  [10:12] When we were talking about having children, I was very kind of the engineer mindset. The time I was a programmer so I was very analytical. I’m like, “Well, we can be better prepared.” We can always be better prepared, [laughs] but that’s not what we’re saying.

[10:33] We’re saying, “Are you ready?” and “Can you ever be truly ready?” You’re probably ready. You can find a million ways to postpone it and prepare a little bit more, but honestly, you know how preparing works.

[10:46] At some points, you’ve got to start preparing the stuff that you have started with. [laughs] If you’re in a cycle and you’re already having to go back and update things within your plan, you’re probably waiting a little bit too long.

Tiffany:  [10:58] It’s time to start.

Jim:  [10:59] Absolutely, get started. I like something that you said about mistakes and that we’re not perfect. We’re imperfect beings, where our projects are imperfect. That’s why we have project managers and project plans.

[11:12] God bless them, but I love building into the culture that it’s almost hate the sin, not the sinner, hate the action, not the producer and living by that and living in that lesson’s learned environment to where when we do make those mistakes or we have to pivot circling back around and building a culture which a lot of our people are used to safety culture and continual improvement plan, do check act.

[11:46] Those things are so important. How have y’all implemented and kind of change the culture of not mistakes, but lessons learned?

Tiffany:  [11:56] Right. I think the first step is making mistakes to be OK, right? Acceptable?

Jim:  [12:04] Normalizing it.

Tiffany:  [12:05] Yeah, every day. That’s how we learn best is through mistakes and really, the more critical the mistake, the harder the lesson for you personally and sometimes also for the company.

[12:17] I feel like we’re in a culture these days where there’s so much competition and such a drive to perfection, that we’re not allowed to make mistakes. So, we’re missing out on a lot of really valuable lessons. We have the discussions with our project managers, “Listen mistakes happen. Use it as a learning tool, circle back, talk about what could have been done differently and pivot in that way.”

Jim:  [12:52] Let me ask you a question in regards to that because it’s very hard for a person. Let’s say I make a mistake. Heck, I’ll go back to when we started Coffee with Jim and James. It was two years ago. James had this idea that we’re going to do a podcast and I’m like, “What is a podcast?” He’s like…

James:  [13:12] I thought you were going back two years to find mistakes that we made in the show. I was going to say, I can go back to last week and find some mistakes if that’s what we’re hunting for. [laughs]

Jim:  [13:22] We made a lot of mistakes and I think the part that hit me though when I look back on that, is that James and I had some very open dialogue. We could have done this better, we could have done that. We shared that as opposed to me sitting here saying, “Oh, I should have done the intro differently or the outro differently or whatever.”

[13:42] There is so many funny things and so many great conversation because we were open about it and it was safe. At that time if we had to go in front of the ELT at Energy Worldnet and share that, I would have been like, “No, James, we can’t bring this up.”

James:  [13:58] We need to polish it for another six day, weeks. Man, there’s some funny stuff in there, Tiffany. One of the first ones, it might have been the first real episode with a guest. Jim did an outro, I swear, for four minutes.

[14:14] He thanked his family, his forefathers, YouTube, the inventors of YouTube. Be sure to like, share every Twitter, things we didn’t even have. He’s like, “We’re on WhatsApp.” He didn’t know what we were, we were a vlog or video. It was so funny.

Jim:  [14:36] We have to show that again. Just that out take it literally four or five minutes.

James:  [14:42] We both were so bad. We would belabor stuff, and everything was just so rigid. We started. You know what happens when you start, Tiffany? People tell you what they want. [laughs]

Tiffany:  [14:54] Right.

James:  [14:56] You know what happens when you don’t start? People tell you what they want. You can get moving. Then they’ll let you know pretty short order, usually, what they don’t like and like. That’s how life works.

Tiffany:  [15:10] I agree. Don’t you think people appreciate mistakes? If I was watching your vlog, everything was so finely tuned and perfect. I’m not saying it’s not because it’s incredible. It was so perfect. I wouldn’t come on here because I’d be so worried of being imperfect. Imperfect allows you to open up and engage everybody.

Jim:  [15:38] What’s it seem perfectly imperfect? I think you’re right. People give us comments about that. We’re hanging out at a trade show just catching up. It gets back to…I just want to finish that thought. I’m really happy that you guys share, like a lot of us tried to share our mistakes to teach others.

[15:58] Not teach, explain to them because I don’t want to make the same mistake somebody else’s if I can learn from them. They’re brave enough to open up. A lot of times, I’m like, “Wow, I give them a lot of credit and respect.” They say, “I goofed up the other day. I did this, this, and this. This one was the result. Had I done this would have been different?”

[16:19] We can learn from that. That’s a great thing. That doesn’t make me look down on them. Just the opposite. I put them up here for being brave like that.

James:  [16:31] I’ll tell you what. I’ll go a step further and say, “I am vulnerable enough to stand in front of a group of leaders or employees,” and say, “Look, I’ve been at a place in my career where I’ve done a great job of hiding mistakes. I am a marketer, are you kidding me? I was a marketer for years.

“[16:52] I can pull the vanity stats out of anything in there, I promise you. I can make it everything look good. I’m a spin zone master,” but that doesn’t translate very good in project. It doesn’t translate very good for people when you go. Let me tell you this fantastic stat.

[17:12] I can go in front of them and say, “I know how weird it feels because I’ve been there.” Let’s normalize it. Let’s talk about how we don’t run into this again and again. Hate the sin not the sinner kind of thing. Brene Brown says, “If you’re brave enough often enough, then we’ll fail.”

[17:31] All right, we’re going to fail. Now, how do we launch out of that? I think our industry can latch onto this because it’s so comfortable, so normal feeling for those that are familiar with pipeline safety. SMS, QMS, those types of principles, it’s continuous improvement. That’s really what it’s about. Am I right, Tiffany?

Tiffany:  [17:55] Absolutely. It’s focusing on what’s critical and what’s not critical. There’s critical mistakes that we absolutely cannot make. Understanding the difference is what’s so important. Does everything require a major response or can we take those small mistakes and learn from them and focus on the critical mistakes?

James:  [18:20] It’s almost like if everything’s an emergency. Is anything an emergency anymore? If we’re running around and not able to do that. Tiffany, we could talk about culture all day, that’s how this thing works.

[18:39] We do give everybody the floor before we wrap things up and I do want to give you the same, whether we’re in this Kickstart Your Culture series or not, I’ll let you frame it, whatever which way you want.

[18:52] We always ask people if there’s anything you could leave people with. I thought one of our big things is giving it all the way. We can’t take it with us. Is there any tips? Wherever your heart’s at this morning what would you like to leave everybody with?

Tiffany:  [19:08] I just want to say, don’t be afraid to start. Don’t be afraid to take that leap, whatever it may be. It could be work‑related. It could be personal‑related. You’re going to figure it out as you go, but you have to start and you have to take that leap and be brave. Just do it, in the words of Nike.

James:  [19:28] Wow. She hit two slogans too. She’s brave. She’s such a professional. She’s done her homework.

Jim:  [19:36] I have a quick question. We didn’t hit on it. Shakti, can you tell the audience where that name came from? Because it is so unusual and it’s one you never forget. I’ll say that.

Tiffany:  [19:48] Thank you. I’m glad you asked because this is a story that we love to tell.

Jim:  [19:53] This is a garage story. We love these. Come on, unpack it.

Tiffany:  [19:58] One of the hardest things, if you can imagine, when we started the business was choosing a name.

[20:04] Linda and I belabored over it for a long time. We actually did an online competition. We put information out there about our company and asked for ideas for a name. One person submitted Shakti to us. It’s not a name we would have ever considered, but she gave us the meaning of Shakti.

[20:26] Shakti, spelled a little bit differently, was the goddess of energy. The slam dunk is that the direct translation to English means strength. We consider ourselves the strong goddesses of energy.

Jim:  [20:45] Wow, that is a great story.

James:  [20:48] Man! We snuck it in. Jimmy, you’re such a professional. See, continuous improvement. We totally missed that. We went back and fixed it in the same show.

Jim:  [20:58] I wanted to know and I know our audience and because it’s…

James:  [21:01] I love it. What a story.

[21:04] Well, Tiffany, your leadership within that group also in the industry and the kind of walls and barriers you’re breaking down and the way we do business is inspiring. Thank you for joining the show. It’s fantastic to get to spend some time with you.

Jim:  [21:20] Absolutely.

Tiffany:  [21:21] Thanks to you both. It’s been a great friendship. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that our paths crossed and looking forward to many years of friendship ahead.

James:  [21:30] I bet if you have questions about culture, about how Shakti can help you, Tiffany will be in touch. Message her.

Jim:  [21:38] Absolutely.

[21:40] Thanks Skippy. Everyone have a great day.

[21:42] [music]

Transcription by WatchingWords