The Agile Within

Reframing Failure: A CEO's Guide to Success and Change with Matt Warden

November 07, 2023 Season 2 Episode 50
The Agile Within
Reframing Failure: A CEO's Guide to Success and Change with Matt Warden
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Can you bounce back from failure, embrace change and set a compelling vision for your team? Join us for this riveting dialogue with Matt Warden, CEO of Double Line Consulting, as he unpacks these questions, driven by his unique journey from a software engineer to a CEO. We discuss the realities of stepping into the sales arena, the inevitable encounters with failure, and the resilient mindset that turns the odds in your favor. 

Our exploration doesn't stop there; we delve into the nuances of being an effective leader. With Matt's wisdom as our guide, we discover how humility and data-informed decision-making can shape leadership in unimaginable ways. From the art of delegation to the challenging task of sharing a creative vision with your team, we take a deep dive into the many facets of leadership. And guess what? Communication, that elusive skill, takes center stage in our discourse.

As the conversation unfolds, we touch upon the core values and focus that act as the backbone of an organization. Matt shares riveting insights on managing tricky customer opportunities and emphasizes the dynamic nature of an organization’s focus. Wrapping up the episode, we shed light on the impact of market focus on businesses and the need to stay abreast with emerging technologies. Trust us, you don't want to miss this enriching conversation filled with lessons, insights, and thought-provoking discussions! So, are you ready to change your perspective on failure, leadership, and success? Tune in now.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the podcast that challenges you from the inside Be More and Discover the Agile Within. And now here's your host, Greg Miller.

Speaker 2:

Okay, welcome back. It is Greg and Mark the Agile Within. Thanks for joining us. So I am just coming back. We did not have an episode last week because I was out in Virginia with my wife, stena DeYurt. If anybody's ever stayed at DeYurt I'd highly recommend it. It's wonderful. We were in the Blue Ridge Mountains, drove the Blue Ridge Parkway, saw some leaves. It was great. So it's nice to always nice to get away, right, mark?

Speaker 3:

Indeed, indeed, yeah. The last trip I made up that way, greg, was a couple of years ago and won't go down as one of my best trips. We went as a family and on the way up I got horribly sick and got misdiagnosed twice, had to take three rounds of antibiotics before I found the right one to help me. So I spent a lot of time, not in a year, but at least we rented a nice cabin Okay, so I saw a lot of time inside the cabin up in Virginia.

Speaker 2:

Oh, you're in Virginia too. Okay, I was going to say, if you came to Cincinnati, did the Bengals beat the Falcons that weekend? Maybe that's what happened.

Speaker 3:

Always got to come back.

Speaker 2:

Exactly that would make your stomach upset. Yes, I don't talk about football this weekend, because two weekends in a row I think my teams have won and Mark did something else, so we won't go there, but unfortunately, yeah.

Speaker 3:

She's some sort of a fun, I don't know, some sort of a fun record or something like that and press to track yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, At least you're not a Panthers fan man. Oh my gosh.

Speaker 3:

Oh, they beat the Falcons oh they beat the Falcons.

Speaker 2:

Oh my God. Yes, they actually won, didn't they? Sorry, that's even worse, oh my gosh. All right, let's move on. So let's move on to our guest today, who, by the way, is also a Bengals fan. He's from my area of the country in Cincinnati and but currently he lives in Nashville. So his name is Matt Warden. He is a CEO, our first CEO Mark ever on our show. We're fortunate to have him. He's an executive coach as well as a CEO of Double Line Consulting, their professional services in the educational tech space. Welcome, matt.

Speaker 4:

Thanks, Craig and Mark. I appreciate the invitation. Happy to be here.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, Thanks for coming back. Just to our listeners. Matt was gracious enough to come back. We had some technical issues on the last attempt at recording. Now this one will be recording. Hopefully we'll get this uploaded very quickly so Matt can get out there on the airwaves with us. So, Matt being our first CEO, we're very interested to talk to Matt because he has a CEO who has an agile mindset and that, in my experience, is very rare. I don't know that I've ever had a CEO that at least would admit say that he has an agile mindset, lead with that. So we want to talk about that. Matt has a unique background. I think where he came up he did, I believe Matt said you can go and further, Matt. I believe Matt said you did almost every role in your company, right?

Speaker 4:

That is right. That is right. I've been pretty much in every role of the company as I've progressed within my current company. Before that I actually started as a programmer, a software engineer, late in the dot com boom there, and that's where my mind got wired around agile and thinking about how to approach problems with a continuous improvement mindset. And once my brain was wired that way, it has been that way ever since, no matter whether I was doing technology work or in other roles. So started off as a software engineer, did some work as a consultant, working with clients, sort of on the front end, and figuring out problems that would then turn into technical requirements. Later on, as a manager, somehow at some point got pulled into doing sales which I definitely didn't ever expect I would be doing, but figured that out as well. And then for the last five years I've been CEO of double line and then on the side do executive coaching, helping new executives as well. So throughout that whole process that's a lot of change. That's a lot of things that I frankly kind of had to approach, knowing that I would probably make some mistakes and make some, have some failures and have to learn from those failures. So having an approach, first of all, where I'm open to learning and not getting it quite right the first time and knowing I'm going to have to iterate, I think has really set me up and has been a big win for my personal growth. That's great.

Speaker 3:

So talk to us about the move, the pivot that you made into sales, because that's one that a lot of us don't have any experience or any sort of. It's hard to fathom that. Talk to us about that transition, about why it came about, how it came about and what you learned from it.

Speaker 4:

Matt. Yeah, mark, it's a different world out there in the sales world. For sure. The way it came about was our head of sales left the company and I had some involvement in sales just because I was supporting the technical solutioning for proposals. So I had some awareness of current deals in the pipeline just because I worked on the proposals from a technical standpoint. So I was asked to just step in and try to keep the pipeline going while the CEO at the time would build a new sales team. And it is definitely, like I said, a different world. And the biggest thing that was hard to get my head around was when you're maybe a lead on a project, most of the time you're successful. I'm not saying it's easy. It's going to take time and effort, but maybe you fail one out of 10 times on the overall project. But in sales it's kind of the opposite. You fail nine out of 10 times. You have to keep going at it. Just psychologically and emotionally that's a very different world. So I had to get used to putting out 10 proposals and having people tell me no most of the time and that feeling like failure, but realizing that ultimately that is sales. That is the process and you have to learn from each loss and figure out what was the reason and how can we do better next time and then overall. But the truth is the mechanics of sales doesn't look super different from software development, for example. They have a pipeline a sales pipeline that looks a lot like a combine board or whatever. There are things that are just sort of moving through the process and of course it's a different context. But in every one of the steps in my career where the light bulb finally went off was when I was able to kind of draw the analogy of how that function worked with what I understood before. And that's again my brain's ultimately kind of wired from those first experiences with Agile and everything. So I end up kind of fitting that into the picture. But a lot of these different functions, including sales, are very similar. But there are other things around that I'm not an extrovert, for example, so it takes a lot of energy for me to do the types of things that you have to do at a conference or at your sponsor booth or whatever. And overall, at the end of the day it's being able to learn new functions and challenge yourself and being OK with experimentation, including some failures.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely. So you were saying, when you were a developer, was it at, it was at Double Line right.

Speaker 4:

Well, I was a software engineer even through, like even through high school and college part time. And then I was a consultant at one of the big consulting companies for a few years after college. And then, when I joined Double Line, I was a data model or data engineer. So I was still doing some technical work, but I had kind of progressed more to the data side by that point.

Speaker 3:

So did I hear you right? You said you were a consultant in high school.

Speaker 4:

No, I wasn't doing that kind of fast. I was doing software engineering like as a contractor and then as a I had an internship with one of the companies in downtown Cincinnati. That then turned into a part time employment Again. This was during the dot com boom, so it was probably a little bit easier for me to get that position than maybe it would have been another other times. But that was super exciting to be sort of a real job and learning from developers who have been doing this work for many years, and I developed a lot of relationships that I still maintain today.

Speaker 3:

I was going to say because I was stuck in shelves in a grocery store in high school.

Speaker 4:

Well, I did some of that kind of thing too. I was my very first job. I was a Greg will know what I'm talking about here. I was a dishwasher at Skyline chili, right. So I did some of that stuff too, and I would just say it was very motivating to learn how to do some development.

Speaker 2:

I worked at LaRosa's. I delivered pizzas for the roses, and there is this in I don't know where you were, but I you know Kenwood area. Yeah, sure, yeah, on Montgomery road there was. I worked at LaRosa's and there was a skyline right next to it. So yeah, there's a big, big food areas here, mark, if you haven't heard of that. So I was just curious when did you first come across agile in your career?

Speaker 4:

That is a great question. I think I mean I definitely learned it on the job, if you will. I don't think that it was anything that I learned in school, so I think it was. It was probably one of the part-time positions that I had during during college. So I had a couple of different positions there and I think I came about learning about agile more from just like the mechanics of how you go about the development process, and then it wasn't until later that I really dug into the philosophy behind it and reading some of the books and understanding the why, and that that continued even until I was still at, you know, when I was at double line. So I think it's been an ongoing process of trying to understand the mindset and the different ways to think about. You know why, why do the different flavors of agile, why do they have differences and what are sort of the philosophical underpinnings of each one of those pieces. So I take, you know, I think each one of those philosophies has a lot, a lot you know, a lot to take from and apply to your my day to day at least. But I think it's so, I think initially, if you can count me, just kind of going through the motions. It was during you know, my part time positions during college. But truly learning about what it means to be agile was definitely post college, when I was digging into the more philosophical books, right.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and is it safe to? I don't know if it's safe to assume or not, but is it safe to assume that that agile is at double line? You have agile teams at double line.

Speaker 4:

Yes, absolutely. We have been agile my whole time there. Even when I was an engine, when I was a data engineer, we were executing agile. And then, of course, things evolve, as you know, as time goes on, but we have always been an agile shop. It's challenging though, because of our clients, our public sector clients and a lot of the contracts are, you know, they look very waterfall. So I think it's gotten better over time. You know, we've been I think everyone's more educated on agile and there's more open to us kind of approaching the work in that way. But for a long time we had to kind of find a way to fit, you know, still meet the needs of the contract structure, but do it in an agile way.

Speaker 2:

Well, I know I've run across that a lot. I work at, I work in banking and we had a vendor that said they were agile. But when it it doesn't take too much for me to sniff it out when you have a project manager assigned to it and you say you're agile, you're pretty much not agile, right. So this vendor was definitely not agile. They were just like a what a wolf and sheep's clothing.

Speaker 4:

So yeah, it's true, it's. I mean, it can be challenging because you have to have buy-in from the client right, especially if you're in a consulting context and you're trying to do it truly agile. You need their participation. They're like central participation and sometimes they're just not willing to do that. So I mean, I definitely would admit to having variations over time, especially earlier on in my time at Double Line, where we would have, you know, someone sort of representing the client internally and you know that would be sufficient, I guess. But I think that overall we've adopted a lot of the development approaches and then, more recently, because of the, I guess, awareness even within public sector of agile, we've been able to do more things closer to the book.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so, matt, I got a question in a different direction for you. So you've you said you've basically held every position in the company. So you started out as a developer and then you've gone in and gone through and worked your way all the way up to the CEO. So what I want to know is how do you let me see if I can get the phrase right how can you? There's a term, there's an author called Michael Bunga Steiner, who wrote a book called the Coaching Habit, and one of the quotes that he has is taming the advice monster. How do you tame yourself, since you've already filled all these roles from telling other people how to do their jobs?

Speaker 4:

That's an interesting question. I think Really there's not a way to scale, if you so let's just say in theory that I did know everything. I don't, but let's just imagine that I do for a second. There's no way for me to apply that across even us being as small as we are we're about 90 people but there's no way for me to apply that across all of what we're doing anyway. So I don't think it's even physically possible. But I think the spirit of your question is I remember when I was at Deloitte people would joke about Seagull Management, where I won't get too graphic, but the intent is like whenever the manager has time and swoops in and applies their advice or whatever. So I think that you could still fall out of that trap because that only takes whatever time you devote to swooping in. But I think that's really destructive At the end of the day. If you're going to expect people to own their part of the world, then you have to have them feel ownership over it. And if you come in with good advice or bad advice either way not sure that it matters a whole lot that becomes a part of the equation and that's going to limit that person's feeling of ownership, because you've just kind of told them what they need to be doing. So, regardless of whether I did have the right answer or could physically do that in as many times as necessary, I don't think it's very conducive to growing an organization. So it really doesn't occur to me to try to do that. But the spirit of your question is, I think, kind of how do you stay humble in some sense, given that I've done some of these past positions? But the truth is we're always growing and taking on new challenges and hiring new great people. So my focus is on trying to set the direction and ensure that we're following our core values and ensure that we're approaching things with integrity and the ways that I want us to be doing things. And as far as the how of the day to day, if I can provide some insight, if it's requested, I'm happy to do so. But I've gotten over the point where I feel like it has to be done a certain way and I'm focusing more on the outcomes. I won't say that I've always been that way. I think certainly, especially when I was initially becoming a manager, I think it was really challenging to delegate and know that it might be done a different way, or maybe even done, maybe not as well as I would have done it, or whatever. So that was a mindset shift I had to go through, for sure. But I think, certainly as an executive, there's just no feasible way to tell everybody what to do, even if you in somehow knew all the answers and I think a lot of executives don't have all the answers and hopefully they recognize that there can be kind of a disconnect between the big picture thinking and the on the ground realities.

Speaker 3:

Do you ever have situations where, as the CEO and you're trying to cast a vision for where you want your company to be and sometimes these goals may be big and audacious Do you do you, and how do you encounter them where some of your reports are just like well, sorry Matt, we can't do that, or that's not feasible, or that's not possible? How do you handle that sort of I don't want to say mentality, but just that mindset?

Speaker 4:

Well, I'll answer that in two ways. First of all, I think that I do have a continuous improvement mindset. So one of the implications of that is that maybe it might not be the best way to say it, but that the directionality is more important than the pace, I guess. So if I've painted a vision for where I want us to get to in three years and I've marked it as three years, the three years is less important than the picture. So can we get there in some way? And how can I possibly estimate how an entire organization can shift from current state to another state and how long that's going to take? That's really just, it's a high level concept. So if the directionality is the same, then it's really just a matter of when we get there. And I'm okay with that. And I will say that's not necessarily like that's. If you take my personality profile and compare it to the typical executive personality profile, that is one thing that tends to be different. Like I am, I have more patience than the typical executive, and that might sound like I'm saying that's a good thing. That's actually somewhat of a bad thing. I can be too patient with certain things, but that's perhaps influencing my answer to this question. The second thing, the second way I'll answer it, is that you know there's two scenarios with what you're saying. One is that I'm wrong. That's actually the easier scenario. If I'm wrong and I get some information that helps me understand that I'm wrong, then that's super easy. I just need to adapt my approach right. That's just involves myself and that's it. The harder situation is if I've got folks on the team that think I'm wrong but I'm not wrong. That's harder to deal with because, you know and that may sound a little egotistical let's suppose that on some objective level I can determine that I'm actually correct. But I have a group of people who feel like I'm wrong. That's harder to deal with because I can't just change my approach. I have to actually find a way to connect the dots and figure out how do I do a better job of painting that picture, explaining the why or maybe approaching this in a different way than I was thinking, where we can do some pilots or whatever and get some data to demonstrate that it's possible. So I think there's two different situations called for different things, and I would much prefer the situation where I get additional information and I say, oh, that's a really good point. I haven't thought about that. I'm wrong. Let's make it some adjustments than the other way around.

Speaker 3:

So I was curious to see what you said about that because it reminds me of the story of and I'm not going to do it justice, but the story of Steve Jobs. And the first was it the first iPhone, I think First iPhone and he was very adamant about the thinness of the device, on how thin that he wanted it and again I'm butchering this but the engineers went and they made it as thin as they thought they possibly could and Steve Jobs looked at it and threw it in the fishbowl, let it go to the bottom of the water and said make it thinner, I don't care, go back and make it possible, make it happen. And I'm sure there were some discussions where his name and some choice words were being thrown around, but it's hard to argue with the results that came out of that.

Speaker 4:

Yeah Well, I think, mark, that there's a little bit of I mean again, as someone who is an engineer at heart, I can sympathize right, Like you're supposed to be dealing with reality and what's possible and all this kind of thing. And one of the things that's hard to do when your brain is wired that way is like being a visionary and thinking about things that are like completely new and disconnected from reality and trying to then bridge those gaps. So like I kind of struggle with that, like I am oftentimes too tethered to reality, and that again sounds like not a negative, but it is sometimes like because you can have the inertia of how things have always been done, and so I do think you have to have some way to have a creative process and to some extent it's podcasts like this where you can hear about different ideas and inject some different thinking and challenge your assumptions, and things like that. So it's not an either or Like there are going to be times again like the situation and the example I gave appears to be the same right, where there is one side that thinks I'm wrong with a decision and it looks the same whether I am wrong or not wrong. But those are actually two fundamentally different situations and they should be handled differently. And to your example, I think is a great one if he ended up being correct. Then painting that vision and putting that pressure, even though it seemed physically impossible, was exactly the ingredient needed to ultimately get to that point. But it's not always the case. Sometimes the vision is crazy and it's not doable and ultimately needs to be adjusted.

Speaker 3:

I like your wording of it. It's not always either, or? I think yes, and is the is the term that you're you're probably looking for. Yes, exactly.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's got to be. I'm just thinking here it's like a fine line You're talking about Steve Jobs. It's like I don't know like a fine line between, if you're a visionary, some people you have to drag along with you. Right, Drag them along because you know you're right. Right, I know it has to be thinner, and you're dragging people along with you. And then, between that and then listening to maybe what would be like I don't know reason, like no, this can't be done, You're telling you this can't be done and that, and yeah, and like kind of like, I'm thinking like for the people listening for the audience listening, like like me and Mark, we're Agilists or we're developers on a team and scrum teams and we're we're down in the trenches, right, and we have this vision of the CEO at the top. So, like when you're dealing with changes like this, how have you found its best to communicate? And because I can tell you from my perspective, like when, when I hear dates that like we're talking about dates like your three year plan and stuff like that, and for me what comes to mind is like where do they get that date and why do we have to meet that date? How do you, how do you get people to come on board when you say this we're going to have this done by, do you? I'm sure you're transparent in hearing what you're what you're talking about, but what's the best way to get people on board when you throw out dates like this we're going to have this done because that you know an agile team. You know dates. Dates don't really work a lot with agile. We say, well, we'll get it. You know we'll get it done. When we get it done, Developers say it'll take this. How do you deal with that?

Speaker 3:

I thought I heard Matt say because I said so that was his approach.

Speaker 2:

Oh, he said I missed that. Okay, Sorry. Next question that is not what I said.

Speaker 4:

No, I think it. So it's a really good question and I think, ultimately, you know there's like there's a couple of different ways to answer it. First of all, communication in an organization, especially from the top down, I think, is one of the hardest things about running an organization, and communication is not about sending an email or holding meetings, it's about you know how do you get everyone to see the same things and row in the same direction, and part of that is you. You know, we just talked about situations where you know examples where I was right but people didn't see it as I was right, and other situations where I would. I said something, I got my new information and realized that was wrong. So I think, both of those you have to be open to, both of those, first of all, because if you don't, you're not going to have the credibility to have people on board. I have one of my biggest assets at double line. Is that, probably because I have, you know, been wrong sometimes and and shared that information and and sort of changed course and took feedback from employees, et cetera that I've built up that capital, if you will, so that when I am painting a picture for three years from now, and to your point, I don't mean literally three years, that like on this date, we're going to have this done, but I think it's important to try to paint, paint the picture with the right context and and say, well, this is what I want the organization to look three years from now, and here's why, right. So spending time to explain that, why kind of tell that whole story and what, and part of the challenge with this communication is that this is where my head is at all the time, like my corporate will tell you, I don't really turn it off. So like I'll be in line at the grocery store or something and I'll be thinking about, you know, some aspect of the business that I want to evolve. So when, if that's the, if that's your mindset, it's challenging to then have a, you know, all hands meeting and somehow get everybody else to understand what's in your head that you've been like stewing over for months and months and months. So, and then from there, like once you paint that picture and you're making progress towards that three year goal, you're going to be sharing like, well, how are we doing, what's working, what's not working, et cetera. And I think the big mistake that a lot of executives makes, is they just kind of assume that everybody has the full previous speech in their head and you just kind of say, hey, that thing I talked about, you know, three months ago. Here's where we are. Oh, you have to repeat yourself. You have to say, yeah, remember, as a reminder, here's what we're doing, here's why, here's where we are, here's what's working, here's what's not working. And it should feel a little awkward, honestly, about how much you're repeating yourself, because you know everyone else has their own jobs and just like I'm stewing over things in the grocery line, they're, you know, thinking about that bug they have to fix or whatever. So, so ultimately, you know you have, you have to somewhat take the ego out of it, and of course I do. My responsibility is to set that, that vision, but keeping in mind that I don't have all the information, just like we do in in an agile sense. Right, you've got different people doing different parts of of the of the picture, and we we understand that as a, as a software engineer, I know how to do software engineering and I've understood as much as I can about the requirement, but I'm not the expert and I'm not going to have a defined you know period of you know 45 days where I get all the information I need and then that's it. Like there's going to be a process of learning over time, with with experimentation, with data, with feedback, et cetera. So applying that same you know concept to leading an organization makes total sense to me, and I want to lay that picture out. For for the reasons of yes, people need to understand where we're going to be going. Yes, I want to elicit feedback and, by the way, if I, if I've laid out a picture, I've gotten feedback and most people are on board, but there are two people over here who are not. That's okay too right? That's part of the point of laying out the picture so that people understand it. Like, let's suppose that someone is a is a small company person and they love the organization. When we were 50 people and I and I outlined that, hey, in three years I'm going to, I'm going to plan on being 400 people, they might not like that, right? So the organization is changing over time and it's it's a responsibility that I have to paint that picture so that they can decide whether they still want to be on the train.

Speaker 2:

Right, that's great. So I'm, I'm here, you're talking through that, I was, I'm just you. You touched it a little bit. So I assume, like, as you're thinking through in the line of the grocery store and and you know, maybe you have an initial idea or something like that, do you have, like, and you've said you get feedback and stuff, and I'm just wondering, like, is there like a small team of leaders around you that you run by things, or how do you like, how do you make your final decisions on something? What's your process there?

Speaker 4:

The. So the process is the same in Like, there's two different situations and the process is the same in both, but the outcome, the purpose, is a different. So we I do have a leadership team and they're organized by function. So I've got you know ahead of sales, of head of operations, head of you know marketing, head of HR, etc. And they are responsible for their functions. But part of the culture that I've always had at the leadership team level is that the outcomes of the company are the team's Responsibility. Now, of course, ultimately, as far as the board is concerned, everything it's my responsibility. But the point is that I want there to be a cross-functional you know collaboration. So I need to make sure everyone feels ownership over, you know that the HR person feels ownership over Revenue. That's not a KPI for the HR person, but, but it's important. If that's what, what's really needed for us to talk about in this, in this meeting of the leadership team, then we're gonna talk about that and it's not just gonna be a conversation between me and the head of operations. So that's always been the approach that we we take and we do have, you know, a weekly leadership team meeting, etc. But we also have a quarterly off-site where we get out of the Out of the office were over mode anyway. But you know, virtually we get out of the office and we we do actually meet somewhere and we just kind of spend a day, you know, updating ourselves about what, what was that through your pictures? That's still the picture we want, right? And what was our One-year plan? Are we on track for that and do we need to make adjustments, etc. So it's a it's a constant kind of revision and review of when we are and trying to make adjustments and every single year we push out that through your picture by one year, right. So just kind of paint a picture forward. So I mentioned that there's like two different scenarios and I think the most of the time it's that I've got that idea from Standing in line at the grocery store or whatever, but it's not fleshed out and I need help from my team to to figure that out, right? So here is kind of the thinking, here's the problem statement, here Are some potential ways to address it. But I need us to come together and we do that in our Our weekly leadership team meetings or sometimes our quarterly off-sites. There are some situations where I do feel like I feel very passionately, or I know from data or whatever, that I want to make this change about the organization, and In those cases the process is the same. But it is more about consensus building and less about trying to refine the process. It doesn't mean that I have everything figured out. It just means that it's not like we're starting from you know kind of square one, where we've got you know Four or five different potential options, like I'm pretty sure we're going to do this particular option and I need help kind of figuring out how to implement that.

Speaker 3:

So, matt, talk us through a situation here. I'm sure you've had to, you've had to face it, most companies do. But talk us through your mindset and how you navigate through. So you've got, one of your members on your sales team has contacted a Company that wants to, wants to have a contract with you and it's quite sizable, maybe even like double, triple the size of any other customers that you have and could Really contribute to your, to your bottom line. But it doesn't necessarily match the niche that you fit and doesn't necessarily fit the direction that you're, the picture that you're painting, and Maybe this customer is just a little bit different from your others. Talk us through how you go through that, navigate that scenario.

Speaker 4:

So I'm going to talk a little bit about some things that Earlier me and you know software engineer me would have thought was kind of corporate fluffy stuff. But the real answer to your question is that Prior to that happening, you have to have gone through the process of defining what are the core values of the organization and what is the core focus of the organization. Because if you try to do that real time it's just going to be difficult and too tempting to chase the taste of dollar. So what I mean by the core values I don't mean I think before I used to think core values were something that you know, some Leadership team members just kind of pick some words that they thought sounded good, put into an HR document and it sat on the shelf and gathered right pretty much. But really, yeah, I know. So back then I, you know it wasn't, you know that's not something I really thought was important. But I Sort of shifted my thinking on that and it said I look at it and say, all right, if you could clone, like, think about like two or three people in the organization or maybe your teams, if you could just clone them A bunch of times that like wow, this, this company would just be so much stronger and really like, yeah, kill it, right. And then, and then, if you do that and you can even ask your, like leadership team to do the same exercise, and you'll probably, kind of you know, come to similar answers. So then at some level you sort of know what your core values are. You just maybe not have not articulated them. So there's something about what made you choose them that are important. So I think that's that's an element. But then you have to live that. So this gets your question. So, once you've set that, when it comes to these decisions that happen day to day, month to month, such as like this opportunity that came your way, does that align with your core values or not? So that's that's sort of the first step. The second thing is is core focus? So why do we exist? What is our mission, what is our purpose? And and we're you know we're a services organization, so it's a little bit different than like a product company. I think maybe that's even maybe more clear because you're working on in this product and but you know we're a services organization. So in theory, we could do a lot of stuff you know we could if someone came to us and said hey, could you build us a Manufacturing data warehouse? Yeah, of course we could. We do that for Education companies or education entities all the time we build data warehouses. So we could use that same skillset and do a manufacturing data warehouse. But is that going to be what gets us out of the bed in the morning, like are we gonna be really excited about that? Like why do we exist? So I think Thinking about that ahead of time and setting those, that core focus is important it but, importantly though, it doesn't mean you can't ever change it. It just has to be an intentional act. You have to say listen, we've been receiving market signals and we really don't think our core focus is the right one. We're gonna move over here. And then you have to think through all the implications of that. You know, did people come to your organization to work to be a part of the core focus you had laid out before, and what does it mean to Change that? So it doesn't mean you can't make adjustments, but I think you have to have core focus to filter opportunities, like you're saying, and core values to filter people. And and you're not gonna be able to have core values if you don't live it. So both of those things, I think, really help in that situation. Now, has that ever happened to me? Yes, we have certainly had opportunities come our way that just didn't quite sound like what we do, and it wasn't. It wasn't a no because we couldn't do it, it was just a no because it was a distraction from our mission. And but that was only really possible because we had predefined what our core focus was hmm, what about the diversification of your portfolio?

Speaker 3:

you had situations where you know you had to decide do we really want to put all of our market share in this one big client? That, if it, if this client Decided to walk away, we're probably gonna have to lay half of our of our staff off, or you know? Let's just say for so, no voodoo doll or anything here. But what if something happened to the education industry and that that market decided to to dry up? You know what would. Where would you go from there as a CEO? You know how do you navigate those. The diverse case, diversification of your portfolio I'm sure that's something that you have to think about at night.

Speaker 4:

I Certainly it is something that is on my mind, like how is the market going to change over time and how do we react to that? I don't know that. There's much that I think about as far as would the education sector overall dry out, but certainly there are things that are perhaps our bread butter right now where we focus on heavily that could change. The market is always changing and technology is always changing, so that has to be something that we're thinking about. But hopefully that's part of what my job is. I just set that vision, try to anticipate some of those moves and act accordingly and develop new capabilities. So I hope that I would do a good enough job. That doesn't happen overnight like that, but should it happen overnight, I don't know. That's a pretty existential situation. You either have to, I don't know. I haven't thought too much about that. I think, first and foremost, my sort of off the cuff answer would be find a way to keep the lights on. But again, hopefully that's not something that you would find yourself on. I think my job as CEO is to think about those bigger picture elements. I'm one of the people including this, as well as the sales team that's interfacing often with the market and getting constant feedback about we lost this bid or we won this bid or whatever. We're trying to understand what feedback is from clients. So hopefully we are integrating that information on an ongoing basis and constantly evolving. But if we ever made a misstep, yeah, that would be challenging.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, Just can't help but think about the real estate market. So if I were an apologies to any of our realtors out there.

Speaker 2:

But we have realtors listed on that list.

Speaker 3:

If my business is selling houses in the current market today, it's pretty tough. I imagine it would be pretty tough. So yeah, just thinking about different scenarios of things like that, because I know, like you say, markets can shift, but good point that hopefully they don't shift overnight.

Speaker 2:

Well, now you're going to keep Matt up tonight. Now he has something else to think about. He didn't have it till now. Now he's going to be up all night tonight. Thanks, Mark.

Speaker 4:

Well, there's definitely cyclical businesses and that have those types of sensitivities, and I'm not saying that ours doesn't, but ours is funded differently, and so I think it's important to have that context, and if I was in a different industry, I would probably be worried about that a lot more.

Speaker 2:

I got you One thing I want to. Mark's heard me talk about this before and I've mentioned it on the show before. So, real quick, I'm interested. We're talking about Focus, which is a scrum value. It comes up a lot, so focusing on what you're doing. So, matt, what is your opinion on I'm not going to give names what is your opinion on I'm sure you don't know who I'm talking about Stores out there. Mainly, I'm thinking of stores that I go into. That. I don't know, maybe it seems recent to me it's probably been 10, 15 years at least that you walk in a store and suddenly you seewalk into a grocery store and now you see clothing. Or walk into a clothing store or a hardware store and now you see pop and potato chips when you walk in, which happens to me all the time. What do you think about companies like that? That's where I kind of felt Mark was going to. You said you have a specific vision. What do you think about companies that I say they wanted to be everything to everybody? It seems like the stores are blending themselves together and you can go anywhere now and get anything.

Speaker 4:

I do think that in general executives underestimate the value of focus. I don't know that I have a great answer specifically in the retail space, because I suspect that they do that because foot traffic is one of their biggest. Costs is like attracting foot traffic, so maybe it makes sense for them. I don't really know, but the spirit of your question I agree with 100% that I do think that executives in particular underestimate the value of focus and don't have that conversation ahead of time. Obviously they're responding to their incentives of trying to grow the company, keep the company strong. We talked earlier about if we make the wrong step, that could actually impact people's ability to get to work there and all that sort of thing, so that can be pretty heavy. So I do understand why some executives would look at that sort of thing, but it's human nature to underestimate the opportunity cost, and the important part of core focus is being that opportunity filter and focusing the limited resources you have on the things that differentiate you and the things that are going to be most impactful in the market and drive things. This is true, I think, in a personal context too. One of the things that I did wrong for a long time, especially as I was transitioning into an executive, was just doing too much. As I was progressing, I was kind of being rewarded for getting more stuff done per unit of time, and at some point that flips where it's like it's not about getting more stuff done per unit of time, it's about getting the few right things done the right way. So one luckily one of the previous owners of the organization made me read the one thing by Gary Keller. I mean, there's many books that are like this, but it just kind of forced me to think about how do I limit the things that I'm spending time thinking about, and the only reason that I Well, one of the only reasons I can have that thought in the line at the grocery store is because I am sort of singularly focused on the top three, four things that really matter to move the company forward. And if I was spending time thinking about all these ancillary things, like how to drive up sales of candy bars in my hardware store, that might. What am I not thinking about? What am I not spending time thinking about that's more core to the business?

Speaker 2:

Right, that's kind of my point. So I don't know, for some reason it's like a pet peeve of mine. It drives me crazy when I it seems like it's growing more and more stores I go to and just like, because focus is really big in my mind, it's huge and kind of. With that I'm thinking about what I want to say. Like companies, that you see companies, that Companies go to business all the time because they miss the boat and they miss the boat on technology. They get left behind. What are your thoughts on that? What do you try to do? Does it sound like you stay up to things? How do you try to balance that? Maybe, to my point, maybe there's things that you may, things that you may think you have to do, maybe you don't want to do, maybe to stay competitive, maybe technology, something like that. I don't know if that's question makes sense at all or not.

Speaker 3:

I mean, blockbuster had focus, right, blockbuster lost focus. No, they had focus.

Speaker 2:

Well, they had focus. Yes, they did, and they went out of business Just on the wrong thing they had. Yeah, they sold the wrong thing, that's right, yeah.

Speaker 4:

And the point about Blockbuster is important because, again, setting a focus doesn't mean it's in concrete. You can never change it. You should be revisiting that and reassessing it and considering what things would have to. What would you have to see in order to reassess this current state? And then I also am a big believer in market signals, which is why I had a little bit of trouble with the question about candy bars and the hardware store, because if everybody is doing it, there might be something I don't understand about why that's the case. So I do think it's important to reassess things and take signals from the market. The question about evolving technology I think it's a difficult one. I don't know that I have any particular secret, but I will say that, at least in the education space, if I rewind maybe three, four years, the big question is what's the biggest problem? In the big conversation everywhere was blockchain, and it was very much like what can I do with blockchain? And very, very hard. I couldn't go to any conference without having people ask me about that, and it wasn't that. We certainly could have learned how to do that or whatever, but it looked to me, at least in the education context. I don't want to make a broad statement, but at least in the education context that it was a technology looking for a use case and the people were coming up with situations where there was already a central authority, not technically, but just the way that the world works. There was a central authority for teacher credentialing, for example, but then they were trying to find some way to do that with blockchain. So that didn't make sense to me, and I think it's important to, of course, pay attention to what people are talking about and some people would call that hype but pay attention to the hype cycle but then also filter that against like okay, is there really something here? What can I actually solve with this? And I would differentiate the current conversation with LLMs from the blockchain conversation, because I do feel like there are some legitimate use cases there for that technology and it can be pretty exciting. And I think one of the coolest things about it is that in the education space, there have been a lot of predictive modeling and AI use cases that have been thought about but have never really gone anywhere, and I think it's because the people that have to make the decision to green light that kind of a project it's not accessible to them. Right, they're not technologists, they don't play with neural networks or whatever. So trying to green light that is difficult. But those folks can play with the LLM right, they can play with that and kind of get familiarity with the tool. So what I've seen in this space is that all of a sudden there is a willingness to talk about some of those AI use cases that have been around for a while. So I think the answer really is definitely pay attention to what the conversation is and test things out, but be smart about it and filter that against like, what is the actual problem that I'm trying to solve here that I couldn't solve in pretty much the same way with the existing technologies? Right, yeah, definitely yeah.

Speaker 3:

So I think the big lesson to be learned out of all this is that double line is going to sell candy bars starting, is that right?

Speaker 2:

They need to. They need to sell candy bars. I want to see that when I go to double line, I want to see candy bars, snickers I like Snickers. And what did I have last night? Last night was Halloween Snickers and Skittles.

Speaker 3:

Give me Racy Cups, man Give me.

Speaker 2:

Racy Cups yeah, I like that too. Mark me too. Yeah, those are my favorite. Well, it's that time. We are almost out of time again. It's been a wonderful conversation. I always get sucked in. Our guest today has been Matt Warden, again CEO. He's an executive coach as well, with double line consulting. They are professional services in the educational tech space. Matt, thank you so much for joining us. This has been a great conversation, absolutely.

Speaker 4:

I really enjoyed this. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, mark, thanks for joining too. Appreciate you showing up buddy. Yes, sir, yeah. So once again this has been Mark and Greg with the Agile Within. Oh Matt, how can folks get ahold of you?

Speaker 4:

Thanks for that. Yeah, just mattwardencom my name. They can visit that and they can contact me there.

Speaker 2:

Got it and go ahead and do that. I did that, checked out Matt's profile. He's into a lot of cool things there, so a great CEO with an Agile mindset that's what we all want, right? If you're out there, you're working, you're an Agilist, you're on a scrum team. I'm sure you don't have an Agilist with a CEO with an Agile mindset, but we have one here and we need more like them, in my opinion. So we thank Matt so much Again. Matt and Greg, with the Agile Within, you can reach us as well. Our email me, greg Miller at the Agile Withincom Got a bunch of emails I need to go through. People want to come on, so please send me an email. Love to talk to you about coming on with this show. Mark and I set up some time to do a pre-meet talk through an episode. A lot of you have been doing that. We thank you so much for that. You can reach us on LinkedIn. We have individual pages, mark Metz and Greg Miller. You can also reach the Agile Within at LinkedIn. We have an Instagram page. We have an ex formerly Twitter page as well. Contact us all over there. We'd like to hear from you. What do you think about the show. All that good stuff Until next time. This has been Greg and Mark. We'll see you next time.

Speaker 3:

See you everybody.

The Agile Mindset and CEO Transitions
Effective Leadership and Vision Casting
Effective Communication for Visionary Leadership
Effective Communication and Leadership Decision-Making
Navigating a Challenging Customer Opportunity
Core Values and Core Focus
Market Focus Impact on Companies