Chris Ronzio (00:54):
What's up everyone and welcome back to organize chaos for another live edition. I'm excited to dive into this one. This one's going to be all about investing in leadership and professional development, higher education opportunities for your employees so if you're running a business or working out a business and wondering how much should we invest in our people, how should we think about these expenses? What are the ROI that I would get out of investing in professional development? Nurturing leaders?
That is the topic of today's conversation so I want to start off with a little question that we're going to put in the chat here, but I'll ask it's what leadership and development strategies have been effective in your business or workplace. Chime in, let us know what you are doing in your company so that I can talk about it with our guest. Who's joining in a second so our guest today that's joining me in the discussion is Luke Owings, he's the VP of product over at a company called Abilitie, which is a leadership development company that offers many MBAs virtually and business simulations, which sound cool that help senior executives build their leadership skills so we're going to dig into leadership development and I'd love to welcome on Luke to join.
Luke Owings (02:08):
Awesome. Great to see you.
Chris Ronzio (02:09):
Hey Luke, thanks for being here.
Luke Owings (02:11):
My pleasure. Happy to come in and talk about a topic that I love.
Chris Ronzio (02:16):
We chatted briefly before we went live, but where are you logging in from?
Luke Owings (02:20):
I'm actually in New Hampshire, I'm on Lake Winnipesaukee, which became so famous from Bill Murray and what about Bob? Now Which everybody knows about so I'm up here spending some time with my family.
Chris Ronzio (02:32):
Amazing. I grew up in the Boston area so plenty of time at Lake Winnipesaukee very cool. We're going to talk about leadership development, investing in your leaders. I want to hear about these simulations that you all run so before we dive into it, can you share a little bit about your background?
Luke Owings (02:50):
Absolutely. To be happy to. I have a bit of a mosaic career. I like to say where I've tried out a whole lot of different things and individually they make sense and together they look a little scattered, but thankfully for me make a pretty broader picture. For me, I started my career as a consultant. I went to one of the big consulting firms worked there, had some of the best professional development in my life, but realized I didn't want to be there long term so went back and got my own MBA actually in Boston as well, similar to you to the schooling you did in Boston.
I went back, got my MBA and while I was there, started teaching and fell in love with education, fell in love with learning, fell in love with how that all comes together and spent the next phase of my career, building a company that actually did leadership development for organizations so I built a company called Fullbridge and out of Cambridge and we did month long business boot camps and so really doubled down on that for a number of years and moved from there into actually running the people side of businesses so like you've talked about the ROI of learning, the ROI of leadership development had to think about that in fast growing companies and so ran the people department at a 500 person company in Austin, which was crazy hot almost as hot as Northern Arizona, Chris.
Chris Ronzio (04:00):
Southern Arizona's really hot, I'm fortunate to be in the mountains right now, which is pretty nice, but where we usually are, it's hot.
Luke Owings (04:09):
I believe it. When I hear the planes can't take off, I worry. I spent some time there, actually got fired from that job. It was a great job, but I got fired from it. Long story, we'll leave it to the side for today, but rejoined McKinsey and ran a lot of our leadership development for large organizations so I had to think about how those came together, what organizations do with leadership development, why they do it, why they invest in it, how they do it.
When I left there in 2020 during the pandemic, came over and joined Abilitie and run our product team where we build the leadership development programs and simulations that actually help people develop in their careers, whether they're high potential leaders, whether they're executives taking the next step, but whatever it is from small medium sized businesses, all the way up to fortune tens, working with them to actually develop their leaders. I feel very privileged to have a whole lot of different experiences across the gamut of size of company and across different roles but this is a topic that's always been near and dear to my heart.
Chris Ronzio (05:08):
Yes, it sounds like your whole career has been steeped in professional development, whether it was from a consulting capacity and trying to help level up the businesses you work with or in this leadership development world and now working in product and developing these curriculums to level people up, you said you work with small businesses all the way up to enterprise, the whole gamut?
Luke Owings (05:29):
Yeah. I would say we have companies where there's only one person who comes into our invited MBA program, all the way up to companies where we run onboarding for 10,000 of their people and we actually help their high potential leaders learn whatever skill they need to so it's a pretty broad range.
Who's Responsibility is Professional Development?
Chris Ronzio (05:44):
Okay. I'll ask a really simple question to get us started when someone's listening to this and they're thinking about whether they should invest in professional development for the people, is this a company responsibility? Or is this an individual responsibility?
Luke Owings (05:58):
Oh my gosh.
Chris Ronzio (05:59):
I'm curious what you think on this.
Luke Owings (06:01):
Chris, that might be one of the best questions that's out there and it's shocking because it really does get to that deep feeling of what is the social contract with individuals and their company. I have some thoughts on this. What's your take? It's your question, but I'm going to throw it back to you. What's your take?
Chris Ronzio (06:19):
Personally, I like when an individual is showing that they want to go out and invest themselves in this and then when I see that, I want to supercharge it and pay for it from the company and invest in it, but I don't like when people sit around waiting for the company to provide them these opportunities, I want to see that they're hungry and they're trying to learn and we can supercharge them.
Luke Owings (06:41):
I love that, so many small companies are doing exactly what you're saying, which is give some amount of money that education reimbursement and saying, "You know what, if you want this, go get it, we are going to support it, we are going to amplify it, we are going to supercharge it, we'll send other people to go with you but go find it" and I think that works really well at small companies.
Chris Ronzio (07:01):
Luke Owings (07:02):
I think that conversation gets a little bit more nuanced when you get to large companies because at large companies, they use leadership development, not just for the learning, but they use it as well for the culture building, they use it for the connecting and the networking in our increasingly virtual world, what are the real ways you get to interact with if you're a top 150 executive at a fortune 500 company? What are the real ways you get to interact with the other executives at your level, who are in different geographies, who are in different functions?
We at Abilitie increasingly see companies use it as a way of actually building a network and building a culture and I think that's a place where companies can and do invest in it and the ROI there is pretty clear in terms of retention.
Chris Ronzio (07:48):
Yeah. I hadn't thought about that, if you have leaders that are working in different departments or geography's and they don't interact much, the professional development programs, curriculums can be a way for them to go to school together and develop that camaraderie, right?
Luke Owings (08:02):
I think that's all right and you've mentioned the simulations we run a couple of times and we think that they're so powerful in these situations and we see it born out with our clients because they actually create fire in those situations, you're not going to a classroom and watching Malcolm Gladwell speak, who is incredible and we've all can go on masterclass, I actually did it on a plane the other day and watch a couple of their lectures, spoiler alert I almost fell asleep, but that was because I can't watch videos for too long at this point, my attention span's too short, but we think our simulations actually create that fire for the real connection and I think that's the shadow underneath that really drives a lot of leadership development at large companies.
Virtual Simulations For Employee Development
Chris Ronzio (08:43):
There was a book I read recently Twelve and a Half, by Gary V which half the book was simulated scenarios talking about here's a situation, what would you do in this situation so is that what it's like in a virtual capacity or what are your simulations like?
Luke Owings (09:00):
I would almost imagine more like SimCity. Did you play? You're a kid in the 80s and 90s, like me.
Chris Ronzio (09:05):
Luke Owings (09:06):
What video games did you play growing up?
Chris Ronzio (09:09):
I played a lot of NBA Jam. I played the sports stuff, I wasn't too big into the SimCity. I thought it was cool, but it was like the computer lab in my class with the max, they had that son. I never stayed after, I was doing sports.
Luke Owings (09:25):
Well, you and I both played the NBA Jam. I tell you, having Chris Mullin shoot from the corner was not a bad strategy.
Chris Ronzio (09:31):
Luke Owings (09:33):
Ours are a bit more like the corollary for people who have played it, would be more like SimCity or Civilization, where you're actually building a structure in one of our main ones, business challenge you're building a company and you have access to its financials and you build it over the course of many years and compete with other teams and you and a couple of partners actually get to go through the hard discussions and executive goes through, how much do we spend on R&D? What do I do on our pricing model? How do we then use that to create value? Some are more like that and some are more role play based similar to what you've talked about for the case study ones, where you're learning how to manage people and we have actually a whole portfolio of them that are integrated into our invited MBA, which we think are really powerful learning tools.
Chris Ronzio (10:17):
Okay. You mentioned when you invest in this. Yes, it's for the education, it's for culture and building connections with people. Are there other elements that you're selling this on? What else should people expect to get? If they're making an investment?
Luke Owings (10:32):
It's interesting, because I probably took your question and took it more toward the enterprise side and the large company side and its everything [inaudible 00:10:40] it is interesting at the small side and where you started with your answer for people who are learning, it's about getting a new lens, getting a new language around business. If you're working at a small company, you might never have had access to financials and financial thinking and trying to understand how to think of a break even analysis when you're trying whether to decide, whether to hire a new person or bring on a contractor for a short period of time.
That type of thinking and that type of business toolkit is something that you should expect from these Sims and from any leadership development. You also should, in some way shape or form, expect a confidence to actually enter into conversations about topics that are outside of your subject area so if you're a marketing specialist and you're saying, I want to get a mini MBA or I want to continue my leadership path, you better start to learn the language of strategy, you better start to learn the language of finance, you better learn these and so that you can enter into those conversations when your role is no longer an individual contributor in the marketing function and there's a whole set of skills and language and mindsets that really need to come with good leadership development.
Chris Ronzio (11:47):
Yeah, totally. On the employee side then, there's been a lot of career pivots and people changing jobs. If someone's looking for the next company that they're going to work with, how do they know which companies invest in training and don't invest in professional development, should they be asking these questions when they're interviewing or how do you think candidates should consider this?
Choosing An Employer That Encourages Employee Development
Luke Owings (12:08):
Absolutely. I think the best thing you can do is look at people who are there and regardless of what anybody says in an interview are the people who are there getting professionally developed, are they getting access to opportunities? In today's world with a number of opportunities with the tight labor market as it is, any candidate should be interviewing a company as much as the company is interviewing them and talking to people who are then in your role, if it's a common role or are adjacent to your role, how do you get professional development? How does the company support it? Do they reimburse it? Do they actually help you find opportunities? How do they make sure that after you do it gets actually applied and so you're actually learning and that's like the learning side, the other side which is crazy important is how do you get opportunities to do new things?
One of the reasons that I think people stay with companies now is because companies that already know them are willing to give them opportunities to try something new. It's very hard to get a new job that heads a new job, new place, trying something new, very, very hard, but it is possible when you've built up trust at an organization to have them say, "You know what, I've done, digital marketing. Let me take over the SEO. Are you good with me doing that?" "Hey, I've done the SEO. Let me actually take on a little bit of a product role and let me work with the tech team a little bit more." And companies that are willing to do that and I would ask, I'd say, who's the last person who actually took a new role and learn and actually took a role that they weren't already qualified for at your company. What's the education? What's the professional development you gave them? And let me talk to them. I don't see any reason why you shouldn't do that, you're making a big investment of your own time and career.
Chris Ronzio (13:43):
Interview the company, as much as they're interviewing you. I think that's such a great tip and so anyone that's listening is in the job market, remember you're interviewing the company, they're not interviewing you so make sure it's a good fit and I think it's a great suggestion to reach out to people that recently started at the business and ask what is professional development like there so great tip. Now from a company's perspective, how much do you invest in this? And I'm going to take away the easy answer, which is, "it depends." You can't say that so how would you think about the investment on a dollar basis? On a percentage of salary? Is there some formula that you would use?
Luke Owings (14:23):
I can't say it depends.
Chris Ronzio (14:24):
Luke Owings (14:28):
If I had to give a number and you had to... You pushed me to give a number. I would say, it should be at least a couple of $1,000 a year and I think that you can go really far with a couple $1,000 a year. Companies that I see that do this well, some of them do around $2,000 a year, some of them do up to $5,000 a year. I think you can do a lot with $2,000 a year though, with all the opportunities that are out there, with all the pushes that are out there, there's self-paced learning, the LinkedIn's of the world, LinkedIn Learnings, that's where you got to do stuff like that. There's also the boot-camps more our invited MBA or more like some of the boot-camps that exist around user experience, user technology, engineering, any of these things.
I think you can get a lot with a very little. One thing I would look at is how much money do they put toward it and the second thing I would look at quite honestly is whether or not they actually have structures in place to actually create opportunity for it and I look at a company like Guild Education, which does an incredible job partnering with huge organizations like Walmart or Disney and providing access to educational opportunities to the Starbucks of... To companies like this Starbucks and Walmart Disney and I think that when those things exist, that's a sign that people are actually being professionally developed.
Chris Ronzio (15:46):
Yeah, I've said this before so I'll share it again, but I think of a rough number as about 5% of someone's salary, plus their time on an annual basis, because if you are sending them to an event or if you're having them use the working hours to go through some of these modules or something that was a rough back of an aftermath I've used and then I love the point that you made about stretching the dollars.
It doesn't have to be a crazy amount of money, but what can you get for this investment as you were sharing that I was thinking of, I was at the arcade with my kids and when you're a kid and you go to the arcade and you're cashing in your points and you want to maximize everything and my kids end up with four little foam balls and three pieces of candy and two erasers and the little like privy thing, but then they come out and they feel like they've maximized it because it was their finite currency to spend and that's the right mindset is how much can we get for this development to really stretch it through the year to make sure that we're getting what we need out of it so I think we'll be right in mind.
Luke Owings (16:58):
5% that's a very interesting so then it goes up as people end up higher in their career and higher salaries and their educational benefits go up too.
Chris Ronzio (17:07):
Yeah. Again, it's a rough back of the napkin thing, but the reason for that is, as people are getting more advanced in their career, they're taking on that next leap, they probably need some more expensive resources whether it's coaching or a mentor or someone to come in and do a workshop and that's a simple way that I've tried to think about it.
Luke Owings (17:26):
I like that. How many people are at Trainual? Can you remind me that again?
Chris Ronzio (17:29):
Almost a 100.
Luke Owings (17:31):
Almost a 100? How have you seen leadership development change at Trainual as you started it and it's grown from much smaller than that up to a 100 people, how have you seen it change how your people get professionally developed?
Chris Ronzio (17:45):
Well, at the beginning it didn't really exist and the first change was that it started to exist so I would say as a really small company, we were bootstrapped the first couple years and when you're 5, 10, 15 people, the investment in external training is brand new. You're starting to think about, can we afford to go to this conference? Can we buy this certification for a person? You don't really have a formula for it and so for me, it was between that stage, where we had a dozen to a couple of a dozen people that we started to say, "Okay, we've got a group of people here now that we need to start to invest in, if we want them to be growing personally, as fast as the business is growing." Because I believe that when you hold a role in a company, you need to be growing as fast as that company if you want to hold that role the next year.
If the company doubles in size and there's all these new responsibilities, you have to double your own capacity to do that job and so we really need to start investing in our people.
Luke Owings (18:50):
Now, do you have some standard things that people go through as they become middle managers, as they rise up? How does that work?
Chris Ronzio (18:57):
We have our own internal training, with our program that teaches people the basics of how we do what we do. How do you be a people manager at Trainual, but then we invest in external training as well for the specific things that we're not the experts at internally, we'll bring in the management best practices or the DEI training or the things that we're not creating in house.
Luke Owings (19:23):
That makes sense. It's interesting you said how to be a people manager, which it's an interesting thing that companies start to do and one of the places where we set as Abilitie and our program with the invited MBA is that, how to be a people manager at training? There is some subset of that, which is standard management. How do you give feedback? There're standard ways of giving feedback and if you go to 100 different companies, you'll find two or three different frames and tools for giving feedback. There's how to do check-ins, how to do a good performance review and how to set performance contracts where you're saying, "Okay, when am I expecting something, what am I expecting, how will I know it's done, what will happen if it is done, what is the support?" There are these tools that are out there that Trainual doesn't need to recreate, that Walmart's created and other places have created it too.
Chris Ronzio (20:15):
Luke Owings (20:16):
What would get us so jazzed about what we do is that we can then provide some of those standard things and then work with you to bring that last 20%, which is what really makes a train manager so special? What is it that makes them? What is it that makes someone whose at Peloton so special in terms of the Peloton way of doing things or whatever the company may be? It's what makes us so excited because what we were seeing a lot of us was, Trainual was creating their own middle manager training and Walmart was and Disney was and all these things. We were like, why can't we democratize that piece and say, here's what coaching is, here's what feedback is, here's what building trust is, here's what that is. Now, put on the top piece, which is what you need for your culture and your network and all that stuff, but let us really build that first stuff really well. I think that's where we go with this.
Chris Ronzio (21:08):
Yeah. No, it's definitely a need. One of the examples I give in a presentation I do is no hospital is teaching their doctors how to perform surgery. How to perform surgery you learn externally, not at the business, but you learn that in school, there's education, there're frameworks and all that. And then you learn the specifics of how this hospital operates with what EMR they use and how to set up the operating room and who else is in the room with you and that can vary hospital to hospital, but there's a difference between that internal training and the external training that you want to supplement, because like you said, you don't need to reinvent the wheel.
Luke Owings (21:43):
I like that. I like that hospital analogy. Yeah, EMR.
Chris Ronzio (21:46):
It's mine. You got to give me credit if you share it.
Luke Owings (21:49):
Well, you got to tell me what an EMR is first, what's an EMR?
Chris Ronzio (21:52):
Electronic Medical Records.
Luke Owings (21:54):
Chris Ronzio (21:55):
I did. When I was consulting before Trainual I had customers, clients in all these different industries so I could probably speak in acronyms across different industries. Sorry for that.
Luke Owings (22:11):
Yeah. If you don't know all the TLAs, you got to watch out, right?
Chris Ronzio (22:11):
Luke Owings (22:11):
All of our three letter acronyms there're everywhere.
Financial Cost Of Professional Development
Chris Ronzio (22:14):
We touched on cost a little bit, but coming into a down market, a lot of people are talking about a recession. Professional development is one of those budget items that sometimes get scratched. What do you say to that?
Luke Owings (22:29):
What's the old saying? It's like the CFO says, what if we invest in our people and they leave and the CEO says, what if we don't invest and they stay? It's a much more dangerous thing. My personal take is that leadership development is more important than ever before, even in a down market, as it is right now and that has been exacerbated by the move to remote, the move to hybrid, the move to flexible working places, because having A, the connections within your organization and investing in leaders who are going to take it forward, even if a recession happens, you're not losing all your people, you need to continue investing in those people who you want to stay.
Having them have a common language, having them have common experiences, having them have some connection to your organization and feeling that affinity toward it is more important than ever before. Secondly, they're going to be asked to do more than they were before and having some of the skills of the leadership development, having some of the skills of understanding the basics of finance, understanding why. If there used to be much more generous benefits, they need to be cut back understanding that why is really important for your workforce.
Then very basically at the retention level, you're going to lose people if you don't invest in them, people are more mobile than ever before, the great resignation was and is and will be a thing as people become more flexible and companies that historically might have pulled back investment in a downturn, it's my hypothesis and theory here that given the way the world has changed, that's going to happen differently during this pullback.
Chris Ronzio (24:10):
Yeah. What do you think-
Luke Owings (24:11):
I'm biased though, for sure.
Chris Ronzio (24:13):
Me too. Of course, You want to invest in training, but I do think that it's a cycle, the businesses that invest in training and professional development and leadership create a good culture and you look at the businesses with the best cultures and those are the ones that you expect and trust to be investing in these things and it is a little bit of a cycle so what do you think are some practical tips to create that culture that really embraces leadership development?
Luke Owings (24:43):
Yeah. A couple of things. One is we're big believers in cohort based things so cohort based in terms of event based cohorts, getting them together and having them do things. There's a world where places like LinkedIn Learning and Coursera are really valuable, if I'm trying to learn how to do a pivot table on Excel, I'm going to go on LinkedIn Learning and I'm going to watch seven videos, and then I'm going to try out different things and I'm going to do that. If what I'm trying to learn, how to do is have business judgment.
Actually cohort based experiential learning that's event based coming together and doing something with other people is actually really important. It's important for all the things we've talked about, the skills it's important for the things around the networking, it's important for the connections, it's important for the confidence, it's important for culture, it's important for all these things.
One is having event based learning that happens on this. Secondly, I think it's really important that when you're doing those things, you're actually using a language that then gets applied when they're back in their regular jobs and whether that language is some of the tools around it, whether that language is a definition of leadership development model around what a Trainual manager is and what they do, whatever that may be, it becomes really important. It's not a one off event that people are excited about, happy about and then walk away from.
It actually asks to get reinforced and then lastly, I think it comes down a lot to the real high level executives of the company who are continuing to reinforce it through A, what they do, their own professional development and B calling out people who are doing it and calling out things that matter from it and in many ways their job is creating the heroes of an organization and in creating the heroes that they have the opportunity to highlight how powerful this stuff is.
Chris Ronzio (26:30):
You create the heroes by sharing who is investing in this and what they're learning is they're a best practice when someone goes and they learn this external knowledge, they come back and do a lunch and learn, or how can you get the most bang for your buck when you invest in these things?
Luke Owings (26:46):
You hate my "It depends." Answer, but it's so dependent on company culture and how they do things. We do lunch and learns every two weeks with our whole company because we're 25 people and we come together and we talk about something specific. There's many good tools out there for it. We also have a couple of slack channels that are, Hey, #productivity hacks. What are productivity hacks that you're doing? Most of our company is on there and when someone learns something, one of my engineers goes out and learns a trick on terms of how to make their Gmail much more effective, they share it there and there's this culture of it actually continuing to be highlighted so there's slack type things. You look at a company like Oyster, which hit their billion dollar valuation. They're-
Chris Ronzio (27:27):
Luke Owings (27:27):
Chris Ronzio (27:28):
Tony was on a couple weeks ago actually.
Luke Owings (27:30):
Was he? I think what they're doing is so cool.
Chris Ronzio (27:31):
Luke Owings (27:33):
They have notion boards that they're actually using for asynchronous best practice sharing. They have synchronous only when it's needed, they tape video, they tape meetings and have looms and have things that you can watch on this and I think man, in this virtual world, there is so many ways to do it and it's all about ways that your organization's going to hear it. I like this Thomas Hogan, this weekly book club, I think that's a good one. A lot of comments here, chief leadership training of weekly book club.
Much of this to Thomas's points his lunch and learns here as well is creating a culture where it becomes normal to discuss it, where it becomes normal to learn, where it becomes normal to bring something new to the table. The other way leaders do this is they admit that they don't know something and they have to go learn something and sometimes that's as big as anything else.
How To Measure Leadership Development?
Chris Ronzio (28:29):
What is good leadership, what are we striving for, what is the ideal leader look like, is there a way to measure that somebody's leadership has improved?
Luke Owings (28:39):
Wow. What I always look at is, there's the productivity things about whether they're actually getting things done, whether their team is actually getting things done as they move up to being a higher and higher leader, I also really look at how much the people beneath them are sticking around. Leadership at the end of the day isn't leadership, unless there's people they are following, otherwise you're a sole person out there and I always look at, are the people beneath them staying? Are the people beneath them growing? Are the people beneath them surprising me in some ways? Are the people beneath them empowered in some ways to bring something new to the table?
That's the high level top of the iceberg things you look for and this whole idea of how you measure the culture and how you measure the culture of leadership is a challenging one for sure, because I'll tell you that what a good leader looks like in one place might be very different than what a good leader looks like in another place.
Chris Ronzio (29:39):
Yeah, it's true and company's going to be different, have different needs and what's worked well for us is [inaudible 00:29:46] that commitment like I mentioned, that we know we need to invest in leaders because we know we need them to be growing we are as a company, but before it was as systematic as it was, we needed to figure out what are each person's gaps that we want to invest in with them and I think that a lot of companies don't put enough attention into that really analyzing point, where are you today and what are the gaps that we need to work on to get you to that next level and does that fit into what you recommend?
Luke Owings (30:17):
I think that's great advice. I have very little that on top of that. As head of a company, as you're growing your leaders, one of the big things you do is help them know what they don't know, help them understand those gaps and then help them understand the tools to fill them so I love what you're saying.
Creating A Culture of Professional Development
Chris Ronzio (30:33):
All right. We talked through simulations, we talked through the external information, not reinventing the wheel, building a culture that is valuing and celebrating the heroes that are getting this investment, bringing it back to the team, doing lunch and learns like Thomas also mentioned, are there any other simple tricks that maybe a smaller business without a huge budget can use to start showing that they really value this education component?
Luke Owings (31:01):
Yeah. If you're doing weekly meetings, what if you ended with five minutes of saying, "What did you learn this week?" Do that. Literally ask that one question at the end of your weekly staff meeting, whatever team you're on, what did you learn this week and how did you learn it and that might be as simple as, Hey, I didn't know how to do this so I Googled the shit out of it and found it, which my tech guys say all the time to me and they're like, "I didn't know this so I Googled the shit out of it" and did that or it might be, "Hey, I went to this conference and I heard this person speak" or it might be, "Hey, I found this new training that actually highlights to me the gap I know I have in my financial knowledge and I want to do that", but so much of this is cultural so simple question at the end of the week, I'm like what did you learn this week and how did you learn it? I think starts to create that culture, which makes all of the other things happen.
People use their 5%, it makes people want to bring things back, it makes them want to go to gather two things. I think this is where the power really lies.
Chris Ronzio (32:00):
So simple. What did you learn this week? I don't know if you've heard of Paul Akers, he had a book two minute lean. He was on the podcast a while ago and they used to position this question of how are you saving two extra minutes this week? As a way to get those productivity hacks and I thought that that was a cool way to phrase it too.
We have in our Slack channel or our slack account a channel for share and people post articles or podcasts or things all the time, but the rule is that you have to summarize your takeaways, not just posting a link that's going to give someone an hour long to do, but what were your coupled big takeaways from this and that's worked really well for us.
Luke Owings (32:40):
How big is that Slack channel, out of curiosity?
Chris Ronzio (32:42):
It's the whole company.
Luke Owings (32:43):
So a 100 people?
Chris Ronzio (32:44):
Luke Owings (32:45):
Wow. That's awesome.
Chris Ronzio (32:47):
Luke Owings (32:47):
Often-times those things fade away once you get to a certain size company, they become the barrier to put something in there and then you get 2% of people who will continue to use it and it becomes hard, but I love that. That's awesome.
Chris Ronzio (33:00):
Yeah. We get people using it so it's very cool. All right so as we start to wrap this up, one thing we didn't talk about is that leaders that are out there learning new skills, maybe sometimes have to confront that they don't know how to do things and be transparent with their team about their areas that they're working on so it's a delicate balance between wanting to seem confident what you're doing, being vulnerable and sharing people like I'm actually going to get some education on this because I know this is a weakness for me. Is there a perfect middle groupd with how a leader should be sharing their own investments in professional development to the team?
Luke Owings (33:45):
I deal with this a lot, because I run a product team and I oversee our engineers who know things that I have no idea about from the perspective of the code base, from the perspective of what they're building on a daily basis and the way I tackle it personally I can tell you is that, I really try to align with them on the outcomes, I really try to align with them on where we're going and what the milestones are and what I'm expecting to see at that point and what it looks like so for example, we're in the middle of a product roadmap and we had a big lunch and learn with the company today and I said, I really want this feature to be a part of it.
I'm willing to brainstorm with you, I'm willing to help you with it, I'm not going to be going into the libraries to figure out that calendar functionality, I'm not going to figure out if Google Calendar can actually integrate with it, that's not my skillset right now. I'll brainstorm with you about what we want users to do, I'll brainstorm with you about what the flow could look like, I'll give you feedback on my side and I want this outcome in terms of this feature set to be cooked by that Monday.
I find that, I have a wonderful team who I love to death and I think are incredibly talented and incredibly skilled and incredibly motivated to do great work. Incidentally of all my teams, none of them had formal engineering training, they're all self-taught and they're autodidacts and geniuses, but I find that balancing this vulnerability with the confidence comes from let's align on the outcomes we're trying to get to, let's make sure we're clear on what we're looking for and what it's going to be and then recognize that there are pieces of how I can help you with, but there are pieces of how that are going to be you.
I'm going to be asking questions, because you're just going to know more than me about that and I find that they're pretty receptive to that, but especially because I've shown an interest in a willingness to learn and continue to do my own work to get there.
Chris Ronzio (35:32):
Leadership is a journey.
Luke Owings (35:34):
It's a journey for sure and a crisp man. How do you balance the vulnerability plus the confidence and you're in the CEO seat, which makes it another piece and you have investors who are external, who are saying, "Hey, what the hell? I'm giving money to this guy. Who's saying he doesn't know what he is doing on this front". How do you balance?
Chris Ronzio (35:53):
Yeah, I think that there's probably an extreme where if you're too overconfident, then you're not open to ideas. You seem more cocky and that's a dangerous place to be and then I think that if you are not confident enough, if you're a 100% vulnerable, then it looks like you don't have any conviction and you don't have any vision or direction for where you're going so it's definitely a balance to be vulnerable when it's affecting other people. If there's a flaw, a weakness, something that is impacting others, then addressing that immediately and directly I think is really important, because you're taking the accountability for its something that you need to work on, but that there's, like I said, it's a balance you've got to be a mix of vulnerable and confident.
Luke Owings (36:47):
How do you specifically do that with external investors who have put what, 27 million is that what you guys have raised right now and something like that have put something like that on the table and say, "Chris is our guy." And the market's going down, oh shit what's happen... How do you-
Chris Ronzio (37:04):
Well, they're no longer external. They're part of the team now and it's the same thing, you bring investors in and they're part owners in the company, they're sitting at the table with you there to solve the problems and not everything's going to go perfectly all the time, but you have to be vulnerable enough to share the realities of where things are, but confident enough to share the direction that you're taking things forward.
If you show up to a meeting and say, I don't know what we're going to do, everything's on fire. Then there's a problem and you might get [inaudible 00:37:36] but if you say here's the reality of where things are, here's a team that was working on it, here's a couple things that we're testing right now, here's the next time that we're going to check back in. Then they can be confident that they've got someone at the driver's seat that they can trust.
Luke Owings (37:51):
I like that. What is your biggest people worry as we head into this potential downturn as a CEO? I know I'm turning... Trent, told me I was allowed to ask you a few questions, but what is your big... I know there's quite worries about customers, I know everyone has the same worries about the market, all this stuff, but in terms of your people, what is your biggest people concern as a CEO of Trainual? As you look at the potential recession coming.
Chris Ronzio (38:19):
Answering this off the cuff, when there's a recession, you have to be extremely focused and the more focused that you are, the fewer side projects people can take on and the fewer experiments you're going to run.
Luke Owings (38:33):
Chris Ronzio (38:34):
I guess probably the biggest concern would be that the entire team is aligned and agreed around the experiments we are making, the projects we are focusing on and that they see the horizon of, let's see this milestone, let's get to this point and then I can do my thing. Whereas if people have too shorter lens on a timeline of, if I can't work on this project or do this thing next month, I'm going to find somewhere new to work, that's always a concern. You want to be able to give everyone the stuff that they want to do, the autonomy to do whatever they want to work on, but in a recession there's also a little bit of, we can't say yes to everything.
Luke Owings (39:16):
Chris Ronzio (39:19):
That would probably be my biggest focus right now is making sure that we're communicating and getting aligned on what we're picking to work on.
Luke Owings (39:27):
Yeah. That's so interesting. Cool, thank you for answering my question.
Chris Ronzio (39:31):
Sure. Anything else before we wrap this up?
Luke Owings (39:34):
Well, that's an interesting if I dive deep into your answer, it's so interesting, because there's a piece about company focus and strategy and what's actually going to create value for us in a downturn and what is the thing that we have to singularly be focused on to continue the business model going in some way, shape or form?
Chris Ronzio (39:51):
Luke Owings (39:51):
There's also this secondary piece, which I is a little bit surprised to hear, which is very motivation oriented. You're saying, "Hey, I want to make sure that people get to work on what they want to work on." Which says to me that a lot of the people who work at your organization are motivated by some measure of autonomy, some measure of empowerment, some measure of being able to create their own thing that they're going towards.
It's an interesting frame to have in the mind of, if the market goes down, will their motivation be that they're not at a higher level of Maslow's hierarchy? I don't know. Maybe they'll feel like they have a stable place in a storm. Maybe they'll feel like, "Hey, you know what? I've watched some friends get laid off". We've all been on LinkedIn, people are getting laid off all the time. Amazing people, truly amazing people so I'm curious to hear the motivation piece come up really high during that and I think it's very perceptive, because it's a big thing particularly in a world where people can leave any day they want, but I'm digesting and processing it out loud.
Chris Ronzio (41:00):
Like you mentioned, at the beginning, people should be interviewing the company as much as the companies are interviewing them, but that doesn't stop when you get hired. You're constantly interviewing and deciding is this the place I want to work this week? This month? This year? And professional development and career progression plays so much into that. Am I getting the opportunities to do interesting work and to solve interesting problems and to make progress and build my resume? It's really important to people. And so from a company standpoint, it's top of mind for me, how do we make sure everyone's continually engaged and loves what they're doing and understands the mission and sees the progress that we're making toward it even if we have to constrain resources in some way or make certain decisions. And so I think every company out there should be thinking through the motivation side, the autonomy side, how do you enable autonomy and motivation and also be transparent around what do we have the resources to do here?
Luke Owings (41:59):
I love that. In many ways, it's a very well articulated behind the scenes thing that comes from my theory of why I think leadership development will continue to get invested in because of this motivational piece, because of also I think leadership development went done well actually helps people see their own business through a new lens. And so this idea of what is most valuable for the business, it becomes a lot easier to understand when you have the basic language of finance, it becomes a lot easier to understand when you have the basic language of whether an investment has ROI positive or ROI negative, it becomes easier to understand and I think those are the conversations that a motivated employee base has and wants to have and wants to be a part of and kudos to you for creating that environment and that culture, it sounds like you're created something really special at Trainual.
Chris Ronzio (42:54):
Well, thank you Luke. If anyone wants to learn more about Abilitie, where can they go?
Luke Owings (43:00):
So if you're interested in our larger enterprise solutions come to abilitie.com and that is misspelled from what you just put in your browser, abilitie.com. I can talk to my CEO, Bjorn about why he misspelled it from the get go, but trust me, people get there. We'll put it in the comments though as well so if you're on the enterprise side, come do that. If you're interested in it for yourself and you work at a small company, or you're just looking for your own personal professional development, come check us out at the invited MBA, invitedmba.com. We took some of the best of our leadership development programs from large clients, some of the best simulations we developed and run for tens of thousands of learners and put them to be accessible to you in a way that you could do it while continuing your job so we have a 12 week part-time program called invited mba.com.
If you mention Chris, if you mentioned the Organized Chaos podcast, we'll happily give you a $200 tuition credit. The top line is only 1850 as it is so it's a lot cheaper than the MBA I got certainly, I will say that. And if cost is your issue, reach out to us, we have scholarships as well. It's our mission to actually provide accessible leadership development to organizations and people all over the world as the work changes so fast. And so we look forward to working with you wherever you may be and wherever you are in your career.
Chris Ronzio (44:17):
Amazing. Luke, thank you so much for coming on. This was a lot of fun.
Luke Owings (44:21):
Chris. My pleasure. It's been good to be here with you.
Chris Ronzio (44:25):
Awesome. All right. And everyone else, thank you so much for tuning in, I think this was a great conversation on professional development. In fact, we had a leadership meeting this morning at Trainual, we talked about professional development and how we were going to continue to invest in this, even as the market is taking a downturn, how do we want to think about professional development and the overwhelming sentiment across our whole leadership team was that professional development is an investment, it's not an expense. And if you're trying to cut costs, cut expenses at your business, reframe that and think about how much better could your business operate. If you equip your leaders and your people with the knowledge that they need to take the company to the next level, to thrive in a time like this. And so don't cut professional development, invest in it, double down, build that culture that continues to invest in its people because that's how you retain great talent, it's how you attract great talent and it's how you'll thrive during this time.