The Agile For Agilists Podcast

The Startup Secret Sauce: How Enterprise Companies Can Benefit from the Startup Mentality with Elizabeth O’Neill

April 18, 2023
The album cover for Season Two Episode Six of the Agile For Agilist Podast featuring a picture of special guest Elizabeth O'Neill who is an organizational and executive performance coach.
Agile For Agilists
The Startup Secret Sauce: How Enterprise Companies Can Benefit from the Startup Mentality with Elizabeth O'Neill
Are you tired of office politics and personality clashes standing in the way of your team’s or organization’s growth of Agile capabilities? In this episode we discuss how to navigate workplace friction reveal how examining startup culture can provide valuable insights for accelerating the delivery of value in larger organizations.

Brad Nelson and Drew Podwal sit down with Organizational Fixer, Entrepreneur Coach, and Culture Consultant Elizabeth O’Neill to unpack the secrets of startup agility, innovation, and behavioral strategies that enable such rapid delivery of value to its customers. We highlight the practices and modalities that enterprise companies can adopt from startups in order to support a more engaged, empowered and customer focused workforce. (Spoiler we talk about culture!)

We wrap up our discussion by examining how self-awareness and active listening help agile coaches manage biases, build trust, and tailor their approach to individual clients. Elizabeth provides insight that allows coaches to connect to their clients and leadership on a deeper level, and identify underlying issues that may be impeding progress.

So, if you’re ready to bring some startup culture to your enterprise organization, then you’re in the right spot because it’s time to think like a startup and take your enterprise to the next level!


S2-E06 – Elizabeth O’Neill

[00:00:00] Drew Podwal: All right, so welcome to another episode of the Agile for Agilists podcast. My name is Drew Podwal. I am your host, and I am here as always with my co-host, Brad Nelson.

[00:00:13] Brad Nelson: Hey, everybody.

[00:00:14] Drew Podwal: Hey, Brad. today is an episode that’s been in the works for probably about a month now, right? Elizabeth? You we’ve been talking about this.

Yeah. Uh, well, it’s actually, it’s been in my head for a little bit longer, truth be told. So, uh, we’re joined today, by a wonderful woman and amazingly professional executive coach. She also happens to be my personal performance coach as well. and uh, what we’re gonna be talking about today is, is friction in the workplace.

And what’s really cool about this episode is that, we’ve talked to, and it’s not that we haven’t spoken to, like really wonderful and amazing people, right? We’ve talked to Scrum Masters, we’ve talked to other coaches, we’ve. Portfolio coaches and whatnot, but we haven’t really spoken to somebody yet that really sits up at the upper levels and, coaches directly at the C-suite.

and really makes change happen at that, really senior executive level. that we often talk about having a really hard time tapping into that vein and really working with them. So, , By way of a quick introduction here. Elizabeth is, uh, she’s an executive coach and an expert that helps founders , to calm the chaos in the growing teams.

She’s got more than two decades of coaching leaders and teams and has found that the secret to creating sustainable culture is having just the right amount of process, being unapologetic about your values and knowing yourself and your people. Why don’t I toss it over to you and, and you can give a quick introduction.

[00:01:47] Elizabeth O’Neill: Yeah. Thank you. and the way that you started off is probably the way that I most characterize what I do with companies, which is, get in and help teams understand what’s causing friction, which is so common in fast growth startups. So, in the early days when a founder has an idea, they start off with maybe a couple of people and, they’re jamming on this idea and everything feels pretty effortless.

And then as they get traction with that idea, which is really exciting, Inevitably they grow their team and the more they grow their team, the less effortless things start to feel, That’s when the friction sort of kicks in and it feels more chaotic and noisy. And so I will often get in there and understand what’s at the root of the friction and help them navigate that so that they can move forward and grow, more efficiently and with more ease.

[00:02:53] Drew Podwal: Mentioned that the teams are growing, right? I’m assuming that part of that is, is that when you’re a startup and you’re first getting started, the tactics, the approach, the way of communication to get things done right, you’re throwing lots of spaghetti against the wall, trying to figure out what your product market fit is and, and how you’re gonna monetize this thing.

that once you’ve tapped into that, the approach needs to change. is that where you find a lot of the friction is that people just don’t have a way of working and a shared set of working agreements? Or what else are you finding?

[00:03:27] Elizabeth O’Neill: I think it’s, it’s multidimensional, what you’ve mentioned Drew is, is definitely a part of it. And so if you think about a startup in the early stages, a lot of what’s communicated, it’s almost like. People are just so on the same wavelength that they don’t have to spend a lot of effort or energy trying to clarify and set direction because it’s almost intuitively known, right?

Because the people who are first part of something, they do so because they share the same like idea and ethos about whatever it is that they’re trying to build. And when you start bringing, putting more people onto something, they come with different ideas. They come with different belief systems and backgrounds and ways of processing information.

Um, and so that can create some of the sort of chaos and disruption. The other piece is that the founder themselves and the leadership team around them, they’re all trying to keep pace with. A scaling company, which requires them to evolve and adapt in ways that they’ve, they don’t know how to do. And, and it’s, it’s all un really unchartered territory.

So it’s, it’s uncharted territory from like a personal growth perspective and from a company perspective. So that’s why it’s so complex, because people are navigating their own personal sort of change and development and challenges as they’re also trying to solve big questions like product market fit and how do we actually get this into the hands of the right users, um, and customers.

And so, that’s why it it’s sort of on, multiple layers, which is what can cause some of the most challenging aspects of. It can be some of the most challenging aspects of running a company.

[00:05:37] Drew Podwal: my experience with startups is mostly at the scale up stage, where they’ve, they’ve got everything Well aligned, there’s profit, there’s money coming in, and now they’re trying to scale it up. One of the things that I’ve seen very challenging at that point is now they’re starting to look for, more resources.

Uh, I use the R word, um, more people, um, we should have like a, a jar every time somebody says resource instead of people. But, um, and I’ll, I’ll put $10 in for that one. But, um, what I’ve seen is, is that they, they tend to look for industry experts, right? Of course. Why wouldn’t you want to have an industry expert?

and they find an industry expert, that is typically has 20 years experience, 10 years experience more than that or whatever in the enterprise sector. And what’s great is they get to bring that enterprise knowledge with them, but. What sucks is they’re also bringing that enterprise culture with them as well.

And, the two I find are like oil and water, right? Uh, they don’t blend very well unless you emulsify them with a culture and a working agreement and things like that. where, where else, like from a, a people perspective, where do you see the friction happening the most? Is it down within the people who are doing the work, or is it between leadership and the people doing the work?

[00:07:00] Elizabeth O’Neill: Well, I actually wanna make a note, on something that you just mentioned, which is this piece around, some people who come from kind of enterprise backgrounds. Then they enter a startup. And it’s a very, it’s very different culturally. And you’re, that’s, that’s a really important point. And one of the things that, I will often do is, you know, what I call a culture fit.

And, because, it has to be like sort of a mutual a fit. any person who’s taking on a new role has to feel like they’re going to be successful and they’re going to, feel like their needs are met in that situation. and not, not everyone who comes from an enterprise background is going to enjoy or thrive in an environment where there’s a very high degree of flexibility that’s required.

It is super important and, and advice that I would give to anyone who is contemplating, a transition like that between an enterprise role and a role in a very small startup is, really interview for yourself, whether that’s.

A good fit for the kind of things that you wanna accomplish in your own career because, for people who enjoy a lot of variety and the ability to try lots of different things and, maybe do something or, or play the role, but in a slightly different way. A startup is a really great place to be, but if you’re coming with the expectation that like, this is how I do the, the role, then that’s gonna be very hard to feel fulfilled on a day-to-day basis.

Because j there’s just so much change that happens in startups.

[00:08:52] Drew Podwal: what I was talking more to is like, what I’ve seen a lot of is, uh, one, they, they, they hire the industry expert from the enterprise organization. And, there’s two sides of that. Because I think it’s less, I mean, yes, it’s absolutely, if you’re potentially gonna be accepting a role at a startup and you’ve previously only worked at an enterprise organization, definitely do your homework.

Figure out if it’s a, right. Cultural fit. If it’s, if it’s, uh, what you’re expecting from a standpoint of, of how, what the pace of life is gonna be like and things like that. But from the other angle, from the startup themselves evaluating the candidate, the things that I think often get overlooked is that, you’re bringing somebody in, right?

And the more people you bring in, you’re bringing their history with you. you know, it’s kinda like how they say like, when you sleep with somebody, you’re, you’re, you’re sleeping, not with just them, but like every single one of their previous partners as well. I mean, that’s, that’s the same kind of thing, right?

 in a weird sort of analogy way, but, They start to bring the politics with them as well, The, the processes and tools, the need for rigidity, and, and it’s really important that, that be filtered out, Or at least be, filtered out in a way where, checks and balances and approvals that may be required in an organization that’s got like six tiers of hierarchy, And 12 silos, be evaluated before a process gets implemented that has that type of rigidity. the other thing that we see is that they hire for industry expertise, but often forget to look for, Like in a product position, let’s say. Right? Um, or even in a marketing position or anything like that, they might know the market, on either of those roles. But do they know how to create a, a marketing strategy or a product backlog or a product vision in an non enterprise way, right? Because those two are completely different beasts as well, I was looking at more from the, from the outside or inside out versus the outside in traveling perspective.

[00:11:07] Elizabeth O’Neill: Yeah. And I think that this, the, the logic goes both ways, which is for each, you know, whether you’re the company that’s hiring that person, or you’re the person being hired, know what’s expected and know what you’re gonna get,

So for someone who is very used to like a, a hierarchical structure, where they enjoy or rely on permission to sort of take the next step, then a startup is going to be a very challenging place to be and may not be the right fit.

And the company that’s hiring needs to vet that very well, as does the person who’s, looking for that job. What comes to mind when you share this example is, behavioral interviewing, which is when you’re making hiring decisions, the more general you are, the more apt you are to find yourself with someone who’s maybe not the exact fit or, doesn’t know how to do the thing in a general sense that, you know, maybe they only know how to do it in one particular, in one particular way. it’s, it’s really about like that, that process of interviewing and understanding what that person brings and how capable they would be to do it in a different environment than they’re used to.

[00:12:37] Drew Podwal: Yeah.

[00:12:38] Brad Nelson: I, I like that you said behavioral fit and not cultural fit There. We talk about culture a lot. Culture’s important, but I feel like culture fit is like, It’s like the cheat code for, we just don’t like this person for whatever reason. Oh, it’s not a culture fit.

and it’s really hard to action on that. So I, I like that you said behavior there. Cause that’s something that even in a Fortune 500 where I work, we’re really big on behavioral interview.

[00:13:04] Elizabeth O’Neill: Yeah. Behavioral interviews are the safest way, I to find the kind of, person for a role that is going to, be, successful. But, uh, like a quick word on culture fit, cuz I think you’re right. I think that can be, at times it can just be a really general way of, passing over someone who. Doesn’t feel like the right fit, but you can’t quite put a finger on it. that’s just a lazy way and a lazy excuse for getting specific about what it is that you’re not connecting with. And then maybe sometimes doing a little bit of that, like internal, having that internal curiosity of am I have having a reaction because I’m just not used to that style? or because that style is not like mine. Or is there something that’s more legitimate that is influencing my decision here? when I talk about culture fit earlier, what I often do with companies is we really understand what the company’s core values are. So in a startup, Often the identity of the company is driven by the founder and the co-founder.

and so really understanding like, what is that identity? What are the non-negotiables? Like, what are the things that if they do, you know, if they sort of like the way that they wanna behave and operate that may or may not be in the company’s best interest, but just is, is simply sort of who they are.

Right? that’s sort of what I mean by like a company’s culture. I really view that as like a company’s unique identity as opposed to some ways that we talk about culture, which is a bit more of a, it’s the thing to talk about. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s what we should be talking about, but we don’t really authentically, believe or back. What it really means to, to like own and drive a culture.

[00:15:12] Brad Nelson: Yeah. I would say culture fit is, is kind of like the enemy of diversity. When we look at individuals, uh, from a D E I perspective, but to your point, like the, the shared values and the principles, like Peter San Gay calls, ’em mental models, uh, Simon Sinek talks about it as well, right? Don’t hire someone and then try to convince them of your mission.

Hire people who, uh, have the same mission to begin with. And so, yeah, I would say, right, like here, when we’re talking about culture, it’s those principles, those, those values. I would agree.

[00:15:45] Elizabeth O’Neill: Yeah. On that note, one of, you know, one of the companies that I work with here are some, like, here are some examples of, you know, core values. So one is know why you’re on the ship. Like we wanna be anyone who comes to and works for our company, we want to be their, their first choice. If we’re their second choice, then we’re not going to have the level of sort of discretionary effort and passion and innovation that’s required for us to actually be able to move the needle on this highly complex, product that no one’s quite figured out yet.

And so, unapologetically, they’re like, we want people who choose us first, and that’s it, another one from another company is no bs, So it’s we’re going to be real and we’re gonna talk about things in a real way. Doesn’t mean that it’s gonna be like disrespectful, but we’re gonna be open and honest and straightforward.

And that’s how we’re gonna run this company.

[00:16:50] Drew Podwal: And then how, how are those values communicated in a way that people understand? Uh, cuz it’s one thing to say, I forgot what you said. Uh, Are you on the right ship? Wasn’t are you on the right

[00:17:02] Elizabeth O’Neill: Know why you’re on the ship.

[00:17:04] Drew Podwal: Know why you’re on the ship. , like, you know it, and I love that. That’s like kind of it creates a question in my head at the same time as it, it, it feels commanding, right?

like leadership says something like that. Then do secondary leadership teams spend time running exercises to then figure out like what that means and, and then draft a, like a working agreement that says this is how we as a unit are defining, know why you’re on the ship.

[00:17:33] Elizabeth O’Neill: That’s a, you know, I love your question Drew, cuz I think what it gets to is organizational scale, right? So, this company in particular has 25 people in it, right? And so, and they’re also at a point in time in the evolution of their business where that kind of sort of renegade like innovation, creativity, pushing boundaries is mission critical to them getting off the ground, right?

So that’s not necessarily one that would be, maybe you could try to operationalize something like that if you are a company of 500 or you know, more than that, right? so yeah, I think that that’s a, that’s really a matter of, the sort of size and maturity and place in the evolution of a company.

[00:18:31] Drew Podwal: It’s funny cuz Brad and I have come at this from the other side of the coin here. Right. And I often say that the value that I bring to a startup is I help startups to be able to adopt some of. the models, but not many from my background with enterprise experience to help them to scale in a way where they can become an enterprise company that isn’t going to get locked into the bureaucracy.

Right. And then from the other side, when I’m working with, with enterprise organizations, I tell them that my value is that I bring the culture of, of speed and efficiency and innovation and creativity will bring greater value to your customers. And so the angle that Brad and I are coming from most frequently from the enter side, enterprise side of the house is that, When you have scrum teams, right, or team of teams that are like 150 people, big, let’s say, right?

developers and testers and scrum masters and product owners and, uh, sometimes bas and whatever on it that then, you know, report up to their director level that then report up to their VP level and so on and so forth. the company values at that point are so ridiculously removed that oftentimes, nobody knows them or maybe they’ve seen them.

but more importantly, the product vision, right? the product vision Is, is very ethereal because it’s at this enterprise level. and it gets filtered through the VPs, directors, managers, and The distance between these teams and the customers is usually that same distance as well, where a developer maybe might not ever be in the same room as a customer, And so what we’re trying to do with the work that we’re doing with Agile and Scrum and all of the other methodologies that we’re pulling into place is we’re trying to shorten those distances to create alignment, But I would say like the biggest struggle is that that creation of alignment, alignment in strategy, alignment in understanding of, of working agreements, alignment with customer needs, and, and whatnot.

And, so The type of friction, right? That we feel, and the type of friction that you feel is from a nuts and bolts perspective, it’s the same, but from a contextual perspective, it’s a little bit different and we’re trying to move left and you’re trying to move, right. and, and that’s really where I thought this or still think obviously, this conversation is really interesting is that we’re, we’re coming, from two different worlds, so to speak, right?

Traveling in parallel, but also trying to converge. And in this weird kind of multi-dimensional dance, there’s things that startups want from us. There’s things that we want from startups and, you know, we’re trying to create that chocolate peanut butter, you know, Reese’s peanut butter cup, experience where, where everything is, is great again.

[00:21:36] Elizabeth O’Neill: That. Yeah, I love that analogy and. I think what you point out is that frame of reference is so important to being able to move forward effectively. And so if you are a, you know, 40 person startup and your frame of reference is, in the things that you’re able to sort of work with and operationalize are very, very different from say, how an enterprise operates. in the current state, the frames of reference are so different. And so the opportunity is how do you create mutual understanding. And bridge the gap between those two realities, which can feel in the day-to-day very, very different. I didn’t mention this, you know, we haven’t mentioned this on the podcast yet, but I think that, you know, Drew, before I started working with startups, I worked in, fortune 500 companies.

So I’ve seen both, both sizes and experience, both sizes, and it’s very, very different. Like the experience is very different, and oftentimes we sort of get locked into what we’re seeing and experiencing. and it can be, it can just feel like a complete, dif, completely different reality.

[00:22:57] Drew Podwal: To me, I think the kiss of death for, oh, it’s, it’s being dramatic, but um, for lack of a better term, right? Um, the kiss of death is between 30 and 70 people when silos start putting their route down in a company, the startups that can avoid putting their, putting silos, roots into the ground, are the ones that are gonna remain the most startup-like in culture, and retain that, that level of, of innovation that is able to be cross-functional, where marketing teams and sales teams and engineering teams and product teams are still really being collaborative, once the roots get put down for a silo, then once that first tier and the silo gets added and the rungs to the ladder get added, that, that’s to me where, where it’s like goodnight.

[00:23:50] Elizabeth O’Neill: It’s ch, it’s challenging to unwind and undo once those. Impediments have been created in a, in an organization.

[00:24:02] Brad Nelson: That’s, that’s interesting. I agree to your point, Drew, it seems like Fortune 500 s are always trying to capture that startup magic. That’s why Eric Reese’s book was Wildfire, uh, when it came out. The Lean Startup is, uh, the book I’m referring to, and I’ve, I’ve often kind of noodled on the idea that I think that there’s a certain size where an organization no longer is able to be efficient.

but I don’t know what it is, like Drew just throw out a number of 50 to 70. You know, I think of mega corporations like Amazon you have so many, you have such high overhead because you have so many people that like you just have a high cost to exist, which makes you less efficient than something like a startup.

but when you said 50 to 70, it made me think of Base Camp. and well I’ve been kind of thinking about them this whole time anyway, so Jason Fried and D h H are the founders of them and I don’t know what their numbers are now cause it’s, I haven’t kept up, but I know a few years ago they were at 55 people and they were very adamant that we don’t want to scale, like this is the right size for us to still be involved in the problems and know what we’re doing and be passionate about it.

And, we only make, a few tens of million per year. We’re not billionaires, but we’re living pretty comfortably, so we’re okay with that.

[00:25:23] Drew Podwal: That’s super respectable

[00:25:25] Elizabeth O’Neill: Yeah,

[00:25:26] Drew Podwal: I heard that story somewhere else this past week as well. Sorry, go on Elizabeth.

[00:25:30] Elizabeth O’Neill: I’ve followed, um, base camp’s, story as well. They do, I love their transparency, on all sorts of things. and it’s very wise to be thinking clearly about those types of things about a business. Because growth can sort of happen to you, and your company, depending on what your priorities are.

So for them, they’re clear on, we don’t wanna be a unicorn, right? we’re, we’re happy making a really nice living and being able to, Give our teams a nice living as well. And this is going to be, you know, these are the boundaries of how we wanna grow. And if you don’t do that intentionally, then it starts to happen to you.

[00:26:19] Drew Podwal: it’s like this photo I saw of, this guy has, uh, a demijohn, right, which is a, a glass, container for fermenting wine. Um, they’re this big bulbous thing and apparently like 60 years ago, he planted, uh, some ferns and created this. terrarium inside of it, and then he, he put the cap on and he’s never had to water it since.

It’s just been. Perfect homeostasis where, the ferns are, are not growing too fast, they’re not growing too slow. There’s no rot that’s occurring as a result. There’s no fungus that’s introduced into the ecosphere and it just has the right amount of sunlight and, you know, but any sort of addition to that.

Environment could be the thing that causes him to walk into the room one day and it’s just this grotesque sludge pit, you know? And that’s true with, and that’s kinda like where I was bringing up the idea of, alright, if you’re gonna bring somebody in, right? A manager or a director or an SVP from an enterprise company because of their industry expertise, you’re bringing in more than just that person, right? You’re adding them to that demijon with the ferns. And that could be the catalyst that causes it, uh, uh, go into flowering mode for some reason, right? I don’t think ferns ever flower. Um, but it could be also the thing that, that introduces the, the fungus to the equation that really disrupts and gums up the works.


[00:28:00] Elizabeth O’Neill: that’s why when you were bringing up, I love that analogy, by the way. That’s incredible. and, but that’s also why I was bringing up earlier, how important it is to be deliberate about who you put into that ecosystem,

[00:28:13] Drew Podwal: Yeah. Well, you know, one of the things that, that, that I look at when, when I’m coaching an organization is what I call it their digital born on date. Right. Um, like remember Budweiser had the born on date, on the side of the bottle. like when did the company start to go digital? Were they like a Netflix where they started out analog just a little bit before, era or, I coached at the, the British Postal Service and, you know, I think about what technology was available to this company when they started.

, the postal service, did they have pens, pencils, when I was at hbo, they started out as a, a cable network. Then they went up to the satellites and then they brought it down from the satellites into, data centers for distribution of content. And now they’re streaming. and then I start to look at the, the total sum of the people who work at that company.

Did they enter into the workforce? before or after the digital, era. And, and then I start to come up with this sense of what their digital fingerprint is, right? Because the thing is, like, I, I like to think that I’m very progressive when it comes to, my, my business strategies and and processes and workflows, but, I was born in 1975, right?

I was raised during the Reagan years where efficiency and downsizing was, was a major tool to use to show profitability. I cut my teeth as a project manager, Where, the same kind of thing as a play and so deep within my dna, even though I’ve worked really hard on myself to transform the way that I think still exists.

This, this project manager that, and it doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to, but when the shit hits the fan and you need to, to grab onto, a process or a tool, To be able to write the ship again, you want the people in your company to grab that, that progressive tool that, that one they learned after a transformation that.

Is going to ensure quality, ensure innovation, ensure customer value, right? and so when I look at startups, I, I look at things like that. What’s the total sum of people who’ve only worked at startups before? what’s the sum of people who’ve been at enterprise companies and are brand new to startups?

And how many years of experience, did they have at that enterprise level? And what’s their mindset, from a standpoint of, being able to bring with them the good, but leave behind the, the things that are gonna slow people down and gum up the works. so I know that was a pretty long way of looking at it, but yeah, to me, a company’s digital fingerprint is important to look at.

[00:31:05] Elizabeth O’Neill: Mm-hmm.

[00:31:07] Brad Nelson: And I, I’ve heard multiple times that there’s two different types of, of people and there’s multiple types of people. But in this instance, there’s, there’s kind of two different types of people. There’s people who are really good at starting organizations. We tend to think of like the entrepreneurs, they start an organization, they sell off, they start another, they sell off.

I’m curious from your opinion, Elizabeth, is that the case where it’s like there’s this startup mentality and skillset that no longer is relevant once you start scaling?

[00:31:39] Elizabeth O’Neill: in my experience, it comes down to maybe two things, which is desire and ability. So does that entrepreneur want to evolve with their company and achieve those developmental milestones that they’re going to need to accomplish in order to keep pace with the maturity of their company? so do they want to, and then do they have the ability.

And both of those things need to sort of be a yes in order for that to happen. so I think it absolutely can, and I know companies that do. Um, and then I know others who, a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of founders, they’re really, really high on like the visionary, strength.

And so they, they derive a lot of energy from being in that very visionary and creative place. And so, you know, managing a company that is much more about sort of executing it once it’s, reached a level of maturity that is often not as interesting to them intellectually as the whole idea of. How do I conceptualize something that’s never sort of existed? And then how do I bring it to market? How do I find the users? All of that it draws on a different kind of energy than the other, we’re a company is more mature.

[00:33:17] Brad Nelson: Definitely. I would agree with that. Yeah. I’m an idea person. I’m a thinker. I do get bored with stuff. I probably have ADHD as well. Uh, I know Drew does so yeah, I definitely could relate with that. But it’s also weird cause I, I feel like as Agile Agilists we’re optimizers naturally like that.

At least for me. Like that’s one of the things as an address that I love is how can I do this thing that we’re already doing more efficiently? How can I trim the fat? And it’s almost like logical, I guess. Or like, I, I used to call it ergonomics cause I started in the factory and the ergonomics was how can I move at the same pace but set myself up to, to produce parts faster?

Because just moving faster isn’t sustainable. And so it’s taking advantage of, of timing. And so I call the ergonomics probably not a great term for it, but especially cause I injured myself. But, uh, Yeah, that’s, that’s interesting. Those two kind of dynamics and, and I see both, I guess, in myself as an Agile.

[00:34:23] Elizabeth O’Neill: Yeah, I’m curious Brad, so Drew has shared the perspective, and I’m Drew, I’m gonna put words into your mouth. You tell me if this, this is accurate or not, but my sense is that Drew, you feel like sometimes the friction around, introducing Agile to companies or using it is, related to senior leaders who have different viewpoints on, you know, the value of that or even sometimes the, the institutional or individual types of, kind of histories that people bring with them.

Right? So first off, Drew, if that’s not right, definitely you know, let me know. And then if it is true, Brad, I’m curious, do you share that point of view or do you have another. Hypothesis on what the friction is related to.

[00:35:12] Drew Podwal: it is correct.

[00:35:15] Brad Nelson: Yeah. so I would say I’ve definitely seen, at an individual contributor level, friction from there. Uh, and, and how awful. Also preface with, I’ve never actually worked at, I would say a legit startup. I’ve done like side hustle startup type stuff, which is very different. Feel. You’re, you’re not, you don’t need it to succeed.

You hope it succeeds, but you don’t need it to succeed. So, most of my experiences in Fortune 500 s and I would say I definitely share the sentiment that Drew has, that it’s really a leadership thing. We, we talk about grassroots movements a lot in Agile, but the reality is that, uh, in order to change, in order to be successful with something like Agile, it comes down to leadership a hundred percent.

[00:36:05] Drew Podwal: And, you know, a, as you were talking and bringing up this topic, Elizabeth, what I was thinking about is when you said before about that startup founder that is, just not in it for the long haul, from a standpoint of the mental models needed to, to scale it and, and really grow it or, or different than to, to conceive it.

I think that’s analogous to what we’re talking about, right? Because I think, leadership that we’re talking about is that startup founder that, or the, the mind of a startup founder where they. They just wanna keep it operating the way that it is. and the idea of rolling up their sleeves, taking the risk to try to make it something different is, is not really something that they’re interested in, right?

They’re, um, maybe interested in the outcomes of that, but not specifically interested in being a part of what it would take for that to happen. And and I feel like if we dissect both of those things a bit more, we’ll find that, like from a psychological perspective, it probably comes from a very similar place.

[00:37:19] Brad Nelson: They’re not in. To try new things, right, is what we find in Fortune 500 s. It’s that they’ve been successful doing the same thing over and over again, and they’re not incentivized to do something different.

[00:37:30] Elizabeth O’Neill: Then why do they bring you.

[00:37:32] Brad Nelson: The, they’re not always the ones that bring us in, that’s the problem. Uh,

[00:37:37] Drew Podwal: no, I mean, they are the ones who bring us in. I, I find, right? the people who bring me in more often than not feel like I’m the guy who’s gonna do the thing to the people that work for them, and not, be the thing with them, and work together collaboratively. And we all roll up our sleeves, they think they’re buying like a get rich or a, you know, quick diet plan for the people who report to them, that they’re not gonna have to jump on the exercise bike with all of us as well.

[00:38:08] Elizabeth O’Neill: what problem are they hiring you to solve? Typically?

[00:38:15] Brad Nelson: That’s a whole nother discussion. Uh, sometimes it’s Agile’s the new hot thing and we know we need to be doing it. And so like with my company, one of the things that we really try to do is we do try to put it in that context of, okay, that’s great, you know, you should be doing Agile, but what are your outcomes?

What are you trying to achieve as an organization? And that’s something that I think the industry’s catching on to. And it’s something that we talk about a little bit internally where Agile for a while now, has almost become a little bit of like yesterday’s news or four letter word. And it’s not because it’s not still relevant, it’s that it’s been abused and there’s, you know, snake oil salesman in the space and all of that.

And so we definitely take, uh, a lot more of a lean change management approach to it. Or is my CTO called it yesterday, the IKEA effect, which was amazing. he definitely educated me there and it’s really, it’s instead of trying to install something like Scrum or safe, It’s going in there and saying, what are your problems today and how can we help you solve today’s problems and teach you the growth mindset and how to experiment and how to learn and how to adapt.

because I, I think like we had, uh, Ron Quartel and Todd Hollowell on yesterday, and they talk about, Todd talked about how the way we address something today might not be the way that we need to address it tomorrow. And companies tend to just say, uh, this is the way we’re working moving forward. And they never adjust or tweak that as needed.

And those are the sorts of behaviors that we’re trying to teach organizations.

[00:39:53] Elizabeth O’Neill: that’s really interesting, Brad, and I mean, at least in my experience working with larger companies, I think that there, there is There is change that happens. It just happens so slowly that it’s hard to even notice.

[00:40:11] Drew Podwal: Well, and that’s, where, where the idea of too many silos, too many hierarchies, right? people say, oh, you know, change is, is slow, right? Well, change is like molasses, When you have that many layers of leadership or management is probably more accurate word in this case. and too many silos, that have to work in unison to agree upon that strategy for change.

if you were at a startup that’s 75 people and, and you’ve got those, those silos that are taking root, that’s where you really start to experience that. That friction where marketing disagrees with product and product disagrees with sales. Right. and if, if your company is very product focused and you put the product and the customers at the center of everything you do, and everybody’s focused on that, and you’ve got the alignment there, and everybody organizes themselves around the customer in a way that, that best allows for decisions to be made then transformation can also be focused on the value of our, our customer and our products.

whereas an enterprise, organizations, uh, you know, ego tends to be the, the center of. Of a silo and, you get into that chair at the next level and you look down, Whereas in a flatter organization, you don’t have those types of, of bureaucratic and political and egocentric blockers that slows things down.

[00:41:50] Elizabeth O’Neill: You know, I think sometimes that the case Drew, but that could be a really interesting one to get curious about. Like each time you spot it, like each time you spot that kind of friction. almost look at it like you’ve never seen it before, right? And ask yourself like, what could be going on here?

Because sometimes it is, and I’ve seen that plenty of times, right? Where, it’s territorialism or like power or ego that is driving a leader’s behavior. But then other times it’s related to something that has happened, sort of unintentionally. It’s kind of like manifested because people are sort of unconsciously going about the work.

And what is resulting is these unintentional silos, that’s making things harder to get things done. But, I would just offer up that. Sometimes it’s not as, premeditated as that.

[00:42:58] Drew Podwal: Oh yeah. I, I, okay. So I do tend to, especially on the podcast or when I’m talking with people who are my circle of trust, I definitely use dramatic, tone and dramatic words to describe things. And so, I, I don’t think it’s premeditated. I, but I do think it’s in their d n a, right.

[00:43:16] Elizabeth O’Neill: In what way? What do you mean?

[00:43:18] Drew Podwal: In the way that this is the way that they experienced the corporate world as they rose up the ladder.

This is the, the, the way that behavior was modeled by their mentors, by their previous leaders. It’s the tool that, that did the job in the eighties, in the nineties, right? And so it should be the tool that does the job today. and,

[00:43:43] Elizabeth O’Neill: I would say maybe and maybe not. Right. And so if the belief is that everybody who’s sort of, in this kind of system has been indoctrinated in these ways and are unshakeable from those ways, then it’s gonna be really hard to influence or get them to see, you know, another way of doing something.

Right. But if, you know, you’re coming into it and saying , what else could be going on here? Right. Maybe it’s, there’s all sorts of reasons and I’ll just, you know, speak from experience working with teams for the last 20 years. There are so many different reasons why barriers exist within teams and only a fraction of the time.

Is it because of somebody’s ego? A lot of times it’s like misunderstanding and miscommunication and the stories that we tell, we end up telling ourselves in the absence of true knowledge. And then we all get kind of entrenched in our own belief systems about, you know, enterprise or about startups or what have you.

So, I would just offer up perhaps the path to creating those bridges is to, maybe get a little bit more curious about are there some other options here? Are there some other alternatives to, people being kind of just inflexible, I know a lot of tech leaders who not in the startup space, but in my old life, who who had been in technology for decades, and they had a true like learner’s kind of mindset and very much wanted to, like, felt and experienced the inefficiency, um, and felt like there was a better way and truly wanted to know how to do that, So I think that you probably do have people within your midst who are capable of being influenced and for that matter could be like the sponsors and the evangelists like that you can rely on. Brad, you mentioned a term earlier, like change management, right? Like a lot of this is change management, like identifying who, who has the desire to change? and who has also the organizational influence, who can help to, pull people along who, need to learn the new way.

[00:46:24] Brad Nelson: Yeah. I, I love that. Yeah. I, I think I definitely agree with Drew’s dramatic flair there and that society teaches us, that we need to be important. and being important isn’t really, like, I would say, a genuine purpose. And as like psychologically human beings, we do need, we do need purpose. And in my talk I talk about how companies aren’t in the business of making money, right?

Like nobody just buys stuff from companies. Cause they want them to have more money. They, they have a purpose, But I, I also agree with where you’re going on this, that I think also when we look at psychology, humans tend to make assumptions when we don’t have all the information, we’re really, really good at making assumptions.

It’s how we’ve survived as a society. but we tend to assume the worst. And usually it’s not that sinister, heinous, villains aren’t a real thing, for the most part, right? I mean, there’s people who we might consider villainous, but in everyday’s life we don’t have villains.

everybody’s trying to succeed, everybody’s trying to do the right thing. Everyone’s the hero in their own story. And so taking a look at what is it, that’s challenging them in their current situation, and I mean, you mentioned communication. I think that’s huge. Uh, and I think you kind of touched on it, is mindfulness.

A lot of companies and people are so busy that they’re not really taking time to look and analyze at the things they’re doing. And that’s one of the things that we try to do as Agilists is we come in and we say, hey, what is your outcome? What are you trying to achieve? How are you tracking towards it?

What are your metrics? A lot of companies don’t measure anything, or they’re measuring the wrong things, and, just making them more conscious of, oh, you’re trying to do 20 things at once. Well, that’s not humanly possible and that’s why you’re not getting anything done and just creating, I would say that mindfulness to their everyday work life.

[00:48:17] Elizabeth O’Neill: Mm-hmm.

[00:48:18] Drew Podwal: the way that I’m looking at it from a startup perspective, right, what we’re experiencing is akin to the idea that when, when founders are trying to look at their EBIDTA and, and come up with ways to, to improve their EBIDTA score, I’ve experienced in flexibility with, with looking at, at things that they can do, within their direct control that are the cultural shifts and changes and the values changes that lead to, process improvements and efficiencies within the entire organization as a way to go about, improving their EBITDA score.

so much of what we do with Agile and Scrum, can have a very huge impact on EBITDA and. And, and that kind of change within a startup even, that’s trying to, trying to scale and, and get to a place where they can be sold, requires leadership to be a part of that, right? To roll up their sleeves and really be walk the walk and talk the talk and, provide psychological safety and, and level of, of, of authority to others, and autonomy to others.

be willing to ask for other people’s ideas. Ask the question, right? Like, what do you think that we could do differently in order to fix this problem, right? As opposed to being the person who, sends that problem to their second in command to go have the second in command solve the problem with the people.

And I think that’s kind of like what we’re, you know, a good analogy to what we’re experiencing is that, the leaders at, at startups who are sponsoring these initiatives. Right. And, and by the way, one thing that, and I know I’ll keep on side barring, but like, one thing that I always do when I first show up is who are my champions?

I identify first who the champions are, right? And then who are the holdouts and things like that. And try to gauge why they’re, they’re holding out. But, but it is often that, that sponsor level, that is a little misunderstood, about what their role is in the change process, right? it’s, no, I I, I don’t have to change.

They have to change, and helping them to realize that, no, we have to go through this together, is oftentimes something that, Challenges some of their paradigms and they don’t often want that paradigm to be challenged. and I would like to actually like set aside some more time to, to talk about, uh, cuz from a startup perspective, the, the idea that that Agile and Scrum culture and processes and tools have a huge ability to, to impact, uh, EBIDTA scores with startups.

I think that would be a fantastic conversation to really put at the center I’d love to know from you like what types of cultural initiatives you feel like can, can help get that company to that point where they can really, be sold for a high valuation.

[00:51:23] Elizabeth O’Neill: Hmm. we should definitely continue that conversation. one other thing that comes to mind, Drew as you were talking, um, because again, I’m, I’m always trying to figure out what what’s at the root of this challenge and this struggle and why is it that, certain senior leaders just aren’t seeming to buy into what seems so clearly to be a fantastic solution for their company.

And in some cases it could be that it’s like too overwhelming, like the solution is too big and too overwhelming to consume. All in one dose. So another tactic to think about is , how do you sort of, make this a little more bite sized and digestible? and perhaps, introduce it in doses, So that eventually they get there. And maybe in your mind you can conceptualize how this all comes together and the solution. And if you, we just did it right now, we could just do it all But the reality is that they probably also have 15 other things that are like on fire and burning.

And so they’re trying to negotiate not just. this aspect of their company, but all these other things, and they probably don’t have the mental bandwidth to digest or commit to what it is that you’re proposing.

[00:52:46] Drew Podwal: So the strategy that most Agile, Agilists and Agile coaches take is first we start with the team unit, at the very bottom of the, the, the enterprise ladder, right? So we’ll form an experiment with creating a scrum team, a small group of people, and, and that will show moderate levels of success, which then causes other people to take interest.

And now we’ve formed two, and now we’ve formed three, and now we’ve formed four. And now we’ve gotten leadership at the team of teams level to lean in and be like, huh, this thing is working okay. I want to be involved. And so now we work with them and then we grow that up, right? And now we’ve got multiple teams of teams within a program that are now, working at, I don’t wanna say perfectly right, but are working in a much better way of working, but there’s always friction. That, that, that exists at the program level, right? To get that buy-in. But then hasa, we, we get the buy-in and, and program managers start to realize that they need to be a part of this as well. And so now we get, an experimental program that’s now working in this, this new way of working and another program starts to join in on it.

Now we have multiple programs and then that goes up to the portfolio. It gets harder and harder the higher you go to create the justification and, to draw in that that one leader, right, who holds the keys to the kingdom that is preventing us from scaling this, this thing up to get that groundswell and to get it up to the place where, portfolios are no longer funded in a very traditional way, like profit, cost center, where we fund, projects as opposed to products, right?

is just it, it takes the air outta your wings, right? Outta your sails, you know, often it’s, it’s very hard. and so it’s not that we’re, what we’re talking about is, sorry, it’s all or nothing. We gotta start from the top down and we gotta take, you know, 2000 people and retrain them and, Monday morning they’re gonna come in and, and work differently.

I, I really do like when you think about it from. The amount of times Brad, like that we’ve experienced, , and we’ve never worked together. but it’s the same old story of all right, we start the team, we get the team, we increase the teams, we move to the program, we move to the portfolio, the amount of times that you, you, you can point downstream and say, look, it’s, but it’s, but it’s working, right? And, and all we need from you is to kind of join in with us and, change the way that you are working and be an evangelist for us to then unblock people up above you, right? Is it’s just disheartening, it, it takes a lot of energy to remain steadfast in, in those moments where, you’re just blocked and, uh,

[00:55:49] Elizabeth O’Neill: Yeah, that’s a


[00:55:53] Brad Nelson: so, so while we have a little bit of time left, uh, I do wanna switch gears a little bit and just say, uh, Elizabeth, I, I don’t know if you do it on purpose or if you worked on it, but you have really great demeanor. And the way you like, communicate and present yourself, you’re, a little bit quieter when you’re talking.

You need to be, and like Drew and I are both leaning in, people aren’t gonna be able to see that. but you still have this authority and, and I’m curious, uh, if that comes naturally for you or if that’s something you’ve worked on, and is that something that you find is, I guess, effective in working with these sorts of.

[00:56:26] Elizabeth O’Neill: First off, thank you. and I think it’s just something that I’ve grown into over time, I am, I’m giving myself more permission to. Pause when I need to and really think through what I want to say as opposed to putting my, you know, putting pressure on myself to have an answer immediately or what have you. So I think it’s, I think it’s probably just a little bit of me, but also learning how to use my personal style and getting coached on that too.

So I’ve, I’ve also used a public speaking coach to figure out how to kind of put more of me into some of my talks that I do on stage or in workshops and things like that. So, but thank you for reflecting that back. I, it’s, I, it’s not even really something that I’m that aware of. but that’s, that’s probably what’s gone into it.

[00:57:27] Brad Nelson: That’s the goal, right? Like at first you have, I’m sure you had to think about some of it, but then it becomes second nature. it’s something I work on a lot too. if you listen from episode to episode, uh, I’ve also done like voice training. not, it didn’t start out that way. It’s a longer story.

But, my, my voice changes a lot from episode to episode. Cause I don’t always do warmups or this or that, or I’m not always prepared or, Drew’s gotten me sick a few times on here. you know, we talk a lot about it and this, I’m gonna bring this back. We talk a lot about the changes that others need to make, But I, I think there’s a lot of changes we have to make in ourselves to be effective.

And when we’re selling ideas, unfortunately the world we live in, we’re, we’re selling ourselves, Dan Pink says, to be human is to sell. And so we’re all sellers, even if we don’t view ourselves that way. And people buy into you before they buy into concepts and before they buy into things like Agile and this and that.

And so any way that you can challenge yourself to be more effective is something that I’m a huge proponent of.

[00:58:35] Drew Podwal: Well, and I think that’s a good segue, right? Because, you know, Elizabeth and I started our journey together in, uh, IPEC training. it was a wonderful program for me and Brad. I’ve talked about this before, the idea that like, you know, I was an amazing, a amazing Agilists and I called myself an Agile coach, but I don’t really feel like I became a coach until I went through this program.

And the best thing about it is now I’m in this community of, of. Just performance coaches. Right. and, you know, Elizabeth is, is a coach that I, I see on a weekly basis and we, we talk about, like, one of the biggest topics that we’ve been talking about now is, is the idea of, of how I’m, you know, maybe preemptively presenting myself to the sponsors, to the teams, to the developers, engineers, architects, product people.

And, and I’m preemptively. Approaching the conversation from a standpoint of, well, it’s just gonna be the same thing again, right? Like, and so I’m bringing that level of energy to the forefront of these conversations, expecting the worst expecting. And I, and I thank you, Elizabeth, on this call. I saw a lot of the questions that you were asking were, were challenging that paradigm in, in the both of us.

And, you know, Brad and, and to the listeners out there, right? I know that like everybody and their mother has become a coach now, like go on LinkedIn and everybody’s , you know, hard selling, their services as performance coaches. But, you know, Elizabeth, you’re amazing, right?

The work that we’ve done together, the things that you’ve helped me to learn about myself and be introspective and gain more clarity and, and consciousness around the things that are really been below the surface for me and help me to. Pull them up and look at them and explore them. And, it’s just been really wonderful.

And so any of the listeners out there, who were, I’m sure we’ve all had like two or three times a day on LinkedIn, if not more a coach reach out to us, you know, with a hard sell. by my performance coaching services. There are great coaches out there, right? Elizabeth is one of them.

I’d like to think that I’m one as well. But, you know, there are lots of great coaches out there that have a really wonderful ability to sit there and hold the space and ask really powerful questions that are designed to, to help you to challenge your paradigm, it’s not a coach’s job to challenge your paradigm directly.

A really great coach knows how to do that in a way where they’re asking a question that helps you to challenge your own paradigm and you to gain that awareness that maybe that paradigm needs to be explored and better understood, and to look at the biases out there. So, if there’s any listeners that are, thinking about, and have been wondering if maybe coaching is the right thing, then definitely, reach out to us, reach out to Elizabeth, Look at some of the, the people who send you those message requests and ask yourself the question, if I want to vet this to determine whether or not this is actually valuable, what are the questions that I would ask to, to be able to see if this is the right kind of coach that would work for me?

But for any Agilists out there, any scrum master, any Agile coach, any developer, doesn’t matter who you are, Finding that somebody who. Can help you to explore what’s holding you back from taking things the next step, is really such a wonderful opportunity. And it is a little bit like therapy.

it’s definitely not therapy. but, it requires that therapy mindset where you’re, you’re gonna be brave enough to explore those kinds of things. to explore what’s holding me back? How do I feel? cuz it’s our thoughts and feelings that either lead to action or inaction, right? Or a change of a pattern or the creation of a new habit.

so I wanted to throw that into the mix cuz I feel like we are at a point where we do need to start winding down a little bit. But, Elizabeth, what do you have to say about that? What are some last lick comments that you want to add, for our guests? is there anything that you want to promote?

Are there, are there links that you want to throw out there to say, you know, here’s where you could find me on the web. so I wanna throw it to you for the last, licks.

[01:02:53] Elizabeth O’Neill: Thank you. Well, thank and thanks to you both for having me on today. This was a really fun conversation to have. yeah, people can find me I write and, post videos a fair amount on LinkedIn and also, they can find me on my website, Elizabeth O’Neill dot com.

[01:03:10] Drew Podwal: And what about last licks of advice, if you wanted to distill this episode, what we’ve talked about down to like one or two statements, what do you think the most important takeaway is?

[01:03:19] Elizabeth O’Neill: We covered so much ground. but I think maybe if we even take a look at the conversation that we just recently had about how to sort of influence within these complex organizations, right? And influencing people to adopt, the Agile mindset Brad, your point about looking within first and questioning okay, what’s getting in the way here of someone buying into this and what’s in my control?

And where can I be more influential or what might not be coming across that I think is really clear, but could be clearer. So starting, starting with what we can control enables us to actually move forward in a much more productive way because it’s stuff that we can, physically control ourselves, right?

and so it’s very empowering and it also gives us a lot of options to move forward.

[01:04:27] Drew Podwal: I love that and that, I feel like that brings us back to like the five whys, like asking yourself, like why five times to figure out like really what is the thing that I can control? Brad, what about you? What are the, what are some of the key takeaways or aha moments or learnings that you had in this episode?

[01:04:44] Brad Nelson: It did not go the direction I thought it would, but I, I love the conversation. I, I love hearing more about startups be because that is, uh, a gap for me. It’s not something that I, I have a lot of experience in. but I, I guess I just, it’s really got me thinking. This is something I’m thinking a lot lately in general on with my day-to-day work.

But I think you really kind of, uh, brought it up in my mind, Elizabeth, when, when we talk about communicating with leaders a and people outside of the Agile industry, we have our own jargon as Agile Agilists, and we use that jargon every single day the way we say things, you know, words matter and we, we train ourselves to say things a very specific way, and I think that alienates us.

And so something that I’ve been thinking on and something I will add on to your takeaway is, I would say to challenge yourself. To use words and look at the way and phrases that people are talking and saying things that you want to influence. One of the best ways to integrate in and to be effective, through communication.

Cuz the goal is to communicate, not necessarily be right, is to use the words and the phrases that other people are using.

[01:05:59] Drew Podwal: Love that. Yeah. You know, and for me, The part thing that I really loved about this conversation is that there was so much of a, a comparison in a contrast between enterprise and and startup culture. Or behavior. And, you know, some of the things for me that, that, that stood out were, were that there’s similarities and there’s dissimilarities, but in, in the end at the root of it, we all want the same thing, we all want success. We all want, to be able to deliver, deliver value. And, and it does require gaining understanding, And the way that we gain understanding and a startup might have some blockers that, , an enterprise organization doesn’t have and vice versa. so it really helped me to think a little bit deeper on those concepts.

And, and I feel like this week there’s gonna be a lot more aha moments that, that are gonna come to surface. So, look forward to hearing some. Some thoughts from me. I, I always find, especially during editing, I’ll, I’ll sit there and I’ll listen to the podcast for like three hours while I’m editing it.

and I’m like, oh man, I, you know, I, I, I wish I realized this thing that I’m now realizing right now during the episode because I, I wish that we could just talk about it. So I’ll make sure to, I’ve gotta figure out a way to, to, capture those moments that I have, those aha moments during editing and then put them back out there for discussion because I think that that’s really cool. So, alright. I think both of our dogs are telling us now that it’s time to end. I’ve been hitting the mute button on my mic a little bit, but, um,

[01:07:33] Brad Nelson: everyone’s dog made an appearance today.

[01:07:34] Drew Podwal: yeah. Is that your dog now, Brad?

[01:07:37] Brad Nelson: that’s mine.

[01:07:39] Drew Podwal: it’s a, a, three dog episode.

[01:07:40] Elizabeth O’Neill: might have been sequestered. So, but thank you again for having me and, um, you know, happy to continue this conversation another time too.

[01:07:49] Drew Podwal: Yeah, that’d be great. That’d be great. I think it’d be cool to, uh, start to think about like the guests that we’ve had, Brad, and, and how we can mix them together to really bring ideas together to create new, innovative ways of thinking about this stuff. So, thank you guys.

[01:08:04] Elizabeth O’Neill: welcome.

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