In this episode of “Le Podcast on Emerging Leadership,” I sit down with Tim Beattie and Bella Bardswell, the innovative minds behind Stellafai, to discuss the intricacies of leadership, collaboration, and the transformative power of setting and achieving measurable outcomes. Tim and Bella share their unique journeys, the challenges they’ve faced, and the lessons they’ve learned in fostering a culture of continuous improvement and inclusivity. They delve into how Stellafai leverages AI to enhance team collaboration and offer practical advice for new leaders. This conversation is a must-listen for anyone looking to elevate their leadership skills and organizational impact. Tune in to uncover the secrets to creating a thriving, outcome-focused team.
Here are some of the topics we discussed:
- Exploring Leadership Depths: Unpacking Tim Beattie and Bella Bardswell’s journey in founding Stellafai, focusing on outcome-based collaboration and leadership in tech.
- Agile and Lean Insights: Tim shares his transition from delivery to enablement consulting, emphasizing business agility.
- Cultural Transformation: Bella discusses the impact of clear objectives and key results (OKRs) in driving meaningful change.
- Challenges in Leadership: Addressing emerging leadership challenges with actionable strategies and personal anecdotes.
- Harnessing AI: How Stellafai integrates AI to bolster team collaboration without replacing human interaction.
- Diversity and Inclusion: Their commitment to building an inclusive culture from the ground up.
- Advice for New Leaders: Practical tips on collaboration, setting measurable goals, and making leadership enjoyable.
Alexis: [00:00:00] Welcome to Le Podcast on Emerging Leadership. I’m your host, Alexis Monville. Today, we are thrilled to have Tim Beattie and Bella Bardswell, the co founders of Stellafai, a company pioneering in outcome focused approaches to team collaboration and leadership in the tech industry.
Tim, with his deep expertise in agile and lean methodologies, and Bella, known for her transformative work in cultural change, bring a unique perspective to the table. We’ll explore their journey in co founding Stellafai. The challenges and triumphs of emerging leadership and their innovative strategies in the tech world.
Welcome to the podcast on emerging leadership. Could you each share a bit about yourself and what led you to cofound Stellafai? Maybe Tim you want to start?
Tim: Yeah, sure.
Thanks Alexis. Thank you for having us on your podcast. My name’s Tim Beatty. I. Spent the majority of my career working in [00:01:00] consulting large consulting organizations including PWC, IBM, Deloitte a couple of smaller boutique consulting organizations.
So I’ve always worked in the world of services and delivering professional services to clients. Most recently I worked for Red Hat where I met you, Alexis. And I was responsible for a part of Red Hat called Open Innovation Labs. Open Innovation Labs was a slightly different services model in that the focus was all around enablement.
It was all about enabling customer teams to get the very best out of, in this case, red Hat technology. the focus on on successful enablement. It was all about ways of working, all about culture. Practices mindset a little bit about the technology, but you know, to technology is sometimes the easier part.
It’s more about the ways of working around the technology. my time at Red Hat was very re rewarding. I loved learning more about open source and open organizations and it felt like a really good blend [00:02:00] to the work that I love, which, and I’m passionate about, which is all about business agility and lean and agile and, and frameworks like that. so I spent five years really switching away from being a delivery consultant into an enablement consultant. And that really I found very rewarding. I, I look back on the teams that I helped kickstart the organizations that I helped transform.
And once I got a bite for that, that that felt like that’s, this is, this is the kind of world I want to, to, to live in. This is the kind of career I want to continue. So I co-founded Stellafai with Bella a little under two years ago. And again, that was building upon this idea of enablement. It was about how can we help organizations really achieve their outcomes, their measurable outcomes.
And we’ve done that. We’ve, we, we had some great ideas when we, when we paired up on this of, of some software that could help with that of an alternative model to to [00:03:00] coaching in a more asynchronous, contextual way. And, and we wanted to leverage the, the work that we’d done in our previous 20 to 25 years.
So we brought all of that together to form Stellafai. And I think we’ve come up with something really exciting and I, I love being a part of it.
Alexis: Excellent. Thank you Tim. And I still remember the, the first time I really met you in person. That was, I believe at A gile New England, in Boston. And, see you showcase what was happening in an open innovation labs residencies. You showcased in a one hour long session what was happening in a whole week of engagement and even more than a week. So that there, that was very, a lot really a lot of fun. But before I, I recall my memories.
Maybe Bella, you want to, to say a few words about yourself.
Bella: Yes. So my, my background on, on a quick glance looks quite similar to Tim, but we’re actually, we’ve had very different, different experiences, which I think is why our partnership works so well. We were able to bring that together with the. Enough common [00:04:00] ground that took us in the sort of shared direction and vision.
So I, most of my career was in IBM big, big digital transformation programs, and I’ve done most roles along that journey. So business analysis, business architecture, change management, business change program management, then the sort of leadership and sales sort of elements. But the sort of thread that’s gone through all of that is I did a lot, a lot of work in government and the thing that I didn’t realize at the time that made me love that so much is that real clarity over why it mattered.
You could always, you were building software, but you knew why. What it, what the reason you were doing that for. And it was really tangible and it mattered and that was. Really, really motivating. And then I started, while I was at IBM, I became familiar with Agile and that amplifies that, you know, what’s the value of what you’re doing?
What’s the why? But I often found that people were kind of somehow managing not to do that. And then I, I went from IBM to Google. And at Google, many people know [00:05:00] they’re really, really into this framework, OKRs objectives and key results. And that’s really about having a very, very clear why and then a way of measuring if you’re getting there.
And there are lots of different goal setting methodologies and they all talk about. Measurement, but very, very often no one does it. And they don’t really, they, their goal’s actually a task. And, and I started to, you know, realize I’d built up these skills and these insights, but all I could ever do was help the client I was with.
And I, I was really inspired what Tim was doing at, at Red Hat with the open innovation labs. And when we talked about it, the idea of using software to be able to. Scale us and our experience and what models could we use? Like Tim mentioned, the asynchronous model, but also bringing in AI and, and just generally technology making less admin and more visibility easier.
I was thinking this is a way that we could start to scale ourselves and, and help profoundly more people. So that was, that was really the vision, help helping. [00:06:00] Get the power of the why, but also using tech to, and different, different ways of thinking to help many more people get the benefit of that way of working.
The brilliance of understanding why you are there and why what you’re doing matters. And then also if you track things, you’re more likely to get there. So then the, the real buzz of actually achieving what you set out to is something that we wanted to help more people do. Yeah.
Alexis: Yeah. I really love it because then it it give us a, a sense of why you are doing it and not really how you are doing it. There’s some mystery about that, that I, I really like it. And of course on the podcast, I had the pleasure to welcome a lot of different people, and some of them talk about OKR.
There was Christina Wodtke w ho is the author of Radical Focus, for example or Gojko Adzic , who wrote impact mapping. And we had a discussion about OKRs. And that’s because of him that, I had a short video on OKR, on impact mapping because[00:07:00] we discussed it. We discussed impact mapping and I explained to goco, ah, that’s how I’m, I’m defining OKRs.
And he looked at me to say, no. Explained that to me. ’cause I don’t understand what you say. I said, you are the author of Impact Mapping. You inspire me to do that. And he said, no, no. Explain that to me. And I explained it to him. Say, can you, can you record a short video? I would like to share that with my partner because we never thought of it this way.
And for me it was so obvious that, that, that was really funny to, to connect the two.
Alexis: One of the guests, I welcome the podcast. I, I prompt her to speak about OKRs because I was all excited about it. And my surprise was she was very against OKRs on the approach of OKR. And that person is Radhika Dutt, she’s the author of the book Radical Product Thinking. A book I really like. When she spoke about OKRs, she said, oh, it’s setting big lofty goals. It’s not collaborative enough. It’s more [00:08:00] like an end of year exam that you pass or fail. And you don’t even test if the strategy really works. And I was listening to that and say, no, no. So, but tell me what you think about that.
What, what would you answer to Radhika about OKRs?
Bella: Something that Tim and I and, and this, we get this a lot, so OKRs, just like Scrum actually, we’ve noticed a lot of parallels. You get a big framework, someone writes a book like Measure what Matters or Radical Focus with Christina Watt, and suddenly you get the lovers and the haters. You know, it feels like you have to pick a side, but actually I think all these frameworks have.
Elements that are valuable, and then elements that you have to like go, that’s not gonna work in our culture for where we’re at. Let’s think about what will work. And one of the, one of the patterns we’ve seen come up a lot with OKRs is people, people’s perception of OKRs is actually much more like what happened in the sixties.
With management by objectives, which was Peter Drucker and then Andy Grove adapted them [00:09:00] to OKRs. But a lot of people go back to the principles of MBOs and management by objectives. So that means your managers tell you what your goals are. They’re very, the word cascade is used a lot. Top down your, you give them.
You have to achieve a hundred percent and it’s linked to comp, and that has all sorts of unintended consequences. If you’re not involved in figuring out what you’re going to do, you’re not committed. You’re not engaged. You don’t have a say. You’re not getting the opportunity to help people. If you said a hundred percent.
Goal, it creates pressure. There’s no space for experimentation. it’s stressful. And if you link it directly to compensation, you immediately eliminate the desire for anybody to collaborate or to do anything, but just to try and focus on what they need to do to get paid. that’s extremely damaging to culture.
All of those things are the exact opposite thing that you want to have if you wanna build great products. So. I think OKRs are often done that way. You know, someone reads a book, a manager reads a book goes, right, okay, it’s gonna take too long to do lots of collaborative workshops. So I’m just [00:10:00] gonna, for the first time, just write them and give them to them.
And then I’m not gonna think about how we’ll embed this idea of thinking and. Around outcomes into my organization. We’re not gonna use this as a way to communicate understanding and to track progress and to decide what we should do. We’re just gonna shove it in step back and expect everyone to deliver the goals.
And yeah, that doesn’t work. So elements of that happen in, or pretty much all the implementations Tim and I have, have seen in the work we’ve done, and you don’t have to use OKRs, you can just take this concept of setting a goal. Being clear about the outcome you’re trying to achieve and then figuring out how you’re gonna measure whether you’re getting there.
Coming back to impact mapping, which is why it’s so great a way to measure the impact of what you’re doing rather than just ticking off tasks, which may or may not help you get there. So I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, I think done well. They’re brilliant, but they’re often not done well.
And often people put a lot of effort up, up front and then we call it set and forget, and then they never go back to it. They don’t think about how to [00:11:00] build it into how they operate, but it’s as much as a way of working and a culture and a mindset as it is a, a framework. I mean, the framework’s pretty skinny,
a lot of people that have negative feelings towards OKRs based on experiences they have are entirely justified. But often I think it’s what still worth taking a look and, and exploring what happened in the past and whether it could, some tweaks could be made where you could get this really incredible power of everyone understanding what you’re trying to do, caring about it, being focused, aligned, and then tracking progress together.
When done well, it’s, it’s phenomenal.
Tim: Your experience Alexis with, with that lady reminded me of something that happened. Probably about a year ago I was doing some beta testing of the platform we built, and I had some time with a CTO and the CTO looked at it and he said, Tim, I can never show this to my CEO because he hates OKRs.
He got burnt by them badly, tried them in a previous company and he’s just an anti OKR. [00:12:00] Your platform set has got objectives and key results. We tried a little experiment we built a little feature, only took a, a day or two to build where we could customize just for on a per user basis some of the terminology and the naming.
And for his space alone, we changed it so that instead of creating objectives, he was creating goals. And instead of creating key results, he was creating measures. And instead of adding the activities or the tasks he was writing about experiments. So I showed him and he goes, oh, my CEO’s gonna love this, the goals, experiments, and measures.
He’ll really get that. Now. The interesting thing was our mindset, what’s under the hood, haven’t changed. We were still thinking about what is the problem we are trying to solve? What is the opportunity we’re trying to grab? What are the pain points and how can we articulate that in a really well aligned and shared view, you know, and not our goal statement or objective statement, a smart goal.
There’s lots of different ways you could do it, but in essence, [00:13:00] that’s what we were trying to do. Then we were trying to come up with a series of qualitative measures, so needles that we could see move that were going to tell us if we were making progress or not. And we were going to encourage the idea of trying different things out.
Designing experiments to see if the needle would move or not. So whether we call them, you know, to me we were still doing OKRs, right? But I could hear that there was a negative perception to OKRs, and it’s a little bit of consulting 1 0 1 here,, when you go out and you consult with a client.
You’ve got to meet them on the language that they’re comfortable about. And if there is language , which is triggering some real negative emotion, it’s okay to change that. What’s not okay is to change the mindset that we know is going to promote success and deliver success. So it’s a very interesting, and, and just as Bella says, we’ve seen it with many things over the years.
With Agile, with DevOps, with design thinking, with lean, and I think, okay, anything that goes [00:14:00] mainstream starts to get that Marmite love-hate relationship, and therefore we tread carefully with what’s the best way to introduce that under change management to organizations.
Alexis: That’s a very good point. So the language can influence the perception. We can change the language, but maintain the culture or the mindset that we want to have about the collaborative aspect of it. You both mentioned that. Top down effect of I’m setting goals.
Not saying we, we will forget about them, but if it’s not integrated in our way of working, we’ll definitely forget. What do you want to say about that collaborative aspect? And finally there , you worked in Agile and lean, you have extensive experience on those topics.
So I’m interested in how we can get people to be more autonomous, more independent, more able to take matters in their own hands, or basically make leadership to emerge in the organization. So I’m, I’m interested in what you have to say about, about that collaborative aspect.[00:15:00]
Tim: For, for me, this is all about collaboration. Collaboration is the number one focus. Whenever I’m doing coaching, what am I trying to do? I’m trying to get people to talk to each other. I’m trying to get technical people to collaborate with other technical people. I’m trying to get business people to collaborate with technical people.
I’m trying to get users to collaborate and I’m trying to get shared understanding and alignment for me. The best way to achieve the best collaboration is in a room. It, it is bringing the energy, the physical energy together, the room, the walls, the sticky notes, the visualization. I feel it sets us up.
It gives us the best chance for success. So to kickstart collaboration, getting people physically together. And reaching a point where everybody has really got that feeling of yes, that’s what we’re trying, that’s why we’re here. [00:16:00] That’s what we’re focusing on. That’s what we’re trying, that’s what we’re trying to achieve.
And almost with our arms around each other, feeling passionate about that. So I think there’s, there’s a lot of excellent practices that, that really facilitate collaboration, facilitate conversation. You, you mentioned impact mapping. That’s why I love. Creating OKRs through impact mapping because just the act of putting up those, just, just the act of getting people to, to write a goal statement and align on it and argue about it, and challenge about it and change.
Swap one word out for another word. That’s all. Collaboration and it’s achieving shared understanding and alignment, agreeing the actors and. What, what do we call those people? What do, what do we call our users? What, there’s lots of different types of users that conversation. It’s collaboration, the measurable impacts, and actually what we’re doing there, we are building OKRs.
We don’t realize we’re doing it, but we are a we are coming up with a, an aligned goal and we’re coming up with [00:17:00] a well thought out, measurable impact that we’re trying to help to get us towards that goal. But we’re doing it through conversation and visualization and energy. To me starting these in, in the room is, is just such a key foundational ingredient.
And then I think that it’s how do we maintain,, how do we not lose that? And I think that’s that’s where, the emerging leadership, you talk about Alexis,
it’s a very much a diverge, converge. Can we go away separately? Autonomously, can we come back at regular points to synchronize and, and bring that challenge back together?
Can we provide, can we get access to the support, the right level of support where it isn’t someone doing the work for you, but enabling you and just challenging you to think. So I think it’s putting that environment in place, that’s what promotes that kind of. Continuous improvement and evolving leadership so that there is a self, self controlling, self-management [00:18:00] aspect to all of these things.
I personally think that the most important thing that goals does is enable conversations and that is communication. I’ve just got so many stories and everyone I speak to sort of nods sort of slightly sort of, oh, wly when I, when I say this, but we’ve all been to those like start of the year kickoffs where all the leadership spent weeks, months figuring out strategy. And then there’s this big launch of your strategy and there’s glossy presentations and oh, this is gonna make such a huge difference to the set of the company and la, la la, and it’s all nice. Maybe there’s some wine if you are lucky enough to work to that kind of company.
Bella: And then after you leave there, it’s very nice seeing everyone. You go back and you just carry on doing exactly what you were doing before. So that is an example of a strategy, which is not going to be executed anytime soon, perhaps ever. That’s crappy communications. Like it’s the message received and the action that’s taken off the back of it, not the one delivered.
And I think it’s not just OKRs and Tim just [00:19:00] touched on lots of things. We’ve got to get better at finding ways for, for people actually to receive the message well enough that they can understand and apply it to the work they do. Strategy execution is a huge challenge for all leaders and every leader should be worried about that.
Writing some really, really crisp, clear goals that break that down and can then be decomposed through the organization. All aligning can give you a pathway right down to every single person on every keyboard working in alignment to achieve the goal. And if they then every week have a little conversation about how are they doing against their goals, that keeps that goal front of mind, that present big presentation disappears quickly from your mind.
If you are looking at the the measures every week, that’s keeping it front of mind and then you have a conversation like, we’re on track. Brilliant. What was going well? Or We’re not on track, what do we need to change up? And you are. To your point, you know, you are empowering people. You know what you need to do.
I trust you. Go do it. Let me know if you [00:20:00] need me to unblock it, unblock something or, or help you. And I think that’s incredibly powerful. But the other thing you’re empowering people to do is to say, this has nothing to do with what we’re trying to achieve. I understand what we’re trying to achieve. I think we should maybe talk about whether we should stop that and the amount of waste of pet projects and work, which has drifted from the mission and no one realized ’cause the comms weren’t there, is huge.
So that I think that empowerment and communication I. Combination that you mentioned in, in your question can make a huge, huge difference to, first of all, business success, but perhaps more importantly, all of our ability to feel connected to purpose and actually do something, actually deliver something that matters, which I think is super, super powerful.
Alexis: Focus on outcomes. I saw that a lot in your communication. There’s also that thing about AI and I’m a bit curious about that because we spoke about communication between people empowering people getting people in the room getting them really aligned, really get to that [00:21:00] shared understanding what, what AI has to do with that.
Tim: Let me tell you the story about why we put AI in, in the end of our company name. So we were drawn to the word stellify, S-T-E-L-L-I-F-Y, which means turn into a star or or place amongst the stars. There was a lot of thought behind that because we thought about outcomes in organizations are connected and particularly measurable outcomes.
This idea of, if you’ve got, say, a platform engineering team working towards measurable outcomes, they’ve got these little needles, which should start to move and if they are moving it’s connected to maybe some product teams and their needles can start to move quicker because of that connection. And if that’s successful, then it’s helping a business line and it’s helping them achieve their measurable outcomes.
And that’s helping the strategy. So we are, we’re joining the dots. We’re forming this kind of idea of a constellation of stars where, you know, there’s [00:22:00] lines and what we want is really bright stars really bright constellation lines because of those connected outcomes. And we want to be able to zoom into those stars and understand what the energy is.
So we were really taken by this metaphor. And it goes many levels deeper than that as well. But when we looked into trademarks and domain names, of course it, you know, the guy who had stellify.com wanted a hundred grand for it or something like that. So we did what every startup did, and we invented a word.
We liked Stellar ’cause Stella’s, you know, we want everyone to be stellar and our people to be stellar and our customers to be stellar. We still liked that stellify and then ai, we thought, well, AI’s coming and I’m sure AI will filter into our company at some point. We, we actually didn’t plan for it at the beginning, but we thought, well, that, let’s put it in and we landed on, on it.
Then of course about a year ago, the world went AI mad and everybody was doing chatGPT and Bart and open ai. And so we invested a sprint one [00:23:00] week. I can remember it well, November before last. One of our guys basically just did a little bit of a, a spike, bit of a prototype just to see , how could this AI help us.
It’s a great question because we have some strong beliefs. We don’t want the AI to replace coaches. We don’t want the AI to replace conversation, collaboration. What we want the AI to do is to help that. So we’d liken the, our ai, which we call Armstrong, named after Neil Armstrong.
We’d like an Armstrong to be like the extra team member. Think about the team members who’s just always great at throwing out ideas. Suggestions, just gets people talking just by, just by getting you started. When you’re drawing a blank and you can’t think, oh, let’s get some ideas. And there’s always that one person who’s just really good at getting the troops talking and throwing some ideas out on the wall, and then everybody starts talking.
That’s what AI can do. So we’ve built things like Hey, Armstrong, can you, can you suggest some ways to measure, provide measurements against this [00:24:00] goal or key results against the objective? And Armstrong won’t do that for you, but it’ll get you going. It’ll just throw out 10 ideas and people are, oh, okay.
Oh, that’s what a key result is. Oh, let’s tick those two and now let’s talk about those and let’s dive deeper or. Hey Armstrong. We’ve got this key result, but are there some open practices that might help work? You know, we’ve trained Armstrong in, in the open practice library, great open source repository, and it will just, which is a bit overwhelming ’cause there’s so many, so much stuff out there.
But Armstrong will just give you three ideas. You can take it or leave it, but hopefully it just elevates you on that little bit more. And I think. This is where Armstrong can help. It can just get you going in the right direction. It could. We don’t think individuals, we think teams should use ai in their conversations.
Let’s see what Armstrong thinks and see if Armstrong can get, get us going in the right direction and hopefully you’ll get a better collaboration. You’ll more informed or point you in the right direction thanks to the training that we’ve been able to get to our ai.[00:25:00]
Bella: It’s become a little bit of a catch phrase, hasn’t it? Like AI won’t replace humans, but a ai humans that use AI will replace humans that don’t. That’s the exact approach we’ve taken. Tim was talking about it’s not gonna replace real coaches insights, that level of context, not for a while anyway, we need generalized AI for that.
But it’s certainly, there are all sorts of ways, Tim’s given a few examples. There’s a heap of, we’ve been looking at research grants and things to go a whole load deeper about sort of some really, really fascinating kind of front edge stuff that could start to really help teams communicate and collaborate at another level with just nudges and assistance and help.
So I’m very, very excited about. How it can help all the people that we’re working with, but also just help us be more efficient and do a better job. It’s an exciting, technological frontier we’re at, I think.
Alexis: I really love that. And I tell you a story about. What happens when a team of developer really [00:26:00] work on that. I’m working with a team of, of developer , basically I’m coaching the manager of the team. We discussed, their new goals because they are really shifting where they are going with their product. And it’s very challenging for the product. It’s very challenging. For the team. And it’s also challenging for the people themselves because they will need to grow new skills.
They will need to do things, they never did. They are really experienced developers and I’m discussing both the goals for the product and the developmental aspects for each individuals. And I’m telling the manager, you should have really career conversation with all of them so they can really think, at a at time period, that fit them. That could be five years, 10 years, 20 years. We don’t really care where they want to work, what kind of jobs they want to do, and what kind of size of company and work on that really career conversation really long term. And he, he is really excited about it.
And he discussed with the first developer about that. [00:27:00] And the result was really interesting because the developer came back and listen, that was a fantastic conversation. I loved it. And look at that. I created a series of prompts because your questions were really good and I’m well thinking. Yeah, I know that. I know the questions are good. And so everybody in the team can do that following that series of prompts. And I looked at it and said, yeah, of course they are developers. They know how to talk to a machine. So of course he created really good prompts and he tested it and they all worked on that.
And the manager told me that was very funny. I, I’m chatting with one. And then the 10 others are doing that work. And now the conversation I had with them are really fantastic because they have really inspiring things to say and. All about that. So I can see how, considering Armstrong as another team member that have of course, more experience and more knowledge, and that could be really inspiring for the other team members and really enabling them to go further.
So[00:28:00] I feel that’s a very nice way to integrate AI in that context of aligning, getting people to really work with each other, collaborate with each other effectively.
Bella: Yeah, that’s one. One of the things we looked into was, again, in, in relation to the sort of the grants, is could you, could you have an AI coach facilitate? Through a, like a, a, a check-in meeting. ’cause something we’ve noticed, a real anti-patent that seems to happen a lot is check-in meetings, become a group exercise where everyone watches everyone else update the numbers.
And it’s like, yeah, but you could do that beforehand. The bit that counts is the, so what does that mean? And the discussion. So could you. Without the need to have a human, which is obviously expensive. And you have to book the human and arrange it all. You know, there’s, there’s logistics there. Could you have something that’s sort of just like you were describing, like nudging you through the conversation?
And then the brilliant thing is it can then learn and respond depending on what [00:29:00] it is and, and goes. It, it’s not straightforward. But there’s, there’s some, some things there which could. Hugely increase the quality and the the outcomes that come just from a simple half hour meeting, but not just that afterwards.
You’ve just had an AI listen to everything that happened. What was the subtext of that meeting? Were there any dynamics? Were certain people doing certain things they didn’t realize were having an impact because they were focused on the content? All that kind of stuff can be surfaced as insights afterwards potentially.
And this is where the coaching comes in, with some suggestions about what you could do to fix it. I mean, these. Complex things to do, but I think they’re not out of reach with ai, but the, the benefit that it could have, it’s just enormous. It’s so exciting. So, yeah, I, yeah, we’ll have to see. But yeah,
there’s a lot of good stuff to done
Alexis: Excellent. So a question that I usually ask to all the people who are building a product for others do you use Stellafai to, to build Stellafai?.[00:30:00]
Tim: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s, we learn so much from adopting it ourselves. We are our own alpha testers. Not just Stelfy, but, but OKRs. In, in, in all honesty, I have not used OKRs brilliantly before Stelfy. I, I loved the idea of them. I love the principle of them. But I, like many other people, I have not seen them work terribly well even when I tried them at previous organization.
I know, I know why I’ve learned a lot from Bella, who, who brought all of the goodness , from Google. And I can see that, that the mistakes we were making but the, the best way to learn is to do to do it on, on their own content. And as an example, we so, so we have a weekly check-in. It happens at 10 o’clock every Thursday morning.
Honestly, if we don’t do the check-in on a Thursday morning at 10 o’clock, it feels like I haven’t brushed my teeth. It’s become a ritual. We’ve done it since the beginning of the company and, and we’ve evolved. So yes, we, we use our platform. We review our key [00:31:00] results. We update them. We have a conversation.
But as Bella was saying in the last question we’ve learned actually, why are we wasting time in this, this precious time together as a team? We’ve only got 25 minutes. Why are we spending time trying to figure out the calculations and get the numbers right? We’ve, we’ve emerged from that and, we now entered before that meeting and actually something I’ve noticed just in the last few months is that the updates are happening during the week.
’cause we have a Slack integration,, we can see when anybody updates a key result or makes a comment, it, it fires out a message to the team. I think this is a transition we’ve gone through, that we’re now starting to think about what is the measure that we’re trying to move today.
And when something happens that we know it’s moved, one of our measures, the first thing we wanna do is go and update it. So it’s become less of a, of a batch thing that we do once a week or a ritual and into a continuous thing that is just a part of our. Kind of cognitive way of [00:32:00] working. And I see this with other practices.
It’s like going from fortnightly retrospectives to a realtime retrospective. You know, why? Why are we waiting two weeks to do a retrospective? We could just have a realtime one running all the time, or abandoning the daily standup because there’s such good collaborations, pairing and mobbing. You don’t need to stand up.
And I think it’s a similar thing we have used OKRs with the ritual, with the guardrails, and now we’ve been using ’em for a couple of hours. I’m now seeing the team who are, who are just naturally thinking about what’s the key result that this, that, that I’m going to move today?
And how is that gonna help achieve a goal? And what’s that goal connected to in terms of a bigger strategy? And that’s just becoming a part of default
Bella: You are what, what you’re describing and, and it’s really interesting listening to you say this ’cause we haven’t had this conversation, but what, what you are describing is like another level of outcome obsession. It’s driving everything, every micro decision all the time. Is that gonna move one of our needles?
And [00:33:00] yet, if you’ve got the needles right, which is why you need to put a bit effort into setting them, that’s
Tim: got, we got them wrong at first. Remember our first quarter, we, we got, we got them wrong. So, so we, we’ve come through that journey as well. Yeah.
Bella: Well, you let, I mean, part of that is we were new founders, so we didn’t know what we should and shouldn’t be doing, which is a whole nother podcast. But yeah, the, the yeah, like we’ve got so much better at figuring out what are the right OKRs for us. One of the things we’ve had from a lot of organizations is we’re too small for OKRs.
Like it’s, it’s not gonna be valuable for us. It is true that you get to a, when you get to a certain size, and we reckon it’s about 2050 to 20 to 50, depending on the org from the people we’ve spoken to, you get a level of communication complexity with all of the interconnections. You know, it’s a great exponentially that suddenly you need a system to help you operate and stay aligned and communicate. And one of those systems could be OKRs, [00:34:00] but it doesn’t mean that it’s not profoundly valuable at a smaller scale, it’s just that it’s not critically needed to make sure you are still able to keep moving forward. So yeah, we, we 100% use them. .
Alexis: That aspect of complexity that comes with adding people to the team that usually we completely ignore. That’s very funny that suddenly people are highly frustrated because that doesn’t work anymore. When you look at it from the outside and you, and you lived it before, it’s so obvious.
I was discussing with the founder of a company and he told me, I don’t understand why we just have two more people on the team and suddenly it seems nobody understand anything anymore and nothing changed. I told them, yeah, okay, good. Let’s look at that. Nothing changed. And they added the two people, but they took also another office because of course, two people in that previous office didn’t fit.
So now they are spread into two offices.
Look, that’s, so before it was annoying because[00:35:00] developers needed to work close to people who were on the phone calling customers, and that was very annoying. And now you split them in two rooms. And and you are surprised , that was so funny.
And of course I cannot say it this way. I’m, I’m more gentle and I’m making it emerge more gently to avoid being thrown out of the window. But that’s, that’s very interesting to, to look at it. Yeah, that’s it. So putting in place a system that will enable people to do great work is really important.
And what I like is you really thought that through and using it yourself makes, makes it better. So I really like that. I would like to touch on something slightly different. I’ve noticed you, you both have strong commitment. Diversity and inclusion and I would like to know how shape the, the culture and maybe even the strategic direction of
Tim: In our company we felt there are some principles that we have to start from the outset because it’s not [00:36:00] something you can retrofit in later. Diversity and inclusion is something, we were both passionate about. And Bella, I, I know from the work that she did at IBM , where we first met, I knew that this was going to be a really strong partnership in that.
It was something that she would really drive and something that’s really important. And that was important for me when I was, you know, seeking a co-founder that I wanted to, to work with. We probably spent about four months before we even hired anyone to write code or build start building products and things like that.
And a lot of that was about finding our why and our purpose. And we, we used practices on ourselves, like business model canvases, again, just to trigger the conversation and to get the alignment. But that was something from, from early on around around diversity and inclusion and also sustainability.
You’ll notice in pictures of us, we have a, a, a lot of our own swag. We have a lot of our own t-shirts and hoodies and things like that. Our suppliers that we use for that , had [00:37:00] good sustainability metrics because we thought we could play the card that we are an early startup, we don’t have much money, let’s just go for the cheapest thing possible.
Let’s not worry about where it’s made. But we thought that’s gonna be so hard to turn out. You know, it’s something we believe in. If you don’t follow your principles and your values from upfront, you’re lying to yourself. A lot of that comes around a, an alignment, again, alignment, shared understanding, communication, collaboration about what those principles are, and then figuring out then what, what are, what are the initiatives?
What are, what are the acts that, that we, that we can then put in place? I think we, we’ve started I think there’s probably more like everyone that you’re never done with these things, but we started and, and, it’s, it’s something that you can continuously improve and continuously evolve in, in the next chapters and the next version of the, of the company.
Bella: When we did our first sort of recruitment campaign, campaign might be too big a word. We’re only little, but we, one of the first things, so, so Tim and I do both care about this. So the very first version of our [00:38:00] website, I think I had like four pages, and one of those pages was a diversity statement and about just setting out our intent.
But I was really interested when we put our first sort of ad out, we were looking for a a junior designer. We got you. All these things are benchmarked around how many, how many responses you typically get, and of, of like certain underrepresented, underrepresented groups and the applications.
We got so many people that I spoke to often, women, maybe people that had a slightly different educational background and. Said when they, we asked them to write just an answer to two or three questions around what attracted them to Stellafai, and I’d say every single person that wasn’t like a young white male, came back with a, I was really, it was really cool to see the, the diversity statement that attracted me to your company and, and it’s a sort of.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you care about it, you’ll attract people that care about it. And then you’ll create [00:39:00] a more diverse and inclusive culture, which, you know exactly what Tim was saying. You have to do it from the get go. And we did. And then it’s also not just saying it, it’s doing it.
There’s an awful lot of kind of they call it pride washing in pride month, where, you know, all these companies change their logos to pride. But if you look at their actual way in which they, the things they do, I mean, it’s. It’s the very minimum they can get away with. They don’t actually do, do any, their actions do not suggest they care, their actions suggest they want to cash in on looking like they care.
Now, that’s not all companies, but, but like, you have to actually then do it in the organization. So the, the other thing mean, Tim and I are really lucky, like the experiences we’ve had and things like, you know, the open practice library and all these practices, design thinking, et cetera. So many of them, you know, dot voting for example, 1, 2, 4 all.
These are all things that help give everyone a voice in a non-threatening way. And so it’s how you then operate and how you work. And then [00:40:00] that’s expanded out to our, our customers and our clients as well. And we talk to ’em about know. If you want people to be engaged, you need to make them feel like they have a voice and included, and, and this extends to the role you are doing as well as some of the more, you know, traditional DEI ERG, so employee resource groups and, and things like that.
So we’ve tried to not only do it, I mean, we’re in a small company and Tim and I are pretty experienced, but we’re always learning. So we’ve tried to do all of those things, make sure that everyone has a voice, and we have lots of forums where we listen to that. But also in the work we’ve done externally, try and reinforce those values and those principles in how we run our workshops and how we advise and coach people do these things and here’s why.
The business case for inclusivity and trying to bring in a diversity of voices is like a no-brainer. But sometimes people don’t know how to make that transition and they don’t realize it’s on a, it’s everyone’s responsibility in how you operate every day, not just. The, the HR group in your organization?
We’ve seen the benefit of that in terms of [00:41:00] the talent we’ve had into organization and the diversity of people. We have 50 50 male, female, et cetera, et cetera. And but we’ve also tried to take that out and be ambassadors for those ways of working and those ways of thinking.
It’s very cool to have a partner like Tim to do that way
Alexis: I love it. And people will not see that because there’s no video. But I was smiling and nodding as you were talking, because I believe it’s very inspiring and you gave really the, the right, things to inspire leaders to really do something about what, what they can control and to make it happen.
To close , the session, what advice would you give to new leaders or aspiring leaders
Tim: yeah. Wow. I would say simply collaborate. Get your people together. I. Get, ideally get, get your people into a room and get ’em [00:42:00] talking. That naturally giving it, it builds on several answers we’ve talked about today, but it’s, let’s get everybody talking to each other and I, you’ve, you’ve got something in common.
You all work for the same organization. You are hopefully working towards a common mission. And if you’re not. By getting people talking, getting people communicating and collaborating. You will start to align. You will start to get shared view. You’ll start to identify where those slight nickles of misunderstanding are happening.
That’s the starting point. Just just getting people to talk to each other. Then I would go level Steve about, well, you know, what are we trying to do? Why are we here? What, what, what are we gonna tackle? How are we gonna prioritize? Let’s prioritize, let’s measure. That can come all afterwards, but unless people are comfortable talking to each other, collaborating, challenging, ideating.
Building upon you know, that is the foundation for success. So whatever it takes in a, to get those people into a [00:43:00] room. Good facilitation, good setup, good planning to to, to put that environment in place to facilitate collaboration. That’s what leaders should focus on doing right now at the beginning of the new year.
Alexis: Excellent. Thank you.
Bella: Predictably write some OKRs. Yeah, like that. Actually, let me rephrase that. Think about what outcomes you most want to achieve and narrow down that list till you’ve got like Warren Buffet gives us advice. He says like write your to-do list, and then scratch up everything that’s below number three. Like same thing, like lots of people say it in different ways, but, but you’ve gotta prioritize ’cause you can’t do it all.
So prioritize and, but make it measurable. The biggest mistake I made when I first started moving into leadership roles is I tried to carry on doing everything that I’ve been doing before and then take on all the extra. And that just ended up with me being like, on this very fast moving hamster wheel and just like.
Yeah, [00:44:00] it’s, it’s not a, it’s not a good place to have great insights and to be a good patient listening leader. So you’ve got to trust people to take things off you and to create time for you to reflect and think. And part of that reflection is figuring out what the priorities are and then making sure to Tim’s point that you are communicating and collaborating well to, to deliver them.
And then the last thing. I think this is, you spend a lot of time at work, you’ve gotta make it fun, like find ways to enjoy yourself, to have a laugh. Like in Stellafai on the Friday standup, we always, we all pick a random filter on these Google filters, so we all turn up as like pirates and cowboys and astronauts floating in space.
It’s a silly little thing, but find ways to make it. Make it fun. Like if you, if you know, you’re clear why you’re collaborating and you’re feeling engaged and connected, and then you are having fun as you do it, the [00:45:00] difference that makes to our working lives is pretty, pretty, pretty phenomenal. So, yeah, set OKRs, find time to reflect and stand still and, and lead , and have fun.
Alexis: I love. Thank you to, to both of you for having joined the podcast today. Have a great one
Bella: Thank you very much. It was great to do it. Thanks, Alexis