Transcript: Thanks, Allan. This is David Brower with Your 20 Minute Podcast. Our special guest today from Seattle is Ron Carruci, he’s a co-founder and managing partner at Navalent. They work with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries, and Ron, welcome to the show. Glad to have you here.
Ron Carruci: It was great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
David Brower: Is it a rainy or sunny in Seattle? Those are the two-
Ron Carruci: It’s a rare, rare day, it’s sun, although typically every year at the last two weeks of February, we have sun. Typically we have sun and 60s. This year we had sun and 30s, and that’s on the heels of, I’m sure the whole country heard about snowmageddon. We had-
David Brower: Oh yeah.
Ron Carruci: Two feet of snow here, and the entire city of Seattle just stopped.
David Brower: Yeah, absolutely.
Ron Carruci: Because we don’t have snow plows and things like that.
David Brower: Yeah, I have, some of my kids live in Portland and they had the same issue, so I’m going, “Oh, I feel better about living in Colorado, I guess.” At least we have the plans of what’s going on. So tell me, what started Navalent, and you putting this team together to help the CEOs and executives all over the world make things happen.
Ron Carruci: 14 years ago, a couple of friends of mine and I ran a very prestigious and great consulting firm in New York City, doing what we love to do, which is work with organizations in helping them transform. And that firm got acquired by a much bigger firm. And when that happened, that changes the game a little bit and you’re more, a little bit more internally focused on feeding the dinosaur and less focused on the craft of what we love to do. And I think at that point we realized, we love this work too much to not do it as often as we want to and have to spend time just driving growth for the firm. So we [inaudible 00:01:53], we can still have our own dream here, we can go and do it on our own.
David Brower: What a gift.
Ron Carruci: I think interestingly, I don’t know that we ever said the words, let’s go start a firm.
David Brower: Right.
Ron Carruci: But we quickly began to realize, well, if we’re going to do that, we’re going to have to have people with us to help have larger impact on organizations that are global and complicated in their reach. And so the firm just grew as we began to realize we needed more help and support, we couldn’t just do it ourselves.
David Brower: How fascinating. Isn’t that great when the, for lack of a better term, the stars all line up and you go, “Okay, we’re going to go this way. Oh, you want to join us? Great. Oh, and here are they kept, great.”
Ron Carruci: I’m giggling because I thought, yeah, I wish I could look at our 14 year journey as the stars always aligning, but think two of the most accidental entrepreneurs. it’s been a roller coaster of some great, great tailwinds and some great headwinds and growing up and starting over and realizing you made some mistakes and having to learn again. So, I don’t know that I can say that it was as pretty and neat as I would love to. Revisionist history would say of course, but for the entrepreneurs listening, I would certainly … thinking about embarking on the beginning of some venture of their own with their friends, I would not want to paint any picture other than “fasten your seatbelt” and grip tight to the bar. It’s a thrilling ride, but it’s a ride.
David Brower: But it’s definitely a roller coaster, definitely a roller coaster. And when you come out on those peaks and reduce those valleys because of all the hard work and networking and consistent ethics and integrity and all those kinds of things, all of a sudden you start getting really excited because then you see, “Oh, this is why our hard work is starting to pay off.”
Ron Carruci: Yes. And we’ve had moments of that. We still have moments ahead of that. I think one of the things … Again, we came out of practitioners, and a lot of our craft now is people who build firms and so one of the mistakes we did make early on was, we didn’t commit enough to “go to market” muscles that we need to create, because we had great reputations in the market place. We had great networks and followings, but that’s not a way to build a future and a whole firm. And I think in the last four or five years we realize that our, certainly investing heavily and working hard now to recognize the role changed. And one of the things that` changed in our field was about 700,000 new practitioners decided to come into this field. And that’s not even an exaggerated account. When we began our careers, to work with organizations and leadership was a side dish to most people. We just happened to major into it as our main dish. Now everybody’s doing it. Doesn’t mean they’re doing it well. Doesn’t mean they’re qualified to do it. But they have shingles and business cards hung out and they have websites and they are doing podcasts like yours and doing all kinds of things. And so to the naked consumer who doesn’t know the difference, we all look the same.
David Brower: Oh my gosh. What a challenge.
Ron Carruci: And so wanting to set ourselves apart, wanting to help people understand, “Well, no, we actually are kind of the real deal,” and we actually, you have other people out there saying they do transformational change and when you dig up behind it, what they do is the Meyers-Briggs. We do transformational change with systems, organizational engineers, and psychologists that understand how to construct transformation. For someone who just googles transformation, you don’t know what you’re going to get.
David Brower: And here’s the t-shirt. Yeah, it has the t-shirt.
Ron Carruci: Right.
David Brower: Important, I would think, part of the other major thing that you bring to the table is your track record. Your success with some of the world’s greatest leaders, putting strategy to work, building governance designs. I mean, you’ve got to have an amazing client list that just blows these wannabes out of the water.
Ron Carruci: David, wouldn’t you think that’d be enough? And I think here’s the thing, I love you, with this misunderstanding. We thought it was.
David Brower: Yeah.
Ron Carruci: We thought those laurels were enough. They are they price of admission and they certainly get you onto the playing field in a different way When people look, at the end of the day, that price of admission comes with a price tag for your clients. When the client looks at you and your track record and your amazing work and looks at somebody else who’s a third of your age out of high school and says, “Well, but they can do it for a 10th of the price you do it for, why would I hire … ”
David Brower: Oh, my gosh, yeah.
Ron Carruci: “Well, okay, yeah. You could, if price is an issue for you, you should hire them. But my question to you is. If you had a severe chest pains, would you be calling the cardiologist and saying, Hey, what, you got a special his week on a stent? OR would you want to know how many times they’d done the surgery?
David Brower: Exactly right, exactly right. I’m a voice actor by profession and so we run into exactly the same thing. Clients who are spending really good money, three, four, five years ago are now shopping for reasonable talent at ridiculously low prices and feeling good about it, which blows me away.
Ron Carruci: Well, and the unfortunate part is that they don’t realize that, your way, you can do it in two takes.
David Brower: Yeah.
Ron Carruci: Sure you can pay $50 an hour and get it in three takes. Your call.
David Brower: Wow.
Ron Carruci: And you just wonder about this penny wise, pound foolish kind of thinking sometimes. When people, when levels of talent have commoditized, at what point does that commoditization become a risk?
David Brower: Exactly, yeah.
Ron Carruci: But when your buyers are much younger than you and they’re tasked with budget constraints or certain, or their own anxieties over making decisions and they want to play it safe, they’re making foolish and short-sighted decisions that, to some people, may not introduce a quality risk, but at some point that approach to decision making is going to backfire.
David Brower: Absolutely right. And I would think, I don’t know this for sure in your industry, but I would think that some executive types who are wanting to climb the ladder quicker rather than better are taking that price point option, if you will. And they probably don’t last very long in that career. Is that a reasonable scenario?
Ron Carruci: That is often the case. When they begin their ascent and they’re not prepared. That’s the reason we wrote our book, Rising To Power, was because we saw so many executives heading up the ladder unprepared. And they’d call us as they were about to fall off the cliff.
David Brower: Yeah.
Ron Carruci: And so yeah, they make very shortsighted choices that they try and by popularity. They try and make everybody happy and make everybody loyal to them, at the expense of the performance of the organization they were charged to lead. And that’s fine for a steady state world in which you have a lot of predictability about your markets or your customers or your products, but one unforeseen headwind and you’re not prepared for that, you can destabilize the whole thing, including your career.
David Brower: in a heartbeat. One of the articles you wrote in Harvard Business Review, “executives fail to execute strategy because they’re too internally focused.” Does that mean they’re too focused on themselves rather than the big picture?
Ron Carruci: I think based on themselves and their own emotional needs. For many executives the anxiety toll of having to make hard tradeoffs is really hard, but they’re also organizationally internally focused, they’re not focused on the marketplace.
David Brower: Yeah.
Ron Carruci: One of the critical things in [inaudible 00:08:58] strategy is you know the context in which you’re executing it, the competitive context, the technological context, the regulatory context, and understanding how the consumers you’re trying to reach and the markets you’re trying to own will metabolize what you’re bringing. But you still have lots of larger, especially larger more mature organizations, in that “if I build it, they will come” mentality.
David Brower: Right.
Ron Carruci: They’ve got way too many consumer analytics but no meaning behind those analytics to make good choices, and so they’re just forcing their way into markets or buying market share or buying competition and acquiring it so you just minimize competition. And then really don’t know how to compete. It’s so common when I walk into an organization and they’ll tell me, and I ask, tell me, tell me your strategy. I get every counterfeit possible. I get the mission statement, I get that year’s objectives, I get their operating financial plan, I get the product quotas, I get the sales quotas. I get all kinds of metrics, tons of what you want to accomplish this year. But nothing that tells me who you are.
David Brower: Exactly.
Ron Carruci: And when I ask them, “Okay, well, so why would somebody who you want to pay you money pick you over the other people up the street doing exactly what you do?”
David Brower: Exactly. What?
Ron Carruci: They can’t, they have no idea.
David Brower: Isn’t that crazy?
Ron Carruci: David, I’m like, “This is 2019. Are we really, was there a memo that you missed?”
David Brower: Oh my god.
Ron Carruci: How is it that we’re still understanding the fundamentals of how businesses work and how you compete to win. But I think the reality is, and that’s what I wrote in that article you mentioned, is that to make those commitments of distinction and differentiation and building the capabilities to keep that differentiation and saying no to everything else that is so much harder than most leaders sign up for.
David Brower: And sometimes, I ran into this recently, I don’t know, probably in the last three or four months really, and maybe it’s just because I started paying attention to it, but I’ve seen people in organizations start paying attention to the why.
Ron Carruci: Very true.
David Brower: And does that-
Ron Carruci: The purpose.
David Brower: The why. Why are we doing this? What’s the purpose?
Ron Carruci: Well, I think people are not only asking, they’re broadening the answer. Used to be, well, if you’re in a public company, it’s for your shareholders.
David Brower: Sure.
Ron Carruci: And they were mostly economic-wise. But I think people are now recognizing there’s still interesting bifurcation out there in the debate over “Are businesses responsible to serve a greater good? Are they responsible to their communities and to society and to the environment, and to serve the countries they do business in? In philanthropic and social justice ways.” And you have a huge clamoring of people who say the answer’s yes. And you still have people who are on the side of no. You are here for your shareholders, here for your benefactors, that’s it.”
Ron Carruci: I have a feeling that the former side will eventually when, simply because you’re not going to try … You have generations of people in the workplace who don’t want to work for organizations without a sense of purpose. The problem is, if you answer the why without answering the who and the how, you really get a little bit of a short lived campaign.
David Brower: Yeah, yeah. It’s like a three legged stool. You’ve got to have the who, the where, the how, and the why, and one of those legs fall off the stool and you’re done.
Ron Carruci: Well, and I think even the harder part beyond the stools, David, is you have to, they all work for the same company. And so if you don’t answer those questions as if they’re part of the same organization, you look like one of those people who had way too much cosmetic surgery, you just nipped and tucked in too tight. But I can’t tell what kind of company I’m looking at.
David Brower: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
Ron Carruci: And keeping those things integrated as you scale and grow. It’s not easy. It is definitely a high wire act with no net and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
David Brower: So when you’re leading organizations, you’re doing transformations in organizations, do you work with their teams? Do you start at the highest level? How do you start that work of yours in motion?
Ron Carruci: Well, so like any good effort to seize an opportunity or get out of a ditch-
David Brower: There you go.
Ron Carruci: Treatment without diagnosis is malpractice. So we start with a good MRI. I need to know what’s happening under the hood of your organization. So we do a pretty forensic assessment of how the organization works and what story it’s telling itself. And we put all the voices you send out of the room back in the room so you hear what we heard. And really we have pretty sophisticated analytical tools and data coding tools that help us stick together a story that creates a collective story of your organization that no single one of you is telling.
David Brower: Yeah.
Ron Carruci: So, it’s forcing a level of self-honesty and forces a level of looking in a mirror and forced listening to your organization in ways you would not otherwise normally be required to do.
David Brower: Fascinating.
Ron Carruci: And once we have a shared story, we can align on, “Okay, well what is it you want the next chapter to be? Now that you have an honest understanding of the chapter you’re in and what’s reasonable, what’s possible and what do you have to say no to, to make that chapter work?” And then we can make choices around how to construct that journey. But starting from a place of honesty is always important. You wouldn’t walk into that cardiologist with that severe pain in your chest and have that cardiologist say, “Oh yeah, that’s your left ventricle. You just need a stent. Let’s go put one in.”
David Brower: Yeah, exactly right. So when you do the initial MRI, for lack of a better term, and you lay all this stuff out to these people, do you ever find leaders, companies, whatever, just freak out? They’re scared and there, “Thank you. But no thanks”?
Ron Carruci: No. I think once or twice we’ve had to say to a client, “So it turns out you’re the problem. We’ll find you somebody else.”
David Brower: There you go. Oh my gosh.
Ron Carruci: Usually I think there’s a great sense of release.
David Brower: Yeah.
Ron Carruci: It’s that, “Wow. Now it’s all out in writing. I’ve been thinking these things,” or “We’d been whispering in the hallway about these things, but now it’s in black and white in front of us. We can all get around it.” It hurts. It’s hard to see it, but people are rarely shocked. People are rarely like, “I didn’t see that coming at all.” Sometimes it’s a self-justification mechanism to make themselves feel better.
David Brower: Sure.
Ron Carruci: But for the most part, and there’s a minimization of issues, in which case we can bring a little bit of heat to say, “Here’s our point of view,” but we never give our take on the data until they make sense of it themselves. So we sit people in a room for hours and hours to work through that data, to work through hard questions, to have hard debates and say honest things to each other they have long avoided saying.
David Brower: The ultimate-
Ron Carruci: So that before we say, “Here’s our point of view on this, because it’s your story and it’s your story to own and take responsibility for.” So if we short circuit that opportunity with “Here’s the expert’s take,” you’re now off the hook from owning your own point of view and so we make sure that doesn’t happen.
David Brower: Wow. Your book, Rising to Power, it’s an Amazon number one best seller and you coauthored it with Eric Hanson, does that help these high level execs get a pinch of what you can do for them?
Ron Carruci: That was part of the intent. It was initially born of some pain. So we’ve known for 20 years, David, that more than half of the executives rising up to senior levels of leadership fail in their first 18 months.
David Brower: Yeah.
Ron Carruci: When it happened to somebody we were working with, it was personal, and we wanted to understand why. Why is it that we’ve been okay with this statistic from decades? Why does it keep happening? And how could somebody suddenly be identified as high potential, extraordinary promise, going to go the distance, become a disaster within a year. How does that happen?
Ron Carruci: And I wanted to uncover every rock we could find. I wanted to leave no stone unturned to help make that pathway of ascent less risky. So that people could stick the landing. The great news was that one of the things data uncovered was, if the other half were sticking the landing, if the other half were thriving at the higher altitudes they were arriving on, what were they doing? How is it they were making it work there and doing so well? So we were able to isolate the things that they were doing that can be learned and replicated.
David Brower: Nice. And they can’t, at some level, they can’t fake it until they make it.
Ron Carruci: Yeah, and that’s a problem, David. People are trying to do that.
David Brower: Exactly.
Ron Carruci: It’s too late because one of the things people don’t tell executives is that it when you get to a higher perch, say you’ve gone from director to vice president, or whatever the higher altitude is of your organization. One of the forms of altitude sickness no one tells you about is your life is now on the Jumbotron.
David Brower: Yeah, absolutely.
Ron Carruci: There is a megaphone strapped to your mouth, 24/7. Everything you say is scrutinized, meanings attached to it. Everything you say is amplified and has meaning. You can’t walk into the elevator and have small talk with somebody. You can’t walk down the hallway quickly without someone attaching meaning to it. You could just be going to the bathroom, but someone’s going to say, “Oh my gosh, something’s wrong.”
David Brower: And you don’t dare put something on social media because it’ll really blow up.
Ron Carruci: Yeah, you’re totally screwed. And I love the notion, it’s very innocent, “I want to just be my authentic self.” That’s great. But the problem is there are 30 versions of you out there, which authentic version do you want to be? But you got to control that messaging so that at least you can minimize the number of versions of you that there are out there to a manageable amount. But people don’t begin to realize those are the realities about that whole world until after they get there.
David Brower: My goodness gracious. The website for Ron and his team is Navalent, N-A-V-A-L-E-N-T, N-A-V-A-L-E-N-T, I can talk, dot com, and you can learn about the organization and leadership transformation and how that happens on three domains simultaneously. You can download Leading Transformation In Organizations as an owner’s manual. You can really get your feet wet in learning what Navalent can do for you and Ron and his team. It’s just a fascinating process that you guys have and you’ve been hitting the wall and hitting success and just keep pushing forward. So hats off to you, man.
Ron Carruci: David, thanks so much for that. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Allan Blackwell: Listen to Your 20 Minute Podcast with David Brower on the go. Downloads are available on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, iHeartradio, Spotify, any podcast app, and on our website at davidbrowervo.com/your20minutepodcast. Until next time, thank you for listening.