Doug Kofoid, CEO of EDITED, a global leader in retail intelligence, has a track record of leading and scaling established teams successfully. Before taking over the helm at EDITED, Doug led DialogTech through a successful exit. Doug dives deep into his tried and true strategies for any leader who is building a new team or taking over an established team. It’s critical to embrace failure as long as you fail fast, fail forward, and then course correct, says Doug.
Here are my three big takeaways from the conversation:
Upon taking over as CEO of an established organization, Doug makes an effort to meet and connect with every single team member, finding out what their thoughts are about the organization and what makes them tick.
A leader must act fast and make the necessary changes for the business to succeed, not just for the good of the organization but also for the entire team.
It’s important to normalize that leaders do not know everything and they are going to fail.
I love Doug’s authenticity and vulnerability in this podcast and I know you’ll find his tips inspiring!
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Doug: At some point you just need to embrace the fact that you don't know, and you're gonna take it step by step, and you're going to embrace the fact that you may stumble.
But that's okay as long as you stumble forward and fast and course correct quickly.
Aaron: I'm Aaron Levy. And I have this vision of a workplace where your manager doesn't suck where instead your manager is your coach helping you to reach your full potential at work. I founded Raise The Bar, wrote Open, Honest and Direct, and started this podcast to help companies transform their workplace to a place where both the company and employee succeeds.
In this podcast, I get to interview leaders who built high-performing teams. And learn from them on what it takes to unlock a team with potential. Today we're lucky to have a friend of mine join the podcast, Doug Kofoid. Doug is the CEO of Edited, a global leader in retail intelligence. Before Edited, Doug ran DialogTech and led them through a successful exit.
Doug's had a myriad of experiences leading and scaling teams successfully, and in today's conversation we dive deep into what that experience was, to pull out some of the common traits that you can actually use to help your team succeed.
Enjoy the conversation.
Doug, thank you for coming on. I know there was a bunch of excuses to maybe get you off of this, but I'm so glad we're getting to extend the conversations that we've been having over the last several months about your experience as a leader and sharing it with others. So thank you for coming on.
Doug: Absolutely Aaron, I guess I'll lie, and say I'm very excited to be here and having this conversation. No, and in all seriousness, I am, I'm excited to continue the conversation. We started months ago so I'm looking forward to this.
Aaron: And I, I actually go back to one of the very first conversations I had with you as you were talking about your experience and, and kind of like coming into a team and taking it over and, you know, just looking at your background and the companies you've touched, you've been so successful in so many different places with different teams you've been a part of.
I guess the, the first thing I'd ask is like, what's the secret?
Distill it down, give it to me quick.
Doug: Brute force is kinda probably what comes to, to mind. I think it is to some extent, even though that was a, a quick, kind of joke response. There's truth to it. It's perseverance. Every situation that I've stepped into has been a unique challenge and all of them have been challenges.
Nothing, especially sitting in this seat is easy, I would say. And every day throws a kind of a, a new curve ball at you and you just need to adapt, work through it, and get up and fight another day and keep pushing through. And I think a lot, kind of, is what I would attribute the successes I have had.
That said, that's just, you know, my own individual role. The other reason, and probably the biggest reason why I've been successful is I've always been surrounded by amazing teams, amazing people who are much smarter than I, and have been amazing at collaborating and helping us win at every business I've been a part of.
Aaron: And I, I love the humility there and to me what I see is okay, there's yeah, amazing team, amazing product, I'm sure in all those, all those things. What are some of the key elements that you saw in those amazing teams that, that have been consistent in, in success in your mind?
Doug: I would say one consistent theme, and this is something I absolutely try to bring to every team in my own personal approach, is I'm a big believer in, in radical candor and really direct open communication. And you know, as I think about especially you get, you know, the C team together and I think of these weekly meetings we have or even more frequently where when you get in, in behind closed doors, we're able to really kind of take the proverbial gloves off and really go at it in a, in a good, healthy manner and challenging each other, challenging ourselves to be smarter, better, faster, doing things differently.
And the only way that works is there has to be strong mutual respect. People have to be experts in their craft, which I've always been fortunate enough to be around. You know, input into teams that already had that, or, you know, assembling teams where, again, where I have brought in people who, in their craft are much smarter than I.
And so it allows you to go into these meetings to have this really strong, healthy debate to be better. And while you can really go at it in that meeting, when the conversation's finished, we walk out of that room or the video in this day and age, and we're aligned, we're in lockstep. We're one cohesive unit who has each other's backs, and so I think that is critical to really get the most out of the team and outta yourself, especially.
Aaron: What happens when that's not there, when one of those elements is missing?
Doug: This is, I would say, one thing that I've learned is when you have the weak link or someone who doesn't, let's say, you know, fit necessarily into that equation the way they should, I go back to a lesson I learned from a, an amazing professor I had in business school and his advice was, in a privately backed company, you know, we're not talking the IBMs of the world where every resource is critical. If you see a snake, kill the snake. Don't form a committee on snakes. Not to say that an individual is a snake in the sense of the word that many people may associate with it, it's more of a problem with the company.
Don't belabor it. If you identify an issue. Address it, act quickly and sometimes it, it does require what comes across as being ruthless in terms of acting fast and making changes that are best for the business. And that might, you know, might come across as ruthless to an individual, but you have to take into account the hundreds of other people that are impacted by potentially one weak link or one person not kinda operating the way that the rest of the C-team should be. But when you have a breakdown at that level, it's gonna permeate the entire company quickly. And so you don't have the luxury of thinking through it and having a committee to fix it. Sometimes you just have to make quick decisive action and make a move.
I don't know how more eloquently or softly to put it, but I think that sometimes it comes down to that.
Aaron: I think that's such a subtle and probably often missed element. I interact with so many leadership teams and executive teams and, you know, get to see them over the course of months and years, and you see that whether it's a problem child or the person who's not a fit.
And you hear the, the leadership team or somebody on it complain about it, or, but they're not fixing the problem and they're more worried about, okay, how do we work around this? Or how do we, you know, as you said, build a committee for this, or how do I not have that tough conversation that I need to have?
Which is like, you either need to change or you need to get out.
I guess what I'm wondering, especially at the C level, but at any leadership team level, like how do you remind yourself or enable yourself to, to take that action? Cuz that is not the default mode that most people take. Most people are like, “Hey, let's either do nothing about it or separate the problem.”
So it's not affecting the team as much. I hear that a lot. Let's separate the problem so that person is not managing as many people or doesn't have the same influence that they have and, and then it'll be okay. Like how do you make sure to actually remind yourself to go to the root of the problem and fix it.
Doug: Yeah. where my head is going when you're asking that. I'm like, why do I hone in so quickly on these issues? And I feel like I act very quickly on them and I go back to for better or worse. I'm a glass is half empty kind of person. I'm always preparing for the worst. I always assume the sky is gonna fall.
You would swear I was a depression era child. And so I look at every aspect of the business of , what could go wrong? What is wrong? I don't, you know, pat myself on the back or the organization on the back or break my arm patting us on the back on what we're doing. Well, I always do seek out the challenges.
What could be better? You know, personally, I start every day, what do I suck at? What am I gonna get better at today? And that's how I look at the business. And so I just have this natural tendency to hone in on these points of friction you know, whatever weak links as I said earlier. But I'd say, you know, points of friction are just gaps in our, whether it be a skill set and how we operate our collaboration, and then, you know, I think it's just my natural gravitation towards those and always wanna fix things. And that's also the operator in me. I've always been an operator. I love operating and all about that is, you know, getting the engine running, getting that thing humming along, and I'm always looking at those components that were gonna give us even greater velocity or throughput.
Aaron: And I think you said something interesting in that earlier too, which was you gotta take the perspective of what's best for the business, what's best for the a hundred other people or 200 other people around you, and not just upsetting that or hurting the feelings of that one person or that you know, that small group of people that could have a larger effect than everybody else.
Doug: Yeah, that, that's absolutely right. And that's something I think about all the time in terms of the impact. I always think of it, and I think this is part of my blue collar upbringing, from Joliet, Illinois and kind of, you know, being a union type family and always hearing the conversations and even as I had progressed in my career and my mother will always challenge me during the hardest times. I remember during Covid, for example, when us, like every other company had to look, you know, into the abyss and say, wait, do we need to cut costs? And I remember as I was going through the, you know, the math and the thinking, Yeah, I absolutely have to do this.
But then I, you know, heard the voice of my mother as like, have you thought about every one of these families that is, are gonna be impacted by your move? Have you done everything humanly possible for these families that are impacted by your decision? And she said that throughout my whole career, and even, you know, as at the dinner table growing up, I would hear her speak that way.
And that has really instilled in me is to think about the greater good, the larger organization, all the other people that are impacted. And so, for example, like in my covid example, I just rattled off there. It caused me to take a step back and say, wait. Maybe we need to be cutting salaries for everyone before we push, you know, some individuals out into the hurricane.
This is, you know, think of April, May of the, the Covid the pandemic. And, and so that was something we decided to do as an organization to at least let us get our arms around the situation before we made permanent decisions that could impact families. And so going back to your question, that's what I always keep in mind, that there are hundreds of families impacted and you can't just think of one of those over everyone else.
You have to think of the greater good. And that has been instilled in me, like I said, since I was a child.
Aaron: And that's such a crucial point. It almost pulls you out of the smallness of the situation and looks at it from a much different lens, like a bigger perspective to say, Hey, you know, if I don't make this decision, it has this type of impact.
Doug: That's absolutely right there. It could have a much greater impact on a much larger group of people. And often what I've learned, and I this, you know, we've heard it all read this all before, but I think it holds true in that typically when you have a situation like that and you have, let's say, a person that isn't, you know, a fit or contributing in the way that you need, within that team, normally they're feeling it as well, and they're always great people, smart people, or they wouldn't be there in the first place, but they might just be playing out a position or in a, on a team that is just playing with a different type of approach or strategy that doesn't fit you know, their sweet spot.
And so often it's also better for them to, to find that organizational team that operates more in line with how they operate. And so I do look at it, you know, going back to the, the greater good and stepping back. It's usually the right thing for everyone involved. And maybe I'm just rationalizing, you know, having to make moves like that in the past.
But I actually do believe what I just said.
Aaron: No, I couldn't agree more. And you said fit right? It's like, An organization and people that are working together, they have to be a fit. And so, as you said, sometimes if it's not fitting in, it's not a fit for them either. Right. And that, that's more often than not, it's not a fit for them.
So I think it's an interesting way to to say it. And we always say like, if you're not having that critical conversation, you're doing somebody else that disservice.
Doug: Yep. I think that's right. And it's interesting cause I just was at a CEO summit for one of our investors and we had this conversation and someone asked me the question, like when you've noticed having a person, let's say, who wasn't operating the way you needed them to operate?
Have you ever had a situation where you felt like you moved in time or have you always moved too slow? And I've thought about that and while I pride myself on being decisive and moving quickly, there has never been a situation, you know, in retrospect as I look back where I've acted as quickly as I probably could have, I still, even as someone who prides himself on moving fast, I'll come to the conclusion and then I still go through my own steps that are often overly onerous before I make a move.
And I just thought it was a good question someone asked of me, and I think that it's really stuck with me over the last couple of weeks is when you know it, you know it. You just need to move, don't belabor it. And it kind of goes back to what I learned from, Steve Kaplan and that was the professor in business school who made that comment I shared earlier.
Aaron's: Yeah, it's, it's funny, it's like you're, it's a good reminder. You're, you're probably too late. You're probably slower than you should have been. You know, if you're somebody who's listening to this and thinking about, oh, I need to have that conversation. This, this could apply to that conversation that you need to have with somebody, let alone, right.
That exit that you need to have. It's not necessarily one or the other, but it's what I'm hearing is attacking the root of the problem and not waiting to attack it. Right. But, but going at it when you know that it needs to be attacked.
Doug: And Yes, that's exactly right. And normally, you know it long before you're moving and you gotta trust what your insights are telling you on that one.
Aaron: So in your history as a CEO and executive and an operator, you've come in and, and kind of come on as a CEO or come in as an operator of teams that have already been formed. How do you do that? How do you show up? What's the approach that you take when you're kind of taking on a new team that you've inherited, that you're now the leader of?
Doug: Couple things that I do, and I think the last two companies in particular, well, I wouldn't even say that…Edited, most currently, which is UK based headquarters, we have an office in New York, and our development offices in Sophia, Bulgaria. We have a small office in Dallas, and then the, you know, the scattering of remote employees because of the Covid days. And the first thing I do, I'm thinking of this from two levels. It's one of the entire company and then is one of the C team.
So right now I'm speaking entire company. The first thing I do is I hit the road, I go out and I meet every single employee. I mean, given the remote nature, that might mean a lot of Zoom calls. Or depending on the size of the company, it might mean that you're meeting with, you know, teams 6, 8, 10 people at a time. But you are sitting down face to face with every single employee to understand what is it that makes them tick.
What do they love about the company, what do they think the company can do better? What is it that motivates them every day when they show up to work? And you really listen to them and understand their motivations and understand what, incentivizes them to really work hard and, you know, drive the company forward.
And I think that's really important. If you wanna have people, you know, follow you up to the proverbial hill, they need to know that you're there for them and you're listening to them. And you know what I've even done two companies ago when I stepped into that role is listening to the people. I really learned a lot about, what they felt about the company and how passionate some of them were about different components of what we were doing.
And it caused me to say, wait a minute. I kind of bounced it up against the core values that the business had at the time. And I thought to myself, wow, while these core values are really strong, I think they're more applicable to an earlier stage company and we're now coming out of our awkward teen years as a business and coming into adulthood.
Well, maybe our core values need to evolve with us as a business and human beings. And so I, I took all the feedback I got from the the people I met with all the employees, and I worked very closely with our head of talent and we rewrote the core values and rolled out a, the new set of core values that kept some of the, the historical ones that I felt carried nicely into adulthood.
But then also we upgraded them based on where we were in our company's journey at that point. And that really worked well in terms of making sure that the people felt very much aligned with me and I felt aligned with them in this next stage of growth.
So that's how I approached the business is making sure, and like for Edited, it was, you know, I started in London, then I went to New York, then I went to Sophia, then I went to Dallas and I was on the road meeting with the employees.
And now as it relates to the C team, it's really leading from the front and it's coming in and, you know, I consider myself, always the pace setter. And it's coming in and pushing out of the gate, hard, high expectations, and making that very clear from day one because within that first month, you're gonna quickly learn who is wired similarly and ready to run as fast to get to that North Star. And in my experience, it's usually not the entire team. And it becomes apparent very quickly. And then you can have those conversations of, hey, you know, you've done great work here. Is this really where you wanna be in the next phase of the company's growth and your growth?
But you need to get that on the table immediately.
Aaron: So interesting. I wanna go back to like when you talked about rewriting the core values and how that worked so well, it's like, when I think about that and talk to people, teams, how did you get that from, okay, we have new core values to people are bought in and, and this actually is a driver of our business.
Like, how did, how did that translation happen? What needed to happen to make it happen?
Doug: So I'm gonna speak as if I'm an expert and great at this, but you really should be pulling in the head of talent we had at, at the last company because she is phenomenal and I learned so much from her.
But what we did is, and I should have made it more clear, she was with me on many of these meetings with the teams. And so she was listening to what they had to say as well, which allowed the two of us to really spend that time rewriting the values. And when we rolled them out, what I thought she did a great job of doing is really operationalizing them.
So they weren't just on a placard sitting at everyone's cubicle, but it was suddenly our quarterly awards went from, these kind of silly little, you know, fun little awards to tied directly to our core values. We rewrote our hiring like interview process to have specific questions that would hone in on, are you really living our core values?
Because those are what are critical to get hired. And then in terms of employee feedback as we're doing employee reviews, we also formalize the process of reviewing, are you living your core values? And those are what drove, are you getting promoted or are you not a part of this organization moving forward if you don't embrace and live those values that are critical to the business?
And so it's really all about operationalizing those in a tangible, measurable way.
Aaron: Yeah, I love that. And it's integrated into all aspects of kind of how an employee and team member works and is evaluated. So one of the things that's going through my mind is you've had so many of these different experiences.
What's one of the hardest lessons you had to learn along the way?
Doug: Hardest lessons. Oh boy, I'm like sifting through so many lessons in my head right now, or ass kickings as I kind of think of it. And probably, and maybe this is just a recency thing and I'm going back, even my last CFO, who I remain very close with, and he, he brought it up to me again just over the last few weeks as I was going through, your typical rough patch, you know, recession, hitting all this stuff.
And he called me out and he said, I told you before we worked together at the last company. I told you during it. And I'm telling you now after it, because you're not learning, none of these outcomes are personal, Doug. These are business. There's so many things that happen outta your control. You don't need to internalize it.
You need to make decisions and move forward. And that's been an ongoing lesson.
So I guess your question was, what lessons have I learned? I still haven't learned it. I'm still struggling with it. But that's one that I find myself often at the end of the days, you know, let's say a deal fell through, a customer complained, we had a product release didn't go as smoothly as I thought it should. I lose sleep over these things still, they gnaw at me.
Where if I'm sitting with my children, at the end of the day I'm still thinking of, you know, the product release. Well, that's a failure on my part because I'm not present for my own kids and it's over something that I can't even control.
And so that to me is an ongoing challenge, which is, like I said, not internalizing everything, not taking everything personal. But then out of the other side of my mouth, I also think taking everything personal is what motivates me and makes me push twice as hard. So yeah, I just spoke outta both sides of my mouth on that one.
Aaron: Yeah. Where's the where's the balance of the two?
Doug: I don't know. And that's what I'm still trying to figure out. I I don't know. I'll leave it at that.
Aaron: I love that. I think that actually says a profound amount about you as a leader. Someone who's, you know, been successful in a number of different organizations at the highest level of these organizations, willing to say, I don't know. And on a podcast where you're, you know, you're brought on perceived as an expert right.
It makes it even harder to not have an answer and to say, I don't know. And I think that's actually an incredible leadership trait that anybody listening can learn from is just being able to admit when you don't know. And not making it up.
Doug: Yeah. And I, I think what you said is true, and this certainly isn't by design, I guess it's just I'm real comfortable knowing that I'm still learning in my life and there's a lot of things I don't know. But I tell you what, over the last three years I've found that that has been especially good for organizations. I go back to again, the early days of Covid when standing up in front of the company and being asked questions of kinda what's the plan? What are we doing? I remember just kinda laughing at myself in front of the company saying, listen, I must, you know, have slept through that day of business school where they taught us how to manage through a global pandemic.
And I said, but I don't know. And any CEO out there who's gonna stand in front of their company and say they know what to do and what's coming next is full of shit. I said at some point you just need to embrace the fact that you don't know, and you're gonna take it step by step, and you're going to embrace the fact that you may stumble.
But that's okay as long as you stumble forward and fast and course correct quickly, and I'm very comfortable doing that in any organization. You know, with every all-hands meeting, which I have one tomorrow, in fact, where we have a half hour Q&A at the end of it, there's always a question where I, I have to say, gee, good question.
Let me get back to you on that. Or, let me get help from an expert from, you know, the in-house expert in marketing and, you know, pick your discipline knowing that someone else would know better than me, you know, if it's related to their craft.
Aaron: Such an important skill. Like I'm comfortable learning, I'm constantly learning. Right. And I love how you said stumble. And be okay with that. And, and stumble forward though and stumble fast. It's, again, it's like a subtle thing that, you know, you, you don't always hear or talk about, but it's that trait that I hear over and over and over again of successful leaders of innovators.
I just had somebody on the podcast last week where we talked about innovation and what it, what it starts with, and he said it starts with taking a beginner's mind and being a curious learner.
Doug: I think that's spot on. And in fact, when I'm speaking of the organization, I don't say stumble.
I use the word fail. I say we embrace failure as long as you fail fast, fail forward, and then course correct. And, and I absolutely believe in that. And what I would tie to that is I think one of the most important traits in business today is agility. Because the way the world is changing so quickly and so the agility coupled with the having to be comfortable with addressing mistakes and failure I, I think is really important.
So most recently with my current business, we had four offices that we advertised and I closed one of them. I announced internally we're closing the fourth thinking I had all the data to make a very well-informed decision, and over the next three days, I had massive backlash saying, wait a minute.
This is where I go to get away from my four kids, or this is where the magic happens when we're writing code or whatever. And I quickly learned, I made a mistake. A week later, I had to stand up in front of the organization to say, you know what? I announced this last week, but I got new data that made me realize my decision was wrong.
Here is what we're going to do to, to correct my mistake. And so I'm, I certainly live what I'm preaching.
Aaron: Oh, it's so important, right? Not only to say, I don't know, but also to admit when you're wrong. And there's science behind it. Something called the Pratt Fall effect which says like, leaders who are willing to, who are open to sharing their fault, their failures not being perfect all the time and saying like, Hey, I fucked up are actually more likable and more followable.
And so I'm sure I, I wouldn't be surprised if, if more people on your team were bought into, into you and to the direction you're taking and because you're willing to say, I screwed up.
Doug: And it also just takes a lot more stress off me, just , knowing how often I am gonna get it wrong. At least I'm like, all right, I got another one wrong, so let's address it. Versus no, I can't make a mistake in public. So yeah, it just takes a lot of stress off in general.
Aaron: I have this fun little thing that I do with leaders when we're in a training room and I say, raise your hand if you think great leaders have all the answers. Inevitably, like, you know, doing this with thousands upon thousands of leaders, I've maybe only seen like one or two people raise their hand, ever.
And I say, look around the room, no one's hands are raised, right? So if you don't think great leaders have to have all the answers, why do you think you have to have all the answers? And it's, as you said, it takes a weight off your shoulder to know that you can fuck up too. You're human.
Doug: That's absolutely right.
Aaron: This has been a really fun conversation. Doug. This is just the, the way in which the humbleness, the way in which you think about people, culture and a business is really, really insightful. So I'm, I'm grateful for the time. I'm grateful that you came on and, and gave me your energy and focus and shared your learnings with everybody listening.
Doug: I really enjoyed it as well, and I know we've been talking about doing this for a while and I'm glad that we were finally able to make it happen.
I really enjoyed the conversation.
Aaron: Open, honest, and direct is produced by Raise The Bar, where we help organizations level up their leadership by empowering their managers with the tools, skills, and training to be better leaders of people. You can get in touch with us at raisebar.co.
Thank you for listening and go put your learning into practice.