Adam Nathan, CEO at The Bartlett System

Scaling Up Services - 026 - Adam Nathan

Adam Nathan, CEO at The Bartlett System

Adam is the CEO and Founder of the Bartlett System, a Brooklyn-based consultancy focused on helping chief executives transform their organization with key performance indicators. Adam helps leaders find the right KPIs to align, focus and lead their teams.

In 2005, Adam founded Brainbox Consulting, a Seattle-based business intelligence firm. For over a decade Brainbox created data warehouse, big data, reporting and advanced analytics solutions serving education, manufacturing, health care, and technology. Adam sold Brainbox in 2016.

Prior to 25 years in technology, Adam was a film actor. If you knew him now, you wouldn’t recognize him, but you can find him online high-fiving Michael Jackson in the BAD video. He’s climbed a mountain with a sherpa, walked a 1000 miles and bowled a perfect game.

Grab the discounted 1/2 day introductory workshop:

"CEO Dashboards - The Definitive Guide" available on the site:


[00:00:01] You're listening to Scaling Up Services where we speak with entrepreneurs authors business experts and thought leaders to give you the knowledge and insights you need to scale your service based business faster and easier. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.

[00:00:21] Welcome everyone. This is scaling up services. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt.

[00:00:24] I'm your host and today we're here with Adam Nathan and Adam is CEO and founder of the Bartlett system which is a Brooklyn based consultancy and they're focused on keeping eyes and dashboards in alignment and helping leaders make sure that they have focus and that everyone on their team has the same focus. So Adam welcome to the program.

[00:00:46] Great to be here. Thanks first.

[00:00:48] This is probably one of my favorite subjects. We didn't dig out a little bit on dashboards and KPI. But why don't we just kind of start with understanding a little bit about you and your background and how did you get to kind of today and doing what you're doing.

[00:01:02] Well I would say my I.T. background goes back all the way to AOL which probably dates me a bit but about twenty five years ago I started working with data and databases. I moved away from Java scripting and front end stuff and I realized that the data was really the foundation that big enterprise value was built around. And I ended up in what soon became called business intelligence. I built Iron Mountain. They all cite data protections first data warehouse. You know what in a big team and did a little bit of bluffing my way through it. For 12 years I had a business intelligence consultancy firm obviously working on the technology delivery side and I sold that company in early 2016. I actually finished up last year but the piece that has been the inspiration for the Bartlet system is just seeing the challenge that my former clients had getting value out of the data warehouses and the reporting and the analytics they were building and the challenges the teams that were building them had understanding what the big goals mean direction of their companies were.

[00:02:13] So today your focus. So tell us a little bit about who you work with today and what kind of solutions or what kind of problems you typically help them with.

[00:02:20] Sure. So I'm just started this year.

[00:02:24] I would say to Representative clients one was working with the CEO of an international software company that was moving into a new strategy and needed to be able articulate that strategy both for the leadership the managers and the employees more broadly means stepping through the process of defining that strategy figuring out the key questions that needed to be answered to be successful.

[00:02:50] And then turning that into KPI that could be shared with the organization.

[00:02:54] So let's talk a little bit about that process because I think there is there's a couple of topics there are there's data in kind of business intelligence there's KPI as in how to want you know sort of the different types of KPI is and how do I choose the KPI is that I'm going to focus on. And then there's kind of the alignment and how how do you really get a leadership team or a team behind a particular set of KPI or work with them to figure out what their KPI is really should be. So the data side Mike Mount one of my favorite kind of data quotes is that the average American has one testicle and one ovary right. So like how do we go from data being just lots and lots of information that we can slice and dice and all sorts of all sorts of different ways. But how do we go from it being kind of raw data to actually useful information like what are the things or the problems or the processes that you see in that process.

[00:03:44] It's a great question I'll start with the way people typically do it which I think in some ways is the worst way which is somebody is in charged with find us KPI. So we can become data driven love a data driven culture and they take their industry and they call out online and they find seven hundred different possible KPI. Some people try to get them all into a single dashboard. Others decide and kind of often I.T. is doing it kind of handpick and groom the KPI they'll use. It's built into a let's even call it a beautiful dashboard that then about three weeks and nobody's using it. So for me that KPI so the last part of delivering the chain of value the the most critical thing I think is at the top of the organization to understand what their strategy really is. First of all to build a model it out and by model it out and explain it to a leadership team. I don't mean to have 60 page PowerPoint that you can kind of say here's our strategy.

[00:04:43] It's for the leader of an organization to get up in front of a whiteboard and be able to show on one whiteboard. This is what we're doing. These are our customers. This is our value prop. This is how we work with partners and so on Intel and organize tell a leader of an organization can do that. We're nowhere near the KPI is to help that CEO do anything but when that's articulated which is already its own accomplishment you can then look at that and say well there's a thousand performance questions related to every facet of this. But some of them are really really key questions. Forget about how we measure them. Some of them are just what do we really need to know about how business is running I think reducing those questions down to seven or eight. Let's just say under 10 to a memorize the whole set of questions that we decide we most want to focus on is it's kind of part two and then part three is to look at those with the leadership team and others to say if these are the questions that the leader of the organization is trying to answer. What are the ways we can effectively measure these so that everyone else in the organization can then create initiatives innovate around them and respond to those. So the strategy the key questions measurement last the KPI is are are the caboose of this process interesting too.

[00:06:01] I like that idea that before we really figure out what even data we want to try to collect or even KPI is that we want to try to formulate it is what are those strategic kind of choices that we're going to make. So if I go as a leadership team if we decide that our strategy is going to focus on providing very high levels of customer service then we identify that you know our our online and call centre service is going to be really how we're going to differentiate ourselves in the market.

[00:06:29] We decide that that's what customers are really looking for. So the CEO can get up on the board and say that customer service is our key strategic initiative and we're looking at call center an online customer service and then we can put a whole bunch of sort of initiatives or parameters around what our objectives around those like once we have that then we can start to look at some of the data and some of the KPI things. What might be some KPI is if if that was an example of our leadership team's decisions how would you start to look at the KPI is around things like that. Like what are some examples or what's the process look like.

[00:07:03] Well it's a right now there's the tendency I want to rush to give you some and I will give you some. But if the strategy is to differentiate the company by how the service to customers is rendered because let's just say everything else is equal with our competitors all you have left right now is how our customers relate to us at that point you might bring that leadership together or the key managers around this and say is our customer satisfaction score. Is that actually accurately reflect this. Does one time resolution on problems and questions is that the best way to measure it is average call wait time like what is the key piece.

[00:07:44] And then when you dig into this kind of problem then I have actually for an example I've been playing together for on line. Your strategy might not be super please whatever that that frame is super pleased the customer that you're delighting them in everything because for example some people look down that's not really the differentiator. People buying what the differentiator is not having negative experiences. So the goal may be the fewest dissatisfied people rather than this rather than the number of people that are just fawning over how great it is and now 10 out of 10 and everything. So having the leadership figure out the strategy of hitting that number is key too.

[00:08:23] Yeah. So let's say that in tech I mean I came out of the tech space as well and we always had this phrase definition of done like what what is the definition of done on a particular feature a feature set. And in this case it's almost like what is the definition of success like when we say OK yes we want to focus on customer satisfaction you know the customer experience like well how.

[00:08:42] Like how do we how do we know that we've done that. Is it the number of exceptional experiences is it the number of negative experiences minimizing that look so. And there's there is sort of if I was from Boston I was a wicked details in there that can really change the way we really approach this whole thing. And I could see that really sets up then sort of this conversation of Okay well now now that we've defined success and very objective terms or very specific terms then we can start looking at what data can we collect I guess do you find that there are sometimes areas where you can collect data and create KPI and then other areas where you just can't. I mean is it is there a little bit of a we end up focusing on the things that we can measure easily as well as the things that we want to measure.

[00:09:24] Couple of questions in that one to the last piece I think we love questions that we get. Our transactional systems to give us data for but there are a lot of qualitative questions that are just as legitimate that can be tracked in other ways. Welcome bother going to examples but sometimes you have to be creative about answering questions in other ways. Market research obviously obviously does that you you ask something great.

[00:09:49] A second ago definition success.

[00:09:52] Yeah well so like how do you know if it's I do a lot of work with K12 and schools and if your definition of success is every child graduates from college what what's the boarding or whatever.

[00:10:07] Well I suppose that's one definition success but kind of in a continuous improvement framework you might say let's be x percent better than we are now. We believe this is attainable.

[00:10:21] I have a little question which is if you had to bet a thousand dollars of your own money on whether you could do this. Would you believe in this goal or are you just putting a all up there. That sounds great and we all get out of this meeting but benchmarking are very realistic.

[00:10:34] If we have any sense of how our competitors are doing in that exact science I like that I am I carry one hundred dollar bill around in my wallet for for my meetings. When we get into that like we're discussing something it's like OK look I pull out the hundred dollars like I'm going to bet you a hundred dollars on this. Like what odds are you willing to give me. It gets exactly like you. Yeah you want to get into that like how confident are you. And if we're gonna put real money on the table I don't have a thousand dollar bill. So.

[00:11:01] So I think the idea of continuous improvement.

[00:11:03] Maybe we talk about this because I think one of the things about KPI is that I think it ends up coming up in the discussion is sort of the types of KPI. And you know having everyone graduates at Sigma Lada is kind of this end result but the. Can we get 2 percent better or 3 percent better in the next quarter and the next year is a little bit more short term a little more process. Like how. How do you kind of map or how do you kind of categorize the different types of KPI is that you can put out there and and how they kind of relate to what you're trying to measure what you're trying to do with those measurements to inspire kind of change and improvement on the team.

[00:11:39] So what are the different classes of metrics and then how did those roll down. Well everything is not a KPI that's a performance metric. OK that's a really important distinction. Yeah. I think the most useful way of looking at KPI are those that the key strategic outcomes that we're betting on is achieving our large our mission our mission results. We're trying to get a certain percentage of market share. We think customer service will do it. Cutting the costs of freight whatever whatever those pieces are. So those true KPI sit at the top level and evaluate the strategy itself. Underneath those let's say the example would be losing weight that you're and KPI is what is your weight on the scale. It doesn't tell you how you do it doesn't have any idea to gets the doctor just said lose weight right. The performance metrics that then live underneath that are and it could be again it's by individual use my own. After dinner stay out of that refrigerator count. Yeah that's a key thing. A certain amount of exercise a week. Do I run three times a week. So there may be different things we can measure that we believe are that drivers on that and you can probably decompose those down even further. But everybody's eye needs to stay on that top level KPI. And if all of the performance metrics I'm doing to target are still not moving my bathroom scale well then I need to rethink I probably don't have the right setup.

[00:13:12] Something's amiss in your model.

[00:13:14] You're not you're not getting the right cause and you're and that's okay because now you can see it. The beauty of a measured measurement based system is you have insight into what you're trying. You have a pretty stable set of things about how you're proceeding it's not ad hoc and you can fix it.

[00:13:30] So it's an interesting story to have around the weight one because the way one is a good analogy in terms of the weight itself is kind of this end goal it's that it's the end result that we're looking for and I tracked all of this stuff around come off and I was working out and how much I was lifting or running and how much I was eating and calories and all these things and what I found the model that ended up working me for me the best was how much was I sleeping because I realized that sleeping was this kind of very early factor and all these other things if I if I slept well it means I went to the gym if I went to the gym then I would tend to eat much better during the day I wouldn't be eating out of being tired I would be eating out of trying to nourish my body and then I figured out that the real thing was is the thing that determined my sleep was what time I went to bed so I end up setting alarms from myself at around 10:00 o'clock and that was my OK. The day is done and I'd start my half hour routine to get to bed so I was asleep by ten thirty and it took a while to kind of experimental stuff to find this early indicator but that that is what ended up being kind of this cascade effect through all these other things and then I could just measure that one thing and it was just that thing that I needed to figure out how to do.

[00:14:33] And it's it's beautiful. I'm going to steal that.

[00:14:36] Yeah. No it's what I use. I mean I use it as an example when I'm working with teams on this issue because I think they end up tracking a lot of things that are not records they're in their call area. They're not really causal so that if we can figure out what are the causal things that are that they can actually have control over and do to make changes in the final metric that they're trying to move is is really the key in the art of this whole thing.

[00:14:58] And the beauty is I'm really a whiteboard guy. So many if you could whiteboards there were stories happen and explanation and alignment. If you just took that I won't forget that you just gave me a thing or 10 sleeping was a team. Everybody on the team knows that's what we're about. Focus on that calories and that's probably not the main thing yes we're gonna be where of it but we are on the sleep team because man there is no better guide than that. And that's what the innovation and the intelligence of an organization particularly in more front lines. They are where people have insight to that will then drive the KPI of sleep which will drive the mission of health.

[00:15:39] Yeah you too. So it seems like there's this process or the stage of you know yes figuring out what kind of results do we want to generate. What are the things that we measure that are going to going to impact those results. Then the sort of more practically like how do you actually set up these dashboards like what are some common practices or best practices that you have in terms of helping teams actually look at the numbers on a regular basis and make that part of their rhythm part of their decision making process.

[00:16:04] Two pieces one is kind of the top down piece and one is a response the top down pieces.

[00:16:09] Again because I'd like to work right from the CEO or executive director is how they incorporate those numbers into their meetings. Know that there is some discipline and rigour it's like your sleep thing. How. This is the thing we want to be aware of. We are constantly going back to the story of we got to get to bed on time. Are we doing that. And the shared sense that there's a small set of things we really care about that that's then carried from leadership team down to managers and so on. So I think some of it's just management practice and communication. The other side is I think when projects are framed and initiatives are built out and software's purchased that when people are doing those things they're doing them with the North Star. How is this really affecting what we most care about in this organization not necessarily department thing and we'd like a better CRM but is this going to create more value for our customers is it that there is an actual needle they're trying to move and you said something a little while ago around how do you know when you're successful. I think when projects are framed with a vision for what success will look like for this amount of investment this are why this bottom up entrepreneurial approach to moving key performance metrics is the challenge I see particularly in I.T. responding to things now they don't know what. No this whole project is supposed to move. They get to build a data warehouse or they get to work on the product software. And I think when you really know what the organization is trying to do then when you frame a project you're saying successful looks like this failure will look like that. This is what we're going to do with the business. Everybody's on this together. It's like Shark Tank preparation and everybody knows what the North Star is. That is not what goes on.

[00:17:55] Yes that the type out there. Yeah.

[00:17:57] Having been on the other side of that building building lots of systems but I have no idea of what you're building this but we'll build it and we'll build our great system around it.

[00:18:07] I guess how do you do that. So is this is this a document I mean I'm thinking about companies who are complex enough where it's not you know everyone's working in the same room and the CEO can just kind of speak different like how how do you communicate this or how have you seen CEO's or leadership teams leaders inside companies effectively communicate out to you know potentially teams departments individuals that are beyond arm's reach on these things in terms of being able to describe what it is we're trying to do what does success look like what is the purpose and the mission that we're on.

[00:18:37] That question is why the Bartlet system exists. I believe that when you can get the company's mission to seven to nine major strategic and everybody can walk into the office and see what those are very crisply. You actually have an alignment tool at the heart of your organization that isn't hierarchical. It's like this is what we're about. We're about 4.5 Amazon stars on our products. We're about our warranty percentage of costs of warranty related to sales being 2 percent. Those are all the ways we're making a dent in the world and everybody who walks into that entry way looks over the receptionist desk and goes Wow OK we're hitting it we're not hitting. It's the CEO's dashboard but really it's the company's dashboard.

[00:19:25] Yeah I like that. And the Christmas like this is a lot of that and a how to describe them even write them. I mean not that we need to kind of market copy write them but at least write them in the way that we're communicating not just the data we're trying to collect but what is the impact that we want to have.

[00:19:43] I think is a key and I think the ones that I see that it work well there's a certain sort of Christmas well articulated idea within each KPI that people get and it's they can say okay I can see why we're doing these things and I see how they correlate and how they're they're driving. What are some of the common mistakes that U.S. companies make in this process. You know you mentioned the ones earlier that they just kind of they look at all the data they have and they figure all that all the KPI is you know they go to KPI library Scholem I think is one of my favorite ones and there's you know literally hundred thousand KPI you can pull out of that one common mistake that KPI library does have a value and a lot of them are great.

[00:20:20] You don't know whether they're right for your business so mistakes. I'll go through a few if you don't have questions before you start solving things. In other words you're not sure. I think the whole point of a dashboard is to answer something not to help you navigate and find it. I think the second thing treating a dashboard as a data navigation tool I.T. loves building these 78 filters you can see everything in the database. If you just slice it right you can drill down particularly for executives. They don't have the time to do that. And if they look at it the first we can go wow this is you've got me a 747 but they'll never be able to look at it under a minute and do anything letting I.T. pick the KPI. A lot of time engine.

[00:21:01] You know why I fix that KPI because they can't get the attention of the business to get the project done. We've got to get the project done and they know where the data is.

[00:21:11] I think they don't know how to respond to the data at 90 but often there's a lot of analysts and people my team who know where to find all the data.

[00:21:19] So in some ways that's a dangerous knowledge because you feel like you understand the business you know the data is a few more here there.

[00:21:26] I have seven of only four so what is the talk to me about the leadership team because I think the the I certainly see challenges you know working with a lot of leadership teams where there's there isn't consistency or agreement hasn't been built or consensus hasn't been developed around some of these KPI. How do you how do you do what they do. Do you just kind of moving forward with a rough model. Do you really plan to push for a high degree of consensus and commitment around things before you move forward.

[00:21:54] How do you deal with that alignment issue on leadership team alignment is like my focusing people and creating alignment are like my mission. So the place to start on that is to help a leadership team recognize how different their understanding of the business actually is. So if you start with a CEO you put everybody in separate rooms like a police lineup and you ask the CEO who's the customer what's the value proposition. What are our key activities resources costs we're worried about how do we monetize etc.. You ask all those you can build a map of what the CEO thinks the company is. If you then ask those exact same questions to suspect 1 through 7 in separate rooms without even identifying who did different answers you can come back and show the Venn diagram of circles. It's all over the place. We don't agree on who the customer is. No we don't. So to see it is often often to have almost a a knowing laugh at your disconnect like how can we be in these same meetings and have and not even understand who our customer is. And so I think recognition of the disconnect. It's like a magic trick you can almost do this with any leadership team and come back and go oh you guys don't you're not working in the same business. Yeah I think from there again the KPI is the last part of that cycle. I think the CEO actually really believes this. The CEO sets the large strategy in the organization. This is what we're doing. Fundamentally this is how our business model works. Until we change it and the next level down of what are our most important questions that's a little bit of a leadership.

[00:23:34] Now we're moving into input from everyone. Now if the business model is framed those questions then can be a shared agreement among the leadership team. Everybody will have their own but if they're working on them together you can reasonably distill those down. And if the leadership team can't decide on them unanimously It's the CEO's call then to resolve. OK. So now we at least we might have some people sulking in the corner that's looking he didn't guess their question and they could be right. Six months from now you might go there but now then move to how do we measure those things at least has the foundation of we agree on what we're solving for. There's a beautiful exercise of creating an empty conference room with butcher block paper and you can write out the key performance. I haven't done this I am determined to do this because it's so it's such a powerful idea for alignment. You write the questions out and you let people visit the room almost like an art gallery and write how they believe the KPI should be measured and people who just a week or two people can come in there and contribute and read and go Oh I like this one. And there is a collective sense. This is very Bruce by the way have a collective participation and sense of it being a living thing where we come down to those. So there is a shared sense of it. It isn't like you pick the KPI. I don't like the numbers. I disagree. You're counting the wrong thing and it's not right anyway. My team isn't going to do it. You're bringing people along on that journey.

[00:25:06] Yeah I like the kind of the DC Chronos evolution of those of the answers.

[00:25:11] That's a rather than trying to come up with a half an hour in a meeting room with everyone kind of intensely that you just let it you let it sort of sit and percolate and people kind of interact and it doesn't get so positional. Yeah like you're wrong. Just because you're wrong. Yeah and that's the harbor I mean you want do you want to get enrollment and buy in.

[00:25:29] You know so that people are behind these things. You know on the flipside you do need decisiveness and you need action so you know that that's always one of the challenges on a leadership team is how do how do you kind of deciding how to decide who's not in that challenge.

[00:25:42] Another piece that comes up is I don't know that there's a perfect solution for this people being threatened by being measured. The truth is KPI is measure things and they measure performance and they measure how effectively problems are being approached. And so there's a huge sometimes like Oh no no that's not to measure performance at all. It's like Well not exactly. If you're batting averages to 10 you know you can say well this is really about taking more time in the batting cage. But it's also that you're batting 210. We got to bench you. So I don't know how to step around that. I think making the process and the way that the numbers approached being front and center more than just the outcome being key but people feeling safe as safe as possible is key and that message is sent from the top down.

[00:26:29] Adam What if people want to find out more about you the Bartlet system have questions from this conversation. Best way to contact you more get more information. Where would people go.

[00:26:39] So the best way is to reach me directly on Bartlet's list and dot com.

[00:26:43] You'll find my number since you're listening to the show actually give cell number out my personal numbers cell numbers 4 2 5 8 9 1 forty nine twenty five and then I'm assuming there's not thirty thousand listening to this now.

[00:26:58] Yeah they are great when they go into the vintage pile directly and then my e-mails really simple.

[00:27:05] Adam at Bartlett system dot com. Awesome and call me. I would love this work. Love to talk through people's business strategies and these questions and let's get on the phone.

[00:27:14] Perfect. I'll I'll I'll make sure those are in the Shona so people can click through and and get those there. ADAM This has been a pleasure I love. Like I said this is one of my favorite topics. This has been a great conversation. I think we had some really good ones. I appreciate the time.

[00:27:26] Yeah likewise. Thanks first for having me on.

[00:27:29] You've been listening to Scaling up Services with Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt. To find a full is a podcast episodes. Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. This is a Web site that scaling up services dot com and toll free to sign up for the free newsletter scalingupservices/newsletter.