Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 126. This week we have storytelling about Rising Team with Jennifer Dulski. During this episode, Jennifer and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Rising Team.
Jennifer is an expert in all things leadership and management. Her passion for helping people understand the core skills that it takes to be a great leader really comes through during the podcast.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 29 minutes
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You’re listening to the Use Case podcast. We have Jennifer on from Rising Team. We’re going to be learning all about her firm. Let’s just jump right into it. Jennifer, would you do me and the audience a favor and introduce both yourself and Rising Team?
Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
So, yeah, I’m Jennifer Dulski. I am the CEO and founder of Rising Team. Before that, though, I have more than 20 years of leadership experience leading teams at companies of all sizes, from very small startups to large tech companies, where I led large teams at Google, Facebook, Yahoo and change.org. I also teach management at Stanford Graduate School of Business. So, I spend a lot of time really thinking about what great leadership looks like. Last year, I started building a company called Rising Team. It is a SAS product essentially to empower managers to build teams that are more engaged, connected, and successful.
Love it, A. B, obviously things have changed in the times that you and I have studied leadership. What do you see… obviously through the pandemic, you saw a lot of different things, but what do you see right now as the issue that most people need to deal with when they deal with leaders and leadership?
You know, it’s interesting, there are some things that are really consistent over time.
So, things like people need to feel heard and understood. They need to have clear path of what they’re working on. They need to understand their goals and feel appreciated. None of that has changed. The thing that really has changed is that our work environment is just in massive period of transition. It was hard to be a manager before, to think about how to connect your team and how to grow each person and how to hit all your goals.
All of a sudden, you have everyone going from an environment where they’re all in the office to spending 18 months remote, to now a world where it’s all a mix. You know? Some teams are staying remote, some are going hybrid, some are back in the office, but it’s a shock to the system to everybody.
A role that was hard to begin with is now really, really complex and complicated. I’ve heard people, even very senior people, I was talking to a woman who’s a VP of marketing at a very large company the other day, and she’s been leading teams for also about 20 years. She said, “I honestly don’t know what to do in this environment.” So, it’s a challenging time.
We’re going to get into the product, because I’m really excited to actually learn about that. But before we do that, I want to ask you a philosophical question. Leadership, is it nature or nurture?
You know, I think it’s a little bit of both. I do have a core belief that most people have… actually, all people have core natural talents, and some of those talents are better suited to be natural leaders than others. That said, I also really do believe that a lot of this is coachable. Essentially, that’s what we’re doing with Rising Team, is helping people understand the core skills that it takes to be a great leader, and not only teach them the skills, but provide them the tools to bring those skills to life, because that’s the really hard part.
You know? I’ve been lucky in my career to be able to have executive coaches and be sent to all kinds of fancy trainings. Even with all of that, I always felt like when I got back to my team at the end of the day, no matter what I had learned, it was up to me to then reinvent how I use that with my team, because there weren’t any tools to help me. So, essentially, what we’ve built at Rising Team are the tools I wished I always had over all those years.
I love it. So, with coaching as it is, state of coaching today, what does the talent want? I mean, we’ll deal with the company after this, but what does the talent want from coaching?
You know, I will say this is probably, since we are not a coaching company, I can’t say in great detail what they want.
But what I know managers want is they want to know what it takes to really be great at their job. They want to understand the skills that they need, and they want the ability to, again, actually bring those to life on a day-to-day basis. I’ll tell you the other thing they want is they don’t want it to take too much time. They’re busy. They have long to do lists also. What they’re trying to find is ways to fit their own leadership development growth into their already busy schedule, and ideally in a way that helps their team succeed.
I love that. Wonderful answer and I think spot on. I want to ask you a bunch of questions about hybrid model and all these other things, but let’s talk about the software first, before we get into some of that. Walk us into the software, and again, from a management perspective and from a user perspective, what is it ultimately you’re trying to solve for?
Yeah. Rising Team, we produce a tool we call the leader kit. It is a complete collection of training and tools to help managers learn about, one, the key leadership theme each month, and it’s the only tool to really combine leadership development and team building into one toolkit. What happens is that each month, you get a leader kit, and it focuses on one key leadership theme. What comes in the kit is training on that theme, which is we call it comprehensive, but compact, because, again, it has to fit into their busy schedule.
Then you get an assessment or tool to use with your team. So, again, how do you pull insights around that theme about each of the people on your team? The real magic of the leader kit is this fully guided team-building session tool. Every month, you get a team building session where we’ve already taken care of everything. It has everything in it, from a warm-up to ground rules, to discussion prompts, to the tool baked in, to the countdown timers.
Essentially, any leader can facilitate a really productive team building session once each month around these key themes. What ends up happening is that leaders grow, and their teams grow alongside them. They also end up feeling much more connected, which, again, helps in this really remote environment. We think about it, we call it sometimes HIIT for leaders, like high intensity interval training. It’s fast and it should be fun. That’s the idea.
I could see this applying in a lot of different industries. Where have y’all found success so far?
You know, the really amazing thing is that we are seeing it work across all kinds of companies and for teams at every level. We literally have CEOs using it with their executive teams and first-time managers using it with their teams. They’re all seeing value. We have technical teams, like highly introverted, often very technical teams using it, and we have very extroverted sales and marketing teams using it. Before we launch each kit, we observe teams going through it so that we can make improvements before we put it out into the world. They will do it differently.
Different leaders will use the tool a little bit differently, but the amazing thing is they really are all coming out with a lot of value from it. Our average likelihood to recommend score is currently 9.5 out of 10 people. When we ask them on a scale of 1 to 5 if they feel more connected to their team, they’re scoring it at 4.7 out of 5. When we ask if they’re learning something valuable, they’re at 4.5 out of 5. That crosses all the different kinds of teams that are using it.
I love this, by the way. So, monthly, I understand the team building, how many months do you have already kind of…
Yeah. I will say, we’re in-
What’s the runway here? Does it just keep going?
It does, it does keep going. I mean, if you think about it, there are an infinite number of topics that you could do to make yourself a better leader and to help your team grow and connect. There’s two other things I’ll say. One is that it’s monthly, and we did that on purpose so that people can get a lot of value by investing in a fairly small amount of time.
We say it’s two hours a month for the team and maybe three hours a month for the leader, but we also send weekly leadership tips in between the monthly sessions so that leaders can have ways to integrate what they learned in the theme into their regular routine. But the idea is it shouldn’t be extra time. It’s in your team meeting this week or this month, try doing this.
But the other thing that happens is that over time, you end up building this really robust, full, deep picture of insights about your team. If you think about it, each month has a tool. So, for instance, month one is psychological safety. The tool that comes with month one is user manual. So, you learn all about the working styles and the things your team struggles with and how to help them be their best. That goes into your profile of that person.
Month two is about amplifying natural talents. We have an assessment that helps identify the natural talents of each person at work. That then goes into your profile about that person. Month three, you learn about their appreciation preferences. Over time, not only are you getting these little bite-sized toolkits, but you’re building this profile that then you can use to become a much better coach for people over time.
I can see these being building blocks, like you’ve stated. You want to understand where people are, and then obviously level them up. But I could also see these being interchangeable in the sense of someone new coming into the team, or maybe even a new leader coming into a situation, and being able to start from month one, wherever they are in the process.
The question I have is now or even in the future, do you believe that you’ll create levels of the leadership kit, like basic, intermediate, advanced? Those are dumb examples, but the idea that you’ll take a topic, and then, again, if they’ve covered it once, or maybe they feel like they’ve got a good feel for it, then you want to go to advanced concepts into it?
Yep. Yeah. What I would say is that I can see us doing several things here. First of all, I would say that in general, I don’t believe in the concept of there’s a track for beginners and a track for experts, because most of these concepts, if what you’re doing is to get is to get to know more deeply each team member, then you should do that whether you’re a senior leader or a first-time manager. I use the kit with my executive team the same way I think a new manager would.
That said, to the point you made, if you’ve done it before, you don’t want to do the same exact thing again. So, yes, I do believe that over time we’ll have, “Hey, you did the user manual with your team a year ago. It’s time to refresh it.” But we’re going to have a different take on that now, because you know this about each other. So, how do you build your own skills over time? The other thing I think we’ll do is create different tracks. So, not necessarily advanced and beginner, but more like topical tracks.
For instance, there might be what I call the clarify track. I use a philosophy I call the three Cs, which is that great managers often look a lot like great sports coaches. I’m a big, big fan of sports and sports movies and Ted Lasso and all of that. The three C are coach, clarify, and connect. You basically understand and grow each person, lay out a really clear plan for where you’re going, and make the team feel like a team.
You could imagine a clarify track where you would have months that would start with creating team vision and team values, and how do you build a strategy and so forth, which are different a little bit from how do you understand and coach each person. So, you might have a coach track, a clarify track, et cetera.
Well, the gift that keeps giving here is that your teams change, they’re going through not only just change in and out, but then they get smarter, they get better, they have different needs and desires, and your leaders are going through the same thing. I love the model. Is a part of the team building currently or even in the future, is some of it experiential?
It’s all experiential.
Because there are exercises built into it. So, you’re taking an exercise, you’re getting your own data back, then we’re aggregating the data, you’re looking at the teams. For instance, in the month that’s about talents, everybody spends a few minutes to take the assessment themselves. We’ve made these assessments much shorter, so they’re doable in this timeframe. Then they see what their own top talents are. But the next page is how do you look at mashups?
How do you look at any two people on your team and see how their talents compliment each other and where they’re similar and how they can work together and so forth? It’s always experiential. We’ve built it so that it works either remote or in person. I have a vision, today, most teams are still doing it remotely and we see a lot of Zoom and so forth, but I have a vision that you could do it everybody’s sitting outside in a circle in the park and all you need is your phone to do it and it works the same way.
I love that. I love that. This dumb question alert, can companies decide where they want to start?
Yeah. What we’re doing with companies right now, first of all, the nice thing about this product is that it’s not one of those HR tech tools that you have to use across the entire company or else it doesn’t work.
We basically say, “Let’s give it a try. Pilot it with as many teams as you’d like.” Some companies are doing, “Let’s start with a senior leader and their team,” and then each of those leads will do it with their team. So, there’s a trickle down version. There’s another version where companies just look for who’s most eager to do it, and they sign up those people. We currently for companies that are starting with pretty small pilots, we have them go through it in our order, because they’re not buying big programs yet and so forth.
But what we’re saying is that when companies go to larger rollouts and want to do this enterprise wide, then we will let them both customize the order and potentially even customize the content. A lot of times, companies have certain philosophies they feel really strongly about. As an example, each leader kit comes with training in it. If they have a particular training article they’ve already written and they would like to include, it’s fairly easy. It’s modular enough that we can also customize it in that way.
I love that. You mentioned HR tech, and so I just want to make sure the audience… is the leadership training and development, is it tied to anything else, like performance learning succession? Is there anything that it should be attached to?
Right now, we’re seeing… it’s interesting. We sell it both bottoms up and tops down. We let individual managers also invest in their own growth by buying it themselves and expensing it pretty quickly. Then we work with companies to sell it in more broadly. On the company side, we see both overall HR leaders, like heads of HR and also learning and development people being the ones who focus most on this.
We also see sometimes executives like heads of functions or things like that wanting to just buy it for their team. On the HR side, we haven’t yet built the official integrations that would show you exactly how it’s impacting your key metrics, but that is our plan, right? We’d like to hook it up to your culture amp or whatever your internal pulse survey is so that you can see pre post numbers on people using the leader kit, and also see comparison numbers for teams that use the leader kit versus teams that don’t, because if you think about it, the numbers we’re trying to move here are really the most critical numbers to company success, which is employee engagement.
We all know that the data is so clear that when employees are engaged, companies are more productive, more profitable, all their key business metrics go up, and we know that it’s only about 15% of employees globally that are engaged, and we know that 70% of employee engagement can be explained by the quality of individual managers, according to Gallup. So, essentially, you know what drives it, but there hasn’t been other than traditional training and coaching, there hasn’t been anything, again, to help managers actually do the things that drive employee engagement. That’s what Rising Team does.
It’s interesting that you mention engagement. Engagement is interesting for me, it’s a journey, not a necessarily a destination, but I see this more as a retention tool than a pure engagement tool. I think, again, it does that too, but I think done well, this is actually a great way to keep talent.
That’s absolutely right. I only say engagement in the sense that your more engaged employees are more likely to stay longer at your company.
Truth. Yeah, yeah. Right.
100% agree with you.
Generationally, have you noticed anything about the different generations in terms of either how you teach leadership or how they want to learn leadership, or has anything come up so far as it relates to generations?
You know, we haven’t seen a lot of differences. What I will say is that the younger generations are even more excited about the things that connect them to each other, and also probably even more excited about the fun elements that are there. So, for instance, one of the things we’ve tried to do, as I said, is to make it fun.
We say, “If this is a subscription box, like a consumer box you would order every month, those often come with fun bonus items thrown in.” So, we said, “What if we make a fun bonus every month through these boxes?” That’s what happens, you unlock a bonus when you complete the team session. One of the things we do in each bonus is we provide what we call team mojis. They’re emojis that you can use that help you create a shared language around what you just learned in the sessions.
So, for example, in the first session on psychological safety and team dynamics, you have learned about everybody’s working style preferences, like what time of day they want to work and when it’s okay to interrupt them. So, we made little emojis. They’re all animated and they come with little acronyms. So, for instance, there’s one we call the interrupting iguana, and it’s a little iguana that goes across your screen and then says, “Hey,” and it comes with an acronym, OTI, okay to interrupt.
The idea is that anyone can use this when they want to ask if it’s okay to interrupt someone, or there’s another one called the night owl, which is basically you know that you work at night, but not a lot of other people do, and so it has its own acronym, and LN, which is no need to look now. You can post at night without worrying and having to schedule your posts, but the person you posted to knows that, that you don’t expect them to look at it. The younger generations have really gotten into these gamified emojis and things like that.
Yeah. I think what will be interesting is with gen Z, again, as they enter more of the workforces, start to move up, and so both as a team member and as a leader, their attention span is shorter, which usually there’s a knock on that, but really they just process things differently and faster.
That’s going to be really interesting, because you’re already thinking about how to make this bite-size and not take up so much time that it becomes a wait for folks. It’s going to be interesting in time just to see how people want micro content delivered to them. Let me ask you a couple buying questions. One is, and you run into this, I’m sure, people that have never bought leadership development ever, whether or not they’re in a C-suite or wherever, what should they be asking you?
Well, I think if I were in their shoes, I would ask, does this cover the topics and themes that I believe are important for great leadership, and is it actionable? That was, again, my issue with leadership development tools that were out there, is they were not as actionable as I wanted. I would come home with big binders and things like that. “Okay, now I have a binder sitting in my cell.”
“I have a four inch binder, yes.”
Right. Then the other thing is just will people really do it, and will they use it on a consistent basis? Really, we started with a beta that was actually different than the leader kit. It was more of a fully integrated process with your regular routine and so forth. What we found is that people loved it, but only about a third of the people really did the things we were wanting them to. Then when we changed it to this format of it’s once a month, it’s a few hours a month, it’s just so much easier for people to actually get it done. I think that matters.
The first point, which is really interesting to me, is does it fit with their view of leadership? Assumes that they have a view of leadership.
Oh, yeah. Sorry. I should say where we started was does it fit with what we know the research says?
There you go. Okay. There you go. Now that makes sense.
Because I’m like, “What if…” I mean, you know, I’m not picking on anyone in particular, but what if I don’t really know? I mean, I’m not going to necessarily admit that, but that’s interesting. Culturally, do they also look at it through the lens of their values or their culture, things like that?
Absolutely. If they don’t, I think they should.
So, yes, and again, what we’ve tried to do is make it so that it fits, because you can adapt whatever pieces it is exactly to the culture and values. But I think the idea here is for the people who’ve never thought about it and who have no leadership development program, et cetera, this is entirely plug and play.
You can just put it in and it basically is already built on what the research says makes people great, and it’s all very easy to use. I think the bigger challenge is actually for companies that already have a very clear philosophy, but most of those companies, what I find in talking to them is they have clear philosophies, and they may even have training around it, but that’s kind of where it ends, you know?
It stops with this is the PDF we did, or this is the one-time training we do for our teams. That just isn’t enough, right?
No, I think, and again, the way that y’all have created it, again, once a month, there’s something that’s delivered, there’s things that they have to do, and it’s fun. I think you’ve sorted out a lot of the things that get in the way naturally of great training. This is something to be excited about, and it’s, again, not going to be overwhelming, even busy professionals can still deal with this, and they get to learn something new.
Which who doesn’t like to learn something new? I love that. I want to ask you about… oh, go ahead. No.
I was just going to say, the other thing that we haven’t talked about yet, and it might be your next question, is about price, because that’s the other thing we tried to do is price it such that it is not cost prohibitive to try this, especially because we wanted managers to be able to afford it themselves, right? We have currently priced it at 75 a month for a full team of up to 10 people, a manager plus 10 people.
Oh, that’s cool.
And even less, $60 a month if you pay annually. We often refer to it as less than the cost of a team lunch. It’s like, you can get all of this for less than you could take your team to lunch.
A good bottle of wine. What’s great about that is that that creates rogue adoption, right? So, you go 22 different people at Deloitte are using it with their teams, then you can go back into the front door at Deloitte and say, “Hey,” with our L&D people or CLO, or CHRO, and you can say, “Hey, a bunch of your folks are already using this.”
So, they’re finding use in this and they’re spending money on it. Maybe we should figure out a better way to work together, maybe a better way to work with the enterprise. Last question before we leave is the demo, because we’re dealing with software, and I love software, and I know you do too. When you show software, when you show Rising Team to someone for the first time, what do they fall in love with?
The thing they fall in love with is the team building session tool. I actually just demo to them the real tool with a real team that’s taken it, and show them the data that they get and the steps you go through. I mean, the kinds of responses we get are, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like this. This is exactly what we needed. Can’t believe you made it this easy.” It’s really an easy demo, because we just literally walk them through the product as people use it.
I love that. I also love that y’all use it for yourself. You use it for yourself, so you’re learning about the product, and you’re learning from your customers as well, so you’re constantly making it better. Jennifer, this was fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the Use Case podcast.
Thanks so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
Absolutely. Thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case podcast. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.