Matt Auron is a master coach who supports leaders in fast growing companies scale into their potential with long term, sustainable success. As co-founder of Evolution, Matt’s combination of deep intuition, organizational experience and behavioral science expertise allow him to design powerful and customized development solutions for their clients. He has worked with clients such as Slack, Snapchat, change.org, Coursera, Tile, Eero, Collective Health, Dropbox and Radiology Partners.
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 280. Today we’ll be talking to Matt from Evolution about the use case or business case for why his customers choose Evolution.
Evolution works exclusively with companies that strive to be iconic, world-enriching, evolutionary businesses, such as Slack, Radiology Partners, Change.org, Density and Dropbox.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think. Thanks, William.
Show length: 28 minutes
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Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup (00:25):
This is William Tincup, and you are listening to the Use Case podcast.
Today we have Matt on from Evolution, and we are learning about the business case or use case for why his customers and prospects choose Evolution. So why don’t we jump into introductions.
Matt, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Evolution?
Yeah, thanks. Great to be on-
William Tincup (00:51):
… William, thank you. Good to hear your voice again.
And yeah, Evolution is a coaching firm that focuses on high growth and dynamic companies. Traditionally, we’ve worked in the venture-backed startup space at the growth stages.
Our founding client, if you will, that really scaled us. They’re still our largest client even at Salesforce is Slack, and we learned a lot with them in partnership, and we are now over 150 clients, about 60 people at Evolution, which are full time. I can tell you about that, which includes about 50 partners and 10 operational staff.
We’re an unusual beast, in the sense that we are a fully-functioning coaching firm that works with startups. We’re not just a group of subcontractors that do some of our work here, although it’s a little bit more complex than that.
We also have a venture capital investing arm, where we have the ability … really grateful … to invest in our clients directly when they’re raising rounds.
So we do that as well as events. Sometimes we run founder retreats and coaching circles. Primarily our work is working with leaders one-on-one in coaching, includes 360 reviews that extends very nicely to doing offsites with their teams, and then also organizational work.
Early Evolution, we were about half coaching, half culture, working with companies like Slack and Coursera and Radiology Partners articulate who they were culturally and then build mechanisms at the process level. So the culture scales as the company does, and so it’s great.
My co-founder, Geoff, and I founded it just under 10 years ago and I’m currently the Managing Director. I worked previously at a place called DaVita, where I had a really cool title, Director of Wisdom, and got to experiment on the outer edges of human development in organizations. DaVita, especially at that time, was highly, highly progressive.
Just as an example, the last thing I did there was lead a meditation retreat with a Qigong Master named Teja Bell, and the folks that were attending were Harvard MBAs and healthcare [inaudible 00:03:11] people. It was a really, really cool job, and teed up a lot of Evolution, because it taught me a lot.
And so Masters in OD from Pepperdine, originally from Minneapolis, musician, meditation teacher, former lobbyist, all of that, so-
William Tincup (03:28):
We could take this in so many different directions, I’m really … which way do we go? So coaching firm, how much do you depend on technology to help your coaches do what they do?
Yeah, I’m a bit of an iconoclast because I think the whole, “Let’s create a platform,” thing that happens in technology doesn’t really work. Coaching is an ancient art form. It’s like the priest or the village elder. It’s just transmuted into this new form, and so most of our work is, believe it or not, over the phone. We do do some coaching over Zoom, but they call us up, sometimes it’s their only non-Zoom of the day, so they can stare out their window which they appreciate or go sit outside or whatever.
We will exist in a shared channel in Slack, so we DM back and forth with our clients a lot. It’s very dynamic. That’s why we don’t charge by the hour. We’re around all the time on call.
Sometimes different clients like different tools that plug in to track goals, or we can have a mutual notes page, where we’re watching, or I’ve been in client asanas. We’ll do stuff like that.
But coaching is a really human thing. I think there’s going to be a point where we have an AI coach that’s as good, but I think the one thing that we do, are heavily invested in from a technological standpoint, is Evolution’s like a dual-sided platform. So there’s a client side and then the partner side, and the partner side is all automated, and one of the reasons why the most senior coaches in Silicon Valley want to join Evolution is, our whole admin from generating a contract all the way to paying people, the reports that people get, it’s all automated and it’s seamless.
Everybody has their own little homeroom Slack channel, where they have access to all their stuff. It’s all been hard coded in through our CRM, and it’s a really pleasant life, because a lot of coaches don’t like to do that stuff. They want to coach.
William Tincup (05:29):
So we’ve invested a lot in that, and looking at our data and whatnot, which makes the experience pretty seamless, and to the clients too, so-
William Tincup (05:40):
From your experience both academically and through all of this practice, what makes a great coach? What’s some of the DNA of a great coach? And also I’m thinking about the person that’s being coached. I don’t know what you call that. I was going to say coachee, but that’s probably-
Yeah, client or coachee.
William Tincup (05:57):
So what makes someone that’s going to be really, really good at dispensing advice, and also the DNA of someone that would receive that advice, or action that advice.
The foundation really of a good coach is the ability to listen very deeply, and put yourself in the process, but also off to the side, so really focusing on the person you’re dealing with. It’s a difference between a coach and advisor or mentor. Mentors and advisors just tell old war stories, and a coach should really be asking really deep questions and listening, and helping the person source their own answers.
There’s a lot of research in adult learning that shows that the behavior change is a lot more sticky if people come to it themselves, or at least wrestle with it.
William Tincup (06:44):
And so a really good coach has developed a sense of presence. They’re there, both literally present and then presence, meaning they’re able to extend their listening through all of their pores, and be able to, through that access, deeply intuitive states, listening between the words, et cetera, to pull out these themes, and then not only help the person hold themselves accountable, “What are you going to do differently? Right? “You said you’re going to have a hard conversation. Are you going to stop-” classic engineering manager, “I’m going to actually stop coding and I’m going to start managing.”
And so you know have to set accountability, but a really good coach then also will go a level deeper and say, “What are you learning about yourself and your own internal operating system?” Because that creates capacity, and that level of learning allows the person to then replicate it in the future.
So it’s not just behavioral accountability, there’s actually a deep level of personal learning, that’s sometimes emotional, and is sometimes quite intimate, but it’s all in service of the person growing, developing their own capacity, and getting better.
The other thing though, that I would say Evolution coaches are distinct at, is we do take a pattern from Bill Campbell, Silicon Valley coach. There are times where I feel like a therapist, there’s times where I’m a board member, and Evolution coaches … and we would get in trouble by our governing body. I won’t mention them by name … but we give advice. We tell you what we think. We tend to ask questions first, but I’ll tell stories, I’ll share what my opinion is on a product itself or a process, and people really appreciate that.
Sometimes coaches are like question robots, they just sit there and ask open-ended questions, and at senior levels of leadership that can be annoying.
So just … and the last piece with it is … with the presence and the listening, being able to ask good questions, knowing when to just practically share your opinion. A good coach, if they haven’t been in an organization and held a role, managing a P&L, which is helpful, it can also be a hindrance, because then you just think about your own advice, they’re able to learn and pattern recognize.
I’ve coached several heads of product. As long as I’m really, really listening and I’m with them, I know what that job is like, I know what the tension is with engineering, I know the tension is with their PMs. I know the rub between a head of product and a product-centric CEO, and how to architect that role. Sometimes people get a little hung up on, “Oh you’ve got to have been a former head of product.” I’m like, “No you don’t.” You just need to coach them and really understand their role, and then the pattern replicates itself over and over.
And so good coaches will then really get into that context, and clients want to know that we understand them, and we know, “Okay, now I’m a CTO, and I have to hire a VP of Engineering. What does that look like, and why do I have a VP of Engineering, if I’m a CTO, and who reports to me?” We will think through all that stuff with our clients, and it gives us access to deeper levels of learning, because they know we’re swimming in the same water as them, so-
William Tincup (09:52):
You’ve heard this phrase over the years, uncoachable. In some ways I think I’m uncoachable, but anyhow, we’ll digress into that.
First of all, is that a thing? And if so, what makes one uncoachable? Would you ever take on a client and discover that they’re not really going to take the advice, they’re not really going to be coached?
Yeah, okay. So this is a really good point, and behavioral change is motivated by willingness. Willingness times skills, and if the willingness is zero, it doesn’t matter what the skill is, it still equals zero.
William Tincup (10:32):
And we get a lot of calls from people, like a VC saying, “Hey will you coach this founder?” And it’s like, “Okay,” and we talk to them, and it turns out the VC was telling them they needed to get coaching. It’s like your dad telling you you need to clean out the garage. They do it begrudgingly.
If the person is not motivated and doesn’t show up, one, wanting to be there or, two, having an open mind and, three, have stuff that they want to work on, it just doesn’t work. We’re not going to show up and say, “Cool, I’m going to teach you how to do a one-on-one now.”
We want them to show up and say, “Here are the three things on my mind, one-on-ones, this board thing that’s happening, this member of my team that I’m super-irritated with that I have to have a tough conversation, and oh by the way, I’m really anxious, and my wife has been giving me feedback about that, how I’ve been bringing that home. I want to talk about all that stuff.” Great, and then we go through it.
Because there’s clients where they’ll show up and I’m like, “Hey, how’s it going? Why don’t we check in?” They check in, we start with that, which is like, “How are you showing up today?” Get some there in the call, and then I’m like, “What do you want to talk about?” And we will architect goals at the beginning of our coaching engagements, and they tend to be long term goals.
But then the near term, week in week out stuff, that people are struggling with, the coachee, the client, needs to own the agenda. So in this case they show up and I’m like, “Hey, so what should we talk about today?” They’re like, “Oh, I don’t know,” and in the back of my mind I’m like, “I know there’s tons of stuff.” I know the person they’re irritated with, and I know they’re not thinking about the future. I know they got a lot of bad feedback about how they speak at all hands. There’s a board member that they’re worried about, and they have to put something in front of … and so I could’ve … but I don’t want to do that.
They need to show up, and they could talk about the macro stuff, financing. They could talk about the micro stuff, their own anxiety, it doesn’t matter, but if they don’t show up that way, it’s like, “You don’t need a coach,” and so it’s a client-driven process, as we say, and that’s really all it takes. As long as they’re motivated, it’ll be great. Guarantee it.
William Tincup (12:35):
So, if you don’t follow sports, for the audience, in sports, you typically have managers or coaches that either have a system … I’ll use soccer or football, because it’s World Cup’s going on. They have managers. They have a system that they like to play, and then they go and get players to fit into that system.
William Tincup (12:57):
And you also have coaches that don’t have a system. They play to the talent. Whatever the talent is, then they associate the system to the talent that they have.
Now I use that as a backdrop to ask you the question of, are coaches, are they that way … you’re professional coaches obviously … are they that way? Do they have systems, or are they more responsive to whatever that person needs, and then they build around that, or is it a mixture of both?
Yeah, it’s a good question. I have an answer in a very specific way. It’s a mixture. I would say, generally speaking, the lower in the org you go for coaching, the more structure you need.
William Tincup (13:39):
If you’re coaching a first time manager, it’s like, “You got goals and objectives, you got tracking.” They’re doing very tactical stuff.
When you’re at the top of the organization, they’re rolling in on fire, dealing with … use in big words … ontological, way of being-
William Tincup (13:55):
… or existential things, and they just need to pull their thinking apart and have it mirrored back and put it back together, because it’s the only place that CEO of a $1 billion company has, that is truly safe harbor, to pull apart the intersections including themselves.
That being said, a lot of coaches get into trouble, and people will buck, and feel almost patronized, because they’re being forced through a five step process. I, again, as an iconoclast, don’t think that humans, every human, should be forced through a five step process. I just think it doesn’t work.
William Tincup (14:32):
Especially if they don’t want to be.
If they don’t want to be.
William Tincup (14:35):
“Yeah, you can skip one and two. I’m good. Let’s go with three.”
Exactly. It’s trivialized.
William Tincup (14:40):
So at Evolution what we do is we’re model agnostic, but we bring in something if we need to. We’ll bring in all the theory. We’ll talk about Theory U, we’ll talk about team dynamics, and say, “Hey, have you read the book Teaming or Five Dysfunctions?” We’ll talk about immunity to change, and bring in change management frameworks if we need to, et cetera.
We do all of that, and each coaching session is a four part coaching session. There’s a check in. There’s accountability from the last time, “Did you do what you said you were going to do? What’d you learn?” We mindmap for learning. The third part is, “What are the things that you want coaching on today, either a long term thing or something that’s on fire.” And then the fourth part is the checkout, “What are you going to do next? Commitments? How are you leaving?” And so that just runs itself.
And sometimes coaches … they’re specific on wellness or specific on team or EQ … and that is also problematic, because any of those things may be useful, but the best coaches again at the top of the organization to have the ability to be generalists and pull in the right tool for the right person, but I really want to emphasize, it’s not structureless either. Because sometimes coaches will get in trouble as well, being like, “Cool, here we are,” And then the person’s like, “Yep,” and they’re like, “All right,” and then-
So you know have to be-
William Tincup (16:06):
Yeah, you have to be present a little bit.
William Tincup (16:08):
Evolution … I say, our model is like saying oxygen is a model, or H2O or something. We use Integral Theory as our backend, which is from Ken Wilber. He’s a consciousness theorist, and we reduce … he has a four quadrant model essentially into … the origins of that, which is, I we it, and that’s our logo.
And so if we’re coaching someone, we’re helping them, and our lens to assess is, “What’s the individual component to this 3Q self-awareness, how they’re managing themselves, even how they’re managing their time?” Could be subjective, internal, objective, external … that’s the I. What’s the we? Relationship dynamic, role playing of conversation, trust, the norms and even the culture of a group, the we. And then the it. The technical or the impersonal, which is the product, the system, the process.
And so it’s like a three-legged stool. Anytime you unpack an issue, there’s elements of all of those. Coaches tend to nudge people into the I and the we, because humans resist it. Management consultants will just do the it, but because some coaches are overly indulgent in the I and the we … we, like Evolution, love integrating the it, and our clients appreciate that too, and it leads to really holistic success.
And that’s like our X axis, and then we have a Y axis, which is B2have, which is who you are drives what you do, drives the results, and I, we, it … hopefully this doesn’t make your mind hurt … have a B2have. There’s levels in them. Even at the it level, you can get down to the, “What mental model is driving us to design this system that way,” and so that is our “model”, but it’s not really a model, it’s just a way to elegantly cut reality.
William Tincup (17:49):
William Tincup (17:51):
Right. So, a couple things. The question I’m thinking about is, how do you know when it’s not working? It’s almost like going into a marriage and having an understanding, “Okay, at a point, if this doesn’t work, here are going to be some of the signs, and then this is what we’ll do,” et cetera.
So there’s an absolute level of vulnerability when you’re being coached and coaching someone else, so how do you know, or how does the coach know … okay, what I’m saying, “It’s not working,” or, “It’s not getting through,” or, “They’re not listening,” or somehow they’re just not gelling … a more sophisticated way of saying that.
Yeah, you can definitely tell in the energy, that it’s just dead, right? It’s like being in a relationship where you’re like, “Well this is over.”
They show up … they, again, don’t have anything to work. You can tell in their tone or their affect, they’re not necessarily happy to be there. Sometimes it just … there’s these cycles, and you notice from Gestalt work, where that sense of completion that you have after like, “Hey, this conversation’s over,” that actually there’s a psychological principle to that, and so we’ll both feel into it and just notice that there’s a cycle of work done, and do we want to start a new cycle, and sometimes it’s yes, and sometimes it’s no.
And a lot of times when a client is resistant, or having trouble, or starts to blame the coach, it’s really important to not just cave. The resistance is really important, because there’s learning in that angst, and it’s a lot of transference and projection on the coach, and if you can hold it and not react to it too much, you can then spin it back on them and actually develop intimacy and depth in the relationship, and use what’s called a rupture to bring it down a level, and that’s very, very common. It happens in therapy too. So we’re used to dealing with resistance, and we don’t just automatically be like, “Oh we’re done,” but sometimes it is.
And that’s why it’s really important to talk about it and not shy away from the conflict because … and not take it personally, because a lot of times it’s a fit thing too. It’s like wrong coach, wrong time. A certain coach might be a good fit at a certain stage, maybe not another, then you need another kind of coach, and that’s okay. It’s not personal, so-
William Tincup (20:21):
Can you outgrow a coach?
Yes you can. I’ve had clients where I’m a perfect fit for them, and then their next stage I’ve given the gift, and my co-founder, Geoff, will take them, right? Not immediately. Sometimes there’s a break, but that’s totally cool.
And you can learn what they have to give, and then at that point there’s a lot of people who learn the basics, and then they need somebody else, and this one case I’m thinking about, this person, it was a lot of self-learning and individual transformation and EQ and stuff about culture, and then she just gets to this point where … I at that time was focused on that stuff, and she needed a board member view coach.
Now ironically, that’s how I coach now, so maybe I would be a good fit for her. This is years ago, but she just transitioned and done that piece of work, and I think it’s cool for people to get exposure to different people too. Everybody has a little gift.
Some of my favorite clients though, one of the ways we are different is again … the ICF and most coaching schools recommend that you have time bound engagements, six months or whatever, and like Bill Campbell, who just would sit in the Google or Apple executive team meetings for years, we’re adjunct members of the team, and I’ve had clients for five, seven years, and it’s amazing. I know them inside and out. I know their team, I meet with their team, I know the product, and we can add tons of high level strategic value, and we’re staying on top of it and letting the relationship change. But that’s another way where we’re different, and we’re more aligned with how Bill used to coach, so-
William Tincup (21:59):
When buying coaching services like Evolution, what do you need from the other people that are seeking you out? Probably some of the L&D folks, probably the executive team, whomever those are, the folks that reach out to you, what questions should they be asking you? Especially if they’ve never bought coaching before. It’s really what I’m thinking about. People have bought it before, they’re probably pretty adept at asking the questions, but for folks that have never purchased coaching or never interacted with people in this way, how do we make them a little bit more literate around what [inaudible 00:22:39]?
Yeah, I think, “Who do you work with?” And not that it’s just a dog and pony show, or show me your cool logos, but people like us, because we work with Notion and Slack and AngelList, and Glassdoor, Twitter. These clients, we’ve got this pattern recognition, and they know that we’re going to get them. And a lot of companies this happens where they’re like, “Okay, you work there, and we’re at that stage, and we know you’re at that stage, and your coaches get it,” and so that’s a context piece, which is I think really important. You can ask some storytelling where we can tell our Slack stories, is where the house that Slack built and some of the dynamics.
The other one is just approach. Some of the questions you were asking William, I think, are good. “Do you have an approach? Do you have a format that people follow? What does a normal coaching engagement look like? What are some of the distinctions?”
And we’re always distincting ourselves from … we don’t have many, but we do have some competitors that work in the venture space, and we love them, right? Reboot, they’re like our cousins, great people over there, but we’re a little different than they are. And so if I’m like, “Hey, you’re talking to Reboot, good choice, first of all, but here’s how we’re a little different than them, and then you can make the choice based on that,” and so I think that’s important.
The process matters. We have a very clear process where how you match coaches to the person is a really important thing. We figured out, by the way, chemistry is more important than background, and so we’re always having people, if they’re willing, meet a few folks and kick the tires and connect.
Yeah, so that’s what I would say. Yeah.
William Tincup (24:31):
So I was going to ask you about chemistry, so I’m glad we got there. So the chemistry part … when people buy software, I’ve always told them … not always, for the last decade or so … I’ve told them to meet your implementation team before you purchase the software. So right before you’re about to sign, meet your implementation team, so that you can really make sure, because most implementations get sideways because of chemistry, not because of the software, not because of some of the other things. It’s because the teams just didn’t gel.
So take us into that process of just matching people up and getting chemistry right.
Yeah. Well, so yeah, I think the chemistry thing really comes from the meeting … sorry for my pausing … because it’s like when you go out with somebody the first time … that maybe it’s a bad metaphor … but it’s apt and you’re like, “Okay, there’s a vibe here,” right?
William Tincup (25:36):
And this person understands me and you don’t get it. It’s visceral, and so I just lock in … and you’ve had these calls or we just fall into it, and I feel like I’m in their head and we’re speaking the same language, and there’s a flow, and that is what you want. That’s what you’re looking for, right? It’s as not to get too woo woo, but it’s your subconscious saying, “Hey, work with that person,” yeah.
William Tincup (26:05):
I know what you’re talking about. I can’t describe it as eloquently as you can, but you just know. You’re just sitting down for coffee or whatever the bid is, and you’re just like, “I want to be around it. I want to be in this person’s orbit, somehow, some way. I don’t really quite know. I might not the exact thing, but I want to be in this person’s orbit, because I think I can learn something from them.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. Yeah.
William Tincup (26:29):
That might go both ways too. If I’m thinking about it from a coaching perspective, it might go both ways, you know what I’m saying? That might be also be the juice for them to be excited about the person that they’re coaching.
Got it. Yep, exactly. They get excited too, and so that’s why it’s worth the time to spend just connecting with folks, and doing case studies and all that too. If you’re assessing a coach, it’s like, do some flies and grounders. I had one client where I coached her through, that she needed to have a pre-meeting before sitting down with the CEO, and it was a 30 minute, 20 minute, chemistry call, so it’s not like it was the most epic high level strategic thing, but it was great, because she got clear on what she needed to do, who needed to be there, what her anxiety was, and she’s like, “Wow, that was very tactically useful. Thank you.”
So we’re always trying to add value, even in those calls, and it’s really helpful and great when people tee something up to that [inaudible 00:27:26].
William Tincup (27:26):
I love it. Matt, I love what and your business partner you all have built. It’s just elegant, and it’s stuff that we don’t talk about enough on this podcast especially is, it’s not overbearing with tech, tech, tech, which is … you see a lot of the same stuff I do. There’s so many platforms, which is great, but this seems … especially with the people that you’re coaching and the way that you’re coaching … it just seems, as you said earlier, it’s more about the human connection.
So thank you so much for carving out time for us.
Yeah, absolutely. Happy to be on here, www.evolution.team. Folks can find us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and happy to be of service, and just in the conversation about building evolutionary businesses, and really appreciate being on here, William, and thanks for having me.
William Tincup (28:19):
Absolutely. Thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case podcast, until next time.
You’ve been listening to Recruiting Daily’s Use Case podcast. Be sure to subscribe on your favorite platform and hit us up at recruitingdaily.com.
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.