December 7, 2021
In this episode of the CrossLead podcast, host David Silverman speaks with Charlie Herrin, President of the Technology, Product, Xperience organization within Comcast Cable.
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Customer Obsession with Charlie Herrin
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Show Notes

Customer Obsession with Charlie Herrin

In this episode of the CrossLead podcast, host David Silverman speaks with Charlie Herrin, President of the Technology, Product, Xperience organization within Comcast Cable. They focus on the leader’s role in creating a compelling vision and building a narrative in support of it. Charlie talks about his obsession with the customer and how technology can meaningfully improve a customer’s life. He also discusses his personal routines and leadership development philosophy as well as his approach to leading change at scale and how you measure progress.

For me, innovation is not feature matching. Innovation is making someone’s life better.” – Charlie Herrin [14:26]

People need to have purpose in what they’re doing and it’s not just a job. It’s not just working on technology. It’s not just writing code or creating a design. You’re doing it for an end goal.” – Charlie Herrin [18:59]

The role of the leader is to lead and to model the behavior they want to see.” – Charlie Herrin [22:47]

Resources

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Dave
Welcome to the CrossLead podcast. I’m your host, Dave Silverman at CrossLead. We exist to help teams, individuals achieve and sustain optimum performance. In today’s episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Charlie Herrin. Charlie serves as the president of the Technology Product Experience Organization within Comcast Cable.

When I first met Charlie in 2015, he had just transitioned to the role of leading the customer experience division. He knew the team tasked with the largest NPS implementation in North America at the time. In today’s episode, we focus on the leader’s role in creating a compelling vision and building a narrative in support of it. We talk about his obsession with a customer and how technology can meaningfully improve a customer’s life. Charlie discusses his personal routines and leadership development philosophy. We talk about his approach to leading change at scale and how you measure progress. A proud father, husband, outdoorsman, an amateur photographer. Charlie’s humility and empathetic leadership style makes him a truly world class leader. Thank you for tuning in. Hope you enjoy the conversation that I have with my friend and mentor Charlie Herrin.

Good morning, good afternoon, welcome to the CrossLead podcast. Today, we’re joined with Charlie Herrin, who serves as the president of technology product experience for Comcast Cable. Today we’re going to talk about leadership and we’re going to go back and talk about the leadership development from Charlie’s perspective over his career. So, Charlie, thanks for joining us today. I really appreciate you being here now.

Charlie
Thank you. David, it’s good to be here and appreciate it.

Dave
So let’s, let’s go through your life journey and example of leadership, but take me back to where you grew up in, and some of those are formative early experiences in your life.

Charlie
I grew up in a town called Ponca City, Oklahoma. My dad was a chemist and Conoco had their big R&D facility there. So it was a good town to grow up in a lot of opportunities for kids. Oklahoma was, you know, like most kids, I was sort of bored of where I grew up. I was really, really focused on backpacking and camping.

I had read a book called Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins, and it really, I just woke me up to the idea of outdoors because my dad is not an outdoorsman.

Dave
How old were you when you read that book?

Charlie
I was 13 and 13. It’s actually I read the National Geographic articles. That he wrote first and then. And then read the book. But you know, that got me into scouting, which I joined largely because they were going backpacking. In New Mexico, and I wanted to do that. And my other passion was soccer. I play a lot of soccer. I was I’m old enough to remember it was actually the first time they had. Started in my city. So I was like on the first team.

But I spent a lot of time doing that. And so I was always outside. And when I went to college, which was at the University of Washington, it was largely to go to the Pacific Northwest again. I had this kind of bug for being in the outdoors, and I just wanted to to be someplace where I could experience a lot of adventure that way. Toyed with soccer at the University of Washington, but they’re far better than I am. So I did not go down that path.

Dave
So when you got to when you got to Washington University. Talk about, you know, what was your major? I know you were an economics major, but talk about how that sort of shaped you from a from a leadership perspective.

Charlie
Yeah, I went in to college thinking I’d be a history major and kind of pre-law kind of thing and was a pretty good writer. And that’s sort of what I was drawn to. But I ended up taking some economics classes and microeconomics classes. And I was just fascinated by the idea of. Evaluating how consumers make decisions, which is essentially what the, you know, that’s essentially what microeconomics is. Again, I just loved it. And so I kind of really leaned in. But I think from an early point in my life, I was fascinated with the idea of what consumers wanted and how they evaluated their options. And and I think that has served me well. I actually think as I got into the product game. And and consumer experience game and things like that. Is give me a lens that I think a lot of people just don’t use or maybe think about as a first lens. And that’s always my first lens is, you know, how would this benefit me as. A consumer and how would this benefit my family as a consumer? How would this benefit, you know, consumers in my community? And so it was a really formative for me.

Dave
Yeah, it’s amazing that your college major actually was relevant to your job. So I was an oceanography major in college and other than the fact that I like to surf and I was a navy seal. There wasn’t a lot of overlap there.
So the fact that you actually took core lessons from that and were able to apply it to to your to your world is pretty remarkable. You come out of university. And what was your first job out of college?

Charlie
Well, my first job, actually, I thought I was still going to do pre-law. I had taken the LSAT and done extremely well and kind of was off to going to go to law school. Just on a whim I interviewed at Andersen within was Andersen Consulting, its Accenture now. I remember that I took the interview because I was really tired of eating 19 cent boxes of macaroni. I was really, really living on the edge in terms of finances, and I thought, Well, you know, my assets are good for five years and I’ll just go to this interview. But I didn’t really care because I’ve been accepted to law school. And so I just. Sort of answered. However, I wanted to answer.

It was a little bit like that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza sort of says the opposite of everything he thinks he should say. And it works for him, and it worked for me. They call me back and said, You hired the guy we hired. And so I went into Accenture Anderson at the time as a developer because that’s how they started everyone.

You know, it’s interesting to me, but I found out pretty. Quickly I was in a great developer, but when I was really good. At was requirements and interfacing with with the clients. And again, I think that sensitivity to what they really wanted and needed and being able to add value there. That’s really what drove me. And so I was there for the typical two years and then hired on at McCaw Cellular. Which was the client I was working at. It was exciting. It was an exciting time.

Dave
And when was this, roughly?

Charlie
Well, this would have been about 94, I heard. OK. Yeah, yeah. What I loved about it was, I don’t know if you guys remember, but you know, in the early, early days of mobile. It was seen as a huge luxury and car phones and the big Motorola brick phones and the average consumer was sort of on to it yet.

But I remember in employee orientation there, they showed a video where they told the story about what people really want. And how important communication is and how how important mobility is. Sort of the nomad. They kind of pinned it into, you. Know, we love travel, we love kind of moving around. It got me to really think about an inspiring vision about what you’re doing and how you’re sort of aligning to Age-Old truths about what people have always wanted. It opened up for me the idea of narratives. I mean, I could keep going. I mean, AT&T ended up buying us that I again was able to start to craft why that was good for them, how that can bring mobility really to the mainstream and got to work on some really interesting projects to to do that.

It also showed me some things I didn’t. Want to ever do, which is like gigantic meetings. I remember going with b four of us and like 50 others. At the end of the introduction, the introductions alone would take half an hour. But but that got me to really start to understand teamwork and bringing together lots of different disciplines.
And I was there for a few years and then I then I came to Comcast.

Dave
Then you came to Comcast. Mm-Hmm. Yeah. Why did you come to Comcast? What brought you there?

Charlie
Well, I mean, like, like a lot of people that have been fortunate in their career, I had some great mentors. And one of the mentors I had was a guy named David, and he had come from a McCaw cellular at AT&T and had come over to what at the time was Comcast Cellular business. They ended up selling part of that off. And he went to had the broadband business, and he called me up and he said, You know, you should come over here. It’s just like mobile. You know, mobile was in the beginning seen as a luxury, but.

I really think this can can impact people’s lives. And so that’s that’s what really. Got me over again. Just this notion of technology. Improving people’s lives. It’s really been a constant theme in my career.

Dave
Yeah, you’ve been at sort of the vanguard for that in some massive spaces, so what year was it that you went over to Comcast that like late nineties, early 2000?

Charlie
Yeah, it was a 96.

Dave
And so broadband internet was it was just sort of appearing on the yeah, on the landscape.

Charlie
Yeah, it really was. And, you know, we didn’t have it at the time. There was no self install option we had was one of the people on the team that were that were driving that project. It was early, early days. No retail to speak of certainly wasn’t mainstream. So again, a lot of that playbook that we had in mobile could be applied to to to this technology and this value proposition for customers.

Dave
So you get to Comcast, what’s your first job when you, once you’re there?

Charlie
But my first job was business development, I think director of business development you know, at the time, the cable companies had a venture with together. With this group called. At Home, and it was in the heyday of the internet. The first heyday of the. Internet, I should say. And so it was a lot about you know, establishing relationships and things like that but when at home faced financial difficulties and ultimately disbanded.

I was given the task of trying to figure out what our portal was going to be. Email, all of that because I’d had some coding background at Accenture, you know, as a business development that you do a lot of those kinds of things. So we decided to go it alone and stood up our own portal and email, and it was really hard. But that’s ultimately what became. The seed for what became a lot of our interactive properties and and ultimately our product development teams and approach was that interactive group.

Dave
Awesome. So who is your competition then when you were going to what was it? That was it the Microsoft and Google of the world?

Charlie
Or, you know, it was AOL, you know, they were huge.

I remember, I remember, you know. You know, why are we trying to do this? Let’s just do a deal with AOL and be done and I’m like, you know, look, we’re installing this stuff. It’s a great touchpoint for our customers. Let’s, let’s hold on to it and see what we can do, and sure enough. You know, we could compete there and we won by focusing on what we were trying to do, which was connect up homes and connect people to a vastly bigger world through broadband internet. And it was a little less about, you know, being the portal. It was, it was, you know.
Sure, we had one, and we made money on it and things like that. But the real focus. Was just connecting this home, and then we started to put services on top of our portal like. Video and flash players and things like that that were really exciting. That gave us a lot of confidence to go kind of further into the interactive space.

Dave
And then from Biz Dev, what was your next stop in your career?

Charlie
Let me think. Well, I mean, it became product, essentially. You know, I was running the product. Yeah, it was, you know, running Comcast portal and interactive properties. And, you know, the features that went along with them, which at that time were things like email and personal web pages and stuff like that. And then that evolved into. You know, are you working on the TV products and working on the Infinity Home products and things like that? But it was it was definitely start to run product teams and user experience teams.

Dave
I think when I met you, you just come out of having run the Xfinity program, which at the time was the most successful product that Comcast had launched, both from an experience standpoint and just from a technology innovation standpoint. Maybe maybe talk about that experience and how that sort of shaped everything you’ve done since.

Charlie
Yeah, I think, you know, when we decided to redefine television and really put the experience and delivery up in the cloud, which we call our X1 experience.

I did not start that. That was already started by some really smart folks. But what I did do as I was brought in, we put a new UI on it and we spent a lot of time trying to solve, you know, the discovery and content and put that in quotes that customers have, which is there’s so much on how do I really kind of get to it quickly? How do we make it really welcome and an advanced sort of experience versus what existed before? And so I did run that product team and to your point, that was really successful. You know, I still think it’s one of the better UIs out there, and we really did it by focusing on the content itself and our Mission. Our mission was, A: to put a TV in every pocket, so we focused a lot on the streaming and, and mobile pieces.

It was B: to get you to your content that you want faster. And so we spent time on search and discovery and different ways to do that. Whether it’s, you know, rotten tomato listings or whether it’s we had some really cool ways of searching, and then adding things like the voice remote ultimately was sort of the last thing that I was I was involved with.
And also looking at that screen as kind of more than what’s on TV like, you can use that screen to, you know, see your security cameras, you can use that screen to interact with customer care, and that’s still something I believe strongly in. We’ll keep, we’ll keep doing that.
But the focus and the mission that I gave the team was literally and we headed it at the beginning of every meeting. This slide was like, we’re here to change people’s lives and we’re here to to implement our version of innovation. And for me, innovation is not feature matching. Innovation is making someone’s life better. It can be complex technology that does that. Or it could be something as simple as, you know, sticky coats. But the focus is, you know, making life better and that the job of a good product person.
I used to tell this story. My youngest bet you’ve met, Mave.
She was four or five and she was opening this present, you know, excited like a kid always is. And she said, I never knew I always wanted this. And I thought it was proof that that’s exactly what a good product person should be doing. And so this idea that we’re constantly trying to figure out ways of making someone excited about what they’re using and have them to start to think like. I can’t imagine my life without this, like, what did I do before? It’s just such a… it was such a, It still gets me super excited just thinking about it. And so and so that is my passion and spent a lot of time there and, nd based on that success. They said, Hey, we have another problem for you, which is the customer experience piece that we’ve been trying to turn around for a while. Could you come in and and Focus on that? And I remember when I first got that gig, lots of things. First of all, that’s where I met CrossLead and you. But I remember getting a lot of questions like, Well, look, you’re not the customer care guy. Like, you don’t have customer service experience. Why are you in this role, right? And my point of view was. Well, customer service is what happens when the experience breaks. So we’re going to go fix the experience which is in the product. It’s in the sales journey, it’s in all of those things. And how do we make those things better so that customer service is reserved for this truly important times when you need it?

And look, we’ve got a lot. We’ve got a lot to go for sure. But we made good progress. And what attracted me to that opportunity with Neil Smith, who brought it to me was it was really the chance to change our influencer culture. I wouldn’t say change because I think that the Comcast has always been really focused on customers and wanting to to do right by them. But it was a chance to influence a culture so that you could put some of the metrics around customer experience a little more, you know, in the decision making, in the business. And so that was really, I view that as sort of my experience with sort of culture and bringing people along together, like how do you bring, you know, tens of thousands of people along on this journey and get them to think about it similarly and value the same things? And then recently, I’ve been back in the product world looking back in the product.

Dave
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a remarkable story I remember. I remember the first time I came downstairs on a weekend when I told my kids they could go watch a show and I just sort of marveled at how they navigate it to a show and I’m like, My son can’t read into that voice remote. Was like, I think I was hacking the system by just talking into it. And he was like, Yep, that got me to the the picture. I wanted and then was able to click and much to my horror. I was like, Wow, you know, he’s now fully exposed to the whole world pretty quickly. So to the extent that you want your product to work for a five year old like mission accomplished, that was pretty, pretty remarkable.

Go back to the vision statement. I think that’s really I think that’s a really interesting point to dig out on a lot of times, you know? You know, part of the role of the leader is to inspire people towards a new vision. The fact I’d love to hear more how you think about the repetitiveness, how often you to do that, to sort of actually unlock that capability set for an organization?

Charlie
Yeah, I think what I learned was a lot of us, I think, make the mistake we put. We we put effort into these mission statements. Maybe you see them once or twice a year. You know, you couldn’t walk around the halls of those companies and ask them with what the mission statement is, what they’re there to do. Why are they there? And here’s similar things you’d hear very, very different things. I don’t know if you always hear the exact same thing. But I learned that pretty early on, Jim Barksdale was the president at McCaw Cellular, and he brought a lot of things from his time at FedEx. In terms of how you shape culture. And I just remember being struck by how everyone embraced it because they used it all the time because they saw it was in front of them all the time.

And so when I was really trying to build out a product culture at Comcast. The idea that people need to have purpose in what they’re doing and it’s not just a job, it’s not just working on technology, it’s not just writing code or creating a design. You’re doing it for an end goal, and having an inspirational end goal is A: important so that everyone’s excited about what they’re doing. And B: is something I learned from from you guys. Having a common mission. And a common understanding allows you to make better decisions down in the trenches and within the teams. And so that to me, was was was really important. And what I found is you just can’t do it once in a while. You literally have to repeat it all the time, which is like all my own hands. Yeah, all the time. You can’t say it enough. And so I’ve taken that to heart and really think if you’re going to try to build a different culture, really get people to live up to your mission, they have to see it constantly. It can’t just be at the budget time or on a poster in the break room. You really need to sort of reinforce it and show that you’re living it and show that you’re excited about it.

Dave
Yeah, no. 100%. If you think about the probably the most influential leadership lesson from from these last couple of experiences at Comcast, maybe tell a story around it that really helps, helps, helps the audience personalize it. If you could.

Charlie
I probably should have thought about this a little more. I mean, there’s so many. I’m the kind of person that thinks about these moments, and I just dwell on them all the time. I will say one thing I learned about what two things one is I was in my early forties because before I really am in my early fifties now, before I really realized that leadership was a discipline, you could practice and try different hats on. I assumed prior to that the people were either natural leaders or they weren’t.

And yeah, and so I went through some leadership courses and Center for Creative Leadership was one. And I realized, you know, it’s. It’s it’s a lot about what you’re saying to the team, how you’re listening to the team. It’s a lot about communications and you should try some things.

And so I forced myself in these all hands to try to be a better speaker to try to, you know, I tried a lot of different things. And so that’s one: one is that, you know, I came to realize that leadership was something that you could practice and you should look to others, read books about it and etc. I just it wasn’t in my sort of DNA at that time. It is now. And one of the there’ve been so many great leaders that I’ve worked for, but one that stuck with me because he was very different was Neil Smith, and what I remember from him was sort of just an unwavering courage and optimism about the mission and just extreme focus.
But done in a way that was very friendly and collegial and collaborative. I remember when he offered me this role. He said, I think this is going to be a lot of fun. It’s also going to be really hard. And so, you know, I’m thinking to myself, OK, Neal. He’s a seal, former seal. So if he says something’s going to be hard, it’s going to be really hard. But that got me excited. And I remember that.

Dave
What do you mean by hard Neal? I wonder if we have the same scale for what that means.

Charlie
Exactly. But I remember the look in his eyes that he’s genuinely jazzed about it, and that was the moment I flipped as like, OK, I’m all it. And so.

Dave
That’s great.

Charlie
Leadership vision or leadership principle, I learned from that and, there were others, obviously great, great mentors. I’ve had the fortune to work for. But I just took that to heart and said you know what? The role of a leader is to lead and to model the behavior they want to see. And I think he did that really well. And so it doesn’t serve a leader. Well to sort of get down or get exasperated or, you know, they really got to show that. They are excited about what they’re doing and confident that it can be done. And so that’s one lesson I’ve definitely taken, I take it to heart.

Dave
Talk to me about your personal habits, like how you sort of set yourself up for your day, for a week, for your month, for your for your year. Are there specific things that you do that are so unique to you that may be perceived as quirky?

Charlie
No, I would say, yeah, I do have a bit of a habit of it’s quirky now, but it’s it’s what I don’t have is, I think, what I aspire or aspire to.
\Which is sort of you probably wake up early and work out really hard and get your day going. I do that in spurts. And actually during this pandemic, I’ve been pretty good. So my day typically starts at five or earlier. I sleep less as I get older. But and I’m not a kind of guy that can get up right away at work. I’m just not. And so the one habit that I do have, which my wife teases me about, she calls it puttering around. But you know, I get my coffee. I read some email and I always I always read the news or watch the news, BBC or something like that or NBC.

For me, it’s just having an hour and a half of quiet time to kind of think about the day. And actually a lot of the stuff I think about. I process emails and stuff like that but a lot of this stuff I think about is what we’ve talked about a little here today, which is like, how am I going to sort of. You know, support the narrative I’m telling in the meetings that I have today? You know, where where are there opportunities to influence, you know, towards the mission of what we’re trying to do?
It’s a bit of a reminder of really what I’m all about and what I’m here to do I love that. And then, you know, it’s awesome. And then, you know, I have during, especially during Kovner, because I’m not an early morning workout person. I did start blocking seven to eight to work out, and so I’ve been pretty good about that, but other than that, I do have a lot of like quirky habits or. I find a lot of quirky habits, but not on a daily basis But now and then, I’m a big fan. Like, I’ve got four kids and in the evening, you know, try to get as much done. During the day so that I can have some time with them. You know, we’re big, big family dinner, people.

Dave
Oh, that’s great. That’s great. If you go back to your early days as a as a scout and I know, I know you’re very successful, you went on to to to get your Eagle Eagle Scout badge. Maybe talk about what was like one of the core takeaways that you still live today from from those experiences is as a child.

Charlie
You know, I would think, well, first of all, I was again very focused on the camping aspects of being a scout. So to me, it was it was about getting a bunch of skills that I wasn’t going to be able to get from from my dad. And know I would say. And I went on. My son is an Eagle Scout. I went on to help with his troop. I would say what I took from it was a notion of civic responsibility and just just the idea of. You know, doing things for your community I did not. And we’ve talked a lot about it. I did not go on to serve in the forces or anything like that, which has been a minor regret of mine but I do. Feel like as a, as a person in society, we we owe something to the community.

And I think that scouting experience fostered that and then I would say as an adult leader in the scouts when my son was in it, when I was amazed by is just how accomplished and. Thoughtful these young men and women can be. And the potential is so much greater than I. Think we give kids credit for. And so I was I was.
Truly inspired by the accomplishments of some of these, you know, 16, 17, 15 year olds in terms of what they knew about.

Dave
You know.

Charlie
Everything you know, they just attacked it and with such a curious mind. And so that was that was really inspiring to me.

Dave
Yeah, it’s awesome. I mean, obviously, the hope he prepared peace plays and it sounds like he’d do that every morning. I love the fact that you connect. You take the time to be thoughtful about your day in looking at the various interactions you’re going to have and saying, All right, how do I take that, that vision and weave that into these meetings? That’s that’s that’s that’s extremely thoughtful, makes a ton of sense and probably a practice that everybody could probably apply.

Charlie
I think you can take that into sort of your your your goals, too. Again, I’m a big believer in keeping track and keeping score. And so every quarter when it I say my goals were how my grading myself and I, you know, send that to my boss. And one, it helps the scope creep. It helps to remind your boss. What you said you were going to do. And two, it keeps you honest and it makes you a person of your word and transparency. Look, I’m not. I’m not getting this a goal done.

Charlie
And for these reasons, but I think it’s important to constantly revisit what you’re where you’re trying to do.

Dave
You talked earlier or we’ve talked earlier about, you know, the importance of teams and sort of your your sort of development around those concepts specifically in this role because I think it was it was interesting. I think to be good for the audience to hear kind of unique is that position because you weren’t really in charge of anything, right? But you had influence over sort of everything. And so you really had to work in that distributed almost team of teams and time. Maybe maybe talk a bit more about, you know, some of the key things you took away from trying to drive a transformation from a centralized resource with a very strong incumbency in that, you know, and the respective silos and disciplines of the organization?

Charlie
Yeah. And to me, that was a really fun moment, actually. And I’m not. Saying that’s just because I’m on a CrossLead podcast. But as you know, the story was you guys had given me the. Galleys of team of teams to read, and I was always away on a vacation and so I had this role and I had some ideas of things I wanted to do the piece that I hadn’t figured out as like, how am I really going to get all of these different disciplines to to chase the same vision and figure out how to do that?

And in reading that book. I was so excited, like I wanted to leave vacation right away because for me, it unlocked the idea. That you can create a shared consciousness in greater context around a mission with some pretty simple communication tools.

Some simple sort of team decision making tools and so that was an, you know, you were there. As we launched. You know what we called the forum, which was our sort of our company once a week meeting where we invited everyone to participate. And what it taught me was the context is so critical to the teams making decisions and it can turn things from adversarial. Into sort of pure alignment with just understanding a little more context and that’s that’s something I’m really driving.

As I focus on teamwork now. Very smart folks on the team are very focused on their area of the business, not coming together regularly to understand other people’s parts of the business. This notion of a quarterly business reviews where everyone sits in and again, I pull those lessons from from CSX that. If you really want to give people the license to do what you want them to ultimately do, you need to give them full context and a very clear mission that we all agree on. And once that happens, magic because, you know, it just starts running itself. That’s what I learned. You know, one of the things that I chose, why I chose. The NPS system to implement was not sure. The score is important and the question is important. But to me, there were two. Factors that were the most important that I wanted to kind of get into the culture one was the idea of.

Following up with customers calling them, you know, getting more feedback from them and using that rich, rich data to wine solve their problems, but then start to really look at it at a.

Dave
It initiated their own priorities.

Charlie
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really easy to to look at machine data and believe your own data. You can’t argue. People’s perception because that’s what they have, you know, and so that’s important to have their perception is as a measure or marker of where they are with your brand. The other component and the most. Exciting component was this notion of Ian, the employee NPS about what you’re doing. And what you do in that process. You use. Surface, you have them surface at a very local level issues that are keeping. Them from accomplishing the mission. When you address them. And what I liked about NPS is it put everyone at a senior leadership team. On notice and accountable for solving those problems.

They have to to, you know, because we elevate them, we track them we make sure everyone knows them.
And it’s basically an insurance policy to make sure you’re listening to your to your employees because they know what to do. They want to do right and they know how to solve the problem, and you’ve got to sort of listen to them. Yeah.
And so that was that was really important. And I think the whole stakes. Journey also taught me just the importance of, you know, your frontline workers in terms of listening to their ideas and trying to make their job easier so they can do the job that you want them to do, which is take care of the customer. And that, to me, is. More important than any kind of score is. That we have a system now and when I walk I guess I haven’t walked through the halls in a while, but when I used to walk through the halls. The things that made me the most proud about that. Whole period of my career was hearing. People in meetings talking about in peace as part of their decision making or product feature or whatever, and it’s in every single meeting, in every single function, you know, legal, finance. Billing and that to me was OK. It’s part of our DNA, is part of our culture. That’s the most proud thing I have of that whole period.

Dave
Yeah, that’s a great example of culture change right there. You know, being on a sort of management and it’s hard to quantify culture, oftentimes it’s sort of like oxygen. You don’t really notice it until it’s missing, right? When you get that, when you get those insights just by walking around. We used to call it troop in the line, right? You go out and they’re in their foxholes, in the front lines and just sort of hear what the men and women are talking about. And and when you hear them repeating back narratives that you’re trying to push at the top, you feel you feel great.

Charlie
Yeah.

Dave
Who say it’s not important who I am and what you’re saying. And that’s great. It’s awesome. OK? As you think about. So I mean, that’s a good segue way into the last year and a half have been incredibly challenging for a lot of people. And I know, you know, specifically the work environment I’d love to hear, you know, specifically how you guys have sort of dealt with the pandemic and and how you’re thinking about your team and Asia as it sort of return to work opportunities, startups and how you’re thinking about best practice coming out of that?

Charlie
Well, the first thing is we’ve always placed. Employee safety as a as a super high priority. So that is guided everything for us. And so early on, you know, it was like, All right, how do we keep our employees. Safe and. Still try to. Accomplish the things we want to do as a business and get customers hooked up to, you know, because now they’re even more focused on on staying connected. So one of the things I’m really proud of is we moved, you know. Tens of thousands of employees to work from home within 60 days. And we did it in a secure way with a scalable VPN and a lot of creative technologists and just hard elbow grease to get that done. And with with the idea that we can make them productive and happy at home.
And not place them in harm’s way by having them come in to sort of open floor plan call centers and things like that. So that I think going in, we didn’t know how easy or hard. Well, we knew it’s gonna be hard. We didn’t know how successful we were going to be, but we were very successful. And I think the employees reflected. That terms. We love that you’re focused on us, that you’re focused on our safety and health. And then talking about doing.
Doing a good job and as a as an employee. And I just think that that was. Such a proud moment for us to be able to do that. The other the other one was, you know, again, some the network performed really well amidst a huge surge in traffic, and we were able to deploy some really smart technology and AI into our network to to make sure that it continued to do that.
And so I think it showed us that preparing your core. Assets and applying technology in a smart way, you know, for these unexpected moments is just so critical. So we learned that about ourselves as we think about. Coming back to the office. You know, first of all, working remotely. And using the software we use as Microsoft Teams. Just I think it surprised everyone. We how good it was in terms of being able to. Accomplish our goals, launch products remotely, you know, gather as a team to to make decisions, and it’s just really positive experience.
And so as we come back into the office because we do feel like, you know. The collaboration and co-location and things like that are very important will be. Will understand how to be more flexible. But I think what it’s. Taught us is the importance of distributed locations. How do you include, you know, your, your development centers. In. India or Israel or Denver and really bring the teams together? That’s been a lesson we’ve learned. But I think as we go back, we are looking forward to getting. Back and being together and driving those that teamwork. But we’ll have some tools, some extra tools. To be even more connected and even more flexible, and we need to be.

Dave
Awesome. Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. I was having this conversation with some, some other executives recently as they think about navigating this. And I think a lot of a lot of people, specifically, they’re in a position to make decisions around this are sort of wrestling with, is it back to five days or is it only going to be a hybrid or whatever else? And you know, my my thought is once people learn a new skill and learn new muscle like they’re never going to go back to exactly the way it was just going to have an expanded toolkit to do stuff. And I still think the most effective form of communication is in person face to face. Yeah. So for those you know, those really, you know, high, impactful sessions that are needed, just they’re still going to be a requirement to do that. But I think we’ve all learned that there’s the ability to sort of operate, like you said, in a distributed manner, be effective going back to, you know, the team, a team story for a second. You know, we we set up our physical infrastructure around the globe realizing that the majority of the people that need to be involved in the night’s operation. We’re not going to be physically present, not because of some pandemic, just because of. Right, right. The laws of physics and distribute. So we actually designed our spaces with that in mind, meaning like we knew that most of our conversation was going to be have to be in a virtual setting and the people in the room were important, but you know, it was trying to. Index to make sure they were inclusive was what I love about what I love about how teams and when you go to fully virtual is not everybody has the same experience because they’re through a common platform coming back to some hybrid model where you’re going to, you’re probably going to have a scenario where. You got some people in the room and other people out of the room, but you still got to get the same thing done. It’ll be interesting to see how people people sort of navigate that, but that was like, you know, a critical insight because it was just a constraint that existed for us. So it wasn’t an option to get it the other way.

Charlie
Yeah, I think two things. one is we’re also sort of retooling our rooms for this notion of a more inclusive environment with remote workers, whether they’re individually promoting or. Or, as I mentioned, one of our dev locations that. The key one of the things that we’re doing, which. Is the key thing that I think everyone feels like they really missed was especially on engineering side, it was this kind of whiteboarding. I think that virtual whiteboard. Is just as hard. As you get your whiteboard there. So one of the things we’re doing is. Setting up cameras on the whiteboards and we’ll see. How we’re going to how that goes. And we’re going to we’re going to start going In some of us just to test it out here and a little bit.

But I do think I think the second thing is, I think all of. The participants of a meeting are going to be a lot more in tune with the fact that there are remote folks. Prior to COVID, we had have all these sort. Of we try to have these rules of, Hey. If you’ve got someone remote, don’t forget to ask them their opinion. You know, we had these, you know, don’t close that meeting without asking anyone on the phone, you know, their thoughts. That kind of thing, because we were trying to reinforce this notion of, don’t forget. And I think. That will be a problem anymore. So I’m looking forward to.

That better, better team cohesion. But it is going to be, you know, we don’t know yet. We’re going to learn. Our way through it. Like, think most like most of your companies?

Dave
Awesome. So to last question. first of all, what are you guys working on now? Like, what are your top, you know, key priorities and you know, on your own leadership development, like what do you what do you kind of like focusing on are finding the time to read or think about now?

Charlie
Well, as I as I set up the structure, it’s really trying to figure out how do I drive more contextual, better alignment with the teams, including some of our stakeholder partners? That’s like not a new problem, but it’s I’m sure that we are persistent or that you’ve always got to work on and you can always get better at. And I think it doesn’t get better without a very. sIntentional way of doing it. So I’m looking at some training to help with that.

You know, I think, you know, a lot of that. We did a lot. Of listening sessions with our DNI efforts. Listening sessions are actually part of NPS. We call them huddles. So some of the training I’m looking at. Is how to have conversations. How do you have really honest, hard conversations, but not in an adversarial way? And there’s. There’s some good. Material out there, so I’m going to be kind of focused on that. And then the second thing we’re focused on is how do we really set our. Ourselves up for the future of what the home is going to be and spending a lot of time really looking at really, really where customers are going to want home? How are they going to?

What kinds of entertainment are they going to want and getting. Back to some some strategies? One of the things I’m interested in doing.

Is is driving sort of a ten year strategy cycle within the group. A lot of companies will do five year plans or three year plans. And how do you sort of have a rolling ten year kind of plan on on again?

Less about the finances, but more about where.

Consumer trends are going to be and how do we really make sure that we’re applying our innovation and our resources in a smart way to make sure that those are seen and worked into our products in a real way?

So those are sort of the two big.

Sort of new cultural things I’m working on.

And then other than that, we’re going to keep driving.

Connecting homes, you know, and people, whether it’s some of the mobile products we’re launching now.

Or.

We’re going all broadband and some of our new forms of entertainment, you know, it’s just it’s a busy, busy world as you as, you know, lots of product changes. But it’s.
Exciting. And so, you know, continuing.
To focus on what we want to do and not kind of chasing what others are doing is always about.
Also making sure that you’re staying true to what you think you can build as is key to me.

Dave
That’s great. That’s great. What’s the most recent like book you’ve read or the movie you’ve seen or show you’ve watched or something? That’s that you found interesting that maybe the audience could benefit from?

Charlie
You know, I was trying to look at I was trying to look up the title of this book I read, I will get it to you. But it was really about.
Successful leaders and CEOs.

And how they thought about.

Capital allocation.

Again, I apologize. I can’t think of the title I need to look at because.

Dave
The main theme in a couple of months. The main thing was, look here eight CEOs. And they were some of the most successful CEOs in history. And they may not have been the high flying ones you’ve heard of. But they really return shareholder value because they thought constantly about how they were allocating capital and just sort of the thought process that they went through and I think that is increasingly. Something that I’m certainly spending more time thinking about as well because you do, you have to shut down. Some things to start new with new things, and that’s hard. But you know, the people that either through instinct or. In this case, you know, just really good studying of where things are going. They’ve been able to make those those choices. So I apologize. I don’t have the name of the book, but all I know.

Is we’ll make sure we capture it in there and in the of notes. That’s awesome, though. It’s awesome, and I think it makes a ton of sense, you know, thinking about prioritization and how you make some decisions about, you know, at the local level.

But then at the more strategic level where you’re at, it really comes down to where are you going to make that capital wise and in bringing out the right process that’s actually driving that ten year vision you’re talking about is is. Really important. Try. Thanks so much for taking time with us today. We really appreciate it was awesome having you on the CrossLead podcast. Any final thoughts or comments?

Charlie
No. Again, I appreciate and honored that you asked me to participate. I’ve learned so much from listening to others. Talk about their experiences. Certainly learned a lot from you.
Just how hopeful can be helpful to someone again. The notion of high performing teams and how you organize that is is, to your point, it’s a persistent problem. So I think you’re doing good work and it’s critical.

Dave
If the listeners want to learn more about you or follow you. Is there even a way to do that given your own position? Yeah, people are going to love this question.

Charlie
Yeah. And honestly, you know, I’m not active on the social media platforms, so I think you probably just need to look for. I know that, you know, I’ve got some some of my keynotes out there. You can watch them. And, you know, once COVID kind of gets better and we’re traveling more, I’m sure I’ll be. I’ll be doing some conferences and things like that.

Dave
Awesome. All right. Well, thank you, Charli.e. I really appreciate you spending time with us today.

Charlie
Likewise. Thank you.

Dave
one more thing before we finish the episode, the CrossLead podcast is produced by the team at Truth Work Media. I want to make this the best leadership podcast available, so I would love to get your feedback. Our goal this season is to have authentic conversations with special operators, business leaders and thought leaders on the topics of leadership and agility. If you have any feedback, suggested topics or leaders that you want to hear from these, email me at contact@crosslead.com. If you found this episode interesting. Please share it with a friend and drop us a rating until next time. Thank you for joining.

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Crisis in Ukraine

CrossLead panel discussion, about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, sponsored by Red Cell Partners. Dave Silverman facilitates a conversation with former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Roger Ferguson, and former member of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Sipher.

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