About This Episode
With a background working at Distilled, Google and now as an independent consultant Tom Critchlow has a dynamic set of experience around how to move an organization forward with your digital recommendations. He’s also been thinking and blogging quite a bit about how to be successful as an independent consultant and has recently launched an SEO MBA program – targeted at the soft skills SEOs need to be successful.
If you’re an SEO consultant you’ll find a plethora of tips and insights inside this interview.
- How to kickstart a project with an organization to create and build momentum
- Help the client’s marketers (who are often in the weeds) communicate with the C-suite
- How to generate momentum for your ideas and how to build relationships that will aid in work getting done at that client.
Tom also provides insights into how he structures his strategic consulting engagements for iterative work (vs deliverables) as a method to keep the momentum going.
We also discuss his upcoming book tentatively called, The Strategic Independent – currently free to read on his website at tomcritchlow.com.
Finally, he walks us (independent digital marketing consultants) through how to create a plan for success focused around this singular question:
“How do we persuade the client to do something that they have been unable to do so independently?” – Tom Critchlow
Tom Critchlow has a decade of experience in digital media, leadership, and growth . He is a strategic advisor and consultant for leaders who are seeking to gain clarity about their strategy and develop new initiatives. He previously worked at Google’s Creative Lab and Distilled prior to starting his own consultancy. He works with a handful of clients every year and typically works with clients for extended periods. Clients include The New York Times, Google, Dotdash, Gartner, Etsy, and Seatgeek.
With his SEO MBA project, he helps knowledgeable SEO professionals to gain confidence and uplevel their careers with executive presence.
Connect with Tom
- The SEO Skills Maturity Matrix
- This Smashing Magazine article about Page Speed
- How Complex Systems Fail
- Tom’s book chapters available at Strategic Independent
- A tweet with an algorithmic cover design to enjoy
- Our previous episodes with Dan Shure from Experts On The Wire and Janet Driscoll Miller from Marketing Mojo
Thank you for listening!
If you’d like to know more about change-makers in digital marketing, celebrate their wins, and discover how they built a breaking ground career, subscribe, share and comment on the Digital Marketing Victories Podcast.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:00:00] So today we have Tom Critchlow on our podcast. Tom, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Tom Critchlow: [00:00:04] Yeah. Hi, thanks for having me. My name is Tom. I was born in the UK and I’ve been living in New York for about a decade. My background is in, mostly in SEO. I worked at an agency called distilled that was founded by my brother. But was just recently sold actually worked there for a while and opened the New York office, which is what took me to us.
And then I had a two-year stint at Google doing all kinds of weird and wonderful things, nothing related to SEO. And then for the last six years, I’ve been out on my own as an independent consultant. So I work for myself, I do a variety of consulting work for quite a wide range of clients. The spans, everything from SEO, content strategy, digital marketing, and a bunch of other things
that people will pay me for, and yeah, you currently find me on the West coast. We’ve been on a road trip across the country during the pandemic with two small kids. So, where in England? What’s your idea? Yeah, well, yeah, my accent is a little hard to place. I grew up in a place called Harrogate which is actually in the North of England, but both my parents were from the South and I don’t really have a Northern British accent. And now
Jim Keeney: [00:00:56] I was wondering,
Tom Critchlow: [00:00:57] I mean, now, yeah now my accent, is some kind of chameleon mix American and British Which which I think my wife is forever regretful of that. I didn’t keep the British accent.
Jim Keeney: [00:01:06] So it’s true. An English accent is the best way to meet American women is that?
Tom Critchlow: [00:01:13] Yeah, we’ll see, we’ll see if I get to keep it to save my relationship.
Jim Keeney: [00:01:16] All right. All right. So, can you, yeah. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your marketing background and how did you find digital marketing?
Tom Critchlow: [00:01:27] Yeah, I mean, I think I lucked into SEO just like everyone else did. You know, my brother started distilled back when I was kind of just coming out of college and I was considering a career as a professional poker player.
When he managed to convince me that I should get it, I should take a look at this SEO business and the digital marketing stuff that was going on. And I went to go work for him part-time initially, I was like, ah, I’m gonna just, you know, yeah, sure. I’ll go work with my brother for a little bit, a couple of days a week while I get this professional poker career off the ground.
And then it turns out that I think I actually enjoyed the SEO stuff more than poker which is like a strange thing to say, but you know, the hours are bad trying to play professional focus that’s a whole other story. Right. But anyway, so I got into SEO know, kind of by accident like everyone did.
And you know, I think what I really enjoyed about it was the ability to work across such a wide variety of disciplines you know, from the technical aspects to the content pieces, to branding marketing. And then of course just business generally, right. Just helping businesses grow.
And so that was kind of being, that’s kind of been the focus for me over the years. And, you know, I was very lucky to fall in with my brother and undistilled you know, learn a ton then both about SEO, but also about. Just how to do good consulting and how to convince clients to change.
And that’s kind of been a real focus for me throughout my whole career now has been, how do you actually be effective? Right. You know, not just delivering the reports or the documents that clients are asking for, but actually saying, well, how do we actually make clients change in a way that is useful and productive to them?
And that, that is a whole kind of. You know, a deeper issue that requires thinking about you know, processes, tight team dynamics, the culture you know, all kinds of things that really get to the heart of how do we persuade this client to do something that they have so far been unable to do on their own?
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:03:05] Yes. That is exactly what we’re hoping to talk to you about today on the podcast. So on the distilled or on your website, when you were talking about your experience with your brother at distilled, you talked about you’ve got like three different things. One that you said that business consulting is about taking ownership and getting close to the people and the problem, and that momentum is the key to success as you’re trying to impact change. And you also talk about managing and hiring people and how it’s about unlocking potential, not judging performance. I don’t disagree on all three, but I’m kind of curious about how do you particularly get closer to your clients and work on driving momentum and then related to the hiring part. How do you determine a new hire’s potential versus looking at previous performance?
Tom Critchlow: [00:03:53] Yeah. Good questions. So. I think one of the advantages of being an independent consultant is that I often end up much more embedded with my client’s organizations than a typical agency might.
It’s not uncommon for me to actually have an email address at that company, be in their Slack groups you know, and be functioning as kind of a pseudo employee. And I treat that work as very much part of the consulting engagement, not as something kind of like adjacent to, or as a side, you know, kind of, benefit or whatever, but I’m really saying.
Okay. If I’m really going to be effective here, I need to understand who the decision-makers are. I need to understand how decisions get made. I need to understand the tempo that this organization works on. And so I treat all of those things as as kind of deliberate work, right? When I start working with a client, I have to go find those things out.
And sometimes a client will acknowledge that is useful in both work, but more often than not, it’s the kind of thing that you kind of have to do behind the scenes. You know, in a kind of implicit manner, rather than explicit manner. So to be able to say, Okay. Now I have a good understanding of how we’re going to pitch this change.
What kind of change the company is even receptive to in the first place. And you know, who we need to get buy-in from, you know, along the way. So that’s a, been a big focus of me. And I would say that you know, 90% of the time, especially when you’re dealing with things like content strategy, things like SEO, quote, unquote, the answer.
It is often relatively straightforward. Right? You like a great example is you know, you go to a client and you take one, look at their website, you’re like, great. You got to make the content quality better, right? Your content quality is just not very good, but if you make the recommendation, make your content better, it’s just going to fall on deaf ears, right.
There are a whole system and a set of processes and a culture incentive structure, you know, tracking, measuring all of those things. That produces the quality of content that they’re producing today. You can’t just go in and say do it better. Right. You have to really understand why the system is set up the way it is who’s ended up that way.
You know, why it is incentivized to stay that way before you can even start, to change it. But then when you think about that again, I think a lot of or I should say, I think a classical mistake that a lot of younger people make and I’ve made this mistake myself too. Is trying to do everything all at once is trying to say, okay, well, we’re in world A, we need to get to world B, I want to convince this client to do something differently.
and the, we imagine that happens in a kind of big step change fashion. But actually changing systems typically happens in a much more kind of iterative, small steps kind of way. Right. And this is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a bad thing because it’s frustrating and it takes longer to change than you think it does.
But it’s a good thing in that if you try and kind of tear something down and rebuild it. You’re going to break a lot of things along the way. And so when we think about, and this goes to the, that gets back to the, that the quote I had there about momentum, which is the thing that I always look for with a client, is what is the smallest possible project we can do that will demonstrate a meaningful step in the right direction that can get buy-in, can get sign off and start us on that path, because starting on that path is, you know, assuming all goes well.
And assuming we do it correctly and assuming that we’re right about the direction we want to go in Starting on that path is the kind of necessary first step to reaching that end goal. So that’s kind of really a big focus for me is okay. Yes, we need a big idea. We need the big pitch. We need a big strategy.
We need the answer. But then what we really need is just to get going, to get started and it’s that getting started, which is a big barrier for a lot of companies. Again, you know, what, what, what I often remind people of, is this is necessarily true. You know, when I was working at Google, I often got frustrated.
I couldn’t get my ideas implemented. I was like, I have all these great ideas. Why won’t anybody listen to me? Why won’t this company do these things that I’m advocating for? And somebody, a close friend of mine reminded me that It’s kind of by design, like if all 30,000 employees that Google was able to get their ideas done, it would just be a complete mess.
Right? Yeah. It would be awful. And so, organizations, companies of all sizes are deliberately set up to stop your ideas from being implemented. Right. And that is by design, designed to impose order on what would otherwise be just like, you know, wild chaos. And so when you come in as a consultant or you come in and, or you’re trying to, you know, change the company that you work at, you kind of have to embrace this idea that the company is going to be resistant to change.
And that’s a good thing. And taking that as a given, how do you find a way to get started? How do you find a way, to start off on a path to when you will? But isn’t gonna break everything along the way.
Jim Keeney: [00:08:12] So, how do you mediate that between like the C-suite and the people who are actually attempting to get things done because in my experience C-suite has kind of frustration or hope or an aspiration or something like that, but they don’t really know what they want. And then what you do is you get into the, you know, into the mix with the people who are actually doing the work and you find, you know, they basically have a grasp of what they’re doing right now and maybe one or two have kind of really tried to push the limits.
And so there might be good ideas that you can mine, but connecting those two dots is really difficult as a consultant. So I’m wondering if you’ve got any experiences or stories that you can tell about how you’re able to do that.
Tom Critchlow: [00:08:59] Yeah. I mean, that’s where I spent a lot of my time is trying to make that bridge from, you know, the people who are on the front lines or in the details who have an understanding of what needs to get done and then convincing the C-suite or the executive team that it should be done.
And it’s a good idea. There’s a great quote. Then I’m going to talk about in my newsletter, which is the ideas without details and details without ideas are both risky and I think this is a really good example of. Bridging that gap between the people who are in the weeds and the executive team.
And I think oftentimes what happens is that teams who are in the weeds kind of suffer from two things. They suffer from relying on some kind of complicated data to try and tell their story. And so in the SEO world, this is like a, you know, a great example of. You know, looking at like backlink data or looking at some like keyword data or something that they’re incredibly familiar with and fluent with and believe tells that story.
And yet when you go all the way up to the executive team, you know, a CEO of an organization is typically not looking at like, share a voice of keyword rankings or something like that, or like, you know, backlink data. And so when presented with an argument that uses those metrics and those terms.
They just don’t really believe you. They’re just a little bit, like, I didn’t really know what these data points are and I’m not really willing to stake a big budget on a project that is moving metrics that I’m not even like thinking about the day today. So that’s one problem. And the second thing is just not telling a convincing enough story, not telling a compelling enough story.
Know, I think that it sounds kind of cheesy to say it, but like, you already need an idea when you’re, when your pitching to an executive team to say. Okay. You know, I can show you the revenue numbers. I can show you the metrics that are going to be improved by this project.
But the idea behind it, the story behind it needs to be simple, to communicate, and easily understood. And that’s where it’s something like, you know, we need to make our site. You know, more accessible to more users or we need to you know, start writing longer content. Right? and like there has to be some kind of idea, but then you frame the whole project around.
And I think a lot of people that are in the day-to-day work kind of forget there needs to be like a single coherent idea and instead, try and get kind of a whole bunch of changes packaged up. Yeah. I know one of them, the SEO industry is again, very guilty of this. And oftentimes of trying to say, okay, we have like 17 different things that we want to fix on the site, but there’s no coherent story to it.
Right. It’s like, it’s just like, what, like, what are these 17 things? Why are they related? Why do we need to fix all of them? Right. You know, and I think that kind of like list of changes is just not a compelling way to get stuff done at the executive layer. Right. You need to be packaging it up in some kind of story.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:11:27] So I know in your engagements, you get a chance to, oftentimes you’re brought in by somebody close to the C-suite, if not, maybe the C-suite. But what tips I’m sure in your experience though, you’ve been brought in with like a marketing manager level. So what are your tips for getting that introduction higher and getting in front of the C-suite?
Tom Critchlow: [00:11:47] Yeah, that’s I mean, that’s a classic kind of chicken and egg problem and one that Is difficult to solve. But you know, if you get brought into an organization to low down the kind of food chain it is very difficult to work your way upwards so what’s, what is much easier even though it’s kind of slow is to get brought in.
Higher up the organization to begin with. And most of that comes down to just marketing and position. Right. It’s about how do you position yourself and how do you mock yourself? How do you create a network around you of more senior folks? You know, when I worked at distilled, for example you know, we did a lot, to very actively and directly encourage more senior-level introductions, more senior-level clients to reach out to us.
You know, it makes a big difference to get an introduction to a CMO than it does to like a VP of marketing or a director. And so I think when I think about marketing, my own consulting work, and my own consulting services, I talk a lot about, you know, operating at the kind of business layer rather than the tactical work you know, lower down the food chart or rather the food chain.
And that can be difficult and kind of slow-moving to really like, get your head around. But I think that it can also follow the arc of your career. You know, when I was. Yeah, younger. When I was working at distilled, I used to talk all the time about like, here’s how to here’s, how to do like schema optimization and here’s how to use Excel to pull in data and all kinds of funky ways.
And I was talking to people kind of like me, right. Who are you know, practitioners who are in the weeds who are you know, earlier in their career. But as I’ve gotten more senior or older I’ve started to talk to us like different audiences and that, and I think that’s kind of, That’s kind of, yeah.
That’s kind of a useful thing to bear in mind, which is that you don’t have to get there overnight. Right? Like it isn’t like you sh I’m not going to convince like every independent consultant shouldn’t be trying to talk to the CEO or the C-suite. If you’re not doing that kind of work, or if you’re not ready to talk at that level, then don’t, right? Don’t try and pretend to be something that you’re not.
But do recognize that the more senior point of contact that you can get the better your engagement is going to be.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:13:39] I agree. I spend more of my time in that group too and pivoted myself on purpose to be doing more strategic work.
Jim Keeney: [00:13:48] Well, then the nature of the pitch changes dramatically too, as you, you know, connecting the dots to the idea, because, you know, there are two things that are intersecting there.
One is. What you talked about you’ve talked about before, which is kind of building the network and building the interaction with people that will be helpful to you, like pivoting SEO into a, an exercise of trying to create those connections that become, you know, magnifiers and then everything else that you’re talking sounds an awful lot, like lean startup, which is to find, you know, find the idea, you know, really crystallize it, test your hypothesis, find the idea and then find the most.
You know, quickest, easiest, least expensive least difficult way to prove out that idea. And that just creates your momentum. And now you get into your discussion about momentum.
Tom Critchlow: [00:14:42] Yup. Yeah, totally.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:14:44] So I don’t want to lose track of the hiring bit because I used to hire a lot on teams. I know folks listening do too.
So you’re focused on the potential. Did you have any processes or tips or tactics to sort of dig out somebody’s potential versus past performance?
Tom Critchlow: [00:15:00] I mean, I think hiring is always a bit more of an art than a science in that respect. I think that I’ve always structured interviews and hiring questions around how people think rather than what they’ve done. You know, I think it’s very it’s important to try and understand. The difference between somebody who has been given the opportunities to succeed.
Or has been a part of things that have succeeded versus those that haven’t, which has almost nothing to do with okay. How do you think about a problem? Right. And are you going to think about the problem in the way that you, we need you to think about the problem? Because most of these girls, you know, again, things like SEO I’m sure I’ll get kind of a little bit of a flack for this like SEO are not that hard to learn.
Right. And there are a lot of pieces of the job that can be very easily taught. What is much harder to teach is a way of thinking or a way of approaching problems. Right. And so I think it’s really important to try and make sure that we’re clear-eyed about the culture and the environment of the organization that you’re hiring for and the kind of the fit too.
Okay. What kind of people that we want here will be useful. We’ll be able to operate in this environment and so on. And so screening for potential. You know, I like to ask very simple questions that tend to expose kind of, you know, mindset more than capabilities. So one of my favorite examples of my favorite question for interviewing SEOs is you know, you say, well, okay, what kind of websites do you look at?
That I might not have heard of, and that’ll don’t have to be SEO websites, any kind of websites. And people typically rattle off everything from, Oh, I look at this, you know, sports blog to, Oh, I look at this knitting website or, you know, I’m active in this you know, stocks investing forum or whatever it may be.
And then just ask them to list some ways to improve the website. And what I really love about the question is, you know, you’re poking at somebody’s kind of, passion space, right? they’ve just told you that this is some way that they like to hang out. They like to spend time.
They like to care about it. And then I ask them to improve it. And I’m noting what kind of level of improvements people look at. Right. And, you know, I think there were really kind of no right or wrong way to answer the question, but certainly, if somebody is very focused on. The wrong kinds of things that would actually improve the website.
That’s kind of a clear red flag versus somebody who’s like, well, I actually have a really good plan for how this website could be improved. And, you know, I think that comes back to my consulting skills kind of, kind of point about when you’re trying to change an organization. It’s good to have the right mindset around what kind of change is possible and also what kind of change is actually useful.
You know, so, so, a great example is you know, people hanging out on ugly websites or where the first thing we’ll advocate for is like a brand, you know, a design refresh or design make-over. And you’re like, why is that actually the most important thing that website like, seems like they’re doing just fine with this ugly website.
There must be other things. That can be improved. And so it was you know, people looking at the obvious thing, versus the thing that will actually kind of. You know, move the needle and change their business.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:17:40] Everybody still uses Craigslist. I mean, you know,
Jim Keeney: [00:17:42] yeah, it’s funny because one of the most substantial changes to Reddit recently is about three years ago, they switched to using solar, which is an indexing solution as the backend, which allowed them to then handle their content in a much more sophisticated way. And connect things across the different boards in a much more sophisticated way.
And you really see that demonstrating. And when you look at Reddit, there’s an ugly website, but they, you know, their community doesn’t care. They don’t care. Making it look better is not really the most important thing.
Tom Critchlow: [00:18:15] Right. And just, I mean, I’m the first one to advocate for better design, a better presentation on the web.
I think it is important. But I think you have to connect it back to a real, so some kind of like the actual problem. Right
Jim Keeney: [00:18:25] an outcome
Tom Critchlow: [00:18:27] rather than just, I would like it if this website was prettier.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:18:31] So, I follow you on Twitter. No surprise. And I was actually noticed that you have independent consulting practice and you’re about to write a book about this or about how to run one. So can you tell us a little bit more, cause I think I’m certainly interested as are probably a lot of our listeners?
Tom Critchlow: [00:18:47] Yeah. So I’m kind of in the final stages of writing that book the working title is the strategic independent and it is. It’s all basically free to read on my website.
I’ve got about 50,000 words written there and I’m in the final stages of kind of hiring an editor and sending it into a physical book. So it’ll be out soonish, hopefully. And the book is I mean, I, you know, I kind of joke that I didn’t really write it for my readers. I wrote it for myself, which is not necessarily the best way to write a book, but that’s how I did it.
And it kind of, you know, grew by accident out of the writing That was on my site. I’d say the biggest idea for me around the book is, there’s a ton of writing about being independent, not being freelance about being an independent consultant, which tries to push you down a particular path, tries to say, Here’s how to do it.
Here’s how you should do it. You know, here are the right ways to do it or the wrong way to do it. What I wanted to write a book about and what I felt there was an opportunity for is a book that kind of embraces the differences and embraces the uniqueness of every single independent consultant and every single freelancer because there are so many different ways to do it.
And the people that I’ve met across the spectrum of people who are mixing and matching different kinds of revenue streams, and are doing different kinds of work with different kinds of clients is just, you know, it’s just a million different ways to do it and a million different ways to approach it and think about it.
And a lot of the differences stem from individual differences. Right? So it stems from, okay. You know, I really love being face-to-face with clients. For example, I love to be in the room. I love to run workshops. Some people are terrified of being face-to-face with the client. Right. Some people are just not wired that way.
They don’t want to do that kind of work. It’s like, okay, well, great. If you don’t want to do that work, then don’t sell that kind of work. Don’t be that kind of consultant. There are other ways to do it. Right. And I think that’s kind of what I wanted the book to focus on was. Not like you too can follow my simple system and earn a hundred thousand dollars.
Hey, you should carve your own path. And that’s totally possible. There is a depth here and a kind of you know, a variety of approaches. And then paired with that. I really wanted to explore the kind of the. Some of the psychological kind of games that happen when you’re independent mostly that you play with yourself you know, things like, what do you call yourself?
Are you a freelancer or are you a consultant? Why does that matter? Who cares? And kind of, you know, think about the labels and the positioning and you know, emotional stability or not of being a consultant. So that’s kinda what the book’s about. As I said, most of it is free to read on my website and yeah, it should be out soon.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:21:09] So are you going to cover some of the stuff in the company of one? Cause I always find it interesting being a solo myself all how many people are like, Oh, are you going to hire an employee? I’m like, no, definitely no. And how that’s sort of like a bad thing, like this whole idea that you have to scale to be successful.
I’m a little bit agnostic to that company of one’s a great book. I think I am very specifically positioning the book for folks who think they might be an independent consultant and all the things that come with that. So it’s very focused on client work in particular. It’s very focused on being somebody who sells.
Essentially time for money in some kind of variety of guys. Isn’t it. I’m not already talking about in this book, the kind of the creator economy of like, you know, building online courses or selling and writing books. Even though that’s also what I’m doing. It’s very much focused around, okay. You want to do a service for clients and you want to sell consulting work or client work in some form. How do you do that and how does that make you feel?
Jim Keeney: [00:22:05] Can you there’s a concept in your book that I am fascinated by Kronos versus Kairos. Can you, am I pronouncing the second word? Right? Can you dive into that and talk about it a little bit. I’m very interested in this.
Tom Critchlow: [00:22:18] Yeah. I think the essence of that piece is about not getting trapped in an arbitrary expectation of work. And I think that the word that really highlights this is a deliverable you know, especially if you come from the agency world, it’s very common. To be in this mindset, okay, the client is asking for let’s use an SEO analogy. The client is asking for an SEO audit that becomes a deliverable that I can price and I can scope.
And I can spend, you know, X amount of time producing this deliverable and then handing it back to the client. The problem comes in a couple of ways. One is that deliverable is almost certainly not as useful as anyone thought it was going to be. You know, the output the clients want is changed.
They don’t want a document to know, 99, percent of the time. So not just the document is the thing, but what clients really want is that website to be better or the SEO to be improved for that revenue to go up on a deliverable is really kind of an abstracted kind of, you know, a proxy for that.
And the reason that deliverables exist is that you know, agencies in particular clients too, to a certain extent they need to stay work, right. They need a way of being able to talk about work that is able to, you know, slick write an RFP for an agency. Also, they can like. You know, talk about the work, price, it correctly standardizes it build processes around it and so on.
But as an independent, you kind of have the luxury of stepping outside of that and really examining from first principles. Okay. What do you really need here? Okay. You need the website to be better or you need revenue to go up. Okay. Let’s be laser-focused on the things that are gonna make that happen.
And so the way that I approach client work is in a much more kind of iterative fashion to say, okay, you want an SEO audit? Let me create a kind of outline of where I think the biggest opportunities are and send that in a kind of work in progress manner to a client and you do that in a much more rapid timeframe.
So instead of spending four weeks on an SEO audit, I’ll spend a few days or a week. Here are where I see some opportunities here are where I see some issues let’s have a conversation about it. And let’s see what happens from that. And then based on the conversation with the client, it’s usually obvious that Oh, one or two of those issues have much more momentum or much more feasible than the others.
And actually, we can like pull a CTO in, into the conversation and like start to get those in the product roadmap and, you know, kind of this iterative collaborative working environment. Is structured around what I call kind of Kairos time, which is like just in time living versus Kronos time, which is like plot time.
Right. These kinds of concepts come from the Greek gods of time that I’m not already going to get into. Right. Okay. But the point is that I mean, I think that you can be much more effective for a client by kind of sidestepping these formalized rules and really focusing on value and momentum and creating change.
Like we talked about earlier, but at the same time if you pay yourself to this kind of like, these bigger chunks of work and this kind of deliverable thinking as an independent, you also just get massively overwhelmed because you’re the only one doing the work. And so if you sign yourself up for three deliverables at the same time, you just have this kind of like this big kind of scheduled like heavy workload, which is very difficult to kind of fit together, it’s very difficult to do two of those things at once, or to do them back to back and make sure that they fit neatly together. Whereas I want, we’re doing this client’s work now on the next month I’m doing this client’s work. And that isn’t just really. That isn’t how client work happens as an independent it’s much more like I got a phone call on Tuesday and then on Wednesday morning, I’ve got a quick session with this client, and then Thursday afternoon, I got to go, you know, jump on this thing.
And so you need a way of working that kind of reflects that like more, more nimble, a more kind of iterative lifestyle. And so for both those reasons that kind of what this post-Kronos and Kairos is all about, which is how do you manage your own time as an independent to be to not feel so stressed and overwhelmed all the time, whilst also at the same time, taking an approach to work, which is actually more effective for clients and facet. So that’s what the whole thing is about.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:26:00] And do you walk into pricing models with that too?
Tom Critchlow: [00:26:04] Yeah. So, you know, this comes back to it a little bit of my frustration with the, with all of the writing about independent consulting. Everything you read will tell you the trading hours for money is a mistake.
Everyone will try and tell you the value pricing is the way to do it. I’ve spent six years building a consulting business where I bill on a day rate. Then that’s it. I don’t do value-based pricing. I tried and I suck at it more. It doesn’t work. But all of my work is built on a day rate or, you know, like some kind of approximation thereof.
And what I like about that is that actually, you know, by pegging my billable hours to time. It allows you to work on a wider range of less well-scoped work. And so a lot of my work that I do is very loosely scoped, right? It’s very like the scope of work that I signed with the client will be very open-ended around.
Okay. I’m going to spend two days a week. Working on improving your business or, you know, improving SEO or whatever. But without too much you know, detail scope around the kind of specific deliverables and timeframes and so on. Now obviously, you know, sometimes especially for bigger clients, they need some kind of record on some kind of detail around what you’re actually going to work on.
But what’s nice about that way, of setting up a client relationship, is it frees you up to be useful it frees you up to work on the things that matter, not to work on the things that we arbitrarily agreed on before we even started working together. And I talk about this as well in a chapter of the book called workshops as portals where I talk about like, you know, doing a workshop upfront with the client as a way to scope the work together, it can be radically effective because it allows you to actually define the things that are worth working on rather than again, working on a kind of arbitrary set of deliverables that the industry decides is kind of the thing that you should work on. And again, in the SEO, world, to come back to this example you know, things like SEO audits and keyword research, and things like that, these are deliverables that very often are almost no relation to the value that you can provide for a client, right.
They’re just too big and they’re too slow and they’re not relevant enough to the actual problems at hand for the client. And you’d be much better off just getting some things done. So that’s what I try and do in my work.
Jim Keeney: [00:28:00] So do you find yourself having more kind of confrontational conversations with customers because of this, because you’re now free to actually focus on the thing that really needs to be done as opposed to what bag of whatever they come in with. Cause I find that, so, so I do a fair amount of development for startups.
And what I like to tell them is I tell them what not to build so that they get to market. And I find that the more that I’d move towards really freeing myself up to consult with them about what they really should be doing, as opposed to what, you know, a typical development agency would do for them or a development firm would do for them.
I find myself in a lot more conversations where the nature of the conversation is okay. Let’s unpack that weird assumption that you have that doesn’t make any sense and let’s figure out how to reconnect it to something that actually has value to you so that I can get work done faster so I can actually deliver your product.
Tom Critchlow: [00:29:03] Yeah. I don’t, I wouldn’t describe a lot of the interactions I have as more confrontational, but I would describe them as maybe kind of like a level deeper. I think, you know, that there were a lot of conversations that happen around, but like, is that trying to unpack assumptions or ways of looking at their business?
In a way that the other people aren’t necessarily asking the questions around. I find I think maybe because I also have a pretty well-documented kind of public presence and like I’m writing the book and a lot of folks, a lot of clients that come to me are kind of usually fairly well primed to understand the kind of work that I’m going to do.
And so I don’t think that it’s a big surprise or big confrontation. Around, you know, trying to operate in a way that they’re not expecting. But I do think, there is a healthy amount of kind of you know, like challenging their assumptions that come with the work that I do for sure.
And I think that’s often were, you know, one of the most valuable things that you could do as a consultant, I think is give a client a new way of looking at the world, whether that’s looking at the customers or looking at their own business or whatever just opening their eyes to say, You really weren’t thinking about it in the right way, or it’s not even about right or wrong.
You weren’t thinking about it this way and now you can and that can be a useful kind of tool for what you’re doing is to say, maybe you should consider this more often. And through that way of thinking, you can open up to that kind of cascading impact to change, right? That cascading impacts they are, well, if you look at the world this way, You might set up a different kind of incentive structure for teams.
And once you have a different incentive of structure for the teams, they might operate differently and teams operating differently is how you get change. And so when you think about changing organizations you know, one of them, one of those kinds of like little tiny flywheels is changing the way that one of the senior executives looks at the world to say, actually, people don’t work that way or people don’t believe what you believe or people don’t think the way that you think. And that can be really powerful.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:30:45] Also because I used to be in-house and I’ve been both sides of the fence as you’re going back to the fact that it’s hard to change inside an organization because it’s just, they’re not going to, frankly, not gonna listen to you. They’re just not set up to do that.
But an outside consultant can say literally the same thing and be listened to, which is why I flipped from in-house to outside. But regardless, I think it’s your role as an outside consultant to actually say some of that stuff sometimes. That’s just how the world is set up.
Tom Critchlow: [00:31:12] Totally. I think this can be a significant point of tension or frustration.
I think for folks who are in-house you see consultants kind of coming in being able to recommend changes, or talk about changes or get buy-in for things that, you know, they’ve been advocating for years. And I always try and have a very healthy kind of, That kind of humbleness and respect for that, you know, as a consultant, you’re almost never coming in with quote-unquote, the answer you’re coming in to make sense of, you know, some kind of miscommunication that’s happening internally.
And you’re standing on the shoulders of the people that came there before. And trying to kind of help the system. Well, what I’d like to think about is, you know, helping the client system kind of heal itself in a way. Right? So it’s, if you think about you as a consultant, you might think, okay, the client is hiring me to solve a problem for them.
And actually, that’s very rarely the case. The client is usually hiring you to help them solve their own problems in the future. And that starts by asking, well, why have they been unable to do that so far? Why is this organization not being able to do convince themselves to do this change themselves?
Right? Like what is it about their biases, their culture, the systems, processes, whatever it will help them back? And I think what’s important to recognize also is that it’s usually not the consultant that is actually the catalyst. Right. It is the person hiring the consultant, that is the catalyst, it’s the person to hire as a consultant that has the initial kind of aha moment, which is like, Oh, we need a way to do X, Y, and Z.
And the consultant is just a tool. The allows that to happen. Right. You know, and so, I try and make sure that my stance when I’m working with clients is not of the kind of the hero consultant, you know, riding in on a horse kind of saving the day or like having the ideas and much more as a kind of facilitator or, you know, tool to say, you use me in the way that is most useful and between us, we’ll figure out a way to make the system work better.
Jim Keeney: [00:33:03] It’s been my experience that in most organizations of any degree of size and complexity, that the future state, the answer to the future state is already in the organization somewhere. So if you can facilitate identifying it or promoting it.
And then connect it to the reason why, you know then that may be the healthiest, best thing that could happen in the organization. And what then happens is, you know, people begin to acknowledge, Oh we knew it all along.
Tom Critchlow: [00:33:31] Totally. I mean, a classic example of that, that I come into often is one of the biggest frustrations that happens is that the executive team isn’t seeing.
Quote unquote, a big enough idea from the kind of the team that’s working on the details while the team is working in the weeds is frustrated that the executive team isn’t getting, isn’t giving them the buy-in or the budget to do what they want to do. And I don’t want to trivialize the problem because it’s a very real problem, but the solution is often relatively straightforward, which is just trying to make sure that we meet somewhere in the middle.
Just want to say, okay, there is a bigger idea here. And the bigger idea is basically getting everything done, but if the team wants to get done, but in some kind of structure, in some kind of framework and in some kind of incentive structure that the executive team buys into, the executive team says, yes, I believe that idea is worth doing and big enough and interesting.
And I understand it right. That’s another big piece here is instead of again, conduct this idea of like, A list of changes instead of just a list of things that we want to get done. There’s an idea here there’s a reason why we’re going to do all these things. And then it’s pitched in a language that the executive team can occupy into.
So yeah, I would get you absolutely right that, you know, the answer is almost always there, right? It doesn’t, it’s very rarely the consultant’s job to come in with some answer that wasn’t already inside the organization. And I see my role often as just a bridge to say, Okay. I can help.
I can help bridge the gap between the executive team and the teams on the ground. And I can help kind of, you know, package and position this in a way that is going to help everyone move forward.
Jim Keeney: [00:34:56] Well, and I think one of the things that you’re demonstrating is your kind of interdisciplinary approach or cross-disciplinary approach essentially facilitates your ability to do that.
And that gets back to your original point about an independent consultant is figure out who you are, figure out what you’re bringing to the table, and then manifest that within your organization. You know, it dovetails to what you’re saying about being a friend to, you know, to the people that you’re working with within the organization.
It’s the friends who have unique characteristics that help us see ourselves in the right way.
Tom Critchlow: [00:35:32] Yup.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:35:33] Yeah. And I know Dan Shure who’s a host of experts on the wire. He was previously on this podcast and he mentioned quite a bit about being friendly as one of the keys to sort of getting stuff done.
But how specifically do you engineer and build those relationships? What are the things you do, especially? Now where we’re stuck on zoom, are there things that, you know, you just do instinctively for every client relationship that helps you deepen that?
Tom Critchlow: [00:36:00] I, there’s a chapter in my book called optimism as an operating system, which kind of gets to that same idea, which is yeah, you have to be liked to get things done.
But to answer your question more directly I think that one of the biggest pieces of missing context. That a lot of both agencies and consultants kind of overlook is what is your point of contact’s agenda, right? The person that’s hiring you, what are they trying to do?
Right. And so for the CEO, it might be, they need to look good for the board or they need to present, you know, a quarterly, they have a quarterly board meeting where they need to, you know, pay a competent and so on and so forth. for a CMO, it might be you know, I need to demonstrate the marketing is effective in the organization or that we have a good marketing plan.
whatever, you know, for a VP of marketing, it might be I want to try and take the CMOS job, you know, I want to kind of level up to, to, to a new thing. And it was a variety of things, but treating your point of contact as a human, right to say, what do they actually want out of this engagement above and beyond just kind of business results and, you know, the outcome of working together, which is, you know, kind of a given what are the deeper forces at work.
And I think that that is a more useful frame than simply kind of being. Friendly is obviously important. And like I said, I wrote a chapter about something similar which is definitely a key idea, but you know, more importantly, it’s like, what is the agenda of this for this person?
And how do you actually, how do you support their agenda? Because I think that’s kind of a key especially for long-term work. Like it was a key piece. It can kind of go missing is if you’re not furthering their agenda if you’re not helping them. With their strategic goals, then you’re kind of going to get commoditized and sidelined, right.
Even if you keep working together, even if that’s a good client relationship there you, you’re not really going to have the access that you need to work on the kind of really strategic project. So I think I think it’s important to treat your clients as humans, to be able to say, what does this human want?
And you know, I often have relatively frank conversations with my clients around. You know, once we”ve been working together for a while, there’s typically a conversation. Like how long are you going to stay in this job? Right. Like, why, like, you know, do you want to stay here? Like, what are you trying to get done?
And when you can get to that level of conversation with your client, that opens up a really good and useful framework for thinking about the work you are doing together to say, okay, well, I obviously have to be useful for this client. And I have to do the work was asking for and add value, but at the same time have to be mindful of their objectives.
And what they want to be doing and sometimes that can be as simple as, Oh, you know, they wanna, they want to expand their contacts to be good at a wider variety of things. I can actually help them that, like, you know, we can do projects together that like actually, you know, stretch a client or operate in a new way.
And that’s why, I mean, that’s where I think some of the most interesting work happens is, you know, treating your clients like this kind of multifaceted. Client as an organization, client as an individual client as a human you know, thinking all the different layers can really open up some interesting work.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:38:43] I was just going to ask you when you asked those questions, whether it was the discovery, so you just answered it for me.
Tom Critchlow: [00:38:49] Yeah. I mean, yeah, as soon as you can, right. As soon as you have the relationship is trying to get to that good stuff. You obviously, you can’t do it too soon.
That’s also a kind of failure mode and being too brash, but Yeah
Jim Keeney: [00:38:58] since you opened the door so what is your website? And do you have, say it again,
Tom Critchlow: [00:39:06] Tomcritchlow.com. Just my name
Jim Keeney: [00:39:08] and spell your last name, making it easier for people to find you. Go ahead.
Tom Critchlow: [00:39:13] Yeah. So it’s Tom Critchlow, C R I T C H L O W.
Jim Keeney: [00:39:18] And then do you have kind of a plan for your book? How long. Before do you have a sense? I get the feeling that it’s a work in progress and you don’t really have kind of a date certain, but do you have kind of projections?
Tom Critchlow: [00:39:33] like I said. I’m going to moving into the editing phase right now. I’m hoping that it’ll be out kind of on sale by the summer.
Jim Keeney: [00:39:38] Excellent. Excellent. Yeah, no, I just thought, Hey, what can I do for you to help you further your career? And it seems like, well, let’s at least tell them how to get in touch with you. Are you on any of the major social media platforms in a big way or?
Tom Critchlow: [00:39:54] Twitter is where I’m most active. Just again, my name @tomcritchlow.
I am also relevant to this conversation that we’ve had. I’ve also, I’ve got a new project that I’m launching called the SEO MBA which you can find at seomba.com. And the, you know, my aspiration for that is to build that into a kind of an online course specifically for SEOs around all of the things we just talked about, you know, how to be effective at the executive layer, how to get by and how to use consultant skills to get things done. And hopefully, I will not talk at all about how to actually do SEO. That’s my goal with that project. So if that’s interesting it’s a, it’s an email newsletter and yeah soon online course.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:40:27] And is it, are you going to offer coaching as part of that? Cause that was the question from one of my networks.
Tom Critchlow: [00:40:31] I, you mean like one-on-one coaching?
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:40:32] Yeah. Yeah. They were asking if you were going to do some sort of group coaching or some sort of one-on-one as part of it,
Tom Critchlow: [00:40:38] I have not thought about that, but maybe I think that’d be open to it.
I think you know, my plan for the course is to offer a mixture of kind of live cohort-based classes and kind of self-paced classes. And so the kind of cohort-based ones would certainly be like small group coaching or small group kind of teaching? I hadn’t necessarily thought specifically about coaching but yeah, certainly open to it.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:41:00] Great. So we’ve already covered how people can learn about you. Do you want to share your winner resource with other people today? That’s the other thing we usually do on closing.
Tom Critchlow: [00:41:08] You know, there’s something that I saw recently that I thought was really great. I’ll send a link to you so you can put it in the show notes, but smashing magazine recently did a really big teardown about improving their site speed.
And although that sounds kind of very nerdy and in the weeds I’d encourage everyone to check it out because the way they approached it really broke down the problem from the kind of first principles and from a user’s perspective. Versus, you know, really talking about the metrics and talking about like, you know, FCP and LCP and all these other metrics that nobody cares about or other people care about, but are, you know, kind of abstracted away.
And I thought it was just a really good case study in kind of building from first principles and kind of user story. Around the change and demonstrating you know, why page speed was important, why layout shift mattered on that and that kind of thing. So, that was one of the things that I really enjoyed reading recently.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:41:59] Awesome. And so, just to remind our listeners, so the SEO MBA program, they can sign up on your website and that’s an email newsletter at the moment?
Tom Critchlow: [00:42:06] Correct.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:42:06] I’ve just been sitting here listening, absorbing. It’s been fabulous.
Tom Critchlow: [00:42:10] Thank you so much for having me on.
Jim Keeney: [00:42:12] So you pick up on strange attractors and chaos and complexity, which is that’s my avocation. I started obsessing about that in 1989, 90 and I’ve never let go of that.
Tom Critchlow: [00:42:24] Oh, wow. Yeah, we should really talk about that. I, my, my current plan book cover is strange, I actually am. This is a slight tangent, but I’m My aspiration for the book because I’m self-publishing so I have a lot of control over it is a, is actually put a unique, strange attractor on the cover of every copy of the book.
Jim Keeney: [00:42:39] Cool.
Tom Critchlow: [00:42:40] And so, yeah, we should talk about that.
Jim Keeney: [00:42:42] Definitely, yeah. Earlier, when you were talking about finding the small kernel that you pivot on, I was translating that into autopoiesis and self catalyzing systems, and I was like, ah, he’s speaking my language.
Tom Critchlow: [00:42:55] We should have a podcast just about strange attractors. I would love that
Jim Keeney: [00:42:59] absolutely. Absolutely. No, you know, way back in 89, I was reading. Tom Peters who had an article in the Washington business journal and he was talking about business and everything and And and I started connecting that to Gleick’s book chaos, and then, you know, the whole field of complexity exploded and there was actually there used to be a kind of, a conference on using nonlinear dynamics within the organization.
I actually paid my way out to say, St. Paul, Minneapolis to go to that conference. And then just, you know, it’s one of those things where you just kind of, it governs your whole life all the way through and you keep thinking, I’ll write a book and I’ll write a book and I never have done it, but well.
Tom Critchlow: [00:43:45] You should write, you should write the book. Let’s do it. I think I think there’s a ton of, I think, you know, modern organization theory is really about treating organizations as complex systems that aren’t deterministic. Right. And I think that is just really rich. It requires a little bit of getting up to speed with, you know, chaos theory.
But once you have that, it’s a very rich mental model for how organizations work and in particular, how organizations fail, right? There’s a really great website. I’ll send this over. And so you can link it in the show notes as well, about how complex systems fail, and every single one of those descriptions very clearly articulates a problem that you might have working with a client.
Like working with an organization, trying to convince them to change. And it really goes back to everything we just talked about, which is you know, changing a system. So, so, I figured the digression, I know about all the time, but I wrote about this in my book as well about every client is a, a system that is producing a set of outputs that might be the wrong outputs, but the system is currently balanced. It is in balanced because it is currently working.
Jim Keeney: [00:44:42] Yep.
Tom Critchlow: [00:44:42] And if you want to change the organization, you have to accept that you’re going to change a system that is currently imbalanced, you have to take it out of balance in some way to be able to change it. And that’s just like a really interesting way to look at trying to change an organization.
That again goes back to this idea that you can’t just start operating in a different manner without breaking a bunch of stuff. And I think that is just too few people understand that really kind of inherently, that you know, your change in clients is a difficult task because your change, you’re taking a system out of balance.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:45:12] Well, and it puts people under stress. I think that some people don’t notice that either that if you’re, cause I spend a lot of time in the house changing organizations and it’s just really tough because you are, you’re stressing everybody’s day to day, which for you is okay, you’re the change agent, but for other people.
It’s really not. Do you ever not pick up clients because during the discovery you’re like, this is never going to work, you know?
Tom Critchlow: [00:45:35] Oh, yeah, sure. I mean, I think any, I think any agency or consultant that is interested in doing good work has to say no, sometimes I think that’s like, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It’s coming back to your point about stress, you know, I think that there’s a very clear line between changing organizations and making sure that you’re communicating clearly, right? I think this is a huge piece about change that people overlook is you have to communicate like you have to over-communicate what the change is, how it’s going, why it’s happening, what it means. Right. And again, a lot of this goes back to You can’t change an organization without changing their incentive structure.
And so when you change an organization, people feel threatened because they felt their incentive structure is challenged. Right. You’re asking people to do something differently, but if you don’t change their incentive structure, you’re asking them to do something different that might change their incentives.
Right. A very simple manner is okay. I have been told by my boss, the good work looks like X you’re asking me to do Y. You have to explain to me how my boss is going to appreciate why just as much as X you know, and there’s a very clear kind of, connection there between communicating clearly and the stress of changing an organization. Yeah, absolutely. That’d be it. Changing organization puts it in stress, right? That’s a very simple mental model that is yeah, very powerful.
Jim Keeney: [00:46:48] Well, the way I used to, you may not remember this, but back in the early nineties, it was all about change management. There were all these consultants change management consultants, not you know, I was instinctively kind of against that.
And so what I used to do is I simply, well, The human being experiences change as stress and stress leads to depression. Therefore, if you’re going to change the organization suddenly, then what you’re essentially saying is you’re going to take, you’re going to reduce the productivity of everybody in the organization by at least 30%.
And I don’t think that’s what you want to do. So, so then I used to do the old cone of when is change not change. Change is not changing when it’s growth. And what’s the difference between growth and change. I reach for growth, change is foisted upon me. So as long as you think in those terms, cause, cause over-communicating is essentially giving them something in front of them to reach out to as opposed to something that is forced down upon them.
And that hasn’t changed. You know, I used to say that back in the early nineties and it’s like, it hasn’t changed, it’s the same single thing. So, and it was funny because way back in the day, a lot of consultants, there were a lot of INTJ type consultants who would come in and say, okay, I’m going to completely change everything that you do.
It was all part and parcel of the leveraged buyouts and things like that. It’s like, Oh, we can break this up and do so much more. And it’s and you said it very much, which is. You have to get inside there and kind of understand the way the organization is functioning, to figure out how to take the kernels that already exist, that will create the future state and bring them up through the ranks. So that they’d become the primary, you know, the primary strange attractor, instead of something that’s just barely surviving and on the edges.
Tom Critchlow: [00:48:34] Yeah, totally. I think you said it best. Yeah. The idea of growing from something that we have rather than, rather than tearing down the system and trying to rebuild it as is yeah every client is always, it’s always a better functioning system than you give it credit for.
Right. That’s one, that’s one of the things I’ve learned also is it’s very easy to look an organization from the outside and be like, Oh, this is terrible. You’re not doing X, Y, and Z. You’re not doing these things. Blah, blah, blah. Like all we got to do is you’ve got to come in and do those things and it’ll be great.
But what you forget is that the reason they don’t do those things is that they’re good at something else. Right. A very simple, but I think a good illustration of this is a client of mine that we’re working with for several years now. They produce a ton of content and a lot of the content quality is just not that great.
But that is, those are two sides of the same coin, right? Like their strength is that they produce a ton of content and they’d be very, yeah. Their businesses is growing, you know, hand over fist and it’s very easy to walk into that situation would be like, what simple would you need to make the content quality better?
But actually like, that’s a very dangerous game to play, right? Because you’re directly competing with the thing that makes them good, which is they can produce a lot of content very quickly. And so changing that system again comes from not a position of, let’s not do X let’s do Y but rather, okay.
How do we grow from where we are? How do we take, embrace the strength of the organization and turn that into some kind of strength in a different area? And I think that’s the, yeah. Yeah, go ahead.
Jim Keeney: [00:49:57] Yeah. That’s a perfect example of, you know, the MVP approach that you talked about earlier, which is you’re generating a ton of it.
Don’t say stop generating a ton of content. How about we identify one thing that we want to impact and just take a small part of what you’re doing and focus it on that one thing and see how well that, you know, what is the impact? How does that change the dynamics, et cetera, et cetera? And then once you get that one success under your belt, You then allow that to propagate throughout the organization. So, yeah.
Tom Critchlow: [00:50:29] Yup. Yup. And again not to pick on that one example too much, but you know, I think a lot of that also comes from it’s very easy to come in and say what you make the content better, but like, what does better actually mean? And can we really quantify that? Right? Because I think that’s also the first step in a lot of these projects is let’s not change anything.
But if we can have a better understanding of how the system works, that’s step one then we can actually talk about change. Right. And so a lot of that is about, okay, well, let’s actually put in place some content quality measurement that’s step one. That’s step one is just, it’s just observing the system.
And if we can observe the system more keenly and have a better understanding of how it works, then change naturally flows from that. But trying to leap straight to. You know, stop doing what you’re doing, but the thing that makes you good and tries and does a different thing. That’s that’s yeah. That’s not going to set you up for success.
Katherine Watier-Ong: [00:51:16] No. That’s perfect. And Janet Driscoll Miller actually mentioned that because her newest book that’s coming out, she was also on the podcast, was all about setting up data systems, using data to power change, basically. And so, you know, some of the things she does is try to connect the disparate data points across the organization to start telling that story.
So observing the data first and then just narrating it and using that as the propeller to kind of get change moving.
Tom Critchlow: [00:51:43] Yup. Yup. and trying to measure the right things. You know, I think every organization is drowning in data, but it does the data doesn’t necessarily tell them what is actually useful for them.
I think a lot of I think it’s almost universally true that the organization’s under index on qualitative kind of data gathering. Yeah, they have a ton of metrics, but do they actually have an understanding of what’s going on? You know, I think that yeah, this is there’s a natural kind of like the ebb and flow inside an organization of when you set something new up for the first time, you have a relatively good understanding of why the process you’ve created is connected to the outputs.
But as you go further on the process becomes more and more disconnected from the outputs. And so you stop measuring, you stop managing and measuring the process. Yeah, and have kind of forgotten the actual outputs. And so again, a consultant’s job often is just to rebalance the systems, like to say, let’s just do first principles exercise to connect the process back to the outputs.
Cause we haven’t done that in a while. And what we find along the way is actually the process is not producing the outputs that we, it was set up to produce in the first place for a variety of reasons. And so again, this comes just coming back to that kind of first principles is before we change anything, let’s just have a look, right.
Let’s just make sure that we interrogate what’s going on correctly. And add some visibility. And again, that kind of data can be really small, right. It can be very like, you know, we talk a lot about big data, but the field of ethnography has this concept of thick data which is this, you know, data that is kind of rich with insight and rich with kind of nuance.
And I really love that mindset and try and bring that to a lot of what I do, which is okay. You publish, you know, 20,000 articles a month. Let’s just kind of pick five or 10. That starts from, you know, completely from start to finish. And unless you take a look at them and kind of really try and understand what happened along the way why do we make it in the first place?
What was the brief look like? What was the content that we got back from the writer? Well, how did it go live on the website? How did it perform and why do we do that whole circle? And, you know, some of those data points can be, it can be very powerful and effective, especially when you’re talking about back to the executive team.
Right. You know, I’ve been in presentations where well, we say, okay, you know, we track 10 articles from start to finish and five of them didn’t do what they set out to do. And that can be a very compelling data point, even though it’s only 10 data points, right. It’s only 10 pieces of content, but right.
It’s a very simple story that illustrates your point and can actually help an executive be like, all right. Yes, we need to do something about that. Now what we do about it, is an entirely another question. And we can talk about that later, but like, you know, at least bringing everyone to the table to say, what will the system we currently have is not functioning in the way that it was set out to can be a very powerful kind of starting point.
Jim Keeney: [00:54:11] Excellent. Well done.
Tom Critchlow: [00:54:14] Sorry. We got excited and rambled on Jim Keeney: [00:54:17] this is exactly the kind of stuff we’re looking for. This is really fantastic.