We’re launching episode three of People Leading People, the SoapBox podcast! Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts!(be sure to subscribe and give us a review!).
In episode three, we sat down with Alyssa Furtado, co-founder of Ratehub Inc. and CEO of Ratehub.ca, the leading Canadian financial comparison site for mortgage rates, credit card deals, deposit rates and insurance.
Alyssa co-founded Ratehub Inc. with James Laird in 2010, and have since grown the company to 70 full time employees. Under their leadership, Ratehub Inc. has launched its own in-house mortgage brokerage, CanWise Financial.
We talk to Alyssa about EOS (entrepreneurial operating system) – a framework for setting and communicating goals across the company. You’ll learn why Alyssa decided it was time to put some structure behind this process, and how the framework has helped Ratehub.ca better align teams across the whole organization.
The full episode and transcript are below, but here are a few of our favourite things Alyssa had to say:
On adopting an EOS
“I think just we realized that, looking back, the structure and what we had been doing wasn’t going to get us to where we wanted to go in the future. And just a scaling business, try to keep it manageable. There’s just so much going on, and me try to figure out, ‘how do I get a hold of the organization and make sure that I feel like it’s under control and being well managed and not just this crazy growth engine?'” (Skip to 17:45 to listen to this part!)
On level 10 meetings
“Our leadership team meeting has what we call a level 10 meeting, one meeting each week for an hour and a half, and then each other department in the organization has their own level 10 meeting. That was just amazing. We weren’t meeting enough as broader groups, and the whole point of a level 10 meeting is to bring up issues and solve them and work on them together, make those decisions and drive to solutions.” (Skip to 18:20 to listen to this part!)
“The concept or rocks is: Most organizations try to get too many things done, and in the process don’t get those three most important things done. Every quarter, with each member of the team, we start with company rocks. What are the three to five things that if the company got this done this quarter we would all consider ourselves successful? Then, that breaks down to the department level and then each individual has their own rocks.” (Skip to 20:00 to listen to this part!)Most organizations try to get too many things done, and in the process don't get those three most important things done. - Alyssa Furtado of @ratehub Click To Tweet
Check out the episode below – and scroll down for a full transcript. Be sure to subscribe and review us in Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen (and we’d love for you to give us a rating!).
People Leading People episode 3 | Alyssa Furtado of Ratehub.ca on setting and communicating goals (transcript)
Jillian Gora: Alyssa Furtado is the co-founder of RateHub Inc. and CEO of RateHub.ca, the leading Canadian financial comparison site for mortgage rates, credit card deals, deposit rates and insurance.
Alyssa and James Laird co-founded RateHub Inc. in 2010, and have since grown the company to 70 full-time employees. Under their leadership, RateHub Inc. has launched its own in-house mortgage brokerage, CanWise Financial. Thanks for joining us Alyssa.
Alyssa Furtado: Thanks for having me.
Brennan McEachran: No, thank you. It’s great to have you on the podcast. We’ve heard a lot and read a lot, but would love to jump into it. One of the things we always get people to do is walk us through maybe your leadership or management career from what was the start and where are you now, and what are the bumps and bruises along the way?
Alyssa: Yes, that’ll be a fun ride. Right after graduating from university, I worked as a consultant for the first two years. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to being a manager myself, but I think one of the best ways to learn about management styles, what really resonates with you, what you think makes an effective leader is by following someone. That someone can be a really strong manager, but we often learn just as much, if not more, from a manager that’s really challenging or not as easy to work with.
The neat thing about consulting is I got exposure to a lot of different styles and a lot of different leaders, so I could take the parts that I loved and really reflect on the parts that I found more challenging to work with. Earlier on in my career just after I graduated, I actually started with one of my best friends a company called Break into Business which helped young kids learn about entrepreneurship. Through that process, I actually was able to manage camp counselors and do some hiring there.
That gave me the chance to dip my toes into management, but it’s really been through the process of building and scaling RateHub that I’ve really been thrown into the deep end, and had to pick up some leadership and management skills as quickly as possible, and really develop myself as a leader in this company.
Brennan: Going to consulting, what were some of the good, the great? What were some of the ugly things you saw as you got exposure to other leaders?
Alyssa: I think that early on, I realized that my favorite leaders were the people that didn’t think they had all of the answers so were able to lean on their expertise and lean on their experience, but still keep an open mind, ask questions of their juniors, and really listen and be open to changes. That was something that I definitely picked up on. Also, the ability for a manager to create, sometimes it’s referred to as a psychologically safe zone.
Create an environment where you feel comfortable if a mistake’s been made or something’s happened that you feel like you can go to that manager and be in it together as you work for the solution. I think one of the other great things consulting environments are high-performance environments, you’re getting up to speed and a lot is being thrown at you very quickly. It was good to work in an environment where there were such high expectations and watching managers navigate that, and get some of the juniors up to speed as quickly as possible.
Brennan: There’s got to be a few or one or two examples of you experienced something and you’re like, “Man, when I get the opportunity, I’m not going to be that person.” Do any of those jump to mind?
Alyssa: Yes. I think I remember one of my experiences. I had been working with a manager, I was new on the case and I hadn’t done a great job in one of the tasks he had wanted me to do. He let that carry over. When you’re consulting, you’re traveling a lot together and spending a lot of time together, so he let that carry over in his behavior to me outside of work, and just how he was speaking with me and addressing me. That was a really hard experience, but then about a week or so later, he also apologized for it.
I think both of those things are important. It was a crappy experience to go through, but also the power of a manager owning something that they’ve done upon reflecting they didn’t think was right, that can be a really powerful tool. Sometimes people as a leader, you feel like you can’t be vulnerable at all, but I think it’s important to admit when you’ve done something wrong and take ownership. It’s really disarming.
Jillian: Totally. Now fast-forwarding, you start RateHub Inc., you get that whole team started, you mentioned you don’t have a ton of management experience at this point, and you’re building the team. At first, I’m sure it’s a small team, it’s easy to communicate, everybody’s on board with the mission, but as you grow how did it feel to step away from that day-to-day and empower division leaders and other more senior leaders at the company as the team was growing?
Alyssa: RateHub is about eight years old now, so there’s been many different phases. Because we bootstrapped for the first seven or so years, I feel like our growth story might have been a little bit more slowly, and we went through many different phases. I think exactly like you identified, the first few years were actually quite easy for all the reasons that you mentioned. Communication was just so easy, we all worked together, there was so much trust, everybody worked with everybody, and it was super easy.
Probably hiring the first around 10 was really easy, and then as there started to be multiple levels, so anytime you introduce a new level, I think that always creates challenges. I think for my own personality type, if I feel like someone is really competent in a role and really raring to take things over, I find it quite easy to let go of the work. Some of the adjustment as the organization grew was adjusting to not knowing everybody and not getting to work with everybody directly.
That was very different and challenging. I think as we’ve gotten bigger, introduced more levels and really grown as an organization, the side of the business RateHub.ca that I manage is about 40 people, lots of challenges around communication, how do we communicate enough but not too much, make sure everybody’s kept up to loop on what we’re doing for the next quarter, but the bigger challenges but also making sure we’re not always in meetings and have enough time to get stuff done.
Brennan: Awesome. I want to zoom in on that because I think that’s something that not a lot of people have an easy time doing, which is a mix of upscaling yourself and letting go of some of the day-to-day tasks, or the individual contributor work that you’re good at and you know how to do very well. One thing actually was in Denver, we were chatting about this in a group dinner and this exact topic came up.
One of the things that we all agreed was at the start of your career, your self-worth or your impact of the company really comes through the work you do, the things that go out to clients or customers or production. Then all of a sudden as management creeps into your role, that changes. A lot of people I think have a hard time with that. What do you think shifts I guess, in terms of the value you provide to the company as that individual contributor to manager, leader shift happens?
Alyssa: It’s a good question. I look at it as there’s two major camps of people, so I think there’s the person that you described that is an absolute executional beast, they’re super process-driven, they like doing things in a very specific way. Many founders that I speak to say, but how do I get rid of this task, no one will ever do it as well as I do it? That’s not as natural to me. I think I am a natural delegator and maybe that’s weird, so I’m almost the opposite.
Any time I’m doing a task that I think, “I’ve done this 10 times, I could package it and I could teach someone how to do it,” I become obsessed with passing that knowledge on and having somebody else do it. I think that sometimes my style can be more give someone a task without making sure, “Have I explained it well enough? Are they a 100% ready to take it on?” I’m more of the style of give enough rope to let someone hang themselves. I don’t know if you know that expression. I think that the type of person that hoards the work, they might naturally do a better job of making sure everything’s super structured, the person’s absolutely ready to take it on, everything’s clearly described, but they hold on to that work more closely.
That’s not my challenge, but I need to make sure that individual is ready to take that on. What I always say to people who are going through that challenge of, “I’m the best person to do that,” I always say, you’re absolutely– You might be more productive than one other person, and you might even be more productive than two people, but there’s no way you’re more productive than three of the right people in the right role. If you want to scale and you want the organization to be about more than just you, which has always been one of my goals, that it’s just, it’s something you have to get better at.
I also think that in your career as you evolve and you start working with really talented people, it should actually become quite the opposite, that again, there’s no way you’re the best at every individual skill set. If you find those people that complement you, they should be way better at that aspect of the job. That’s, I think, where it becomes truly rewarding to work in a team when you’re working with people that just amaze you every day because of what they’re able to do that you never would have been able to do on your own.
Jillian: What are the– I mean, if any, what are the processes or the mechanisms that you’ve set up at RateHub to have those checks and balances? And specifically for how you manage people, it sounds like you put a lot of trust in people, and you hire the right people so that they can get the job done. What are the specific moments in time that you’re checking in on how things are going or what is the process for checking in on that kind of stuff?
Alyssa: Yes, that’s a great question. At our leadership team level now at RateHub we get together once per week, all seven of us, and we meet for about an hour and a half. In that meeting, we identify the most important things that we have to get done in that week, we identify what we need to discuss and what we need to get on the same page or sorted any issues that have come up, and then we walk away with a number of to-do’s.
Then I also meet my leadership team members for about an hour each on a one-on-one basis each week. In that time that’s a great opportunity to really dive into the work, check in on things, and you pretty quickly realize if the person is able to– Is it something you can check in on once a week, once a month, once a quarter?
Brennan: I think, just jumping in there, because I think this is again, like an interesting thing new managers go through, you’re used to working and completing your to-do list and your task list, and then all of a sudden, you’re the person who’s now booking if you have five director parts, five hours of meetings, just one-on-one plus an hour and a half each week, which is really about one day a week just pure in meetings. What do you try to get out of those one-on-one meetings that you can’t get maybe outside of it? What’s the difference maybe between your goals as in the team versus in a one-on-one setting?
Alyssa: Yes, I think that I mean, it’s also an extreme case to go from having no direct reports to having six, because then it does start to take up a ton of time, but the purpose of the one-on-one is rather than meetings seven to 14 times through the week for quick touch bases. One of my leadership team members does an amazing job of just comes in with like a very flushed out agenda, knows all of the things and decisions he wants for me, and he really controls the meeting and of course, I can add any questions and stuff like that at the end.
He does such an amazing job of leveraging my time because in that one hour chunk we can get through and make all of these decisions, rather than having 10 emails and him stopping by my office four times and breaking up workflow. That’s really the purpose of the one-on-one.
Brennan: Then the team is more context for the group?
Alyssa: Yes, or things that we need to solve together, right? There’s things that might make sense, my Director of Sales and I can in a room make quick decisions, but anytime there’s things that start to touch marketing and product and technology. When we weren’t meeting as a group on a regular basis, it was just creating the need to set up all of these ad hoc meetings, and you just don’t have time in your schedule.
Something that I’ve really been spending a lot of time thinking about this year, how do we become more effective as an organization at meetings? It’s really a good reminder, that meetings shouldn’t be status updates. We can do those via email, we can circulate those before. Meetings are about getting the right people in the room to make decisions and move things forward, and you want to be as efficient as possible in doing that.
Brennan: Jumping to efficient frameworks and things, we chatted just before this briefly about your entrepreneurial operating system, and I think I read somewhere online that we’re probably using the same one. My guess is our management meeting looks similar to yours, and our quarterly off sites look similar as well. What do you think, what is this EOS thing and what value does it provide?
Alyssa: It’s interesting because the EOS system is getting a lot of traction in the startup community. I run into a lot of entrepreneurs in Toronto that are experimenting with it, trying it in their business, I definitely think that it’s an option to investigate. I think that as we scale the organization, and I had only ever been– I’d worked for two years in consulting and professional services is very different than building a product based business direct to consumer that has a very cross functional team, and has six different functions that need to work really well together.
I realized that I hadn’t been in an organization where I had seen this done really well, and I needed some framework or system to figure out– And through pulse surveys, we were asking people, “Do you know the goals of the organization? Do you feel like you’re kept well informed?” And we thought our scores could be a lot better in those areas. I had met Shelby who’s a facilitator that can help you implement this in your business. He and I had had a number of conversations and he told me, the first step is to buy a book called Traction, written by Gino Wickman.
I read it on a plane, and it literally was describing every single one of my pain points in the organization at the time. It describes companies go through this process of hitting the ceiling where you might have had crazy years of growth and then things just start to slow because you don’t have the right people in place, you don’t have the processes, there isn’t enough organizational clarity. Everything just resonated and I thought this is the pathway that I want to take the team down, and that started last fall and it’s been great.
Brennan: What are the before and after there? What are those pain points that you’re experiencing, and hopefully there’s someone listening that says, “Oh man, my team is not aligned,” or “I keep repeating the same things, but people still don’t understand what the objectives are.” Any tactical things that you did because of that or that just paid off massively?
Alyssa: Yes, I think I’ll split it between pain points and then some of the tactics and really tools that you learn through the system. Some of the pain points were things like the engagement surveys, still people not knowing what the broader goals with the organization was, not feeling informed, trying to figure out what they could do to help achieve the goals. That was definitely it. Me not having a great sense for– I just wanted to look for a framework that helped us with how to set goals, how to communicate those goals, how often to have meetings, when to meet as an organization.
I think just we realized that we had looking back the structure and what we had been doing wasn’t going to get us to where we wanted to go in the future, and just any scaling business trying to keep it manageable. There’s just so much going on and me try to figure out, how do I get a hold of the organization and make sure that I feel like it’s under control and being well managed and not just this crazy growth engine? Some of the tactics and tools; there’s six pillars of the EOS system, stuff that has been amazing for us has been our meeting cadence.
Our leadership team meeting and what we call a level 10 meeting, one meeting each week for an hour and a half, and then each other department in the organization has their own level 10 meeting. That was just amazing, we weren’t meeting enough as broader groups, and the whole point of a level 10 meeting is to bring up issues and solve them and work on them together, make those decisions and drive to solutions. Then having that forced weekly in the departments also just gave an awesome forum to keep the whole team updated. Prior to that we were doing a lot of one-on-one meetings, but we weren’t bringing people together for that cross team collaboration.
Brennan: I think it’s something as like a manager, you don’t really realize, like the team meeting isn’t necessarily for you, and you don’t realize that I have so much information and power on the team. I don’t even know how much I know, and just scaling that communication person-to-person, person-to-person, getting them in the room together is almost like a voice, a lot of the interpersonal issues I think, that’s not happening.
Alyssa: Absolutely. I think you’re absolutely right, that as the manager you have to realize that you’ll often have more information, and so you’re not always the best judge of, are you communicating enough. You’ve really got to ask your team and find different forums and methods to get that message across. Another tool that’s been really helpful for us is what’s called rock setting. The concept or rocks is: Most organizations try to get too many things done, and in the process don’t get those three most important things done. Every quarter, each member of the team, we start with company rocks, what are the three to five things that if the company got this done this quarter we would all consider ourselves successful?
Then, that breaks down to the department level and then each individual has their own rocks. Developers building with the products manager should probably have some similar goals and rocks, or we should understand why they’re different and how they’ll both get done. A number of people have said in previous roles or in previous companies, I’ve just been doing my own thing, and I didn’t know that I had this alignment on. These are my most important three things. My manager agrees, the CEO agrees, et cetera.
Jillian: Cool. Quick question about the company rocks, the way you said it, it sounds like everybody sits down in a room and together determines what the company rocks are. Is that how it happens or is it starting at a bit of a higher level at a leadership team meeting, for example, and then brought in to the different departments by those division leaders or how is that going up?
Alyssa: Great question. To set the company rocks we start at the leadership team level. Everybody takes about 10 minutes, writes down on their own sheet of paper what they believe the most important things are, and then we go around the room one at a time reveal them. Basically, usually the ones that get the most votes quickly rise to the top, and often they will be three to five rocks where almost everybody has it on their list. But otherwise we debate, prioritize and sometimes something that might be really important for our CTO is important but it’s not at the company level.
It drops down into his rock and the dev team then tackles it. At the highest level, the company rocks the leadership team sets them, and then each department, there might be products might have a rock at the company level, the product leader will take that rock, then with his or her team go around the room and determine at the product level what the most important things are to get done.
Brennan: That’s awesome. One thing I think that is really needed about kind of that process, I think some people listening are going to be like, “Oh, man that would be chaos if everyone voted on some of the top priorities and we debated about it, how do we get out of that room?” But then one of the interesting things I think that comes out of that is not only deciding what your rocks are, but deciding what issues, what challenges you’re not going to deal with this quarter, and you push those off to the side and said, “Yes, these are things but they’re not things that we’re going to deal with as a business today and now, so don’t get too hung up on them. We agree they’re things, they’re just not things for today.
Alyssa: Yes, absolutely. You have the debate and necessary dialogue to get on the same page about that, but you brought up an interesting point about how you balance so many opinion and thoughts in a meeting. I think I’ve been learning a lot about that as well. You can use things like everybody take 10 minutes on their own or let’s get out post-it notes, then everybody get the chance to get all of their thoughts out. Then in a controlled manner you can go around and usually you find that there’s a lot of alignment, but then it focuses in on where there isn’t alignment, but the EOS system really teaches you, everybody go around the room, state your opinion, but then the leader decide and we all rally behind that decision.
Jillian: Yes, okay, great. It’s time for our favorite part of the show, the secret question. If you could for me please pick a number between one and three.
Alyssa: I’ll go with lucky number one.
Jillian: Number one. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received or heard about leading people?
Alyssa: One of the best pieces of advice, and I might have actually read it. I can’t remember exactly where it came from, but it said that the more you’re building up a conversation in your mind the more difficult the conversation that you need to have with someone seems. It probably means that it’s that important to have it. I think that in managing people depending on your personality type it can be hard to deliver constructive feedback and that sort of thing, but the more that I feel I want to put off a conversation that’s almost the leading indicator that that conversation needs to happen immediately.
It’s almost that uncomfortable feeling, or that tendency to want to avoid, that forces me to have those conversations as soon as possible. I’ve really been learning that people just appreciate honesty, and the great people that you want in your team want that feedback and want to work on things with you. As long as you’re bringing things up in a rational and fair way backed up by examples, you normally have some great conversations and get through things as a team.
Brennan: I love that. I think that is so true to how I felt in certain situations where there’s just this buildup of stress and anxiety about bringing something that I know emotionally is true, but I just can’t find up the words to get it out of my mouth. What tips do you have for breaking that ice? What’s the way to just, without venting on someone or word vomiting all over the place, how do you just start?
Alyssa: It’s a great question and it’s a challenge. Like so many things, I almost don’t want to take this as a compliment, but it always has to map back to your leadership style. Some people thrive in confrontation and it’s not as uncomfortable and they’re able to do it, because I know– As you described it can be more uncomfortable for me. I do have to spend time thinking about it, and making sure I’m trying to remove all emotion from the conversation, and bringing up in as neutral as possible way. I think something for me that’s really helped and it’s an important part of any kind of management best practices is just always having examples to back up what you’re describing.
Often times when we say things like, “You didn’t step up in that meeting.” That’s really hard for one of your direct reports to understand what they didn’t do and what you expected of them. Instead, when we set up that meeting, I would have expected you to set an agenda and objectives, and it would have looked like this. When this person asked this question I really think that’s on your accountability to know that and here are the ways that you can set yourself up for next time. Then, that becomes a much clear message that someone can action. It’s also an easier message to deliver because it’s not about the person, it’s about the work.
Brennan: Do you naturally bring those up in– Is that part of the natural agenda for your one-on-one conversation?
Alyssa: Yes, either one-on-ones or directly right after meetings, just getting into the habit of debriefing with your team and that sort of thing.
Jillian: Great. Well, thanks so much for your time. Before we say goodbye, I want to throw it over to you, if you have anything you’d like to pitch or anything you’d like to say to our audience the next 30 seconds are yours.
Alyssa: An important thing to think about is how to help your manager manage you best. On that last point, we talked a lot about giving feedback and recognizing that when someone’s giving you feedback it is difficult for that individual as well. There’s a huge responsibility if you’re truly committed to improving and being the best that you can be, you want to make it easy for people to talk to you and be direct with you.
It’s important to take ownership over that. Thanking people for feedback and being like, “That’s a really great point” you can still offer some thoughts on your side and that thing, but just trying to remove all defensiveness. Sometimes that’s better by walking away from the situation, really reflecting on yourself thinking about it, and then you can come back in a professional and mature way.
Jillian: Great. Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Alyssa.
Alyssa: Thanks, guys. It was a lot of fun.