This year has been full of significant, exciting changes at Aperian, and Co-Presidents Amanda Worsfold, Chief Product Officer, and Mike Greto, Chief Revenue Officer, have led the way through the changes together.
Here they share how they embrace the challenges and benefits of co-leadership during times of change.
Q. How do you decide what initiatives to invest in and prioritize?
Mike: In 2023, our strategic priorities included clarifying our brand identity and internal values, and activating a new product-led go-to-market strategy. The bulk of our discretionary resources were dedicated to these efforts. Now that we have launched our refreshed brand, we are focused on maximizing the return on that investment. We prioritize projects that help us tell our story and further our mission while continuing to meet our high standards related to information security, data privacy, and accessibility.
Amanda: There is certainly no shortage of ideas, projects, platform features, etc. to invest in. Having been in the field for 30 years, we are intimately aware of the challenges our customers face and the myriad ways we could provide additional value to them. Our client teams have close, long-term relationships with many of our clients, and these relationships foster amazing new ideas. When it comes to prioritizing initiatives, we have to look at the potential impact a specific idea may have on our customers. Of course, resources are limited, so we are also measuring ideas against how well they align with and can advance our corporate strategy. Being in a co-leadership team enables us to check each other and avoid getting swept up in the “tyranny of the urgent” or trendy ideas. Typically, Mike and I can make the case to each other why a certain initiative fits the bill or doesn’t and we have agreed most of the time by having clear shared business goals.
Q. What have you learned since starting to lead more teams, founders, and partners?
Mike: We’ve learned to get out of our own way, trust the process, and let people do their best work. Amanda and I don’t have all the answers. We’re going to mess up—and we have—but if we’ve done our jobs right, our teams know what we’re all striving towards. We don’t need to be involved in every decision and every meeting. As a small company, this is easier said than done, but we have an extremely talented and capable management team and dedicated employees. The best thing we can do as leaders is empower them.
Amanda: I’ve been completely amazed by what our teams have accomplished by empowering them within the framework of our broader company values, goals, and objectives. We have smart and talented employees in every department and we make sure to keep them motivated and engaged. We can accomplish much more together as long as we keep talented and engaged people, with clear overall direction.
Mike: In our co-leadership position, it’s also our responsibility to liaise with our board of directors and founders. Setting a clear vision for the company is also essential to working with them. We need to have a compelling vision and strategy for growth to report to the board. Our founders have traditionally had a very hands-on approach to running the company, so it’s been a transition for them to trust there are good reasons for every decision made and initiative we are running. We meet every two weeks with the Executive Team and Board of Directors, and directly with the founders on alternating weeks to keep the lines of communication flowing.
Amanda: I’ve also learned so much about how leading is as much about presence and how I show up and support people as much as it is about setting the strategy. Personally, I’ve had to learn from some tough mistakes how much impact my words have in this position of power. My natural tendency is to speak without thinking and that is a habit I’m working to change.
Q. You mentioned one of your strategic priorities in 2023 was getting clear on our company values. How was that process?
Amanda: The values initiative was truly meaningful and a real highlight for us. Our partner, Emotive Brand, helped us put into words what we were already living and what makes working at Aperian special. When we received the first draft of the new values after the initial discovery process, I remember having goosebumps and feeling emotional about how true they felt. One of our employees pointed out that they roughly match up with the model we developed for our Inclusive Behaviors Inventory product, and it felt incredible to know that the way we aspire to work and show up in the world honors our belief that everyone deserves to be included at work.
Mike and I divided up the executive sponsorship for the internal and external brand and values roll out and I oversaw the internal rollout. Our head of People Ops, Addie Johnsen, did a fantastic job of creating workshops and exercises that rolled out to every employee to consider the new values and how they show up in our work. We also rolled them into our regular employee review process and asked team members to consider which values resonate the most and which are growth areas. It’s validating to hear employees bring up specific values on calls and use them to acknowledge the strengths of their coworkers, and for managers to be able to use the values when giving feedback.
Mike: I completely agree that our values initiative was a highlight this year. What I didn’t expect was how helpful they’d be as a lens for decision-making, hiring, product development, vendor and client relationships, marketing initiatives, and more. It may sound cliché, but we really do try to let our values inform all that we do and we are committed to being intentional about this even after the ‘honeymoon’ phase of our launch is behind us.
Q. How do you make decisions when you have competing priorities or ideas?
Mike: One of our values is ‘diverge, converge, commit’: considering multiple perspectives, coming together to align on the best path forward, and then executing with confidence. In practice, this means that even if your idea didn’t win that day, you need to be able to get behind the final decision and commit to moving forward. Amanda and I value input from the management team and other team members across the organization, and with that, we can usually agree on how to move forward.
Amanda: As part of our co-leadership journey, Mike and I have been really intentional about building our relationship. At the outset, we agreed to be each other’s “first team.” When we were exploring the position, I remember discussing over a glass of wine that this would only work if it worked for both of us. We committed to treat each other with respect. Remembering we are in a partnership is core to how we get through times of disagreement.
Another key factor here is trust. When Mike says one of his teams needs something, I have to trust that he knows what he’s talking about, even if at times I don’t fully understand. It’s really helpful to have this trust for the times when one of us is just having a hard week—the other one will step in and say, “I’ve got this,” and let the other take a breath. I give him that trust, and he gives it to me. Like any partnership, it’s a practice—and we are not perfect—but we get it right most of the time.
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