#104 Information-driven Leadership

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on Wed Sep 07 2022 17:00:00 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)

with Darren W Pulsipher, Betsy Freeman,

Darren Pulsipher, Chief Solutions Architect, Public Sector, Intel talks with Betsy Freeman, CEO of Radius Advisory Group, about her experience as an information-driven leader in the public and private sectors. Part one of two.


#data #informationdriven #organizationalchange #radiusag #change #people #process #ceo

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Although Betsy is the CEO of Radius Advisory Group and technically retired from the federal space, she still keeps one foot in the public sector through her company which focuses on cybersecurity and cyberspace issues of national importance. Working in both the private and public sectors at the same time has been the most exciting part of her professional journey.

Betsy started out as an active duty service member in the Air Force, switching to the industry while juggling kids and a spouse who was also on active duty. She’s worked in several industries, most recently utilities and energy, and spent a great deal of time at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She returned to the Department of Defense (DOD) when she was selected to work with Secretary Gates as a member of the Defense Efficiencies Task Force. She stayed under Secretary Pancetta and had an exciting journey, ultimately being appointed Deputy CIO for Business Process and Systems Review. There, she created a data analytics function to provide more transparency on Information Technology costs and potential efficiencies across the DoD.

Betsy’s biggest challenge in the role of Deputy CIO, which she thinks is true across the public and private sector, is how to bring new thinking, processes, technologies, and methods of working into the organization. In large organizations, the scope is enormous, and there are many silos, each with its own culture, agendas, budgets, and P&Ls. Situations such as the COVID pandemic, where changes need to happen quickly, are incredibly challenging.

Betsy says that COVID changed the culture in some ways, but in other ways, it caused people to hunker down even more, which is not good. There were many process and technology challenges that everyone learned from and continues to do so. One worry Betsy has is that there is now a new environment and ecosystem, and the return to the office can’t be stuffed back into the old bag as many leaders are trying to do. Although this is very difficult to navigate, and whether leaders consider the new environment good or bad, it can’t be treated the same as before.

Once leaders make a shift, however, Betsy’s strategy is to sprint everything. She learned this lesson when she was Deputy CIO and was given various projects on top of the underlying mission. She noticed that other teams were repeatedly given 30 days for projects, but her team was given only 10 days. When she inquired, the leadership said they knew her team could accomplish it in 10 days and that they had to make complex decisions that required the information her team could provide as part of the decision-making process, so the faster they could get it, the better. So she told her team that they just had to figure it out. They did, and they got good at it.

A sense of urgency helps people focus and perform, but leaders, Betsy points out, must ensure that they are equipped with the people, resources, and authority to execute something on a short timeline. This leadership support is key to success.

Betsy believes listening to people is essential, but decisions get made at the top, which should generally mean a few people. A matrix organization, which gained popularity in the 90s and 2000s, added layers of complexity, but most situations are already complex, so it still comes down to leadership. Leaders must be inclusive enough to listen to as many people as possible, but it can’t take five months and 150 meetings. They must develop systems and groups that can do ideation, suggest models, and work with each other. Leaders have to have the ability to turn and burn; sometimes, they must act quickly. Often, the answer is fewer people but the right people, less technology, and the right technology to get what you need.

Betsy used a practical model when she received urgent projects from the Deputy Secretary of Defense to create small teams of five to seven people with diverse cognitive skills from among her 50 analysts. This was successful because she knew her analysts’ personalities and skills well and could cherry-pick teams rather than taking a problem to a huge group and trying to get everyone’s input. The small teams repeatedly surprised her by accomplishing complex tasks and solving problems.

By setting up processes and templates to solve problems, Betsy’s team often provided input to the Deputy Secretary of Defense or the CIO within hours if necessary. Ultimately, they had processes in place that enabled them to do the ideation to come up with neutral, data-based options based on many considerations. This allowed the leaders to look at the facts and evidence and make decisions.

Betsy had faith in her teams and never told them how to do the work or assumed she knew the best way to approach things. She had good people and just trusted them to do it, This motivated her people, and they would be constantly anxious for new assignments. Employees want to know that leaders listen to them and consider and use their ideas. This approach allowed people to tell her their best analysis and options. It was often a combination of those analyses that made it back to the leadership. Credit goes to the leadership in the DOD and the CIO’s office, which trusted Betsy’s process.

Every time there was a new problem, Betsy assigned a new team. That way, different people could work on different types of projects and not get pigeonholed into one area, and people could work across the generational divide. Sometimes people were initially resistant to working with age groups outside their own, but in the end, they learned to see things through different, beneficial lenses.

Since Betsy and her deputy got to know their people well, she could work quickly to put effective teams together. One hallmark of her success is that whenever she asked a team to work on two things, no one ever said no. They just did it.

Click here for the second half of Darren’s discussion with Betsy Freeman.

Podcast Transcript


Hello, thisis Darren Pulsipher, chief solutionarchitect of public sector at Intel.

And welcome to Embracing

Digital Transformation,where we investigate effective change,leveraging people, processand technology.

On todaysepisode, Information driven leadershipwith Betsy Freeman, CEO of Radius

Advisory Group.

Betsy, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Darren So great to be here.

I appreciate the invitation.

So, Betsy

Freeman, you live up in Michigan now,but this is where you retired,but you're not retired because I thinkyou love you love this industry so much.

I do.

So I love thethe whole idea of problem solution.

And I think we have plenty of problemsthat I'm I'm hopingthat I can contributeto some solutions here along the way.

So let's talk a little bit about youryour career and your background,because when I say you're retired,you're really not retired.

You just retiredfrom working for the government.

That's right.

I retired from the federal space,although byproxy, I think I sometimes still workthere.

I'm a little bit of an odd duck.

Most people take the the route of,you know, either public or private sector.

But I kind of found a challengein saying that, you know what?

Let's just see if you could do both.

And people kind of warned me against that.

But I have to say, it'sbeen the most exciting part of my myprofessional journey.

I started out as an active duty servicemember in the United States Air Force.

I love the departmentand resigned my commissionbecause I had too many childrenand a spousegoing in too many different directionsand somebody had to not be in.

My spouse and I were both on active duty,so mom jumped out.

I was fortunate to to land in big industryand spent a great deal of timeat Pricewaterhouse, then Pricewaterhouse

Coopers through its merger,working in a number of industries.

But the last industry I worked inwas the utility and energy industry,and then did what I really wanted to dois to go back to the DOD.

And I was very fortunateto have been selected to go back to workin the DOJ with

Secretary Gates when he was runningas a efficiencies task forceand stayed on Under Secretary Panettaas he dida lot more work for the departmentwhen he became secretary.

Then I had an interesting journeyto the DOD CIOand stayedthere and was appointed as a deputy CIOand then made kind of full circlecoming back out of thereand have now founded my own consultancyin the last place you would expect.

And that's how in Michigan,on the wonderful Lake Michigan shoreout of the Washingtonlimelight and busyness andand much to my great contentment.

Well and you guys hosted Intel thererecently.

I got to go to Holland, Michigan.

It's a wonderful, whole wonderful place.


So I appreciatedthat I got to see a part of Michigan

I've never seen before.

As did we.

It was a it was a privilege to have.

Have you all here.

All right.

So you've you've been at thatyou've been at the high ranksof public sector information technologyas a see as a deputy CEO.

And tell me, what were the biggestchallenges that you guys ran into?

Well, there's the list of challengesprobably you get.

You have to have a couple of rollsof toilet paper to write them all out.

But what I would sayin my in my particular rolethere and the DOD CIOand I think this is true acrosspublic sector as well as private sector,the biggest challenge is always to look athow do you bring new thinking,new processes, new technologies,new methods of working kind of overnight,if you will, right into organizationsthat are big.

They have enormous scope.

They have a lot of silos.

Everybody has their own PNLor their own budget.

There's all sorts of agendas,professional and private, acrossall of those things.

And how do you actuallyhow do you actually helpto institute changein those kinds of environments?

We actually got a little an interestingkind of sunglasses onthat this last couple of yearsbecause of COVID.

And I've always beenone of those kind of disruptor peoplethat has said,you know, the best innovationactually always occursin the greatest when we're underthe greatest level of distress.

And I think we've seen that.

And I think that, you know, fromfrom a DOD perspective, you know,probably one of the largest organizationsor the largest organizationfrom a business process, admissionsstance in the world.

That is absolutely true.

It's it's just a hard thingto try to get across all thatand then to deal with the culture,which, again,is similar to any other organization.

Every organization has their own cultureand their own way of doing things.

And so trying to change thatat the drop of a hat,which was one of my tasksas I went into my deputy CIO role there,because there was a very specific missionelement that they createdand they wanted executedlike and start over night.

And there was no rules, no boundariesand alsono advocacy from anybody seniorexcept the most senior peopleand actually how to get that done soit's introduced to is tough.

Yeah you you brought up cultureas being probably one of the toughestthings to overcome do you feeland you can say this from the outsidebecause you were on the outsideduring COVID did you see that

COVID changed the culture at allin in these big organizationslike the DOD?

I think it did in some waysand in other waysit made people hunker down even more.

And that's bad interest.

I think we were challenged allby going to work overnight someplace else.


And thatbrought up all the the various technologychallenges.

It brings up a lot of process challenge.


And I think we learned a lotif we were smartand I think we did across the board,both in DOD andand in other big federal agenciesand and in the commercial sector as well,

I think we learned and are still learninglessons right from what that looks like.

But what worries me is the talkof every place,you know, how are we headingback into the office and how are we?

So it's like all this new environmentthat we this ecosystemthat we got shoved into.

And I think, you know, good or bad,you can make that judgment.

But because you're now thereand you've taken the step,why would you try to stuffthat back into the old bag?

And I think companies and the DOD insome ways is still trying to do that.


And I saythat with great respectto leaders in every organization,because this is not an easy thingto be able to navigate.

But once you make a shift,one of the things

I've always said to people and they alwayslook at me and go, Now it doesn't matterwhere you are, I say, sprint everything.

And it's, it's why spreads everything.

Betsy That just you just get too tiredand you this and you that now.

Okay, so now I'm going to divertand just a really quick story.

If I if I may,

I learned the lesson of Sprinteverything when I was a deputy CIO,we had various projectsthat we were given on top of the missionwe were supposed to execute.

And every time we would go into these bigmeetings, everyone would get their pieceof the of the of the projectsthat they were supposed to be working on.

And they would all get 30 daysand then they would turn to my teamand they would say,

That's it, we're giving this piece to youand you get ten days.

Well, I kind of got irritated with that.

I was like, why does everybody elseget 30 days and I get ten days right?

So after about the second or third timethat happened, I went to the leadershipand said, you know, with great respect,let me ask a question about why it is

I only get ten days.

And they said, well, in reality,because we knowyou can pull your team togetherand actually accomplish it in ten days.

But the bigger reason is, is that we haveto make some very complex decisionsand that information is partof a bigger decision making process.

And the faster we can have it, the betterwe feel like we can makethe timeliness of those decisions,and there's a big impact on those things.

And so I learned the lessonthen when I went backand said to my team, Hey, we got ten days,we got to do this.

And they looked at meand said, You know, you're joking, right?

And I said, No. And they said,

How are we going to do this?

And I said, I don't know,but you know what?

Let's figure it out.

And we did.

And once we figured it out,a lot of different times overand over and over, because our deadlinewas always ten days, guess what?

We got really good at itand we could do it in ten days.

We could even do itbetter than people that had 30 daysbecause we didn't screw around, becausewe got rid of all the extraneous thingsthat we didn't need to help senior leadersmake those decisions.

So, so, so. This is numeracy.

I want to tap into this a little bit.


So I, I saw this same sort of thingduring COVID when I talked to other CIOs,you didn't have,

Oh, I need five months to go analyzethis problem.

No, because no one can work.

Yeah, exactly. Right.

It needs to be done now.

So that that sense of urgency.

Do you feel like that sense of urgencyreally helps people focusand helps get rid of thethe chaff for no better word, right?

All the extraneous stuffthat doesn't really provide any value.

Well, I think that'swhere the real challenge lies.

I think people generallywill have a sense of urgencyif you tell them they only have a shortdeadline to do things.

But, you know, as a leader,you have to ensure thatwhen you're asking people to do that,that they're equipped with the peopleand the resources and the authorityto go and execute somethingon a shortened timeline like that.

And if they have it,which as a deputy CIO,

I was given great support in that regard.

If they have it, then, you know,it's like ripping the Band-Aid off.

You just you go and you do it.

And once you do it, you can you can helpto kind of institutionalize it.

But unless you have a leadershipthat's going to support that,

I think it's really hard to get to that.

I think there could be a sense of urgency,but people just say,

How are we supposed to do that?

You got to have somebodythat's going to lead the chargeand come backand not just say, Hey, go figure it out.

But, you know, you walk backand you actually sit down with the teamand you say, okay, and you hear all thatgood points and you do it together.

And and I think that's a hard thingto do in this environment,but I think it's a necessary thingto do.

You think that I know there was a big pushin the nineties and 2000 still likeeverything's matrixed, right?

Everything's Matrixed.

And do you think that has causedsome of the quagmire that we're inwhere things are slowed downbecause there are so manypeople that have to have a voiceor that have to help make a decision.

Well, in the end, I think it's importantto listen to people.

But let's face it, decisionmaking gets made at the top.

And that should that should generally meanthat it's a few people.

I'm having a matrix organization.

It may have added layers of complexity,but most of the situations we're talkingabout were so complex already that itprobably doesn't make any differencein the end, you know, and I'm going tothis is going to be a common theme.

I think what we're talking about todayis it really doescome back to the leadership.

You have to be inclusive enoughto listen to everyone.


But that can't take five monthsand 150 meetings.

Right? It can't.

You have toyou have to come up with ways to systems,automated systems and groupsthat can do ideationand come up together and suggest modelsand work with each other,not just talk about being collaborative,but actually doing it together.


Which is kind of what we invited you hereto work with us when you came to Olin.

And what we were trying to do withthe interviewwas to kind oflet you inside of our processes, right?

So you could see how we do this stuff.

But I think that's the that's the key.

You have to be able toto have that ability and be able to turnand kind of turn a burden, if you will,with all of the situations that come up.

And you can't take forever.

I think people have good intentions,but unless the leadershipand ables them to actbecause they have the tools and the peopleand the automation and it's notlots of people, it's the right people.

It's probably less peoplebut the right people, right?

Less technology, but the right technologyto try to help them get to what you need.


Okay. I love how I love how this is going.

And you as the leader,you kind of said where doing this.

So it wasn't like, what do you guys think?

You think we can do this?

Yeah. Wow.

It's pretty easywhen the CIO is getting directiondirectly from the DEP, SecDefand the secretaryand when he comes and says,

Hey, Betsy, we're going to do this.

And I go, What? We're going to do what?

And he goes, We're going to do this right.

And the secretary wants to know that we'regoing out, we're going to get it done.

And the answer can only be absolutely,we will get it done.

And then when you figure out how to do it.

So how do youhow do you motivate your team?

Because obviously, the firsttime this happened to you,it must have been your team.

You already said it.

Your team was like Betsy. No. Yeah, no.

So that a lot of pushback there.

I learned a lot of lessons inside that.

I had a very large team,then I had about 50 analysts and

I had just begun to kind of learnthe skill sets of each of those analystsand to learn them as people.

By my a few months out from that,

I knew their dog's name, their kid'sname, their wife's name,what they ate at lunch.

And I also knew all the skillsets, the primary and the secondaryand the tertiary skill setsthat they actually had.

And what I determinedwas, is taken that in taking a probleminto a big group of peopleand getting everybody to give metheir opinion on how it should work,

I was actually very uselessand itwasn't that their input was useless.

It was that you couldn'tdo anything with that.

I had to make a decision. We had to go.

So what we ended up doingis we kind of created an interesting modelwhere because we knew what skill setspeople had,we took the problemand if you will, kind of set itin the middle of the room and said, Hey,we're going to cherry pick.

And my average was seven people.

I tried to keep it to fiveand we would pick the peoplewith the skill sets and with kind of the,the, the, the cognitive skills.


The cognitive diversity to be ableto sit at the table and figure it out.

And if they needed somebody else,like if they needed a data scientist,you know, in those days

I could call Intel,

I could, I could get a few minutesof a data scientist time.

I had a data scientist on staff that

I could have 0.3 of his time every month.

So what we did was we we fit the skillsand the abilities of the team to the task.

And we said, solve the problem.

And much to my surprise, repeatedly,they blew it out of the water.

Sometimeswe would get questionsthat, you know, we would get,hey, can we have this in an hourfrom the office?

We very quickly got to a pointwhere it wasn't shocking all right.

For us, it was like, okay,who do we need to solve the problem?

How fast can we do it?

And we had set up templates and thingsfor ourselves to be able to provide aninput back tothe set upfor considerationand the CIO for consideration.

And we had some fun with that.

But at the end of the day,we had a process in placethat allowed us to do thatideation to come up with options,because that's what we did.

We took a neutral stance.

We didn't say, you know, Mr.

Dubcek, that for Mr.

CIO, this what you need to go do.

We said here are the optionsthat you have based on the datathat we know, theyou know, the level of accuracythat we believe that that data representsthe budgets, you know,scenarios, the political scenarios,the support we have from ourboard ofdirectors,all 435 of them over on the Hill.

So you chipin all of those considerations, right?

The timeline that you have,the impact of the soldiers and sailorsand their families and all those things,and and we give options.

And so and so we stayed outof the decision making.

And so we could just lay out factsand evidence.

But but in essence, you

I love what you said herebecause you didn't tell your teamhow to do the work.

Oh, no, no.

Which is very empowering, Betsy,because a lot of managers come in and say,okay, we need to get this done.

This is how we're going to do it.

Instead you said this is the teamthat's going to get thisdone, do it, and they figured it out.

Yeah, that's pretty empowering.

They I had a lot of faith in them andthey like that a lot.

I think it was very motivatingbecause they would alwaysbe looking for new assignmentsand what could they do next.

And people argue a lotthat about being able to be on the teamand while we had a large group of analyststhere,we because of the nature of the problemsthat we were given, you know,they were all sorts of disciplinesand all sorts of requirements.

So we ended up usingall the members of the team.

We might have six or seven teams going outat a single time on different problems.

Right. And 5 to 7 peopleprobably on each team.

Some we could use less, somewe needed a few more.

But it justit kind of emerged in a way where

I've never as a leader of any team,assumed that I knewthe best way to approach things.

I just I've never done that.

I may have my ideas right,but 99% of the time,these teams of peopleand I'm I'm really fortunate in thatyou can only say this when you actuallysurround yourself with really good people.

And I had many of them then. Right.

And these were all differentcontracts.

So they were all contractorsfrom industry, all different companies.

And so yeah, so we, we,we were fortunateto have really good people.

And in that regard, you know,people wanted to be on projects.

They were anxious to have an opportunityto give ideas.

I think employeesand I think you see this today,

I think it's why the great resignationthing still keeps going.

People that are employees want to knowthat leaders are listening to them.


And that they're actually takingin their ideas and considering themand that's what thisthat's what this approach did.

It allowed people to tell you,you know, with their best analysis,what options were and oftentimesit was a combination of those analysisthat we put together to give actualoptions right back to the leadership.

But the fact that we could do that quicklyand we got rid of all the junkbetween the members of the teamand with the culture that waskind of surrounding us in the department.

We were in our own little environment,right where we were allowed to do that.

And that's a credit to to the leadershipof the department in the CIO's office,the CIO and the principal deputy CIO,because they recognize thatif they let us go,we could turn this stuff and come upwith optionsthat other people weren't arriving at.

And so it was.

How oftenhow often would you use the same groupof people over and over again?

Was it everything there?

Got something new?

I, I,

I had the opportunity to form a new team.

So I did every singletime we had a new problem.

And that waythat the reason I did that was twofold.

One, it gave an opportunityfor four different people to work ondifferent kinds of work because I thinkas a consultant or an analyst,if you get too beholden to one area,you kind of get myopic.

I believe I'm a strong believerin a multidisciplinary approachand just about everythingthat we do, right?

Because you don't know what you don't knowbecause you don't see itfrom the other guy's shoesbecause you never been in them.

So the only way you'll learnthat is to is to get people.

And so you would and so we would justinstantly form new teams, right?

It was a very quick process.

The other thing that I found there,and this stemmed from an initial problem

I had, was that I had very youngconsultants.

I had some,you know, mid-career consultantsand I had some more mature consultants.


And as you know,there's a kind of a generational dividekind of across all of thatwhen you look at the reality of it.

So we would mix young and old togetherand mid-tier toand sometimes people wouldn't like that.

And they'd come and they'd say something.

And then by the end of the timethey were done with the project.

It was all about, Doyou know how much I learned from this guy?

And sometimes that was people like mewith gray hairsaying, okay,

I was really irritated when you did thisand you made this young personcome and do this, this,but they really taught me a lotabout how to look at this technologythrough this lens. Right.

And the younger people werein the same boat where they said, hey,we were thinking we're getting stuckwith the old guys. Right. But in the end,to have the benefit of knowingwhy policies and procedureswere established the way they wereand having the history of it,that gave you the contextof what you needed to understandto be able to change it in the right way,right, and update itwithout totally just dismantlingthe whole thing,which is oftentimes what you end up doing.

And so, yeah, so there was,there was a good reason for that.

But we,we got to know our people very well.

It was me and a deputyand we could just very quickly say,you know, pull this person,this person, this person and go.

And if they were working on somethingelse,we'd say, Hey, can you work on two things?

And I don't think I ever had anybody say,

No, I can't work on two things.

They just they just did it.

I don't know how they did it,but they did it.

That's that's pretty incredible.

So, Betsy, this this sounds incrediblebecause of your leadership skills.

Obviously, we are are very fine tunednow that you've gone through this process.

Join mefor the second half of this interviewwith Betsy Freeman on my next episode.

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