28. desember, 2021

Content Intel—episode 7: closing the gap between strategy and execution

Alex Castro, CEO of M Corp, joins Content Intel to discuss how closing the gap between strategy and execution will yield more potential for digital transformation and growth opportunities.
a man smiling for the camera





Laura Dolan (00:00):

Hello, listeners and welcome to another episode of Content Intel, brought to you by Optimizely. I am Laura Dolan and today I am joined by Alex Castro. He's the CEO of M Corp. Welcome to the show, Alex, how's it going?

Alex Castro (00:15):

Great. Thank you so much for having me on.

Laura Dolan (00:17):

Of course, thank you so much for taking the time to be here today. Why don't we start out by you telling us a little bit about your background and how you got involved in execution alignment.

Alex Castro (00:27):

I've been in strategic management and technology consulting for over 20 years and the thing that we have continuously seen and really escalating and I'm sure listeners have some reflectiveness around this, is that this escalation that there's a lot of great ideas being generated within business today. A lot of opportunity being generated in business today. And the gap between those ideas and those strategies and outcomes is the inability to really steer through execution well.

Alex Castro (01:03):

We've seen so many customers have so many great opportunities ahead of them, so much potential ahead of them, and it not being able to get through that gauntlet. We've put together an entire, not really road map, but really a set of considerations on how to navigate through that process of going from idea or strategy to outcome more successfully, with a higher volume of outcome, so more of your ideas get to market.

Laura Dolan (01:35):

Can you talk a little bit more about some of those steps in the process?

Alex Castro (01:38):

We're in this age of data driven decision making-

Laura Dolan (01:42):


Alex Castro (01:42):

... and what's really happening a lot is that, especially after the 2020 crisis, I tend to talk to leaders within the context of pre-COVID thinking versus post-COVID thinking and that, in and of itself, that shift, in and of itself, has had a dramatic impact on the ability to formulate effective strategy moving forward, right.

Alex Castro (02:07):

Everybody wants to grow. Everybody wants to take opportunity in the market that they see, right. It's seeing the field and being able to see the gap and really thread that needle to finding the next iteration of your business. The challenge that happens and the thing that gets overlooked the most is that execution is not a templated model and it's ... I often refer to it from the context that it's like a sports team.

Alex Castro (02:36):

For the listener, think of whatever your favorite sports team is, right, and let's say that they won the championship last year or this year, whatever it may be. Does that guarantee the fact that they're going to win the next year? Right, because they've got a formulary. They have a process. They have all the parts and the pieces and, "Well, gee, all we have to do is take that and repeat it and we're going to win again." Right. The reality is-

Laura Dolan (02:58):

Unless their personnel changes, which a lot of companies go through as well.

Alex Castro (03:01):

100%, plus the thing that we have to really take into consideration, especially as we're moving in this very accelerated expectation market, right. We, as consumers, are driving our own misery because what's happened is that we expect things to work immediately. To get from idea to production, idea to outcome needs to be in months not years and it has to meet every expectation we have.

Alex Castro (03:30):

The challenge that has cascaded out of historical decision making in a leadership context and many will relate to this, especially in the executive ranks, is that there's been this movement into this venture capital model, which says, throw a lot of resource at stuff, see what sticks, fail fast, move forward, that kind of a thing.

Alex Castro (03:58):

The consequence of that, right, in the sense that all of these ideas that people are really percolating up ... once somebody raises an idea there is ownership in that. There is a direct emotional connection to that. What happens is that we start to introduce all these biases, these decision biases into ... cognitive biases into supporting that idea, to supporting that decision. We're now removed from it.

Alex Castro (04:25):

We start to really look for things that support our direction and once that cognitive bias engages, then we're assuming that the operations or the execution part of the business can simply take it and run with it. The thing that really gaps out is we have designed, as leaders we have designed our businesses to be optimized to today's need or maybe today plus one.

Alex Castro (04:52):

When we're looking at a transformational opportunity or a gap in the market that's a transformation within the business that is going to push us out of our current operating capacity, people, process and technology, into the next iteration of what we need. Depending on how aggressive that idea is and what's needed, the amount of overlap for what people, process and technology that that future idea needs versus what we have today tends to be very nominal.

Alex Castro (05:25):

What leaders do, executives do, C-suite often does, is they estimate that because we've hired well and we've groomed well and we've invested in our people and our process and technology that it's adaptable and the reality is that it is not as adaptable. The outcome to that, the unfortunate unseen outcome to that, is you have employees who are so invested in the outcome but they've been thrown opportunities that they can't win.

Alex Castro (05:55):

That begins to demoralize the workforce. People don't take the ideas as seriously and so then you run this constant of fail fast and that kind of thing but as a listener into this context, there's one thing of getting out of a bad situation. There's another that you're repeatedly being put into something that you never see through and get it to market. That eventually starts to wear on you as a professional.

Laura Dolan (06:22):

Where do you think data dovetails into all this and analytics and how can companies best leverage their data to execute their planning strategies?

Alex Castro (06:33):

Really what I think that they need to have a solid ... it's really developing an initial footing in that truly understanding how viable is the idea, not from an idea quality but from an execution standpoint. Will the data that I gather support the initiative that I want to do, right. Because the challenge that we face with clients, especially in the AI, machine learning or predictive analytics space, is they don't know which question ... how to ask the right question. The right question has to start with why.

Laura Dolan (07:14):

Right. Why and-

Alex Castro (07:17):

If you don't-

Laura Dolan (07:18):

... your audience, your personas, who is actually going to benefit from this?

Alex Castro (07:22):

Right. In essence AI and machine learning and predictive analytics is all about why is this group behaving the way they are behaving. Structuring that question is really hard.

Laura Dolan (07:41):

It is. It is hard to wrap your head around it. I'll just speak from experience. I am currently in the process of creating our content strategy for 2022 and we're trying to base a lot of it around our current metrics, our past metrics, trying to find a paradigm in what works and what doesn't for our audience, what do they actually engage with and respond to? It's almost like putting the cart before the horse a little bit, don't you think?

Alex Castro (08:08):

Yeah, very much so. The thing that happens is that we make a lot of these base assumptions that have worked in the past but if you really take a step back and look at the progression over the last probably 15 years, let's say, let's give a reasonable window, is that the temperament and the patience of the market has progressively gotten less and less and less.

Alex Castro (08:41):

You may have this content strategy for '22, but that content strategy is dependent on do you have the right data, is the quality level the right quality level you need, how are you collecting it and then what happens when you don't have enough data or the right data to run your analytical forecasting or your predictive modeling?

Alex Castro (09:08):

Now you have to retrench and you now have to go back and collect that data but your window for execution is four months, but it's going to take you three and a half months to alter the data collection process. How are you going to do that with the same box of ... the same suitcase of money that you were handed to do this thing? How are you going to do both?

Alex Castro (09:38):

That's where things start to unravel, right, and now you are in the throe of execution, not only does your market have expectations, your leaders, your boss, your cohort has expectations. Things are starting to go bananas, now you're trying to just plug the gaps with whatever you've got. You're getting these mixed results out of your data lake or your data stream and what's happening?

Alex Castro (10:05):

That's because you could have known that this was not going to be sufficient for what you wanted to do and many people just don't want to hear that. They want to go through and they want to just start hammering away on it but that blunt force mindset just doesn't apply to today's rhythm anymore.

Alex Castro (10:26):

You've got to pick the right things to do because if you're not you're retrenching and I'll tell you, the S&P10, the 10 largest companies, 15 largest companies in the world, they can drive resource into stuff and just brute force it. Everybody else can't do that.

Laura Dolan (10:45):

Yeah, not everybody has those means.

Alex Castro (10:48):

Right. Or just the mindset, that they have enough cashflow or revenue stream that's going to support that behavior.

Laura Dolan (10:55):

So what do you think is the solution?

Alex Castro (10:57):

Yeah, well, it's more about how do you strip out the biases in your decision making right up front, right, and really taking a hard look and understanding where are the gaps and capability that you have. The gap may be you're not collecting the right data. The gap may be you don't have the right tools, the right people, the methodologies that you're making deep assumptions in what somebody can or what tool can or what process can deliver a specific dependent outcome to the next step in the process.

Alex Castro (11:32):

Really measuring that, not creating an opinion around it, right, because the listeners here are data driven, data minded, right, but the mistakes that we all make is that we love preaching and leveraging the data but when that data, we've got to look at it from the context of assessing our own capacity. Sometimes we're like, "No, no, no, no, no. We don't need to do that. I already have this gut instinct in terms of what's going to happen."

Alex Castro (12:00):

That's bias. That's this thing that begins to steer us in the wrong direction and then your X amount of time and X amount of dollars downstream and it isn't working and then you have to abandon. But then you go and you repeat the same process again, right. It's that Albert Einstein model of doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. That's-

Laura Dolan (12:22):

Yeah. Vicious cycle.

Alex Castro (12:26):

... [inaudible 00:12:26] cycle and the way you break it, right, it's not the fact that you or your listeners don't have good ideas, right. I would hands down wager that 90% of the ideas that people have are really pretty good, right.

Laura Dolan (12:39):

Sure, yeah.

Alex Castro (12:40):

I mean, 10 years ago, right, everybody struggled with that innovation engine conversation. We got to get our people engaged and thinking about ideas and all that stuff. That's done really well.

Laura Dolan (12:53):

Well, as we approach 2022, it's getting closer and closer every day, and as we move further away from basically the crux of the pandemic, I mean, hopefully as time goes on things are going to keep improving, what advice do you have for companies in the new year?

Alex Castro (13:12):

In terms of the pandemic itself, just to give you some background, we work with public health departments across the United States and the CDC in remediating data on COVID vaccinations and other immunization information so that you can have a digital vaccine record online to grab whenever you need it, right.

Laura Dolan (13:39):

Right. That's great. I've heard about that.

Alex Castro (13:40):

Right. We have a connector product that connects to a reservation system that directly validates an individual or a user's profile that they have actually been vaccinated. So when that person shows up at the gate to a concert, to an airport, to a restaurant, all they have to show is their ID, right, in being able to get through the door. They don't have to fumble for some vaccine card, whatever.

Alex Castro (14:02):

What we see is that the biggest challenge is people talk to getting back to normal. Back to normal is not a business term when they say that. I think there needs to be some conscious bifurcation in that. And when people are saying get back to normal what they mean is socially back to normal. We have gone through nearly a two-year transformation in how we work as people, as businesses.

Image Source: M Corp

Alex Castro (14:33):

The expectation that people are going to go to an office full time, that there is going to be that reversion to this old method is no longer in play. And in fact, what we're seeing is that the ability to have a global workforce and to have access to talent that is not predicated on their ability to drive to a facility, right, is allowing companies to really explore a much more aggressive go-to-market process.

Alex Castro (15:08):

That said, now you have to manage within that different context. Data more than ever is critical to your decision-making process. You have to be able to harvest it correctly. You have to be able to interpret it correctly and you have to be able to pivot to your point correctly in being able to do those things. People's behaviors, as I'm sure you're seeing in a lot of the data that you guys collect and the analysis that you are running, are all over the place. I mean, utterly inconsistent and all over the place.

Laura Dolan (15:35):

Absolutely. Yep.

Alex Castro (15:39):

The ability to adapt is in essence the determining factor. Static thinking pre-COVID is really something that's going to ... it is a boat anchor to your strategy and that's harder to digest than many other things in this space is that you now have to reinvent how you think about things. So I'll offer that.

Alex Castro (16:05):

But part B, let me introduce this thinking to you, is that as professionals and the people who are listening to this podcast, you have gone through a gauntlet that allows you to be in a space where you can be influential within the context of what you do and the misperception is that you have this "gut instinct" or that your experience tells you and what I would offer people to do is let go of those concepts.

Alex Castro (16:35):

Let go of those words and really look at yourself more in the context that you are a really good woodchipper and you have the ability to intake raw material, information, process it in an efficient way to produce an outcome and rely more on your capacity and capability to process information in a more sophisticated way, in terms of stripping out what you don't necessarily have to pay attention to, so that you can more effectively act on a decision or move forward, rather than, "Well, I did this project last year and this is the way that it ran and we did these things and that and so if I repeat that then it's ..."

Alex Castro (17:17):

That's the kiss of death. [crosstalk 00:17:19] So it's stay away from that, rely more on the fact that your sense of taste and smell has gotten a lot better as you've matured as a professional and you can actually understand what it is that you're being fed. And once you begin to really grab onto that concept then you can begin to actually look at data as the asset that it is.

Alex Castro (17:44):

But if you continue to say because ... I don't know if you have this, Laura, this tug of war with folks in the sense that the data is telling them something but then they're pushing back on the data and saying, "Yeah, my gut's telling me that's not right."? So the thing that has to be really incorporated is that if you're going to be a data driven-decision maker, be a data-driven decision maker and leverage data as much as you can and understand that data has faults in it and you have to be able to adjust to that.

Laura Dolan (18:14):

Awesome. Thank you so much, Alex, for your time today.

Alex Castro (18:16):

You bet.

Laura Dolan (18:17):

I appreciate all of your insight. This has all been very valuable and yeah, let's be flexible and try to have as much foresight as we can in the new year is all we can do.

Alex Castro (18:29):

Yeah. And understand that we have to alter the way that we've behaved from an execution standpoint. We can't just gut it out. We have to eliminate the obstacles before we engage because if we don't you're not going to recover from it. So, yeah.

Laura Dolan (18:49):

Yep. Sage advice.

Alex Castro (18:50):

Yeah, we'll see.

Laura Dolan (18:51):

Well, thank you again, Alex. Thank you so much and thank you all for tuning in to this episode of Content Intel. I am Laura Dolan, and I will see you next time.