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Tiffany Farriss and George DeMet: How to achieve certainty in uncertain times

In this episode, Richard interviews Tiffany Farriss and George DeMet. Tiffany and George are CEOs of Palantir.net, a consultant company that designs web-based solutions for education, health-care, and other socially-oriented services. We talk about the role of distributed decision-making in building a resilient company. When you finish listening to this episode, connect with Palantir.net on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit their website

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TRANSCRIPT

Richard: (00:00)
Hi friends. Welcome back to With Great People, the podcast for high-performance teams. I’m Richard Kasperowski. In this episode, we continue sharing tips on how to survive challenging working conditions and how to ensure that your business not only survives but thrives. We talk with Tiffany Farriss and George DeMet, CEOs of Palantir.net. Palantir is a consulting company that designs web-based solutions for education, healthcare, and other socially-oriented services. Tiffany and George share with us their 25 years worth of experience in building a resilient company with distributed decision making processes, a structure that maintains a high degree of certainty even in uncertain times. I hope you enjoy learning from their story and I hope you enjoy the occasional sound of children in the background, a little sign of life in this era of stay at home. To support this podcast, visit my website Kasperowski.com.

Richard: (01:13)
Our special guests today are Tiffany Farriss and George DeMet. Hi Tiffany and George, how’s it going?

Tiffany: (01:18)
Hi Richard, nice to be with you. Thanks for having us.

George: (01:19)
Hi there, thanks. Yeah.

Richard: (01:22)
Will you introduce yourselves to our listeners?

Tiffany: (01:24)
Hi, I’m Tiffany Farriss and this is George DeMet. We’re the co-CEOs of Palantir.net. George is the founder, he had the good ideas. I didn’t even have a lemonade stand as a kid, this wasn’t what I thought I would be doing.

Tiffany: (01:38)
But thankfully I met George my third day of college and he has this entrepreneurial spirit in his bones.

George: (01:46)
Yeah. In addition to my parents having a family business, each of them also came from kind of family entrepreneurial backgrounds. So, when I was growing up and thinking about what I wanted to do with my life and everything, the idea of working for someone else actually really never crossed my mind. I was obviously just going to go and start a company.

George: (02:11)
In college, this is the mid ’90s, when the web was first starting to become a thing. And particularly, I think the turning point for me was when the version 1.0 of Netscape came out and I saw this, I was like, “Ah, there’s something to this. This is a very interesting new medium, new form of expression. And I want to be a part of it.”

George: (02:34)
So, started out doing it as a hobby, then realized that this was something that people would actually pay money for. I can provide a service to folks and really help make sure that people not only had access to published information, but as much as possible that the information that was being put out there or that people could put out good authoritative material.

George: (03:00)
That was really the start of the company and Tiffany joined shortly thereafter and has the gift of actually knowing how to get customers. So, that was a good start. And we’ve been doing it ever since.

Tiffany: (03:13)
Yeah, here we are.

Richard: (03:15)
I love it, and here we are, and here you are. Tiffany you’ve told me your version of the story as well, third day of school, right, third day of college.

Tiffany: (03:22)
Yeah, I met George and I had been experimenting with working on the web in through high school and it was something that I was really interested in. I think it’s a great privilege when you’re able to pursue your hobbies and do your passion and then do your career.

Tiffany: (03:39)
I’ve been fortunate enough to do that. George showed me a pathway to do that. I had a family in college who said, “This internet thing might be something you want to try for a little bit. Why don’t you go at it and give it a go?” I said, “Okay.”

Tiffany: (03:55)
Like I said, this wasn’t something that would have occurred to me. I was very much on this academic path and anyone who has had the chance to work with me knows that I do skew toward this very academic mind and I’m a systems thinker. I love to take very evidence-based, research-based approaches to solving problems.

Tiffany: (04:16)
I think that that influences not only the work that we do for our clients but how we run the company and how we think about solving really complex problems. We take this very systems approach to it.

Richard: (04:30)
Thanks. Now, this is the podcast about teams and I always ask people to tell me about the best team of their life, best team that they’ve ever been part of in their life. Looking at the two of you I sometimes tell people I think a team is a group of two or more people aligned with a common goal. You can answer individually or together. What is the best team that you’ve ever been part of?

Tiffany: (04:53)
I’d probably say the one I’m sitting in right now. I think I am better, more challenged because of the skills and the perspective that George brings than I would ever be, right? I wouldn’t be sitting here.Â

Tiffany: (05:09)
I wouldn’t be doing this. I wouldn’t have had the last 20 plus years of opportunities or challenges or any of the things that have happened without his perspective. Right?

Tiffany: (05:24)
I think that just the opportunity to meet someone and to be able to work with them day in and day out for as long as we have it’s such a gift.

George: (05:35)
Yeah. No, I think the real key is having a complementary skillset. One of the things I really appreciate about what we’ve been able to do, not just as a team together the two of us, but as we’ve built and grown out the company, is to seek out and to find folks who have those kind of different and complementary skillsets, outside perspectives that building on that kind of core, right, and providing additional layers and context that I think allow us to do more and be more effective with our clients than we ever could even if we were just the two of us, right?

Tiffany: (06:18)
Yeah. I think that as we grow as a company and as a team, the more adaptive we get, the more we’re able to incorporate those other perspectives. We get stronger the more diverse we get.Â

Tiffany: (06:36)
Diversity of thought, diversity of experiences, diversity of perspectives and opinions and skills, all of those different things they change us. But at the core, we’re very much the same. We’re still that very curious.

George: (06:48)
Right.

Tiffany: (06:48)
We’re still very much committed to problem solving in this way that’s very rooted in curiosity and in generosity and this notion really does come back to I think some of the very things that we started, right, when we started working together, which was like yeah, we are absolutely going to solve this. We are going to figure this out. We may not know it right now but we will. I think that’s the key.

Richard: (07:15)
Right. You don’t lead with this when you introduce yourselves but you’re more than business partners, right?

Tiffany: (07:21)
Correct, yes.Â

George: (07:23)
We’ve been married for a while. It was actually, the way it worked out is we were together both personally and professionally for quite a while before we got married. Then subsequently had kids. So, the business is almost like our first child in a way.Â

Tiffany: (07:43)
No, it very definitely is. Very definitely is. Whenever the business is threatened I’m very down to be a mama bear on that one. But I often like to say that we had a business and then we bought a house and we got married and then we had kids.

George: (08:01)
That’s right.

Tiffany: (08:02)
In that order. But when you meet someone at 18 you have that luxury that you have a lot of time to figure it all out and I feel really lucky to have that done.

Richard: (08:13)
Yeah, and you got some longevity too. This goes back to Netscape 1.0.

George: (08:16)
Yeah.

Tiffany: (08:17)
It does.

George: (08:18)
Next year is actually our 25th anniversary. So, I think there were certainly a lot of web companies that started in ’96, but there’s not a lot of us that are still around and it’s funny. It is weird sometimes to go back and think. I’m like, “We’ve been around longer than Google,” you know.

Tiffany: (08:38)
Difference in scale, right?

George: (08:40)
Yeah, sure. But you know.

Richard: (08:42)
Yeah.

Tiffany: (08:43)
I like that we’re still the mission and the purpose remain the same. I know that there are many who when they think of entrepreneurship, right, they like to hold up the mom-and-pop business as a waste of resources and I don’t.

Tiffany: (09:00)
I love being a lifestyle entrepreneur. I think that we are really a pocket of innovation and I look at what we’ve been able to do and what we’ve been able to build and what those who have passed through Palantir, what they’ve been able to do and how their careers have grown and blossomed and I really think that those who have come through Palantir are better for their time having been here, and those who are here now are, again, continue to grow.

Tiffany: (09:30)
That’s the way I think about it, is that growth has never been intrinsically valuable at Palantir. The mark of success is for however long someone chooses to walk with us, that we are each better. That the company is better, and the individual is better for us having taken that journey together, and that’s the mark of respect, I think.

Tiffany: (09:51)
As a team, right, it respects the autonomy of that individual and says, look, you’re going to make the choice that is right for you and it also says that we are a company that takes the long-term vision, we are here to exist, right? We are here to become stronger, to be resilient.

Tiffany: (10:12)
So, it has motivation, that has obligations that come along with it and let’s find a way to align those interests over time. I think that when you can be clear, when you can be transparent about what that means, it allows people to make their own choices.

Tiffany: (10:30)
I think that that level of just respect allows people to either be there for as long as it makes sense for them to be there, and then to separate in ways that are great for them and times that are right for them.

George: (10:43)
Yeah. It’s an interesting contrast, right? I think folks, let’s put together in industry, right, think about the startup model, right? Go big or go home, fail first, all these sorts of things.Â

George: (10:56)
I think when you are pursuing that kind of hockey stick growth business model, you are focused on just certain things like sales and getting as much out of the people as you can and all of this and leads to burnout.

George: (11:18)
I’ll be honest, I know that folks think about startups as an innovation and there’s been a lot of amazing innovation that has come out of startups. But I think the model, the path that we’ve chosen actually helps people be their best selves in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a different type of business model or a different context.

Tiffany: (11:42)
Especially now in the economic circumstances we find ourselves in with the global pandemic, it’s important to remember over half of those in the United States are employed by small businesses, right?

Tiffany: (11:57)
We are the economic engine, we are the stability of this country, and we are the ones who are going to make sure that people have, in our current system, have healthcare. Who are able to provide for their families.

Tiffany: (12:14)
That’s something that I’ve always taken really seriously and I think it’s important to have a model that, and to demonstrate that there’s a model that allows for a human-centered business that isn’t dependent on any one person.Â

Tiffany: (12:29)
That’s the way I’ve always looked at Palantir. Is like, look, let’s find a way to structure a company that is built on the strengths and the talents of whoever is there, but that isn’t going to exploit them as a depletable resource in that way.

Tiffany: (12:48)
That leaves them better than we found it, right? It’s this idea of the camping metaphor, right, always leave it better than you found it. And we certainly apply that to our clients, right? We want our clients to be better than we found it.

Richard: (12:59)
Okay. So, let’s sort of pull back from that beautiful conversation for a bit and return to that best team of your life. What is, and this might be nice to do. I’ll sort of guide to both pause for a moment and come up with your own word, maybe even write down your word separately from each other so you don’t influence each other.

George: (13:19)
I know this journey, yeah.

Richard: (13:20)
When you think about the best team of your life, which is the two of you and the business and family you’ve created together, what is the one word that you use?

George: (13:31)
I want that one.

Richard: (13:32)
You’re such good students, you’re rampaging around for paper now and for pens.

Tiffany: (13:36)
Exactly.

George: (13:37)
I don’t want to use that piece of paper, I want to use that piece of paper. Thank you.

Tiffany: (13:41)
Right, we’re ready.

Richard: (13:42)
All right. Now that we have paper and pens, as you pause and reflect on this team, the two of you, the best team of your lives, what is the one word, if you could summarize the whole experience of the best team of your life in one word, what is that one word? And we’re pausing and you’re writing it down with a pen from each other.Â

Tiffany: (14:01)
Right, right.Â

George: (14:01)
Right.

Tiffany: (14:02)
What’s your word?

George: (14:04)
My word is complementary, right?

Tiffany: (14:06)
Yeah.

George: (14:06)
In terms of complementary skillsets and perspectives and having each other’s back and complementary strengths and weaknesses.

Tiffany: (14:17)
Mine’s complex.

Richard: (14:21)
What do you mean by complex?

Tiffany: (14:21)
I mean that it has a degree of difficulty to it, it has a degree of diversity, it has a challenge inherent in it. There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns in it, inherent in it.Â

Tiffany: (14:36)
I think that’s what keeps it interesting, keeps it engaging for me. So yeah, I think that the complexity, and certainly when you think about our team because our team is so long-lived, the complexity is for me what describes it the best. Yeah.

George: (14:57)
Yeah. So when you say challenging you mean challenging but in a good way.

Tiffany: (14:58)
I mean in all ways challenging. Like challenge is hard and challenging as in aspiring and pushing to be better and all the ways that things can be challenging. I don’t think things are worth doing unless they’re challenging.

George: (15:17)
Yeah. Well I mean right. Not only that but things change all the time, right? So, I think you have to be adaptive because the world we live in personal, professional, whatever, is a complex adaptive environment, right?

George: (15:36)
Working on the web in particular, that is the work that we do now versus the work we did 20 plus years ago is very, very different and we are even we’re working in some cases with very similar kinds of clients but solving much more complex problems for them as more and more of what everyone does is moving online.

Tiffany: (16:02)
Yes and I want to go back though and resist the temptation to judge the work that happened at that time by today’s standards because I think it’s important to understand that complexity is relative to where you stand in that moment and because in 1996 the medium was brand new, it was complex because it was entirely new and entirely unknown. Right?

Richard: (16:30)
Sure.

Tiffany: (16:30)
So the complexity wasn’t in the sophistication of the technology or even the sophistication of the problems we were trying to solve, but just in the fact that the patterns didn’t exist as such, and the tools you were trying to use were very raw and few compared to the tools that we have now.

Tiffany: (16:48)
Even the collaboration techniques and tools, we were really trying to invent everything all at once, right? And now we have so much more to start with, right? The barriers to entry were very low at the time but they were low because we were starting with such a tabula rasa.

Tiffany: (17:06)
And now as someone trying to enter the world of either actual software or web development or whatever you think about it, there are a lot of great resources and a lot of great opportunities that didn’t exist. So the complexity has changed.

George: (17:22)
Exactly.

Tiffany: (17:22)
And so the work that we do has changed and the nature of the complexity has changed. But I wouldn’t necessarily characterize that our work has gotten any more or less complex. The complexity has just changed.

George: (17:33)
Right. No, I think that’s absolutely correct. As I was listening you describe that, the analogy that came up was like okay, right now we have this giant Lego set that we can build all sorts of interesting things with. Back in the day, we were literally trying to invent new Lego bricks, right?

Tiffany: (17:53)
I would say when we got started we were like, “What’s a mold? How do we mold legos and should we make them out of plastic or metal?” Really.

George: (18:03)
Yeah. Oh yeah.

Tiffany: (18:04)
In ’96 we weren’t even sure what was, and we would experiment, right? It was very experimental. The web was such a wild west at that point. One of the things I really liked about-

George: (18:18)
Fundamental assumptions were changing with every new browser release.

Tiffany: (18:21)
Absolutely. Yes and I liked the way that you thought about it, right, as a non-linear medium, right? That’s inherent in our name and why you chose it, right? Palantir from token’s universe are a noddle communication device where it sat in each of the city’s of the Rome. Here we’re revealing our geekness in case anyone needed that confirmed. Right?

Tiffany: (18:46)
That really it spoke to how you could think about this differently than just put a brochure up on the web, right?

Richard: (18:55)
Right.

Tiffany: (18:56)
Using the right tool and the strengths of the tool in ways that are unique to that, I think it was always kind of a big deal for us.

George: (19:06)
For sure.

Tiffany: (19:07)
Yeah.

Richard: (19:07)
Well now, this team how do we know it’s a great team, the two of you, the company, the family and everything around you? Subjectively, how do you know this was a great team?

Tiffany: (19:18)
I feel like I can do more when I’m a part of it than I could when I’m not a part of it. I honestly feel like I have accomplished more than I would have imagined. I’ve done things that I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing.

Tiffany: (19:34)
Certainly have been challenged in areas I would never have challenged myself. So, it’s about being more, being part of something more, for me.

George: (19:44)
Yeah. I think I would echo all that. I think the other part of it too is that this team has been around for a really long time and we’re continuing to explore new things and solve new kinds of problems and the new challenges, right, the different forms of complexity is I think part of what makes it continue to be a great team after all this time.

Tiffany: (20:12)
But for me I think that was what I was going to say is our objective measure, right.

George: (20:16)
Sure. Okay. Yeah.

Tiffany: (20:16)
Because I think most businesses do fail before they get to be 24, 25 years old, and especially businesses that are bootstrapped, right? Neither of us comes from any means and we had no outside investors and we’ve done everything ourselves and then we certainly had supportive families and they encouraged us to pursue this.

Tiffany: (20:37)
But we came out of college with college debt. I’m very grateful to our alma mater, I love our alma mater, and go Cats. But I came out with a lot of debt and worked our way out through that.Â

Tiffany: (20:52)
This has very definitely been a bootstrapped business and I’m very proud that we have been able to run this company in a very traditional way.

Tiffany: (21:01)
We are the two owners. There are no other owners. There’s nobody else who invests in this company. So, I think that’s the objective measure that this has been a great team. And it’s had a lot of people who I truly respect and I’m grateful for who have made contributions over the years.

Tiffany: (21:21)
It’s I think the fact that the cast has changed is a testament to the strength of the team as well.

George: (21:26)
Yeah.

Richard: (21:27)
Yeah, and I’m sort of reflecting as you said, you’re my heroes. You bootstrapped this company and here you still are. That is so cool.

George: (21:37)
Well yeah. I think that-

Tiffany: (21:39)
So check back with us in a year.

Richard: (21:40)
Check back with all of us. I’m just kidding.Â

George: (21:46)
So well right. We’ve been around long enough, we’ve been through a couple recessions now.

Tiffany: (21:52)
Yeah, this is recession number three.

George: (21:53)
We have always come out stronger on the other side. I think the one thing I might add is that when you are thinking about a business is built for stability and sustainability and longevity versus getting the big exit, right?

George: (22:10)
You’re going to prioritize things differently. You’re going to make different kinds of choices. That I think in terms of my background, I’m always pushing on the sort of business side, running a business in a financially conservative kind of way is I think important. It’s key.

George: (22:31)
You don’t want to be a place and this is what we’re experiencing right now. So, this particular crisis kind of thing came on so quickly and caught so many businesses unaware.

George: (22:46)
So yes, we always talk about being ready for a rainy day, but you never know when that rainy day is going to strike.

Tiffany: (22:52)
Right, and we talk with the team on a regular basis about the weather report and the weather report is based around operational efficiency. It’s based around the metrics that we use to talk about the fundamentals of our business and how individual behaviors impact the bottom line financially.

Tiffany: (23:13)
It provides a level of transparency and clarity around how we are measuring what success looks like. When the crisis first came on, I said I did a weather report and I said but I’m also going to do a climate report because climate is about the long-term trend and I would really like to talk about the long-term trend because we are efficient in the short-term so that we can be resilient in the long-term, and that is the climate that we …

Tiffany: (23:44)
One of our values is about how we take the long view. So, we talk about our co-name armadillo, and how we are just going to roll up in a little ball and we are going to ride this out and this is all about protecting the team and keeping everybody working and keeping everybody safe.Â

Tiffany: (24:02)
That is why we are efficient in the short-term. That is why we are focused on the weather report and why we saved and why we had cash reserves, and why we did all those crazy little things because that’s not our focus right now.

Tiffany: (24:16)
Our focus is about making sure our team is fine, making sure our clients are fine, doing continuity planning, making sure that people can take the leave they need to take. Making sure that when they take the leave, their project teams are fine. Making sure their clients continue to be well served.

Tiffany: (24:31)
It’s that kind of flexibility, that kind of adaptability that we’ve been able to instill by having a really solid core values and by focusing on building distributed decision making. That’s been a very concerted effort through I would say the last 18 months of really making sure that we’ve built in organizational agility.

Tiffany: (24:59)
When you have the longevity in an organization like we do, the likelihood is that George or I have already seen it and I can answer probably any question. But for Palantir to be a resilient organization, the answer to the question can’t be, “Ask Tiffany.” Right?

Tiffany: (25:16)
At various points it has been that, right. So, when you want to move away from that, you want to really focus on how do you create an understood model of distributed decision making.Â

Tiffany: (25:29)
So, there’s a company I admire. I don’t know them personally, but there’s a company out of New Zealand called Boost. And they’re an agile organization as well. They polish this decision making tree, which I love the pun of it, so nice job guys, that talks about root level decision, trunk level decision branch and then leaf.

Tiffany: (25:48)
So, we inherited that and we’ve been using that model to talk about leaf level decision and branch level decisions and trunk and root level decisions. I’ve been doing a really good job over the last year of really focusing in only having an opinion on things at a root level because that’s really where it is.

Tiffany: (26:08)
I can have an opinion on any of those things pretty fast, right? I am, again, say what you will about all the personality indexes and whatever and the value of them, but on the Myers-Briggs I’m an MJ, right, which the union called the destroyer of worlds, right?

Tiffany: (26:22)
So, I am quick to have an opinion on things and I’ve been doing a lot of work around being the kind of leader that an agile organization needs. Through that I had the opportunity to work not only with you but with Michael and Audree Sahota and then they talk about you can’t distribute a decision where you have an agenda or you have an opinion on it.

Tiffany: (26:48)
I’ve worked really hard around being really clear, like do I need to have an opinion on this thing and I’m really focused on no, if this is not a root or a pretty important trunk level decision, I just told him that, I don’t need to have an opinion on that and I need to mean it when I say it, right?

Tiffany: (27:07)
So, when we’ve gone to this crisis I’ve been really clear about these are leaf level decisions or these are branch level decisions or these are trunk level decisions. Anything that is at the root level, I communicate it out and this is how I’m thinking about it and I try to get it to the point where there’s a scaffolding or an infrastructure that everybody understands and I push it down and communicate it out. That is my job.

Tiffany: (27:32)
So, I think that that’s when you’re trying to build in this kind of organizational resilience that isn’t dependent on any one person, where you don’t need individual heroics, which is exactly the kind of resilience you need right now. When any person at any time may need to hit the pause button for any number of reasons, you want to make sure that you have a structure that’s formed like a mesh, right?

Tiffany: (27:59)
So, you need it to be distributed, you need it to be supported, you need decision making to be understood and you need it to be distributed. So, those are the kinds of investments we’ve been making thankfully for the last 18 to 24 months through agile coaching, through adoption of the core protocols, making sure people felt psychologically safe to have those conversations. It’s been a lot.

Tiffany: (28:26)
I feel we didn’t know that this global pandemic was coming but I’m very, very proud of this team and I’m proud of how prepared they are and how well they’re supporting each other. It doesn’t feel like it’s hanging on any one person, myself included.

George: (28:48)
Yeah. One other-

Richard: (28:48)
I want to know more because we got into what are the concrete behaviors in this decision making. Distributed decision making is one of these. What’s an example of a root kind of decision? What’s an example of a leaf kind of decision?

Tiffany: (29:02)
Great question. Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act, the FFCRA. The FFCRA provided for two different kinds of emergency funded leave. The first is the EPSLA, which is the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. That applied to everyone. It gave 280 hours of paid sick leave under six different conditions, and that all businesses were supposed to implement that.

Tiffany: (29:30)
Also, as part of the FFCRA there was another part which is the EFMLEA, the Emergency Family Medical Leave Extension Act. That is also supposed to apply to all businesses, but businesses that are under 50 people who are not subject to the FMLA, the Family Medical Leave Act, as legally we are not bound by the FMLA, we’re able to opt out.Â

Tiffany: (29:59)
The EFMLEA provides for up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave, two thirds for people who are impacted by school closures, right, which is going to be a big impact on our team.Â

Tiffany: (30:14)
So what I had to do, is I had to figure out very quickly whether we were going to be able accommodate that. I had to look at the financial model for Palantir because while the government is providing that kind of support, I had to see if we wanted to apply for the exemption that we couldn’t support that.Â

Tiffany: (30:32)
I knew out of the gate that from a value’s perspective it mattered to us that being able to support both of those types of leave is not only consistent with but very much imperative as part of the core values of our company.

Tiffany: (30:47)
So, even if it was going to cause a hardship, I needed to rework our financial model to make those things work. Those are root level decisions, right. So I needed to figure out how to rework our financial model to integrate those over the next year.

Tiffany: (31:03)
Then at that point once you adopt those policies, I needed to be able to communicate them out and then it becomes a leaf level decision. Each person needs to be able to decide, yeah, I’m taking leave or not, right?

Tiffany: (31:14)
But then what became a branch level decision is there became a conversation around continuity planning. So the teams together had to say, okay, if a person goes out, how are we going to handle it? They didn’t do it just when a person went out, they did it in advance.

Tiffany: (31:31)
So, they came up with a plan. There was a trunk level conversation. Well before the pandemic really became a crisis in the United States, I started what I called our C19 Response Team. The C19 team started to kind of think about okay, how are we going to deal with this.

Tiffany: (31:50)
One of the things that we did is we started to look at okay, what does continuity planning look like? So, that team led by one of our amazing project managers started to think about okay, what will continuity planning look like, right?

Tiffany: (32:04)
So, if we think about the model of someone going out on a maternity or a paternity leave, how would we scale that, right? So, if somebody is going to leave at any given moment and you don’t know when they might leave, what would the team need to know? What would the client need to know to be okay?

Tiffany: (32:18)
That’s a branch level decision. I don’t need to be involved in that. But what do we want to have and where will we want to have that? So, the C19 team created the play. The branch level decision, the project team themselves proliferated the place for themselves and then individuals now are able to take the leave knowing that their teams are fine and they all know that it’s okay to take it because at the root level I have assured them that they can take and the company is going to be fine.Â

Tiffany: (32:52)
Their jobs are going to be fine, we’re all going to be okay. So, that’s how it all works together, right? That makes sense.

Richard: (32:59)
That’s a great explanation.

George: (33:01)
Yeah.

Richard: (33:02)
I won’t say I totally get it because I’ll at least be modest. But I think I get it.

George: (33:06)
Yeah.Â

Tiffany: (33:06)
Yeah.

George: (33:08)
I think, yeah. I think for this to work, you’ve obviously dug into this at a very, very deep level, right?

Tiffany: (33:16)
Yeah.

George: (33:16)
The whole question of the different leave acts and how they work and how they interact with each other and with the company and even all that, that’s really complicated stuff. In a mesh structure, right, the important thing is really the connections between the people, right?

George: (33:34)
In order for that work, this kind of shared decision making to work, you have to have context and clarity, right? So, a big part of it is about making sure that as this information is presented to the team, they’re not getting the complete fire hose of all the things, but are able to have the pieces of information that are most important highlighted, right?

George: (34:02)
So, in an individual scenario, very basic questions that folks are going to have for themselves or the team or whatever, they have the actual information to be able to make those kind of informed choices without having to go and do 80 hours worth of research to understand all the ins and outs of the different options.

Tiffany: (34:24)
Right. Then there’s also the interplay of the FFCRA and the Cares Act and PPP. There’s a lot of root level things going on right now. Right now being a small business owner is more challenging and more exciting than most times.

Tiffany: (34:42)
I felt like we were well positioned and part of what I feel really grateful for is that we have run this business in a very traditional way. We have an amazing team. We have a long term relationship with the community bank that we’ve had for well over 20 years.

Tiffany: (34:59)
We have an accounting team. We have a tax attorney. We have our TPAs. We have an employment attorney. I don’t mind reading acts of congress.

George: (35:13)
Even when they’re literally changing as you’re reading them.

Tiffany: (35:17)
That’s right. I’m comfortable and I have been on the Department of Labor website. I have been on the Treasury’s website. I’ve been on the IRS website. That’s what my team expects of me, right? That’s what they need me to have an opinion on. They don’t need me to have an opinion on whether they take leave.

Tiffany: (35:33)
What they need me to have an opinion on is how it impacts the sustainability of the company, right, and that’s what I have an opinion on. Beyond that, how they choose to do continuity planning for that particular client, they need to know that I’ve got their back, that I trust them, and I do.

Tiffany: (35:54)
So, if they want my advice on something, I’m happy to give it. But in general I think I’ve done a really good job of if somebody wants to ask me something I’m there to interpret our contract because I still do all of our contract interpretations.Â

Tiffany: (36:09)
Like yeah the contract does say this, that’s not a clause I’m particularly going to enforce right now. We do a lot of work with hospitals, for example. If one of our hospital clients needs to pause something, we’re going to pause. Do you know what I mean?

Tiffany: (36:27)
I don’t really care what the contract says, we are going to do what is right and we know what that is. So, our humanity comes first and foremost in everything that we do right now, always but especially, especially right now.

Tiffany: (36:42)
So, yeah, I think that we’ve really been investing and really working toward this for a while, and I’m starting to see it bear a tremendous amount of fruit.

Richard: (36:53)
For sure. So we’ve got organizational resilience. I’m seeing this as a theme, I’m outside the company. I’m seeing this as a theme. We’ve got distributed decision making as one set of concrete behaviors. What else as concrete behaviors that go into this being the best team ever?

George: (37:12)
Yeah, I think clarity of communication, and that’s again something we’ve been working on quite a bit, and it’s not just that information is communicated clearly, but that it is communicated probably more than once and in different ways, right?

George: (37:30)
So, with this situation for example, you talked about the response team we had set up. So, that response team we had a dedicated Slack channel. We had regular meetings over Hangout. We had shared Google Docs that we were working in.

George: (37:48)
A lot of what that team was working on creating was okay, what is the information for the team, right, to be able to make these kinds of decisions about when to take leave, what kind of leave to take, et cetera, et cetera.

George: (38:04)
Because the people on the response team were part of the team themselves, they knew what questions they were going to have, right. I think that that helped make this much clearer for everyone because a lot of folks from a lot of different sides of the organization got to be part of that.

George: (38:26)
Much more so than if either Tiffany or I had just written it. Then of course being available to answer questions, right? Whether that’s pinging Slack or a Hangout or whatever.Â

George: (38:42)
The other thing we did is we kind of moved forward actually because we realized that we needed to kind of split out the communication channel particularly around the COVID-19. So now we have a channel for how this impacts the company, things like people needing to take time, leave, et cetera.

George: (38:58)
A channel for what folks are seeing as impacting some of our clients. Then another channel for just sort of how people are dealing with it on a personal level, right? I had kind of a challenging time a couple of weeks ago. My dad lives in Wisconsin. He’s a chairman of a small town up there and they had an election and he needed to be there to help them set up that election.

George: (39:22)
I was having some anxiety about that and I fortunately had a venue that I could feel safe sharing that with other folks on the team.

Richard: (39:32)
Now how about advice for listeners? How can listeners reproduce some of the success that you’ve had as a team?

Tiffany: (39:39)
I don’t think anything we’ve done has been particularly innovative, right? We’re experimenting and we are iterating on those experiments. Everything that we’ve done, someone else has done and blogged about and talked about before, right?

Tiffany: (39:57)
What you do is you do just enough research to make sure that you have a reasonable expectation that’s going to match your culture and your needs. You implement it and then you evaluate on it and you iterate on it. You go about it in an agile way and I think that’s been the real key for us, is that and it was a real breakthrough for me.

Tiffany: (40:24)
I remember when we were together last year we were doing some user story mapping and I was in the back and we were user story mapping the agile redesign of Palantir as a big thing and I had this breakthrough moment where I just sat there, I was like, “Oh my gosh. We’ve been going about this agile redesign in a not agile way.”

George: (40:49)
Yeah.

Tiffany: (40:49)
It was this certainly this very painful moment, I’m not going to lie. But it was also a huge breakthrough for me where I was like oh, yeah. I think as I processed that through and came through, over time it became a lot later for me.

Tiffany: (41:10)
Then when I started seeing what was going on in China and I started to say okay, I think that we need to really pay attention to this, we need to be ready for this, it became clear that this was another place we could start to experiment.

Tiffany: (41:26)
And even if it didn’t, hopefully it would have turned out to be a case where we didn’t need it and that it was just an opportunity to practice, and I’m sorry that that isn’t how it turned out.

Tiffany: (41:38)
But I’m grateful that we had those tools and I was ready to spin it up. I’ve been using just all sorts of techniques of equal voice and unanimity and decision making tools. I think there’s a decision making matrix that’s in this sort of playbook that I really like, which helps you understand exactly what kind of approaches you use based on whether people have, whether it’s a symmetrical or an asymmetrical information going into the decision and how it impacts different people.

Tiffany: (42:11)
I found that to be really helpful, and the team knows that. I introduced that in our retreat last fall. We have a lot of the ground work kind of laid out there. But I wouldn’t say that any of the tools or any of the approaches we’re using have been things that we have invented. They’re all found. They’re all found.

Tiffany: (42:32)
I think that if you want to reproduce this, you’ll look to the experts.

George: (42:38)
My advice actually would be don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. What I mean by that is that as I interact with folks on the team whether it’s in a one-on-one context or in groups or whatever, one of the things that I’ve made a shift toward trying to do more often is ask questions to really make sure I understand what is the assumptions behind what someone is asking or what someone is saying.

George: (43:12)
Sometimes those questions can feel like dumb questions because sometimes I will ask something that is challenging or confirming a base assumption. But I think through that you can actually gain a lot of insight.Â

George: (43:25)
I know that I found that by doing so you can really gain a much better understanding of sort of not just what people’s immediate question or concern is. But also sort of what is their lived experience, what is the context, what goes into how they understand the situation that they’re in or the work that they do and that can lead to a conversation that provides a lot more understanding.

Tiffany: (43:52)
I think from a question perspective, one of the areas, I don’t necessarily take that approach.

George: (43:58)
Yeah, I know. We have different styles for sure.

Tiffany: (44:02)
We definitely do. I favor dis-confirming questions more. What would it take for that not to be the case. I find those are a little more helpful to expose assumptions that someone might not understand to be assumptions or even just surface things are assumptions that someone might not realize are their baseline assumptions because I’m so data driven. I am so unusually research focused and influenced in that way.

Tiffany: (44:31)
It has taken me overly long in my career to realize that that is not as persuasive as much as I wish it might be. Right. You show me some good signs and I’m in. I’m like great, done.Â

Tiffany: (44:45)
I might have thought the opposite for the rest of my life. You showed me some good signs I’m like, oh great, done, thank you for telling me this new thing, right?

Tiffany: (44:54)
So, it has been quite a long journey of learning to get to a different place on that. So for me, the process of helping other people get to a new understanding, I think really does start with this notion of dis-confirming questions. And if someone is unable to understand what it would take for them to change a belief or what information …Â

Tiffany: (45:17)
What I mean by dis-confirming a question is what would it take for that not to be true, right? What would you have to learn for that strongly held belief or that other piece of information for you to think that that isn’t the case anymore?

Tiffany: (45:32)
If that question can’t be answered, then we probably can’t go very far, right? That’s not going to be a very productive avenue of inquiry or we’re going to have to take another attack entirely.

George: (45:48)
Right. I think that gets to kind of a core question of self-awareness, right? One of the things I appreciate about the core protocols and some of the other sort of agile techniques and tools is that I think they really do help promote this sort of level of self-awareness and provide a tool for people to increase their self-awareness so that they know where they’re at and share that in a safe way that’s appropriate to the context or the question at hand, and that I think is enormous in terms of just having a team that knows how to work well together.

George: (46:32)
It’s not that we all have to be intimate parts of each other’s lives, but we do need to understand kind of what perspectives and where folks are coming from and how they’re feeling at a level that when teams are coming together, working together, they can do that in a really, really effective way.

Richard: (46:52)
Is there anything else you’d like to add for our listeners?

Tiffany: (46:54)
One of the things I found a great deal of comfort in right now, which is helpful or which others may find helpful is that these are very chaotic times. I’m a sense maker and I survive in really complex environments, right? I seek them out, right?

Tiffany: (47:18)
In fact, perhaps to my judgment, I might try and make a complicated situation complex and it has been a process of really understanding and accepting that the global pandemic and an accompanying recession is a chaotic situation.

Tiffany: (47:36)
What I have appreciated is just understanding that in a chaotic situation, there are going to be multiple right answers in the same way that in a complex situation there are multiple right answers.

Tiffany: (47:49)
In any chaotic situation, there really are three options, right? You can do anything, you can do nothing, or you can surrender. Any of those is right given where you’re at.Â

Tiffany: (48:06)
So, I find a great deal of comfort in going to that place right now, understanding that what we’re dealing with is chaotic and whether I am surrendering to just say this is outside my control and outside my influence and I’m going to let be what it will be. Or I’m going to not try and change this other thing right now or I am just going to do something because I need to do something right now.

Tiffany: (48:36)
Those are all okay. Those are all good answers. So I have definitely found a lot of comfort in that and others may as well.

Richard: (48:44)
If there are any listeners who’d like to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

George: (48:48)
Sure. They can go to our website at Palantir.net. The .net is very important. They can also find us on Twitter, we’re @Palantir. And yeah, and from there, there’s all sorts of different ways to reach out and contact us.

Richard: (49:06)
Tiffany Farriss, George DeMet and various small and high background actors.

Tiffany: (49:14)
We call them Palantini.

George: (49:17)
Yes, the Palantinis.

Tiffany: (49:17)
The Palantini.

Richard: (49:20)
Thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Tiffany: (49:22)
Thanks Richard.

George: (49:23)
Thank you Richard.

Richard: (49:26)
Hi friends. Thanks again for listening. Remember, to support this podcast, visit my website Kasperowski.com.

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