a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully
manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Catherine
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
begins with an obsession with improving human learning and
communication. Every business, family, community group, etc., is a
collection of people who share a goal to reach the best results with the
resources available to them. Since 1994 I have helped businesses reach
those goals. I developed the ID9 Intelligent Design process for learning
and development professionals globally to grow. To date, over 5 million
people have attended training based on the principles of ID9, and I
continue to focus on helping clients improve their learning and
development processes through my company, The Performance Company. I
truly believe that when a person understands the way they learn, they
can develop the skill of refining the way they communicate and improve
the way they contribute in business, personally, and to the broader
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting part of my career has been the huge number and
diversity of people that I’ve met. I’ve met the most amazing people over
my 30-years in business growing the business to have a global
footprint. There’s one common denominator: Everyone has an interesting
story! Sometimes, I need to scratch the surface, but it’s there. Many
times, for me, it’s been easy to overlook the quietest person in the
room and be influenced by the most charismatic people with the loudest
voices, the most senior titles, the most famous, the richest, or the
most dominating. However, often I learn more from asking questions from
the quiet people, the deep thinkers, and those who are not as confident.
Taking the time to ask, and listen, means that I’ve gotten to hear a
countless number of interesting life stories!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake
you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you
learned from that?
I started my business in 1994, as a contract trainer in the computer
industry. However, I didn’t own a computer. And I couldn’t afford one.
So, I hired the computers at the State Library, in Sydney Australia, on
an hourly basis at a cost of $1 per hour — and you had to supply your
own paper for the printer. The librarians were militant in running the
bookings system. Every weekend, I would go to the State Library, to do
all my admin — invoicing, proposals, creating and printing training
materials — the lot! One day, I hired a computer for two hours and paid
the $2 but ran out of paper. The nearest store was too far away, and my
time was up. My first negotiation for my business took place at that
moment, when I negotiated first with the librarian for extra time, and
then with another computer user for the paper on the promise that I
would replenish their supply within the following hour. It was a lesson
in creative thinking, negotiation, resource management, and persuasion. I
got the paper, the other computer user got resupplied after a mad dash
to the store, and my clients were none the wiser that my operation was
being run out of a library for $1 per hour!
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most
times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”.
What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?
One hallmark of the truly talented is that they value their time in a
way that average people don’t. Because of this, they hate to waste that
time in any way — which means to recruit and retain great talent, it’s
important to make it clear that they will be working on a problem that
matters for a person who values their abilities. A truly talented person
often won’t settle for work that anyone else could do, which means that
their managers must clearly communicate that the talent’s expertise,
time, and opinion are genuinely valued. That doesn’t mean the manager
must always defer, though — truly great thinkers are open to changing
their minds because of new information, and may even value pushback as a
sign of intellectual respect, i.e. “I see this differently than you do,
and I trust that you know your stuff well enough to talk me around to
your position.” In other words, if you function as a rubber-stamp for
whatever idea they throw at you, they may assume you don’t actually
value their opinion enough to think about it critically.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
Whenever there is more than one person involved, the key to effective
work will always be communication. That’s why I developed GQ and the
Inner Genius framework — because when a team truly understands how each
member best sends and receives information effectively, the friction
that often complicates communication goes away and the work becomes much
more seamless. Seamless work is how a group enters a state of flow,
where things move quickly and efficiently. It’s the moment when an
office performs like a championship-caliber athletic team — which is a
lot of fun!
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based
on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to
Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each,
ideally an example from your experience)
- Everyone on the team should be able to explain the specific problem we solve for customers
in a single sentence. If a team doesn’t share that consistent, uniform
“why,” they’re bound to waste effort or wind up working at
the diligent training and carefully crafted policies in the world can
be undone with ineffective communication, which is why Inner Genius is
focused on making sure that teams understand the best possible way to communicate with one another.
- Everyone is different. Assuming everyone communicates the same way makes as much sense as assuming they all have the same shoe size.
- If you have to choose between excellent planning or excellent communication, choose communication every time.
- No one on the team is operating at maximum, because there is no maximum. I am passionate about the idea that every human has untapped potential for learning and development.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Good employees are naturally driven to grow, which means they are most
inspired and most effective when they see that trait modeled in their
leaders. Ambitious, evolving employees are extremely frustrated when
they see stagnation at the top — so if you want your employees to grow,
you have to be very visibly pursuing growth and modeling that.
You are a person of great influence. If you could
inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most
amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can
It would be the “There’s no such thing as difficult people”
movement. They are just different from me! I’ve spent my life focused
on the intersection of learning and communication, so it’s simple: I
would love to spark a global awareness of the reality that every person
communicates differently, and they are not necessarily being difficult;
people are simply different. It seems obvious from even a
cursory glance at the news that the many facets of the political and
cultural spectrum spend far more time talking past one another than
truly engaging for progress and change. Because of that, I truly believe
that the Inner Genius model of communication could diminish frustration
and increase efficiency worldwide by helping people — even people who
disagree greatly — understand how to communicate effectively with one
another in a way that works.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I remind myself all the time that “Success means different things to different people.”
The realization that my definition of success is not the same as the
definition my clients, colleagues, or employees would offer is part of
what led me to think deeply about individual human differences and the
way we think and talk about them — or don’t! That’s part of what led me
to the development of the Inner Genius framework.
Thank you for these great insights!