214 - Building A Strong Culture Virtually With Rob Delf - John Laurito

214 – Building A Strong Culture Virtually With Rob Delf

In this episode, host John Laurito is joined by the CEO of Meta Data Systems, Rob Delf, as they talk about how he was brought in as the CEO and how it’s like to lead an organization virtually while adapting to the new normal. Rob also shares insights on lessons a leader can learn transitioning from a traditional work environment to meeting through a screen and learning the real value of time in the middle of a pandemic.

Rob Delf is a Software Entrepreneur in the Media and Entertainment space. He has led the pursuit, sale, and delivery of business strategy projects for some of the largest media companies in the world. Prior to starting and leading Rightsline, he was one of the founders of the Media and Entertainment focused consulting firm – Tryarc, which was started in 2003 and sold to NTT in 2007. His past experience spans diverse roles in marketing, consulting, new media businesses, and digital media strategy.

Where to find Rob:

[0:00] Intro

[2:03] What Meta does

[3:32] On being brought in as a CEO

[4:42] Leading an organization virtually

[7:17] Still building relationships through virtual meetings with a team and how they do it

[10:33] Agenda-based vs non agenda-based interactions

[11:56] Adapting to change

[13:41] the efficiency in working remotely

[15:02] His thoughts on traveling now that everything is opening back up

[16:10] The value of time

[18:54] Outro

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John Over the last two decades, I’ve been on a quest to learn everything I can about leadership obsessed with what makes the best leaders so good after running companies small and large for the last 20 years. Today I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name’s John Laurito and I’m your host. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this topic. What makes the best leader so good? Welcome to tomorrow’s leader! 

John All right, tomorrow’s leaders, so I’ve got a great guess for you today, his name is Rob Delf. Rob is the CEO of Meta, which is a company that does some cool stuff. They basically take all the data from movies for streaming services and companies and basically compile. They translate to different languages. They basically provide this service that we ultimately as consumers, if you watch movies, stream them, which I do, you’ve somehow been affected by Mehta. And Rob is the CEO. He has talked about in this episode some really cool stuff, and one of which I think is absolutely interesting, if not fascinating, to hear about how somebody comes into a company that’s a global company and basically leads the company 100 percent virtually not having met anybody. Not and we traveled. How does he impact the culture of the organization? So some real, very real, very pertinent challenges that many leaders are facing, even though they’ve led an organization for a long time pre-pandemic? Here’s a guy who jumped in the middle of it a global company in the middle of the pandemic. So some really, really cool stuff on leadership. Here’s Rob. 

John All right, welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dove deep on all things leader related to leading yourself and leading others. I’m John the Laurito, your host today with great guests. I’ve got Rob Delph, who is the CEO of Meta, a firm that’s global, I guess based in the UK. Is that right, Rob? 

Rob It’s based in London. Yep. It’s great to be here, John. 

John All right. Great to have you, Rob. I appreciate you being on the show. Lots of stuff I want to pick your brain on because you are living a very real situation that a lot of leaders specifically find themselves in. But you’re dealing with some of the challenges that they are. You have taken over as CEO of Meta. And I’d love to have the audience here just a little bit about what Meta does and how you got brought in to Meta. And then we’ll transition to some of the stuff we were talking about earlier. 

Rob Yeah, it sounds great. So meta as a SAS application so software, as a service web app. And basically what we do is we help media entertainment companies categorize and distribute the information about their TV shows and movies around the world. So as you can imagine, with all of these new services that are out there, the Hulu’s The Disney Plus is the Paramount Plus is the Peacock’s. You need to get all of the information on there in a searchable, easy way to consume for a customer. And basically, what we do is we help our customers organize that in a central place and then enable them to distribute that around the world. Whether that’s localized versions, localized synopsis. You need a Norwegian synopsis for this one and really tracking all of that in the supply chain of film and television. That’s it. In a nutshell. 

John I love it, and I’m a huge movie fan. So you’re speaking of something I love when you are. So your customer basically is a streaming service. Is that right? 

Rob That’s right. Streaming services, distributors and broadcasters, and anyone who’s pushing, you know, film and television content out either via the old terrestrial broadcast or via the internet, which is more and more the case. 

John Got it, OK. So what’s interesting is you you’re you were brought in as CEO. Was it earlier this year, did you say? 

Rob Yeah. So in June, you know, a little bit of the background there is. I ran a business called Rights Line. I was the founder and CEO of Rights Line. We sold the majority of the business to Private Equity Group in November. And along the way, I’d known Meta. So Meta hasn’t been around that long. Meta was started in twenty eighteen and I knew the founder really well. And I found myself with, you know, nothing to do during a pandemic. And, you know, I was talking to the founder and what we ended up doing is raising some money and, you know, to fuel some growth. And I came in as a CEO and he is still the founder and chief product officer. Sorry for the dog. 

John Yeah, it’s all right. It’s the world we live in now. 

Rob Exactly. 

John I could see him in the background there. That’s kind of cool that he’s out there. What kind of dog do you have?

Rob She’s a dog dog. We got during the pandemic, so I think she’s, you know, a  mix of one or two, but a Great Pyrenees and a border collie, mostly. But she’s great. 

John Very cool. So one of the things you know, we were talking about the fact you taking over a company like this large company and you’ve got basically you’re leading an organization through Zoom, basically. Yeah. And you were telling me, I mean, it’s not like you’ve gotten out to travel. You’re in the middle of COVID. I mean, what’s that been like? Not one thing to adapt to it, but you literally jump into a company. You don’t have anything other than that. 

Rob Yeah, I mean, it took a healthy dose of, you know, faith sort of the leap of faith going into it, you know, when the founder Rob Tucker and I decide we’re going to go down this path, it was like, OK, you know, you, you know, everyone there. One of the things that I’ve done in my previous career and previous company is really prided myself around building this, you know, a really strong culture. And I have to tell you, I’ve spent some time just sort of staring at the wall trying to figure out like how you build a great culture when really your interactions are limited to scheduled meetings that you set up on Zoom. And yes, you’ve got like all the other tools, you’ve got Slack and runs on Slack consistently. 

Rob But you know, does that define a culture when you’re not in person and really struggling with that? A little bit because, you know, I think there’s there’s something to be said with just seeing each other in person and talking about things that aren’t on the agenda, right? And I think the biggest thing that I’ve found and experienced is actively taking the time to talk about things or connect with people where it’s not specifically related to the top. The task at hand is probably the best tool in the bag of doing this, because when you’re in person, right, I mean, and this is just, you know, kind of a little off the cuff here. 

Rob But when you’re in person, there’s a lot more sort of interaction like, Hey, what kind of dog do you have? Or, you know, like what, like what you do on the weekends? Whereas if I’ve set up a meeting with you, it’s like, OK, well, here’s items one through six that we need to talk, talk about. Let’s start at the top, and it’s a lot more transactional. Yeah, totally. So I’d say that it’s, you know, it’s been less challenging than I think I originally thought it was going to be, you know, certainly from their culture perspective and our business, right? Remember where we’re a software company. So a lot of stuff, you know, really can be done remotely. You know, we’ve got slack. Everyone’s on huddles all the time. That’s there. Yeah. I am looking forward to a couple of longer kind of in-person meetings, however. 

John Definitely, I would imagine. But you bring up a great point. It’s like, you know you, you’re absolutely right when you’re on a zoom or go to a meeting and whatnot, it just seems much more transactional. And do you think leaders forget that like that? It’s almost got to be this conscious thought that, listen, you gotta still build a relationship and find ways to do that? Is that an oversight of most leaders now? 

Rob I mean, I think it’s an easy trap to fall into, right? Because, you know, we’ve all got our schedules, especially working from home, like there’s a dog barking in the background or you have a toddler that’s going to run into the room, I think. I think the easy trap to fall into is like, OK, we’re here to get these things done. And then and then we’re done. Right, right. And I think there’s there’s a lot to be said for, you know, just, you know, scheduling some time to communicate with people in leadership positions around you, you know, at the company and just chatting about what’s going on. You know, and it’s a little bit awkward at first kind of staring at each other on a screen like because we’re so trained to be like, OK, what are we here to do as opposed to I’m sitting in the desk next to you. 

Rob Hey, what do you think about this thing? Like, that’s a more natural human interaction, right? Yeah. So, yeah, getting over that. The other thing actually around that this is something that I’ve seen is I feel like for better or for worse people working remotely or a lot of times more efficient with their time because you can really easily say, like, okay, from 10:00 till noon, I’m doing this. And because there are no distractions and there’s no one around and you’re not walking around, right? You kind of get more done. 

John Yeah, nobody is peering in your office or over your cubicle or anything like that. You just got solo time. 

Rob Yeah. 

John Is that so? Because I remember, you know, in an office setting, I mean, I used to get so much out of walking around the office seeing you and just be like, Hey, Rob, how’s everything going? And just getting into a conversation? And that conversation sometimes would be so valuable and I would look back and be like, Wow, that’s so great that I just even had that interaction with Rob because I learned this or I was able to give him some guidance on that. What’s the replacement for that? I mean, how did leaders now fill that void that they don’t have those little 30 second interactions? 

Rob I think it’s the million-dollar question, you know, because those 30-second interactions give you kind of visibility into how someone’s doing. You can pick up on body language you can pick up on, you know, a lot of sort of the things that you aren’t getting through Zoom and you’re kind of left with, you know, what tools do you have? Like, I always backtrack, Okay, what else can we use? Yeah, you can connect with people on Slack, which is fine. I’ve found calling, just picking up the. And calling every once in a while is that that’s not related to an agenda, it’s like the more you can take it off of this is the stuff we have to accomplish today versus just checking in and saying hello. I think that goes a long way, right?. And it’s and it’s one of those things where it’s the last thing you want to do because you have, you know, 900 more things on your task list. But just reaching out and and and chatting for a bit is really helpful. 

John It’s interesting. I just wrote a note, which is a really interesting concept. It’s almost like thinking about, you know, how many interactions do you have with your people that are agenda based versus not agenda based? We become so agenda-based in all of our interactions. It’s like, OK, well, what? Why are we talking? Unless there’s a purpose, there’s got to be a purpose of why we’re talking. We’ve lost sight of the fact that sometimes you don’t know the purpose when you start a conversation with somebody and you find out it was super valuable for sure. 

Rob And you know, I think that you know, some of the greatest ideas come out of the agenda genderless interactions, you know, you know, hey, how are you doing one struggling with this? Have you thought about using this tool or approaching it this way? Like, those aren’t things that you’re going to schedule some time. You know, typically those agendas are like, we’re going to brainstorm around this one problem, not just like generally how you’re working. Yeah. So, you know, there is a challenge there. You know, I think if you’d asked me all of these same questions three years ago, my answer would have been, that’s impossible. You’d be totally ineffectual. It wouldn’t work, you know what I mean? And it is one of those things, too. You know, I find it’s like you take a step back and you realize that, like what we do really invent ways to kind of succeed or get around those obstacles. And you know, it’s just like we’re using the tools at hand to make it happen. 

John Yeah, it is amazing how adaptable people are. That’s actually an interesting concept because that really is a great Segway into another big challenge that leaders have is helping people through change or even themselves helping them adapt through change. And I think that is a great learning as you look at something. I mean, just even the concept of walking around all day with masks and stuff like that and, you know, the whole new way of life before that, we would have thought, no way. We’re there’s no way we’re going to be able to yet we adapted within a month. Everybody was like, All right, whatever, this is, the new normal. Is there a lesson in there for leaders regarding change?

Rob For sure. I mean, think about it, it’s like a great sort of case study on how we would think about the pandemic and everything that’s happened before, right? If you’d told me if you told either of us that it was going to happen, we would’ve been like, That’s impossible. This isn’t going to work. No one’s going to do these things. It’s the downfall of all business. Come first is going to stop, right? And then you look at it now and it’s like, actually, it’s not that bad. You know, most people I talked to like, it’s doing pretty well. The economy’s growing like things are working out. And I think that there’s a straight allegory to change in an organization. Yeah, right, right. The minute you say, like, Hey, we’re going to do this, this way now, you know, most people’s immediate reaction is like, Well, that’s over. Or maybe it’s not that it’s never going to work, but I can see 20 different problems with that. Yeah. And then when you actually get into it, it’s like, Yeah, there are challenges, but there were challenges before. You know what I mean? Like, you had people complaining that so-and-so was bugging them too much at their desk when they were trying to work. 

John Yeah, exactly. You know now you don’t have that time in a car with traffic and all that stuff that now you have that time back in your life. You’re right. And now we have that to remind people of, Hey, listen, see how fast and well you adapted to this whole crazy, unpredictable situation. And to your point, a lot of businesses came out of a better, stronger many, many businesses that that might have otherwise even failed. It just puts them into a different, puts them outside their comfort zone, and forced them to think about their business totally different and flip it upside down. And out came this great solution that they hadn’t thought of before. 

Rob Yeah, for sure. I mean, and that’s everything from making sure everything’s digital and in the cloud or, you know, these processes can be managed not by going to the office. I think it’s I think it has created a lot of efficiency. it’ll be interesting to see, and you know, this is my opinion anyway, is that the change is kind of permanent. You know, like even with when I talked to contemporaries, you know, in my industry, especially in the software industry, and we talk about going back to the office and what’s needed. I don’t think there’s a desire from the employees or the management to go back to five days. Certainly not like all the studies say that, but even two or three days, it might end up being a day a week. And then, you know, think about sort of broader changes in that regard. 

John Yeah, I know a lot of companies that are thinking that way, too. As you think about when things now open up and you’re able to do the travel that you weren’t able to do before. Or what is what does that look like for you and what kind of changes are you going to make or not make based on that? 

Rob Well, I’ll tell you. I mean, in my previous job, I put on a lot of air miles. You know, it was like, Oh, we’re, you know, we have a potential customer over here in Australia. I’m going to get on a plane, I’m going to go see it. That’s not going to happen again, you know, like it’s just, you know, you. I think this period has allowed a substantial amount of reflection on how much time and money and environmental impacts that all that stuff has, really, which is just to connect with someone that you could do on Zoom. And now because we’ve established the ease of which we can do that. But I think a lot of that’s going to go away. I think that the travel that will be done, you know, is going to be much more targeted, like, Hey, I’m, I’m coming out for two weeks and you know, we’re going to do these things and that’ll happen once a year. And outside of that, you know, maybe we don’t need it. 

John Yeah, it’s interesting. I remember when I was prior to doing what I’m doing now, I was in an office setting where it was an hour commute, each way to work and it was only a few miles, but it was Boston. So it took forever. Some like two hours a day. That’s 10 hours a week, 500 hours a year that I’m in a car. And, you know, so maybe I’m listening to books or whatever, but it’s still in a car and it’s just now you take that away and you have all that time to do something else, whether it’s spending time with friends and family or, you know, take up a new hobby or whatever, you’ve got all that back. 

Rob Right. And I think that’s what it is. It’s just sort of like a reassessment of the, you know, the value of time, right? I mean, and if you think about it, it’s not to get you deep, but it’s really the only currency we have, right, as our own time. Yeah. And you know, kind of it’s really healthy to evaluate like where you’re spending time to figure out like, I don’t need to go two hours a day into an office just to sit there. Maybe I go in one once a week and I set up meetings with people, right? And everything else I can do remotely. And you know, I have enough trust in the employee-employer relationship, right? And when you think about, you know, cultures and leading companies in that way, I think that’s probably the most, most important right is that you everyone has the level of trust that the work is going to be done, you know, in a consistent way. And then it shouldn’t matter. 

John Yeah, exactly. Well, the trust is absolutely key. Rob has been fantastic. I wish. I know we’re short on time here. I wish we had more. If people want to learn more about you or more about Meta, where’s the best place for them to go? 

Rob You can check us out on our website, which is Meta.how. Not Meta.com. That’s a that’s a whole other company now. Or you can find me on LinkedIn. And that’s Rob Delf. 

John OK, excellent. We’ll have all that in the show notes for listeners. We’ll have the links in there that they can click to. But this has been great, Rob. Really, really great insights. Appreciate. I know the audience will appreciate it as well. And hopefully, we can have you back some time another time, maybe do a part two or something like that. 

Rob Love that, John. Take care. 

John Thank you and thank you all for listening today. We appreciate your faithful viewership, as always. Thumbs up, share, subscribe, like, all that kind of good stuff. Appreciate your future suggestions for content and guests and go down below, give a five-star review and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time, thanks. 

John Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader for suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching. Reach me at John@johnlaurito.com. Once again, that’s John@johnlaurito.com. Thanks, lead on!

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