From School Administrator to Principal

Season 1: Episode 6 | 22 April 2022

Show notes | Transcript

In today’s episode of the Re-Wired Show, we chat with Katherine Thompson, one of the Principals at The Re-Wired Group.

  • You’ll learn about Katherine’s career background in education and how she came to join The Re-Wired Group.
  • You’ll learn what motivated her to enroll in business school while working a full-time job as a school administrator.
  • You’ll discover the key lessons Katherine has learned working at The Rewired Group for the past two years.
  • You’ll learn some of the ways Katherine helps the company and its clients navigate the complex business landscape.
  • You’ll discover the importance of training yourself to take a step back and actually evaluate what you mean or what someone else means when they say they want something.

Join us in this fascinating and insightful discussion!

Enjoy!

What You’ll learn in this Show:

  • How Katherine landed her current job at The Re-Wired Group and her role at the company.
  • A comparative look between working in a school environment versus working at The Re-Wired Group.
  • Katherine’s advice on embracing change and reaching out for new lanes of growth in your career.
  • The power of “Unpacking Words”— go beyond a superficial level of understanding and ask pertinent questions.
  • How Katherine was able to shift her mindset from Perfectionism to Progress.

Resources:

Katherine Thompson

Hosts

From School Administrator to Principal – transcript

Katherine Thompson
I realize now how much all of us say words without much thought or meaning behind them. When we take a step back to unpack what we mean, let alone what someone else means. We become more self-aware, I find I’ve become more self-aware using unpacking on myself, what do I really mean by that? What do I really want out of this purchase? What progress am I trying to make? That’s what I say when you know we’re coaching or working with clients all the time. I think if there’s one thing for people to take away in the busy context of corporate or nonprofit real world, work environment, is to discipline yourself, train yourself to take a step back when you hear some of those words we often use for example, healthy, safe, or easy. Those types of words that we say all the time without thinking, train yourself, discipline yourself to pull back the onion peel, and really seek to understand what you mean or what someone else means.

Bob Moesta
Welcome to the circuit breaker podcast where we challenge the status quo of innovation and new product development. We’ll talk about tools and skills and methodologies used to build better products and make you better consumer. I’m Bob Vesta, I’m the co-founder of the rewired group and I’m one of your co-hosts. We’re joined by Greg Engel, who was my co-founder and chief Bob interpreter. Join us now as we trip the circuit and give you time to reset, reorganize and recharge your brain to build better products.

Greg Engle
Today, I want to introduce somebody that works with us. Our colleague at rewired, Katherine Thompson, who came to us about two years ago.

Katherine Thompson
Sounds about right, two or two and a half. 

Greg Engle
About two years ago, I want to just do a get to know you podcast, what was she doing before? What has she learned now? And how would that change your perspective? So it should be a pretty light conversation. Hopefully, you never know. 

Bob Moesta
It’s never like conversation. Let’s be clear.

Greg Engle
But Katherine tell us a little bit about yourself, the elevator pitch of who you are and where you were before you came to rewired?

Katherine Thompson
My Odyssey, as I learned to say, in business school. I come from a background in education. I spent eight years working in pre-K through 12 schools, a day school and a boarding school, working in admission, financial aid. I was an advisor to students, a dorm parent, a coach of track and field and skiing, although I don’t ski. I moved here to Michigan, about four years ago to work at a school down the road from the rewired group. I’m your walk-in traffic, which you actively try to prevent. 

Bob Moesta
So it’s correct. 

Katherine Thompson
I’m sorry to burst the bubble here on Courchevel.

Bob Moesta
Who’s coming up the stairs, and what do they want?

Katherine Thompson
Why won’t she leave two plus years later. While I was working at the middle school here, I went to business school on the weekends. And ultimately, made a decision. 

Bob Moesta
Tell them where you went.

Katherine Thompson
I went to the University of Michigan. Bob and I have a little rivalry because he’s a Michigan State

Bob Moesta
Go green, Go white 

Katherine Thompson
Go blue, Go Blue. But ultimately decided to make a switch, leave the education world to form a new notion of progress for myself. I’ve been working on these guys ever since. 

Greg Engle
I want to start there. Why did you decide to go back to school? What was going on in your life that said, I’m going to work full time, go to school part time, which is full time because you have to do all the homework. What was going on that said, I’m going to do that?

Katherine Thompson
Well, when you put it that way. It does sound crazy, doesn’t it?

Bob Moesta
But the context makes the irrational rational. 

Katherine Thompson
it felt very rational to me. I had reached a point, in my prior life at a school in Pennsylvania, where I was doing a lot of financial aid, managing a large financial aid budget, working with the business office on a tuition revenue, budgeting, things like that. I came from a background and educational background in history. So, I felt woefully unprepared and uncomfortable and out of my depth as I started to dive into the finances and business operations of the school. I also found that I loved it, I was very curious and wanted to learn more. I decided that business school would be the place to go to supplement my liberal arts education and learn the language to work as a school administrator who could help schools run better as businesses. I observed that many schools hate to think of themselves as businesses. I would say poor and are not well managed and can benefit from people who have a bit more acumen.

Bob Moesta
So that all sounds like your pull to this, but what was some of the pushes that pushed you to say today’s the day?

Katherine Thompson
It goes back to some of my coaching commitments, part of it was my commitment to coaching track and skiing, that was put on my plate at the busiest time of year for me and the admission office. Finding there was not much flexibility on the schools part to make my life a bit easier. Feeling a bit burned out on boarding school life, which I loved, and still have very fond memories of in many ways, but it is a demanding environment, 24/7 environment. Feeling like I didn’t have much time for myself to learn and grow, and feeling like I was just kind of on the merry go round doing the same thing repeatedly.

Greg Engle
So you go to University of Michigan, you get your degree.

Katherine Thompson
Yes. Thank you for mentioning the name again

Bob Moesta
The Ross School of Business, I think it’s called.

Greg Engle
At that point, as graduation was approaching, what was your plan?

Katherine Thompson
Well, I ended up quitting my job at the school 15 months or so into the two-year program, with the desire to take a break. At that point, I was very burned from the week of work and weekends of classes. I was in a tough work environment; I needed time to reset to figure out what I wanted to do next. I felt like I wanted to spend the final nine months or so focused on the program, not just going through the motions to cross each stage gate. I quit that job, with the expectation that I would go back into a school environment somewhere else. And it was about that time that I called up Bob and said ‘hey, can I do a little work on the side for you, I’m not looking for anything full time’, he was quite clear that rewired was not looking for anyone full time either. So it was a it was a good fit to begin to work together in an incremental kind of way.

Bob Moesta
I think the title we called you was a fellow right, because you weren’t an intern, it was past undergrad, it was graduate. We call graduate students ‘fellows’ so you helped them with a few projects and little did you know how immersed you were going to get into the way we work.

Katherine Thompson
To give a little bit more context to it. I’d first been exposed to jobs to be done in their work through projects I’ve done for schools. I realize now we’ve had quite a little bit of knowledge of jobs, and a bit of knowledge of what rewired does, compared to where I am now. What I’ve since learned, but I had some notion of the magic that happens here.

Greg Engle
So, you graduate

Katherine Thompson 
I graduate. 

Greg Engle
You come here full time. What have you learned since being here?

Katherine Thompson
A couple of things. Let me talk on a personal level about the progress I’ve made for myself and my mindset. I think one of the big lessons I’ve learned here that I continue to work to internalize is disabusing myself of the notion of perfection. You both have been helpful in calling me out on my recovering perfectionism. I now have the language and the paradigm to think about progress, not perfection, to think about prototyping, not perfection. I am much more able whereas I had been mired in the world of perfectionism of feeling like I had to deliver a fully enrolled school under budget, run the school’s marketing and admission efforts by myself. Without making a misstep, I now have a much more balanced view for myself of what’s realistic and how I measure in my own progress, I think from a operational practical standpoint, a huge thing I’ve learned here too is reminding myself to uncover demand, make sure I’m understanding the demand in front of me whether that was in my old life of what progress are the parents who are looking to enroll their kids here trying to make, or in my current job what progress are our clients trying to make? And how can I best serve that?

Greg Engle
Is there one tool or mindset you wish you knew, then that you know now?

Katherine Thompson
I would say unpacking has been the most profoundly helpful way of thinking.

Bob Moesta
It could be also detrimental, because now you want to unpack everything.

Katherine Thompson
That’s right, sometimes we get down those rabbit holes. I realize now, how much we all say words without much thought, or meaning behind them. And when we take a step back, to unpack even what we mean, let alone what someone else means. I find I’ve become more self-aware using unpacking on myself, what do I really mean by that? What do I really want out of this purchase? What progress am I trying to make? That’s what I say when you know we’re coaching or working with clients all the time. I think if there’s one thing for people to take away in the busy context of corporate or nonprofit real world, work environment, is to discipline yourself, train yourself to take a step back when you hear some of those words we often use for example, healthy, safe, or easy. Those types of words that we say all the time without thinking, train yourself, discipline yourself to pull back the onion peel, and really seek to understand what you mean or what someone else means.

Greg Engle
Can you think of an example when you were at the school that unpacking would have helped?

Katherine Thompson
I think we often left our understanding of parents’ progress. They were trying to make it a very superficial level, we would reduce it to features and benefits so for schools the feature might be the lacrosse program. Great your kid likes lacrosse, let me tell you everything about our lacrosse team without taking a step back to unpack. Well, what does that mean? Does that mean they aspire that their child’s going to go play division one lacrosse and needs to compete at a high level to get a look from collegiate coaches? Does that mean they just want their child to be part of a team, to develop that teamwork and camaraderie and not feel left behind? Examples like that was my old MO, now I see how unpacking, just asking a few more questions can help match offerings and the progress the parents are trying to make.

Greg Engle
I imagine there’s a lot of people listening to the podcast that are innocent, or in a similar situation of feeling stuck, or not fully satisfied with the job they’re in today. And they’re looking for different things. What advice do you give them? What should they do?

Katherine Thompson
Be clear on the outcomes you’re seeking. I think for me, I’ve been able to unpack some of my outcomes and some of my priorities. I always loved and continue to love working with students. I was a dorm parent, in a dorm of a 100 9th and 10th grade girls, I was a coach and advisor and I loved that. I always felt like that needed to be a defining feature of my job but and an outcome I wanted from my job, that ability to interact with students. I don’t have that here in the same way although we do teach and coach and other things, but not with the elementary school demographic. Not yet.

Greg Engle
Yeah, and I don’t know if we want to go there. I don’t know if parents want us around their elementary school. But talk a little bit about that right. You knew education was important in your life. You knew that you like being a coach and a teacher, you like that aspect of the give and take of learning. 

Katherine Thompson
Yes.

Greg Engle
Both from the learner and the teacher, and the give and take. How have you taken that passion to us here at re wired? What are you working on that would scratch that itch?

Katherine Thompson
I’ve been able to work with both of you, in coaching and teaching clients, whether it’s lecturing at Harvard Business School or other schools around the country, whether it’s presenting at a conference. What I enjoy most, is coaching clients in smaller sessions through what are some of the techniques you can use in jobs to be done interviewing? How do you conduct an analysis? How do you do your best to divorce yourself from your supply side, kind of biases and mentality, those are ways here I’ve been able to scratch that itch. I’ve also found on the side, I’ve been able make progress and continued love of school and commitment to education by serving as a trustee at my own alma mater, volunteering for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, that to me was the kind of the huge revelation I made when thinking about all that push I had leaving my former job, all the anxieties I had, I was able to figure out how to break all those important things apart and find them in different aspects of my life.

Greg Engle
We’re working on software here, that we’re trying to develop something that will help people through jobs to be done, jobs we’ve done. How have you taken your approach? I know Bob, and I were focused on the mechanics of it, is it working? Are we doing those things? But how is your coaching teaching hat influencing that software?

Katherine Thompson
I think an important role I’ve been able to play with you two here is the Jiminy Cricket or the reminder of where people are in their journey of learning jobs to be done, and how we really have to use chunk learning for people and think about how we graduate people through the process. What are the building blocks and fundamental skills? Since we’re in Michigan, we’re often talking about hockey. I think we agree we’re Redwings fans? We may not agree on Michigan State, but at least we could agree and liken it to learning how to play hockey. First you have to learn how to tie your skates and then stand up on the ice and then skate. Then you can hold a stick and stand on the ice and then move. It’s a similar process with respect to the software and learning jobs to be done, you’ve got incrementalise it and help people along, to help them make progress to successfully do a project.

Greg Engle
On that point. Just to give a little insight in the thought process of the three of us and Matt. Bob often thinks when we’re looking at the software that everybody understands the process. Yeah, it’s easy. I’m the one that thinks it takes five years to learn this thing, because of all the different nuances. How do you help us, what tools, what devices do you use to help us get to that middle ground or get to the place where we can make progress.

Katherine Thompson
We debate a lot. We also talk a lot to our alpha customers have been using the software to help pinpoint their struggling moments. We debrief a lot after each coaching session, not only do we spend an hour or two coaching a client through, say a phenotyping, one of the steps in a jobs analysis. But we also may then spend another hour or 90 minutes on top of that talking through, breaking it apart, both the use of the software and our own coaching to help hone and refine and get that input we need from the actual users rather than from any of us. 

Greg Engle
Yep. The way we developed and the way we’re doing that, how is it different than your old work environment? 

Katherine Thompson
I don’t have to leave the office at two o’clock to coach skiing anymore. I think this is an environment in which time is set aside for that type of reflection. For that kind of debate and argument, none of us has an expectation that things are going to be perfect from the start, whereas in a lot of environments, including the one I was in, and we certainly heard this from clients all the time, there’s just not that time or that kind of license to prototype. It can be hard to feel the liberty to do. It can feel like your colleagues might be judging you, or if you fail, you’re going to have your job yanked out from under you, can be very hard to practice those skills in, in that type of context. 

Greg Engle
Yeah. I think also, there’s a notion that we talked about here, which is everybody talks about being on a team when they’re in a job. But most of the time, it’s just a bunch of individuals doing individual things. 

Katherine Thompson
That’s right. 

Greg Engle
We do that. But we also understand that we have to come together as a team, and where are those points of teamwork and individual work? And where do they tie together?

Bob Moesta
And you need a balance of both. I remember, very early on when we started the rewired group, the whole notion of people think the meetings are the work, the meetings are not the work, the work happens between the meetings, so we can’t be in meetings all day. It’s that notion of we have interaction, but the work is how do we debrief it? What do we figure out what we’re going to do next? How do we figure all that thinking part?  We realize that the thinking most people just know how to do. And what we would say is they need to practice the unpacking skills, the system skills, all these other things to be able to help them kind of realize they can be way better. But they’re hampered by the one shot. It’s got to be perfect. And everybody just picks out what’s wrong.

Katherine Thompson
That’s right.

Greg Engle
So Catherine, thank you for taking the time to talk with us about these types of things you’ve changed in the last two years of your job and going to school and how those decisions were made. I think the way we want to leave this podcast is with a question with people in the audience; If you find yourself at a position where you might want to change jobs, or you want to bring in something new, you need to ask yourself, what is the progress you’re trying to make? Try to fill out the forces of progress, but then also go back to another force of progress, or at least talk about what brought you to your job in the first place? You have to look at it from both sides of what’s next, but what made me happy by being here. When you find yourself stuck in those things, that’s the challenge I think Bob, Katherine and myself give you is, can you actually divorce yourself of all the emotion and figure out what do you want next? But then also, you have to figure out why did you get attracted this first one? What are those important things because we often lose sight of the things that made us happy in the first job, and throughout the whole baby with the bathwater, if you will.

Bob Moesta
I think like one of the things of the practices that Katherine and I have developed over the last two years is every 90 days sitting down and talking about progress. Having a good two hour conversation around the first hour is about what progress did you make in the last 90 days, and then me articulating what progress she helped me make over the last 90 days and then talking about then the next 90 days of what things she’s wanting to do. There’s been some big disconnects that have helped both of us, one example; I got very busy and I kept saying, Katherine can you handle this, I’m going to go do something else? I kept feeling like I was dumping on her, this is not right, I can’t do that. But in the conversation, she came back and said, I love the fact that you can let me fly, walk without a net. So, realizing that Katherine wanted to do more of that, the next 90 days, we doubled down and got more coaching clients or beta clients on the coaching side, so I got rid of the anxiety of abandoning you. You had the chance to hone and refine your coaching abilities. Instead of trying to put goals for the year, it’s having these conversations just around progress and what are the things that we want to shape? How do we want to shape the work so I can go create work that will help you make progress, but also help us make progress. Because it’s a two-way street here as an employer, not just ‘Katherine do this job’. I want to make sure Katherine is making progress as well. Because what I do know is the moment she stops making progress, she’ll start to look for something else, which is awesome, so I want to just keep you constantly being able to make progress.

Bob Moesta
Thanks for listening to the circuit breaker podcast. If you haven’t already, please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. If you know somebody who’s stuck on the innovation treadmill, please share it. If you’d like to learn more information, visit us at the rewired group.com To find out how we work, how we can help some resources, some books some software. Join us next time as we trip the circuit breaker to help you recharge, re energize and refocus your new product development.

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