Elisabeth Cooke

How To Achieve Better Outcomes: With Elisabeth Cooke

Are you stuck doing all the heavy lifting? Do you often feel like you just don't have enough time to do every single thing on your list? If so, then you might want to stop and examine what is going on.

In today's episode of The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast, I have the pleasure of talking to, and coaching, Elisabeth Cooke, CEO and Co-Founder of Dignii, a tech company that has created a software to measure diversity and improve inclusion in employment.

Elisabeth feels stuck with one of the number one challenges that leaders seem to experience: time shortage. She tends to feel that if she doesn’t do everything on her "to do" list, then they won’t get done. And to that I respond with a series of proposals that will help her deal with this issue.

Do you feel like there’s just not enough time in your day? Or is there another kind of challenge you’d like to discuss? Reach out! If there's any issue you want to talk about here on the podcast or privately, please send me an email:


Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kim Ades:
Hello, hello. This is Kim Ades, I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching™, and you have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast, where we invite leaders from all over the world to come onto the podcast and get coached live and in-person.  

Today it's my pleasure to introduce Elisabeth Cooke. She is the President or the CEO, the founder of a company called Dignii Technologies.  

Elisabeth, welcome.  

[00:00:31] Elisabeth Cooke:

[00:00:33] Kim Ades:
So, where are you in the world and what is Dignii Technologies?  

[00:00:37] Elisabeth Cooke:
I'm in Vancouver, BC, and Dignii is a software company. We've created the tools to be able to measure diversity and improve inclusion in the workplace. 

[00:00:49] Kim Ades:
Okay. So tell us a little bit more about how that works, because that's very interesting. It's a hot topic right now and it's coming up a lot for me in particular. So tell me a little bit more about your software. How do you measure that?  

[00:01:04] Elisabeth Cooke:
Yeah. So we use it to-- we survey employees in the workplace, so we have our own measurement scale to survey for demographics, various demographics and diversity metrics across an organization. And then we also survey for employee engagement.  

And what really makes us stand out, because some people are already working in the space of measuring employee engagement. But what we do is we really pull up intersectionality. So often when we talk about diversity, you can be one thing, you can be a woman, or you can have a disability, or you can be gay or you can be trans.  

But using our software we allow just the functionality of pointing more than one of those, so that you can actually look at intersectionality and get a real understanding of who it is that works there. 

We're always talking about trying to change behaviors and cultures and attitude, but if we're not measuring anything, we don't have anything to compare any of our initiatives or our progress against. We don't have a way to see what's working and what's not, if we're not measuring. So that's what we do.  

[00:02:10] Kim Ades:
Okay. And how long have you been doing this for?  

[00:02:15] Elisabeth Cooke:
Dignii has been around for three years. And I've been working in the DEI space for over 10. Oh yeah. Over 10.  

[00:02:25] Kim Ades:
Okay. Amazing. And how are things going?  

[00:02:29] Elisabeth Cooke:
They're going really well. I mean, we did talking about diversity and inclusion and particularly the business case for diversity and inclusion in that, you know, there's a lot more money to be made if you're diverse and inclusive, you have better business results and staff retention. That research has been around for more than 15 years now. 

But we're really starting to see a shift with... particularly with employers around moving from that progressive messaging to progressive action. It's no longer okay to just slap a pride sticker on something and say that you support your employees. You actually have to show how it is that you're doing that. 

And it obviously goes without saying that the events of last year, and the media attention that the Black Lives Matter movement received for the cultural shift that's taking place in the States, in particular really supported, you know, the increased need for some meaningful work in the diversity inclusion and equity space. Sometimes justice is included in there as well.  

[00:03:29] Kim Ades:
Interesting. I don't know if you know, but I interviewed the uncle of George Floyd, not that long ago on this podcast.  

[00:03:35] Elisabeth Cooke:
Oh! Did you?  

[00:03:35] Kim Ades:
Yeah. Very, very interesting experience for me because he was very, very close to his nephew. And his perspective was, you know, pretty raw, pretty, real, pretty... very interesting. If you want to listen to it, we'll send that your way.  

So what is your greatest challenge right now as a business owner or as a woman running a business or just as a human running a business?  

[00:04:01] Elisabeth Cooke:
Well I think just as a person running a business, the challenge that I have is how to make sure that I'm being as effective and efficient as possible within the confines of only having 24 hours in every day. That's a real challenge and looking at...  

I mean, I think a lot of practical implications, you know, of working remotely that are around. Someone can't just sort of stick their head in my office and get my attention, you know, we're doing things virtually, which is that much more challenging.  

But actually being able to balance that not being around other folks and being able to have, you know, back-to-back meetings is a much bigger time saver, you know, like, I used to run around the city having like a lunch in two coffees and maybe an after work drink with different clients.  

And now, like, I can see different clients and potential clients back-to-back all day long. I don't have to run around the city, especially in the rain and heels anymore, which is a bit of a gift, if I'm honest, especially living in Vancouver.  

But actually being able to efficiently make time for everything that, you know... I'm needed for. As a woman in tech and as a gay woman in tech, I tick a lot of boxes for a lot of different organizations that want to really promote women in tech, and women generally. 

So, there's a lot of time of mine that gets dedicated to sort of being... I don't like the term figurehead, someone else that we work with said show pony once, I don't particularly like that one either. 

[00:05:43] Kim Ades:
The face of the company. 

[00:05:45] Elisabeth Cooke:
Yeah. I just-- I kind of ended up being in that position where, you know, it's... you know, a lot of people want to talk to me as the CEO or me as an individual entrepreneur, or clients want to talk to me because I'm overseeing, you know, the services that we're providing them and that's just really challenging.  

And when we're looking at scaling our business, I am trying to find some efficient ways to manage that. So that's that part that's been more challenging.  

[00:06:14] Kim Ades:
So my-- it's funny, I had a conversation about scaling a little bit earlier today, but a slightly different conversation about strategies around scaling. It was not so much about how the leader maximizes their own impact. And in a way, that's your question.  

It's a little bit different than, what are the strategies for scaling in terms of, you know, licensing, product development, bringing on new people. And it sounds like you've brought on some new people on board, but still your required for a lot of these things. 

So my first piece of advice is to do a term of observation, we could say, right? And so what I mean by that, it's like, for example, if somebody wants to start losing weight, the first thing they do is they start tracking what they're currently eating and they start to understand what's going in their bodies. 

And for you, it's very important for you to track what you're actually doing. Luckily your calendar can help. But in the tracking you want to make an assessment, ask yourself some key questions. "Was I necessary for this appointment? Could somebody else have done it instead of me?"  

And by "somebody else" I'm not asking, "do I have anybody else to do it?" But "is this something that somebody else could do with a specific skillset?" right? Because sometimes we think, "well, there's nobody around because they're not already on the team. But is this something that could live without me?"  

In other words, "am I the only person in the world that could give value to this conversation?" And what you'll find is that very often, we attach ourselves to needing to be in places where perhaps we don't really need to be there. 

And so the first thing is to recognize where you are really, truly needed. Where there is no other voice, no other face, no other person on the planet who could fill this role. And you'll start to notice that there are lots of places where someone else can fill the role. So step one is just noticing that spot, those places where you're stepping in, where you don't need to step in. 

The second part of it is to say, "okay, so what skillsets are required? What do I do in these situations where nobody else is quite equipped yet? And what do I need to do to bring them up to speed?"  

And so, you know, I understand again, that you have people that you are training and bringing on board. And the training process is a little bit of a, you know, it's a beast, but it's also a magical thing, because the way we train is really important.  

And so, usually we train one person and great, they're up and running and then that's it. But what the opportunity is when you're training someone is actually to create training processes, manuals so that you have a system for all the things that you do that are almost even intangible, even the intangible things can be trained.  

And why do I say that? Because my experience is that I train people in the Frame of Mind Coaching™ method. I train my coaches, which is completely intangible. Completely, right? But there are methods for doing that once you start to examine, "here's what I did".  

So let's say you're in a conversation with a client and you have someone who's joining you, who's a trainee. What you do is you debrief and you say, "here's exactly what happened". Write it down, track it. "Here's what happens in meetings. Here are the 3 or 10 things we cover in every meeting". Make sure you have that checklist every time you come in the meeting.  

And so what you're doing is you're-- you know, I don't know if you have kids, but I have lots of them, I have five of them. So let's say this is my child and I'm handing it to you. I don't just throw it at you and hope you're going to catch it, right? I hold onto it and when your hands are on it and they're safely on it, then I let go. Right? But I only let go when I'm feeling good that you're holding it carefully. Does that make sense?  

[00:10:10] Elisabeth Cooke:
It does make sense. Yeah.

[00:10:11] Kim Ades:
So, what you want to do is the same thing. And what you want to do is you want to, like, if you're a front you want to slowly, slowly, gradually... Right? Back up.

[00:10:22] Elisabeth Cooke:

[00:10:22] Kim Ades:
But at this point you want to make sure you're all aligned. And so, if you're in a meeting and right now you're the front facing person, you want to give that person a little bit of airtime, and over time you want to give that person more and more airtime. But after every meeting you want to debrief. 

You want to say what just happened, what are the things that are always happening in these meetings, so we have a structure and a format for these meetings. And once there's a structure and a format and it's written down and it's in a book and it's trainable, you back out.  

We want to capture as many of those as possible because here's the thing: there's a magic to Elisabeth Cooke that Elisabeth Cooke doesn't even know or understand. The only time she realizes or can understand what her magic is, is when she gets to train someone else.  

You're like, "oh, I didn't realize that that's what I do, that that's my approach". The minute you need to explain it to somebody else, the minute it's encapsulated and it's transferable. And that's your task right now. 

I can see you thinking. 

[00:11:29] Elisabeth Cooke:
Yeah, I'm thinking about that because I can see some ways that have done that, you know, in establishing a policy manual and, you know, the way that we attract clients and making sure that, you know, there's consistency across what we do, and it's sort of not just a consistency that lives in my head and my own checklist, but we've actually created those. And we have, so...  

And there might be a little bit more wiggle room on that in terms of establishing those kinds of processes and the system. And the piece that I think is interesting is thinking about that first step of developing like, a term of observation and looking at, you know, my time and how that time gets spent. 

And you know, if there's this skillset that we haven't hired for yet, that could take some of that on, I think there's probably some more room in there.  

[00:12:18] Kim Ades:
Yeah. And also, I think sometimes challenging yourself. Like, I know in my organization... I work with my husband and he often says, "nobody else could do that. Only you". And I'm like, there's just no way. There's no way that I'm the only person in the world who could do that. That just can't be. I can't grow if that's my philosophy.  

So my philosophy is everything I do is pass-on-able. Everything I do is pass-on-able. I could find somebody to replace me in every place. Maybe not in its entirety, but if I break it down, I can find someone to do this and this and this, and they can put it together, and there you have it.  

[00:12:57] Elisabeth Cooke:
Yeah. Like, it occurs to me to like, the outcome, I think, could be achievable for anybody. But the method that you go about doing that as the one that, you know, like, I would have... you know, it'd be that classic. You'd have to accept that somebody could get the same outcome by doing something a little bit differently, that mean that that would be okay as well.  

[00:13:15] Kim Ades:
Well, and perhaps you don't have to accept that they would get the same outcome. Perhaps you can accept two things. One is that they might get a better outcome. But also maybe they don't get as good of an outcome, but that your time is better spent elsewhere. 

And so that together you're achieving a better outcome, right? When you're doing things that have higher overall value and you're letting some of this other stuff go, all together it has greater value, so the pie becomes bigger. Even if they're not as good as you.

[00:13:51] Elisabeth Cooke:
Well, I appreciate you saying that. That makes me feel much better about trying to find little minions. [Laughs] 

[00:13:57] Kim Ades:

[00:13:58] Elisabeth Cooke:
Yeah. Yeah, but that does make sense. I can see how we could approach that issue from a different way.  

[00:14:08] Kim Ades:
Right. And I think, for me, like, the big, big, big thing is having a mindset or a thinking approach that says there's nothing here that can't be done by someone else. And when we have that approach, then our ability to be creative about replacing ourselves becomes more established.  

So there was a time, for example, when I thought I could be the only writer, the writer of content for the company, and I realized that's not true. 

[00:14:40] Elisabeth Cooke:

[00:14:41] Kim Ades:
I can create a short video and that short video can become an article, can become a blog, can become a short video, can become a lot of different things. But I don't have to be the writer.

[00:14:52] Elisabeth Cooke:
Yeah. I wouldn't necessarily think of it as like replacing myself and things, but I think I would think of it as like, that that's what the growth looks like and it becomes more of an evolution of being. You know, finding things that I do, they can have a bit of a different shape of being taken on by other people in a different role, which would free up my time to evolve my position and my outcomes, and look at some different objectives that I have. 

[00:15:22] Kim Ades:
One of the things that I always think about when I think about my company is that it's the playground where I get to grow. Personally, right? Personally, professionally. But it's my playground. I created it. I invented it.  

And so, some of the questions that you might want to ask yourself is how do I want to grow? What do I want next for me? And in order for me to have that, I need to create a little bit more time for myself, but what's my next move? And that creates a little bit of inspiration to get to that next place and let some things off your list of responsibilities. Let some of those go. 

[00:16:01] Elisabeth Cooke:
Yeah. Yeah. I can certainly see how transferring some of those into a role that we don't necessarily already have.  

[00:16:09] Kim Ades:
And just to go back to one more thing, like, you said that you're creating manuals, et cetera, and that that's already-- a lot of that is in place. I encourage you to think about also creating manuals or, you know, guidelines for things that are not so tangible, and things that you don't realize that you do or you think, or that you have a specific approach to things, that are also worth capturing. 

[00:16:38] Elisabeth Cooke:
Yeah, well, we have done that. I mean, because a huge portion of our team is the tech team, is the software developers and engineers. You know, and looking at some ways to really define some of the creativity that's going on there and how we're evolving our products to respond to the market, I think is a piece that we do really account for that and realizing, you know, that we want to change and grow and evolve, but we don't necessarily know what that looks like right now. 

And that's something that we do, kind of track and articulate, which can, like, as you said, can be more difficult, but it is an area that we do look at.  

[00:17:18] Kim Ades:
I have to say that the project you're working on, your company, your business, and what it stands for is really exciting. It's really, really interesting. And I expect, I anticipate that many companies are going to be tapping into your services to level up their own diversity inclusion initiative. So I'm super excited. I hope that I get a chance to look at your product too one day and just see how it works.  

[00:17:45] Elisabeth Cooke:
We can arrange a demo for you. That wouldn't be a problem at all. And we are seeing a lot of growth, you know, and we're seeing it across... You know, it's one of the things that with COVID is we aren't really sure what the market would look like, but we've seen steady growth across, you know, public, private, not-for-profit and government organizations.  

[00:18:01] Kim Ades:
I am not surprised. I think you're going to explode pretty soon.  

[00:18:05] Elisabeth Cooke:

[00:18:05] Kim Ades:
And you're going to need like, that infrastructure in place where you're not doing everything.

[00:18:10] Elisabeth Cooke:

[00:18:12] Kim Ades:
That's your task over the next, you know, 12 months, is to really create that A-plus team.  

[00:18:20] Elisabeth Cooke:
Well, and that's the bit that, you know, I think it's challenging too. We talk a lot with our clients around the corporate pipeline, where people are coming in, in their careers and what different diversity metrics they retained.  

There's a lot of research shows, you know, women might commit entry level, but they don't move past that for first run. It's not necessarily a glass ceiling, it's that they can't actually get the first run on the ladder to move up and advance their careers.  

Or you see people leading organizations and not sort of staying the course to advance all the way up. So, we're quite mindful when we hire to ensure that, you know, we do have our own inclusive hiring practices and we tend to hire people earlier on in their career so that they can grow with us and learn with us. Especially on the tech side. 

There's so much you can learn around being a developer on the job that you don't necessarily have to go and complete formal schooling for 'cause formal schooling can be a real barrier to a variety of different folks. So we do kind of a look at how we go with that, but then we do-- there are other positions that we know require a higher level of skill, and looking to find those people can provide a variety of different challenges.  

But inclusive hiring just requires, I think, a lot of time and energy and making sure that we keep to those core values that we have for our business while we're doing that and exploring what skillset is required, like what can somebody learn on the job and learn with us? And what is something that they need to walk in the door with, I think is another piece of that conversation that we need to have internally. 

[00:19:55] Kim Ades:
Yeah. But when you start to look at what you can offload and what you would like someone else to do, it becomes easier to identify the skillsets you're looking for. And so, you know, it's kind of like, "let's start with us and then let's look to see what we need to fill up our skillset roster". 

[00:20:17] Elisabeth Cooke:
What I think I'm trying to say is I'm just mindful that when we look at the skillsets that we're looking for, that we need to be aware of, you know, is it something that is learned? Is it something that is going to come because they have a piece of paper from a particular educational institution? Like, where are they coming from? 

I think that's a really important piece because sometimes we get this preconceived notion of "oh, well, I need somebody that can do this, and that person looks like this and does this". And we don't hire like that. We really try to be very inclusive and reduce barriers to people to ensure that, you know, we're getting the skillset and the representation that is available in the workforce in Canada.  

[00:20:58] Kim Ades:
I have a question for you. Like, in a way you have a bit of an assessment, right? An assessment to see where organizations are in their diversity hiring practices and employment practices. Is there anything that you can put in place to evaluate a person's abilities before you actually hire them? And it may not be an assessment, but like a trial period. Kind of like dating before marriage.  

[00:21:28] Elisabeth Cooke:
Yeah, there's a lot that we can do that. And we take advantage of a lot of funding from the provincial and federal government on hiring students and looking at hiring diverse students. I'm also an adjunct professor at UBC teaching Employment Law, and we've tapped into a lot of students coming out of Sauder, which is Sauder Business School at UBC, which has been a terrific source.  

But we're also mindful that, you know, it's not easy to get into Sauder, right? You get a lot of skilled people, but there's a lot of people that because of the different barriers that they face, aren't able to access that level of education. So we shop around quite a bit.  

But we definitely use a lot of student hire programs, because they're great! You get these young energized people that have all these wonderful ideas and they just want to learn how to do things right, and we'll happily tell them the way that we think they need to do that. And that has given us a lot of success.  

You know, when we're smaller companies, is the difference between hiring those students in the amount of time and training that they need versus, you know, when we look at our executive and what it is that, you know, the skillset that they bring, the amount of time that they have to be able to fill that gap, that's often a challenge as well. 

You know, 'cause we don't necessarily have like, as big of a middle management piece, we have, you know, much more senior and then junior folks. So looking at how we can best explore that in an efficient way.  

[00:22:54] Kim Ades:
That's very interesting. I really would love to stay in touch with you because we're working on a project specifically for that younger generation that might be a good fit for you. We'll talk about it after.  

[00:23:05] Elisabeth Cooke:

[00:23:05] Kim Ades:
But I think that you're a woman to watch and I have no doubt that your company is going to seriously explode in the next few years. So I'm excited for you and I'm excited that I've had a chance to meet you and have this conversation with you.  

[00:23:24] Elisabeth Cooke:
Thanks, Kim. It was a really, really useful conversation. I'm going to take away those bits around having a term of observation and thinking about what skills are actually required. That's really helpful. Thanks.  

[00:23:34] Kim Ades:
You're very welcome for those of you who are listening. If there is a challenge that you have, that you want to share on the podcast, please reach out to me. 

My email address is Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com.  

And if you have a challenge that you're not so willing to share on the podcast, please reach out to me as well.  

My email address is Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com.  

And just to wrap up, you know, very often, as leaders, we are kind of stuck doing a lot of the heavy lifting. We have a sense and we put ourselves in the position where we are responsible for a whole lot, and it's not easy for us to pass on some of those responsibilities to others.

And the greatest place to start is by really taking a look at what you actually do and examining whether or not some of that can be done by someone else. And so again, period of observation is what I recommend.  

Elisabeth, thank you so much for sharing this time with me, and I do really hope that our paths cross again very soon.  

[00:24:37] Elisabeth Cooke:
So do I. Thanks, Kim.

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