Christina Greenberg is an expert in pivoting outside her comfort zone. The co-founder of Edgility Consulting has branched out, business-wise, multiple times in service of a larger vision. In her case, that vision involves supporting a diverse and inclusive industry standard. Her Oakland-based firm helps youth-serving nonprofits and education organizations find, hire, and keep talent.
Lean Startup Co. Advisor Chris Guest recently interviewed Greenberg as part of our podcast series on learning to pivot while keeping your North Star intact. Below are the highlights from their conversation.
The Founding Phase: That Imagined Need is Real
Before co-founding Edgility, Greenberg worked in fundraising, policy, and nonprofit management. But she tapped into her true passion when she started recruiting in the education sector, “making that magical connection” to place someone where they’d have the most impact. She spent four years working for a program that mentored and trained aspiring principals for low income communities in the Bay Area. After taking a maternity break, Greenberg returned to the workforce as a consultant. She found enough clients needed her unique expertise in education to launch a business, Redwood Circle Consulting. Five and a half years in, it was time to expand. Greenberg and a business partner, Edgility co-founder Allison Wyatt, launched their firm from opposite coasts.
They weren’t sure what the company’s full scope would look like from the start, says Greenberg, but they established guiding principles. They wanted to build upon their shared talents in the recruiting space. They wanted to focus on organizations for “underserved youth and families—low income families, families of color, and students that were struggling for one reason or another in the school systems that we have today.” And finally, they wanted a lean business with little overhead, zero drama, and high expectations for what they could accomplish.They wanted to focus on organizations for “underserved youth and families—low income families, families of color, and students that were struggling for one reason or another in the school systems that we have today.” Click To Tweet
The Growing Phase: Being the Change You’re Creating For Others
In launching Edgility, Greenberg and Wyatt realized they needed to accomplish more than placing the right people with the right organizations. They were two white women preaching diversity and inclusion to clients around the country—they needed to intentionally take the lead there with their own organization. As they grew their team, Greenberg says they examined their methods of recruiting and “really thought carefully about what we could do to create an environment where all different kinds of people would want to work [for us].” These intentions made a big impact on the company’s success.
As an example of how a diverse team enriches their company, Greenberg says Edgility usually works with clients in “multi-racial teams, and often teams with different gender identifications.” Team members will sometimes pick up on different aspects of client conversations based upon their different backgrounds and perspectives. “My African American male colleague and I might have the same conversation but have different impressions,” she says. “Or there are times where someone will pull me aside or pull him aside and have different conversations with us in the same room because of who we are and our identities. And that’s really valuable.” She adds that this approach is based upon both she and Wyatt working at education organizations in the past that weren’t as diverse as they could’ve been. “We saw the harmfulness that caused,” she adds.
Recruiting for a diverse and inclusive staff required intentionality on all levels, says Greenberg. “As a recruiter, I will tell you, you have to make a plan,” she adds. For example, when they post a new job, the applicant pool is often 80% white.
She also advises recruiters and hiring managers to examine the language they’re using in job descriptions. For example, she says, instead of automatically listing unnecessary degree requirements because that’s become the status quo, “step back and really think about, what are those core skills and qualities that are most important, and look for those.” She also recommends ensuring workplaces are welcoming to new candidates once they land their positions.
The Unexpected Phase: New Needs Assert Themselves
Greenberg and Wyatt launched Edgility to help clients with recruitment and quickly realized they needed to expand their scope to include compensation. “We were getting a lot of clients who said, ‘Hey, once you help us find people, we need to figure out how to pay them.’” These clients were either losing talent or failing to stay competitive in the first place. Both issues stemmed back to diversity, equity, and inclusion, says Greenberg.
Compensation signals the value an employer places upon an employee, and that value can be positive or negative, depending on the marketplace, says Greenberg. If an employee notices their salary or benefits are lower than someone else in a similar position, they believe the organization values them less than the other employees. “It can create inequities and issues,” says Greenberg. “And so a lot of clients were coming to us saying, ‘What do we do about this?’”
Edgility’s solution was to hire a former PhD with a science background. Rather than look strictly at numbers, this person “came into the organization and talked with people, talked with staff members, distributed surveys, and had focus groups and working group conversations around, ‘Do you feel valued? Do you feel heard? Do you understand right where you live in terms of the promotional ladder? Do you understand why you receive certain benefits or pay and others receive others?’” This methodology became a vital tool in Edgility’s kit. “We found that another lever to really increase our client’s competitiveness in finding and keeping great talent was to make sure they were being equitable and fair to everyone internally,” says Greenberg.
Offering the new compensation service has also provided Edgility a steadier revenue stream to balance out occasional ups and downs in other areas.
‘While the thought of building out new business lines can be intimidating, Greenberg says her process has been fun, especially as one bold move forward inspires others. Edgility is starting to build out an equity audits service, “combining our interest in diversity, equity, inclusion, and compensation, and doing a broader look at the organization across all the different roles and people,” explains Greenberg. It’s helping clients answer questions like, “Are you benchmarked appropriately, and are people doing the right jobs in the right way?” The confidence that comes from testing and confirming success in one new area of growth helps her team similarly test and grow future ideas.“Before you launch it, really have a reason for doing it beyond just someone wants you to. There should be something about it that's bringing something to the table that's important for your particular area of business.” Click To Tweet
Knowing When to Say No
There’s a difference between thoughtfully adding competencies to a business and heedlessly trying to be all things to all clients. Greenberg says having a leadership team with complementary instincts is one key to achieving the right balance. In Edgility’s case, Wyatt is more often drawn to the pivots while Greenberg prefers creating processes. They’ve moved towards both tendencies at different moments.
They’ve also worked intentionally to build upon their strengths while being clear about their boundaries. “I wouldn’t go out and do something totally foreign and new. Sometimes clients will ask us to do that and I won’t,” Greenberg says. No matter what job they’re considering, Edgility’s founders always keep their North Star in mind, and they’re transparent with clients about what services they will and won’t offer. “But part of what keeps us excited about this work is trying new things and expanding our horizons a little bit.”
They take decisions to pivot on a case by case basis, say Greenberg, but always with the following ideals in mind: the pivot can’t distract from the rest of the work they’re doing and it can’t tax the team. The partners may decide to overwork themselves, but they don’t want to overwork their team.
Future Insurance: Test the Market For Those New Ideas
When it comes to persevering or pivoting on new ideas, Greenberg has some advice:
- Start small. Test out a new idea with one engagement, or as a small offering, to see how it goes. “I did that when I was an independent consultant. Some of the things I tried, like recruitment and search, became a core business, and some of the things I tried didn’t work great, or didn’t make sense, and so I stopped doing them.”
- Be clear about how you’re measuring success for a new initiative before you start. Once you’ve run an experiment around it, analyze the results honestly to decide whether to tweak or discontinue the idea. “Have a good rigor around decision-making and whether or not the idea makes sense,” Greenberg says.
- Do some market research. Talk with trusted clients, colleagues, and friends and say, “Hey, is this something you’d be interested in?”
In the end, Greenberg says, “Before you launch it, really have a reason for doing it beyond just someone wants you to. There should be something about it that’s bringing something to the table that’s important for your particular area of business.”
Thanks to Jennifer Maerz for contributing this piece. If you seek to bring the entrepreneurial spirit to your organization, Lean Startup Co. can help.