Leading through Innovation with Kathleen Brunner at Acumen Analytics

Leading through innovation is required if you want to be a market leader. The skills to drive new ideas to market that make a difference for your clients will give you an advantage over your peers. Today’s guest is Kathleen Brunner, President & CEO at Acumen Analytics. Inc Magazine ranked his company #1597 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Acumen is an innovation leader, helping Life Sciences win the race against time through data and technology solutions that enable intelligent digital transformation. Kathleen talks about leading through innovation. We dive into how to create new strategies and business models in this interview. Discover how leading through innovation will drive growth for your business.

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Kathleen Brunner: The Transcript

About: Kathleen Brunner is President and Founder of Acumen Analytics, a WBE Certified Business Analytics and Performance Management consulting firm that works with Fortune 1000 businesses interested in optimizing their performance in human capital management, finance, project management, and processes to create a competitive advantage through data driven insights and predictions. Brunner has been combining her extensive technology experience and accounting background to solve complex business challenges and achieve results as both an entrepreneur and corporate accountant for over 20 years. As President of Acumen Analytics, Kathy is a team builder and a thought leader, able to develop a strong rapport with clients and their in-house team to create practical programs that work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from St. Joseph’s University.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Kathleen Brunner: [00:00:00] So we have at the core of what it is that we do a real focus on innovation, but that’s not where we started. We transformed it all in say two times. And then the last transformation, we really focused on an attempt to build a product as a product and bring it to market. And during that process, the evolution from kind of a boutique consulting for our hourly basis to providing a product in the marketplace. Not a simple journey. So many different mistakes had a partnership with someone who was actually going to help us do that. The partnership kind of fell apart and we kind of got left. Do we go forward or do we kind of pack it up and not go forward? What we learned in that whole process was resilience and the fact that continuous innovation is really important,

Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their [00:01:00] teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: What does it take to innovate? What does it take to innovate the products that you have and what does it take to innovate within your marketplace? All innovation requires you to create an organization where people aren’t afraid to fail for you to create an organization where people are willing to stretch themselves and grow and expand beyond where the arts day and innovation is really an important piece for many businesses. I know leading through innovation is our topic today. Our special guest is Kathleen Brunner. She is the founder and CEO of Acumen Analytics. And what we talk about is leading through innovation and what she has seen, how she’s evolved over the years to be able to create the kind of growth she’s had. They made the Inc 5,000 this past year, and really an impressive company. And Kathleen shares some of the things that have made them who they are today. So if you’re thinking about innovation, this is episode two. You may be on the journey to grow your company or maybe innovate it, but you may want to think about what does it [00:02:00] takes for you as a leader to be the leader that your people deserve to be powerful, to create a space where people feel empowered and appreciated and heard all of those things are absolutely necessary.

So my hope is that you’ll want to game plan for you to evolve as a leader. And inside that game plan, there’s a few things that you need to be aware of. Part of that skill set, part of that energy management, part of its mindset. Strategies, all of these things make you the leader that you are, are you have the ability to make that shift on your own, or you can reach out into the network and do it much faster with a coach. My hope is that I piqued your interest and you’re interested in having a conversation with me, no obligation whatsoever, and a promise not to even sell you anything. But I want to connect with you about what is getting in the way of your being a stronger leader, driving growth, and really pushing to that next level. If you’re curious about that, just go to Genehammett.com and schedule your call. Being a powerful leader is not just something that happens over time. It’s done with intention and you can speed up the process by truly understanding [00:03:00] what is getting in your way. And I can help you do that. Just go to Genehammett.com and schedule a call today.

Now here’s the interview with Kathleen

Gene Hammett: Kathleen how are you?.

Kathleen Brunner: I’m great. How are you?

Gene Hammett: I’m fantastic. So I’d have you on the podcast. We’re going to dive in and just a moment. Tell us a little bit about your company Acumen analytics.

Kathleen Brunner: Yes, Acumen analytics, we’re located just outside of Philadelphia. We are an innovation leader in the life science space. And what we do is help the life sciences folks transform digitally to achieve continuous improvement. But the real focus is better patient outcomes. How can we help them in partnership to achieve their goals? And we worked really hard on focusing on those core values.

Gene Hammett: I’m kind of curious, and I know medicine and life science is a really big topic, but what do you see as the next big thing that is going to make an impact in our lives?

Kathleen Brunner: Well, digital transformation in the life sciences is really going to be a significant impact and, and digital across so many different [00:04:00] areas. So technology is one thing, right? That’s racing and changing continuously. But the life sciences folk, they, they have to stay focused on the patient, which means you just can’t pick up every new data and technology without looking at it, vetting it and testing it. But I do see the digital transformation moving from paper to glass, taking advantage of all of this new broadband capability, getting the therapies where the patient lives and resides. Those kinds of things I think are going to be significant transformational.

Gene Hammett: Beautiful. Let’s dive into our core topic today. My team is always on the lookout for CEOs like yourself and founders who have great stories to tell. What do you think has really created the kind of company that you have today? Like what’s, what’s really behind all that.

Kathleen Brunner: So we have at the core of what it is that we do a real focus on innovation, but that’s not where we started. We transformed, I would say two times. And then the last transformation we [00:05:00] really focused on. And attempt to build a product, a SAS product, and bring it to market. And during that process, the evolution from kind of a boutique consulting firm, hourly basis to providing a product in the marketplace, not a simple journey, so many different mistakes had a partnership with someone who was actually going to help us do that. The partnership kind of fell apart and we kind of got left with, do we go forward or do we kind of pack it up and not go forward? What we learned in that whole process was resilience. And the fact that continuous innovation is really important, but we also learned that we need to fail fast. And what I mean by that is you can have a roadmap. You can have a strategy, not a plan, but it needs to evolve and you continuously have to reevaluate otherwise staying on the same course without readjusting. And then scrapping, what’s not working to reinvent.

Gene Hammett: When you think about your team rallying around this concept of failing fast and continuous innovation, [00:06:00] what do you do that we can learn from?

Kathleen Brunner: We really focused on this idea of we have what’s called like Acumen class. And it’s kind of like a, an internal think tank, but it’s not an elite think tank. Every single person in the organization is part of it. And the ideas that come out of it are not just product or customer-facing and while many are. And we leverage design theories as part of our, as well as part of our thinking process. But I’ll, I’ll give it a short story. And that is, we were looking for a way to kind of teach design theory to new folks. That joined the team, but not in that arduous sort of video-based methodology. And so one of our team members came up with this idea, which I think is awesome.

And every one of us still loves it. We have what’s called a t-shirt competition every year. So we break up into teams and the idea is to design a t-shirt teaching the design theory methodology that we use. And they come up with all these different t-shirt options. And at the end of the [00:07:00] year, somewhere around October, because we actually send them out for print. We as an organization, we pick, but we leverage the thinking and design theory about pink picking and strategy. And then one t-shirt wins. Everyone gets the t-shirt, we print it. Plus we frame it in a couple of different locations within the business. So that we’re kind of reminded and they are, so it is still hard to pick because they are so different in their approach, their topic, their content, and design, but it’s, it’s an awesome experience. And it’s a really great team-building project to,

Gene Hammett: I love these ideas and this is one reason why we have the show. Cause I’ve never heard of anything like this. If you’ve got to innovate and really challenging your people, and we certainly it’s about the product, but just like doing it on the own business and how you guys are aligning together. It’s a great idea. When you think about leading a group of people through innovation. What have you learned? Maybe the hard way in that process?

Kathleen Brunner: I think, one of the things that I’ve really had the opportunity to learn as part of this evolution as an [00:08:00] organization and some of the fits and starts and failures that we’ve had is that it’s really important to keep the organization. As the focal point of, decision-making not me as an individual, what’s going to benefit me the best or not maybe one unique individual within the organization, but that the organization has to be the focus. And that’s not always easy. I believe the servant leadership role is the way that I try and operate that that means, you know, putting the organization first that sometimes creates a situation where a difficult.

Decision while we want to be liked. And likability is to keep part of the team strategy and cohesiveness making the decision is sometimes hard, which then drops you down on the likeability factor. But you still have to make it. And that I think is something that I’ve learned. Has reshaped the way that I approached decision-making and communication.

Commentary: Hold on for a second. Kathleen just talked about likability and leadership. Do you want to be like, well, we all do at some level, but I know [00:09:00] that some things can get in the way of you being the leader, you need to be. So let me tell a story to you that this is a short version of this story, but I had a leader come to me and said, you know what things just aren’t going the way I want to in my business. And we, as we were chatting, he says, I think I’m too nice. I said, well, what happens when you’re two nice? He goes, well, when someone tells me that the report’s going to be there on Friday for our next meeting and it doesn’t show up, I always let them off the hook. It’s like, well, you say always, it’s like, yeah, with this one individual, it happens every time for the last four weeks. I’ve let them off the hook on this same report. And it’s just, you know, crazy for us to, to sit back and look at this as outsiders and say, you would never do that. But he had the problem of being too nice. One of the things I did in my executive coaching was help him understand that that was getting in the way of him being a powerful leader. And then he made the shift and a lot of things came with that, but the impact was phenomenal. Likeability is something you may be thinking about, but I want you to really think about what would it take for you to be the most powerful leader you need to be for your team, for your organization, for your clients, and for your partners. And then be that [00:10:00] person back to Kathleen.

Gene Hammett: I know another part of what you guys do is flexibility. And I think that’s become something we’ve all had to look at differently, but in the context of your business, what does that mean? Flexibility?

Kathleen Brunner: So we are, as I think I mentioned a technology company, which means that everything’s moving quickly, but we’re also in the life sciences space, which means people matter. Flexibility in our mind needs that we need to continuously look at what it is that we’re doing. And it’s a key part of our mission and core values. Are we doing this in the best way? Is this the best path forward? Is there another option? And we kind of take a look at a focus on what is the next big. So being able to shift and change direction and then agile methods, so that you’re continuously moving forward or try,

Gene Hammett: when you look at your journey as a leadership, Kathleen, looking back, what skills did you have to develop to get to where you are today?

Kathleen Brunner: [00:11:00] Wow a lot. I think that all of the, everything that I’ve experienced has, has kind of taught me something. I didn’t come to the table with all of these. One thing that I’ve tried to focus on, as I learned over time is to be continuously alert. To constantly be thinking about not my space, the technology or life sciences space, but everything, including things like podcasts, like this one, where can I get another viewpoint? I read a lot. I think it’s important to stay on top of what’s happening, , in my region, in my area globally. So I think continuous learning is really something that I over the years learned that it’s something I like, but. It’s something that I it’s taught me a lot and really helped me, , as a leader.

Gene Hammett: When you think about moving forward, how would that change as the company continues to learn.

Kathleen Brunner: How we’ll continue to learn. Well, I think that, the idea of [00:12:00] continuous learning is going to open up another area for a key, a key strategy or a focus area that I’ve not yet become Mastrov or master. I shouldn’t say that’s a loose term. I would say that are people skills, more collaboration. There’s so much opportunity to learn in the people’s space. And if you think about the transformational change occurring right now in the workplace, I just think there’s so much that we have to learn about how we collaborate going forward. What’s the new workplace going to look like? So it’s exciting but I just think there’s just so much opportunity to learn more.

Gene Hammett: Our numbers tell us that you have a fairly low turnover rate, a pretty high retention of employees. What do you think that’s attributed to?

Kathleen Brunner: I think that, first of all, let me say that I can’t thank my team enough because they are the key to that. The team themselves, as part of what keeps the turnover low. I think that the fact that we are more of a matrix organization in our approach to the way that we do work [00:13:00] and not hierarchical. It’s attractive to people because each member gets an opportunity to lead the entirety of the project or initiative. And I also think that the idea of innovationing and, and this idea of constant learning that we can kind of bring into the workplace. It’s something that’s important for them. I think for our mission as well, , is the key part.

Gene Hammett: What would, what would we see across the organization with this matrix approach versus the hierarchy room, which we’re, we’re familiar with this, like top-down or even bottom up hierarchies, what would we see with a matrix?

Kathleen Brunner: So the way that we kind of try and do it is, as each opportunity or project kind of comes along, or even a customer that we’re. Rolling out a work effort for, we take the look across the organization who has the best deals to head that initiative or effort up. And that person then picks their team. I’m usually last pick, on the teams because they have much more to offer than I do. It’s also a different perspective. As [00:14:00] far as responsibility, they chart the course, they’re responsible for the success, but each project presents a different opportunity. So it’s not the same people all the time. So they get to share, you know, you might be a leader on the team as, as the described or the note taker, but, you know, so I think just gives everyone a robust opportunity to kind of learn more with each opportunity.

Gene Hammett: I want to get personal for a second here, not too personal, but just, just a moment to look at your own leadership. When you think about who you’ve become as a leader, how do you put into words so that we understand how to, how to really drive innovation across our teams?

Kathleen Brunner: Well, so, I mean, each day I think. It’s a new opportunity for me to, for me to learn from the members of my team. I, I think I mentioned, I do like to read and blogs, podcasts, et cetera like that. But I think that the interaction from the team that we have and their feedback, the way that we do retrospective. The design theory [00:15:00] process that we put in place. And the fact that we do have innovation as a core pillar of our, , foundation and mission that they kind of bring the ideas themselves to us. And I’m fortunate for that opportunity to work with these folks.

Commentary: Hold on one more second, Kathleen’s been talking about getting your team to bring their ideas to you. Now, this is the dream of every leader I know is to have a team that doesn’t depend on the leadership to actually bring ideas that they’re actually bringing ideas that are worthwhile, that they’ve thought through and that are making an impact in the organization. And when you actually see those ideas out into the real world, they’re engaged at a different level. So how do you encourage people to bring their ideas? One thing you want to empower them. You really want to have the kind of conversations to get them, to share those ideas and for you to hold back your giving of insight until the very end leaders know that you want to make sure that other’s ideas are heard. And when you speak up first, it changes the momentum and energy inside the room. They’re [00:16:00] willing to attach to that. And I’m not saying that yes, people, but you want to make sure that you are empowering them and holding back so that they share those ideas. And don’t just give in, make sure that they are recognized and rewarded for those ideas. And they’ll continue to flow back to Kathleen.

Gene Hammett: What have we not talked about that that has helped your company grow to where it is today?

Kathleen Brunner: I would say that one thing that I personally have found very important is the peers that I participate, that stone peer groups that I participate with, we have an advisory board. I find that getting outside of my own space and talking with other. Coaches, peer groups, as I mentioned, really gives me an opportunity to see what others are doing. Learn from others, share mistakes that I’ve made and get feedback on those kinds of things. So I think that’s been instrumental. I only started participating in some of these more peer based groups, about five or six years ago, which I would say [00:17:00] correlates with what we’ve been able to accomplish in the past few years .

Gene Hammett: You know, it’s amazing how many people resist this things. They will say they don’t have time. They don’t have, they’re just not the right group or they haven’t found people they align with. And most of them aren’t even trying, they’ve already made up in their mind that this is the way it is without that when you get advice from someone or get some insight from someone outside your world, what have you found from that? For example, like, do you resist it at first or do you look at it with curiosity and move forward?

Kathleen Brunner: So I have been asked by a very good professional colleague for quite some time to join a peer organization. And I was like, I don’t need that kind of stuff. You know, I’ve been to school. I know I’ve been doing this for a while. What I would say is they hold you accountable, but they also ask hard questions. And sometimes there are questions that, you know, you may not necessarily ask yourself. So the question piece is important because. And it’s not questions that are meant to be harmful. They’re thoughtful. They’re thought-provoking and then [00:18:00] holding you accountable for what are you going to do once this question or problem has been kind of put on the table. So I think that’s, I can’t say enough about it.

Gene Hammett: We’ve been focusing on this entire episode on how to truly align people toward innovation. What do you plan on doing to make sure that that continues to stay a focus and a part of your organization as you grow?

Kathleen Brunner: Well, interestingly, as I had mentioned that innovation is kind of a core pillar, one of the strategic roadmap. for my organization is to further and kind of spread the idea of these pure organizations outside of our company. So, we’re co we’re currently in the planning process of selecting amongst the team, a couple of folks for that kind of opportunity. So the company would reimburse for that. And, we don’t have a firm plan yet, but I think it’s been invaluable to me. So I believe that it can only help your organization even more.

Gene Hammett: So, we find the same thing with our groups. We have quite a few clients that go through leadership development [00:19:00] and there’s a lot of people that are high performers. The don’t have anywhere to go to, to talk about how do I lead my two or three person team, because they’ve just never done that before. And the common things get in the way that the founders have to deal with founders always go, well, I’ve always had my hand in this. This is my baby. I need to see it through. And it’s got to have this level of quality and excellence. There’s just so many, you know, common things that we’re seeing when we work with different groups across the organization. So, Kathleen, I really appreciate you being here to talk about leading through innovation. And, I really appreciate you sharing your insight.

Kathleen Brunner: Thanks. Wonderful.

Gene Hammett: This is where I’d take a chance to, to recap. This is so you understand what I’m getting from this interview leading to innovation is not something to take lightly. Not every company is going to be on the cutting edge of innovation, but one of the things that Kathleen talked about is being okay with failing. And in fact, looking to fail fast, looking to learn from those failures. And that’s a really critical thing, not just at the top level, but across the organization. Your people are afraid to fail. They’re afraid that they’re going to lose their job because something didn’t [00:20:00] work out. They’re never going to innovate. They’re going to stay, you know, safe and innovation. Isn’t on the safe, train. So you want to make sure that you’re encouraging that and you’re having the kind of conversations you’re putting.

The design theory in there. That’s what you’re doing and figuring out ways to integrate it across the company. Consistently, all of these things are important. If you’re going to lead through innovation. Now, I don’t know where your business is and what kind of leadership you are. But my guess is you’re listening to podcasts like this. You want to evolve. You want to be a better, stronger leader, maybe more powerful. If you want to figure out what your plan is, let’s get on a call and chat about it. I’d love to talk to you about what’s getting in your way. Many times it’s blind spots. You’re not gonna know it. So just go to Genehammett.com and schedule your call, it’s absolutely free, and love to support you through your growth as a leader.

When you think of leadership and you think of growth, think of Growth Think Tank. As always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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