As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Becky Barfield.
Becky Barfield, a Chicago native with strong family roots in entrepreneurship, founded Barfield Consulting LLC in 2015. Becky was raised with humble, hard-working, mid-western values along with a healthy dose of Barfield hustle to keep it moving and make things happen.
While pursuing a Computer Science degree from DePaul University at night, Rebecca worked full-time during the day throughout her college years running various small businesses. A challenging path to follow, but one that would set the foundation that defines the core principles of her firm.
She has an extensive career spanning over 20 years that allowed her to combine her business/finance experience with her degree in Computer Science to focus on back-end Financial Systems and large ERP implementations with a global reach over many different industries.
After obtaining a senior leadership role as a Director of Technology, she decided to turn to consulting to round out her career and get exposure to both worlds. This provided the structure and stamina required to ramp up, keep up, and execute multiple projects in different industries focusing on those priorities needed for a successful delivery. This is where she has stayed for the latter part of her career as it provides the creative, fast-paced world she thrives in. Contributing to an organization’s stability, growth and success is the driving force behind Barfield Consulting.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After years of climbing the corporate ladder, I realized how boring it was. I moved as much as I could where it wouldn’t raise a red flag on my resume for the mere fact that I was bored. I would normally master my role in 3–4 months and then it was a matter of going through the motions. I realized if I could just focus on the task at hand, I could manage way more of a workload and generate way more revenue than your basic salary and benefits. My entire career was working with consultants on large implementations and I admired how they juggled multiple accounts at the same time. They were all over the place. That’s what I wanted and knew I could do it! I come from a family of entrepreneurs. I was well aware it was in my blood to go off on my own at some point, and here I am.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I’ve made many mistakes. I can’t say they were funny at the time. I’ll share a pivotal moment with Barfield Consulting. I lost two contracts back-to-back after launching my business and lost all my money; every dime. My lesson learned: never take on more than you can deliver. My mistake was not creating boundaries with clients from the beginning. We as consultants are asked to do a lot of different things. I was trying to take on the world and it was too much. Clear boundaries and clear statements of work are the keys. Any deviation should be a conversation to ensure all is aligned. I took on more than I could deliver and didn’t even get paid for most of it.
The funny part was I cried so much at the situation I found myself in, that I had to laugh. I was a hot mess. Even my friends were like “dang girl, we’ve never seen you like this before.” I would just bust out and start crying and couldn’t stop. This went on for months. I bounced back, as you can see!
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Given the previous scenario, I had to ask my friend for money. Let’s just call him J. Banks. I put together a whole PowerPoint and spreadsheet of how I would pay him back. He gave me the money and made me sign an affidavit. The low point wasn’t asking for help, it was feeling judged. I knew I had something with my business, I just needed a little help. He never judged me nor doubted my ability to build this business. I am so grateful to him.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
My vision was and still is to get business back to what business should be. In my world, everyone is focused on methodology and fitting within a box to execute their initiatives thinking that will drive their success. Most do not have the infrastructure to support that. It’s become a bit of an oversaturated market of certifications, certified scrum masters, PMP, Lean Six, etc. While some of that applies and all can be good stuff, my passion is really understanding what a business needs and tailoring that to fit within their world and company culture that drives adoption. I do a lot of “lead by example.” It’s a raw, realistic approach to project execution.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
We are a strategic management consulting firm focused on providing leadership and guidance to plan and execute strategic initiatives critical to your company’s stability, growth, and success.
We take a grounded approach when it comes to planning and implementation. Regardless of the size of your initiative, the reality is any project you undertake will impact various areas in your organization. Knowing the overall structure of your company is key to efficient planning. Barfield Consulting, LLC takes a global approach. We look at each department and system to gain a full understanding of dependencies to identify challenges, complexities, and gaps that can hinder progress for implementation. Our goal is to partner with you and work with your department teams to provide strategic management and oversight to ensure your initiative is successfully implemented.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
I can’t say one has been disruptive to my company but am hired to execute these disruptive technologies, mainly in the cloud computing space.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
The biggest challenge with cloud computing is getting everyone to understand what it’s about and what it changes from an operational perspective. The pivot for me comes from working with non-IT groups and having to do a lot of hand-holding to gain their confidence with this new cloud/off-prem model. IT groups, for the most part, understand the technology. The business side of an organization, however, takes a long time to adjust. This goes along with the tailored approach I have to take when doing implementations like this. I have to account for the communication approach and style to gain confidence. It’s a fine line to walk.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
This is market-driven. I had to learn quickly how to cater to these organizations if I was going to make it. The “aha moment” was the fear and panic I saw in folks as these initiatives were being introduced to them. What I think is cool innovative stuff, have other people feeling quite uneasy. You have to rely on your intuition and know-how to read a room to cater to their pivot with new technology.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
The most critical role is to be engaged from the beginning. Truly understand the impacts and start the change management communication throughout the entire period and over-communicate! This will keep everyone in the loop of what the expectations are and how to adjust accordingly.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Be present. Teams like to know you are accessible and available throughout uncertain times. Address things head-on and let everyone feel that they are a part of the process.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Honest communication. Being upfront about the ups and downs, celebrating the wins, and discussing the losses is critical. Again, be present and engaged. It goes a long way.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
1. Not understanding the full scope of work and its impact on the business.
- Ask questions. Make sure the sales team, and/or consultants truly understand how your organization operates.
2. Not enough resource planning.
- Make sure you have allocated the appropriate SME’s (subject matter experts) to assist with implementation or development. I see this time and time again and it sneaks up very quickly during this disruptive period. It’s a situation that will cause delays and incur extra costs.
3. Not understanding the support model post-implementation.
- Make sure you have a solid support agreement and have done a proper knowledge transfer of information.
- Make sure you have the proper in-house expertise to support your new technology. Whether that is adding headcount or training existing headcount, make sure you get in front of this. I see this missed quite often at the worst time.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
All of these are important things and a compilation of my most successful implementations of disruptive cloud initiatives.
- Communication — The best initiatives have a full, extensive communication plan. Keep everyone in the loop early and often!
- Engagement — Make everyone a part of the process. This will minimize the bang of new technology that changes the business. This also creates excitement. Do demos, ask for feedback, make it interactive.
- Review your org structure and adjust — New technology brings new efficiencies, that’s the whole point. Review and adjust throughout the project. Ask for guidance on how other companies adjust.
- Hire the best — New technology brings new skillsets. Hire the best for the long haul. New technology should be scalable to account for growth. Make sure you have a team with the right skills.
- Celebrate the win — As disruptive and challenging new technology is for a company, acknowledging the hard work that has gone into it is key to deeming an implementation successful. We all know it was not perfect, but engagement with everyone and thanking everyone for going along on the rollercoaster ride makes everyone feel a part of the process and will create excitement for the new changes. Your business has just changed how it operates so it’s important to create that excitement.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Onwards and Upwards — My father used to say this a lot and he was someone who knew life’s challenges but rolled with the punches with so much dignity. Nothing is full proof and nothing is solid in life. Whenever I experienced a sense of loss or failure, he would always say “onwards and upward”. Don’t linger and keep it moving.
How can our readers further follow your work?