Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us on The Leader Show with Lou Carter. Joining us today is Marc Murphy, CEO of Ignite Digital Services. Ignite Digital Services is an operational consulting company providing program integration and data management services to commercial and national security clients in the US. With a keen focus on purposeful results and innovative capabilities, the company offers unparalleled value that supports mission-critical initiatives.
Coming to Marc, he is an investor, operator, and builder with over 20 years of experience in the technology industry, particularly in leading high-growth companies to success. His prior role as CEO of Spark LLC led to its acquisition by Booz Allen Hamilton.
In his current position, Marc leads teams to guide national security clients through digital transformation by integrating data science and analytics to enhance program integration and decision-making.
So, without further ado, let’s find out what makes Ignite Digital Services a Most Loved Workplace®.
Firstly, Lou and Marc discuss Ignite Digital Services’ role in the national security sector, focusing on how it uses data-driven innovation to support digital transformation.
Marc explains that Ignite Digital Services specializes in introducing automation and new technological platforms to its clients. A significant part of its work involves helping clients understand and harness the vast amount of data available through these new technologies. This involves creating dashboards and mining data to facilitate their clients’ digital transformation efforts.
Next, Lou highlights the complexity of data mining and the evolution from traditional methods of data analysis to the use of modern technologies like machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP). He suggests that these technologies enable the creation of actionable transformation plans, a practice he assumes Ignite Digital Services incorporates into its culture, especially given its recognition as a Most Loved Workplace.
Marc responds by highlighting how Ignite Digital Services prioritizes data-driven decision-making both in its client projects and internally, particularly concerning human capital management. The company’s status as a Most Loved Workplace stems from its approach to employee feedback. It actively mines and analyzes data from employee surveys to inform decisions about the work environment, benefits, hiring, and recruiting.
This data-driven approach to internal management mirrors the rigorous, metric-based strategies they apply in their consulting services, emphasizing their commitment to leveraging data for continuous improvement and transformation.
Moving on, Marc addresses the challenge of measuring performance within the context of Ignite Digital Services. He contrasts it with his previous experience in software development, where performance metrics were clearer due to the binary nature of coding tasks.
Ignite Digital Services, being a consulting firm, faces more complexity in evaluating output and success due to the diversity of projects and stages of digital transformation among its clients.
Marc highlights that customer success is a key focus, with each project requiring a tailored approach to define and measure success. It involves identifying each customer’s specific success criteria early in the project and then determining if and how these criteria can be quantified.
The goal is to establish metrics that can objectively or subjectively evaluate progress, allowing for both internal team and client feedback on performance.
On a similar note, Marc describes how Ignite Digital Services navigates the complexities of a hybrid work environment, balancing in-person and remote work across their team.
With two established offices and one emerging, plus plans to expand to two additional locations, Ignite Digital operates with a mix of in-person, remote, and dispersed teams among its 300 employees. The hybrid model reflects a broader trend and preference in the workforce for flexibility in work locations.
Marc highlights the challenges of maintaining a cohesive team spirit and ensuring customer intimacy despite the geographical dispersion of employees. The focus is on delivering high-quality service and maintaining close relationships with clients, regardless of whether interactions are remote or in-person.
He emphasizes the need for deliberate and thoughtful leadership to uphold Ignite Digital’s reputation for excellence in service, acknowledging the added complexity that the hybrid work model brings to achieving these goals.
Marc also reflects on how his military service has significantly influenced his leadership style and team management in the corporate world. He mentions the responsibility and challenges faced in the military at a young age. It taught him the importance of being a caring leader and ensuring the team has the necessary tools for success.
The speakers then discuss the importance of leadership in maintaining team cohesion, establishing trust and respect, and focusing on customer-centricity, drawing parallels between military and corporate leadership. They highlight the critical role of leaders in both failure and success situations, emphasizing that how a leader responds to failure can have a lasting impact on the team.
The conversation underscores the value of learning from failures, viewing them as opportunities for growth and improvement rather than just setbacks. This leadership ethos, rooted in military experience, contributes to creating a workplace where employees feel valued and supported, fostering a culture of trust, respect, and continuous learning.
Marc talks about the idea behind the names Spark and Ignite Digital Services, highlighting the importance of scaling a culture that attracts high performers and fosters a sense of belonging. He critiques the superficial elements often associated with corporate culture, such as free snacks and unlimited PTO, and instead focuses on the deeper aspects that truly matter to people.
At Spark, the employees experienced rapid growth, expanding from 70 to 350 employees in three years, which required deliberate efforts to maintain and adapt the company culture to support it. Marc mentions the importance of investing in areas that genuinely impact employees’ lives, such as healthcare benefits, to alleviate personal burdens and allow them to concentrate on their work and customer satisfaction.
Further, Marc stresses the significance of investing in managerial levels, as these individuals play a crucial role in communicating the company’s values and ethos throughout the organization. He shares insights on developing and preparing managers before they are needed, a strategy that has proven beneficial in both Spark and Ignite Digital Services.
This approach aligns with creating a Most Loved Workplace, emphasizing systemic collaboration, positive vision, value alignment, respect, and achieving outstanding outcomes.
As the conversation draws to a close, Marc discusses the importance of the talent lifecycle at Ignite Digital Services. He also mentions how seeking the Most Loved Workplace certification has been integral to understanding and improving employee engagement and satisfaction.
Furthermore, Marc highlights that the certification wasn’t sought merely for the accolade but as a means to genuinely assess and improve the workplace environment based on employee feedback. It helped the company recruit, retain, and nurture talent. Marc’s focus on acting upon employee feedback also underscores a commitment to creating a supportive and engaging workplace culture.
Thank you for listening!
Lou Carter : Marc Murphy is CEO of Ignite Digital Services, a digital transformation company serving the national security sector with more than 300 employees across the United States. Ignite is ranked number 47 on Newsweek's 2023, UK's Top 100 Most Loved Workplaces. Marc is an investor, operator and builder.
With more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry, he has extensive experience leading high growth results focused companies to continued success. His role as CEO at Spark LLC resulted in the company's successful acquisition by Booz Allen Hamilton, the company he leads his team guides national security clients through the process of digital transformation by harmonizing data science and analytics to optimize program integration and empower operational decisions.
Marc, great to have you on today. Welcome to the Leader Show on Newsweek.
Marc Murphy : Great, thanks Lou. Excited to be here. Appreciate you having me on.
LC : Glad to have you here, Marc and I want to learn more about Ignite Digital Services, which you founded and, we are gonna learn about that. And then also learn a little about what you do there first and then dive into how you became a Most Loved Workplace. I want to know about what's underneath that, the culture. Do you have so much passion around, especially coming from your extensive experience in the tech industry and how you've managed and led teams, that's not easy to do. I do it myself.
So I want to get some tips from you today. So welcome Marc. Look forward to hearing more about that today. Let's start with this. Tell me more about Ignite Digital so we can get [inaudible] our feet about what you do.
MM : Yeah, I thought the intro was great, Lou, that Ignite Digital Services is a professional services consulting company focused on a wide range of digital transformation services and activities supporting primarily the national security sector. So, we provide data analytics, consulting, and really detailed transformational activities both from a human capital and performance perspective, but also transforming technologies.
LC : That's cool. You said transforming technologies, let's go into them. So we just get our heads around it. Which transforming technologies are enabling that you create that we can understand a little more deeply. Tell us some more.
MM : Yeah, so we're a professional services company, so we're doing the work around bringing automation, bringing new technology platforms to our customers. What we're finding is, and particularly in the sector we work in, a lot of people are focused on how to mine and harness the vast amount of data that is now available through these transformative technologies.
And we're helping our customers who make sure they're able to understand what data they have to run their business and properly dashboard it or properly mine it to really lead their transformational activities. So for us, a lot of our activities right now, Lou is focused on the data environments our customers are accessing through the modern technology platforms.
And it is hard to know, right, how to mine data properly so that people typically read data back in the days as if it were a book. Literally like a book. It's impossible to digest what it is. All this data in a book, it'd be comments or it is in spreadsheets. What's amazing about today that I love, I'm sure you're diving into too, is how you can apply machine learning and NLP to all of this and create action plans, transformation plans to get there. And I'll bet you do that in your culture too as a Most Loved Workplace.
So tell me how in your culture you've helped understand data, uses of data and uses of teams and how that informs how you transform yourselves and also for your clients?
MM : Well, internal to Ignite Digital, we're really focused on to the degree possible using data to make all our decisions and even from a human capital perspective. And even going back to why we're here today, Most Loved Workplace, it was a data activity. We, through the process of the survey, mined data from our employees about what they think about our work environment. And so we try to take that kind of approach to almost everything we do internal to our people.
We're taking quarterly HR surveys and we use that data to activate decision-making for how we build our internal workplace benefits, hiring, recruiting. So internal to our business, we're really acting the same way we act with our customers, helping them through transformation and we're applying the same kind of rigor metrics and data to our internal decision making.
LC : That’s awesome. And I want to go into that because data decision making is so important. So really understanding when you're running a tech team, how do you know if a tech team is high performing for you? What does it look like for you and for yourself as well as your clients? What's a perfect mix of a great tech team or a great team in general for you?
MM : So, going back to it was a little easier. My last company, we were doing software development and the beauty of software development is it's primarily xs, and os, ones and zeros, and you can really measure activity and volume when doing that level of activity. In Ignite Digital services, we're providing a wide rate of consulting, a little more challenging to really measure actual output.
So, when we focus on customer success, each project's a little bit different. Each one of our customers is in a different place in their digital transformation journey. So we're trying to look at each one of our projects, each one of our customers, and create a level of metrics that we can measure on sometimes a lot easier. Sometimes it is black and white and we're actually measuring progress.
Sometimes we have to be a little more subjective in how we measure success. But I think part of it early on in each project is you're trying to get at what is the customer's success criteria? Can we provide data to measure that? And if we can, let's measure it and provide that back to our teams and also our customers.
LC : That's great. So you actually get the data, drive it back to your teams, drive to your customers, so there's real time understanding between and among customers and employees because there's times most likely that you get information synchronously or asynchronously from any of those stakeholders, if you will, and you need them to know in real time.
So, there's tech stack and then there's people process, right? So how are you guys bringing that together? Tell me more about that with your team, is it largely remote? Is it virtual, is it in person? And how do they work together in that way? Tell us more. Yep.
MM : Yeah, I think not unlike a lot of companies now, we're really in a hybrid environment. So we're trying to manage both in-person workforce, people co-locate with their customers in person, but also a remote workforce and a dispersed workforce as well. So we have two physical offices, one emerging office, so we're in three locations right now. We're looking to add two additional locations.
So across our 300 people, you're going to find teams, little teams acting in any one of those locations or even remote. So that's an added challenge that I think we're all dealing with is bringing together this concept of a team when everyone can't be in the same location. So we're creating that kind of diverse hybrid workforce and of course everyone wants that these days and we want to deliver that for them, but also really focusing on how do we service our customers, how do we focus on our customers and create that customer intimacy that's really important to us even when we're remote, even when we're hybrid.
And again, that's a challenge we're all dealing with as leaders today, but we have to be deliberate and really thoughtful to keep the level of service that we're really known for at Ignite Digital.
LC : I've always found that is that you have the customer who drives the business and the team, and then you have the team working with them themselves, ideating and creating. And the most beautiful connection is when you have the most work with the customer, the customer centric organization. And of course we can ideate, we can innovate, develop things that we know customers will love and know, but at the end of the day we have to test it with them, right?
Does that take part in your culture? Is that a part of your culture, which is customer centricity, right, as a way of moving forward to have team cohesion? It sounds like that's kind where you're going or correct me in terms of where the culture is.
MM : No, I mean at the core and as I look back on why we've been successful and how we've been successful, and I certainly inherited some of this but also have built a lot of it, is we have this sense that at the center of it all is the customer and a true belief across the company, down to the very last person that the customer success in a services business, we're a professional services business, so we're serving customers, the customer success is paramount.
So, how do we ensure that is, like you said, it's set expectations early, clearly, and then work with the customer almost these days because things are moving so fast on a daily basis to continue to find ways to measure their view of our success, which is an important nuance, their view of our success. Along the course of these sometimes very lengthy projects.
LC : You had talked about being an officer in the armed forces and how important that it was to you. And we were talking about that before the show to your leadership of your teams and what you'd learned. And I'd like to know more how does that influence how you run your teams now and to keep them cohesive and running smoothly, synchronously potentially as well, hopefully. And how does your experience in the armed forces or just in general, your own ethos and values help inform that process for them?
MM : I appreciate you bringing that up. I mean, I reflect on that time almost daily, even many years afterwards. But the thing about military service that most of us that have spent time in uniform felt is you get put in position where you have an awful lot of responsibility at a very young age, and often you're lacking true maturity, true experience, and true context to lead people through sometimes mentally and always physically challenging kind of environments.
So how do you do that? And what I found is to really create an environment in the unit and the team that shows that you're a caring leader and that you reflect that the goodwill and the morale, the team is important. You're going to do everything you can to provide them the tools they need to be successful in a job. And those tools are relevant in the military but also relevant in the workplace.
So I've reflected on how has I successful when I really didn't have the full set of experience to lead people in that environment successful by really focusing on how do you create an environment where the team feels you're invested in their success, their survival and invested in getting them the tools they need to be successful in their job. And those couple elements I've translated into my professional life and really found that I think their elements of building a great professional services company.
LC : And also a place that people love the work because they know they're being taken care of, at the end of the day, they're given the resources to achieve that. That's the K part of the Spark model, which is the achievement in terms of what you went through the low price index. So it's clear that you're providing those resources and there's a level of trust that you've established and respect within your teams, which sounds like it comes from the Armed Forces and also a focus on your customers as armed forces. So I can see that connection being made as well.
It's funny about leaders, it was just reflecting on this the other day, is that teams can go through different stages, stormy, normally performing, et cetera, that you've always heard of. At the end of the day though, even if they allow leaders to eat first, which is not true, we can't let leaders eat first.
We eat last and we speak last. What is most important is that people look to us at the end of the day if there's failure or success. And in times of failure, it's important that people can count on you to understand where they're going through and success also to share in that success. And that's one of the thing that really I took away from that reflection, which is we got to be there for people at all times when they look at to you. It's not necessarily these big crazy ideas we have or these wonderful things we can do and conceptualize, which are great too, visionary leaders. It's also that they trust us to do what needs to be done.
MM : That’s right. And they will remember, and I'll say fortunately, and I'll explain why I'm saying this, fortunately, I've seen both success and failure and it wasn't always easy or relevant at the time of failure, but you really look back and feel those lessons more acutely when it's failure and then you draw on them. And as I think about it, failure, we had at Spark just a business challenge, but people remember that the way leaders respond in failure, they'll remember 10 times more than the success. And that's hard in the moment, but they're really impactful lessons both sides, people feeling them and people leading through them.
LC : Absolutely. And you have 10 wins and one loss, and you've always been known as that guy with a loss.
MM : Right, but a learning experience and you really draw from it, it hits home, right?
LC : Most bar jokes are written like that too. Actually, I'm curious very much about Spark. You mentioned Spark and how they got acquired by Booz Allen. How did you create that culture too, and how did that slip over to you creating Ignite? That's an interesting story even in your field. It's really amazing.
So tell me more about Spark and then how you created Ignite from Spark. Two very similar names.
MM : Yeah, you picked up on that, as you can imagine, that's by design. But Spark was a company and I had a wonderful business partner with me along that journey, some individuals that together we really focused on how do you build a culture that can scale a culture that people really want to not only be at but be high performers at. And we went through a lot of iterations on this idea of building a great culture and a great workforce and realized through and culture is a punchline for a lot of things right now because so easy to say free snacks, flexible work, unlimited PTO.
And what we've found, and I've written about this in some blog posts is those are kind of icons of culture, but that's not what it's all about. It's focusing on what's really important to people and how do you really draw that out, focus on what's important to people and build the culture around that.
And if you do that and you hire generally higher adults that can manage all this, which we focus on as well, you're going to result in a high performing culture, but it takes some deliberate work to do that. And the course of scaling a company at Spark from 70 people when I joined my partner there to 350 in three short years, you really go through some iterations of rapid change and culture on scale I think is one of the hardest things to do.
The things that people find important and love when the company's 50 people, you can't sustain at 350. So you got to be prepared and deliberate to scale a culture like that. And you'll pick up the Spark, Ignite, Ignite Digital was a concept. I have to go build another company again with some wonderful business partners, but we're really taking some of those lessons and focusing on what's important for people.
And I'll share a little bit, I'm a big believer that great benefits over invest on healthcare and benefits because when people go home and they leave the building at night, it's taking care of their families. And if you can take that burden off of them by providing, and I just use that Lou as an example, is that's what I think building a great culture is finding what really matters to people at the end of the day. Investing in that, creating a workforce and a workplace that provides all this so they can be free to focus on the work and the customer and really be happy and focused around it.
LC : It really is that giving that Maslow's hierarchy of needs, that first level of being foundationally sound, right? I want to go back to what you had said too about having adults manage the process of being high performing. And you're right. What is the most developed, most population set who can manage that process as you go through culture at scale? Did you find that having the managerial level be very succinct in competency as you scaled important in that aspect.
MM : That level of, I always think the managers and really investing in that level of people. And I'll talk a little bit about how we invested at Spark and investing here at Ignite on that level, that manager, senior manager level. Because as you get to 300, 500 and larger company, it's that threat of people that they can go down, they can touch every last person and they can go up, I can get to them and it's the kind of inflection point of span of control at the manager level.
So, if you invest in them and get that level of people on the same page and they're committed, they're energized about the company, they can translate your message down to the last person. It's unrealistic to think the CEO is going to touch every last person. But if you can find that inflection point where you can invest, energize and be transparent at that manager, senior manager level, they will send the message down.
And it's critical I think, to building a company on scale is to get that level of people invested and then build more of 'em. And that's what we're in the process of doing. We created a course at Spark and we're replicating it here at Ignite to invest and build more managers and you'll build them before you need them. And that has paid dividends already in our short tenure here.
LC : It's funny you're saying first of all, that's right. Everything you're saying is completely aligned with what we do and how we do it and what you're saying is important because when we do it in Most Loved Workplaces, we certify up manager level so they can trickle down that change, which is around the Spark model. So it's very much taking those skills and competencies related to the Most Loved Workplace Index and the Spark.
By the way, my model is called Spark. Did you know that? I didn't know if you knew that. It's a Spark model. Systemic collaboration, Positive vision of the future, Alignment of values, Respect and killer outcomes, and have a lot of these specific areas that you're talking about right now we could share with later. And each of those areas, we go into the comments things that are important to people. So managers need to know those things as they're moving in is what's important to people, what do they need skill up in? Because like you said, it's the adults running the show and the CEO can't do it. There's just so much of you that can go around to everybody. Yet you're giving your ethos and values and help to them to continue this culture throughout your organization and also for your customers.
MM : Absolutely.
LC : Marc, it's been great. Tell me more about what else you want to talk about today with us at the Most Loved Workplace show, about you and your culture. Anything else we missed? You've said a lot today, so what else have we missed today? Right? We want to talk more about you and me.
MM : Yeah, I'd love to just talk a little bit about how we think about the talent lifecycle because one of the reasons we really focused on Most Loved Workplace and wanted to seek out this certification. And I say that not for the sake of the certification, but really for the sake of the engaging in a grassroots type assessment of our people. And so this became a really convenient tool, Most Loved Workplace, to get a sense on what our people thought about what we're building here.
And for us, one of the outputs is this talent lifecycle is how do we take the results of something like Most Loved Workplace and really apply it to all aspects of talent. And I say talent lifecycle is recruit, retain, and maintain our people. And the biggest cost driver in a people-centric business, whether it be a consulting business like ours or any other people-centric business is your ability to recruit and retain those people.
So, we've really used this as a leverage point not only to help us recruit, but help us retain and maintain our people taking results of surveys and data like this and go really listen to it and act on it. So I just wanted to share that because it was really one of our drivers participating in this and then using the results to make sure we help with that talent lifecycle.
LC : It's such a huge difference, isn't it? They say voices is just one thing in this. It's just one thing to hear, it's another do something about it. And that's what you're saying here today is you're committed to do something about that aspect. And I think that's a wonderful thing and the fact that you've adopted us, Most Loved Workplace into your company means a lot.
And we really do appreciate that, Marc, very much. And you definitely want to continue this and there's so many opportunities to have you on for cases and writing and fun things we have ahead at Most Loved Workplace, including events too we're doing online and cool stuff too. Since you're into tech, we'll talk to you a little bit later about it, things that we could discuss and learn more about what you're doing too. It sounds wonderful. The stuff it's right on the cutting edge.
Ranked number 47 in 2023 is UK's Top Most Love Workplaces. And Marc Murphy, CEO of Ignite Digital Services here on the Newsweek Leader Show. Marc, it's great to have you with us today. Thanks so much for joining.
MM : Thanks, Lou. Really enjoyed it. Best of luck. Thank you.