Andy Myers is the president and CEO of Waterford.org, an early and elementary education nonprofit with a mission to achieve universal literacy for children through equity, access, and family empowerment. Andy has served in the position of president since 2019 and was previously chief operating officer for Waterford.org.
Under Andy’s leadership, Waterford.org has tripled its funding and sources of revenue to support its programming over the last five years. Waterford.org has deepened key partnerships with state, federal, and philanthropic partners – plus numerous school districts and Head Start providers – to support student success both during and beyond the global pandemic with its K-6 classroom programming and its flagship, in-home kindergarten readiness program Waterford.org Upstart.
Waterford.org has received over $60 million in grant and philanthropic funding to support its growth in sustainable partnerships with the federal government, individual states, and school districts across the nation, including funding from the United States Department of Education as well as private donors such as the TED Audacious Project and The Studio @ Blue Meridian. For nearly 25 years, Andy has worked to support digital learning initiatives and programming that provide curriculum, assessment, professional development, and platform solutions for improved teaching and learning in pre-Kindergarten to 12th-grade education, emphasizing the needs of teachers, students, and families.
Previously, Andy held executive positions at K-12 education solution companies such as Renaissance Learning, Scientific Learning, and Pearson. Andy has also mentored emerging players in the EdTech space as an advisor.
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Table of Contents
We’re happy that you could join us today! Please introduce yourself to our readers. What’s your story?
Andy Myers: I am Andy Myers, and I am the CEO of Waterford.org, an education nonprofit with a mission to achieve universal literacy for children through equity, access, and family empowerment.
Talking about myself can feel awkward because I am an introvert, but I am someone who sees opportunity in change, enjoys turning chaos into order, and am most motivated by helping facilitate the growth, accomplishment, and engagement of others. I would rather be “behind the scenes” but still part of high-performing and passionate teams, but I am highly confident in my abilities as both a solver of problems and a connector of people. I like to analyze, form opinions, share them, and be challenged by opposing viewpoints so that I can learn and grow.
As an oldest child and a father of four with perfectionist tendencies, I must remind myself to enjoy life’s journeys and not just focus on reaching specific destinations. While I like to quickly identify the right answers, I try to prioritize small moments of action or interaction where I can influence others for good. I am able and willing to admit fault, make amends, and change my mind.
CEOs and leaders usually have different motives and aspirations when getting started. Let’s go straight to the beginning. What was your primary goal for starting your business? Was it wealth, respect, or to offer a service that would help improve lives?
Andy Myers: I started my career in early learning software more than 25 years ago and never left the industry. As a recent college graduate newly married to someone with work experience and a degree in early childhood education, I became very excited to join an organization making a positive difference in this area. Based upon the experiences I have had, the people I have met, and the organizations I have been part of over the years, I am truly grateful for that early career choice.
How would you describe your company’s overall culture? Give us examples.
Andy Myers: We strive for an environment where all employees feel they can bring their full, authentic selves to work and are unified by our common purpose despite individual differences. We are a learning organization that is transparent about what we know or don’t know and where we succeed or fail, and we encourage input and engagement from all so that we can iteratively improve. For example, we have implemented a collaborative process for internal projects where diverse, cross-functional teams document the purpose, the plan, and the measures of success for the entire organization to see. Also, we hold organizational “town hall” meetings every three weeks where we highlight the work of specific teams, share updates on key initiatives, and take live questions from all employees.
We strive to give all of our employees a voice — whether it is semiannual employee net promoter surveys, monthly pulse surveys, or the Slack platform where feedback can be shared or like-minded employee groups can form organically and publicly.
The overwhelming majority of more than 9,000 workers included in a recent Accenture survey on the future of work said they felt a hybrid work model would be optimal going forward, a major reason for that being the improved work-life balance that it offers. How do you promote work-life balance at your company?
Andy Myers: In late February 2020, when it became apparent work in an office could be disrupted by a pandemic, I asked our executive team and our IT experts how quickly our organization could move to a 100% virtual operation. Within 30 days, all of our employees were equipped to work remotely, and within 90 days all of our services to families, educators, and partners could be delivered virtually. The need for our programs has never been greater, and our organization has achieved all-time highs in terms of both revenue and students served over the last year and a half.
Looking forward, we are allowing our employees to determine how, when, and where they work best in order to achieve individual and team goals, and we are building out new flexible office space that is conducive to those who prefer to come into an office environment every day, others who would like to split work time between office and home, and those who just want a gathering place for special events and meetings. We will be investing in technology that allows mixed groups of on-premise and virtual meeting participants to all feel concurrently engaged and included.
Companies around the world are rapidly changing their work environment and organizational culture to facilitate diversity. How do you see your organizational culture changing in the next 3 years and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Andy Myers: As a leader focused on positive changes over the next three years, I will continue to lean into changes that have already made our workforce more diverse, inclusive, and united over the last two years. Our organization is based in Utah but our transition to 100% virtual operations enabled us to shift our thinking from local recruiting to targeting a national audience of potential employees.
The impact of this change has been significant: we have been able to both improve the diversity of our employee population and attract stronger candidate pools. Our processes and programs have benefitted from an external expert advisory board and internal task force for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and all of our employees participate in DEI training programs and have access to a variety of employee-created affinity groups. Our first ever SVP of Equity & Inclusion joins our executive leadership team in the coming weeks.
Tell us 2 things you like and two things you dislike about your industry. See what you’d like to see change and why.
Andy Myers: Our mission-driven organization is a natural extension of a mission-driven industry. I love having the opportunity to connect with people who have dedicated their careers to educating children and supporting the success of schools, communities, and families. I also like how all of our program partners, sponsors, and participants share this passion with our employees, and many have worked in multiple roles and organizations both as the provider of support/services and as practitioners in education.
I don’t like that the talented and dedicated people who choose to become educators are often taken for granted — they should never be. The level of compensation and trust they are given by our society falls well short of what they deserve. I am particularly troubled by certain state government efforts restricting what teachers can address in terms of social justice, inclusivity, anti-racism, and other topics that help children build empathy and value equity.
Richard Branson once famously stated “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” and Stephen R. Covey admonishes to “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. What’s your take on creating a great organizational culture?
Andy Myers: I believe that there is a formula for creating a great company culture, and it isn’t magic. Treating staff the way that we would want to be treated — or have our partners treated -— can be measured, quantified, documented, and shared. I’m the CEO, but I consider myself a CFO — chief flow officer — in the sense that I am responsible for the environment where the work takes place, where employees find themselves in a “flow” or not. Am I ensuring that a strategy is in place and understood, that employees feel safe, empowered, and engaged, that processes are intuitive, efficient, and effective so little energy is wasted? People want to feel like they are at their best, that they are trusted, and that they have the space to engage deeply but also recharge as needed. Over the years, I have developed my own rubric to evaluate whether the organization I lead has these and other positive characteristics, and it has helped me recognize where I need to focus my energies and improve as a leader.
According to the Michigan State University “An organization’s culture is responsible for creating the kind of environment in which the business is managed, and has a major impact on its ultimate success or failure.” What kind of culture has your organization adopted and how has it impacted your business?
Andy Myers: Our mission of delivering excellence and equity for all learners, especially young children, and their families, attracts individuals who truly want to make a positive difference. If I am authentic, accessible, willing to listen, and able to learn, my leadership will not detract from the mission that brought so many dedicated and talented people together. My job is to set an example and help others in the organization address any issues that get in the way of the success and fulfillment of our employees. Then, we can augment the passion of our teams by continuously sharing the stories of our real-life impact and helping all of our employees understand that we recognize, and are grateful for, their contributions in making those stories possible.
It is believed that a company’s culture is rooted in a company’s values. What are your values and how do they affect daily life at the workplace?
Andy Myers: Several years ago, I led the development of a four-stage Value Cycle for our organization that emphasizes “how we work” matters, not just “what we accomplish.” It states:
- We reward passion and curiosity with opportunity.
- We blend individuals with diverse backgrounds and skillsets into empowered, high-performing teams.
- We move fast, measure results, and improve from experience.
- We positively transform the lives of our employees and of the educators, families, and students we serve.
When we are each positively transformed as individuals, we are ready to apply our better selves to new and interesting challenges at the first stage of the cycle and beyond.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts. (We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition)
Andy Myers: Just last week, we had a parent confront their local school district leadership with concerns about their partnership with us. This parent had a child using our early learning software in the classroom, and she vehemently opposed some of the DEI-related content found on our website. She rallied other parents to her cause, and her husband confronted the school board during a public meeting. Wanting to avoid conflict and set the issue aside quietly, this district began pressuring our employees to have the content removed or provide them with statements in conflict with our website so they could placate this group of parents. Under threat of being pushed out of the district and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, I met with the school board and superintendent directly and calmly but firmly stood by our content, which we will not amend or remove.
Although this issue has not been fully resolved, it was important to me that our employees and all of our partners see that we are consistent in our values internally as well as externally, no matter the circumstances or audience. The truth is, this was an extremely difficult situation but a decision that was not that difficult because I had already made it years ago.
An organization’s management has a deep impact on its culture. What is your management style and how well has it worked so far?
Andy Myers: Many organizations use personality-centric assessments to types of executives, and then they hold workshops for leaders to understand their own and each other’s management styles and work better together. In my career, I have taken Enneagram, Wonderlic, Disc, Myers-Briggs, etc., and participated in subsequent sessions where I could barely remember my own results let alone the results for everyone else I worked with. I came away with very little I could apply to improve.
What has worked better for me than focusing on management style is adhering to management principles and traits that are objectively “good” regardless of personality. I have talked about a lot of those traits and competencies throughout this questionnaire.
Every organization suffers from internal conflicts, whether functional or dysfunctional. Our readers would love to know, how do you solve an internal conflict?
Andy Myers: Resolving any conflict starts with listening, acknowledging, and truly understanding. Once I can convey back to individuals a matching understanding of their perspectives, I can help others do the same.
Conflict, when handled with respect, humility, and skill, is an accelerator of progress. Conflict avoidance can lead to mediocrity, disengagement, and marginalization. The best ideas should win, and we can increase the probability of identifying the best ideas when diverse and representative experiences are brought into the discussion and valued, never feared or suppressed.
According to Culture AMP, Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organization (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention. What is your organization doing to facilitate an inclusive and supportive environment for women?
Andy Myers: Creating a more inclusive environment for women starts with having representation where decisions are made. As recently as a year ago, our organization had only 3 out of 9 executive team members who were women even though 70% of our employees were women. We made a commitment to improving representation in leadership, and now 7 out of 14 executive team members and over 60% of all managers in the organization are women. We can still improve, but we are headed in the right direction.
What role do your company’s culture and values play in the recruitment process and how do you ensure that it is free from bias?
Andy Myers: We have adopted tools and approaches that enable us to create job descriptions and postings that are unbiased, and we have similarly relied on outside partners for reference checks and searches for key positions. We realize that there are organizations that specialize in these and other areas that we can learn from, and we never hesitate to leverage outside expertise for better outcomes and our own organizational development.
We’re grateful for all that you have shared so far! We would also love to know if there was one thing that you could improve about your company’s culture, what would it be?
Andy Myers Our organization has employees based in both the United States and Romania. Given the physical distance and time zone differences, it has been somewhat difficult for our teams to come together as one. But with COVID-19 sending virtually all of us into home office environments, our reliance on virtual meetings has somewhat leveled the playing field for all of our employees. We utilized our recent all-employee virtual summit to have our Romania team share images and stories from their location, history, and culture with our U.S.-based teams and vice-versa.
My hope is, when more normal travel and in-person activities are restored, that we find a way to keep our virtual connectedness and augment our connections with a formal strategy and approach for us to spend more time together in person than we had before the pandemic.
This has been truly insightful and we thank you for your time. Our final question, however, might be a bit of a curveball. If you had a choice to either fly or be invisible, which would you choose and why?
Andy Myers: My answer depends upon how fast, safely, and skillfully I could fly and whether my invisible self could still move stuff around and speak out loud. I think it would be fun to try each option for one day and then decide. Is that OK? Also, are these capabilities reversible, on/off controllable, or a permanent superpower? So many questions.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Andy Myers for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Andy Myers or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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