CEO of rTraction Canada, David Billson has deployed Internet-related solutions and technologies to enhance efficiencies for businesses of all sizes.
Throughout his career, he has managed all aspects of the software development lifecycle, from requirements analysis to software production, to quality assurance.
He explains that early on he quickly fell into roles where he was able to understand the business-speak, and the developmental speak, acting as a translator between what clients wanted, and what his technical team could produce.
rTraction Canada began in 2001 as a team of coders that built websites and applications to help clients get their messaging out. From early on, they worked alongside social purpose organizations (nonprofits, social enterprises), focusing on solving the technical problems, from hosting to websites to systems behind the scenes. Since that time, they have worked on some 6,000 projects.
How would you describe what you do as CEO of rTraction?
David Billson: My role is best described as creating a space that allows people to do their best work, free of encumbrances. It’s ensuring a positive workplace, where people want to come to work and feel like their work has a purpose. I want them to feel they are achieving, and feel like they’re given the space to execute, as well as overcome obstacles.
So, let’s talk about some of those obstacles.
David Billson: We had a very large customer account that over a five-year lifespan eventually wound down. The biggest thing I’ve learned through that process is really trusting the team to come together and help.
The biggest thing for us was to go back to what our core purpose is, and really understand what our organizations exists to do in the market. As we’ve grown, we’ve become a little bit less focused, with different service lines, different product areas, that were all loosely tied together by our core competencies, but weren’t tied together for a purpose.
As we’ve had to rebuild and restructure the company, after the loss of a fairly significant account, what’s really helped us is to go back to the, ‘Why does this organization exist, and why is it important that we continue to achieve our vision?’ Getting everyone in the organization behind that, and communicating that to the community, has been extremely beneficial.
How does one solve company problems in a team framework?
David Billson: First, there is a lot of introspection. It’s a harder question to answer than many people realize if you are open with yourself about trying to go on that journey.
As far as communicating it out, two main things. One, is repetition of core values. You have to keep saying it, writing about it, talking about it.
The second, is you have to live it. If you say, ‘This is what the organization exists to do,’ but then you do something that doesn’t match that, it becomes easy for staff to become disenfranchised or not believe in the vision of the organization.
You make sure that you are making decisions to line up with your vision.
Showing commitment to the vision, is critical. You have to get people to buy in.
What have you discovered about the art of management?
David Billson: I think it’s a discovery of learning what your strengths are in leadership. I don’t think there is any one model, or book, or process you can use to say, ‘Ah ha! This is how to be a good leader.’
It’s all about your unique strengths, and finding people who complement those strengths, and surrounding yourself with a great team.
In my case, I’m a good servant leader model. I’m quieter, not bombastic. I lead from the front, so I’m usually the first one into a charge, or something new. I’m really about removing obstacles and letting the team do their best work.
Other very successful leaders are louder. If you try to follow their style of leadership, and it’s not authentic to yourself, then I think you actually become a very poor leader over time.
What are some of the typical issues clients come to you with?
David Billson: They are often problems bubbling under the surface that aren’t necessarily the core problem that they think they are coming to us to solve.
A lot of times, as an organization, we find it is a lack of stakeholder engagement. Not everyone is on the same page as a management team, leadership team, or marketing team on what the objectives should be.
Followed by that, not understanding what the goals of the project are. Last but not least, what the organization actually needs from a project.
A lot of times, if it’s stakeholder or goal alignment, there are exercises we go through to make sure we are all on the same page. Sometimes you have to go a little bit deeper. Instead of a new website, new app, or a new branding exercise, ask what it is you are hoping to achieve through this.
Agencies are really good at solving problems, but if we are solving the wrong problem, we can make a situation worse.
What makes rTraction Canada unique?
David Billson: We know that in any given project where we are making positive change in an organization, there is going to be tension. We actually look forward to that tension, and helping the client in breaking their existing paradigm, so they can move forward.
Other agencies do what the client asks them to do, without question. It doesn’t challenge them. Ultimately, they collect invoices, and produce a result.
By finding that tension and exploring why that tension is there, enables us to break down those barriers between a client and their success, and take that project to the next level.
We have happy clients because we help them achieve their outcomes, not because we have an easy ride with them.