It’s been an eventful year so far at Act-On. We’ve hired a ton of people, experienced exciting transitions, felt growing pains, and seen the benefit of dedicated teamwork as our strategies come to life and take shape with tangible progress.
Of course, you need clear and meaningful strategy and business objectives to drive such a period of transformation if you want to ensure the effort aligns with reestablished long-term goals. But if you have the right strategy and the wrong people, or the right people are not aligned with the strategy or don’t feel valued during this transition, then it’s going to be a bumpy ride. On the other hand, if you have the right people but miss on the strategy, they will help guide and figure out how to get on track. At any company going through a transformation, the employees and teams are affected by the directional shift on a daily basis. As leaders of the organisation, it’s our responsibility to equip them with the knowledge, confidence, and appreciation to do what they do best and make the real change occur.
For both new and existing team members, I like to use the analogy that we’re all in a rowboat together, sailing with perseverance toward an island. All of us in every department is in this as a singular team—from our executives to the engineers and deliverability teams, to marketing, sales, and customer support, to every role in between and beyond. Each individual has an oar and plays an important part in rowing the boat swiftly to its destination; if one person stops, the rest of the team has to pick up the slack to keep moving forward.
To achieve this synchronised teamwork and shared responsibility, it is up to us as company leaders to cultivate and nurture this comradery. How do we support our teams and set them up for success throughout the transformational period? Because we have to remember: our employees are the executors of the strategy, the daily hustlers to reach our stretch goals and the livelihood of the company’s productivity.
Transparency—particularly during the hiring process
While transparency is an important element to leadership and team relationships, it has an especially high value during the hiring process when there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Incoming new talent needs to be dedicated and enthusiastic to meet the challenges, workload, and commitment that accompanies these transitional times. To peg these individuals from the pool of prospects, honesty goes a long way in the interview process as you provide upfront expectations for the available position, as well as for the team as a whole.
For instance, does the interviewee appear a little hesitant or nervous to jump in with both feet, or is he/she aligned with the company’s direction and ready to roll up those sleeves? Transparency about where the company (and team) is at currently, as well as the direction we are heading, paints a clear picture for the potential hire and gives him/her the choice of whether to jump into the rowboat and grab an oar. It also cuts to the chase and speeds up the process of finding the right people suited for the positions, which is an absolute must when you need to hire a lot of new team members in a short amount of time. Every company and opportunity has positives and challenges. Typically, when interviewing a candidate, they are told most of the former and very little of the latter. This is normal in any sales pitch (which a job interview is in many respects). By balancing the good things within your organisation with a transparent acknowledgement of areas of improvement, you create an authenticity that is rare, yet valued by the person being recruited.
Empathy for the team
Let’s not sugarcoat it: change is hard and it puts a strain on your team as they push through the day-to-day challenges that come with new strategies and company directions.
It is our responsibility as leaders to do more than simply acknowledge this fact–it’s up to us to empathise and appreciate these difficulties and the hard work the team puts in. And yes, sometimes all you can say after one of your team members deal with a difficult situation is, “Thank you for doing that.” Empathy for the situation, whether small or big, lets your team know that you appreciate how hard it can be and you understand what is being asked of them. It goes such a long way.
There are a multitude of ways to express appreciation for team members, many of which are inexpensive. But sometimes even small gestures, by themselves, speak volumes with consistency and sincerity. For example, I take members of my team out to lunch about three times a week, where we discuss what’s happening and how things are going. Every Friday, I recognise a team member’s excellence, perseverance, or collaborative effort with a gift card and note of appreciation. It’s our way of not only saying, “Thank you for your work” but also, “We see your hard work, appreciate you being part of this team, and are actively listening.”
The number one goal with this is to let your team know you’re in the boat with them, rowing too. You may not be able to fix all your team members’ problems, but you can appreciate and understand them, feel the pain with them, and help them get back on their feet.
Alignment of cross-functional departments
While admittingly an overused buzzword, the concept of “alignment” ultimately has a lot of power to it when used correctly. We at Act-On believe alignment begins with a common set of defined goals in which everyone in every department–all the rowers in the boat–is united behind.
Trust in your team goes hand-in-hand with successful alignment. For example, as you address underlying problems which must be fixed in order to meet redefined business objectives, your team is key to creating the strategic roadmap.
We approached our software teams with top priority issues to resolve in order to reach our long-term goals, and asked them, “If we want to get here, how do we do it?” We didn’t tell them how to fix these problems because we recognised that they were the best source of information. The teams were able to fill in the strategy around each problem and then they told us what a realistic timeline looked like by presenting “This is what we want to do.” Once it was time to set out and execute, our teams were already aligned because everyone was in agreement of the strategies and timelines.
With this approach, the team is motivated, committed, and on board–which is half the battle when directives are top-down. If a leader wants to go on the left path, but the team says they need to go right instead, it’s that leader’s duty to listen to the team. If the leader decides that, yes, they do need to travel left, then it’s essential to have a convincing reason why (I’m not talking a philosophical reason because remember, the team members are the ones living it every day).
When you give your team a stretch goal and trust them to navigate and strategise how to make it happen, they put in the extra effort. The company transformation may have been initiated by the executive team, though the employees, who we trusted to hire, are the ones who will get us all across the finish line.
Bill Pierznik, Chief Operating Officer