blog post | marketing

What’s the key to a great team culture? Working on yourself

Jarret Fleagle Team Photo
Jarrett FleagleDirector of Business Development

Organizational culture is everything. And if you don’t get that right from the beginning, your team is destined for failure.

Individuals can make you successful, and individuals can poison the well, bringing everybody else down.

So how do you strike the right balance? Part of it is hiring the right people for the right roles at the right time.

But a majority of their performance is dependent on one thing: you. Your behavior dictates their behavior, which leads to departmental success.

Take it from Darryl Praill, the current CMO at Agorapulse. In his marketing career, he’s done it all — he ran his own agency, built marketing teams from scratch, and took the helm of enterprise teams, earning numerous awards in the process.

His secret to team culture? Dedicating time, thought, and effort to becoming the best leader you can be.

You are responsible for creating an outstanding organizational culture

Everyone on your team needs to be in the right role. They need to know what the scope of their job is. They need to really want to do it. And they need the capacity and support to knock it out of the park.

But that’s only one half of the equation. The other half? You.

As a marketing leader, you are the weakest link. That means you need to: (1) be a rockstar communicator and (2) hold your team accountable.

If someone isn’t meeting your expectations, there need to be consequences. You can’t just hope that they eventually figure it out. The more you delay those consequences, the more you tell the rest of your team that it’s okay to miss goals.

The flip side is that you must reward your team with opportunities to grow and flex new skills. Doing that builds loyalty.

The sad truth is that no one teaches you how to do this.

Before being promoted into a leadership position, you likely focused heavily on the technical side of marketing. And that’s great. But the soft skills that make you a respected leader are something you have to learn on your own.

6 characteristics of a great marketing leader

As a new marketing leader, you’re bound to make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, and neither are you.

But learning what the top leaders do and trying to emulate their behavior is a good start on your leadership journey. Standout marketing leaders:

1. Know how their team impacts the bottom line

Every year, your CMO goes to the finance team and asks for budget and headcount.

They get it, but it’s contingent on a specific ROI. If the marketing team reaches it, they’ll get more money next year.

At the end of the day, CMOs need to be able to tie marketing activity to dollars — they don’t need vanity metrics. They don’t care about likes and follows.

They care about how many of those likes and follows turn into qualified leads that become paying customers because that’s all the board and shareholders care about.

So do the work for them.

Convert your team’s achievements into incremental revenue. Show how you did what you did and why those programs matter to the company.

Your job as a leader is translating the seemingly inconsequential elements of your employees’ daily jobs into tangible goals that propel the organization forward. Spelling it out for them ensures you’re all on the same page.

2. Communicate clearly

Adequately communicating your expectations is the only way your direct reports will know what to do and when to do it.

One way to make your expectations crystal clear is to make them measurable and trackable. Otherwise, you run the risk of misinterpretation.

For example, say you told a team member they needed to increase the company’s market share in a particular industry by 20%.

The end of the year rolls around, and it’s time to consider whether your employee deserves a bonus. You look at the results, and they’re just not there. But the employee says that they hit the goal.

Upon closer examination, you realize you were thinking about the 20% from a net new customer perspective, and they were just looking at it from an impressions point of view.

This kind of disconnect would cost that direct report their bonus. That starts breeding resentment and demotivation — not just in the individual but in the entire team. Employees who didn’t get their bonus may tell their teammates how they felt screwed over, fostering animosity resulting in poor performance.

Darryl says, “Your entire team can revolt on you just because you weren’t clear on what success looks like and how they are measured. Get them to sign off on deliverables and metrics so everyone understands.”

3. Hold their team accountable

Sales teams are already nailing accountability. If a rep doesn’t hit their quota within two quarters, they’re out.

Give your marketers a timeline to hit their KPIs, too. Touch base with them halfway through that period for a sanity check. Are they on track? If not, what do they need from you?

Implement corrective behaviors right away. If you rely on the employee to figure out what they need to do to ramp up, you’ll soon learn that was a mistake. After all, if they knew what to do next, they’d already be doing it.

It’s tough to cut the cord, but you have to do it sooner rather than later.

Darryl explains, “In my thirties, I’d give people another couple of months or quarters to hit their goals. But before I knew it, it had been a year of second chances, and nothing really changed. We’d get so far behind that it was reflecting back on me as a poor leader.”

The longer you wait, the further away you’ll get from your goal and the harder it will be to reach it.

Because after you let someone go, you have to hire and train a replacement. New folks may take two quarters to get up to speed. By then, you might be years behind your original goal and potentially be on the chopping block yourself.

4. Listen to their team

Your direct reports know the inner workings of your team better than you do. They see who’s really putting in the work and who isn’t. And they’ll notice when you’re consistently cutting someone some slack.

Darryl talked about a situation where he finally fired someone, and his whole team was relieved:

“The thing that blew my mind the most was how many people on my team started coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘I’m so glad you did that because that person was pulling us all back. They were whining behind the scenes; they felt like a victim. Because you did that, I know you’re building a high-performance team.’”

If you’re hiring correctly, most of your team members want to be on a high-functioning, achieving team. They want to work with the best of the best. Allowing some team members to give a subpar effort is a slap in the face.

You need to cultivate trust to prove that you’re creating the kind of team they want to be on. So make it clear that your team members can approach you with issues. And when they do, don’t judge, listen.

Try to get to the root of the problem and make swift yet thoughtful changes. Sometimes these decisions will be tough, but your team will respect you more for making them instead of letting things slide.

5. Reward their team

The last thing you want as a leader is direct reports that feel undervalued. Folks that feel like a cog in the wheel simply won’t operate at their best.

To encourage them to go the extra mile, you need to reward people who go above and beyond.

Give them a bonus. Give them cool projects to work on. Give them some well-deserved time off. Do what you can to make them feel appreciated and valued.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Team culture is the genesis of innovation and results. But building that culture will take significant time and effort. Emulate the accountability, communication, and listening skills you see in the leaders around you.

And if you’re struggling, Darryl recommends using the Enterprise Operating System framework, or EOS, as a starting point. “It’ll get you to think about the connections between people, data, and processes and how they all interrelate.”

Setting measurable goals, listening to your team, and promoting an open, driven attitude is really what makes the dream work.

Find out more about Darryl Praill’s ascent to the C-suite, his passion for video hosting, and more on his full episode of The Revenue-Driven CMO.

And do yourself a favor — sign up for our next monthly Growth Clinic to learn about the biggest trends shaping the digital marketing industry and how to implement them in your organization.

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