Beyond the Bottomline

I’ve always had ambitions, but I haven’t always been a leader. That’s not to say I was a follower; I’m a textbook skeptic, even when the ideas originate from my very own mind.

As a manager under 30, I’m faced with complex decisions every day — about people, clients, prospects, etc. — and without any formal training, I use team morale and communication as barometer against which I need to adjust my approach.

Pressure mounts as successes rack up. I sometimes feel like I’m always fighting with numbers. Perhaps it’s because I’m a wordy woman who married a “numbers” guy.

I find value in the tangible, but I also see the need to strike a balance with what some people write off: the emotional. It’s easy to get lost in the bottomline, obsessing about numbers. Numbers reveal trends, sure, but they don’t tell stories.

We get so stuck in building narratives around perceived value, deferring to basic arithmetic to convince and convert. And I’m anything but basic.

My never-ending quest alongside my team is to build a sense of belonging and ownership. Numbers alone mean nothing; they need words to fight back. I want my team to own their work in such a way that the numbers are just the beginning — they lead to new risks worth their weight in even greater rewards.

If numbers reigned supreme, we’d stop communicating via verbose e-mails and instead exchange Excel attachments. I’m interested in knowing what keeps each member of my team curious; our conversations are always rooted in purpose, but never in numbers alone.

The bottom line means bupkis to me on it own. As a leader and manager, I’m not just interested in the hard-and-fast “what” – I’ll always want to know about the “why” and “how.”


Building an Engaged Team

The phrase “employee engagement” can be far-reaching; workflow communication tools (think Slack, Yammer or Lync), internal social networks (Facebook at Work, Chatter, Voice Storm or Gaggle), newsletters and training programs could all qualify as employee engagement tactics. Some organizations employ a host of these tools, deploying them in tandem to build an internal community that exists outside the formalities of e-mail. While an engaged employee doesn’t necessarily create a happier employee, it’s certainly a start.

Recalibrating an entire corporate communication framework won’t be easy, and it’ll probably takes months (if not longer) before it feels like you’ve reached the new normal.

Take baby steps (H/T to Dr. Leo Marvin), and start with what you know.

  • Be critical. Map your way to a solution by being open and honest about what your company needs. Outline organizational weaknesses and strengths. Gathering this feedback and insight directly from employees will only make your engagement more effective.
  • Understand the difference between engagement and retention. Don’t confuse retention efforts like in-office perks, discount programs, etc. as engagement efforts; let’s be honest, free snacks and drinks make us more tired than they do motivated and empowered.
  • Build functional focus groups. Bring groups of employees (at all levels!) together to hear from them — what would they use? How do they communicate offline? What would they not see value in? In addition to help shaping the suite of tools used by an organization, listening to employees will also help shape the way you serve content for sharing, informing everything from word choice and format to frequency and calls to action.
  • Set realistic goals. Having a strong employee engagement strategy won’t necessarily help put a stop to turnover and cross-office drama, but it will help build a more informed, transparent organization-wide communication system. Know what you expect from employees, and what they expect from you. Over time, you can use metrics from your tools to refine and optimize your approach.
  • Remember to recognize and reward. Tools aren’t cheap, but recognition is. The time it takes to publish a motivational, congratulatory or other such shout out on an internal communication channel is negligible, but the recognition of a small win could have long-term productivity benefits.
  • Create guidelines that encourage participation. Inviting employees to contribute to company-wide channels might seem harmless, but fear of censorship and moderation might be roadblocks. Establishing clear community guidelines (no profanity, bullying, etc.) will help set clear, non-intrusive boundaries without hindering contributions. Employee engagement tools also tie in nicely to broader corporate incentive programs. Have a company store? Encourage shares and submissions for credit toward a purchase.


Title Fatigue

I’m not a social media guru. I’m also not a ninja or Jedi. These not-so-creative liberties attached to my area of expertise are not cute. In fact, I find them patronizing and offensive.

My industry has been going through an identity crisis since its inception. There’s little consistency across agencies and clients on how to best describe the depth of each social channel, let alone how we title the people who manage them.

Social media will always be evolving — much like how the universe is expanding. My experience is rooted in the agency world, and in under a decade, my title has morphed from PR hierarchical nomenclature to newer, looser titles with overt ties to digital.

My current title reads something like, “Vice President, Social Strategy and Content Marketing,” and the clarification after the formal title was my attempt at claiming stake to the area of social media about which I’m most passionate. I see social strategy as level agnostic. Even as a Vice President, I wouldn’t scoff at being referred to more generally as a social media strategist to someone who doesn’t know or care about agency hierarchy (read: most people).

At my core, I identify as a writer, and over time, that identity has expanded. Aligning myself with the strategist moniker embraces and encompasses my passion for writing, while also compensating for my consumer curiosity, analytical drive, and overall thirst to communicate creatively.

I could easily whittle off a top-10 list of qualities that negate a person’s claims to social media czardom (a phrase that truly makes me wince whenever I see it), but I’d rather make the case that we shift how we think about job titles. Roles should be shaped by an agile vision of how a person or particular area can grow — no limits to inflate impact or truncate potential. Digital teams should be built to flourish in tandem with an always-changing industry.

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And So It Goes

New Years celebrations, much like birthdays, are inevitable, provided you’re alive. If my Bubby Cyrille were still living, she’d insist that I qualify that statement with “G-d willing.”

More major milestones were crammed into 2015 than I would have ever thought possible – including three weddings in my immediate family, two in my extended family, a dog adoption, and a promotion (my sister-in-law calls me Madame Vice President now…) – and so 2016 promises to be quieter, if nothing else.

If my introductory cynicism wasn’t clear enough, let me attempt to reposition myself as a realist instead of a skeptic. Instead of year-long resolutions that might fall through the cracks, I’m going to resolve to make my new year revolve around small wins — at work, the gym, home, etc. I’m optimistic that as we approach 2017, I’ll be a healthier and happier version of myself, but that won’t happen by setting unrealistic expectations. Small wins will allow me to focus on the more immediate and attainable, and will ultimately (hopefully) help me reach more sustainable, long-lasting results across the board.


The Move

Tuesday May 17 marked my one-year anniversary with Planned Television Arts. In one year, I moved to New York, got my dream starter job, and was promoted from Social Media Coordinator to Social Media Manager (thanks, Jeff). At work, I’m happy. Great assistant, great  coordinator.

At home, not so much. My roommate and I, a friend of my sister’s since youth, were simply not on the same page. Our early experiences living together were filled with passive aggression and hostility. As we both dealt with our respective issues, tension eased, and our friendship healed, but it was clear to us both that in order for us to go on as friends and not frenemies, or worse, just plain enemies, one of us had to move.

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Holidays [not] On Ice

I spent most of my day yesterday trying to travel to the Hamptons, specifically to Amagansett, but my wait time at Penn Station and on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) inspired a weird amount of thought. [I should also probably cite Joni Mitchell as inspiration, because “River” was playing on repeat on my iPhone.]

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