Spent years as a PPC consultant and agency analyst before focusing on making software.
Jon: Hey Nicole.
Nicole: Hey Jon.
Jon: How’s it going?
Nicole: Good. You?
Jon: Good. Ready to record this?
Nicole: Let’s do it.
Jon: All right.
Nicole: Welcome to our podcast ‘Shape the Conversation’. I'm Nicole Mears.
Jon: I'm Jon Davis. Why don't we give people a little feel for who we are. So who are you?
Nicole: I'm the VP of Marketing, Communication, and Customer Service here at Shape.
Jon: OK that's your title. But who are you?
Nicole: So I came from a background in an agency. I am a former analyst turned senior analyst turned department manager. I have some experience in product management.
I really have been focusing my entire career in digital advertising.
Jon: That's big part of the reason that we really look to bring you on here at Shape was doing all those things. The other thing is that we worked together for a long time. So I'm currently the CEO at Shape. Nicole and I worked together in past agency settings. We started talking about the podcast and what can we talk about. What topics are interesting to us. You know Nicole and I have worked together for a long time. I guess I'm kind of Nicole's boss, although I don't really feel like it. And I've officially been the Nicole’s boss in the past and Nicole has also been a boss. We both were lucky enough to be part of a fast growing startup where we got to rise from being a team member to a team manager. And that's what we wanted to tackle today. Tips for people that are moving into a major role thinking about manager role and how we coped with that when we made that transition ourselves. So that's a little bit about why we're taking on this topic. How did you find yourself in management? Maybe dive into a little bit more on your path.
Nicole: Absolutely. So as I mentioned earlier I really came to my first role at an agency from actually a background in magazine writing so I didn't really have any experience. It was kind of half luck half knowing someone at the company (as it goes in digital advertising and PPC specifically).
Jon: And what years?
Nicole: Oh gosh. Why are you making me do this. 2009. So I started off in this role that I knew very little about but threw myself into it completely. And as Jon mentioned it was a fast growing startup so in a couple of years I was able to move up by being really aggressive on trying to come up with new strategies and really going after big client accounts. So I moved up to a senior role and then you know kind of the same process. I really focused on strategy and driving the company forward and then moved up to a manager. I mean I did luck out when Jon left to go start his own company. I wonder where that went?
Jon: Yeah. And I actually started three months before Nicole at the same company. So we go way back to 2009 and we was here in Bend, Oregon where we're at right now. Bend is not traditionally known as like a tech startup hub especially back there in 2009. We're getting better but we got lucky enough to kind of latched on with the fastest growing company in town. We were employees maybe like 40-ish, 43-ish. Within the next two years we'd raised 15 million dollars in funding and ballooned up to about 160-170 employees in a really fast amount of time. So, we feel lucky because we got to condense what might happen over like a 10-year career down to a four-year career. I was with the agency from 2009 to 2013. Nicole was there a little bit longer and moved into a product management role, but I think we got to experience a lot of these things really fast. When we started on the digital advertising team writing ads, Nicole and I were only four people in our business. There were lots of accounts and getting more and more clients and having to scale the team up really fast. And people were getting pushed to different areas of the company. We got to kind of follow the same trajectory through analyst senior analyst to manager. It was great because it got to happen really fast but it was also a little scary because our fashion our company there's not always you know everything is not defined as well as it could be in actually on you to kind of come up with the type of manager you're going to be in a lot of cases.
Nicole: So the interesting thing is as you may think with Jon and I started around three months from each other that when this manager position came open Jon I totally fought it out. But in all reality I know 100 percent that I was not ready to be a manager at that point. And our boss knew it at the time. Jon was all gung ho. Jon my question to you is how did you know you were ready at that point?
Jon: I don't know. I think and this is important thing to consider first for anybody listening like is management right for you anyway? You know do you want to be responsible for looking after somebody else's career and their path within the company? Is that something that interests you with your time? Personally I kind of grew up playing team sports. I didn't actively seek it but tended to always find myself as the captain on the team or in some kind of leadership position. And I always wanted to also run my own business from being really small. You know once I gave up dreams of playing professional sports pretty early on my dreams kind of turned to something a lot more achievable which I thought was running a small business. And so I knew to do that I probably have to put myself in position at some point to be a people manager. Now anybody that's ever worked for me or with me will know that I hate the word boss or have been called jefe in the past and we're not talking a huge scale here here in terms of management you know full transparency. Nicole and I really don't manage many people here Shape. There's a small team here of under 10. Everybody's you know kind of in their path and we don't have a lot of management here. But for me personally I knew something I wanted to step up because also you know a lot of tracks up the ladder within a company are tied to management. I think it's unfortunate but these days you know to advance you have to be one to step up and manage people at some time. So what was the switch where you felt like you were able to handle it? What was it about two years where maybe I was the manager and you were the senior analyst and our digital advertising department? Over those two years you definitely you know grew in terms of your skills and everything but was there something that clicked within you?
Nicole: Yeah so taking on the client level that I got when I became a senior I think it was a big step in that.
Jon: Right because you go from before you even came a manager you felt like you were building your street cred a little bit with the team?
Nicole: I think you do. I think you build your skills to become a manager. It's whether or not you decide you want to become one. So for me it really was getting really comfortable having great and tough conversations with difficult clients.
Nicole: had a lot of experience when I moved up from an analyst who senior role in dealing with clients where sometimes it was a challenging situation. Sometimes it was you know a great really easy relationship but that kind of relationship management piece of it was something that served me really well as a manager. I didn't know I was building that skill but I was. There are things like problem solving. Again as an analyst or a senior analyst, you're really focusing on how do I drive the best results for my clients? Or how do I split the budget well over all these channels that they want to achieve their goals (when I have a really small budget are maybe not a sufficient budget).
Nicole: Along the way we're building all these skills and then when the opportunity came up and Jon was leaving to start his own company (Jon: this was late 2013)
Nicole: I really looked internally at the time. You know, can I manage people? Can I take the skills and translate them over? And it's interesting that Jon said you know his motivation is really in owning his own business and getting that experience managing people. I took it from a product management standpoint and I saw all the challenges and difficulties that our team was having. You know as an analyst and a senior and decided OK how can I affect the most change. I definitely want to manage people and I want to gain that skill. But I also want to implement company-wide changes that are going to impact and improve life for my team. And then I ended up in product management ultimately.
Jon: Yeah I mean I think that it's important to look within like: "Are you ready to take those on because the one thing is turning into a manager is hard you know. Now you've got people you're responsible for. People think about now you've got this department working for you. It's the other way around. Now all of a sudden you work for everybody else in your department. You know their problems are now your problems and your job. You know the job definition of a manager is to solve those problems for their people working with them and or help be a part of solving those problems. So I think that can be tough too. We're digital marketers. We found ourselves in agencies. I've talked to a lot of people across industries. It's pretty common too when you first get that first management job a lot of times it's a little hybrid. Like you're still kind of doing the analyst role. You're still serving a few clients here and there but also managing the department. So did you find that to be a real struggle? We think there's some advantages to kind of hanging onto that firsthand knowledge and really doing the work and having that credit with your team. But it can be really tough. You do anything you can look to to kind of help you manage that? Did you lean on your boss to take responsibilities away from you?
Nicole: It was tough. Up until my very last day as a manager, I still managed clients. I mean I was managing people. I was managing a progress and innovation as much as I could. And I was managing clients and I really had to work on delegating. I am a Type A personality so it's a little bit of a challenge managing people. I really focused on giving my team as much of the training opportunities to help them get to the point where they felt in the same shoes. Had felt comfortable managing the relationships on making decisions and tried to give them the reins. Now I don't know if they'd actually say that I was successful. I hope they would but I don't know. For me it was relying on delegating. It was trying to make the transition in our team OK.
Nicole: People would come in and out of those roles they would be promoted or they'd find a different career path or potentially even a different company. And so we saw transition on our team. And one of the things that you want to do as a manager is just protect your team and make sure that they're, you know, they're not stressed out all the time and they're not having all these issues getting their work done. And so it can be really easy to try to take on all this work when you can't. There's no way that you're going to be successful as a manager if you're trying to take on your team's entire workload and if you're trying to drive progress and innovation. You know if you can't push that outward and that was one of the things I had to really work on. I also went to my boss constantly. I would sit at his desk and just pester him for feedback. I did that to Jon. I did that to the boss that I had after I became the manager. It was one of the ways that I coped. I also tried to read a lot of management books. I will say you can read as many management books as you want but until you're put in that situation, it's a whole different story.
Jon: Drawing that line is hard. You want to maintain that firsthand knowledge so you can talk with your team. I think that's a good step to get into if people have decided they are willing to make the change. And I know there's tons of books you can read. Everybody talks about that. But I think the most I remember when you were taking over the role some of the advice I gave you during that time. In the months leading up to knowing that you were going to take over my job for me and run the team, there were a few things that I thought were important to focus on. It seems little but body language you know now as the manager you don't want to be the person driving the energy out of the room. You want people to leave any conversation with you with more energy. That's a really hard thing to do if you think about how can you end any conversation you have with the other person having more energy than they started with. That's really hard when you're going through tough things.
Nicole: Absolutely. Jon will tell you that I did two things as an analyst. When I got really stressed out I would basically slam my head against my desk and not slam it hard but like put my head rest my head on my desk and just sigh heavily. And he's like you can't do that.
You have to walk out of the office and you go kick a wall. But you can't let the team see you because they have to have that confidence instilled in them. Seeing you get emotional, seeing you get stressed, would not be good for you or the team. And then, what was the other thing? I'm sure there's plenty.
Jon: The main thing is communication. Yeah anybody that I talked to that's got a big promotion or they're starting some new endeavor where they're going to be kind of in charge of the collective vision of a group. All the best things have ever happened to me as as a manager when I'm communicating a lot. And then communicating more. And then when I think I've communicated more than I need to, I say the same thing again. And communicating during routine one-to-ones. My only goal this year as a CEO of Shape--it's not revenue based, it's not product biz--it's just to have routine one-to-ones with the team. There's been periods of Shape's history where we kind of rely on being a small team and all kind of in the same office to cure up a lot of these problems that could happen.
Jon: But there's no substitute for talking for an hour. How's it going? What can we do? How can we improve your day-to-day? Are you happy with the way things are going? And those ones have the trickle down effect. Having quality communication with their team over and over again is the number one actionable advice I'd give to any new manager (anybody looking to lead a group of people in one direction).
Nicole: You have to connect with people. You have to. I mean they will be able to tell in a heartbeat if you're not listening and really engaging with them during their one-to-ones and whether it is personal or professional. I mean all the management books and all the management blogs say you really need to take the time to get emotionally invested in your employees. And, not emotional like you know showing emotion. But really how are your kids doing? How are you feeling about the job? There's lots of ways to connect with people and not in ways that are necessarily performance based. Are you hitting your goals? OK move on.
Jon: Yeah definitely. And I think that that's the one part that people struggle with when they try to be a great manager. You know they want to come in there and solve all the problems right away you know. OK you got all these issues here is X, Y, and Z what I would do. Sometimes the person is just venting a little bit. They might not be necessarily looking exactly for an answer. They might not want you to comment...you know be the savior that always has the answer. You know they might have the answer then they just need a little time to figure it out or pull it out. I think it's definitely important.
Jon: Look at anybody on your team as definitely an equal. You know these are not your underlings. These are not you know your employees. I always get a little weirded out when I hear anybody kind of use some of that language that talks about the hierarchy because I know that a lot of times the reason I was picked to be a manager is cause I was there first around the department, I showed interest. At a lot of start ups it can be a battle of attrition. At some point it's about who's around and I think communicating all the time with your team more than you think you need to communicate getting everybody together at least weekly or bi-weekly to have some kind of all hands so people know what they're working on is really important. I think it's really important to to kind of set the tone for your relationship with your team during those one-to-ones because a lot of the situations we see are like: one day you were a team member the senior analyst and the next week, now maybe you're the manager
Jon: And these are the people that you're friends with. So how do you navigate maybe some of those sticky or social scenarios? We're a start up in the northwest. There's a kind of a drinking culture here. Did you change your behavior? I had left so I wasn't sure. Did you change your behavior in any way around the rest of the team or people when you became the manager?
Nicole: It was tough. I consciously had to make some decisions about what I was going to do and what I was not going to do as a manager. The company that we worked for had a really youthful and a really kind of fun culture and I wanted to partake in all of those events. Now if you're having say a beer pong contest, maybe as a manager you don't participate in that. You let your team members use that as a bonding experience and you sit on the corner and engage with somebody who maybe just joined your team or joined the company and really get to try to know them.
Nicole: When I started I was 23 so a lot of the things you do as a 23-year-old are an extension of college. So we would go out to the amazing incredible events in town here in Bend. You go out Friday, Saturday night. When you have a bunch of employees your age (or not employees, but coworkers), that's a pretty common thing to do. When I became a manager I was around 26-27, so it's not like I was all that much different in age. But again I had to make conscious decisions to be friendly with my co-workers at work, be engaged, be genuinely caring about them their family lives. You can still do some of the same stuff.
Jon: Totally agree. I mean I think it's not that you can't have beers with your team. It's not that you can't really go out and have a good time here and there, but maybe it's more like in the evenings you know. Maybe you don't have to be out till 12 or 1 or 2 like we might have when we were 23-24.
Jon: Now the there's no you could rally for the next day of work. Now I'm almost 35. If I ever have a late night late, I definitely feel the next day. And my two young kids...they don't care at all. These things kind of point to you know maybe to not act in the same way. I think the same way that I can as a manager, you know everything you're doing is now reflecting on your team and your credo. They kind of put new and confidence in you and that's where you know you need to think about your actions in those ways.
Nicole: One of the changes that I actually really like is I started thinking about opportunities to have those kind of team building or you know friendship building activities. Not everyone on our team will be friends. But I look for those opportunities and try to make that happen. Maybe you take a lunch break off with your team and you go to the food carts and you hang out there. It was really great for me as a manager to be able to get to sponsor those lunches and just watch people engage. Maybe have a beer. Have some delicious food cart food. You know really get to know each other better.
Jon: Yeah I guess so I think we've got some good takeaways here for for people that are going from team member to team manager. Just starting their career, knowing they want to end up in a trajectory where they're managing a department or a company. I think it's important that you look within you to know that you make sure before you take it on you do want this because it is going to be hard and when something's really hard you've got to want to do it.
Nicole: As Jon said you have to really genuinely care about your employees. They're going to know if you're not being genuine.
Jon: You have got to communicate all the time with your with your team and anybody around you. You've just got to do it more than you think and then do it again. All bad things are going to happen when you're not communicating enough with your team. The last point then the Nicole hit on there: maybe look for ways you could adjust your behavior a little bit now that you've made the transition into a manager role. Maybe there some things you did previously that you could just maybe not do as much or toned down a little bit or create the culture within your team that makes everybody comfortable. You know the answers there are different for everybody. You know the one other thought to leave you with is that there's no blueprint to being a great manager and to making great decisions.
Jon: It's like thousands of tiny decisions you're going to make during the day. So try to put yourself in a good frame of mind to make all those decisions and be emotionally invested in the people around you are going to help you be a great manager.
Jon: All right so then I guess until we come up with a better outro. Over and out here from shape's studios in Bend Oregon I'm Jon Davis.
Nicole: I'm Nicole.
Jon: and we hope I've given some takeaways here to help shape your own conversation as you go through your week. Reach out! We'll have contact information the show notes. Make sure you subscribe to the feed and tell some friends. We're just getting started so you know any help is welcome and never hesitate to reach out to us.
Reach out to us with any ideas, questions, or feedback on the podcast!