What’s On My Mind Right Now: Team Development

Grayson Lafrenz
By Grayson Lafrenz

The Importance of Constantly Bettering Your Team (and Yourself)

I’m realizing more and more as we come into our 6th year of Power Digital Marketing and the fourth quarter of this 6th year that it’s so easy to become stagnant as a company and as a team member, which can ultimately be a deadly trap.

If you’re not constantly growing and improving yourself and your team, you’re dying. It may seem scary but there is truth to this. As I’ve been reflecting on this, I’ve come to realize that one of the most important areas to emphasize with your leadership team is when it comes to the development of people and building your team to continue to become more well-rounded.

One thing I have been reflecting on is how critical it is to continue to put a major emphasis on developing people and helping them get better week in and week out. When this isn’t a primary focus and constant reminder for your managers, I’ve found that the team can become stuck in a rut doing the same thing, where they’re unhappy and their quality of work isn’t quite where you want it to be (not to mention they will not feel good about themselves).

3 Tips on Team Development

1) Don’t fall into the “free agent” trap

In sports, if you look at the best teams like the NFL’s New England Patriots (who I personally dislike), it is the best example and one of best sports franchises of the modern era. They’ve developed through the draft and bring in a few superstars to fill critical veteran roles and offer leadership to everyone else. In early years at Power Digital, we were really great about this (developing new professionals) and have seen other companies do this well too. The problem is that often times as we grow we get a little lazy when it comes to developing our young team members and we just resort to paying to get the top talent, i.e. free agents. A much better route that has been more effective for our business, is to develop someone and teach them the right way, not to always try to get someone who already has all the skills and experience.

You should have really creative and intentional ways to improve your team, rather than always seeking for someone who is coming from another competitor or industry that isn’t accustomed to your processes and culture.

2) Use your resources for developing your team members

I realize a lot of team members have gotten value and learned from working with me but at some point, they hear the same stuff from me again and again and they need a new perspective taught in a new way.

The winning formula and cost-effective solution is for me to tap into my network and bring in people who I respect and have learned from to talk with our team and give a different viewpoint that may resonate better and help them break through to the next level. It just takes a little effort and thought to find those people and “ask for the order” or in this case, ask for them to come spend time mentoring some of the team. I have found that successful people often enjoy this and are happy to help and it pays off in a big way.

3) Empower young managers

At Power Digital we have a ton of great, young managers, many of whom started as more entry-level team members.

When I reflect on my own career path (back in my early 20’s), and how I went from superstar salesperson/team member to manager, I certainly wasn’t a great manager off the bat, I actually was a terrible manager when first put into the role. It was a learning curve for me to make this transition. We’ve experienced the same thing at Power Digital, but it wasn’t as predictable for me to intercept.

I’ve realized more that myself and our other veteran managers need to work closely with these young managers to help them learn how to coach the next generation to be even better than they were.

That’s the goal as a leader: when the team you manage has surpassed you in skill, you’ve truly succeeded and it is a positive reflection of yourself.  I think that in many companies or cultures this is suppressed due to fear, but is really the ultimate sign of success for a manager or coach.

The point is that people are NOT born with leadership or management skills, it takes coaching on how to coach.  Certainly it comes more naturally to some than others, but it is a learned skill that requires development like everything else in business. Make sure within your company that you’re equipping your managers, training them, and being a great role model to them. If you don’t do this, you will end up with a major talent gap as you scale, where the feeder system you had that we discussed in the first point is no longer working for you and you will become reliant on bringing in free agents for all roles.  This will cause your salary cap (another sports reference, I love sports) to spiral out of control, your profits to decline, and your culture to rapidly change.

Key Takeaways to Keep in Mind:

  • The team is everything

If your team is not happy, motivated, and confident, you have are in big trouble.  If you believe people are a critical asset to your company, be sure to invest in helping them grow and achieve their goals.

  • The best people are often homegrown

This is one of the main reasons why we have had such amazing success with our Power Digital Internship program. We’re able to develop and train young talent to become great. We get to also “date” these potential team members before we “marry” and determine if they align with our core values and the rules we live by.

We look for people with elite worth ethic, drive, and problem-solving skills at a young age.  We look for the same skills and profile of values that has allowed our full-time team members to achieve great success in our company. We train our interns with our processes and cross-departmental strategies so when they are at the point of entering the workforce full time, they are often further along and more equipped than any veteran who has to almost start from scratch when it comes to learning how we run accounts and handle marketing strategy.

  • Don’t rely on only veterans

Bring in one or a few strategic people, but don’t rely on just adding veterans to your team. If you’re constantly bringing in veteran talent, you’re not teaching people your way and they’re not learning from your practices and processes.

Don’t get me wrong, it is critical to bring in outside perspective and established talent who can teach your team and challenge the way you’re doing things in a productive and ego-free way, but every hire should not be this person. The bottom line is that if you look at the best teams they often are highly strategic and disciplined in the veterans they bring in.  The MLB Yankee’s might be the exception but very few organizations have the unlimited cash to spend like the Yankee’s. Maybe Apple, Google, Facebook and companies like this can afford to do so but most companies are not in this position and have to do it through developing superstars from the ground up.

  • Bring in a new perspective and ways of thinking

Keep in mind that it’s easy to find resources to develop your team further and motivate them. It can be as simple as making a few calls and bringing in someone to talk to your team. They’ll bring a new perspective with their thoughts and we have seen this make a big impact.

An example of this at Power Digital is when many of our team members vocalized they were interested in growing their overall business savviness and understanding of how businesses operate. I was thrilled to hear this! One of our team members, Kate Lobel, took this as an opportunity to organize Power Digital’s MBA program, where we brought in guest speakers to touch on aspects of business from operations, to finance and accounting, to growing and rebranding.

The entire company benefited from this and it was as easy as tapping some of our connections to have them come in and speak to his or her expertise. I watched over half of our team make the decision to come in before work one day a week over the course of three months to learn from these guest speakers and as they walked out of these sessions and into their daily routines their energy and passion was firing on all cylinders.

Here is a bit more on how we organized the Power Digital MBA Program!

  • Focus on training your young managers and helping them develop these coaching muscles

As our company becomes bigger, I don’t get to interact as much with our more junior and entry-level team members. I certainly make an effort to build a relationship with them and interact with them but not as much on a hands-on coaching basis.

Over the past year or so, I’ve also realized that I need to focus on assuring this next generation of Power Digital team members develop at the highest level by coaching up the middle tier of managers. Developing the new team members and training them now falls on those homegrown managers who were once the new people I was developing myself.

As you grow as a company, it’s not feasible for you to always be there for the newer team members and be the key driver to help them grow, so this role should now be assumed by those you trained and invested your time in. These are the people you need to push to do so and give them the skills they need to create the next generation of great managers.

Final Reflection 

If team building and growth weren’t a top priority for me at Power Digital, we wouldn’t have a 95% employee retention rate (record breaking for our industry) and we wouldn’t have landed on San Diego Business Journal’s Best Places to Work this year in position #1. It really is the key to our success…

This is especially true when it comes to working with a team of millennials who constantly want to be learning, growing, and evolving their careers, roles and responsibilities. Team development should always be a core pillar of your company.

Building up your team shouldn’t be something that you fly by the seat of your pants on; it involves some strategic thought and planning and should be a constant focus.  Be creative with how you develop your team and keep score of how your doing – it will really pay off!

Digital Marketing Assessment

 

Learn More Here

Grayson is one of the Co-founders at Power Digital and the CEO. He is born and raised in San Diego and has a wealth of knowledge in Digital Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Team Building and Business.