Paul discusses the benefits of leveraging external contractors with a lean sales and marketing team and how his military background has impacted his leadership approach
Editor’s Note: Paul has since moved on to a new position as Client Relationship Executive at Deloitte. At the time of our interview, Paul was VP of Sales and Marketing for Diio Inc. and the article reflects his time in that role.
Forefront Magazine: You talked about having a lean sales and marketing organization at Diio and you rely a lot on external contractors. Why has this been the best structure for your organization to support the business?
Paul Laherty: We’re focused on a narrow customer profile – airports and airlines; there are only a few thousand potential customers in our space. We want to have meaningful conversations with people through valuable content delivered at the right time. Our B2B niche supports frequent personal interactions with a sizeable portion of our market…which means we don’t have a 1000 item marketing calendar. We use marketing automation programs to reach people effectively and to capture information about their activity with us. After new programs are established we repurpose content to create variety and adjust timing. We’re always testing new content to figure out what resonates with our various customer segments.
FM: Why do you see this being a trend for the future where more organizations will adopt this model?
PL: How much work is meaningful? The kind of activity that you’ll remember or point to as a starting point for success? I think it’s very little. Why keep salaried employees in the organization only to spend 25% of their effort on meaty projects to create or deliver new IP? It’s cost effective to bring copywriters on board, and automation specialists when you have something important for them to do. This is an age old problem – In 1776 Adam Smith described the benefits from the division of labor and showed how pin makers were more effective when they specialized on each task. It’s accelerating – proliferation of software tools and programming languages means it’s less efficient to demand three employees wear twenty-five hats and be great at every task. When I can break projects into work for copywriters, salesforce administrators, and marketing specialists, each only needs to be awesome at a few tasks, and they complete projects faster. And finally I want them to make suggestions – to apply knowledge and experience from other cutting-edge clients that could benefit our organization.
There are several ways to find contractors – through LinkedIn, co-workers, elance.com, odesk.com, or through your marketing vendors – I use Act-On and I’m always amazed by the quality of their product, people, and suggestions. I can’t say enough great things about their team from sales leader, Adrian Abdel-Messih, marketing genius Phillip Bosley, execution and design specialist Chris Stewart, and “always available” Valerie Sharp. They’re an invaluable resource.
FM: You spent time in the US Army as a Lieutenant with the Military Police which had a great impact on your approach to leadership and professional development. What did your time in the military help you to understand about the importance of guiding and influencing as a leader?
PL: Army Platoon Leaders complete a “Masters” course in human nature and leadership at a young age. I was told people want to be led – I thought that was crazy the first time I heard it – I was very skeptical. Over time I watched leaders take action even when a successful path was unclear – initiative is a powerful force and people will jump in to solve problems along the way once a leader takes action and pushes forward.
Since you can’t do everything and you can’t always be physically present you learn how to trust and practice delegation; the real trick is learning how to deliver instructions effectively. I learned over and over again that leaders should describe outcomes and stay away from detailed roadmaps that focus on “how.”
FM: How do you go about creating loyalty and encouraging effort with people on your team?
PL: People want some combination of responsibility, recognition, and a well-defined reward system tailored to them. In addition to feeding the motivation-driver they rely on leaders to teach, trust, and support. If you genuinely care about your team’s success, comfort, and capabilities they’ll do amazing things. People want to achieve significance, not just success. They want to be needed and wanted – and if you give them room and truly depend on them they won’t let you down very often. Self-confidence also has an enormous impact on productivity – leaders who boost self-confidence can achieve far more through their teams than leaders who tear people down.
FM: Can you also discuss the importance of delegating responsibilities and setting clear goals and expectations? When delegating, why is it important to give them enough space but talk them through the framework?
PL: That’s a straight-forward communication problem. It’s foolish to believe you know the best way to do something – a lot of ink has been spilled describing the unintended consequences from over-confidence. When you have many people focused on a problem – the solution will evolve as new information is introduced – effective leaders view parameters and milestones as lanes to gently-guide people to achieve an outcome – not rails to confine them. Too many restrictions inhibit efficiency and it causes people to self-edit – their brains shut down because managers who dictate “how” don’t need people to think. We’ve all heard someone say, “it failed, but I did it the way I was told.” People must be rewarded for outcomes, not for following a strict process.
FM: You talked about pedigree and training and how that is a poor indicator for what people are going to be. Why are these a poor indicator and what do you look for when trying to determine what people are going to be? How did your time in the military help you to understand this?
PL: Army tours in Korea last one year – so turnover was high – about people four people per week in a Company with 182 soldiers. There were always new people who didn’t know how the unit operated. People with strong opinions who fixated on the way they did things previously struggled to learn our procedures and fit in, while others were flexible and could adapt in any situation. Having an open-mind, and a strong work-ethic was a better predictor for success. Throughout my career I’ve met a lot of people who repeated some variation of this claim “if it was important, I’m sure they covered it during my degree program.” OK. Twitter, Uber, Wechat, and a host of other amazing tools didn’t exist twenty years ago. People who figure out how to incorporate new knowledge and tools will lap those who don’t and pedigree doesn’t matter. I’ll leave you with a test: “How did you upload your contacts that last time you started using a new phone?” I figured it out is the “A” answer – I asked my kid to do it for me is not.
FM: You said that leaders should be predictable. Why is this important as a leader and how does this allow you to tap the next person in line to step up as a leader within your team?
PL: If you take care of people they develop an obligation to you. Beating people up for failure rewards secrecy, while sharing your purpose and your “why” every chance you get gives people a roadmap to imagine an outcome or goal you would set for them even when you’re not involved. Leaders should be catalysts for productivity, not filters that restrict flow. People will encounter uncertainty – in many cases they have time to think about their choice before making it. Their imagination provides a wide-range of reactions they may later experience from inconsistent bosses, but only one or two when they work for someone predictable. They’re better able to select a choice that conforms to organizational and cultural norms – and they can do it quickly, and with great confidence.
FM: How do you go about being predictable as a leader and what are the keys to being predictable for the people on your team?
PL: Provide clear goals – your team and organization should know what you’re focused on. I think when people try to understand how everyone around them gets “paid” it explains behavior. When goals are hidden motives are too. Effective leadership demands transparency about organizational goals. Excellent managers bin decisions by importance, and offer examples and cases where good outcomes were reached, and share stories about bad outcomes. Great organizations talk openly about how situations could be handled differently – Great managers provide mental models for employees to embrace.
FM: General Martin Schweitzer was a mentor for you and really taught you the importance of being okay with having high standards but to not disparage and be compassionate and thoughtful. How have you applied this as a leader?
PL: General Schweitzer cared very deeply about his soldiers’ success. He focused on teaching purpose – he taught us “why” effort was important. He led a platoon in a combat jump into Panama in 1989, and a Company in operation “Desert Storm” – and those experiences were a part of the experience he shared with us. He offered proof that Lieutenants would face significant challenges immediately – and knowing your personal limits and understanding how to manage through incredibly difficult events was crucial to imagining you would survive, thrive, and win.
I’m fond of pointing out most decisions in business are not life or death. If a mistake is correctable then use it to teach, not belittle. Insecure, incompetent managers tear employees down in a million ways, because they haven’t figured out how to boost them up in two or three. My adaptation of General Schweitzer’s style is led to “I don’t ask for perfection, only that you try.” Good people are much harder on themselves than I will ever be.
FM: You talked about the importance of building your personal brand separate from the company you work for. Why is this important for young professionals to do and how have you gone about doing this in your career?
PL: People switch companies now, they’re moving around far more than they did three decades ago and 75% of all jobs that pay more than $100K come from your network – not a job board. It’s crucial that people “know, Like, and Trust” you before you need their help. If you earn a paycheck – you’re a product, and we’re all in the business of selling ourselves. Once you recognize that you can put that to good use. It means that you’re engaged in new media – you don’t dismiss or reject LinkedIn or Twitter. At the very least, have a complete LinkedIn profile that includes a professional photo, your contact details, and information that allows others to figure out what you have in common.
I’ve given a talk about personal branding and how to use LinkedIn, to organizations all over the United States. Look – LinkedIn connections are like lottery tickets – some of them will pay-off, but you don’t know when, or how much. Connections that form your network offer an asymmetrical payoff – the “ticket” is free, and you get to collect on the winners. The formula is simple – have complete profiles with multiple social media tools, engage authors and influencers you admire by “liking” their content as you’re exposed to it; share articles that resonate for you; publish your own content and ideas on LinkedIn; and always be on the lookout for well-connected people who can expand your reach. It takes practice and you’ll learn a ton in the process.
A strong personal brand will open doors you didn’t know existed and the spoils will accrue to people who understand this, not those who ignore it. ♦
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