Ryan Bonnici: How to Inspire Creativity and Innovation While Building Up a Team of Risk Takers

Learning how to inspire your marketing team and attract top talent with Ryan Bonnici from Whereby.

Ryan Bonnici is an experienced leader and a renowned creative; leading teams at companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, HubSpot, and G2. Today, Ryan is combining his passion for leadership and marketing at Whereby where he serves as the Chief Marketing Officer. 

Listen to this episode (or read the transcript below) to learn how to balance relationships and results while inspiring creativity, innovation, and big ideas. 

1 Who has been your favorite or most memorable manager? 

Kip, the CMO at HubSpot was the loveliest human in the world, and incredibly knowledgeable about so many things, whether it’s wine, art, or Japanese knife making, he always obsesses over the details. I was able to watch how he led teams and I learned a lot from him. He gave me really clear feedback and taught me exactly how he wanted me to complete things in a kind and constructive way and I do the same with the people I manage today. I try to provide very specific feedback and teach them how I may have done something differently and that’s exactly what he did with me. He always challenged me and I learned a lot from him. 

2 What were some mistakes that you may have made early on in your career? 

I learned early on in my management career that sharing every idea that comes to mind doesn’t really help your team. Instead, it derails them because it pulls them in tons of different directions. I have a rule now where I sleep on the idea if I think it’s crazy or obscure and if I wake up the next day and still think it’s crazy, I share it with a few key stakeholders instead of my entire team so I don’t pull people away from what matters most. 

3 How do you find a balance between prioritizing relationships over results? 

You need to focus on both. Focusing on results is great in the short term but as a manager or leader, you can’t do everything. If you truly want to grow your ability to scale your team and your business, you need to be able to delegate. If you balance relationships and results while driving results, building relationships, and teaching your team by giving constructive feedback in a helpful way, they will be able to drive results for you. 

4 How do you drive innovation, creativity, and risk taking amongst your marketing team? 

It really comes down to like starting at the top and showing people how you do it, and how you think about it, then setting up incentives or processes that help them see what you want to see from them. I’ve always wanted people to understand that if you drive innovation, if you do innovative things, if you’re creative, if you take risks, even if they don’t work out, we’re going to praise those actions and it’s exactly what we want to see. I always strive to create a culture where everyone can see that that’s what we want and when it gets done, it gets praised and it has always naturally aligned with my own incentives because I need the team to be thinking outside the box and doing creative things.

As a CMO or as a manager, you need to be a massive consumer of whatever the art or the science is that your team is doing. I’m avid on social life, and I’m a massive consumer of content and whenever I see something that catches my eye, whether it’s on email or Netflix, I’ll screenshot it and then share it with someone on my team that is responsible for that function. My goal at Whereby is to help everyone see the way I see and learn how I capture ideas just by being out and about. By doing so, I’m hoping that they see that there’s so many ideas out there in the wild and if you notice what you are noticing or where your attention is going, you can start to reverse engineer how it caught your attention. 

5 What is inbound recruiting? 

The idea of inbound recruiting essentially means that you would be creating content that your ideal employee or ideal team member would be looking for because it may be the best way to attract them as a passive candidate. For example, if you’re trying to attract good managers, you may release a piece of content on your company culture blog that pertains to hosting excellent one-on-one meetings because that candidate would be searching the internet for information pertaining to running a good one-on-one. 

If you do it over time and build it up, like inbound marketing, it builds, you know, a sustainable funnel of candidates that start coming to you. By creating content that helps pull in candidates that might be looking for jobs, you’re attracting candidates that are self-thought starters, because they have found your content because they were looking for it proactively.

6 Is it true that you encourage people on your team to take outside offers? 

If a recruiter reaches out to someone on my team and wants to chat with them, I encourage them to take the meeting and hear what they have to say. It’s what I’ve always done personally in my career and it’s really helped me know my worth. If I hadn’t accepted those calls or LinkedIn messages early on in my career I would have never known that someone doing my same job was making significantly more money than I was and it helped me get my first really big promotion. 

7 Can you tell us about some of your remote practices that you use to thrive in a remote environment? 

I never enjoyed Zoom, I always found it very clunky and not intuitive. I’ve always loved Whereby because it’s simple, and inclusive. The design and the UX were created with the user in mind and the product is very thoughtful because it works exactly the way you want it to and adjusts accordingly, making it perfect for connecting remotely. 

One thing that we all do as a company during our meetings is engaging and being super reactive with built in reactions and emoji’s. It’s super simple but no other video tool that I’ve used does this and it’s perfect because it enables everyone to participate. It makes the meeting much more inclusive and gives everyone in the meeting the ability to respond and have their voice heard and it’s really great because it allows the speaker or meeting host to gain live feedback. 

8 Do you have any tips, tricks, resources, or words of wisdom for managers or leaders that are looking to get better at their craft? 

Something that has been huge for me both personally and professionally has been therapy because so much of what makes you a good manager is recognizing your own patterns and knowing when you’re seeing something in someone else. Doing therapy over the years has helped me become a better manager because it’s helped me learn so much about myself. It’s helped me learn what I like, what I dislike, what bothers me and what doesn’t bother me. It has heightened my awareness and led me to be able to be extremely conscious when I’m meeting people. Therapy also provided me with language and frameworks that I wasn’t previously aware of that not only helps me deal with situations but also helps me wrap my head around certain scenarios in management. 

Additionally, I would recommend documenting your own experiences and reading and listening to podcasts and really taking the time to learn from other people in your shoes. Bill Campbell coached Google’s leadership team and he wrote an excellent book called Trillion Dollar Coach and I highly recommend it.

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