"Empathy is critical. We have our values in the company but we also have the norms we follow as a department. This includes leading with positive intent and spending time with each other. Bringing that extra level of empathy into everything we do is important.”
In this episode
In episode #5, Tara Robertson (Head of Customer Marketing at Sprout Social) talks about the power of focusing on your team’s strengths. She also shares some great insights on how to overcome imposter syndrome, find mentors, and deal with the challenges of managing a remote team.
Prior to joining SproutSocial, Tara was the VP of Marketing at Hotjar.
Tune in to hear all about Tara’s journey as a marketing and sales leader, and the lessons learned along the way!
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Tara’s first leadership experience.
Dealing with imposter syndrome when you become a manager.
Tara’s tips to deal with imposter syndrome.
How to find mentors and connect with other professionals.
Encouraging your team to find external mentors.
Lessons learned while building the Marketing team at Sprout Social.
Working on an Agile mindset.
The importance of empathy in leadership.
Focusing on your team’s strengths.
How to apply personality tests (such as StrengthsFinder) in real life.
The importance of self-awareness in leadership.
Tara’s meeting structure and why team meetings are essential for remote teams.
How to avoid meeting fatigue and focus on the most important things.
The purpose of business operations meetings.
Tara’s Squad Standup Meetings.
Tara’s one-on-one meeting cycle.
The challenges of managing a remote team and how to overcome them.
Hiring remote teams.
Remote work tools and software.
Tara’s book recommendations for managers and leaders.
- Unmasking Imposter Syndrome by Tiffany DaSilva
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo
- The One-Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
- Radical Candor by Kim Scott
- Indistractable by Nir Eyal
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter
Erin Blaskie 1:56
Tara, welcome to the show. We are super excited, I can’t wait to dive in further into your journey. Especially learning a little bit more about how you’ve become a manager and what leading teams has looked like. It’s obviously something that we’re really passionate about over here at Fellow, so I can’t wait to dive in. And my first question really is sort of a simple one so we can get to know you a little bit better. And that is, When was the first time you became a manager or lead a team and then maybe just talk about what that experience was like?
Tara Robertson 2:22
Sure. So I’ve had a bit of a journey through management through various parts of my career. I started managing from my early days of working in a coffee shop when I was actually in high school, I had no idea what I was doing. So I kind of look back at that one and laugh. But as I got into more corporate management, when I was in college, I managed a telemarketing center. Don’t judge me. And it was just really fun. Yeah, it was really fun and that we were doing a lot of work and getting into showing impact. I had a lot of great dials and they said, “Hey, would you like to manage this room” and I had no idea what I was doing but turned into running as a general manager when I was 21 years old. And that kind of fast tracked my career into management as I got into working in the agency space. And then finally in tech, so lots of different journeys, lots of different experiences. And I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way.
Erin Blaskie 3:20
Cool. Did you ever feel equipped to become a manager? I mean, I think back to like, you know, my early days in management, and like it really did feel quite scary the first time someone was like, “here’s your team”. Did you feel equipped? Or was it sort of something you had to learn as you went?
Tara Robertson 3:38
Totally not in the beginning. I think when I first started when I was really young, in the early days of when I was managing at Tech line Corporation, and I think most of the people I worked with were either colleagues of mine, friends of mine, or even potentially older and had more experience working in the floor and that gave me a lot of impostor syndrome early on. On how to actually help support them as a manager and find that balance between how do you be a friend? How do you become a manager? How do you balance all of that together? So that was a really hard, I think taste of reality in the beginning.
And that proceeded throughout most of my 20s when I was early on in my career, and as I advanced in my career, and took on to leading larger teams and starting to lead a lot more different personalities and a lot of different perspectives. Each time I stepped into a larger challenge, it also felt more challenging for myself to… so from a did I feel equipped perspective, I’d say probably not, for quite some time. And a lot of it was just trial by fire and learning and reading and digging in as much as I possibly could. And also finding mentors that could help kind of guide me through those processes.
Erin Blaskie 4:51
Yeah, so you said so many things in there that I want to go back to you. So specifically the piece about impostor syndrome. I think anyone who is a high-achieving style of person experiences that, right? You get into a role that feels too big, you get into managing teams, which feels really scary. Would you say that you do still experience impostor syndrome? Is it something that you’ve learned how to get more comfortable with and you know, maybe have you learned any advice on or any tips on kind of getting over it? Maybe you never get over it, but like if you have, what does that look like?
Tara Robertson 5:26
Yeah, so first off, I don’t understand the people that don’t say that they ever experienced impostor syndrome. Most people that I have talked to in my career, sometimes people don’t know that that’s what they’re experiencing. And that I find on the management perspective comes up … in spending time and then being able to identify when it’s something that you might be experiencing and not necessarily knowing that’s what it is.
One recommendation I would have for anyone dealing with it is… a colleague of mine in this space and a good friend Tiffany de Silva, who She is an amazing speaker and does an incredible talk specifically on impostor syndrome. And it honestly changed my perspective in a lot of ways and where I have 20 years of leadership experience behind me and I still deal with impostor syndrome all the time in various different degrees. And so if anyone’s dealing with that, I would recommend just looking up Tiffany’s talk on impostor syndrome specifically, because it’s incredible and really helpful. So that would be one recommendation.
And the other one in terms of how to get over that, is to just learn a lot of the… you don’t know what you don’t know. And sometimes I think we lose our own confidence when it comes to what we’re doing in our job, with the people that we’re leading, or in knowing that every decision that you make, has a compounding impact, and to feel confident in those decisions, but to also be okay, with knowing that you don’t know what you don’t know, right. And so the more time that you can spend talking to people asking for advice, just putting yourself out there in a vulnerable way in knowing that there’s so many people to help support you, across the board, whether that is your manager or whether it’s a colleague that you admire. That’s been a huge impact for me anytime I’m feeling like, I’ve got some form of impostor syndrome, or I’m not sure if I’m making the right decision, just asking for advice. And just being vulnerable, putting myself out there. And knowing regardless where I am from a leader or from my career from where I was as a manager, I wish I did that sooner. Yeah. Because it really helps me every step of the way. When I’m dealing with that.
Erin Blaskie 7:36
Yeah, yes. You mentioned in there that, you know, kind of asking others for advice and finding out people that have maybe experienced it before. And then in earlier, you would also mention the value in finding a mentor, especially in your early days as a manager. And what advice would you have for people who are looking for a mentor, you know, but have no idea where to start? Like maybe they’re early in their career, and they don’t have you know, a lot of folks that they can lean on in their network, how did you go about finding some of your early mentors?
Tara Robertson 8:04
That’s a really great question. I think there’s two different kinds of mentors that you could be looking for. One is a mentor that’s more specific to your career, and where you’re looking to advance, where you’re looking to grow. So looking for someone that has that skills based knowledge. Another might be if you’re looking for more of a career coach, or trying to figure out where you want to grow what you want to do. And so each of those different kinds of mentors play really critical parts to your career as a whole, depending on where you are.
For me, I think it was often just finding people that I admire and putting myself out there, and connecting with them and finding that there’s a lot of nuances in the way that, you know, we all work together. And often some of my early mentors were also people that I made close connections or close friendships with in ways that I would just ask them “can I ask you for advice?” every once in a while or “can I spend time picking your brain?” or I still do this, where when I’m building out new areas on my team or thinking about new things to do. Some of those people that I admire, whether it’s my boss, or whether it’s other people that I’ve worked with, “hey, do you know anyone in this space that you can connect me with?”. And sometimes those relationships will then cascade to other people or through connections, because networking is probably one of the most important things you can do, especially as you grow in your career or as a manager. So whether that’s networking through people that you know, or even going onto LinkedIn and searching for people that have a job title that you’re looking to grow into, or putting yourself out there and just asking, “Hey, can I pick your brain sometimes?” Yeah, that has been just an incredible step for me because often you find most people want to connect and help and serve.
Erin Blaskie 9:50
Yes, no, I completely agree. Anytime I’ve ever reached out for support to anyone. I’ve been very fortunate to have heard very few no’s, if any, right? Because I think you’re right, people just want to help each other. Like they want to help other people. They want to see people advance and grow. And I think it’s one of honestly the greatest gifts we can give others with our experience and knowledge. And on the topic of, you know, kind of encouraging your team to get a mentor. And have you experienced that, where one of your team members have come to you and said, “Hey, I’m looking for a mentor”. Has that, and then if they have, has that been something that you’ve sourced internally in the organization? Or have you gone out to your network, even for other people that maybe it’s not yourself, but you’re kind of looking out for those team members?
Tara Robertson 10:36
Yeah, so I thrive on relationships. And so I would say it’s probably a little bit of both. So we’re very lucky in that internally at Sprout Social, we have a mentorship program, and we also will, will work and invest in kind of our growing leaders that we have internally. And so that’s been really supportive for some of our team members that want to grow more on that career based or within their own specific growth as a whole. So we’ll sometimes source that in house depending on what the team member’s looking for.
But often I’ve got team members that are very specific in what they want to grow in. And so whether that’s because I lead a marketing team, whether that’s in conversion rate optimisation, or learning how to do that, or surveys, often that’s when I’ll reach out to my network. And I might not explicitly say, “Hey, can you mentor this person?” Because sometimes the word mentor can be brought into this large concept of I need to spend a certain amount of time every single month, right? So often it’s “Hey, can you connect with this person and give them some advice, have a quick conversation and see if you can help them?”. And that helps a lot of team members that are looking for a mentor, start to open up their mind to networking, the power that it has within it, and then also find the right mentor for them. And so if they find that right connection, and sometimes we’ll invest in a more formal mentorship program, but sometimes it’s really just about making those connections. And asked me advice from someone that’s not your manager. And that’s a big part that I often really lean into with my team, they’ll get probably too much advice for me, in general. And so getting an external perspective, I think is huge.
Erin Blaskie 12:13
It’s so true. And I think it really gives them the opportunity to go out, learn something new, learn something different, and then bring that back into the team to sort of show that they they bring a unique value as well right to the team, because I think if you constantly stay in this sort of like vacuum that can happen in some some organizations, it can really sort of squash a few of those innovative or interesting ideas.
Tara Robertson 12:37
Erin Blaskie 12:39
Yeah. Cool. So I want to turn sort of our direction a little I want to talk about, you’ve got a pretty impressive background. You’ve got over 15 years of experience building teams. I mean, everywhere from Tech line to TSL marketing, Hot Jar, and of course, now you’re at Sprout Social. And through that time, like you’ve also I would say transition quite a bit through different titles and obviously have grown in your own career. What does your team look like today? Like how far have you come with building your team at Sprout Social, and what lessons have you learned along that along that journey?
Tara Robertson 13:15
Yes, that’s a great question. Lots of lessons are to find the right one to dig into. I’d say my team right now, I have an incredible team. So guys are listening, love you. They’re amazing. And I feel very lucky that in every step of my career, I’ve always had the opportunity to lead just incredible people and spend time in just coaching and mentoring and then helping them succeed. One of the most, I’d say rewarding things, that of being a manager is not necessarily the work that you do, but the work that your team does, and seeing them consistently grow in their career, take that leap or take that promotion and get to that next level and the pride that you kind of get through all of that.
At Sprout. I have a team of nine people directly, and about 15 people total that I managed in a squad component. And so, that’s really fun. It’s not the largest team that I’ve managed. I think previously, I’ve had teams of upwards of 35 or so people that have all obviously been, you know, different forms of org structures and charts. And so, I’d say in general, most of my teams have generally been made up of some frontline leaders and managers, so managing a lot of managers and then working with specifically specialists, or strategists, or leads in different areas that are continuously growing in their career.
And I’d say the management style with each of them regardless of when I was managing a sales team versus a marketing team versus even a customer success team is really just bringing in that human to human approach that comes into management. So really making sure that I spend the time on getting to know each person individually and then matching what they need. Some team members need a lot more hands on direction or guidance, or even just someone to bounce ideas off of. Whereas some other people want to be truly autonomous, and just execute and have you helped get out of the way to help them be successful. And so that’s something that, as I’ve grown in my career has never changed regardless of one: what their role is, or two: like where they are in their career. It’s finding what helps make each individual person successful, and then figuring out what your management style needs to be across the way that they want to be managed and across the way that you need to help get the results out of their own growth. Yeah, I’m not sure, did that answer your question?
Erin Blaskie 15:40
Yes. And I have so many other questions now. My first question is, you mentioned that you lead people in a squad at Sprout Social. What’s that? What is the squad?
Tara Robertson 15:49
Yeah, that’s a great question. So we work in an agile mindset. So essentially try to work on a week-to-week basis of “this is the work we’re going to get done this week, specific to these projects specific to these results”. And so the way that we’re structured on our marketing team is very similar to how some product teams are structured in that we’ve got squads that help execute with agility. And so, I lead our customer marketing team specifically, which is really focused on onboarding, retention marketing, expansion, growth, and just managing our customer experiences across the board. But we have a lot of support people that work within our team that helped make us successful. And so anyone from analytics to even marketing automation and how we work within our systems, to our creative team, all of the beautiful designs or development that we put out there, all of them are part of our squad and so while sometimes, our customer marketing team is really doing a lot of the project management, and the frontline execution, within our squad, we’ve got all of these support members that helped make sure that we can consistently stay with agility but also help support working across The entire marketing function.
Erin Blaskie 17:02
Yeah, I love that. I think that’s really smart. And I love the fact that there’s a lot of sort of, you know, focus on agility, because I think one of the things that can very easily happen as an organization grows is they get this manager bloat, right? Where you’ve got these teams and who have teams, and they’ve got teams and, and next thing you know, no one’s getting anything done, because there’s just too many layers. So like, I love this idea of the squad, I think that’s gonna be something that we might look at internally.
And another thing that you mentioned when you were talking about that, was this idea of sort of managing more human or like, you know, with a human approach. And I think that that’s really important. And I think sometimes in business, we can get a little bit too process focused and a little less human centric. So what are some of the things you do, every day, every week or however often that is, to just really remind you and to remind your team members, that we’re all working with humans? And that’s really an important facet of being a part of the squad.
Tara Robertson 18:09
Yeah, a few things. So the first I would say is just empathy is critical. So we’ve got one: we’ve got our values as a company, but we also have just norms that we follow as a department, which is, you know, making sure that we’re assuming positive intent, making sure that we’re spending time with each other and just bringing in that extra level of empathy into everything that we do. And so that’s one thing that I try to lead with.
To start, I’d say from a process perspective, what has been just a lifeline for me is I am obsessed with Strengths Finder. So I don’t know if you guys have ever done Strengths Finder. But it’s a book that you can go through and take a quiz. I love a good quiz for personality tests, you know, they give you your top five strengths. And the idea behind Strengths Finder is that we’re all made up of different strengths that helps support each other across the board. And so instead of focusing on being everything, being a whole with every component that you need to do to be successful, you focus on what strengths are that you bring to the table.
And so that’s where we’ll start with anyone that starts new on my team or within our team department. We’ll go through this assessment to understand what their top five strengths are. And then often we’ll start to partner some of those strengths together. So if someone is really strong on relationship-building or empathy, and another person is really strong in execution, for example, they can help support each other in making sure that we bring that human element but also get work done, in a way that just really balances across the team. And so I think a strengths-based focus has been really important to managing relationships because it helps us learn a little bit more about each other, but also operate within the team and in a function that helps us lean into not weaknesses, but instead of areas of strengths and areas that maybe we’re not as strong and we find other people that are doing can balance some of those decision making processes out together.
Erin Blaskie 20:03
That’s really cool. Honestly, I’ve done so many- not here, But so many tests over the years, like, you know, finding your enneagram. I think that’s how you say it. And yeah, and all these different tests. My question about that is really, How does it play out in practice? Meaning, so let’s say, I was to go to the team and say, “okay, we all need to do the Strengths Finder assessment”. And once we know that information, like How do you and maybe you could use you and your team as an example, like, how do you ensure that it’s valuable and being remembered, as you’re working through things all the time in projects? because they feel like it could be something that you do it. I’m not saying you, you’ve obviously figured it out, but, you know, I could see some organizations doing it and then being like, okay, we know the information. That’s great. Let’s just total carry on. So how does it play out in practice?
Tara Robertson 20:57
Well, I don’t know if we’re totally figured out but we try. And you’re 100% right. And that’s the same. We love personality tests, we do a lot of them. But oftentimes you see in business, it’s kind of a set it and forget it mentality of you take it, you learn something, then you move on. So the ways that we do it, and we use a couple different tests internally at Sprout: Strengths Finder specifically is the one we lean into within our squad. And so what we’ll do is every quarter, we’ve got a squad planning meeting, for example, and we’ll do a brainstorm. And so often the way that my team is structured is we have an onboarding and retention team, a strategy and customer experience team and then kind of a customer demand Gen and campaigns team. But those teams are all sometimes very siloed in their day to day work. But when we come together as a team, we’ll focus on a large problem that we’re trying to solve. And so instead of saying, “hey, onboarding team over here, go work on solving this for onboarding”. We might say this person is really strong in strategy, and this person is really strong in communication and influencing. Let’s come together and solve that problem and see how we can open up our minds to different ways that we can look at it or different ways that we can leverage each other’s unique abilities. And that helps a lot from a brainstorming perspective, but also just across collaboration. So that’s one.
The other thing I think that’s been more critical for me is, as the leader of the team, I’m super tuned in to what everyone’s strengths are, and so in my one-on-ones with the team members, whether they’re weekly or bi-weekly, anytime they’re having a challenge or feeling an impediment that they need to get through, whether it’s like, “Hey, I just need to get this project over the line or I’m struggling here”. Often it’s making a recommendation of, “hey, you should talk to this person on the team”. Because they’re really great at solving this problem based on this strength, or finding ways to connect people together focused on not necessarily the problem they’re trying to solve, but also the strength of how they can get a different perspective so that no one feels like they’re in it by themselves or even that I as a leader will have all the answers. It’s connecting with the people that might be able to look at it in a way that they need support based on the challenge that you’re facing with. Yeah, so I think it’s just constantly coming back to it really,
Erin Blaskie 23:12
Right. It’s almost as you’re talking, I’m almost imagining like a, you know, Strengths Finder lookbook. In terms of like, all your team, here they all are, and here’s what their strengths and maybe their weaknesses are. I think the thing that I’ve learned, especially as a manager is you’re absolutely right, understanding, you know, where your team’s strengths lie and playing to those strengths is so powerful. And I think sometimes we can run this risk of like putting people into positions that aren’t, you know, necessarily as fulfilling for them or, aren’t playing on the strengths that they have and then you know, they’re not producing and then that affects morale and like it’s a snowball effect. So I actually really love this idea of leaning in with a specific style of test and maybe for anyone listening it doesn’t need to be Strengths Finder, maybe it’s something else. But I love that it is sort of like your Northstar metric for your people.
Tara Robertson 24:06
The other thing I’d add to it, too, that’s been just really helpful, I think, for me is where we talk about that human element and the empathy. Something that we’ll do within the team. One of the practices when someone first takes their Strengths Finder is, as you read about yourself, which there’s always like, “Whoa, there is a lot here that is very specific to me”. Yes, there are things that you can see that often you’ll be misunderstood from within the team. And so we’ll go around and say, “Hey, this is one of my strengths. This is something that I’m often misunderstood for. But this is actually what I’m trying to do here”. Which helps/gives everyone empathy. And the way that I’ve used that as a leader for my teams is the more I can learn about my individual team members, the more I can help coach so it’s not necessarily just about the problem that they’re trying to solve or even the one-on-ones, but I know that someone that needs input, for example, as one of their strengths…It’s really important to pull them in early, and to make sure that they’re part of the decision making process. Or if someone’s really strong in strategy, then there’s someone I might want to involve in the early stages of trying to kick something off. And so it helps just think about the way that you manage your team and also the things that they need to be successful. So really putting yourself in the shoes of your employees and your team members and helping understand the things they’ll need to help them be successful.
Erin Blaskie 25:26
Yeah, and I love to do these sort of, you know, whether it’s like I said, a test or whatever assessment. I love that it also helps raise that self awareness like you were talking about that “whoa” moment, when you read something and you’re like: “this is this is me”, and maybe in that you’re even reading things that maybe might be like a blind spot for you that once you kind of unravel it a little bit. It really does, like you said, help to better understand who you are as a person. It’s funny it rose as you were talking, I was reminded whenever I have my first one-on-one with anyone, I’m sort of this, like on this same train of thought, I have this philosophy that I should just lay everything out, like here, all my strong points here, all my weaknesses. Here’s how like, these are the things that that I get triggered by you know, and I’m just like, it’s kind of like firing off a self-awareness.
Tara Robertson 26:21
Yeah, but it’s so helpful. I think it’s, it’s been critical for me. And even for myself, like one of my top fives, I’m an activator, I need to just get something going as soon as the division. And so I’ll get really frustrated when something takes too long or is getting caught up in just cycles and cycles and so knowing that about myself I’m also like “okay, chill”. Yeah, just sit back like this isn’t your problem to solve. We don’t need to activate that right now. Yeah, and I think that that’s been really helpful in just not necessarily how you manage your team, but also how you can be a better leader.
Erin Blaskie 26:56
Yeah, and a better person, right and all of society like I think the more we learn in our organizations and our jobs like the better we are outside as well, because we take so many of those lessons out into the world. So I think I think it’s great. And I and I honestly love that you’re…there’s this focus on the person, the human, their personality, their strengths, because I think I mean, that’s really how we create, you know, better, better people.
Tara Robertson 27:24
And how we feel good.
Erin Blaskie 27:26
Yes, absolutely. Right. You want to end every day at work, feeling like you’re walking away, like, “Oh, this was a great day, I feel fulfilled.” And even on the hard days, you want to walk away feeling like “that was really hard. But I felt supported”. You know, or “that was really hard, but I have some skills and learnings to get through it”. So, I want to turn our attention to something a little bit more tactical. So I want to talk, you had mentioned that you have a weekly, and you’ve got a quarterly meeting, I think you’ve got a bi-weekly meeting as well. So walk me through sort of the setup or the structure of the meetings that you’re having. What do those look like and how do you find them personally effective?
Tara Robertson 28:04
Yeah, so I am a remote manager. So, for one: meetings are super important when it comes to just one getting face time with your team and making sure that you’re spending time just working through everything that’s happening. And I’d say, as a company, we’re consistently moving more and more remote, especially right now. And so we’ve got offices in Chicago and Seattle, over in Dublin, and then remote members in various places. So there’s a couple things that can happen in that kind of a setting. The first one is just meeting fatigue. So we’re very, very cautious on making sure that we’re not over scheduling or over meeting. We focus a lot on and I’m not sure if you’ve read Essentialism, but that’s a big focus right now. Yeah, really great book and talking about kind of making sure that you’re focused and working on the most essential things. And so I mentioned previously that we work in more of an agile framework of week-to-week and what we’re setting out as our intention for the week, what the goals are that we’re trying to solve for, and their meeting structure kind of ladders into that.
And so, we have in our agile sprints, we essentially work on an every two weeks cycle. And that’s how we’ll assign work out to a lot of the people in our squad that are counterparts like our creative team or analytics team. And so what we’ll do is once every two weeks we get together and do essentially our planning, where the whole team comes in, we talk about this is where we’re at with our goals. This is what we’ve seen over the last couple weeks. This is our main focus across the board that we’re all trying to lean into, and then prioritize the work of the team and essentially put it into priority order. And this is really critical for us so that we can make sure we’re not just doing all the things, but we’re focused on the most important things. And so I’d say that’s kind of a foundational meeting that’s critical to how the entire squad themselves work.
Then we have every other week of what we call our leadership meeting within the customer marketing team. Where a lot of the leaders will come together, and where ruthless we are looking at our numbers, our impact, what are the biggest things that we’re worried about? What are the things that we’re really excited about? And what are the things that we just need to make sure are cascaded to all of the different teams. And this is really important for the people managers that we have on the team, because context is really important for everyone, regardless of what team they’re on, or even what department sometimes. And so we use these business operations meetings, one to talk about what our main priorities and focus will be, but then to also to make sure that the most important things that cascaded to the rest of the business because as you get bigger, things get a lot harder to then communicate. So communication is in a lot of ways, either too much or too little. There’s never that perfect place in between but we try our best to get there.
And then as a squad will do a bi-weekly standup so twice a week we spend 15 minutes where everyone just comes together and talks about, these are the main priorities and focused on, here’s an impediment that I might have. And we’ll focus a lot more on impediments, because it helps just unblock the work, or reprioritize the work if new information is available. I’d say structurally, those are probably the operating meetings that we have. So leadership meeting, the bi-weekly planning meeting, and then the squad stand ups. And then from a management perspective, and it’s different for each of my team members. I used to have everyone on the same one-on-one cycle. But this year specifically, I’m trying it out a little different in letting the manager kind of lead with me what they need for some people that’s once a week, some people that every other week, some people that’s once a month depending on where they need to be successful and what they’re looking for. And this is probably more advanced as a leader in the sense of I wouldn’t recommend doing that with someone that’s new in their career that probably needs a lot more guidance or direction or feedback, but because I manage managers, they’re incredible, generally just making sure that they’re laser focused on priority. And I’m available to them whenever they need. And I’d say anything ad hoc as a, as a remote leader, if they need to get on the phone, I will absolutely always get on the phone.
Erin Blaskie 32:14
Yeah. And I’m so curious. And I know you’ve said so much. But I want to go back to one of the first things that you said, which is that you’re a remote manager. Yeah. How does that work? I mean, and I understand the world is moving remote, we’re getting a lot more, you know, comfortable with that. But you know, like, you also hear like that it can be difficult to manage people if you’re not right in front of them, which I don’t believe but I would love to know a little bit more about your experience being a remote manager. What’s challenging about it, what works really well and just sort of how you’ve been able to, because obviously, you know, you’ve been able to make it successful. So, how? This is my biggest question. How did you do that?
Tara Robertson 33:00
That’s a big question. I’d say so for one, video is really important when you’re actually not in the office face time. Probably one of my most frustrating things when I’m a remote leader is when other people don’t turn their videos on and they’re not intentionally there because then you feel like they’re half there. So I’d say that that’s probably one of the most important things that I’ve found. I’ve been remote for 10 years over the last few years, the more people that kind of lean into this remote culture of being able to not just see the verbal but also the non verbals is just so important. When it comes to it, I’d say as a manager and as a leader, because if you don’t know those nonverbals, and you can’t feel the empathy and be able to see how someone’s feeling in a lot of ways, then it’s very hard to feel like you have a pulse on what’s going on in the floor.
And so I’ve managed and worked in situations where we were 100% remote to where right now Sprout is more in-office and they are remote. So each of those bring different sets of challenges. I’d say from a 100% remote, the challenge that I had there is one: we were 100% remote and 100% global. And so being intentional with when you’re available. It sounds like it would be so easy, but it’s probably the hardest thing. Yeah, time zones are just crazy, especially if you’re a leader, and you’re an achiever, and you want to be helpful, which are all things that are really important to me, I have a hard time just turning off. And so I’ve had to set very, very specific guidelines of “I have an office, I get ready for work every day, I am available from this hour to this hour”, and then finding how to use things like when you saw or snooze Slack notifications, or when you set your working hours in your Google Calendar, or little components to just send signals to other people that “hey, I’m not available” before they reach out so that you can set some of those boundaries and guidelines. And when I walk away from my desk, when I walk away from my office, I leave my computer there, I don’t go there to work unless I’m there working. And that’s been a really important part is just setting boundaries.
And say, when you’re working in an in-office environment, when you’re remote, and there’s an office, there’s different sets of challenges. So, still manage with some of that when I’m available and when I’m not. But I think there’s an extra level of needing empathy for understanding that you’re not there. And you can’t just have someone on the shoulder. And so for me, it’s finding a champion in the office often that I can check in with on “Hey, how’s the post on the floor?” Or “can you help me to find this person?” if I can’t find them, and even just set intentions with other people that I can’t be on Slack all day long. And so while Slack is available and helpful for some people in the office, I’ll generally use the kind of mindset of well, you wouldn’t walk into a conference room when someone’s in a meeting and say, “Hey, can you chat real quick?”, right, and that’s kind of mindset you have to take with Slack, especially when you’re leading people is when you’re available and when you’re not, and setting office hours and focus hours. So I’d say just as a leader: 1. video, super important, make sure you can see the people. 2. Inclusion, making sure that you’re spending time including the people that are remote, and they feel like you have a voice. And 3. just making sure that you’re intentional, really, with your hours and the time that you spend.
Erin Blaskie 36:26
Yeah, and what about like hiring as a remote leader? Because obviously, you know, if you’re a leader or manager, you’re building out that team. How does hiring happen, in a way that you feel good about as a manager.
Tara Robertson 36:41
Yeah, and I’d say that this depends on if you’re hiring in house or if you’re hiring remote. So I think if you’re hiring in house, same process for us in that my interview will just end up being on a conference call versus being in the office and I’m okay with that because I’m used to being remote and both virtual and so trying to set yourself up in the mindset of, “I’m here, I’m available”. And one I’ll travel to the office often enough to see people but also trying to get in the mindset of videos just as helpful and important as in person.
Of your hiring remote, it’s a completely different set of situations that you need to get into. And so one not only are you hiring for the role and the experience that you have, I also have to hire for the autonomy of trust, and to make sure that who you’re bringing in either has experience or is the self starter in a lot of ways. And I’d say any remote team member you have to start with an end-trust always, you’ll never know what they’re doing in their office. And so if you don’t have that from the beginning, then it’s not a good fit. And it’s really important that you take that into mindset. So for us and this is probably in previous roles in Sprouts, because most of the team members that we have have either moved to remote at some point or are in office but when I’ve hired 100% remote in the past, we spent an extra cycle going through the hiring where whether it was doing a task, or a project of some kind to see what their output would look like based off of one, the way that they collaborate in Slack or whatever your system is with other team members to gain information and then two, how they deliver that information and communicate because over communication is key. And that extra step of doing a task or doing some kind of paid work of what their job would be helps kind of set you up for seeing what their working style is when they’re working in just a completely different time zone or place.
Erin Blaskie 38:33
Yeah, I love that. There’s so many great tips. I think it’s so relevant and timely as well as so many more companies are having to explore this world of remote. And the last question I have about the remote management side is you mentioned Slack, but what other tools do you find useful, you know, for managing and leading a remote team?
Tara Robertson 38:53
Yeah, great question. So we use a ton of different tools for managing remote especially as we’ve gotten people in different offices as well. So, some is obviously Slack, for just communication in real time. But we set really specific guidelines to when do you email versus when do you Slack. We’ve got meeting guidelines that we use at Sprout as well for being intentional about our meetings, which is really helpful, as well. And so, that’s something that I definitely would recommend. Everything’s in the Google suite. So we do everything on the cloud, which is really, really important for how we’re just virtually engaging with each other across the board. Zoom or Hangouts, or whatever video conferencing system we could use in order to just make sure that we’re connecting with each other.
Erin Blaskie 39:40
Very cool. Well, thank you for sharing all that. So my last question for you is, you know, when we love asking this question, because honestly, it helps us gather really great resources and things that we might be able to learn more from but also our audience. So what are some of the books or resources or, you know, people anything that you have found to be extremely helpful as you’ve navigated this journey of becoming a manager and leader.
Tara Robertson 40:07
From a management perspective I’ll focus there, and say a couple have been very critical in my career and I’d recommend to literally everyone. One that we push internally at Sprout that we get from all of our managers is The Making of a Manager. Such a great book!
A couple other ones that I found to be really impactful: The One Minute Manager, it is a one-hour read for the most part, but a really really great model that you can follow in just how you give feedback. Radical Candor is another one that constantly is leaning into and talking about on how we get feedback and how to make sure that we are being empathetic. So those are probably my top management books.
On just structure and focus, those have been other ones that have been really important to us. I mentioned Essentialism, that is a very important one. But I would tie that with Essentialism and Indestractable, which is Nir Eyal’ new book. Which has been really helpful on how you can even go through email and managing the inbox, and managing the amount of constant influx of communications coming in your direction. And the other one that I would say has been really helpful, that my team is actually reading right now “What got you here, won’t get you there” and so I would really recommend that book, it’s really a great read or listen, if you are an audio book fan. And, you have to start with one of those.
Erin Blaskie 41:34
Well, now everyone’s got at least the next three weeks covered. Depending on how fast you read. So thank you so much for sharing those. Well Tara, this has been so great. I’ve learned so much about you and you journey as a manager and leader. I think there’s so many things you’ve said in here about, you know, the human side of management, empathy building, learning more about your team, remote management. There are so many things we honestly could probably have an episode on each. But I just wanted to say thank you for being a part of it.
Tara Robertson 42:06
Yeah, thank you. This has been really fun!