Learn vs Do
As I was packing my bag the night before my first day at Mindspace, a global provider of boutique, upscale flexible office spaces, it occurred to me that even though it’s my fourth company in 10 years, it’s the first one I join as the VP of Marketing. I’ve been through the “first 90 days” scenario a few times — in new companies and in new roles — but this time is different for a few reasons. First, it’s not a SaaS company, so I will have to learn a new business model. Second, it’s in Israel, a country I grew up in but never worked in, so I will have to build my network from scratch. Lastly, it’s in the flex-office/co-working/office-as-a-service/please-come-up-with-a-better-category-name market which is rapidly growing but completely new to me. As I was having those thoughts, it also occurred to me that my situation is not unique (well, maybe the moving to Israel is…), but with the exception of books on the topic (First 90 Days is my bible for this process as you will notice if you stick around), there are almost no blogs, posts or stories that share the process of starting a new marketing job. So I decided to write and share mine. This will be my attempt to give back to a community of marketers that have given me so much over the past decade in forms of knowledge, content, ideas and inspiration, connections and support. Selfishly, it will also give me the benefit of having a documented journey I can come back to in the future, and will allow me to tap into the collective wisdom of my fellow marketers (and non-marketers) on the topics and challenges I will surely face. For example, should I get a Mac or PC? Just kiddin’, of course I’m getting a Mac.
Over the years I learned that the first week should be dedicated to getting to know people and completing all my administrative set up. In the first 90 days two opposing needs compete for my attention — learning and producing. Naturally, I want to be producing value as soon as possible. After all, I was hired to deliver results. However, I learned that resisting the urge to jump in and do “stuff” is important, even if sometimes it feels like you’re not participating. For example, in the first week at Mindspace, I was invited to a meeting about new employee onboarding. The purpose of the meeting was to ask my team to help with writing and designing a welcome email to new employees with marketing information about the company — About Us, market information, value proposition, etc. — and a short welcome video. My immediate instinct was to jump into a brainstorm session, design the flow, and help with the content, but I sat on my hands (as my coach once advised me) to make sure I don’t jump in and take on a task that will only distract me from my real goal in the coming weeks — learn as much as I can.
The first thing I wanted to achieve this week is to get to know the team and reduce their uncertainty as much as I can. Leadership changes are always a source for uncertainty and anxiety, and the faster I can help answer question and let them know I’m accessible, the less anxious they will be. So in the first day I completed introduction meetings with almost everyone and by the end of the week spoke with all the international employees and held our first team meeting. In my introduction meetings I focused on getting to know each of them personally (who you are? what is your background?) and gave them an opportunity to bring up topics that are top of mind for them as well as ask me questions. Then, I reviewed the latest mid-year reviews to make sure I am not missing anything important. In the past, I avoided reading performance reviews or getting feedback on each employee as I was afraid it will create an unfair first impression they cannot control. However, I learned that the more information you can gather, the broader (and more balanced) picture you get. Now I try to collect as much information and feedback on each of my reports as I can. The main purpose is to understand what makes them tick and make sure that I am not missing any red flags. For example, if one of my reports has a tricky family situation that might impact their behavior, it’s important for me to know that so I evaluate and treat them accordingly.
I inherited a strong team, but a 6-month vacancy in the VP of Marketing position is showing its signs on them. They crave representation in the management team and strategic direction, but most of them enjoy the freedom that having no oversight create. One of the key topics I will have to address, is how to start providing my direction and influence without taking away from the independence and ownership they were “forced” into. How do I empower them to continue to take ownership and grow but at the same time create the structure and guardrails that are so necessary for the efficient operation of a marketing team?
This week I also started meeting with key stakeholders in the company to start building relationships and identify where the knowledge and influence are.
Joining Mindspace was not an easy decision for me, since I had a few competing offers to join software companies. When I started the job search, I set two principles that I tried to stick with as I was evaluating my options: I wanted to join a company that has great people I would love working with, and a product and market I believe in. Mindspace is not a software company, but it sells a premium, high quality product in a rapidly growing market. But the main reason I joined, and the one that “sealed” the deal for me was the people. Moving across the globe and starting to work in a new market is going to be hard enough, so having people around me I will get along with, and enjoy meeting every day, was the deciding factor in choosing between a few good offers. Call me vain, but loneliness scares me.
After meeting with all the VPs and several stakeholders I was happy to see the passion and enthusiasm they all have for the company. I was encouraged by the dynamic and the close relationship that I observed in the management team, and by the end of the week, I felt that I made the right decision. It’s too early to really know at this point, but I saw no red flags.
It’s clear that there are many challenges ahead, as I gathered more information throughout the week, some started to emerge. We need to organize and clean the brand, we need to identify the right strategy, build better structure, create the appropriate process and implement solutions. We will need to fill gaps in competencies, hire, reorganize, set roles and responsibilities, and the list goes on. I’m excited about the road ahead, and excited to start this journey with my team and the people around me. In the coming weeks, I will focus on learning the market and audit our marketing functions and performance. But the first step will be to define the framework for my evaluation. I already have a few ideas.