5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Team, With Alexandra Levis, CEO of Arro Financial Communications

If you rely on your employees’ talents and support as much as I do, then figure out what makes them stay vs. stray. It’s not always the…

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If you rely on your employees’ talents and support as much as I do, then figure out what makes them stay vs. stray. It’s not always the paycheck and the prestige of the job. Work with them to see what matters most and try to deliver that benefit, as long as it doesn’t compete with your business’ interests.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Levis, Founder and CEO of Arro Financial Communications, a boutique marketing and PR agency catering to asset management clients. She manages a remote international team, servicing boutique and Fortune 2000 clients around the globe.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I’m a third culture kid who likes asking lots of questions. I studied international relations in the hopes of working in diplomacy. When that didn’t pan out, I moved to NYC and knocked on lots of doors until I got offered a job.

I then quit said job (more on that later) and found myself working in financial PR, a role I had never imagined for myself nor was aware even existed. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the work (I got paid to ask questions!) and thus began my career in financial communications. After working at the financial PR agency, I was hired to run in-house marketing and public relations for a boutique investment firm in NYC. I knew deep down that I wanted to run my own company one day, and it was just a matter of time until I had enough of a skill set that big companies actually wanted to pay me for.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

We work in a pretty traditional industry where remote work is not common. I was really surprised (in a good way) when several industry colleagues approached me individually and asked if I was hiring. They had heard about or worked with us in some capacity and thought it was cool to have a business model where the work comes first and the location is secondary. I did not expect that to happen, but am very grateful it did. I have the best team anyone could ask for as a result.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was first starting out, I went with the familiar. I hired a friend graphic designer to work on a client’s branding campaign. We had never worked together, only spent time together socially. But her portfolio was solid and she seemed to have the right experience. Days into the project I could tell I made a huge mistake. We were not on the same page and did not have a good working relationship.

The lesson here isn’t to not work with friends, per se. The lesson is to know who you are getting into business with. Moving forward, I always do a test run with a new hire or vendor so I can determine if they are a good fit before they work on a client campaign.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

I manage a small remote team across multiple time zones. Since we all work in different offices in different locations, the key is to over communicate and ensure we are consistently on the same page. We all speak on a daily basis (phone, email, chat) to catch up on goals for the day. Our agency’s workflow hinges on this crucial exercise. Oftentimes, we find we are more in sync than teams that sit 3 feet from each other.

What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?

The top challenge is battling time zones and needing to get in touch with someone at 3:00am their time. It happened in the past right before a website launch for a client (which thankfully turned out OK). It’s very rare that this happens (hence the need to over communicate), but when it does we rely on digging through emails (we make sure all relevant employees are cc’d), shared spreadsheets on Google Drive, files in Dropbox, and our magical Wunderlist.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

If you rely on your employees’ talents and support as much as I do, then figure out what makes them stay vs. stray. It’s not always the paycheck and the prestige of the job. Work with them to see what matters most and try to deliver that benefit, as long as it doesn’t compete with your business’ interests.

Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?

I totally agree with this statement (I’ve been there). It’s rare that we quit because checking emails is onerous and meetings are too long.

The biggest lesson I learned from one of my first managers that caused me to quit my job (in 2009…when no one was quitting their job!) was how NOT to treat employees. I’m always amazed by bullies in the workplace — especially those with management roles. While they can intellectually grasp the importance of keeping overhead costs low, they completely fail to understand that if you treat people like crap they will quit. And when people quit, it costs the company money and time and reduced performance and client concerns (why is this the third account manager since the beginning of the year, Paul?) and paranoia among those brave souls who remain.

My agency has grown year over year and we’ve retained everyone thus far. During times when it’s easier to blow up at someone just because they work for you, I think to myself “what would [former manager] do?” and then do the opposite. I actually owe her a big thank you. I’m way better off for it, even though I know that was not her intention.

Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

1) Be flexible. Things happen, and sometimes the business model you have built doesn’t pan out quite they way you thought it would. In these instances, it’s important to be flexible where you can be. For example, I have an employee who moved to the West Coast and couldn’t hack the 5am wake-up. We worked together to slightly modify his schedule where he would start a bit later and end later in the day. At first I was hesitant because I am really adamant about everyone being connected by 9:00am ET sharp. A few months in, I could tell the big difference it made in his work output. As an added bonus, we now have someone available to deal with clients later in the day, further strengthening our commitment to client coverage. It’s been a win-win!

2) Have high expectations and make them crystal clear. Under no circumstances is sub-par work and mediocre client service acceptable in my book, and my employees are made aware of this fact on day #1. In fact, I stress to them during the interview process that this is the only thing I care about.

For some companies, things like dress codes and office politics seem to take center stage. In our case, it’s making sure we deliver high quality work and above-and-beyond client relations. For instance, if we have a situation where a client is unhappy with the quality of a project or felt it wasn’t hitting the mark, we offer to re-do it. If a client is unhappy with the way a situation was handled, I get on a call and try to resolve the situation immediately. In either instance, I make sure everyone on the team is aware of what happened so we can ensure it doesn’t happen again.

3) Ban office politics. One of the better benefits of running a remote agency is the total elimination of office politics, which we all know wastes time, money, and leads to disgruntled employees. Obviously not everyone is happy 100% of the time and things get stressful and people get heated. As soon as something like this occurs at the agency, I nip it in the bud immediately. I speak to both sides and step in if necessary. The last thing you want is to have problems like this grow and fester. Most employees at any company usually have the same goals: to do a good job, make their clients happy, and move on with their lives. Office politics are a massive roadblock to this.

If you are not managing a remote team but rather have everyone in the same office, you need to make it your priority to handle these issues immediately and not assume they will sort themselves out.

4) Empower people, because you can’t be the best at everything. No one likes to be micromanaged or feel like his or her opinions are not being heard. It’s also unrealistic to think you are the best at everything. Its important to make employees feel empowered so they produce the best results and keep clients coming back. I try and treat all my employees as “experts” in their fields. I respect their opinions and feedback.

For instance, our Client Services Director who has been working in this industry for years has a particular style in how she deals with clients. Her style (although different from mine) resonates well and is extremely efficient. Allowing her to do things in that style has shown great results and lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. By empowering my employees, I have come to trust them. This isn’t to say that we always agree; if my gut says otherwise we are going with my gut reaction. But if you can’t surround yourself with people you trust and people who are better than you in their respective fields, you are doing a huge disservice to the future growth of your company.

5) Be nice to your people. It doesn’t cost any money, and it could save you a lot more down the road. Don’t confuse this for a pushover. You can still be a decent boss to your employees and stand your ground to protect your business. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There is no doubt that access to quality education and healthcare are the key to helping people from all backgrounds lift themselves up and better their lives. If I wasn’t doing what I am now, I’d love to help people from underdeveloped nations secure access to these services that many of us take for granted. I don’t know if it’s a movement per se, but I fully support initiatives that help level the playing field for all.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“To know what life is worth you have to risk it once in a while.” Jean-Paul Sartre

I like this quote because it’s relevant to my career and love of travel. Turning down a secure job to launch the agency was a big leap — a complete, unknown risk that several tried to dissuade me from. But we only get one life to live, and at that point in my life not trying would have been my biggest regret. I feel the same way about traveling whenever I get the chance. To know what is really out there in the world, sometimes you have to risk the comfort and familiarity and language barrier. That’s when you uncover the good stuff.

Originally published at medium.com

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