“Be transparent.” With Tyler Gallagher & Kristi Piehl

Be transparent. Early in the company, I decided not to take a salary so more money could be put back into the company. I didn’t tell anyone. The COO finally convinced me that people needed to know. I was embarrassed. However, when we told everyone, they rallied and were so excited when, months later, I […]

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Be transparent. Early in the company, I decided not to take a salary so more money could be put back into the company. I didn’t tell anyone. The COO finally convinced me that people needed to know. I was embarrassed. However, when we told everyone, they rallied and were so excited when, months later, I started getting paid.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristi Piehl, Founder & CEO of Media Minefield. Kristi launched Media Minefield in 2010 following a career as an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter. Media Minefield is a one-of-a-kind agency specializing in earned media and messaging. With clients ranging from startups to billion-dollar brands, Media Minefield moves beyond traditional public relations with its innovative NewsabilityⓇ process. The magic of NewsabilityⓇ means clients receive positive press in media outlets to help them reach their target audiences.

Kristi is dedicated to creating a unique work environment with policies that value families, flexibility and health. For four years in a row, Media Minefield has been recognized as one of the Twin Cities’ Best Places to Work. In 2018, Media Minefield debuted on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing private companies in America.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

For 12 years, I was a TV news reporter and anchor. In 2008, I was laid off. Without a job, a plan or a clue what I was going to do, I started volunteering, networking and taking classes to explore my passions and strengths. I was searching to find a way to connect my experience as a news reporter with my passion of helping people. A class at my church led me to launch Media Minefield. We are now the only firm, of our size and success rate, solely focused on messaging and securing earned media staffed by former journalists using our proprietary NewsabilityⓇ process.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Early in the company’s history, we were hired to launch a new social media platform. The way the Media Minefield team positioned the new platform caused a firestorm of coverage. Within a few days of the launch, the site was featured on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It was incredible to watch. It was the first time, and not the last, we would work with a company to secure media that would get people talking!

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! However, the most exciting projects can’t be discussed, yet……

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

From my perspective, this is due to business policies that don’t value the whole person and employees who are willing to begrudgingly put up with it.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

In my experience, turnover, client satisfaction and margins are all indicators of workforce happiness and health. Unhappy or unhealthy employees can’t be part of healthy teams, and without high-functioning teams, companies suffer. On the flip side, when employees are supported and developing at work, I believe their personal lives are positively impacted. Think of the impact companies could have on the world if employees went home energized and happy!?

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  1. Be grateful | I’m regularly surprised at how the little things mean the most to our team. Acknowledging hard work by thanking everyone with a simple meal, a handwritten note or funding a group activity goes a long way.
  2. Communicate | Only leadership sees the big picture, and it’s critical everyone in a company understands where the organization is going and how their role fits into that. This can only happen in an environment where leadership is regularly communicating with the team. This goes both ways; we ask everyone to fill out an anonymous survey each week. The questions are about our Core Values and culture. I can’t fix something if I don’t know it’s broken. Also, if a decision was made that positively impacted the culture, I want to know so I can replicate it.
  3. Be transparent | Early in the company, I decided not to take a salary so more money could be put back into the company. I didn’t tell anyone. The COO finally convinced me that people needed to know. I was embarrassed. However, when we told everyone, they rallied and were so excited when, months later, I started getting paid.
  4. Be generous | This isn’t simply about offering fair salaries and benefits; it’s about being generous with your time and words.
  5. Manage people with the Golden Rule | It’s simple — treat people as you’d like to be treated.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

For companies, create cultures where Core Values don’t just hang on the wall, but are lived and adopted by everyone. Rather than hiring for skills, hire for Core Value alignment and development potential. The workforce owns some of this too. Apply to companies that align with your goals and life. Decide what is important to you, at this season in your career, and seek out companies that are aligned. The myth that working 80 hours a week and not taking vacations is the only way to succeed must end.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

My leadership style is rooted in my journalism training and belief that communication is critical. As a TV reporter, I covered different stories everyday and I needed to find experts to give my stories context. When I became an entrepreneur, I relied on experts who had experience starting and leading companies. I read and listen to stories of entrepreneurs. I follow business news. I ask a lot of questions. I surround myself with people who I admire and who make me better. From all this information, I take the nuggets that resonate and bring them to Media Minefield.

For example, a small group of entrepreneurs and I took a trip to visit Zappos to see the amazing culture and company Tony Hsieh built. There was a cardboard prize wheel where employees could win prizes. Every employee we met talked about how long they’d worked at Zappos and proudly showed us the fake license plates with their starting dates hanging in their work spaces. We were building our new office at the time and I had the designer build a large spin wheel in the wall. Each month, employees nominated for their Core Value excellence spin the wheel and win prizes. On employees’ first anniversary, they receive a superhero cape with the date they started. On each anniversary, they share their favorite memory and we all take a few minutes to celebrate with them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Elizabeth Tumulty, former President of CBS, is my mentor. She is my chief cheerleader and truth teller. Liz tells me what I need to hear even if I don’t want to hear it. We talk regularly, and she has been to the office to meet with my team. In the early years, I hired an acquaintance to meet with me to help me understand the basics of business. As an English major who spent years in the news business, I needed to rely on her and books to learn strategies and trends.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Because we are in the PR industry, we are able to secure positive press for some wonderful non-profit organizations. We specifically focus our energy on organizations helping children and animals. I’m passionate about helping other female entrepreneurs and am thrilled to be one of the founding members of the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute at DePaul University.

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

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote is in my office everyday and gives me the courage to walk a path I haven’t walked before. I hope my journey will help make the path a little easier for a young entrepreneur who comes after me.

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. 🙂

We can all help each other if we consider the weight and power of our words. I’m in the messaging business, and if we said one positive thing to one person everyday, think of how many people would be impacted in our lifetimes.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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