Chris Rothstein of Groove: “As a manager, your job is to be an editor”

As a manager, your job is to be an editor: Effective leaders constantly push people to create ideas while also providing effective feedback in order to ensure that things are moving in the right direction. Your team members should have their own unique voice, and you should look to nurture their strengths and improve their […]

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As a manager, your job is to be an editor: Effective leaders constantly push people to create ideas while also providing effective feedback in order to ensure that things are moving in the right direction. Your team members should have their own unique voice, and you should look to nurture their strengths and improve their weaknesses.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Rothstein.

Chris Rothstein is the CEO and co-founder of Groove, the leading sales engagement platform for enterprises using Salesforce. Chris co-founded Groove after spending five years in sales management at Google, where he successfully built and scaled multiple sales teams.

During his tenure at Google, Chris wanted to remove the mundane obstacles that their account executives had to do every day in order to allow them to spend more time selling. Since founding Groove in 2014, Chris has guided the company through six years of rapid growth and customer adoption by more than 450 organizations and 50,000 users.

A native Minnesotan hailing from a rural town of 300, Chris believes strongly in the importance of hard-work, giving back, and helping others — three values that continue to guide him as a tech CEO and mentor to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Chris earned a BS in Information Systems and Entrepreneurial Management from the Curtis L. Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship and sales. Growing up in Minnesota, my father ran a tractor dealership and my mother created an insurance agency, so I got exposed early to all the responsibilities of running a business — including the important role that sales plays in driving company growth.

When it came time to go to college, I stayed local, attending the University of Minnesota, and I might still be there today had it not been a trip with my university to California where I saw all the sprawling campuses of the Silicon Valley tech giants, and I knew instantly that that’s where the future was, and I wanted to be a part of it. With this newfound focus, I began applying to these companies and landed a sales job at Google shortly after graduation in 2007. Getting into Google alone was a fulfillment of a dream, but I was even more fortunate to join as an early member of the Google Cloud team, where I was responsible for leading several sales teams for various Enterprise initiatives.

At Google, we were encouraged to seek out the best tools and innovative solutions for the task at hand. As I looked to optimize my team’s sales performance, it became clear that there were no market solutions that were built specifically for sales teams. Everything available required too much manual work and tweaking to implement. I was frustrated when I saw how much time my sales reps and account managers were spending on menial and time-consuming tasks that I believed could be automated.

I knew that there had to be a better way. I shared my frustrations with a friend and fellow Google sales executive Austin Wang, and together we decided to leave Google to tackle this problem. A year later, we launched Groove. Today over 50,000 account executive, sales development, and customer success representatives use Groove at some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing companies. Landing my former employer Google as one of our first customers was particularly satisfying, and helped pave the way to bring on other large organizations like Workfront, Uber, and Capital One.

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

Early on in my career, I was focused solely on individual growth and moving up the sales ladder as fast as possible. Thankfully, one of my mentors encouraged me to focus my attention far more on developing my skills rather than thinking about short-term aspirations like maximizing compensation by remaining in an individual contributor role as an enterprise sales rep. Adopting this more long-term mindset put me on the path to become a people manager, which enabled me to lead teams far earlier in my career. This was a critical shift because it would have been so easy to stay on my current path instead of getting better at working with a team to maximize the impact of an entire group of people. Before long, I was getting a lot of great experience in building and managing teams. At one point, while growing my division, I was at the very top of Google for the total number of interviews conducted. While this career shift was more challenging personally, my experience in managing sales organizations was critical to my growth as a leader.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

In my experience, great managers focus on four key areas when it comes to retaining and acquiring talent: Compensation, Work-Life balance, Impact and Growth. While compensation and work-life are straightforward (pay employees well, create a great positive work atmosphere), successful leaders constantly encourage and push their employees to grow their skills and understand their impact by establishing clear measurable goals. In the age of COVID, this can be challenging, which is why constant communication and feedback is critical. Now more than ever, business leaders need to show their employees that their ideas and accomplishments matter.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

The best way to get large teams to work together effectively is by setting quantifiable goals and making it easy for colleagues to communicate and collaborate. At Groove, we get everyone aligned around company goals using a framework based on clear objectives and key results (OKRs). We first set company-level OKRs, and then each department leader creates team-specific goals that ladder up to them. Company leaders also provide transparent operating timelines so everyone is aware of when we do certain things, like planning for the next quarter. Once the goals are set and rolled out to the organization, our team leaders engage in daily standups to understand the progress that is being made, get feedback from people on the front-lines, and encourage inter-departmental collaboration through regular communication and frequent cross-departmental offsites focused on attacking big problems. Together, these activities ensure that we are all aligned in driving the same big outcomes rather than focusing on the outcome of one team.

Here is the main question of our discussion. 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. As a manager, your job is to be an editor: Effective leaders constantly push people to create ideas while also providing effective feedback in order to ensure that things are moving in the right direction. Your team members should have their own unique voice, and you should look to nurture their strengths and improve their weaknesses.
  2. You can’t overcommunicate: Constantly stressing the most important goals and reasons you are working on specific projects is important. Even when things seem clear, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself.
  3. Empathy is important: To build the best team, you must build a team with unique perspectives. You need to be able to relate with everyone on your team and with all different kinds of people.
  4. Focus on the team’s output: Too often leaders are measuring their own individual output rather than measuring their team’s output. They will do the challenging work themselves, which is often easier but isn’t the right long-term solution. It will lead to a ceiling in the team’s performance.
  5. Push everyone to be an owner: The highest functioning teams have people that really own their respective areas. You need everyone to own the outcomes in their area and to be constantly pushing to make their area better.

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

Effective company leaders help their employees to grow in their careers by placing them in ownership positions where goals are clear. Through focusing on results and providing your employees with feedback on their impact on the company, CEOs can create a working environment where their employees can truly thrive.

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. 🙂

I believe that any change that you want to see in the world starts with you. I truly believe that if we set an example for others, we can create effective positive change.

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

One important quote that I often think about is: “All great things in life come from compound interest.” If you stay focused on something over a long period of time, you will be constantly making progress, even though it will be very hard to see. At some point, however, you will step back and suddenly see all the progress and realize the massive strides you’ve made by just continuing to do the work. I think this is how you get great at anything and where you see real returns. This approach applies to health, generating wealth, becoming great at a sport, and a lot more. Many people often switch to something new or make too many changes that prevent them from going deep enough to get really outsized benefits.

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