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Clearly define your goals with Inna Shevchenko

Working with a remote team makes giving honest and direct feedback without being hurtful or demoralizing even more challenging. Imagine giving feedback to a team member that you have never met in real life. Even though today we have tools such as video calls that facilitate better and effective communication compared to written communication, conveying […]

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Working with a remote team makes giving honest and direct feedback without being hurtful or demoralizing even more challenging. Imagine giving feedback to a team member that you have never met in real life. Even though today we have tools such as video calls that facilitate better and effective communication compared to written communication, conveying your message without demoralizing is sometimes tricky.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Inna Shevchenko.

Inna Shevchenko is the CMO at iGMS, a short-term rental management software company. She has been a marketer for more than 12 years, with expertise in online and offline marketing channels, for both B2B and B2C segments. Inna started her career in big corporations, followed by a more challenging experience in developing startups. Currently, she is leading all the marketing and customer experience efforts at a Canadian software company that has developed a revolutionary product for streamlining daily activities of property managers.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have 12 years of continuous marketing experience. I have expertise in both online and offline marketing channels, with both B2B and B2C segments.

I started my marketing career at a local subsidiary of LG electronics, as a Media and Creative specialist, and spent some time working in big corporations. Almost 5 years ago I became interested in working in the IT industry specifically, and started my job in a CRM company. Three and a half years ago I became a part of the iGMS team and here I am.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

iGMS is a Canada-based company that develops cloud-based software specifically for short-term rental managers. It provides professional hosts with tools to automate and streamline their vacation rental business. In a nutshell, our software’s features help property managers to handle their day-to-day activities, such as guest communication, channel and calendar management, cleaning and team operations. We serve short-term rental managers all over the world and already have over 100,000 listings managed via our software.

Unlike other software iGMS has deep integration with OTAs and powerful automation capabilities, to let hosts put their routine on autopilot and focus on growing their business.

The most relevant story about iGMS would be the story of how the company was founded. Both of our company founders are short-term rental managers themselves and, before starting iGMS, they developed the biggest Airbnb property management company in Vancouver. At some point they realized that it’s impossible to handle all the work without any automation, and created their own tool for managing properties. It soon became apparent that this kind of software was quite a marketable asset for other hosts too. That’s how iGMS (Multichat at that time) was started.

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

There are so many interesting things that I’ve learned and experienced during my career. From shooting TV advertising and visiting world-famous conferences, to building a whole marketing ecosystem from scratch for a startup.

But, without a doubt, the most remarkable development within my career is how my attitude to certain things changed after looking at them from another angle. I remember the first job interview I had as a manager. Wow, that was stressful! The girl who I was interviewing seemed to feel more comfortable than me. It never really occurred to me before that an employer could also be nervous about having a job interview.

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?

This happened to me not quite at the beginning of my career. Obviously, we make mistakes throughout our lives. But I had just started my job at the local subsidiary of Nissan company. For some reason, I couldn’t remember the correct spelling of Qashqai, one of our flagship models. Inexplicably, I spelled the letter K instead of a second Q in its name. When I was preparing a layout for Print magazine, I made the same mistake, as you might guess. So, it went to production with this dumb error.

To be honest, I didn’t find it funny at the time, but looking back at the incident I can now chuckle at it. Luckily, my manager noticed this mistake before the magazine printed out the whole circulation that included our advertising. What I learned from this situation is that attention to detail can’t be overestimated. In other words, measure thrice and cut once.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

One piece of advice that I would give to business leaders is to keep their employees busy and set motivational but achievable goals. Also, there are some techniques that help employees stay satisfied with their work and avoid burnout.

1.)Clearly define your goals (monthly or weekly), milestones and priorities.

Once you know your KPIs and targets, listing all to-dos as the first thing before starting to work and crossing them off one by one on the way works great to get motivated. Virtually seeing the progress or completed tasks right in front of you helps to keep going and also gives an idea of how much time you need to finish.

2.) Plan wisely. One more tip is to decide which tasks you will do at what time of the day. For example, if you are an early bird and there are tasks that will require a more concentrated and focused time, you’d plan those mostly for the mornings when you have more energy and your mind is fresh. Since everybody is different, this timing could change based on personal chronotype and preferences, of course. Someone, for instance, could prefer getting “boring” or routine tasks done first.

3.) Take regular breaks. I noticed that making a longer break (2–3 hours) between working hours increases productivity and satisfaction with work. A longer break can be used to attend a certain event, meet a friend or go to gym. In case of remote work, this approach helps to benefit from freedom that is one of the advantages of WFH. When I resume my work after personal activity I feel refreshed and more enthusiastic about the tasks that are left. Another proven tip is to switch off any work-related notifications (Slack, mail) while you have a break or after the workday is over. This is a way a remote employee can put work aside for a while and enjoy personal life.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I am the type of leader who believes that a manager is not someone who just gives tasks to do, but also supports, mentors and provides feedback. So, I would associate leadership with coaching and being on the same page as the team. Frequent communication is essential for this, and for keeping the team motivated and efficient. Communication helps create a sense of inclusion and being part of the big picture rather than simply being “task doers”. In addition, it develops loyalty and allows the team leader to clearly convey company vision and values so that each team member embraces them and works in harmony.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Balancing a personal and professional life is extremely important. At iGMS we understand that getting necessary rest helps us to be more productive at work. As for myself, the best way for me to decompress is to spend time with nature and family. I highly enjoy picnics, visiting parks etc. In addition, hobbies help as well. Reading, writing, traveling, public speaking, Pilates or yoga — these are some of mine.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

Currently, I manage a team of 12 at iGMS. My role includes planning and leading all marketing and customer experience efforts. Most of our team members work remotely worldwide constantly for the last 5 years.

Working with a remote team makes giving honest and direct feedback without being hurtful or demoralizing even more challenging. Imagine giving feedback to a team member that you have never met in real life. Even though today we have tools such as video calls that facilitate better and effective communication compared to written communication, conveying your message without demoralizing is sometimes tricky.

My rule of thumb is to provide feedback regularly, both positive and negative. Also, I have introduced our own method of systematic performance reviewing that includes an evaluation of the core skills of both employees and managers, and encourages discussing future plans for development and training needed.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

If you are talking to someone you will expect to receive a response. The same goes with feedback at work; it is an undoubtedly vital element of communication.

Giving feedback is, first of all, an essential part of developing the professional skills of an employee. Unlike many people think, feedback should not necessarily be negative and provided on a rare occasion. To encourage effective employee behavior, you have to provide both negative and positive feedback in a timely manner, using a systematic approach.

Secondly, If you were to do something wrong you would likely want to find out about it as soon as possible. In the same way, your employees are eager to know how to be better at what they do, and if something that they are already doing is meeting the organization’s expectations.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Evaluating an office and remote employee is not that different, except that you normally don’t meet in person with a remote employee. I would suggest organizing a video call for feedback-giving purposes especially if it’s a criticism, even a constructive one. During a video call, the employee will be able to better understand your mood and tone, while you will have an opportunity to instantly gauge their reaction. Some of the suggestions that I could share from my experience are the following:

  1. Actively listen to an employee to learn their underlying motivation and real feelings. When you expect the performance of an employee to change, a good idea is to first listen to how the employee views their own behavior, and see if they have any ideas for ways they can improve it.
  2. Evaluate the actions instead of the person. Offending a person will never help him or her to get better at something. Therefore, never apply criticism to an employee’s personality or character traits. This is not only offensive, but also unprofessional. Instead, provide an evaluation of a certain situation, or a performance, by clarifying the circumstances it leads to.
  3. Encourage better behavior in the future instead of trying to punish for past mistakes. There is no point in shaming an employee for something irreversible that has already taken place. Instead, discuss the future and how similar situations can be handled differently.
  4. Never provide feedback when you are angry. This will only put an employee in a defensive position, while you will appear as an emotionally immature boss.
  5. Provide feedback on the areas of excellence first, and then on the areas of improvement. To be most effective in providing feedback, it’s a good idea to use the well-known “sandwich” approach. This is a technique when a manager offers a piece of negative feedback “sandwiched” between two positive ones, thus making it easier for an employee to accept the critique.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Truth be told, email is not the best channel for providing feedback. Both parties lack crucial details, such as the accents and the tonality of the message, while reading an email. However, if you have no other choice except for giving feedback over email, you want to make it as clear and understandable as can be.

First of all, never start writing this kind of email in an angry mood. Wait till you calm down and have something reasonable to say before you go for it. Start with the idea that you would like to provide feedback on a certain behavior. Then describe the exact behavior you’d like to provide feedback on, and share the consequences it leads to from a business perspective. After that provide constructive ideas on how the employee can improve a certain behavior, or ask your subordinate if he or she can think of some ways to improve their performance.

Here is an example of such an email: “Hi Angela! I’d like to give you feedback on your report preparation. When you provide it after the deadline I’m not able to compile a full marketing presentation on time. Could you please send your report before the deadline next time?”

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

Feedback doesn’t have to be immediate, but it certainly needs to be timely. It’s best not to wait for a yearly performance review meeting, but to get your point across not long after the incident, let’s say within a week.

Regular feedback also is much more important than immediate feedback. By trying to provide feedback right off the bat you might defeat the purpose. You could get into the situation when an employee is not ready to perceive what you are trying to convey. For example, if an employee is distracted by an urgent task or is having personal troubles. Your current state of mind could also be an obstacle, meaning you are angry or haven’t yet figured out how to put your message into words in a compelling way.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

From my perspective, a great boss provides you with clear expectations, timely feedback, and enough freedom to pursue your full potential. Also, two qualities that are essential for being a great boss are transparency and honesty with employees.

I consider the relationship with my current boss, the CEO of iGMS, as one of the exemplary ones. Thanks to Ivan Levchenko’s support, mentorship, and precise feedback I was able to grow as a professional over these 3,5 years that I have been with iGMS. This is what great bosses do — they help their subordinates to grow and achieve more.

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. 🙂

Nowadays, thanks to globalization and widespread use of the Internet, we are witnessing more movements than ever before. This is awesome since the more people unite around a certain idea, the greater the chance it has to be realized. However, what often bothers me is the growing number of armchair critics who support numerous movements, but don’t actually do anything.

If I would organize a movement I would call it “Do more, talk less”. The idea behind it is to make people act as if they are pursuing some goal or want to change something. Only actions are capable of changing or improving something in our world. Go and clean up after yourself and others, volunteer or donate some money to organizations you support. In other words, don’t just support a movement, but actually try to set the wheels of change in motion.

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

I am a person of action, so I would say this would be my favorite quote: “You just can’t let life happen to you, you have to make life happen.” It was said by Idowu Koyenikan, famous organizational consultant and author. I don’t believe in luck that much, it is an unseen force that is also extremely unreliable. You don’t wait for your apartment to renovate itself, right? You have to do it with your own hands or by hiring someone that, in both cases, involves taking action. So, at the end of the day, your life is really not that different. The power is in your hands to make a change!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I can be easily reached via most popular social media channels: LinkedIn and Facebook.

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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