“Have a vision.” With Tyler Gallagher & Alicia Howard

Employees should to be able to have a vision of what they want for themselves, a vision of who they are and what it means to be true to one’s self and one’s values. In that kind of work environment, you can find real happiness because it’s more than just a job. When our work, […]

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Employees should to be able to have a vision of what they want for themselves, a vision of who they are and what it means to be true to one’s self and one’s values. In that kind of work environment, you can find real happiness because it’s more than just a job. When our work, our lives, our families, our other interests all come together to support and nurture us, then we can thrive.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia Howard of Snappy Kraken.

As COO, Alicia Howard thrives on the continual process of transforming initiatives from plans into well-executed processes, resulting in streamlined day-to-day operations and memorable customer experiences. She leads the incredibly talented Success, Support, Finance, and HR teams, and believes collaboration, delegation, and celebration are at the root of Snappy Kraken’s amazing culture and outstanding industry accomplishments.

“I truly respect our team and I learn from them with every interaction. We bring our best everyday and laugh together a lot.”

Alicia graduated from King’s College on the Dean’s List of Academic Excellence and holds certifications from The Business Training Institute as a Certified Business Consultant (CBC) and Certified Business Coaching Specialist (CBCS). Prior to joining Snappy Kraken, Alicia served as a Strategic Consultant for a financial marketing company where she developed a customer-centric infrastructure and training program for the company’s marketing consultants. Her skills have allowed her to cycle between mentoring clients one-on-one to stepping on stage and presenting to hundreds of professionals. Alicia’s career is rooted in keeping large projects and schedules on track, including serving as Event Manager for a multinational hotel chain facilitating 450 annual events. As Senior Conference Center Manager for a credit ratings corporation, she managed the day-to-day staff and operations, hosting high profile corporate and dignitary clients from all over the globe.

“​I’ve worked with hundreds of financial advisors, business owners, and major corporations to understand their vision and help them identify and market their opportunities. I’m convinced the best way to fuel loyalty-based business growth starts with a healthy internal culture and an engaging client experience.​”

Family, faith, and friends are incredibly important to Alicia. She loves stretching her mind with new experiences by volunteering in the community, soaking up the outdoors, and traveling to foreign lands.

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

Mylove for operations has been a driving force in my career interests since I was very young. I have always loved learning and find it exciting to figure out how to take something from beginning to end, overcoming the challenges that develop along the way.

I got to know and work with the three founders of Snappy Kraken a couple years before “Snappy Kraken” even existed. I quickly recognized in them the same sense of excitement and drive for their individual work. They are incredibly smart and talented people. I really admired their work and leadership.

So later, when they approached me during the conceptual phase of Snappy Kraken and asked me to join them to create a company, I saw the vision and I got it. I knew immediately we would be a great team that would make something truly valuable.

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

I came in at the ground level to help imagine and build every aspect of our company. I’ve had a unique opportunity to be on the front end of determining what was needed, creating the systems and processes, and then executing them.

The interesting part for me is has been seeing the evolution of these processes into departments, with directors and teams. I’m so proud of this growth and the incredible people who have joined us. We’ve intentionally searched out self-driven, independent thinkers who are amazingly good at their craft, and our company and culture has continually gotten stronger and stronger. We truly are building something together that is superior to what any one of us could have accomplished on our own.

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

As an executive team, we recently read the book “Vivid Vision” by Cameron Herald. We all identified our personal visions as well as those for our departments. It took us about six months to clearly articulate those visions and integrate them into a 3-year plan for the entire company.

At our recent employee retreat — a first for the company as we are a virtual team, working remotely — we rolled out that vision to everyone. The reception was unbelievable. We said, “This is what we think we can accomplish together. What do you think you can personally do to support this?”

By the end of the retreat, we had KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), for every department and for every employee in our company, giving us a roadmap to help everyone work progressively toward their individual professional visions, whatever their starting point.

In addition to furthering what we are doing as a company, it will help individuals reach their own goals, and we’ll have quarterly check-ins to ensure that we’re doing all we can to support them. We are extremely excited about this because we know that everyone feels committed and engaged in achieving the vision together.

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?

A couple of things in this study really stood out. First, I know that being engaged in the workforce in a personally satisfying way, happens when you’re doing something you actually believe in. You feel a connection to your work. Unfortunately, a lot of employees are simply going through the motions without a clearly defined purpose or sense of how they fit into the big picture. A sense of purpose and achievement is essential. This is what makes people feel human and appreciated — it’s not just about getting a paycheck.

Secondly, those in a leadership role must maintain an environment where people can thrive. Before we ever started hiring, we sat down as an executive team and identified our guiding principles. Now, before granting applicants an interview, we send them these principles and ask them to react. The people who really “get” the culture come back with outstanding responses because they identify with how we work. This enables us to weed out people who aren’t a match for our culture and focus on those applicants with the skills and mind-set to keep moving us forward.

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?

I have personally worked for companies that did not have a healthy culture. It’s hard to stay motivated and productive in a negative environment. You can feel stuck because you’re not growing. Sometimes it feels like going in reverse. That sense of discontent can become apparent in customer interactions, quality of work, missing deadlines, all of which impact profitability. Additionally, people who are unhappy in the workplace often take that same feeling home to their families and communities, so the impact can be far-reaching.

Employees should to be able to have a vision of what they want for themselves, a vision of who they are and what it means to be true to one’s self and one’s values. In that kind of work environment, you can find real happiness because it’s more than just a job. When our work, our lives, our families, our other interests all come together to support and nurture us, then we can thrive.

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?

Number one is delegation. This doesn’t mean handing something off because you just don’t want to do it. Rather it’s giving people opportunities and serving as a mentor to help them bring that work to completion. It’s a valuable learning tool. It does so much to help everyone involved to grow. You don’t delegate to wait for someone to fail; you delegate to help them succeed. And I love that.

Second would be collaboration. There shouldn’t be one single star of the show, but a group where each individual has a perspective and a contribution, which makes something so much better than what could be done by any one person. At Snappy Kraken, collaboration is what helps our ideas go from good to outstanding, enabling us to become disruptors in the industry.

Third is not being afraid to surface challenging issues. Even in a good culture, there will be personality conflicts, differences in opinion, and obstacles to working together. When the environment nurtures the feeling of mutual respect, people are much more open to accepting critical feedback and using it as a force for good.

Fourth, as a leader, be consistent. Be honest and trustworthy. Model excellence in your day-to-day work.

The fifth thing is celebration. We have to take time to celebrate accomplishments of individual people and teams. That’s special — a moment to take a breath and feel good about what’s been done.

We recently redesigned our customer experience. I could have done the majority of the work myself or made all the major decisions on my own; instead I delegated it to department heads, with regular opportunities for collaboration. The result was that each person felt they had made a valuable contribution and had grown from the experience. They each understood the inner workings of the effort and why things were done. This enabled them to be much better at providing guidance and direction to their teams. They had a real sense of ownership and a strong feeling of camaraderie.

One of my favorite things about our company is that we all work remotely. We use Slack as one of our communication tools and we have a channel called Celebrating, accessible to everyone. We use it to celebrate the achievement of big goals, milestones and accomplishments. But it’s also used regularly by employees saying, “Hey, this person did this for me today and I really, really appreciate it.” There’s so much high-fiving, kudos, and commendation that flows through the channel — it’s energizing to be a part of that and to see how much people appreciate each other. It creates a very strong sense of community.

At our recent employee retreat, two of our execs led a training on how to meet the challenges of different communication styles and approaches to getting work done. They wanted to answer the question “How do you find the common ground in order to keep moving forward?” These types of things can stop people in their tracks and inhibit productivity. We face those types of challenges head on, encouraging people to be honest, as well as kind, and to offer feedback in a positive, constructive way. This enables people to be much less defensive and more willing to really hear the feedback. Oftentimes they come back later and say, “let me tell you how this helped me or let me tell you how I used what we talked about.”

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?

People work for different reasons, with different drivers for why they do things. Of course, you want to make a comfortable living, support your family, and be able to do the things that are meaningful to you, but money and possessions aren’t the most important things to work for.

Personally, I try to surround myself with people who are smarter or more skilled than I am so that I can learn from them every single day. So many people feel threatened or vulnerable in such a situation. But in an environment where diversity and talent are celebrated, there are greater opportunities for self-improvement.

People are able to focus on what they can gain from their work experience — on the value it can bring to their lives, as well as the ability to make a good living. That’s a win-win for everyone.

But it requires that people feel safe with being honest and vulnerable. Unfortunately, that’s not encouraged in all work environments. Making mistakes, admitting failures, facing challenges without a need to cover up — that’s the way people learn and grow. It’s important for personal long-term growth and wellness, but also for the success of the company.

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

I am collaborative, foster camaraderie, strive for humility and encourage honesty.

I love creating brainstorming sessions where we can all hear everyone’s ideas, then make decisions about which to embrace and implement.

I’m very attuned to what challenges people are facing and how they’re working to overcome them. Acknowledging even small successes keeps people moving forward, to even more challenging situations with greater confidence.

I don’t pretend to know everything. I value everyone’s contributions and am deliberate about expressing appreciation for them. As leaders, we must be able to recognize that we can’t do everything and find people with the right skills to create the best possible team.

If there are concerns or issues, I address them quickly and appropriately with the people involved. I believe creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable and safe doing that is a critical part of being a leader. An environment where everyone is out for themselves and knowledge is hoarded is toxic.

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?

One of my very first professional mentors was my marketing teacher in high school. She played a large role in my love for marketing and organization. She had a gift for being able to help people explore their own personal interests and help them thrive.

She saw leadership potential in me and opened up some exciting opportunities to me. In particular, she nominated me to participate in a D.C.-based pilot program for high-schoolers to learn about global trade and markets. As a student delegation, we attended industry gatherings in Washington D.C. and an international economic conference in Malaysia, interviewing heads of state and world leaders. It was a thrilling experience. I learned so much about how to interact with people at high levels in industry and government with confidence. I still use those skills to this day!

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

I have a very strong faith, a strong belief system and strong core values. I’ve learned that if I maintain alignment among those things, I find joy and happiness, and am able to give my best and help others find their best. Every talent and ability that I have is a gift that I need to share and use wisely — I don’t take things for granted. When it comes to opportunities to teach or share or mentor, I remember all that has been shared with me. I feel a great sense of satisfaction in being able to use my experiences to help others to grow and excel.

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

In my first job out of college, I was promoted to a management position and asked my supervisor what piece of advice she would give me. She said, “Be warm but firm.” I frequently remind myself of this. When you’re in a position of authority, you’re actually responsible for the well-being of the people you manage and must treat them well. At the same time, you’ve got to hold your own and be the kind of person that gains the respect of others.

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 always return to the idea that people have to be happy with themselves and who they are on the inside. My biggest encouragement for people is to find out what it is that makes them true to themselves, what their values are and how they can live those values every single day. Don’t be afraid to go toe-to-toe with yourself and figure out what those things really are. Because living a life of personal value is the most wonderful thing that you can do for yourself.

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

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