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“How to let people do what they’re best at — and don’t micromanage them.” , With Sarah Fossen

My advice is to let people do what they’re best at — and don’t micromanage them. You get the best work from people when you give them creative freedom. As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Fossen, director of marketing […]

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My advice is to let people do what they’re best at — and don’t micromanage them. You get the best work from people when you give them creative freedom.


As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Fossen, director of marketing and experience at Rosedale Center, in Minneapolis.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Igrew up in a small Minnesota town. My dad was the chief of police — a version of Andy of Mayberry — and my mom was an art teacher. Both parents were very involved in the community. So, as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in creating community and supporting art. I found a way to bring those interests together in college by studying art and advertising/PR.

Most of my jobs have revolved around placemaking in some form — bringing people together, developing a sense of place and meaningful engagement — and weaving art and design into the mix whenever I can.

Before I began at Rosedale Center, I was assistant VP at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. And before that I ran my own Marketing and PR firm: a boutique agency called Agency NORD. I’ve also led marketing for Capital City Partnership, the City of St. Paul, and for Landmark Center in St. Paul.

Today, as director of marketing and experience for Rosedale Center, I feel like I can bring all of myself to work every day — and I love it.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Years ago, I was being interviewed on an early-morning TV news show about a community event. The camera crew and I were standing outside, under tree. It was 6 a.m., so it was still pitch black outside. I was wearing a mic and nearly ready to go on when the cameraman flipped on the lighting — and it looked the ground under my feet was moving!

It turned out to be a huge group of either mice or rats scurrying around, right in that spot. As you can imagine, I screamed bloody murder into the mic — and then quickly stepped away, to the sidewalk. Moments later, I managed to pull myself together for the interview. I guess that taught me that I can overcome pretty much any obstacle that I need to.

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

What we’ve managed to accomplish — breaking out of the retail mall mold — is pretty remarkable when you consider that Rosedale Center is a Midwestern shopping center managed by a large commercial real estate firm.

Real estate is extremely risk averse. In spite of that, we’ve found a way to distinguish ourselves by taking risks and pushing boundaries. We’ve been given the freedom to challenge tradition and be disruptive — and it’s really setting Rosedale apart.

For example, we took a big risk when we flipped the traditional mall fashion show on its head. We made it into a family-friendly drag show headlined by drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race and hosted by Carson Kressley, from Queer Eye. Not your typical Sunday at the mall. But it was an amazing standalone event. Controversial, yes, but nothing inappropriate for kids. And people really enjoyed it.

We drew huge crowds, sold over 400 tickets and attracted young, trendy people that normally wouldn’t come here. They had fun and later they went shopping and dining. It’s just one of the ways we are thinking beyond the conventional to engage new audiences and create emotional equity with new groups of shoppers.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We have so many exciting plans for the future — expect to see amazing, crazy takeovers, bold campaigns, installations and influencers! It’s going to be a great year.

And while I can’t give details on upcoming events, I can share that Rosedale is continuing to explore creative ways of engaging new audiences — which now includes participating in TikTok, the video-sharing app.

Beyond providing “retail therapy,” Rosedale Center is focused on continuing to be a relevant and inclusive gathering place for the community. And I believe that, by pushing for inclusive advertising and marketing, we are helping to make everyone feel welcome here — welcome to shop, dine, gather and enjoy our experiences.

Shopping is fun! It’s important to have a place where you can come and enjoy yourself. It’s something we desperately need right now.

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

My advice is to let people do what they’re best at — and don’t micromanage them. You get the best work from people when you give them creative freedom.

It’s an approach that’s worked well for me and my small marketing team. I try to get out of my comfort zone and work with people outside my usual circle. It takes a leap of faith. But much of our success has come when we engage the right people the right way, bringing the best talents together and asking them about their ideas.

Creating a safe environment where employees and other contributors feel empowered always brings out their best. I love to ask, “What would you do if you could do anything?”

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?

Learn to dream as a team! It’s easy to get caught up in the daily minutia, but it’s so valauble when you can step back and share your larger vision — the path forward — with individual team members.

In the past, when I’ve managed larger teams, I could really see the difference when we carved out time and space to talk about the big picture. There’s an element of trust involved, too. You need the buy-in of those who will be executing the work, otherwise they will just go through the motions.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Inclusiveness brings more people to our shopping center. You still see so many ads and promoted events featuring just one kind of family — or one class, or one ethnicity — and it doesn’t reflect our growing diversity. We try to think about all the different people visiting our mall. We want them to see plus-size models, older people, people with Down syndrome, Muslim models — so we represent all of our shoppers. It’s more authentic and there’s also something beautiful about that.

2. Inclusiveness keeps us relevant in the marketplace. By reflecting what the community actually looks like, we are in sync with our customers’ interests, views and needs — and that keeps us relevant and current. We’re not interested in just selling clothes to blondes who wear a size 2, because that’s not reality for many of our customers.

3. Reflecting cultural diversity gives us more reasons to celebrate. As we learn about the significance of holidays and other cultural traditions across our diverse community, we are expanding our cultural reach and touchpoints. We’re finding more ways to be part of people’s lives as they shop for different reasons and for life’s key events.

4. Vendor diversity broadens our appeal. We try to engage diverse vendors and partners and work in an authentic way. For our drag show, for example, we worked with an organization that had a direct relationship with the LGBTQIA community, which made our event relatable and real. Whether it’s influencers, photographers or design professionals, we try to diversify our partnerships so that we can see through their lens — and reflect that authenticity back to our public.

5. Embracing diversity differentiates us. Our commitment to and practice of authentic inclusion sets us apart because so many malls still aren’t marketing to a diverse audience. It’s helping us to build broader social equity beyond our loyal core shoppers — based on a deeper community relationship that transcends the transactional.

As an example, I’ll always remember how a little Muslim girl responded to a huge Bobby Rogers portrait of a regal black Muslim woman we featured in our spring art hunt. The little girl stood there, taking it in for quite a while, and she seemed to puff out her chest a little and stand a bit taller.

I could only imagine what she was thinking and feeling. But it reminded me that we’re doing something deeper with our art exhibits and cultural events than building brand equity. We’re creating a bond, we’re fostering emotional and social equity here. That’s no small thing.

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

I hope that my team and I are helping to create more inclusive spaces — places where people can have fun and experience more art, in all its forms. Placemaking is fun, and it’s also important! It’s great to see people share time with their friends and family and enjoy beautiful things together. Making memories with people we love is an important life experience itself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

I’ve got two favorite quotes. “Pressure makes diamonds,” which has been attributed to George Patton, among others, and “Life loves those who dare to live it,” by the late Maya Angelou.

I’ve taken those thoughts to heart and have had amazing opportunities and a fun career. I think so much of what I’ve accomplished is the result of seizing opportunities and using all of my skills to do good work. I’ve been willing to take risks and grab the opportunities that came my way.

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?

I’m grateful to so many people! In every job I’ve ever had, someone has believed in me and been willing to take a chance, to throw me the reins or put me in the driver’s seat.

My parents had a lot to do with success, too. My dad was salt of the earth, with a Scandinavian work ethic. And both my parents taught me a lot about empathy and the importance of watching out for your neighbor.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

I’d choose Oprah! I admire the way she is always true to herself, and the way she connects authentically and meaningfully with everyone. She’s a pioneer and role model who is authentic, humble and honest. And while I don’t drink tequila, I understand that she does — so I’d gladly make an exception for her and throw back a shot or two!

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