Lisa Kang: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”

Trust your team. Provide them with the knowledge and tools they need to be successful. Be available if they need help by always keeping the lines of communication open, and show them that they are valued and well cared for. Then, trust them to do their job. Team members who are prepared and who feel […]

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Trust your team. Provide them with the knowledge and tools they need to be successful. Be available if they need help by always keeping the lines of communication open, and show them that they are valued and well cared for. Then, trust them to do their job. Team members who are prepared and who feel safe and valued by their employer will thrive.

Asa part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Kang, owner of Walk & Wag, a local independent pet sitting company with a stellar team of dozens of professional pet sitters. With a strong background in marketing, communications, and nonprofit management and a lifelong love of pets, Lisa started Walk & Wag in 2010. The business quickly outgrew her one-woman show, and she started hiring dog walkers and pet sitters to join her. This year, Walk & Wag celebrates its 10th anniversary as a staple of the community. Lisa and Walk & Wag have recently been featured in local outlets and the vet-approved content site Lisa was also chosen for the prominent Women’s Issue of Chapel Hill Magazine, which includes the stories of 14 remarkable women, and for the magazine’s At First Light photo series that featured hard-working early risers, including Lisa with her daughter, Emma. This year, Lisa received COVID-19 Certification for Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers from Pet Sitters International to educate herself and the Walk & Wag team on best practices during and after the pandemic. When she’s not walking and wagging, Lisa enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, and English Springer Spaniel, Abigail.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I’ve always pursued my passions with, well, passion! I’ve turned things I love, like music, science, dance, and children, into ways to serve my communities. I brought The New Haven Symphony to Carnegie Hall. I helped launch a world-class symphony hall in Seattle and a science center in Detroit. I founded North Carolina Arts in Action, bringing innovative dance to local schools.

After losing our two dogs in one year, I was desperate for canine companionship and started borrowing friends’ dogs for walks. I was always scheming up ways to keep them longer and longer. Until I had an AHA moment: I should start a dog walking service! That’s how Walk & Wag was born.

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

My career path has never been linear, and it has covered so many professions–from dance to dogs. At Walk & Wag, we are celebrating our 10th anniversary this year, and when I embarked on my dog walking endeavor, I never expected it to grow from a solo operation to 30+ team members and tens of thousands of pets and pet-parents along the way. We have become a local institution in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area of North Carolina. When considering our rich history and consistent growth, I think we’re living through one of our most interesting stories right now. Just like many service-based businesses, COVID-19 devastated Walk & Wag, decimating our largest service item, the midday dog walk. Once the schools closed and the stay-at-home order was put in place, most people didn’t need their dogs walked. But even when people and pets could have benefited from our services, clients understandably did not want anyone else coming into their homes. Thanks to the outpouring of support of so many clients, we have managed to make it through these difficult months. We have been through many storms (literally) when our cities and streets shut down for days at a time, and we know we will weather this storm, too.

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?

In Walk & Wag’s second year, we were caring for these lovely large labradoodles, Hagrid and Lola, who had acres of land to run on, all surrounded by an invisible fence. When my team member drove up, she found that Hagrid had a dead deer in his mouth with blood dripping everywhere. He was a sweet boy, so proud of what he had found and excited to show it off. At the time, this was the last thing any of us expected to find when showing up for a dog walk. Hagrid had to be cleaned up, and we had to dispose of the carcass off the property so the dogs did not find it again. After getting cleaned up ourselves, we had to go right back to our daily schedules. Lesson learned–anything can happen when you are caring for pets, so you need to be prepared and never expect a routine day at Walk & Wag.

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?

We have retained many of our team members through COVID-19, and I still have my first hire from nine years ago. I believe to retain great talent you need to respect your team, recognize their needs, and provide a living wage. My first team member was a kindergarten teacher with a challenging homelife. She wished to make a change, and until she started working for Walk & Wag, she did not have the resources she needed to make it happen. One other note–hire women! They truly care about the work they do and will go above and beyond what is expected.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

In the pet care business, our team members work independently, so there is very little need to work together in person. This makes reliable communication even more important. I make sure I am available to team members in case a problem arises or if they cannot complete their visits for any reason. My team knows that I will respond quickly to their needs and that other team members will step up and help cover for each other. Another important aspect of working together is utilizing pet sitting software that allows us to keep track of client details, contact information, and schedules. Team members enter everything from pet names to temperaments to location of food and treats into the software. When another team member takes over a service, all the information they need to care for the pets is ready to go. We also work together by utilizing a pick-up/drop-off box at Walk & Wag Headquarters for client keys. Having this central location established has been especially important this year as we continue to avoid in-person contact. Early in the pandemic, one of our team members even used the box to distribute dozens of homemade masks to the rest of the 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)

Be flexible. Our team members are full- and part-time pet care professionals with varied backgrounds and very different lives from each other. They have been or are PhD and graduate students, engineers, teachers, journalists, nurses, parents, and more, and they are all balancing so many things in their busy lives. We create a schedule that works for each team member, as well as for Walk & Wag clients. Being flexible has been an important part of retaining valuable team members.

Set high expectations and be an example of what’s expected. When you bring someone new onto your team, they should understand your company’s vision and values, and as you work together, you will have opportunities to demonstrate that you are living up to your words.

Keep lines of communication open and be responsive. Since our team members interact more readily with our clients, they have greater insight into the needs and wants of our clients and their pets. We encourage suggestions and try to incorporate them into our best practices, which makes our team stronger as a whole.

Give second chances. One time, a valued team member was caught violating a golden rule–you do not accept client services on your behalf. It is grounds for immediate termination. This team member was held in high regard, and I thought this act was unthinkable by this person. It shattered my philosophy that everyone is good unless proven otherwise. At first, I thought, If this person is corrupt, is everyone? Should I not trust anyone? After my anger and disappointment subsided, I tried to understand her reason for this action. And it turns out, her motivations were not corrupt at all–she simply wanted to help the client. This team member is still a significant part of our company, and we both learned valuable lessons about human nature and making smart business decisions.

Be honest, and care about your team. It is always best to explain a situation honestly regardless of the difficulty. I believe the example above highlights this perfectly. And when you show your team that you really care about their well-being, they will strive to do better for your clients, for the business, and for you.

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

Trust your team. Provide them with the knowledge and tools they need to be successful. Be available if they need help by always keeping the lines of communication open, and show them that they are valued and well cared for. Then, trust them to do their job. Team members who are prepared and who feel safe and valued by their employer will 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. 🙂

Pets in every household! Pets have the power to heal so many things that trouble our society. Studies have shown that having a pet can help you reduce stress, boost your mood, and even strengthen your immune system. They also keep you active and engaged in life. A pet in every household would bring endless love and joy to countless people.

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

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ~Roger Caras

When I lost my two dogs, I created Walk & Wag!

Thank you for these great insights!

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