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Nora Sheils: “Take care of your employees and they will work hard for you”

Understand what each employee needs to be motivated and successful. Every employee needs something different to continue to feel motivated and appreciated. For some, it’s an extra pat on the back. For others, it’s additional tools. Some just want to feel considered and appreciated. Regardless, as a leader, you need to know and understand what […]

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Understand what each employee needs to be motivated and successful. Every employee needs something different to continue to feel motivated and appreciated. For some, it’s an extra pat on the back. For others, it’s additional tools. Some just want to feel considered and appreciated. Regardless, as a leader, you need to know and understand what those things are for each employee and make sure you meet them.


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

With over 18 years running the award-winning planning firm, Bridal Bliss, founder Nora Sheils possesses an intimate grasp on the ins and outs of the wedding industry. In her time working with countless couples and leading a team of 30+ women, she recognized a need for a more effective, streamlined approach to the often-daunting contract and invoice process. Thus, in 2018, Rock Paper Coin was born in partnership with her sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and the two have been committed to bringing together event professionals and couples ever since.

Nora’s industry experience has led her to become a thought leader in the way of project management, operational efficiency, business expansion, and team dynamics. Her expertise extends to event professionals who discover increased productivity through Rock Paper Coin, as well as those who hear her speak onstage. As a well-known and sought-after speaker in her local speaker circuit, including with associations like ILEA Portland and Seattle Business Babes, Nora is always prepared to share her favorite strategies for simplifying, refining, and refreshing business workflows. She was recently recognized by Portland Business Journal in its 40 Under 40 series.

In her spare time, Nora can be found spending quality time with her family, often over a long family-style spread of food and a glass of great sparkling wine. She also appreciates the chance to explore the vibrant culture and food scene of the Pacific Northwest, particularly in her beloved hometown of Portland.


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

I am a true Portlander, which is hard to come by these days. Born and raised in the City of Roses! Born to Iraqi immigrants, I was raised in a culture of over-the-top celebrations and, from the beginning, event planning was in my blood. After graduating from Gonzaga University (Go Zags!), I started Bridal Bliss in 2002, slowly growing the company to become a team of 30+ women who produce upwards of 120 weddings and events each year. In 2016, my sister-in-law and I noticed a gap in the planning industry and developed Rock Paper Coin, a forum that brings together event professionals and couples to streamline the often-daunting contract and invoice process.

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

A fun story is how I met Elizabeth Sheils, my business partner at Rock Paper Coin. Elizabeth joined my first company, Bridal Bliss, as an intern in 2009. It was clear from the beginning she had a knack for event planning and was very talented. She was also so fun to be around and we quickly became friends and co-workers. She pushed me to think big and helped successfully expand Bridal Bliss into two new markets. Elizabeth managed the new teams and, in that time, I introduced her to my brother-in-law, Tim. They have since married and now we are officially sisters! While many who first meet us assume we are a couple sharing a last name, we are actually married to brothers. Having started our relationship as a working one has fared very well for us over the past 10+ years!

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?

When we first started Rock Paper Coin, Elizabeth and I were non-technical founders. That means…we knew absolutely nothing about development. We had a need-based solution and were trying to learn tech-speak to hire a development team to build the platform. To say we were naive was an understatement. In our first few meetings, it was clear that we had a lot to learn. While we both smiled and nodded our way through meetings, we were quickly making notes on the development terms we needed to Google post-meeting! Quite honestly, that is how we learned the basics of development early on. We are still not fully proficient in tech-speak, but we can certainly hold our own and can talk the talk! Fake it until you make it, right?

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?

Take care of your employees and they will work hard for you.

Let them know you care not only about them as employees but as people too.

Support their passions outside of work, provide a meaningful work-life balance.

Help them navigate hard situations (whether inside or outside of work).

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

Creating a team mentality as opposed to a competitive mentality is key. There is no “top” — when every employee is essential to the business and undercutting others to get to the top, it creates a toxic work environment. Foster creativity by allowing for team members to weigh in on business decisions, marketing, etc. The more people feel like they have a voice and are heard, the better the team works together.

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. Be supportive — LISTEN! Every single time I’ve scheduled a formal check-in with an employee just to see how they are doing or what they need, it has opened the door for changes we can make to better their experience and set them on a path to success. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for everyone and if I don’t listen to my employee’s wants and needs, not only will they suffer, but so will my business.
  2. Be an ally, someone they can trust and look up to for advice. My employees regularly talk about how they enjoy working for me because I’m not only someone that can provide them with real-life advice, but also someone they can come to with anything. Whether it be a family situation or a work situation, they feel comfortable that they can trust me and I have their best intentions in mind.
  3. Support teamwork and collaboration. One of the best ways to learn is to collaborate! Talk with others doing the same tasks as you and experience the differences. It might change how you look at things and how you work altogether. Or, it might solidify that what you are doing works best for you. At the very least, it will give you a personal experience with another team member that can strengthen your bond. It’s all about keeping an open mind and both learning and supporting others on the team.
  4. Understand what each employee needs to be motivated and successful. Every employee needs something different to continue to feel motivated and appreciated. For some, it’s an extra pat on the back. For others, it’s additional tools. Some just want to feel considered and appreciated. Regardless, as a leader, you need to know and understand what those things are for each employee and make sure you meet them.
  5. Make them feel special (birthdays, work anniversaries, etc). Everyone likes to be recognized! Whether it is a surprise birthday celebration, a public shout-out or gifts just because, you must make your employees feel appreciated and special. They are not just another person — they are representing your brand and I’m assuming every employer wants a happy, stable, appreciated person doing that.

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

One thing I have learned along the way is to always trust your gut. Whether it is about which potential employee to hire or if a team member is having a tough time, listening to my instinct has never steered me wrong. If I had learned this early on, it would have saved me quite a bit of heartache! In addition, never micromanage an employee. Provide them with the tools and resources to do their job and then give them the autonomy to learn and grow. Mistakes are how people learn and we’ve all made more than we can count throughout our careers.

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’m not sure if this is necessarily the most amount of people, but it would certainly be significant. I would love to start a movement advocating for more female-owned businesses. Rock Paper Coin has not one, not two, but three women at its core as founders, which is incredibly rare.

I will be honest and tell you that starting out in a male-dominated industry was incredibly daunting and intimidating. Elizabeth and I are moms with young children and between managing our families, responsibilities at Bridal Bliss and then a brand new tech startup, we were exhausted. The support isn’t there for women and certainly not for mothers. Successful female executives have strength, resiliency, and grit, but they are also empathetic, flexible and willing to go the extra mile for the good of the team. We need more of this in our lives and in society as a whole!

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

I love the quote from Jim Collins from his book Good to Great:

“Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”

This really sticks with me and proves to be true over and over again. If you would have told me Bridal Bliss and Rock Paper Coin are where they would be today, I would not have believed you. But getting the right people into the right roles on the team allows for us to have a team that works well together, respects each other and believes in the core of the product.

Thank you for these great insights!

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