Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls: “Commitment”

Commitment: Highlight successes, provide updates on progress, and offer employees a resource for questions. Reinforce the change narrative and weave it into your corporate language. As significant milestones are met, consider town halls instead. In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently […]

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Commitment: Highlight successes, provide updates on progress, and offer employees a resource for questions. Reinforce the change narrative and weave it into your corporate language. As significant milestones are met, consider town halls instead.

In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of Paige Arnof-Fenn.

Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and digital branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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 did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a global business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started Mavens & Moguls after beginning my career on Wall Street in the 80s and having a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and then working at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. All 3 startups had positive exits. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Running a global marketing business provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel (pre-Covid) and hang out with my inner circle, and I work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).

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

In the first few years of my business I had pitched a CEO about a month before I ran into her at a networking event where she was the keynote speaker and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I had followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail but the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event as part of her speech that she believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is and for women CEOs to support other respected & well-run women’s businesses and that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her I must be very good 😉 To think I almost did not even show up maybe seeing me there is what prompted her to pull the trigger and hire us? I sold more business in the month that followed than l ever had since starting my company so we really began to scale quickly at that point and got a lot of referrals as a result! It was a big day in our history for sure. Wasn’t it Woody Allen who said 80% of success is just showing up. It is a strategy that has worked for me and has been fun way to build my marketing business.

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

My favorite quote is “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It has been attributed to many people including Teddy Roosevelt. I like it and find it inspiring because it is a simple reminder to listen more than talk, show empathy and try to look at the situation from another perspective. The goal is not to wear them down or impress them with your smarts. The goal is to connect, communicate clearly, solve the problem and move on.

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?

I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, champions and role models throughout my career including former bosses, my father, senior women in organizations where I worked but the person who has always encouraged and supported me as an entrepreneur and has my back every day is my husband. He started a company too so understands the journey of an entrepreneur and has been my sanity check and thinking partner every step of the way. He is both a cheerleader and butt kicker depending on the situation and I trust his judgment and advice because I know he always has my best interests in mind. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

What I miss most about being together are the spontaneous conversations in the hallways, conference rooms and offices where ideas are shared. Often times side conversations can spark ideas or interest that leads to a much richer understanding with fresh perspective. I have a better appreciation now for how much information is shared informally behind the scenes not through official channels.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

Out of sight can be out of mind, you do not want just the loudest voices heard so it can be a challenge to make sure everyone has a chance to contribute. You have to be more proactive and deliberate now to make sure all voices are heard.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Teams have learned to adjust to the new reality during Covid, they look to leaders to provide clear and consistent messaging regarding not only the day-to-day, but what’s coming next. This places great responsibility on company leadership because employees can be a company’s biggest source of advocates and influencers. Treat them right and provide them with guidance, and they will share the love, not only with friends and family, but on social media and beyond, strengthening brand reputation organically. During this unprecedented crisis, many employees are facing huge discrepancies in the way companies are communicating. Whatever the question is my advice is to over-communicate and put employees first. A well-informed employee can steer brand perception in a positive direction despite the uncertain future. Putting your people first is not just for large companies, small businesses have the ability to reach out to their employees and make a real difference too.

Effective leadership communication is not just the message, but the method in which you communicate to employees that matters. A simple email may not suffice for a very large announcement. Communicating with employees right now it not just about giving updates (good or bad) leaders need to listen too. When transmitting important communication to employees here are some tips:

  • Be user-friendly and direct
  • Tell recipients right at the top what the message contains, bullet points are a good option
  • Write with authority, humanity and clarity
  • Maintain an FAQ mindset, anticipate the “what does this really mean to me?” questions from employees
  • Remember that people under stress don’t always process information well, if it’s important information, send it multiple times in multiple messages
  • In addition to information, people need encouragement and inspiration so send brief messages of support to your team as needed

When in doubt I rely on the 5 Cs of internal communication:

Clarity: No matter how complex the scenario, clear and honest delivery of the vision, rationale, benefits and process for change is critical. Thank employees for their patience, cooperation and continued focus along the way.

Credibility: Employees recognize when they aren’t getting the whole story. If all the details can’t be shared for legal or other reasons, then say so. Also, it is important to ensure leaders across the organization are consistent in delivering the narrative and messages.

Compassion: It’s hard to deliver tough news in times of uncertainty, but it’s even harder to be on the receiving end. While communications don’t need to be apologetic, consider the emotional impact to employees who don’t have the broader view of decision makers.

Commitment: Highlight successes, provide updates on progress, and offer employees a resource for questions. Reinforce the change narrative and weave it into your corporate language. As significant milestones are met, consider town halls instead.

Cascade: Consider the flow of information depending on the degree of change starting at the top might make sense. Equip directors and line managers to discuss in more detail with their teams in succession, utilizing a variety of resources, including FAQs.

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

Video meetings are the new reality and should be treated just as importantly as face to face meetings. Here are some tips I gave my team to make the most of them:

* Talk slowly and smile, be as natural and relaxed/warm as possible

* Make sure you are in a quiet place with no distractions/pets/kids/phones ringing

* Dress for success, look polished and professional

* Let your guard down before you log off, the “mic/speaker” may still be live/on

* Wear a busy pattern it can be distracting on screen, solid colors are best

* Wait until the last minute to log in/try it just in case you need to download software, etc. Make sure you have a phone number or back up plan in case it does not connect online as planned.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

If small groups on the team want to talk through specific issues (managing anxiety, kids, parents, etc.) virtual coffee meetings online have been helpful too. A few colleagues have even met online after work for virtual happy hour/beer/cocktails as well when they had more time to chat. When it comes to etiquette, with small groups on calls I have found that keeping the screen in ”gallery mode“ is best to make the conversation feel more intimate and personal. Also if people have kids or pets I ask them to mute it unless they are speaking, it helps with background noise. If your room is messy you can use a stock or personal photo as background instead

One trick I learned when I worked in Corporate America was the rule that every meeting needed a PAL — Purpose, Agenda and time Limit to be successful. It turns out that when everyone invited to the meeting knows why they are there and gets the agenda in advance and it clearly states how in depth each topic covered will be discussed you are well on your way to a great meeting!

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

Beam me up Scotty 😉 I do not think there is a perfect tool we are doing the best we can with what we have. New tools are on the way I am sure.

My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?

Thee need is stronger now than ever. I think the pandemic has showed us how interconnected we are and how dependent on tech we have become to function today. It is very clear now that communities left behind on high speed access and the latest tools and technologies are at a huge disadvantage from education to healthcare to job prospects.

The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

The is so much happening now in AI, machine learning, 5G it is all very exciting and with new mRNA which helped develop vaccines in record time who knows where all this will lead? It is an amazing time to watch it all unfold and experience the progress in real time.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

Privacy concerns, misinformation and disinformation, integrity in our democracy, inequality of tech are all issues today with no solutions in sight.

So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

Communication is key to all of our community, client and employee engagement so I set up regular e-mails, video, and conference calls to stay connected. I have had more Zoom/Skype calls with clients and colleagues in the past 15 days than the prior 12 months! Pivoting to online meetings and hosting webinars and podcasts are a smart and productive way companies like ours can continue to have conversations that educate, inform, and build relationships to move forward during this crisis.

Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another. With Zoom, social media, cell phones we see that technology does not have to be isolating it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships too!

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?

Learning to give constructive feedback that motivates people to perform at their best can be tough. Positive feedback is both easy to deliver and hear because you agree but it is different to both give and receive feedback/criticism especially if it doesn’t ring true or where we may even disagree. In my experience you don’t have to agree, but you need to consider other opinions and feedback is another person’s opinion. If they are willing to consider it, they may find it extremely helpful and use it for positive change — or they can choose to ignore it. I believe most feedback has some value, but the most valuable comes from people who care about you, whether you know them well or not. I try to spend as much time learning to express what others do well as we are tempted to spend more explaining what they do wrong. Reinforcing someone’s strengths raises their awareness of them. When you learn to give sincere, specific praise, giving sincere, specific criticism gets easier. Just don’t give praise and criticism at the same time or you dilute the effectiveness of both.

I have seen it be effective both in real time close to the activity when it is still fresh on people‘s minds and also at regular intervals during performance reviews for example it really depends on the culture of the organization, the relevance of the learning for upcoming activities and your relationship with the person. If the group has a growth mindset and the lesson learned can be applied quickly to improve another outcome then the sooner the better!

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

Collaboration is key to our culture of engaging our team and ultimately our success. I try to set the tone upfront with one rule, when in doubt over-communicate. Especially at the beginning of the project do not make assumptions of what people from different groups want or know, just ask or send an e-mail. It will save you a lot of time, money and frustration down the road. Trust me. This comes from experience. Be a good listener and make sure you hear the others, their hopes, frustrations and intentions. If the lines of communication are open and everyone makes an effort to listen and be heard then collaboration will happen naturally and the information will flow.

As we move to a more remote/virtual world trust becomes an even more important currency to getting things done. Building trust will determine your success so lack of trust will be a huge obstacle I think after the lockdown ends. I predict the most trusted leaders will have a big competitive advantage in the new normal that evolves in a post-Corona world. Employees, customers and clients will remember who treated them well during the crisis and they will be rewarded with loyalty from earning that trust during the bad times. These ideas do not require big budgets but words and actions are productive ways to build trust and keep moving forward as productively as possible. For professional service firms like mine we will recover even if our revenues slow from the crisis. Once we lay this groundwork it all will be in place to continue moving forward as the economy reopens and some businesses come back quicker than others. Maybe another silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another.

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. 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 would love to spark a movement or create change through a new (domestic) Peace Corps (2021 version) and suggest we are all in it no application required. We have so many opportunities now across every state. We need our roads and bridges fixed, clean water in our communities, tutors, day care, senior care, teachers, healthcare workers, there is no need to pay people to stay home or send them abroad to build infrastructure overseas we need it here right now across all 50 states! We also need peace to prevail and I think if we work together side by side to fix these problems in our communities we will all be on the same team.

How can our readers further follow your work online? and

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

Thanks so much it’s been my pleasure!

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