Have Fun! — I don’t think you can underestimate the value of having fun with your team and throughout the workweek. Incorporating fun is important to building camaraderie, trust, and loyalty for long term success.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Krug, Vice President, Growth Operations, business.com.
As Vice President, Growth Operations for business.com, Rachel leads the day-to-day operations of the Sales & Commercial Marketing team and works to connect buyers to sellers of over 170 products and services. As such, she keenly understands the challenges and opportunities small businesses face, particularly amid these challenging times and the tools and strategies needed to successfully execute business operations. She has her MBA from New York University and earned her B.A. from Cornell University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I attended Cornell University and then lived in New York City for almost a decade. While working at NYU full-time I earned my MBA part-time at night from the Stern School of Business. I leveraged my MBA to move from higher education to tech and started on the analytics team at Constant Contact. While at Constant Contact, I scaled their tool for Facebook Adverting from 110 to 5,000 customers in 3 months. After that, I knew I wanted to specialize in growth and business operations. More recently, I was the GM of Transaction Pro, a data import/export application for Quickbooks. I am currently the VP of Growth Operations at business.com, serving as the operational leader of the Commercial team, driving pre- and post-sales strategy, marketing, customer experience, and cross-functional initiatives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In June 2018, I was asked to “catch” a business. Yes, you read that right — similar to how a doctor “catches” a baby, I was asked to run point on a new business my company was acquiring. The owners and operators were not going to stay on with the business once we acquired the company, so my employer needed someone he trusted to answer sales calls, address support tickets and operate the business hands-on until a team could be built. On day zero, I was a one-woman show and not only did I need to be the face of the acquired company, but I also needed to learn how the company’s product — accounting software — worked without a background in finance. Despite the steep learning curve and short runway, I managed to put together a strategic plan to grow the business unit, build out a cross-functional team of developers, customer support and sales representatives, redo the website, reimagine the onboarding flow, and develop a product roadmap, all while exceeding my revenue and profit goals. It was definitely trial by fire as the head of a business unit, and it taught me to be resourceful, patient, and flexible — lessons that have carried me throughout my career.
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?
I don’t know if I would categorize this as funny per se, but as I reflect back, I find my initial career choice surprising considering where I am today. I began my career as a Research Assistant at Columbia University’s School of Public Health. A Professor in college encouraged me to continue in research post-graduation and I somewhat blindly followed this path. I spent three years at Columbia until I eventually found a position as a Research Analyst at NYU that better aligned with my skill-set and growing interest in strategy and operations. As a student at an arts & science school, I wasn’t exposed to the business world and the opportunities it offered. Looking back, I think I may have been better suited in a business environment early on.
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?
I think the most important task of a manager is hiring the right people and by that, I mean people who are above all, fun and flexible! Once you have the right team in place, it’s essential to regularly engage your team to not only stay connected but build camaraderie. Over the past few months, as we have felt more disconnected than ever, I started a daily “theme” among my team to encourage folks to share their favorite food, favorite vacation spot, or even work-appropriate GIF or emoji. I ask everyone to post on Slack to not only keep us connected but also have fun and uncover commonalities among our team!
Once you have established trust and engagement among your team, it’s important to set clear expectations with specific objectives and action items for each team member. At the same time, I have learned the value of being flexible — things are inevitably going to go wrong so how do you handle the challenge? How do you support your team when faced with obstacles? I am a firm believer in never leaving a team member to figure it out on their own and will be there to help support my colleagues in any way I can. My hope is that in serving as a hands-on manager, I am teaching my team how to be flexible and resourceful.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
I think the most strategic way to ensure a team works effectively is to build a roadmap with defined themes and outlined projects with clear ownership including a project manager. The leadership team at business.com does an excellent job ensuring there is a dedicated project manager for each initiative who takes notes during every meeting and shares with the team regularly to set expectations and ensure accountability across 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)
- Have Fun! — I don’t think you can underestimate the value of having fun with your team and throughout the workweek. Incorporating fun is important to building camaraderie, trust, and loyalty for long term success.
- Communicate Frequently — Communication is key to staying on task and ensuring that if there are roadblocks along the way, one can adjust accordingly. Each day, my team meets for a daily standup to run through the list of important action items, completed tasks, and most importantly (for me) highlight where they are stuck. This is valuable in understanding how key priorities/timelines have shifted and how others on the team can jump in to help support each other.
- Be Flexible — While I firmly believe in the power of clear alignment of owners and tasks, I also have learned through experience that change is inevitable. Learning to adapt as people and circumstances change is essential to survival.
- Hire Right from the Start — When considering new team members, I spend a lot of time finding the *right* person for the job. Most importantly, I look for folks who have proven they can be accountable and responsible and can showcase their own flexibility in the job. I am also always looking for “culture add” as opposed to “culture fit” meaning those colleagues that will push innovative, new ways of thinking to encourage new mindsets, approaches to problem-solving, and initiatives that will benefit our organization. These are the people who will make a real difference in our workplace environment for the better!
- Giving Praise Goes A Long Way- While it may be obvious, giving praise — especially publicly — can be tremendously impactful to an individual contributor. The team at business.com regularly gives “props” to teammates during our all-hands company meeting each month. By giving recognition when it’s due, I find my team is inspired to go the extra mile because they know their work is valued and appreciated. A simple but essential act of praise can make all the difference.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
The number one piece of advice I would offer is listen to your employees. Ideas can come from anyone and encouraging folks to share their ideas will create a culture of collaboration, essential to long term success and employee retention. I also think in order to encourage ideas, as a founder or CEO, you need to be accessible to your employees. Have an open-door policy and/or provide forums for feedback to offer regular opportunities for employees to share, brainstorm, and discuss. During this pandemic, business.com instituted a bi-weekly company meeting, spearheaded by our executive team, which ensures a regular cadence of communication among all employees. I have also instituted extra 1:1s with all my direct reports to encourage important sharing of ideas, challenges, and successes to maintain a culture of collaboration even remotely!
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. 🙂
Always be learning. As I said earlier, ideas can come from anywhere if you are open to listening and learning from those around you. Before I came to business.com, in order for an idea to be heard, an employee needed to jump through hoops of formal processes, slide decks, and board rooms. At business.com, our culture is collaborative by nature, which means that every employee — no matter what department or title — feels comfortable sharing ways to optimize what we are doing for the better. In fact, business.com is the first company I’ve worked for where an executive presenting will pause during a meeting and ask, what do you think? This thoughtful and inclusive approach provides the foundation needed to build a truly collaborative culture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Face the unknown with the belief that you are truly meant to do great things; Aspire for growth and greatness; You are in charge of your actions and emotions- how you will act and react it all depends on you; Be brave — success is one step away; Dream it; Chase it; Catch it; You got this.”
In 2017, I developed my own set of personal values. I found the tenants of my value system were deeply connected to the quote above, which today hangs in my office as a daily reminder of the kind of person and professional I hope to be:
Thank you for these great insights!