Get people excited about the opportunity you’re presenting: explain the ‘why’ behind the task. The more you explain why something is important, the more connected they feel. Make them responsible for owning and completing it in its entirety. When your colleague completes the task, it’s also an excellent opportunity to recognize/reward them for their accomplishments!
As part of my series about the “How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sammy Courtright. Hailing from Australia, Sammy Courtright is the co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of Ten Spot, an all-in-one platform that helps companies connect, engage, and manage remote and on-site employees.
After finding it frustrating to stay healthy in a typical 9-to-5 environment, Sammy and her co-founder, Jonathan Cohn, teamed up in 2014 to create Fitspot, whose mission was to deliver wellness where employees needed it the most — at work. Renamed Ten Spot in 2020, the company not only rebranded to expand beyond wellness, but now offers a centralized solution for companies to increase their productivity, boost retention, and build a strong culture.
When COVID hit, Sammy learned that customers were facing a similar issue: how do we ensure employees feel like they work for the same company when they are not in the same place? Through research, she discovered that leadership was struggling to manage distributed teams. This led to Ten Spot’s expansion to the workforce engagement platform it is today.
With a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Miami, Sammy is a certified Pilates instructor who brings a blend of grit and imagination to the zillions of tasks that confront every startup. While she wears many hats, Sammy’s passion for building culture has created an atmosphere at Ten Spot dedicated to positive thinking and collaboration.
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’ve always been very creatively inclined, and in school, I studied theatre. However, at the same time, there’s always been part of my brain hyper-focused on solving problems.
Anytime I go into a restaurant or a store, I find myself thinking about all the ways it could be more efficient and scalable, and have even emailed the owners with my ideas (I know, I am that person). That is how I met Jon, my co-founder. Mutual friends introduced us and once I heard about what he was working on, I started telling him all the ideas I had to make it scale.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
We had plans to return to Los Angeles after completing Techstars Atlanta, but at the end of the program, we were offered free office space and access to incredible resources–things that early-stage startups cannot refuse.
So 90 days turned into two years! It wasn’t an easy decision. I only had a carry-on suitcase of clothes. I flew back to LA for a weekend to pack up my apartment, said ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to friends, and flew right back to Atlanta.
Running a company can be lonely, and at the time, I didn’t have any family or friends in Atlanta. It would have been easy at times to throw in the towel, but we didn’t.
I feel a strong sense of responsibility. The fact that my name is attached to what I’m building and that I took money from people, I want this to be successful. Although the move was unsettling and lonely, I found my focus and stride. That is what drives me to continue and persevere.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Last fall, I was sitting in a cafe in New York, having a cup of coffee, and some guy I’d never met before approached me and said, “Sammy?” I was thinking, “I’ve never met this person before…right?” and replied, “Yeah?” And he said, “Ten Spot, right? My friend’s cousin sent me your pitch deck.”
Moral of the story: your pitch deck isn’t your business card. We always prefer it when people ask to share company collateral before sharing it with others!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
COVID-19 has upended the workplace as we know it. As we’ve navigated this new world for Ten Spot and worked to solve our own issues with how to make our now distributed workforce as engaged, supported and productive as possible, we’ve been innovating in such a way that has enabled us to solve these same issues — and more — for our customers.
Distributed teams aren’t going anywhere. We don’t want our customers to have to piece together a fragmented solution to connect, engage, and manage their distributed teams. That is why we built the all-in-one workforce engagement platform that takes the heavy lifting off your plate whether your team is on-site or remote.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
This is something that I am actively trying to work on for myself. Ironically, helping employees thrive and avoid burnout is at the core of what Ten Spot is all about. But there are times where I personally find it difficult to pause, take a break, to take ‘me time’ and disconnect. I still have a lot of personal work to do in this domain.
On that note, as I have been figuring out what works for me, here is what I’ve learned.
Working and living through a pandemic has forced many people to rethink how they structure their day, and I’ve certainly mixed up my routine to help keep me productive, feeling good, and reduce any extra stressors that come my way.
The first item being the lack of a commute. I previously walked to and from the office every day. Rain, hail, or shine, I would always walk. It allowed me to take time for myself to prepare for the upcoming day and unwind mentally. Now that the commute no longer exists. I am still taking those 20 minutes to myself each day to either read an article, listen to a podcast, go for a stroll, drink a cup of tea–whatever I feel like I need that day, I do.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
LJ Kwak Yang, who is a Leadership Development expert and an Angel Investor, is a godsend. We met at Techstars. We work together to develop my leadership skills. At times, I am sure she feels like my therapist, but the best part is that she allows me to vent, then she gives me tangible next steps and exercises. She helps me navigate the ups and downs that come with running your own business.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?
In the startup community, mental health is talked about fairly often because, for founders, there’s a general feeling that you have to do it all. It’s a burden almost every startup founder faces.
There’s also too much to do — you’re focused on product-market fit or securing ROI quickly, but also trying to delegate when you’re building out a team alongside a business, and it can be challenging to know what to delegate and to whom.
But delegation is an important skill to develop — and quickly — because it frees up the mental space and time to work on the things you need to be doing for your business to survive.
Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?
I think there are a couple of crucial reasons that people have difficulty delegating. The first is that some are well-aware they need to delegate but don’t want to come across as weak in doing so, especially if they feel overwhelmed or like they’re drowning.
The second is that, if you’re the founder or creator of the company, it’s your “baby,” so to speak. As a result, trust issues come into play, and the instinct is to protect it fully. It often translates into doing everything yourself. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to huge bottlenecks and stagnation in an organization, leading to failure.
Third, some people instantly think it will be more time consuming to sit down and explain a project you’re delegating to someone than it would be to do it yourself. It might be the most prominent mistake people make when it comes to delegating. Once you explain/teach/train someone what to do and how you want it done, they learn and then do it again and take ownership.
In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?
Meditate in the morning — I meditate for 10 minutes every morning, which has helped me tremendously. It helps me calm and clear my mind, which leads me to better focus on what I have to do and accomplish for the day.
Write daily to-do lists — Once you have a daily to-do list down, prioritize it. If it’s way too long, seriously take a look at what you could have someone else do. If you’re new to delegating, start with delegating one or two things each day to employees and expand from there. Over time, your to-do list will get shorter and consist of the critical strategic items you need to focus most of your time on.
Surround yourself with capable people — This starts with hiring and retaining the right people. When your employees consistently show their strengths through great ideas, motivation, and hard work, it is easier to delegate to them confidently.
Get to know your team — Trusting your team makes all the difference, which can take time. In regular times it would be easy to host a monthly dinner or plan a fun off-site activity to get to know team members better. Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic, you can still do this with a virtual happy hour, a video cooking class, or even a monthly book club. Additionally, make sure to schedule regular one-on-one time with key reports. It will make all the difference.
Hire a coach — If all else fails and you’re still really having trouble delegating, hire a coach (career, life, business) and make it a priority to learn how to delegate from them. They will be able to help guide you through some of the trickier challenges you’re facing — letting go, trust issues, determining who is best suited for which tasks, etc.
Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- Learn to let go and know when to do it: I always try to ask myself, ‘does any item on my ‘to do’ list move the needle for our business’? If the answer is no, then I take a few items off my plate and delegate them to someone else, so my focus is on growing the business.
- Provide the right instructions: be specific with the task you want someone to complete, when you want it done, and how you would like to review and receive it once it’s finished. The more detail you can give here, the better.
- Know and be mindful of who you’re speaking to: how much context does this person have? No need to over-explain a concept to someone you’ve worked with for years but make sure they know what needs to be done.
- Follow up: Once someone completes the task, ask them how it went, and for feedback. Feedback is a two-way street!
- Get people excited about the opportunity you’re presenting: explain the ‘why’ behind the task. The more you explain why something is important, the more connected they feel. Make them responsible for owning and completing it in its entirety. When your colleague completes the task, it’s also an excellent opportunity to recognize/reward them for their accomplishments!
One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft-quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?
I think it comes down to someone’s personality — if someone is very “Type A” or has a hard time relinquishing control, then it’s easy to believe this statement.
I would say start small and give people direction to get started — and have a thorough project management plan in place. This doesn’t mean micromanaging but having processes and checklists are useful to keep tasks moving along and communicating where things are at.
To counter the quote, I would like to share one of my favorites that “it takes a village to raise a child” because in business — like children — it takes the help and work of the community — your employees — to build and grow something, and have it succeed.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 value education, and I don’t believe that learning should stop when you leave school. I recently read a report that said to remain relevant in the workforce and your job, you need to be learning and developing new skills at least every four years. This creates one of those challenges that I’d like to help solve, starting with Ten Spot’s customers.
Going back to school is expensive, and it usually doesn’t keep someone in the job market while attending, meaning learning and skill development needs to either occur on the job or with your employer’s support.
We are in the process of rolling out peer-to-peer mentoring on Ten Spot’s platform but envision it going beyond mentoring and expanding into important skills training. This can start with live sessions that are ultimately recorded and archived for use by new employees or anyone needing a refresher course.
I feel if we can help companies do this across the board, we’re helping make education more accessible. Employees can then learn and develop new skills without sacrificing their jobs and without their employers losing them.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Following Ten Spot on one or more of our social media channels is the best way to keep up with what we’re doing.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!