“Set expectations upfront.” with Nekasha Pratt

Set expectations upfront. Let the employee know you would like to coach them. I have found that defining your constructive feedback as coaching that benefits them helps make the employee more respective to the feedback. As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of […]

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Set expectations upfront. Let the employee know you would like to coach them. I have found that defining your constructive feedback as coaching that benefits them helps make the employee more respective to the feedback.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nekasha Pratt.

Nekasha Pratt is a marketing leader who has helped lead campaigns that have won over 20 creative awards, including national Webby, Clio, Effie and Addy awards and 3 international Cannes Lions awards. She is the Director of Marketing for Tennessee Tourism, where she primarily focuses on global digital marketing, social media and branding that promotes state-wide tourism, and serves as the state delegate and review committee member for the US Civil Rights Trail. Nekasha is also a nationally recognized speaker and in 2019 was named a national Economic Development Headliner by Bizwomen and a Nashville Women of Influence Award recipient.

Thank you so much for joining us! 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?

Absolutely! My first professional job was working in a call center during the day, answering calls about campaigns marketing insurance products, while I went to school in the evenings. When the call center permanently closed, because of my product knowledge I was able to transfer to the company’s headquarters and work on marketing those products. The experience I gained in that job led to working at my first marketing agency. I went on to hold leadership positions at two global organizations, worked for another marketing agency, at a music museum, and with Fortune 500 companies before starting my current role. Having done marketing in various industries, at organizations of different sizes and structures, and working on both the client/brand side and on the agency side gives me a wholistic perspective of marketing and business.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes our company stand out is our innovation and creativity. We find unique ways of solving problems and accomplishing our goals, which primarily is to inspire travel to Tennessee in order to drive tax revenue. A large part of that is done through storytelling — showing travelers unique experiences they can only have in our state. One example of our creativity was when we worked with our agency to custom design and build viewfinders for people with colorblind deficiencies. We installed 12 viewers, fitted with special lens, at scenic locations across the state so colorblind travelers could see our colorful outdoor scenery. Our team won several awards for the project’s innovation. The news coverage, along with our marketing, exposed people to something they could only see if they visited our state, which ultimately accomplished our goal of inspiring visitation.

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

When I was in my late teens, I thought I’d work in the music industry because I loved music (and still do). I later realized marketing was my passion and decided to purse that field in college. In 2017, I heard about an open marketing position at the National Museum of African American Music and thought it would be the perfect way to combine my love of marketing and music. I enjoyed working on music projects at the museum, while also learning about the hospitality and tourism industry. When my current state tourism position became available, I quickly applied because I knew music would be a part of the marketing, given all the great musicians in Memphis, Nashville, and so many other cities across the state. I would have never guessed it back in high school, but music has been a big part of my career for the last five years. I’ve worked on campaigns and projects with artists such as The Roots, Kelsea Ballerini, Estelle, Jack White, Bilal, and Pastor Shirley Caesar. It’s amazing how the universe seems to connect and align things in life.

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?

Early in my career I made the mistake of being underdressed for an important meeting. At the time I worked in a business casual environment and that’s how I dressed for my first meeting with our regional director. I came to work wearing khakis and a blouse, while everyone else had on a suit. I quickly went home to change before anyone in leadership saw me. I realized two things while I was speeding back to the office, trying not to miss the meeting — it’s better to be overdressed than under and to always be prepared. As a result of that situation, I keep a dress, blazer and a back-up pair of shoes in my office in case a wardrobe change is ever needed or an unexcepted meeting is called.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Good communication is always critical but during times of stress and uncertainty, it is needed even more. My advice for leaders is to communicate with your staff regularly. Allow times where leaders and team members can just talk about what’s going on personally, what’s happening within the company, and about support that’s needed. Also, encourage your employees to practice self-care and if possible, offer flexible work options so employees can handle their personal and professional responsibilities. When leaders show they care about the wellbeing of their employees, that creates an environment where employees can thrive.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as establishing the vision for your team, and influencing, motivating, and empowering your people to accomplish the organization’s goals successfully. This means a good leader works with the team to translate the vision into specific strategic goals and milestones and also motivates and energizes the team while they work to meet the objectives.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

When faced with a stressful situation, I keep two things in mind: 1) preparation leads to confidence, and 2) control what you can control. I mentally work through various outcomes of a situation and do visualization exercises to anticipate what might occur. I focus on being as prepared and informed as possible, which leads to a sense of comfort and a positive attitude. Then I let go of everything else because I know I’ve taken care of everything I can control. For example, last year I spoke to a crowd of nearly 1,000 conference attendees for a keynote presentation on the importance of diversity and inclusion in marketing and social media. I prepared for weeks to ensure I had done the proper research, I anticipated audience questions and incorporated that content into my presentation, walked the stage before the speech and did a test run, and based on the conference attendees list, incorporated a few anecdotes that would be relevant to the audience. That level of preparation led to a great speech that received glowing reviews.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

I managed my first team when I was 20. I had a team of 10 and was the youngest manager at our location. The company heavily invested in management training, so even at that young age, I felt well-equipped to supervise, coach and develop a team. We even won two performance awards and I attribute that to the feedback and coaching I was trained to provide. I’ve led a few more teams since then and have also managed contractors, freelancers, and vendors. I currently manage my own team, our external agency partner, and cross-functional team members who work on projects I oversee. Between company trainings, formal education, certification courses, and quite a bit of practice, I’ve developed several techniques for effectively giving constructive feedback that I’m happy to share.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

A part of a leader’s job is to guide and coach their team(s). Giving honest feedback is one way to help team members perform at their best. The way I provide constructive feedback is a method I like to call the “sandwich approach”. I often start by explaining to the employee that I’d like to have a coaching session and to offer them words of wisdom for their professional development. I start with something positive, then move on to discuss the constructive criticism. Finally, I close with something positive, including words of affirmation, and ask if they need any support in making the necessary changes in behavior. Direct and honest feedback is important and can be done in a respective manner, without demoralizing an employee, especially if you stick to addressing facts and provide specific examples for reference.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Set expectations upfront. Let the employee know you would like to coach them. I have found that defining your constructive feedback as coaching that benefits them helps make the employee more respective to the feedback.
  2. Coach as soon as possible and do it virtually. The details of the situation will still be fresh, which makes it easier to walk through what happened. In a remote workplace, virtual coaching will allow both parties to see body language queues, which can eliminate misunderstandings.
  3. Keep the session private. Conduct the session just between you and the employee — don’t give criticism in a public setting. Receiving feedback can be a vulnerable time, so don’t involve others unless the situation warrants including other parties.
  4. Stick to the facts. Avoid attacking the person — instead focus on their actions and address what behaviors should change.
  5. Discuss next steps. At the end, explain what your expectations are of them going forward and if there will be any further action. Close with something positive and offer support in helping them improve.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? 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.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Email can leave too much room for interpretation so in a remote world, difficult conversations should really happen via video. This allows for both parties to see each other’s body language. If video isn’t available, then a phone call is the next best option, so at least both parties can hear each other’s tone. Email would be my last resort for delivering constructive feedback.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

Immediate or as soon as possible is the best philosophy. This reduces the chance of the situation or issue happening again before you have an opportunity to address it. Leaders should have established, reoccurring meeting times set with their team members, and those can also be appropriate times to give feedback, if the incident doesn’t warrant immediate attention. With my current team, I have weekly one-on-ones so if the issue isn’t urgent, then I wait to discuss the topic during our weekly meeting. Otherwise, I coach immediately after a situation occurs.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

I read a great quote that said “We can all become great leaders by making an effort to understand what an employee is thinking and feeling at different stages of their career, and then use that knowledge to transform any employee’s day-to-day work experience by showing our appreciation for their work and the career stage they’re in.” To me, that’s the definition of a great boss. I’ve had a few great bosses but one in particular was a leader who was dedicated to the success of her team. She involved us in key decisions, equipped us with the tools and training to be successful, empowered and challenged us, and was open and available for support when it was needed. What made her great was she knew if her people were successful, the company would be too, and she focused on her people.

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. 🙂

The movement that would bring about the most good would be equal pay by gender and race. We cannot achieve gender equity without racial equity. The discussions about equal pay often group minorities together and this can hide the inequalities that lie amongst different races. For example, according to Catalyst, in 2019 white women earned 81.5% of what men earned, Black women earned 68%, and Latinas earned 62%. These stats show we can’t only focus on gender to bring about pay equality. I hope to see more action towards wage transparency, a ban on salary history requests, and overhauling talent management systems to help remove hiring bias.

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 “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” Passion is a driving force in my life — when I’m passionate about something, my best shines through. This quote not only reminds me to go after what I want but to also identify what excites me and to focus my time and energy on those things because that’s when I’m at my best.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Visit my website at www.nekashapratt.com and join my email list; also follow me on LinkedIn.

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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