Remove barriers to decision making. If the decision on whether to use the color blue in an image on social media has to go through 5 layers, things are going to grind to a halt and people will feel unempowered. Trust the people that you’ve hired to make smart decisions on behalf of the business.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Lelli, General Manager at The Tylt. Kyle joined The Tylt in April 2016 as one of its founding members. Today, as General Manager of The Tylt, Kyle is responsible for driving day-to-day operations of the business as well as long-term product and growth strategy. A self-proclaimed “people person and geek at heart,” Kyle has nearly a decade of experience in digital marketing. Prior to The Tylt, Kyle was the Head of Audience Development at Complex Networks (formally Complex Media).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Istudied marketing in college which led me to a retail analytics startup after I graduated. The company had an interesting culture and taught me a lot about the importance of flexibility and having an “all hands on deck” approach if you want to succeed in a startup environment. I had a broad set of responsibilities as the company’s Chief of Staff, which included booking conferences, developing and maintaining the website and leading our search and SEO efforts, all without much instruction. I figured a lot out along the way and continued to take on new challenges including getting into sales in a different industry. After a couple of years of sales in the wholesale apparel industry, I realized that my passion for marketing was still strong and I wanted to dive deeper. I relocated to Philadelphia and secured an internship at a small agency with a strong client roster. The internship led to a full-time role, which then led to me managing the SEO business for the agency, managing the team and working directly with clients. The culture we developed at the agency was very much about hands-on training and on the job learning. New team members were immediately assigned to projects and given the opportunity to do meaningful work while learning the hard and soft skills required to be great at their job. Here, I learned the importance of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Within the first year and a half of me being at the company, I went from intern to running that unit of business. I was essentially in charge of all client efforts, top-line strategy, and management of employees.
At 23, I was managing people for the first time and learned quickly that empathy is a key step to effective leadership. Despite the growing pains that came with my first management role, we retained 98% of the clients and oversaw a team of nine talented marketers. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity and grew a lot during my time in Philadelphia. Then, I made the decision to move to New York City with my girlfriend (who’s now my wife) since she was pursuing a career in fashion and NYC is the fashion epicenter. I was fortunate to land a job at a well-known media company that I had been in love with for years. Here, I primarily focused on the audience and product development. I was able to form deep relationships with product, web development, editorial, and branded content teams during my tenure and learned how to effectively work cross-functionally. I’m proud of building an arm of the business that didn’t exist before I joined, which included a team focused on SEO, email marketing, paid media, social, conversion rate optimization and the design aspects of marketing. My team and I quadrupled the audience size and set the stage for the company’s eventual sale. This experience strongly positioned me to join an early-stage startup, The Tylt, where I currently serve as the General Manager. I joined months before The Tylt launched to the public. I’ve been with the company for three years, focused on growing and supporting the team, driving top-line strategy, expanding the audience, establishing product and growing brand partnerships. My experiences leading up to The Tylt have taught me to value people who are willing to experiment and take risks, are respectful and empathetic to others, are diligent with follow-through, demonstrate flexibility and are always open to growing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As the largest and fastest-growing social polling and opinion platform amongst millennials and Gen Z, The Tylt specializes in crafting creative and topical editorial polls that our audiences care about and can vote on in real-time. In addition to curating editorial content that aligns with our content categories (entertainment, culture, politics, and sports) our team works with brands to increase organic engagement and raise awareness about specific products and campaigns.
One of the creative campaigns I’m most proud of since leading and working with my team involves creating a Twitter bracket face-off between top food brands including: Wendy’s, Chipotle, Denny’s, Steak-Umm, MoonPie, Totino’s, Hamburger Helper and Chex Mix by asking the question, “which brand has the best twitter?”
Millennial and Gen Z audiences voted for their favorite food brand on Twitter, Facebook and on TheTylt.com over a period of 41 days. We established three specific goals for the campaign. First, we wanted to tap into digital conversations that food brands and fans were already having to measure brand sentiment and crown a favorite brand, we also wanted to collect 5,000 votes and generate 200K impressions. The initiative exceeded our plans and resulted in 1.4M votes and 18M potential Twitter impressions!
This campaign was one of the most successful examples of brand polling and engagement that our team has conducted on social media. We find that so many brands do not have the resources to tap into millennial and Gen Z opinion in real-time, create organic engagement across multiple social media platforms and generate successful results. We’re passionate about helping brands to unlock customer opinion in this way. We’re currently nominated as a Finalist in the Shorty Awards for Best Use of Polls and Surveys for our work on this campaign.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The Tylt is working on a number of really exciting client projects at the moment that are helping brands to deepen their engagement with, and better understand, their existing and prospective consumers. Without giving away all the details, the projects combine our editorial and journalistic expertise, rich media production, social engagement and proprietary technology to deepen consumer connection to the brands, topics, and communities they care about. These projects are also giving The Tylt team a lot of access and opportunity to take risks, be creative and grow. I am a huge proponent of hiring smart people, setting objectives and then giving people the room to take risks and bring great things to fruition — it’s an exciting time at our company.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I think that a good deal of the workforce is unhappy due to poor management. Smart and talented people need to be empowered (and supported) to take risks and make decisions that contribute to the success of the company. I also think many managers have a very outdated view on flexibility at work. At The Tylt, we’re less concerned with rigid work hours and policies. The results prove themselves. If teams work well together and employees are meeting, and better yet exceeding, their expectations, it’s of less importance at what time of day their work is done — it’s the results and impact that matter. In other words, don’t punish people for their hard work. This approach counters the pressure to be available 24/7 in the digital age. Lastly, employees need to feel appreciated and recognized. Every single team member makes meaningful contributions to the success of our business on a daily basis. Recognizing individuals and teams for their accomplishments and hard work, both publicly and privately is extremely important. We have a “wins channel” on Slack to share successes and also consistently recognize team members in our team meetings for their contributions and successes, big and small. It’s important that everyone has trust in one another and that they genuinely want their colleagues to succeed, not just themselves.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
In my experience, if people are unhappy at work, they tend to coast or even underperform. It’s important to recognize deficiencies, promote honest dialogue and correct any cultural issues that are contributing to an unhappy team. Happy employees take more strategic risks, contribute impactful results, care about the company, are healthier and less prone to burnout, and inspire others to do their best work as well.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Have fun and encourage others to as well! Work is often challenging, but it’s important to keep the mood light and joke around in the office and on Slack. Incorporate team events where people can take a breather and enjoy themselves. All work all the time isn’t going to be healthy for the longevity of the team.
- Instill a culture of respect. Nip issues in the bud quickly. If it’s a one-off instance, have a conversation with the offending team member. Understand their motivations and let them know it’s not OK. If it’s persistent, don’t let the problem linger. It’s better to deal with the issue directly so that other team members don’t think that type of behavior is acceptable.
- Foster personal accountability. Have each team member work with their manager and peers to set their goals and determine expectations. We find that this open approach empowers each person on the team with personal ownership over their objectives and find that they are more likely to hold themselves accountable.
- Remove barriers to decision making. If the decision on whether to use the color blue in an image on social media has to go through 5 layers, things are going to grind to a halt and people will feel unempowered. Trust the people that you’ve hired to make smart decisions on behalf of the business.
- Listen to your employees. Is your team constantly asking the same questions? It usually means you’re not listening and/or not they’re not listening.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
Our country’s working culture tends to center on ambition and achievement which has many positive aspects but can also foster unhealthy habits (like the pressure to be available to work 24/7). Whether a company is made up of ambitious overachievers or high achievers who tend to be more relaxed, it’s important to feel like the people around you care about you and respect you. As an individual, you celebrate that feeling by doing your best work.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
My management style involves leading with empathy, teaching and coaching others to reach their potential. I also pride myself on being hands-on, curious and open. I started my career in earnest as an intern, so when it comes to empathy, I don’t have to go too far back to put myself in the shoes of someone just starting their career. I do my best to listen with an open mind, follow through on suggestions and follow up on conversations to prove that it’s not just passive listening. A simple question that opens up a lot of possibilities is; “How would you approach this?” It’s a lot of “Here’s my take, but what do you think?” and “Well, have you thought about this?” I also like to be quick to admit when I’m wrong or have made mistakes. Everyone does, and it’s OK to admit it.
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’m grateful to each manager I’ve had in my career. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from each one and am fortunate that each of these people chose to use my mistakes as teachable moments vs. punishable offenses. There was one time in particular, where — at my previous company — I said something in a meeting to another leader that was perceived very differently than it was intended. Needless to say, the person I was speaking to was quite offended by it. My manager at the time pulled me aside the next day and wanted to get my take. He wanted to know what my intent was, why I thought to deliver my comments that way and what my goal was in the conversation. The conversation with my manager really made me think deeply about it. I was able to follow up with the individual — hat in hand — and build a stronger relationship because of that. The reason this stuck out, in particular, was because of how my manager approached the situation. My manager didn’t say “you need to go and apologize, what were you thinking?” His approach with me was thoughtful, strategic and considerate of both individuals. It taught me a lot about how to level-set with people and how to let them take their future into their own hands while providing subtle guidance. I try to use this lesson almost every day.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I tend to focus on how I can positively impact the immediate people around me, and how that has broader effects as time goes on. I think it’s meaningful to help people grow personally and professionally. I enjoy teaching and mentoring others, as they build their careers and reach for their goals. I strive to bring goodness to others with kindness and empathy as they learn and grow. If I can give someone their first management opportunity, or the opportunity to learn a new skill set, it has practical application in the near and long-term and ripples outward. Treating people with respect and giving them the opportunity to live up to their potential brings me a lot of fulfillment and aids in my own growth.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many great life lessons and quotes from How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie that it’s difficult to choose. But one of my favorites is probably the first in the book and the title of the first chapter; “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.” There are many other versions of this, like, “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” What it boils down to is one of the first lessons in life that people are taught by their parents. Treat people how you want to be treated. It’s one of the most deceptively simple concepts to understand and often one of the most difficult to practice. This approach goes a long way in terms of building rapport quickly with new people and showing others that you have their best interests at heart.
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?
Try to better understand the person across from you.