“Why you need to create a culture of experimentation”, With Fjuri CEO, Thom Gruhler

Create a culture of experimentation. The ability to pivot and adapt is vitally important to your success of your team. For leaders, this means creating a culture of experimentation. When someone’s operating from a place of fear, it is your job as a leader to help them overcome it. Push them and show them that […]

Create a culture of experimentation. The ability to pivot and adapt is vitally important to your success of your team. For leaders, this means creating a culture of experimentation. When someone’s operating from a place of fear, it is your job as a leader to help them overcome it. Push them and show them that you believe in their idea. Ultimately your team needs to feel empowered to try new things, learn fast and fail faster to find out what’s working and what’s not.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Thom Gruhler, CEO and Founder of Fjuri. Fjuri is a digital marketing firm focused on helping brands and CMOs solve some of today’s toughest marketing challenges by applying data analytics and technology to guide decision making, improve marketing strategy and ROI. Prior to founding Fjuri, Thom was the Global CMO of Windows as well as the Apps and Services Marketing Group at Microsoft. In his role, Thom led a cross-functional team, accountable for business planning, product marketing, brand and integrated marketing, demand generation, among other areas. He worked closely with product engineers and field partners to ensure customer satisfaction and to drive revenue and market share in the highly competitive sectors of PCs, tablets and smartphones. Before joining Microsoft, Thom served as President of McCann NY, where he led the transformation of McCann NY, readying it for the digital age.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I love it. I’ve always had a deep passion and curiosity around what defines a great brand and what companies can do to stretch further to improve the experiences they deliver customers. Throughout my career, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the leaders and team around me.

My journey has included some interesting roles from leading marketing at Microsoft to building the team at McCann NY — working with dozens of consumer, mobile and enterprise brands.

I would say my backstory is defined by belief, unshakable optimism and a voracious curiosity; which combined with being blessed with the chance to work with some amazingly talented and creative people, has led me to have some career experiences that I could have only hoped for when I was starting out.

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

One of the most pivotal career moments was leading the development and launch of Verizon’s first nationwide brand ad campaign while I was with McCann NY. It’s an interesting story early in my career and one that I often get asked about — including my nomination and acceptance into the AAF Hall of Achievement for my work on Verizon.

The night of the ceremony, the team I was working with played a spoof video they had created about me where my “mom” (not the real one, but a character played by a very talented actress) gave the attendees a tour of my childhood; in which my entire life was about marketing jargon. That evening was a long time ago, but the video lives on today. It makes for pretty funny moments when people meet my actual Mom.

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?

Oh boy… just one mistake. How can I pick? The funniest mistake from early in my career was traveling internationally and not knowing the tradition of my peers from other countries when meeting and presenting business cards. I was pretty eager and would immediately starting shaking hands and putting my business card on the table. I must have looked like something out of a bad movie to them. But they were courteous, and I caught on to the gasps from my colleagues pretty quickly.

In addition to learning to be humble, I learned an important lesson about following and seeking to understand first, and to learn from the people around me. As a young leader, you can’t and won’t know everything. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of expectation and forget that as a leader sometimes the best thing to do is quietly follow and take time to learn more before sharing your opinion. It has the counterintuitive effect of making you stronger in the eyes of your team. I have learned that lesson a few times along the way.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

This is an awesome question. In today’s workplace, with large, diverse teams working across geographies, languages and expertise areas, it’s important to focus on co-creating your culture.

A key foundational step in doing this is defining your shared goals, challenges and opportunities. To work together effectively, you need to establish well defined workstreams with measurable goals, clear owners, outcomes and timeframes. This is basic, but it’s a discipline we live and die by at Fjuri.

The second is about making sure we have the right technology in place to empower the team to work at their pace without location dependency and the need for big group meetings.

Our teams want to be organized into small groups with defined sprints versus having to sort through big group dynamics to get work done. We work hard to empower our team, so they can stay agile and focused. As a leader, I lean pretty heavily on my team and spend time 1:1 trying to find out where I can support them better. The more I get out of their way, the better I am as a resource for them.

What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?

Business card protocol. Lol. Truly though, I think the cultural norms for global business are becoming universal and commonplace. One of the most important aspects of managing global teams is making sure the team respects the culture and time change realities of their colleagues who are in locations on the other side of the world. Small point, but you would be surprised in large, fast growth teams with limited resources, how much pressure gets put on the collective group (sometimes without consideration for time differences).

Another key success factor is being explicit about how much time you’re going to spend as a leader in each global location and then sticking to that. When I was a leader at Microsoft (in an era where annual headcount reductions and reorganizations are the norm), my teams were constantly looking at how much time I spent in their location as a proxy for their job security. That can become emotionally draining for everyone if it’s not proactively managed. I also put key senior leaders in geographies that were critical as often as I could to make sure the leadership team had a connection to the local team and to emphasize my commitment to location.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

To me, thriving is all about culture. Talent can win, but only teams can become dynasties — and great teams are built on great cultures. This is pretty well-worn, but I can’t think of anything I spend more time working on than making sure our team, talent and internal process are in sync to help our people do their best work. Fjuri is still relatively small, but we invest a lot in our culture.

One thing we have created that I love is called the “F-Yeah Promise” (F-for Fjuri). It demands that we treat each other with respect, honesty, encouragement, kindness, friendship, forgiveness, dignity, patience, mercy, trust, empathy, tact, love, value, grace, truth integrity and confidentiality. Every one of those words comes from our employees. It is built on the promise that if anyone at any time treats another person less than this, then we will go talk to that person with humility, with pre-forgiveness and with 100% truth (just the facts, not the gossip) to address it within 48 hours.

If we fail to live up to our shared promise, we will hold each other accountable. I can’t tell you how much it takes the drama out of high-intensity team dynamics — where getting work done is everyone’s top priority. It’s awesome to see!

Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?

Building and maintaining great teams takes constant focus, collaboration and hard work. At the end of the day, retaining talent is about empowerment and opportunity. When we hire new employees, I look for people with grit, who can collaborate effectively to create opportunities for our business and their career as they continue to learn and grow.

At Fjuri, we’re always looking to attract and recognize top talent and that starts and ends with giving them autonomy to pursue their ideas and stretch further.

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)

Here are 5 keys I believe you need to know to successful manage a team:

1) Invest in your team. You have to invest in the growth of your team and believe in their ideas. Time and time again, I see employees who step up and accomplish something they themselves didn’t know they were capable of, which helps to move the entire company forward. From coaching to learning opportunities, there are many ways to invest in the success of your team. At Fjuri, we embrace grit and encourage people to experiment and use failure as an opportunity and stepping stone to stretch further.

2) Establish clear and measurable goals. To execute on your vision and strategy, you have to define what success looks like. What problems are you trying to solve for to deliver a better experience to your customer, and how will you measure it? Great leaders are constantly prioritizing with their teams, while also thinking big about the broader strategy, investment areas and stretch goals they need to pursue to realize their vision.

3) Create a culture of experimentation. The ability to pivot and adapt is vitally important to your success of your team. For leaders, this means creating a culture of experimentation. When someone’s operating from a place of fear, it is your job as a leader to help them overcome it. Push them and show them that you believe in their idea. Ultimately your team needs to feel empowered to try new things, learn fast and fail faster to find out what’s working and what’s not.

4) Manage through change. Leaders play an important role in helping their team embrace change, by stepping away from the day-to-day aspects of their roles to look at the big picture. With change comes the need to evolve roles and responsibilities across the team to eliminate overlap and make sure you’re structured in a way where everyone can stay agile and productive.

5) Openly address conflict and embrace problem-solving. Positive conflict is healthy and important for teams. Early on, our company brought in a leadership consulting service to help us embrace tough challenges quickly, stay on track and draft our team promise. As we problem solve and brainstorm as a team, we look to take a very open approach. All ideas are welcome and we look at what we can build to open up new opportunities.

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 have always been someone who works at a rapid pace and bias for action. Once a year I participate in a mission trip to help build houses and give back. I love to disconnect from work and my life and focus solely on helping others. If I could inspire a movement, it would be that simple. To inspire others to put everything aside one week a year and help the communities around them.

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