Create rituals and have fun. Traditions and rituals are great ways to add some fun, energy and passion into the workplace. They help us create a shared history as a team and give us both something to look forward to and reminisce about — which according to experts, are two keys to boosting happiness. Once a month, my team votes on an “above and beyond” award-winner for a gift-card prize; we ring a bell in our office as loud as we can when we get a killer client media placement or hit a critical social media milestone; we pop a bottle of bubbly and toast to our amazing team every time we sign a new client; and we host both a holiday party and a summertime “team togetherness outing” each year to maintain a spirit of fun and camaraderie.
Asa part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leslie Licano.
Leslie is the co-founder and CEO of Beyond Fifteen Communications, an award-winning public relations strategist, renowned for her ability to help clients reach their core audiences, impact public perception and increase sales and revenues.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Myjourney began simply with the love of the written word. Growing up I was an avid reader, and even as a child I enjoyed writing short stories, poems, essays and plays as a way of expressing myself to the world. As I drew near adulthood throughout high school and college, my mentors encouraged me to find a career path where I could parlay my talent for creative storytelling to make an impact on the world.
Initially I dabbled in journalism, but while reporting “just the facts and nothing but the facts” I realized how much I missed infusing my own color and flair into the pieces I was writing.
Corporate positioning and media relations naturally emerged as a way I could apply my talents to helping brands share their brand stories with the audiences that matter to them. Today, one of the core things my firm is known for is successfully publishing strategic content marketing pieces that resonate with their audiences and impact their businesses in a positive way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I always think it’s interesting how one client leads to the next, and the next when you’re doing good work and getting strong referrals. Exponential growth potential is just not something you think about when you’re signing on with a relatively small client in your early days as an entrepreneur. But in hindsight, when one of these small business owners or mid-level marketing directors becomes a brand evangelist for you, smallish engagements can lead to dozens of additional pieces of larger and larger referral business. Recently, we traced a path from a very small early retainer client to a recent project with a highly esteemed Fortune 100 company. The lesson I took away from that is to treat every client relationship as though it is your number-one priority, because you just never know where it might lead.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My firm is all about connecting clients and their target audiences in ways that create meaningful engagements and drive positive action, so I believe we’re helping client businesses every day. Each time we secure a front-page cover story, a TV segment or a social media influencer engagement — we’re helping our client brands get the exposure they need to succeed on broader scale. We’re also lucky enough to serve several brands with stellar corporate social responsibility initiatives:
- Our client, CS Hudson is entering the second year of its Pop-Ups for Good campaign, which applies its deep facilities management and retail expertise to create short-term “pop-ups” that help deserving groups — from returning veterans to homeless youths — through experiential pop-up activations aimed at giving back. Getting press to these heart-warming events helps our client attract more partners and funding so it can do more good with each passing year.
- CosmetiCare is a Southern California plastic surgery center and medspa that treats the Real Housewives of Orange County and many other celebrities. It has a 501(c)3 called the Magic Mirror Foundation that provides life-changing reconstructive surgery to thousands of patients including victims of domestic abuse, accidents, breast cancer survivors and victims of bullying. We’re looking forward to getting press exposure for their next patient recipient, due to be announced in early 2020.
- Another of our wonderful clients, Grandma Lucy’s, creates human-grade, all-natural freeze-dried pet foods that allow our furry friends to eat the wholesome organic, GMO-free, superfood meals we’d make them if we had the time and energy. Their #ProjectPetRAK initiative encourages random acts of kindness (RAKs) for pets; and partners with rescues, shelters and charities to promote kindness to animals and feed thousands of homeless pets each year.
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?
Most of us have a deep desire to derive some sort of meaning from our work. Just clocking in and clocking out doesn’t feel like a calling for most, and this kind of monotony often drains us of our energy and feels like it is pulling us way from what we were really meant to do. No one wants to feel stuck, unappreciated or like they are just a cog in a wheel.
It’s the job of a great leader to help his or her team find the meaning in each of the tasks they complete each day — no matter how big or how small. It helps if leadership believes in where they are taking their teams, can clearly articulate why it matters, and can genuinely help those around them feel the joy and meaning in their work.
I believe uninspired leadership can have a bigger impact on the day-to-day experience of our teams than most realize — meaning that mentoring, grooming, cultivating and continually supporting our next generation of leaders is vitally important to improving our situation on a whole.
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?
Unhappy workers can be something of a cancer to a team. Just as happiness and enthusiasm can be contagious, so can a culture of griping, focusing on the negative and forming cliques around mutual complaints.
I’ve had experience with negative attitudes taking hold and spreading throughout a team — eventually leading to turnover which, of course, is difficult and detrimental to operations.
Today, my partner and I are committed to nipping this type of negativity in the bud, as we recognize what can happen if we let it fester. Sometimes it’s better to terminate the relationship with a hire that can’t get on board with company culture, than to let them spread negative influence to others on the team.
We’ve seen how the rest of the team flourishes when soured individuals leave or are removed. Everyone reaps the rewards of a happier, healthier team environment and productivity soars.
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?
- Offer compelling professional development opportunities. Employees need to feel like they are improving every day and thrive when they’re able to envision a brighter future for themselves and their families. My firm offers an annual professional development budget, and provides lunch and learn events, access to webinar and live-trainings from outside experts, and regular opportunities for our team members to work outside their current job descriptions or shadow more senior-level team members in order to get a flavor for what’s next. We’re also unafraid to create a new job title or job description to maximize our team’s unique talents. Just because a job doesn’t exist in our firm, doesn’t mean you can’t be the first to hold the title. It can be liberating to know you can color outside the lines sometimes.
- Keep your door open. The unknown can be scary.My team benefits from knowing how I think, what I value, where they can improve and why what they are doing matters. Having conversations about those things can’t exclusively happen once per year in an annual review. Real understanding stems from ongoing, everyday two-way dialogue. I enjoyed “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity” by Kim Scott. A former senior leader at Apple and Google, and a CEO coach at companies like Dropbox, Qualtrics and Twitter — she provides a great framework for how to get, give and encourage feedback at work, while building a cohesive team. An always-open door is necessary to this kind of candor, and when done right it can be a beautiful thing.
- Keep your mind open. In addition to your door, I encourage leaders to keep their minds open as well. When you’ve done a good job with your open-door policy and your team can be candid with you — you sometimes hear things you wish you could run or hide from. Maybe it’s about how you can be a better leader or it shines a light on places in your operation where things aren’t all sunshine and roses. I firmly believe those are the things to pay the most attention to. You hired these people for their brilliant minds. You are only hurting yourself if you don’t take the time to truly listen to what they come up with. My business has even opened new service lines based on areas of opportunity that team members have identified.
- Create rituals and have fun. Traditions and rituals are great ways to add some fun, energy and passion into the workplace. They help us create a shared history as a team and give us both something to look forward to and reminisce about — which according to experts, are two keys to boosting happiness. Once a month, my team votes on an “above and beyond” award-winner for a gift-card prize; we ring a bell in our office as loud as we can when we get a killer client media placement or hit a critical social media milestone; we pop a bottle of bubbly and toast to our amazing team every time we sign a new client; and we host both a holiday party and a summertime “team togetherness outing” each year to maintain a spirit of fun and camaraderie.
- Be flexible. Lunchtime yoga sessions are fun (and great team-building), but I’m talking about treating each of your team members as the unique individuals they are, and caring about their lives and happiness enough to offer them trust and flexibility. We’re dedicated to offering the creative and artistic freedom to try new things, reasonable work hours, flexible office time and the ability to duck out for a dance recital, soccer practice, or personal appointment when they need to. Over the years, we’ve grown more and more flexible with our team and have found they are more focused and productive when they feel a sense of balance and aren’t as stressed about mounting personal to-do lists they never have time to get to.
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?
I think it has to do with caring — like really giving a damn about your team, and how they feel coming into and leaving work each day. If you can’t see and feel in your soul why that matters, or other things seem more vitally important, I don’t know that we’ll ever get there.
In a small, privately held corporation it’s easier to authentically know and care about each person on your team. As you scale though, stakeholders, investors and the bottom line create competing priorities. Maintaining internal commitment gets more difficult as external demands grow more pressing.
It seems like reducing focus on the mega-corporations and working for, supporting, and investing in smaller employers could be part of the solution. For bigger enterprises, well-supported employee-led initiatives, task forces and programs can be part of the solution.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
Early in my career I was a bit of a micro-manager, but over the last decade or so, I’ve come to realize that my partner and I have hired a brilliant, creative and talented team of self-starters, and they do their best when given the freedom to “do their thing.”
Today, my style is largely to set a strategic course alongside our clients, and then turn the day-to-day over to our very capable team — checking in on progress regularly and making myself available for brainstorms and offering course-corrections, edits or feedback when necessary — while leaving much of the creative process to them.
I find they are more fulfilled and proud of their hard-fought victories when they are truly their own — and if they want to try something out-of-the-box that I’m personally unsure about, they’ll work doubly hard to make it work because it’s a plan they feel passionately about, and they are not just following someone else’s marching orders. This shift in style has been a win-win — producing both great outcomes, and positive feelings amongst my team about what they’ve accomplished.
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?
My parents; a few “bad bosses” along the way that helped me recognize how not to behave; and a particularly encouraging high-school language arts and speech/debate teacher, Nancy Trumpfeller, that believed in my ability to make a living out of a passion in a way that helped set the trajectory of my career.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Happy work environments produce happier and more well-adjusted individuals, who in turn have so much more to give back to the world. In addition to supporting our pro-bono clients with as much fervor as they would any large account — I’m very proud to see them volunteering, teaching, speaking and contributing in a way that I’m not sure they could if they were being worked to the bone — unappreciated and unseen.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
As a business owner you have to believe that you have the power to make a difference. My team is positively impacting the trajectory of our clients’ businesses every day; every time we scale or expand, we have to believe in our abilities to band together as a team and conquer any challenge. This quote connects me to a deeply rooted sense of my own power as a woman, as an individual and as a leader — to significantly impact change on whatever scale I am driven toward. I think it’s an exceptionally powerful ideal.
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. 🙂
True gender equality in corporate America is long overdue. Balanced leadership teams that include greater levels of diversity and inclusion are a key to creating stronger companies and workplace cultures. I’d love to see a movement focused on cultivating a leadership mindset in young girls. This may include programs that offer leadership training at younger ages, more training for our primary school teachers aimed at uncovering their unconscious biases in the classroom, or shifts in how we parent girls. One way or another though, we need to do better.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!