It Takes a Team to Fight Burnout. I help my team avoid and fight burnout by modeling the right behavior. You must model behavior that supports a healthy work/life balance in order to avoid pushing your team over the edge. As an example, I over-communicate to my team that if I send emails late at night, I don’t expect a response that night or first thing in the morning. I also block time in my calendar that is specifically dedicated to time with my kids and family. By scheduling this time publicly on my calendar, I am letting my teams know that personal time is encouraged, and am setting an example that they should do the same without any guilt. At Looker we have made it one of our core values, “Make Time to Shred” which means to make time for your passion. For some people that means making time for mountain biking, volunteering, or writing, for me it means making sure I’m spending time with my kids.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Grant. She serves as Looker’s CMO and spent the last 15 years building powerhouse brands from the ground-up. As the first executive marketing hire at Box, she oversaw its growth from a small “consumer back-up” start-up to an industry-leading enterprise content collaboration company used by the majority of the Fortune 500. After Box, she spent a few years advising Homebrew’s portfolio, on the board of directors of nonprofit K-12 Team, and led the rebranding of Elastic as CMO.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was standing at the registration desk at a Motel 6 in the middle of nowhere and it hit me. Being an actress and touring the country with a children’s theater troupe was not what I had imagined it would be. I was very poor, making around $300 a month, spending nights at somewhat scary motels to save money, and even though I thought acting would make me happy, I wasn’t. I had a self-intervention and went to the bar near the motel to have a talk with myself.
What I realized then was that my happiest moments came when I was not just acting but was also running a Summer Theater company. In effect the combination of strategy and creativity was really what I loved. I didn’t know it then, and it took me a few years and an MBA to figure it out, but that is exactly the definition of marketing.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have created a customer experience team at Looker and I am very excited to be leading it along with my marketing team. More often than not, software products are just launched at companies and employees are forced to use them. At Looker, our founder always says that “building software is an act of empathy.” We want to expand this motto so that deploying, delivering and using software is also done with empathy. It’s so easy to forget that we are delivering something that is intended to help people, and make their lives easier. This customer experience team will be diving in to the entire experience someone has with Looker when they buy, launch and use Looker. How can we create amazing delightful moments for the people that are learning to use Looker? When someone first starts using a product, they always feel incompetent because it is new. How do we shorten that time — or even eliminate it!? No one wants to feel incompetent. Even more importantly our mission is to “empower people through the smarter use of data.” We are uniquely positioned to make someone feel smarter and more confident in their jobs. So how can we get them there fast and in as delightful a way as possible.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Diversity is proven to improve a company’s bottom line. I’m a big advocate of helping women break the glass ceiling to advance their careers. As women leaders, especially in tech, we must push for change in every way we can. A great place to start is with data, and not just data about how women are treated, or paid, or promoted, but making sure there is equal access to business data. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to understand how the business is doing so that everyone can contribute ideas and the company can benefit from the creativity that having a diverse and unique set of employees provides. Typically, those in positions of power maintain their status by holding closely to critical business information and others don’t have that same access. We all know — through the many studies that show it — that a more diverse culture results in a positive impact. But making sure you are able to tap into that diverse culture and benefit from it takes a change in how data and information are shared.
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?
There were two pivotal moments in my career that made a huge difference in who I am as a leader. The first was from one of my good friends Katie who also was my executive coach earlier in my career. At the time, I was new to being on an executive team and I was one of only a few women. I often had big ideas about how to move my company’s strategy forward and I was experiencing resistance from the somewhat male-heavy and aggressive executive team that I worked with. She taught me the simple phrase ‘tell me more.’ She helped me to see how important it was that these more aggressive and dominating people I was trying to influence felt heard. Whether I disagreed or had another point to get across, it was (and still is) critical to slow down and make sure they feel heard — “I want to understand your point better, can you tell me more?” By giving these people a chance to go deeper, I could then find points I agreed with and made sure they felt that their ideas were heard and consider. That way, when I began to share my own thoughts, they could actually hear me.
The second moment was when my team at Box came to me and told me they needed me — they were feeling frustrated, the project felt complicated and off-track, they couldn’t move forward. It was an important shift for me as a leader. I had always wanted to give my teams space to make decisions, move forward, and create on their own so that they felt empowered and also proud of the work they produced. But there does come a time when people need help, need that authoritative decision-making that only a leader can really provide. My team taught me that it was OK to step in sometimes and as long as you are considerate and careful, your ability as a leader to step in and help course correct is a benefit to everyone.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” ?
1). It Takes a Team to Fight Burnout. I help my team avoid and fight burnout by modeling the right behavior. You must model behavior that supports a healthy work/life balance in order to avoid pushing your team over the edge. As an example, I over-communicate to my team that if I send emails late at night, I don’t expect a response that night or first thing in the morning. I also block time in my calendar that is specifically dedicated to time with my kids and family. By scheduling this time publically on my calendar, I am letting my teams know that personal time is encouraged, and am setting an example that they should do the same without any guilt. At Looker we have made it one of our core values, “Make Time to Shred” which means to make time for your passion. For some people that means making time for mountain biking, volunteering, or writing, for me it means making sure I’m spending time with my kids.
2) Dealing with Aggressive People at Work? Slow Down, Ask Questions, Stay Focused. As a female leader, especially in the technology industry, there comes a point in your career where you are constantly dealing with overly aggressive and dominant male leaders. Instead of getting defensive when I hear statements I don’t agree with, I have learned to slow down, ask questions and stay focused. When facing a conflict, I ask the person I’m working with to give me more context about their ideas so I can understand it more. In one instance, I quickly deflated a CEO’s frustration by carefully listening to his critique of a presentation we were reviewing, then digging in to what was really bothering him. In the end, it was a simple issue as he felt that the the presentation needed more photography to better humanize it. And while he articulated that he didn’t like the presentation, it took asking questions and digging in to truly understand that the specifics of what was bothering him. Instead of getting defensive and emotional, it’s more beneficial to find common ground, really listen and ask questions to move forward with challenging personalities.
3) Too Much Feedback Hinders Creativity. It’s critically important that people feel ownership over their areas, especially in marketing. It’s easy to say “just do it like this,” but it’s always more effective to let people own their ideas especially with creative work. Give feedback to your team, of course, but don’t be too directive or it will hinder their creativity. Don’t be afraid to articulate your feedback in emotions — “I really want this presentation to have more life, to be more colorful and alive, it needs to have more energy.” It’s much more motivating for a creative person to take feedback like that and then start thinking of ideas to get the work to that place. If you tell them you don’t like the font, or don’t like this or that color, that is asking them to be inside your head and guess what your issue might be. And if you continue giving feedback in this way, they will stop thinking for themselves and just do whatever you ask for (not necessarily what is the best work they could do).
4) Messaging is Essential for Both Scaling and Growth. When I first joined Looker, the messaging was really technical, and while some of the audience might understand why they would want a “semantic layer” that created “reusable SQL,” there are plenty of people that don’t. Moving the positioning from a feature-focused place, to somewhere that helps the reader understand WHY they should care and HOW your product fits in the world is very critical early on. Once you get that positioning in place, don’t be afraid to keep repeating it. While you — and everyone in the company — might get sick of seeing it repeated, you have to recognize that the market hasn’t seen it enough for it to stick in their heads. Find new ways to express it, but don’t spend too much time finding new positioning statements because you will end up confusing your audience.
5) Data has the Power to Create Equal Opportunities for All Employees. All employees need access to a unified view of a company’s business data. By giving everyone an equal view, companies can begin to increase the diversity of ideas and opportunities. Every contributor can help diagnose the organization’s challenges and share their ideas for solving them. Women and members of underrepresented groups, who are rarely afforded the opportunity to be the loudest voices, are better able to get ideas across backed by data-validated, agreed-upon facts. The debate can then return to using that consensus to drive decision-making, and to bring the focus back to where it needs to be: making the business more successful.
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. 🙂
My movement would be all about being present with the people in your life. Everyone — even at home — could benefit a tremendous amount from shutting off the electronics and being present with the humans in their lives. The ubiquitous presence of smartphones and laptops, and the addictive mechanisms of email and social media, have pulled so many of us into a constant state of ‘checking.’ We are all missing out on the human connections with the people we work with, our kids and our spouses. So many times I have seen meetings where everyone has opened their laptop and started working on answering email — all while they are in a meeting where someone — a person — is presenting something or trying to encourage a discussion that presumably is important enough to bring together people in person. While this practice is terrible for productivity and making sure meetings are efficient and useful, it’s disastrous for interpersonal relationships. We need to be connecting more often, discussing without distraction, and deeply hearing and understanding the people we work and live with. Imagine how much more connected and empathetic we would all be if we spent the majority of our days without a screen or an update?
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