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Empowering Your Team for Growth Kiersten Gaffney

Kiersten Gaffney has spent the last 20+ years, generating revenue for B2B early-stage startups and public companies. In the past, she’s held VP Marketing positions at companies like productboard, Buoyant, and Mesosphere. Currently, she works with early-stage startups that need advice and help on marketing strategy and execution.

In this post, Kiersten outlines how to build a culture of knowledge sharing, so your team can do their best work and confidently scale the business.

How do you keep your team empowered and happy while you grow from $1.5 million in ARR to IPO and beyond? The growth struggle is real with new hires starting weekly, increased customer demands, product trying to stay ahead of the product vision and roadmap, and engineering trying to build and ship features fast enough. 

The trick to keeping your team empowered is a culture of knowledge sharing. This couldn’t be more true with today’s COVID-19 crisis. COVID-19 has forced businesses to become 100% remote to keep employees safe and more resourceful to ensure longevity during tough times. Leadership teams that invest in knowledge sharing will empower their team, accelerate revenue growth, reduce churn, and build brand customer’s love.

Product Fluency Across the Org

Don’t let product complexity keep your non-technical teams away from the product and the customer. I’ve seen this happen with startups founded by developers who are building software for other developers. The last thing you want is a siloed working relationship between marketing, product, sales, recruiting, and support. To successfully scale, you’ll need to break barriers and foster a culture of trust, learning, and discovery.

In action: Non-technical teams should be given opportunities and time to understand the product’s power and customer use cases. Record all sales calls using Gong.io or Chorus.ai. Listen, learn, and discuss the recordings on an ongoing basis.

Understand Your WHY

The culture shift starts when everyone understands the WHY. Employees should understand why you exist, why anyone should care, and why anyone would buy. Simon Sinek sums it up nicely, “knowing your WHY provides a filter through which you can make decisions, every day, to act with purpose.” 

In action: Starting with WHY will empower your team with the knowledge they need to connect their work back to the business. Is your positioning in line with your WHY? If not, go through a positioning exercise and work backwards.

Align on Your Messaging

Partner and Co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, Ben Horowitz says, “The company story is the company strategy.” Every employee should be trained, educated, and aligned on the story. The story is not only for press releases or sales calls but it provides the company with a foundation (e.g. for the product team to build their vision and roadmap, for recruiting to convince candidates of the opportunity, and for engineers to be sure they are building the right features). Your story will evolve as you continue to learn from your customers so make sure those changes are constantly communicated to everybody. 

In action: Messaging is your one source of truth so make sure that whoever authors it, enables all teams across the org to own it, whether it be through a presentation or in a living doc.

Hire for a Growth Mindset

If you hire for skills and a growth mindset, industry experience isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re creating a new category or building bleeding edge technology. A growth mindset exhibits ambition and initiative, approaches challenges with a hunger and willingness to put in the hard work to learn, and isn’t afraid to fail. 

In action: Hiring managers should ensure that job descriptions make those standards clear and incorporate interview questions focused on growth mindset characteristics.

Examples of growth mindset interview questions. They start with “Tell me about a time when…

  • …you were inspired to learn something new.
  • …you took on a significant challenge.
  • …you failed at something recently.
  • …you went above-and-beyond the call of duty.
  • …you received feedback.
  • …you were inspired by someone else.

Keep Knowledge Fresh

Knowledge is only powerful or valuable when it’s documented and continually refreshed. Knowledge sitting idle is worthless because it has an increasingly short shelf life, and if it’s not used, it quickly loses value. What’s valuable today may be worthless tomorrow. 

In action: Knowledge sharing is a virtuous cycle. Make sure there are examples of good documentation in place that demonstrate how access to others’ knowledge and experience can improve personal and team performance.

Start Early

If you don’t address knowledge gaps early, they’ll continue to expand, slow revenue growth, and increase employee turnover. You don’t need a team dedicated to having a Learning Management System in place to encourage knowledge sharing. Here are five additional tips that remove the barriers within your org and build a culture for growth:

  1. Add a business strategy and alignment agenda item to the recurring All Hands
  2. Make sure onboarding for new hires includes access to all (up-to-date) documentation
  3. Have all employees spend some time with support and success teams to learn more about the customer
  4. Train team leads to communicate effectively
  5. If you’re considering the shift to completely remote work, GitLab has a great handbook for building strong, internal culture

A strong business is more than just having a strong product. When your whole company is aligned on positioning and messaging, fosters communication across all teams, and has good hygiene around documentation, scaling for success becomes a lot easier and eventually, will lead to increased revenue and customer love. A culture of knowledge sharing will ensure every employee feels empowered to make the best decisions in their work.

To learn more from Kiersten, you can follow her on LinkedIn.

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