Upleveling your team

/ by Ryan Feldman

Apiary Digital® recently surveyed a select group of performance marketing leaders—from startups, Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between—to learn their secrets to success during the first 90 days in a new position. To capture the pearls of wisdom shared through this survey, we’ve created a blog series, “The First 90 Days.” This is part of the multi-part series.

66.7% of marketing leaders surveyed indicated evaluating current vendors and team members, identifying gaps in skills, and getting the right people in place was key to their success during the first 90 days in a new position.

So, you recently started a new marketing leadership position and have a few quick wins under your belt. You’ve also spent a bit of time in “observation mode” to get up-to-speed on your organization’s culture. Now, it’s time to figure out if you have enough people with the right skills in the right roles to meet KPIs and support overall business goals.

Time to do an evaluation of your team!

Importance of team evaluations

Often, it takes a fresh perspective to bring to light things that aren’t working in an organization, and where things could be improved. People become so entrenched in the organizational culture, they may not be seeing inefficiencies. This is where you—coming in with a fresh perspective—can be invaluable to your team and your organization. 

It can; however, be tricky conducting evaluations when you’re the new person. Even just the word “evaluation” can set off alarm bells for people within the organization and thus should be approached with care. Evaluating team members is not simply seeing if performance meets expectations. Since people are involved, the process is much more complex. It’s all about finding ways to empower your team to reach maximum potential.

Pre-evaluation checklist

There are a few important things to do prior to conducting your team evaluations—most of which actually have to do with mindset:

  • Don’t go into evaluations assuming people aren’t making connections or understanding things because they aren’t smart—it may be because they aren’t getting the proper feedback, weren’t given all the information needed, or a combination of reasons. On the surface, someone may come across as having a gap in skills, but it’s important to take a step back to see where the source of the deficit is. 
  • Understand your team members’ job descriptions based on what’s on paper—learn what’s in-scope and what’s not—but refrain from looking at past performance evaluations prior to speaking with team members because it can really color your perception.
  • Spend time in observation mode to see how team members interact with one another.

⚠ Pro-tip: Best said by Norman Kerth in his book, Project Retrospectives: “ Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job he or she could, given what was known at the time, his or her skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

Evaluations in action

Approach team member evaluations as simply a period of trying to diagnose what’s going on and how to make the team more successful and aligned with the business overall.

  • Speak to each team member armed with a genuine interest in understanding what they’re capable of doing and in what capacity; find out what they’re passionate about at work.
  • Keep it informal—like coffee talk, but with a point!
  • Be on the lookout for key themes across people and roles which may help uncover areas for improvements in the organization’s overall structure.
  • Steer the conversation based on who you’re talking to. Plan to be flexible if you want to really understand where each person is at. Also, plan to read between the lines because people don’t tend to volunteer a list of things they’re not really adept at!

⚠ Pro-tip: Never actually refer to your evaluations as “evaluations” because it can make your team members feel uneasy. It’s just an earnest conversation.

Identifying opportunities based on evaluations 

Once you’ve done your assessment of the team and have come up with what makes the most sense to you personally, you’ll want to work with your boss to put people where you think they’d be the most successful. This is such a great opportunity to help people reach their maximum potential—and for the business as a whole. 

Here are some scenarios you may be finding yourself in about now, and recommendations on how to address them: 

Lack of guidance » provide clarity and empower

Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and scope of work, including who has what authority. Not only does this provide clarity among the team and instill a stronger sense of ownership, it also spells out the team’s purpose within the larger organization. Giving people a mechanism to push back on things that don’t align with or ladder up to the big-picture goals also helps empower people to do the best job possible.

Toxic behavior » positive behaviors

If you find you’ve walked into a situation where there’s a long history of distrust—toxic behavior like throwing one another under the bus—focus on ways to rebuild the culture into something more positive; one of trust and transparency.

Struggling » support

If someone is struggling, consider pairing them with someone more experienced for a mentorship. It’s entirely possibly they just weren’t getting the proper feedback and guidance needed to be successful. Demonstrating to your team you’re willing to work with someone who isn’t performing well versus immediately sacking them builds trust.  

Massive gap in skills » documentation

In the case where you’ve uncovered a pretty big gap in skills that likely won’t benefit from mentorship, start documenting! Provide feedback directly to the individual and follow it up in writing so there’s no question later on that you did your best to make it work. The process needs to be methodical and can’t be a quick decision. 

Complacency » skillset refresh

It’s not uncommon for in-house employees to become complacent in their skillset development. If they’ve been in the same position for a few years and have been doing the same thing the same way the entire time, chances are they’re not on-trend. This can be easily addressed through training, attending conferences, and/or coaching them a bit. 

At first glance, having to conduct evaluations of your team members may sound overwhelming and not very enjoyable. However, if approached with the right mindset—that it’s really about getting a good idea of what the team is capable of, and then empowering them to do their jobs—it’s an awesome opportunity.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series which will touch on evaluating vendors and identifying opportunities to boost value to your organization.