Alex-ism: Let Your Team Members Problem-Solve for Themselves

Every now and again I get asked about my management style and how I manage staff and team members. I try to be relatively laissez-faire. My philosophy is that everyone has a different way of problem-solving and coming to their own solutions, and that if you hired an individual to do a job, you should trust them in getting it done. Giving an individual autonomy and a show of trust by allowing them to accomplish things on their own goes a long way to building trust and optimizing individual efficiencies.


Alex-ism: I View My Role As a Coach / Mentor

I worked in the sports industry for a few years, and currently work for an organization that likes to use a number of sports related analogies. I suppose it’s only appropriate then that I see myself as a coach when it comes to working with those on my team. The reality is that I have a great deal of knowledge on a variety of things – whether that be strategy, marketing, business intelligence, etc. Although I am consistently learning new things and learning from my team, I try to impart as much of what I know onto those around me, and in that way, I like to think of myself as being in a coaching role.


Alex-ism: Question Everything

Ask anyone on our team and they’ll probably tell you that one of the things I hammer home constantly is “question everything”. My point is that everyone should be comfortable enough to ask questions and push people on their assumptions and opinions. One of the worst things that can happen to an organization is when people stop pushing one another and stop questioning why.


Philosophy on Hiring

I’ve often been asked when hiring, “what do you look for in an ideal candidate?” Of course, this answer may be somewhat dependent on the position you are trying to fill, but I believe the core of what I’m on the lookout for remains constant. Beyond having the right background and skillset, I look for individuals who are curious. In my experience, curiosity translates into pushing the status quo and results in greater professional and personal development .

 In addition to curiosity, I look for candidates that come to their interview well prepared. This may sound obvious, but it can be illustrated in several ways. My favorite measure of being prepared comes from the questions they ask me. Someone who has researched the firm, me, the department, etc., should have lots of questions. Even if some of this information isn’t readily available online, there should be organic thoughts and questions a candidate wants answered. In many ways this is connected to my above point about being curious.

 The questions someone asks can make or break an interview.  I learned this lesson painfully many years ago when I was interviewing for full-time positions after coming out of business school. I had spent countless hours preparing for a final round interview with a senior vice president.  I was ready to answer just about anything regarding my background and why I was a great fit for the position. The phone call began, and I was immediately thrown a curveball. It went something like this ... “Alex, I’ve heard a lot of great things about you from my colleagues. Instead of me asking you about you, let’s take the next hour to answer any and all questions you have for me.” My stomach dropped. I had prepared a few questions, but certainly wasn’t ready to carry the conversation for an hour. I did the best I could, but after about 20 minutes, I was out of questions and the phone call ended. I knew instantly I had lost the job. I also knew it had exposed a major weakness of mine -- not having really thought through the role of the interviewee .From then on, you better believe that I have rolled into every subsequent interview ready to carry the conversation if called upon and have at least a dozen well thought-out questions in my back pocket. And to be clear, when I say well thought-out questions, these are well -researched questions about the organization and the position in addition to the typical layup entry questions.

 Be curious. Ask lots of well-researched questions about the company and the role. I think you’ll be surprised how far that carries you both in interviews and in life in general.


As a Leader, You Don't Always Have to Have All The Answers

I’ve noticed a trend among managers and leaders over the last several years that I disagree with. The trend is always having to have an answer, even when they don’t have one. And please, don’t misinterpret what I’m trying to say either. Part of being a leader is knowing what to do at certain times and having answers – no doubt. But it’s also okay to say you don’t know, so long as you have a plan and course of action to go and figure it out. Your job as a leader should be to empower your team and steer the proverbial ship. At times you’re not going to know something, and that’s okay, and I wish more people felt comfortable saying they don’t know – it humanizes and creates a more collaborative environment in my opinion (given you’re surrounded by the right supportive mindsets).

 Great leaders, however, are the ones who can then devise a plan to get answers, and move forward.


Spotlight- Social Media (A Growth Division Sub-Department)

Social media, sitting front and center within our Growth Division, is a channel that has undergone many changes over the last several months. Of all the sub-departments within our Growth Division, social is probably the best known, so I won’t drone on about how it works. What is new, is the department’s alignment under our group’s purview.

 The objective of our social team is to be nimble and agile when it comes to distributing content, and to grow their existing following. This has been easier said than done, and my hope now that we’ve aligned the group under our Growth Division is that we’re able to streamline our processes and start producing consistent content that is timely (i.e. a measure of our ability to be nimble and agile) and start building our following by correctly leveraging our other channels (i.e. email, mobile push, additional amplification channels, etc.) and directing both content and members towards them.


Alex-ism: Teach Your Team to do Your Job

It’s funny. I meet and hear about managers all the time that don’t take the time to teach those under them how to do their jobs. I understand, in theory, why this might be – why teach someone how to replace you. However, I disagree with this sentiment, and take a somewhat opposite approach. Yes, individuals are hired for specific roles, but developing these individuals for bigger and greater things down-the-road is, to me, a sign of a great manager. My thinking is why would an organization ever want to replace someone who actively takes part in developing the talent underneath them and spreading knowledge? It makes for better people and better organizations both in the short-run and long-run.


Alex-ism: Be Curious

I’ve found that finding genuinely curious people can be difficult, and that’s a real shame. Those that are curious about how things work and curious about why things are the way they are, are real rock stars in the workplace. They typically ask great questions and are the ones who continually push themselves to  learn more. When people ask me what intangibles I look for when hiring, I almost always produce an answer that revolves around finding individuals who are innately curious.


Constantly Reporting Backwards is... well... backwards

I’m a data nerd at heart. Thus, it should come as no surprise that analysis and reporting are things that I love and that are critically important. Too much time spent on looking back and reporting, deliberating, and building presentations may leave little actual time to implement change moving forward. Further, if you’re constantly building reports and presentations looking back, the time you have left is spent trying to enact change, which leaves virtually no time to examine the process, making it even harder to correct the balance between the two.


Processes Break at Times, Deal with It (that's what good teams do)

Things aren’t always going to go as planned. People are going to forget to do things, processes will sometimes break or lead to further delays. It happens, that’s life and how the world works. When good teams hit a wall, they find a way around it or through it. And when there’s no way around or through, good teams learn from it for the next go-around. It’s easier to give up than it is to roll-up your sleeves and grind something out. It’s also a critical point that separates the exceptional from the norm.


Alex-ism: Be Honest & Straightforward

Something that both of my parents hammered home when I was younger, was the importance of always being honest and doing the right thing. Sure, it took some practice, and I didn’t always get it right growing up. But as I’ve gotten older and as my professional career has developed, I time and time again find this to be one of my golden rules. It’s so simple to say, but not as widely practiced as one would think in the workplace. I say this only because hard or difficult news can be hard to deliver. However, being honest and straightforward will build your credibility and trust amongst your team and colleagues much more than the alternatives.


Alex-ism: Overcommunicate

As with any good relationship(s), the key is communication. When in doubt, over communicate. One of the biggest problems I witness in organizations is communication. I also happen to understand why it happens. We each typically work in silos of some sort, no matter how flat an organization tries to be. We work with different folks and we may even talk openly about what we’re working on at times at team meetings and the like. That said, these quick recaps or accountings of what we’re working on generally lack context or specifics on how it impacts different parts of the organization – not to mention most people tune out after about 2 minutes. Given all that, it’s a bit easier to understand why it may feel like communication is occurring when it isn’t – at least not accurately or effectively.

 So, what can we do about this? Overcommunicate. Re-communicate. Put things into context for others. It can be exhausting, but those who communicate well are often looked upon as the best collaborators and well respected throughout their organizations. The great thing is that it shouldn’t be hard, it just takes practice.


Lean & Scrappy

At Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE), I was tasked with building and running our Strategy & Research department. The team oversaw all consumer insights operations (surveys, focus groups, empirical research) across MSE’s properties (NHL’s Washington Capitals, NBA’s Washington Wizards, WNBA’s Washington Mystics, AFL’s Washington Valor, AFL’s Baltimore Brigade, eSports Team Liquid, and our venues Capital One Arena, EagleBank Arena, Kettler Capitals Iceplex). Within each of these properties we worked with each department (marketing, sales, corporate partnerships, etc.) to help them meet their insights needs with a blend of quantitative and qualitive approaches.

The problem our organization (and nearly all in sport) had was frequency of reporting, connectivity of reporting, pricing and valuation of assets, and data visualization structure to help those without data backgrounds feel empowered to act and build relevant data-backed strategies. In order to do this, most organizations would need to spend north of a hundred thousand dollars on systems, software, and personnel. However, sports organizations are notorious for having extremely limited budgets. Therefore, obtaining the necessary outside resources to assist with the extensive data connectivity, housing, cleanse, and creation of centrally accessible dashboards and visuals, would not be an option. Instead, I was faced with needing to create solutions for the following:

• Frequency of data refreshing and reporting

• Connecting and housing data together

• Creating the first comprehensive pricing and valuation predictions

• Telling a story and identifying opportunities through data visualization

• Implementing insights

Although it might sound simple, accomplishing these steps would take a great deal of effort, alignment, and collaboration. And that’s exactly what I set out to do. Here are some of the notable frugal and scrappy ways in which we made the task a success:

• There was a lot of data. It lived in multiple different programs or databases, some of which our organization had direct access to, some of which were controlled by third parties. Not everyone wanted to share the data they had. But over time and through great effort and alignment, we were slowly able to receive the data feeds we needed and started manually connecting disparate data sets together through common unique identifiers. We did this in part to avoid expensive automation systems.

• Some data sets were easier to work with than others. In a few instances, we had to work with internal tech teams to either change or build custom reporting capabilities to ensure the data was usable.

• Several of our external vendors couldn’t produce the data we required en masse, so custom API’s were developed with several vendors to allow better flow of data into our data repository.

• Once we felt we were in a good spot to collect and work with data, extensive time was spent with managers and directors from across the organization to better understand what they needed and the applications in which they might be able to use different data insights.

• Being short on budget and building complex data visualizations meant a lot of trial and error and self-teaching. I enlisted other industry experts I had relationships with to offer their consults on how to go about undertaking such a large and complex build.

• We took our data practices and insights a step further and started to tie in both internal empirical research (surveys, focus groups) and external empirical research (Nielsen Scarborough) to help in forecasting and pricing schemas.

• After we felt our data was clean and ready to use, we systematized pricing our assets and recording inventory levels in relation to partnership assets.

• Essentially, we created a Wiki for the corporate partnership division of our organization.

After several months, I was able to aggregate our data sources and create a series of visualizations that helped transform our data into actionable insights. As this was the first iteration of a major sports team piecing together this many data sources to tell a more full and better picture of team assets, I was asked to present our approach at team-wide attended meetings for both the NHL and NBA.

Gaining Buy-in

Recently a decision was made to completely rebuild our entire organization’s communications framework – what I call our Growth Framework. This includes all outward facing communications from the organization (email, mobile push, marketing/ advertising, web and mobile experience, trigger notifications, etc.). The need for this is that current operations are disjointed and disconnected, both in message and in experience, and this has resulted in a very convoluted operational function. This is a business-critical undertaking required for long-term success, but rebuilding a 55M+ database for a mature business ecosystem is complex and requires the buy-in of not only C-suite executives but also the teams responsible for implementing the rebuild.

In order to secure buy-in of this rebuild with C-suite executives, I needed a persuasive argument for this scale of project. I also needed data and metrics to support my argument, bottom-line information, an organized plan and timeline, and credibility.

• Persuasive Reasoning. I put together materials that walked through a comparison of what current vs. future state capabilities could look like, compared our current state to what best practices looked like throughout the industry, and described how I believed current gaps within our current system could be addressed through a new approach and framework.

• Data and Metrics Support. To support my reasoning, I provided current engagement data from our existing framework and compared it to industry averages, citing where current experience points were broken or lacked clarity. There was a lot of data that told the story that everything we were currently doing was not as effective as it needed to be.

• Bottom-line Impact. In addition to marketing funnel metric improvement data, I supported my argument with estimates to what I believed bottom-line impact to increased revenue would look like. I accounted for budgetary needs and resources required.

• Organized Plan, Process, and Timeline. You can promise the world, but it means nothing if you aren’t able to implement. In order to help organize my own thoughts about how to implement an overhaul of this magnitude, I devised a multi-phased plan complete with processes, timelines, and resource requirements to enable a timely and effective rebuild.

• Credibility. As I’ve discovered throughout my career, you can devise the best possible plan, but if you don’t have the right credibility and trust of the room, your biggest challenge might be convincing people to come along with you. Fortunately for me in this situation, I had already established credibility throughout the organization on several other major frameworks that I had previously designed, introduced, and implemented successfully at our organization. More so, the previous frameworks each leveled-up and built upon one another, and would be playing central roles in this next challenge. Put another way, if we were building a car from scratch, the chassis and transmission were already built.

Regarding how I prefer to work with colleagues at all various levels, I try to take a similar approach. For example, with any idea, whether it is from higher leadership or elsewhere, I’ll typically try to stitch it all together and vet the idea with my team to build out and make sure all cross functional actions are accounted for.

Once buy-in is obtained I typically operate within a flat-archie style type of management (a flat-archie is a blend of a hierarchical structure and flat structure – instead information and communication flows freely from the top down and back up, and then amongst peers – it promotes communication, ideas, collaboration, and feedback at all levels). In turn, I believe this type of approach makes individuals feel 1) valued, and 2) that they have a stake in the business and solution, which helps with buy-in and support all-around.

Accountability. As mentioned before, I like to have an understanding of the full organizational process and efficiency flow of how everything works. This helps paint clear pictures for everyone on how all of our roles roll into bigger initiatives and goals. We’re only as strong as our weakest link, so we all need to be accountable to one another and understand how each of our day-to-day and job functions need to work in harmony in order for us to reach our full potential and hit our goals.