Less than two years out of University of Virginia and working for a Silicon Valley investment bank, Jared Shusterman returned back to his home in Miami. No mortgage, family or real responsibilities, Jared figured the lack of sleep and religious devotion to work could be better spent on building his own enterprise. One dilemma - at 23, the only start-up capital he had was his Bar Mitzvah savings.
Now at 33, this entrepreneur and his team are building one of the leading through-channel marketing automation businesses in the world. National brands like Benjamin Moore that sell through local dealer, retailer or field agent networks work with SproutLoud to execute local marketing tactics and improve performance of the money ear-marked through the channel. The company is on track to surpass 160 employees and $30 million dollars in revenue for 2016.
I asked Shusterman, a member of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), why his company is succeeding when so many self-funded ventures just can't get off the ground. He explained that ultimately companies live or die on the interaction of their people. Communication is undoubtedly the single most crucial aspect of human interaction. Good communication can lead to a workable business model, incredible productivity and a lifetime of satisfaction. On the other hand poor communication can make any organization collapse overnight.
Shusterman offered up his tips on how he makes sure great communication is a driving force in SproutLoud's success.
1. Create a daily communication rhythm.
With the chaos of daily activity, many companies are reactive with their daily communication. Many people think daily check-ins are difficult or even a waste of time. Consistent with Verne Harnish's preaching in , Shusterman swears a daily communication rhythm gets all company members in sync. "All teams have a morning 15-minute stand-up. Information flows up eventually leading to the last stand-up of the day at 11:00 a.m. with the executive team," he explained. "By 11:00 a.m., Executives are aware of any impediments or things of urgent nature that need addition. Information is shared and ultimately communicated back down as needed."
2. Create communication frameworks that establish consistent expectations.
Many organizations deliver company-wide messages sporadically and in a haphazard manner. SproutLoud has built numerous communication frameworks to make sure everyone is aligned. Key messages are posted in obvious locations and steadily reinforced every two weeks. "SproutLoud's Accountability Framework establishes standards across the board on what can be expected of the company and what the company expects of its team members," said Shusterman. Another example is SproutLoud's Painted Picture, written by Shusterman himself on what SproutLoud will look like by the end of the year. This framework communicates the vision of the company directly to all so that all can work in sync to make that vision a reality.
3. Create regular feedback mechanisms.
Shusterman found that waiting six months to give feedback to an employee often created issues of consternation or misalignment. Instead, he and his team adapted a more consistent review process, allowing for more immediate feedback. "Every team member has a 30-minute performance review, called a one-on-one, with their respective team leader every two weeks," he explained. "This allows us to have consistent, regular feedback sessions to reinforce positive work and course-correct where needed. As a result, team members have clarity on how they can continue to improve and how they are performing--much more so than the dreaded review every six months."
4. Measure your employees' moods.
Early on, Shusterman found the executive team was often out of touch with the rest of the workforce on specific issues. The result was that company moods and morale were often difficult to assess -- the few people who were the loudest created a skewed narrative.
The solution? Using technology to assess mood. "Now, we have iPads installed at every entrance / exit where we ask people to score their mood on a five-mood scale from Angry to Amped," Shusterman revealed. "We ask the questions that we want to know, including how we are doing in creating a 'Best Place to Work' environment. We track and understand mood trends and can now respond quickly with actual data. If 90% of our workforce is not generally positive about a core issue, we know we need to address it. In addition, we share this data to bring transparency to how everyone feels."
5. Encourage interaction with senior leadership.
Many companies create space in the hierarchy to ensure minimal distraction and enforce the management structure. Instead, SproutLoud encourages open communication across all levels of the organization. "The management team sits out in open cubicles to listen to what is going on around them and be a point of access," said Shusterman before revealing that "we don't have an open-door policy because for the most part, we don't have doors." Moreover, Shusterman has a number of other processes in place to create open communication. Among those is a Town Hall, where everyone is free to submit questions and have them answered on the spot; an online suggestion box, where employees can add feedback anonymously; and "open office hours," where each senior leader has an hour blocked in their calendar to be able to interact with any team member who uses the time correctly.
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