Effective Manager / Account Executive Communication: Modern Performance Expert Roundup
Communication is essential to setting expectations and goals, maintaining a positive culture, and other aspects of Account Executive operations. Modern Performance takes a look at all levels of AE communication. Our Expert Roundup weighs in on keys to effective AE communication, which can include monthly dinners, optimizing communication software and exercises, radical candor, skip level meetings, and hiring for communication and conflict resolution. This Roundup, featuring managers at the top firms like Lever, Upgrade, Intercom and Affirm, shares a toolbox for effective Account Executives communication, which will unlock the secrets of how to be available to your staff, and makes them available to each other.
It goes back to the values and the culture. We might say to new hires, “We’re a team here. We share best practices. We’re not a culture that tries to hide a great email or hide how we closed something successfully. We have team goals, and holding on to information like that would not get us to where we need to go.” At Mode, we’re still developing in small teams. Luckily we haven’t run into too many communication problems yet. We all sit together.
“We’re much more likely to spin around and just talk to each other rather than type messages into Slack. That also means that anyone else near you can turn around and listen in. What could have been a one-to-one communication has now become a one-to-many communication.”
With Slack there can be this recurring theme of, “It got lost in Slack.” There’s definitely a downfall to this approach because messages are not recorded anywhere. That’s something I’m still trying to work through. We have all these great one-to-one communications and team discussions, now, how do we record them in order to help new hires get up to speed?
If two people aren’t communicating well or they’re not getting along, I think when you really dig into it, it comes down to expectations around the working relationship.
“When a conflict arises, the parties involved often have different expectations of that relationship and haven’t shared those expectations.”
One person then does something that breaks the rules of engagement for the other, because those rules are so poorly defined or have gone unsaid. In my experience, it’s best to sit with each individual separately and ask what they expect of the other person, so I can draw out the disconnect myself. It’s usually very easy, at least for me, to get to the bottom of things.
As I said before, it begins with the color wheel, but we have other tools to facilitate communication.
“We use Slack really heavily. It allows people to get really quick answers, without walking across the hall or to a different floor.”
They can just ping team members on Slack or ping a channel, and get the answers they need. Salespeople like instantaneous answers, so they can move quickly on to the next task.
I’ve always believed in radical candor, which involves being very authentic and giving a lot of fearless feedback. We’re going to be the first group of people to high-five you when you close a deal on the phone, but we’re also going to be the first people to give you constructive feedback when we feel you can do better in certain areas.
“I am personally a big fan of skip-level meetings, meeting directly with my manager’s employees that report to him, to assess how well my managers were communicating and performing. That way I get feedback from the floor that I can share with my managers directly.”
It also shows our floor reps that I‘m taking significant time out of my week to meet with them and hear how they’re doing, what’s going well, what we’re struggling with and what we can do better. The floor always felt really supported, which is big.
Start by hiring people who communicate well. If there are people who are not communicating as effectively or are affecting morale with negative communication, you can work to remedy that, but sometimes that means that those people just need to leave the team and make room for people who will communicate effectively and positively. The less things you mandate as a manager around how people communicate with each other, the better. Secondly, I need to have a couple back channels. Somebody on the team who’s willing to share transparently with me when things are not going well and when things are going well.
“Having a back channel helps me get some real feedback as quickly as possible and lets me get ahead of some of those challenges when communication starts to break down.”
Thirdly, establishing clarity of purpose for our team and establishing really clear objectives helps drive that communication. Loose and ambiguous goals can drive a lot of ineffective communication. People are going to experience friction in any job. I don’t need to solve every problem. Is this problem big enough that it’s going to affect the business or the client? Is it coming up consistently? Then, getting observable behaviors, make sure the two sides’ stories match up, and then empower the parties to go resolve it. If they’re not able to, sometimes it means changing a process, or moving one person out of the situation.
I make sure I ask my team for feedback on a whole spectrum of issues, including communication style. You know you’re communicating well when the team can repeat back important items like the goals for the quarter and the metrics that matter.
“I can’t stand the phrase, ‘It’s an open-door policy.’ It’s overused. You need to check in with team members on a daily basis to make sure things are going well, not just wait for them to come to you.”
I also tend to have candy and junk food on my desk to incentivize them to come and talk to me. I have this awesome bowl of chocolate-covered espresso beans that I just brought back from Ecuador that are just dynamite. I also have a poof that sits right next to my chair, so people can come sit on the poof. They don’t have to awkwardly hover above my desk.
I try to be very communicative. Like most fast-growing companies, we have a lot of information to disseminate to people on a regular cadence. We use stand-ups and emails for most of these work-related updates. I try to keep it simple. If it’s really important and something that they should definitely know, I’ll just gather everyone in a room and do a quick 15 minute stand-up.
“For revenue-generating parts of the business, you are constantly in communication through emails and dashboards and texts and phone calls. It can become a little bit overwhelming. So it’s important to arm those teams with the specific and appropriate tools they need to be clear on their goals and what expectations are.”
We keep in touch on day-to-day issues on a chat system. I try to communicate any team changes or big companywide changes either in our team meetings or in one-on-ones if it affects an individual team member. Because we have them pretty regularly, it’s not a problem keeping them up to date. Also, I’m not in an office somewhere. I sit in the middle of the floor with my team. They know that if I’m at my desk, they’re free to come and grab me if they want to chat through a dea. I’ve done walks at 6:30 am and I’ll do calls at 9 pm. If you create this very trusting and safe environment, communication becomes very easy. Team members feel comfortable communicating with you and they know you’re there to listen if they have any issues.
I like to mix up the environments where we interact. In formal environments like meeting rooms, I find that team members hold back a little bit. I like to do one-on-ones where we’ll walk to get coffee, or we’ll go out for lunch.
“I like to over communicate, not just in the one-on-ones that we have, but I also send frequent emails to my reports with thoughts that I have, or things that I’m working on, just so they have an understanding of what’s on my mind.”
I usually get dinner once a month with my staff, and just make sure that they are out of the normal office environment so they can open up and be a little bit more honest. I can also give them more detail on what I’m thinking about and the direction that I want to be bringing the team. I make sure that they’re all on board with that, and we’re all on the same page in terms of how we’re managing and how we’re effectively leading the team.
I think first of all, it goes back to culture. It starts with having this transparent atmosphere where everyone has a voice, where there’s the constant encouragement of new opinions or ideas. We welcome constructive criticism and our leadership team is always transparent about the fact that we don’t have all the answers. Being humble and being open really matters. At Lending Club, we went from having a five-person team when I first joined to having over a 70-person team. Your communication changes. Some of the things we did to make sure that we’re communicating well with our staff is we would ask them questions in their one-on-ones or team meetings how is this form of communication working for you, do you feel well-informed, where are we missing things?
“I try to live by the ten-to-one rule. Ask questions at a rate of ten to one of giving answers. I want to get detailed information on their day-to-day experience in order to evaluate career progression and the goals they’re working towards.”
Are we tracking towards your career goals, both short-term and long-term? How are we holding you to account on your performance to help you reach these goals? As a management team, there was so much great information that we were sharing amongst each other behind closed doors, but we weren’t sharing with our teams on the floor. Say for example, I had a monthly PowerPoint presentation that I put together for our CEO that I would present to him on the state of our sales business. I would share that same PowerPoint to our sales team in our meetings to keep them informed. We also created a monthly newsletter where we recognize top performers, top performing teams. We give team updates around performance. We also highlighted specific changes that we had made in the past month based on their previous feedback to let people know that, “Hey, not only did we hear your feedback loud and clear but here’s the progress that we’ve made in making positive changes based on your feedback.” That was really well received.
Learn more from our experts, and see full profiles, here:
Justin Roberts, VP of Sales at Lever
Jeff Rothenberg, Director, Customer Service at Upgrade
Chris Schwass, Head of Relationship Management at Intercom
Alexis Zhu, Director of Revenue at Affirm
Annelies Husmann, Director of Sales at Mode Analytics
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