Being able to look back on where you’ve been and the nuances of each step can seriously help you understand where you’re going, and even help you get there.
When I took an internship on a whim 7 years ago, I didn’t know that I would be embarking on the most challenging, rewarding experience of my career, surrounded by some of the best people I know.
Recently, I spent some time recently reflecting on the major things I’ve learned over the years but before we jump into them,I want to give you a bit of a background into my career path here at IMPACT.
From Doe-eyed Developer to Jack-of-all-Trades
In 2011, I showed up to my interview for a developer position with Bob Ruffolo, doe-eyed and a few months away from graduating from Quinnipiac University -- way overdressed, I might add.
Bob asked me a few questions about my skills, took a look at my portfolio, and told me I could start the next week.
A year into the position, he and Tom had re-taught me everything I knew about coding, pushed me to new levels, and frustrated the living hell out of me at points.
Hey...healthy conflict is good!
As IMPACT grew around me, I was eager to do anything and everything needed to help us get to the next level. We spent many a late night working on new sites, content, direction, you name it.
In the process, I’ve worn many hats. Here’s a quick hit list of my roles/titles in the last 7 years.
Creative Lead / Head of Support
Creative Manager and Tech Supervisor
Senior Account Manager
Director of Strategic Partnerships and Web Specialist
That’s basically a new title every year, and very different titles at that.
Here's a gem from back then.
This is mostly because I never say no to a challenge and while I may not have had knowledge of some of those roles, the experiences have helped me really understand the value we bring to our clients and audience in unique ways.
During my journey through these roles, I’ve learned a ton and hopefully, this knowledge can help you.
Here are the 7 biggest things I’ve learned about growing a career and a company in 7 years at IMPACT.
1. Trust and Vulnerability are Important
Something that has become apparent in my tenure at IMPACT is how important the ability to trust my coworkers is. After all, you need to be able to rely on one another to get the job done.
For me, the level of trust I have does a few things.
I know I can depend on my team to GSD (Get S**t Done) right, which lets me not stress things out of my control.
Even the small things, like writing this blog article, become less stressful because I can trust that Ramona wouldn’t let me publish a steaming pile of garbage - thanks Rams!
But trust is important even outside of the office.
It’s a great feeling knowing that I can lean on anyone at IMPACT if things get crazy in my personal life, and they know that I’d do the same for them.
Taking time to really learn about each other, ask deep questions that go passed the usual “What’d you do this weekend?” and actively listening with curiosity, really creates a powerful dynamic that can set you up for success.
That vulnerability is usually uncomfortable, and that’s okay (we’ll get to that later).
You’re going to create strong relationships with people who, let's face it, you spend the majority of your week with - so you might as well have a great bond right?
2. Transparency is Worth Valuing
Plenty of companies preach transparency and honesty; few actually deliver on it.
We’ve experimented with things such as open financials, which has been super successful, and things like open salaries and ranges, which wasn’t so successful.
From my experiences, both on the leadership team and as an employee, the transparency we’ve implemented at IMPACT has helped bring the team closer together because everyone has a real view into what is driving our direction.
That means everyone has the power to “use good judgement,” as Bob would say, to make the company better for the employees and clients.
It still amazes me how when a new IMPACTer experiences their first All Hands meeting, they are shocked about our open-book management. We really show it all.
And while that can be scary to some, we’ve been able to embrace it and use it for the greater good - helping to motivate the team to hit our goals because it’s clear how things come full-circle.
Without transparency, some not-so-great things can happen and we saw it first-hand here.
The team felt completely out of the loop and started to wonder where the company was going. That led to concerns about why things were being implemented, what the focus was, what the future held for them, and more.
After making the change, even though it felt a little weird at first, the team was able to understand the why, and that helps everyone get aligned on where things needed to go, and let them focus on the how.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Let Go
I learned this lesson the hard way as I was transitioning from being an individual contributor to leading and managing a team.
Early on, as a developer, it was easy to stay in my little silo, keep everything very close to the chest and not rely on others to get my job done.
After all, I had my own processes and knew how to get things done correctly - why bother someone else with it when I could do it myself?
As I transitioned into being a manager of the creative team, however, I had a hard time letting go of the things I’ve come to know.
I found myself micro-managing website development projects, making sure things were coded properly, checking over things to make sure there weren’t issues, and generally worrying that something would go wrong.
It’s not a shocker to anyone that transitioning into a new role (especially a management role) isn’t easy.
That led to some added stress for me, and likely some level of resentment from the team because of me constantly getting involved in their projects.
But hey, it’s hard to be hands-off!
Once I realized that I was hindering my team’s productivity, and took a step back, the team flourished.
They really took ownership of the projects and ended up creating some new processes that I hadn’t even thought of.
Imagine that... It all boiled down to the old adage: delegate and elevate.
By not getting involved in the day to day things, I was able to focus on my new responsibilities and ensure the team was headed in the proper direction.
All by letting go :)
4. Change Can Be Scary
One thing that has been constant in my tenure is change.
We’re not scared of shaking things up at IMPACT when things aren’t working, which is partly how we’ve been so successful -- but this change can also be scary.
Regardless of how well-thought-out a shift is, issues can pop up that need to be addressed.
The potential for those big issues scares the hell out of me. The last thing anyone wants is for changes to end badly -- but it does happen.
When issues arise, have the honest discussion and see if it makes sense to revert and try again. Once you right the ship make sure to debrief and see what can be learned from the issues that popped up.
Fortunately, having the right team in place does make change easier, especially when everyone is aligned on what’s happening.
It allows folks to really feel like they have a say in how the change is happening.
They get to feel like they’re not just taking orders, but are being enabled to own the process and implementation.
Again, it all comes back to trust. When you trust your team, everything becomes a lot easier, including change.
5. Record Your Damn Calls
It’s not something that comes natural, and to be honest, I still forget to do it from time to time, but recording your calls (whether they be for sales, clients, or otherwise) is important for a few reasons. First of all, recording your calls allows you to reflect on how you communicate.
Without having the recordings to review, you’ll never be able to catch how many times you say “Um…” or “Yanno?” -- yanno?
Crutches like these can not only make you sound unprofessional and unprepared but in turn, they significantly erode the confidence someone has in you.
Recording your calls also gives you amazing training opportunities, as you can reflect on how you handle certain situations and how you can improve.
Something I found upon reviewing my calls, was there were times where I’d actually get frustrated and you could hear my tone change - not good.
Upon noticing it happen multiple times, I was able to identify the triggers and actively work towards having that not happen.
In addition, recordings can be integral in conflict.
There have been numerous times where conversations and decisions have gotten lost in translation. Did we plan on building that page this way, or that way? Not sure? Check the recording!
Recording my calls actually got me through one of my hardest periods at IMPACT.
I was managing a particularly difficult client and had a really hard time getting any of our designs approved. The client wasn’t helpful, was rude to me and our team, and ultimately I didn’t know how to handle the situation.
Thankfully, I was recording my calls, and with the help of one of our mentors, Jack Carroll, we got through it and I learned some extremely valuable communication tips that have gotten me through numerous difficult situations since then.
All because those initially difficult calls were recorded, I was able to take my skill set to a level I had never hit before.
So make sure you’re recording!
If you’re concerned that whoever you’re communicating with might not be a fan of being recorded, make sure you ask them.
Tell them it’s for training or note taking purposes, and more often than not, they won’t have a problem with it.
I actually can’t remember a single time I asked to record a call and was told “no.” So take that for what it’s worth.
6. If You Don’t Love What You Do, Do Something Else
This lesson isn’t a super complicated one, and it’s especially different for each person.
One thing that has been clear over my 7 years, 8 positions, and numerous ups and downs. If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, do something else.
It’s a simple statement, and I know it’s much easier said than done, but life is short, and waking up dreading going to work isn’t something anyone should have to do.
There have been plenty of times I wasn’t happy with my role at IMPACT, and those sparked amazing conversations.
Changes didn’t always happen overnight, and I was responsible a lot of the time to figure out what the next step was, but that’s part of the challenge I loved.
That was also the driving force behind my early “Head of Support” title. I wanted to give it a shot because I wasn’t feeling fulfilled as a developer - so we tried it.
Granted it didn’t pan out, obviously, but we tried it.
I’ve also seen many talented people come to IMPACT, and find out it wasn’t the right environment or job for them. That’s fine - we’re not for everyone.
What isn’t fine is suffering at a job because you’re too scared to make a change.
That type of mindset will only hurt yourself, and the company you’re at. This is exactly why we’ve made it a point to help anyone that doesn’t feel IMPACT is the right place for them find the right next step in their journey.
And that’s something that makes me so proud to work here.
7. Don’t Get Comfortable
The important thing I’ve learned is to be comfortable being uncomfortable (weird right?).
In my mind, if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re likely not growing and experiencing new challenges and opportunities to learn from.
By embracing discomfort, you’ll be able to reframe difficult situations as a learning opportunity. Perhaps there’s something you’re weak at and that’s why you’re uncomfortable. This is your chance to improve.
Take that opportunity to do research, ask questions, try new things, and ultimately find the right solution to the challenge, and if it doesn’t work, try it again!
Embrace the change. Learn from it and think of creative solutions to the problems that will inevitably pop up.
The Best of the Best
I’ve been privileged enough to be on IMPACT’s leadership team with some of the people I trust most in my life.
Being able to know, with unwavering confidence, that we all want what’s best for the company, and each other has helped me so many times over the 7 years.
So, you’re probably thinking, that’s all great - but how do I get that at my job? The answer isn’t always easy but usually starts with a conversation.
If you’re not happy, make it known that you’re not getting everything you need, or want, to succeed.
And if things don’t change, and you’re not happy, find something that will make you happy with people whom you love doing it with.
It’s been a rollercoaster since I started as an intern all those years ago, but it’s also been the most rewarding, and challenging time of my life with some of coolest, kindest, most loving people I’ve ever met.
I love the IMPACT I’ve made. Hopefully, what I’ve shared here will help you love yours as well.