We were recently approached by a contact for some advice and thought it would be interesting to share.
To set the scene, this individual was relatively young to be in a commercial sales lead position. They were three weeks into a new role (not a placement of ours BTW) and whilst they were loving the challenge of building out the full sales and programmatic strategies, pricing models, media kits, hiring, billing and everything else involved in monetizing their new website, they had hit a perceived speed bump in the shape of their new boss, the MD.
They really wanted to be left to it because they felt they knew what needed to be done to make a success of the role and the commercial enterprise. Unfortunately they felt that because the MD didn’t have as much ‘in the weeds’ digital experience as they did, the MD was applying the brakes to some of their plans.
This throws up an interesting dilemma, particularly in the world of digital media where pace is everything and where there are often people operating on the ground who have a greater appreciation of the minutiae of revenue generation than their ultimate bosses.
Take programmatic trading for example, over the last two years we have seen traditional media businesses attempt to secure talented individuals to help them understand how to best position the digital arms of their companies into the programmatic stack. This has often resulted in people with relatively few years of commercial experience actually being the most experienced and qualified individuals in their particular field. It isn’t unusual to see people with 2-3 years of experience in highly influential roles where they are responsible for significant revenue lines. When they secure these roles they often find themselves reporting into a line manager who achieved their own seniority via a different commercial path, and as such that manager doesn’t truly ‘get’ what they do.
How best then to advise the youngster with great self-belief?
The first thing to say is that three weeks is far too early to draw any conclusions about your new boss. Likewise you’d hope they aren’t jumping to similarly quick judgements about you. At least give yourself 6-8 weeks before judging a role. If after that time period the same problem exists then your boss is likely to fall into one of two camps:
1. Knows their stuff and just wants to make sure you know yours before letting you loose.
2. Doesn’t know their stuff and is nervous about this new person suddenly running at 100 miles an hour in a direction that they know little about.
If they are the former type then as long as you ‘deliver’ on your objectives, clearly things will get better. If it’s the latter you have a challenge.
Before worrying about how to handle this challenge don’t forget one crucial factor. Your boss is very unlikely to have achieved a position of such responsibility without having some great skills themselves. Just because they don’t understand the transactional nature of your role doesn’t mean they can’t add value to what you are trying to achieve. Richard Branson didn’t need to be an airline pilot to launch an airline.
You need to help them understand your part of the business, what are the challenges and more importantly the opportunities. Build that trust and get them to the point where they feel that they are in control. Proactively seek their opinion and get a ‘yes’ before you do things, it’ll reassure them that you want them involved and that you trust their judgement.
As an industry the pace of technological change with Digital Media is going to throw up this challenge more and more often. The best companies will be those that pair the brightest young minds with the most experienced and inspiring leaders.