Increasing Team Confidence with Mark Ellis at Liftoff

The journey of increasing team confidence requires that you lead by example. This means your confidence level has to rise higher than your team. The energy that you have when your confidence level is high will give you a chance to increasing team confidence. My guest today is Mark Ellis, co-founder of Liftoff. Liftoff was #8 on the 2017 Inc 500 List. Mark gives the critical principles of getting a team firing on all cylinders. Increasing team confidence will provide you with a team that shares their ideas and executes at a higher level. Your team will also navigate failures with more resilience. Join me for increasing team confidence in today’s episode.

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Mark Ellis: The Transcript

Target Audience: He is the CEO & Co-Founder of Digital Hyve 5th Fastest-Growing Marketing & Advertising Company in 2018 Inc 5,000. The Digital Hyve is a full-service digital marketing agency. Connect brands and their message to targeted audiences online to produce meaningful results for our clients. 

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Gene Hammett: [00:01]
Hi Mark, how are you?

Mark Ellis: [00:03]
Good, Gene, how are you doing?

Gene Hammett: [00:04]
I’m fantastic. Excited to have you here because I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about the company and about you, but I want them to hear it from you. So tell us, um, you know about the company and kind of where it started.

Mark Ellis: [00:18]
Sure. I love talking about all things lift, also happy to do so. We officially began six and a half years ago, August of 2012 but really they were about a year and a half, two years before that. Then my two co-founders and I, Harry Robertson, Phil Crosby and I were noodling on the idea that became Liftoff and as all good entrepreneurs do, we try and the risk as much as possible. So there was some market testing in some prototype building and once we had enough signals suggesting that the constant that has become Liftoff would be a good fit. We jumped in with both feet and I brought to the effort a career in tech companies, both small and large from the likes of Google Disney on the content side. Leveraging technology and I was itching to get, get into something from the very beginning. And so it was fun to kind of see lift-off, get off the ground and we haven’t looked back since.

Gene Hammett: [01:11]
Well, I really appreciate it. Give us that background. Um, I’m curious about your own personal leadership style. How would you describe your leadership style?

Mark Ellis: [01:22]
You know, I think my leadership style has evolved over time and it’s certainly been shaped by leaders. I’ve been fortunate to work underneath through my professional and, and other experiences. I think it’s a blend. It’s a blend and it adapts based on who I am leading. On the one hand, it’s definitely visionary and spirits.

Mark Ellis: [01:41]
Oh, understanding where we’re going, what is the effort worth pursuing? And being able to articulate that vision for the people who are involved in the effort. There’s parks hands-on, uh, where I need to be hands on to both shows and demonstrate and remove obstacles. And there’s part empowerment. So if you hire the right people, ask the right people to join the effort and give them enough room to demonstrate the skills you’ve assessed them to have a that should also be welcomed and celebrated. So it’s, it’s a blend of those different elements.

Gene Hammett: [02:10]
And there’s another piece to it. I think they all kind of fit in there, but you have this concept of making employees the best version of themselves. So I’d love for you to describe what that means to you.

Mark Ellis: [02:22]
Sure. Well, I think philosophically one lives life searching for deeper meaning and impact we can have and what that means different things to different people and certainly where you are in your stage of life. When you think practically, um, you spent a lot of time in your professional pursuits, you know, you’ll, you’ll spend anywhere from eight to 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday in your physical work environment or a virtual work environment. So we get a lot of time to it. So I think that the philosophical approach is very much true and alive on a professional journey as well. And so, you know, since I have the awesome privileged responsibility of creating an environment for 180 Liftoff offers and growing, um, and also impacted by other experiences I have had where I became a better version of myself, I certainly set out and we now are very motivated to have an environment where people can be their best selves. So be able to demonstrate all the skills they have been able to master, develop more skills on the job and move past where they were when they came in and become a better version of himself. By that I mean they take on more responsibilities, they get into other environments, people, management, geographic environments, functional environments, so that they can be, become a better version of himself.

Gene Hammett: [03:38]
There’s a big movement around this where people talk about soft skills, hard skills of technology and the hard skills of running the day today, but soft skills. And I’ve heard a lot of speakers say this, it’s not soft skills, it’s human skills. How are you guys addressing that within the employees as they rise up?

Mark Ellis: [04:01]
I think that’s exactly right. I mean, look what is the company but for the people and certainly the technology and products, but we’re a composite of people who come together in a noble cause. Taking that vision and putting into practice. And so it is a human experience and elements. And so we’ve really taken that to its core from the values we’ve enacted that breed the culture thinking about the care and feeding that goes on in taking someone through that professional journey. And it is a very human experience. That allows us to be very successful in offering our technology and adding value in the broader market.

Gene Hammett: [04:38]
There’s two that come up to me inside of a workplace that I really think is very important. I think there’s many more than two, but I want to talk to you specifically around confidence and courage. How are you really in encouraging people to be more confident and their day to day work as they evolve through the fast-paced we have there?

Mark Ellis: [05:00]
Well, for, yeah, confidence is a good one. I would say something that it starts with me as CEO and hopefully percolates throughout the organization. I try and be my authentic self. And by that I mean I’m a part husband, part father, part CEO, founder, CEO and be real, be real with what’s going on in life outside of Liftoff as well as what’s happening within Liftoff internally as well as in the broader industry. Um, that coupled with some of the being transparent being friendly, respecting the team. We’ve built the diversity of the team both in terms of family history, cultural history, personal history and what people are going through. And I think that breeds confidence. If we can allow people to be their authentic selves, be transparent as decisions we’re taking, where we’re going, when we don’t hit the Highmark, why we fell short, we’re going to do about it. I think that breeds confidence. The Greeks confidence in the executive team. It breeds confidence in our innate to figure things out and it breeds confidence that you can be yourself. You’ve been hired for a reason and you can be your authentic self and we come together and make things happen.

Gene Hammett: [06:07]
Now let’s look at courage cause I separate those a little bit because you can be confident but not still have the courage to share that idea that you may think is maybe a little bit crazy out there. How do you get people to really be more courageous in and the work and the chances they take?

Mark Ellis: [06:25]
You know, it’s funny that is explicitly one of our six values and we call it courage to change. We want people on the way in to know, we don’t think we’re infallible or we have figured everything out. And after you’ve come in and you spent a little time with us understanding the processes, the Protestants built, how we interact with the market, we want you to know you should have the courage to say, I think there’s a better way to do things. Now we need to evolve our process. And so it starts with going on record to say, we want you to have that courage to go against the grain if it’s warranted. And suggest a better way. We have softer ways to do that with our spot awards or how we celebrate things in our monthly all hands. We celebrate when someone has courageously taken on a new task or one over a customer or been able to articulate a new way of thinking about performance metrics and so on and so forth. And then certainly we are a meritocracy. We look for ways to help people on their journey of becoming a better version of themselves. And so whether it be through big P promotions or small P promotions, ladder step-ups in their functional career. There are many different methods we used to say lift-off is a courageous undertaking. We want you to be courageous and we think highly of people that have that courage to change for the better.

Gene Hammett: [07:37]
Well, I want to jump into a kind of some of these key steps or principles that you’ve taken on this journey, but I want to remind anyone listening here Liftoff has been one of the fastest-growing companies out there in your market. Growing at a pace that’s, I’m looking at my numbers number eight in 2017, number 118 and 2018 is that right? That’s right. That’s right. So that’s four years of just really insane growth and it gets harder and harder each year. Um, I’m impressed. The fact that you got to one 18, um, after you hit eight when you think about growing employees do, how much, how does that really connect to the growth of the company?

Mark Ellis: [08:22]
Oh, I think it’s part and parcel without a well functioning team. Um, that is growing and it’s, each individual is growing and then the team has grown, grown closer together, growing, ensure numbers and moving forward, getting better processes maturing as an organization. You quickly, we’ll find you’re not going to keep up with the external growth numbers, the headline numbers of the year over year growth of revenue and profitability. So it is vital to have a well-functioning team that is growing. And so the way we haven’t shored, we maintain that growth that then ultimately breeds this, you know, these successful stats are articulated. There are several things and these have evolved over time. I don’t think you can assume that people will just innately grow. I mean, some have that in their mindset. Some need to be encouraged and mentored along the way. And so for us, it starts with a solid managerial program and track.

Mark Ellis: [09:17]
Again, there we can’t assume that everyone that comes in, even if they’re hired on as a manager, have the entire playbook we want them to have and then others are promoted during their liftoff journey to have the right playbook. And so we have thought about putting in place a, certainly not a Mba, I’m more of just the tactical managerial training based on where they are. We have a few different flavors so that they get up close and familiar with topics. They’re going to come in contact with, how to have difficult conversations, how to work on someone, succession planning then and their career journey, how to think about one on ones and what does that look like over time. All these sorts of things that you don’t really, you can turn into articles and they’re somewhat helpful. But all of you have to learn on the job, but we have to come alongside managers and give them the toolset, ensure they have the right toolsets to be able to be extensions of our broader organizational design.

Mark Ellis: [10:10]
So that’s one principle. Shall I go on?

Gene Hammett: [10:13]
Yeah.

Mark Ellis: [10:14]
Okay. Another one. We’re another value of as being data-driven. And so we apply that in this concept to benchmark. We need to know where everyone is to them be able to ensure that we’re moving in the right direction with them. And so we benchmark them in terms of reviews and reviews. Depending on the function, there is functional skill reviews or benchmarking and then we can assess are we helping them move in the right direction? In some cases, yes. And in other cases, we have to drill in deeper when these skills are environments. The manager also uses that as a way to give them learning opportunities, whether it’s more facetime in terms of customers, again, getting them on the stage at conferences or whatever those skills are that they’re calling out in terms of their path for ongoing improvement and development.

Mark Ellis: [11:00]
So that’d be a second area. A third area would be, you know, commitment from on top and through the HR organization to put in place perks and benefits and other things to EAD that person in their path of ongoing development. So we’ve rolled out a few years ago, ongoing education stipends where people can apply a certain amount of money to courses or other experiences outside of the company that will aid them in their ongoing growth and development. Another is we, we have a certain philosophy around how we build and grow regional offices. And so we look for people inside the company who sent to other locations and they can get the international experience. They can help see both culturally and functionally a new office. And it pays itself off very well because there’s a lot of cultural glue that then is then weaved with these regional offices. So that’s another example of things we’re doing to help people become better versions of themselves.

Gene Hammett: [12:01]
That has a lot to do. I think with you guys, I’m really believing and how growth really matters to the overall growth of the company. What are some of the mistakes you’ve made in this journey of, of putting together the programs to grow people,

Mark Ellis: [12:18]
whether it’s mistakes or just things that are keeping us very focused at the moment. I would say we’re focused on, um, different functions have grown at certain times. We’ve brought on a lot of folks, um, whether it be a, with a function or with the regional office and they’re coming to different points in their career schedule or their career trajectory. So we have to be thoughtful at having those conversations with folks and saying, look, everyone doesn’t have to go through the same gate at the same time. Meaning everyone doesn’t have to pick up people management. It’s all at once. There are other skills and opportunities that can be mastered or gone through to keep becoming a better version of yourself, such as, um, externally assuming certain responsibilities or leading a certain strategic initiative internally. So that’s why I wouldn’t say it’s a mistake.

Mark Ellis: [13:08]
It’s something that we know we’re working hard to both think through and really operationalize, given that there are only so many opportunities that open up at any one time. We have to be thoughtful and messaging to folks. Here’s how everyone has a place here so everyone can be advanced in their careers and feel like they’re not standing still. Another is as we, you know, as we become more mature, I’d say there are different functional boundaries that have had more of a lane to run in and now they’re coming up an existing more closely with each other. And so I think this is a natural tension that companies feel as they mature. And we just need to thoughtfully remind folks the mission at hand where we’re going and make the right decisions at the moment as to how functional teams coexist. In some cases, there might be a global org structure and other cases or regional structure and Justin showing everyone’s clear as to why we’re doing what we’re doing and revisiting it at appropriate intervals.

Gene Hammett: [14:08]
Yup. One of the things I feel like missing, and you probably addressed this, but I just want to ask you, we talk about company goals a lot. We talked about team goals, but the personal individual goals, like what skills does that person want to gain, how are you getting that? And then how are you reacting to the skill that that person, as you said, public speaking earlier. If you use that example, how are you guys reacting to it and getting that information from the employee?

Mark Ellis: [14:34]
Well, first and observation, then I’ll answer your question specifically. I think a lot of what makes a company effective isn’t necessarily coming up with revolutionary new ideas. It’s executing on a lot of the best practices that are out there. So my response to you is not going to be it is, we have annual reviews and we have quarterly syncs to revisit those reviews so that the manager is checking in with his or her reports. And I’m in the annual review. Part of that assessment is the person writes in assessment of him or herself where they’re strong, where they want to grow and shore up things and the manager writes a review. And so between those, and then there’s obviously it’s a three 60, so then Paris of that person are also writing strengths and areas of growth, opportunities of growth. So between all those different views, the managers should have a very good sense of opportunities of growth, whether it be public speaking or managing a meeting or technical know-how or whatever it is, and then thoughtfully saying, here’s how we’re going to shore those up.

Gene Hammett: [15:34]
I speak on stages about this because I think there’s an opportunity that a lot of companies just don’t see. But that personal goal gives that person, once you know what it is and you’re investing in it, or you have internal classes that they’re taking into it, they show up to work with a little bit more of a shiny, I bounce in their step. Have you seen that happen?

Mark Ellis: [15:56]
Most definitely, yes. That’s why I think going back to the theme you opened with becoming a better version of oneself. It has so much positive energy flowing from it. If that’s the company’s mission and to take it to a tactical level, most definitely someone feels like they’re becoming a better version of themselves. They are learning new skills, they’re becoming more confident at this or doing that. That’s part of, you know, feeling good about life in general. And so yes, they have a spring in their step. They’re more tied into what’s going on in the company. You retain them longer. They’re better at advocating on my half of the company externally. So it pays so many dividends and I think it’s just the right thing to do.

Gene Hammett: [16:40]
Well, I really appreciate you sharing all that with us today. One final question for you is what do you do next? Like how do you keep the company and your own leadership evolving as the company keeps changing and keeps growing?

Mark Ellis: [16:55]
Well, yeah, so we are fortunate that the industry we’re in mobile marketing and advertising is very dynamic and growing quickly and we happen to be winning in the market, which is exciting. But we don’t take that for granted. So one thing that I get to do and by central we all get to do is redefine my priorities each year. That keeps it fresh. It keeps me very engaged cause I’m tackling new challenges, working on new opportunities and that then flows through me to my executive teams, what I’m asking them to work on and focus on what they naturally have to focus on and then through them to their direct reports. So I think the key is keeping things fresh. I’m not changing the basics or fundamentals. Our values remain the same. The culture we are trying to continue to foster remains intact, but it evolves. I mean we have more people scattered more broadly around the world. Our and product offering a more diverse today we offer user acquisition and we engaged with and more exciting things to come. That means we have new challenges to figure out new customer types to interact with. And I think that’s what keeps things fresh, keeps people engaged, presents more opportunities to become better versions of themselves. And it gives us a lot to work on.

Gene Hammett: [18:06]
Well, I appreciate you sharing that with us and thanks for being here at Growth Think Tank. If our audience, when they get in touch with you, where do you send them to?

Mark Ellis: [18:15]
They can send me a note and mark@Liftoff.io.

Gene Hammett: [18:19]
Fantastic. Well, I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom and insights here.

Mark Ellis: [18:23]
Thanks, Gene. Have a good day.

 

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

 

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