Culture Over Coffee

Mastering Individualized Management with Sarah Dobbins

March 09, 2023 Beth Sunshine Season 2 Episode 9
Culture Over Coffee
Mastering Individualized Management with Sarah Dobbins
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we’re tackling how to go about mastering the art of individualized management. How can leaders best harness the unique talents and powers of each individual to maximize engagement across their teams?   

Joining me to break it all down is a master of individualized management herself, Sarah Dobbins, Market President and Chief Revenue Officer at Townsquare Media Portland and August, Maine.  

Sarah has so many valuable insights to share, such as: 

  • How understanding talents at an individual level can make it easy to be the perfect “matchmaker” for clients and account executives 
  • Why talking about individual talents can really feel like a “love language” 
  • And, finally, how consistently using Growth Guides makes it that much easier to put words into action.  

Company Culture Self-Inventory Checklist (Grade Your Company Culture):

Sarah Dobbins:

Beth Sunshine:

Up Your Culture:

(03:50) Knowing individual talents can make you the perfect "matchmaker"
(06:18) Positive problem solving
(09:17) Using talents is like a love language
(11:40) Understand who the people on your team are outside of the walls of work
(13:48) A salary increase makes you happy once a year, but a healthy workplace keeps you happy throughout the year.
(16:08) It starts by knowing your employee's Top Five Talents
(18:59) Use growth guides

Beth Sunshine: (00:15)
Hello and welcome to Culture Over Coffee, a podcast focused on improving company culture and fostering employee engagement. Every week we chat with experts and thought leaders about the latest information and proven practices you can use to reduce regrettable turnover, increase productivity on your team, and retain key customers. So, pour a cup of your favorite brew and join us. I'm your host, Beth Sunshine, SVP at Up Your Culture and the Center for Sales Strategy.

Beth Sunshine: (00:50)
In this episode, we're tackling how to go about mastering the art of individualized management. How can leaders best harness the unique talents and powers of each employee to maximize engagement across their teams? Joining me to break it all Down is a true master of individualized management. Sarah Dobbins, market President and Chief Revenue Officer at Town Square Media, Portland, and Augusta, Maine. Sarah has so many valuable insights to share, such as how understanding talents at an individual level can make it easy to be the perfect matchmaker for clients and account executives. Why talking about individual talents can really feel like a love language. And finally, how consistently using growth Guides makes it that much easier to put words into action.

Beth Sunshine: (01:44)
All right, welcome Sarah, and thank you so much for joining me today for Culture Over Coffee. Thanks, Beth. It's so great to be here. So excited to have you. So excited about this conversation because today we're gonna focus on the concepts of developing people and individualized management, and you are a pro at this. Um, I do have to brag about you a little bit. I didn't tell you I was going to do this , but I am. Last year you received the prestigious Talent Superhero Award. And just in prepping for our talk today, I was looking through the comments that we received with your nominations, um, which was really fun. So I'm actually sliding them over in front of me so I can, I can share just a little bit. I wanna set up the conversation for our listeners, um, to just really demonstrate why you were the one we needed for this conversation. One person said, Sarah is passionate about identifying and soaring with people's strengths, and she inspires everyone around her to excel in ways they never thought possible. Love that. And then someone else said, I've never seen a manager take their people under their wing the way Sarah does. She listens, adapts, and encourages each member of the team. So this is why I've been, especially looking forward to digging into these subjects with you today. I'm so excited you're here. Are you ready to get

Sarah Dobbins: (03:05)
Started? I am. I'm excited to be here.

Beth Sunshine: (03:07)
Okay. Ah, so many organizations use talent assessments in the hiring process just to make sure that they're bringing people on board where they can excel, you know, putting them in a role where they can use their strengths, achieve a level of excellence. And I know you use talent assessments for hiring in that way, but I also know that those assessments are valuable beyond just making that initial hire understanding and individual strengths, their weaknesses that can be just as powerful for coaching. And that's what I wanna dig into. So my first question for you is, what has your experience been with coaching individuals based on their innate talents?

Sarah Dobbins: (03:50)
So, Beth, it's a great question and we've had a great experience with it and we use it for several different ways. I thought I'd share too today that could be helpful for people. Um, so one is kind of fun. It can be used as a matchmaker for clients and AEs. So identifying what is most important to the client and then matching them up with the right AE and their superpowers, right, their superpower strengths. Cuz that starts that relationship off, you know, really strong knowing that you've put together two people based on what the client's looking for. And then you're soaring with the, um, with the AE strengths. Um, the other way that we use it, and I'll talk a little bit about is, um, positive problem solving. Um, problem solving can be a little bit stressful. And so if you can make it positive and people can learn from it, um, it's, it's a great tool.

Sarah Dobbins: (04:38)
Uh, so I think I'll start off with the matchmaker piece. Um, and I talked about it briefly in the intro, but kind of looking for what that client is specifically looking for, what makes them believe is a really strong ae. And so, like for an example, if you talk to a client or you know, a client and they look for somebody to be like super organized, really detailed, they want solution, you know, solution oriented, and they want someone to really understand, you know, their products and how they could fit and work for a client, it's a really great place to start because then, you know, with the talent themes and the top talent report, you can go back, um, to an AE and identify who's the best fit for that. Yeah. So, you know, in that situation, I'd be looking for somebody with discipline, an activator, an individualize. And when I find that in the AE and I've matched it with the client, I know right away that we've got a recipe, you know, a recipe for success.

Beth Sunshine: (05:36)
I love that. And just to comment on that real fast. So yeah, the matchmaker term, that's not one I've really used, but I'm gonna steal from you. Cause not only is it good for matchmaking as far as when you hire someone, making sure you're matching them to the right organization, the right team, but matchmaking to the right client. I I really like the way you're thinking, so go on. That was

Sarah Dobbins: (05:58)
Cool. Yeah, I mean, you always wanna make sure that you're start setting somebody up for success on your team. And so if you're setting them up with talents that they lean into and those are talents that a, that a client is looking for, you started, you know, you started that relationship off really strong. Um, so the other way that we use it is for that positive problem solving. Um, I mean really it's like we all step in it and this tool, uh, really does allow us to be a little bit less messy with that. Um, and you know, you gotta think about it. By the time an employees come to my desk or to come to see me with a problem, they've probably tried to problem solve it on their own. And so they're probably a little stressed out about it. Mm-hmm. . Um, and when you're taking somebody's talents and helping them solve with that, it kind of diffuses that situation and makes it, you know, makes it less stressful for them.

Sarah Dobbins: (06:48)
Um, and so like a quick example of what I mean by that, to kind of help guide the conversation, um, if you, you know, we have some IES on the staff that have super high positivity and relationship, but they might be a little bit lower in discipline and that's okay because they fit the makeup of the team. Um, but you can get ahead of that with that particular AE by having them, you know, really lean into that positivity and really lean into that relationship, you know, and ask them questions like, if we don't meet this deadline, how is that gonna make that client feel? Or how are you gonna make that person feel if you, you know, don't do what you say that you're going to do? So it's really kind of pulling forward. They're really strong talents to help, you know, overcompensate for something that might not be as strong of a talent for them. So it really has helped us change the conversation to keep things more positive, um, in the sales conversations.

Beth Sunshine: (07:42)
I love that. And I'm, I'm really hearing that you're kind of speaking their language mm-hmm. . So how you might, you might be talking about a potentially missed deadline with a client. You could do that with any of your, your people, but you are choosing how, what language to speak based on how they're wired.

Sarah Dobbins: (08:01)
Oh yeah. I mean it's kind of, these talents are somewhat like a love language, right? I mean mm-hmm. , what makes them really great at their craft. And when you can really super serve and focus in on their top five, it just helps every situation be better.

Beth Sunshine: (08:15)
So have you ever had a conversation with someone that you manage about their innate strengths very specifically and, and how they can use those strengths to grow in their career?

Sarah Dobbins: (08:24)
Yeah, absolutely. So, um, everyone on our staff has the toptal has their own top talent report. Um, and we've reviewed them, but then we took it a step further and we printed page three, which is, um, just really all of their top talents, their top five talents, and then pro tips on ways they could really use them and maximize them. And so we've posted all of those in their workspaces. Um, we feel like keeping them front and center for both us and for them, um, just makes it so that they're using, using them as often as

Beth Sunshine: (08:56)
Possible. Oh, I love you're literally keeping them front and center. That's exactly like physically, so everyone Oh, I love that. Very clever. So what would you say to managers who are listening today, but they're not yet coaching to strengths in the same way that, that you're discussing the way you're talking about, why should they start? What, what would you say to get them rolling?

Sarah Dobbins: (09:17)
Yeah, I mean, I touched on it earlier, but like, it's a love language, right? It's like who they are, what makes them really great, and why you hired them. Like you definitely hired them for their top talents, so why not use them in every situation that you possibly can. So here we focus a lot on mindset and positive mindset. And so focusing on an employee's talent, you know, really creates and continues to focus on that positive mindset because it allows for just positive conversations. So even if you're solving a problem, like I shared before, you can solve it, you know, by working with an employee's talents or strengths. It just changes the conversation every single time. And the employee walks away using their talents and they feel good about that, right? They feel good cuz you've complimented them on what their talents are and how they can use them to either close a piece of business to solve a problem, um, to get that appointment, to ask the next question in the c n a, like you've talked to them in a way that it's relatable to them because it's their talents and it makes them feel good because it's really where they, they soar.

Beth Sunshine: (10:25)
Yeah, I love that. And I, I often think about the fact that by the time we're in the workforce when we're, you know, adults working, we typically are pretty clear on what our weaknesses are. Mm-hmm. , you know, our our parents or our friends or our teachers along our, our growth journey have told us what we could do better, what we could do differently. We know what we struggle with a little bit more, but so rarely has someone really sat most people down and said, let's talk about your strengths. Mm-hmm. , let's talk about where you have the potential for excellence. That's such an unusual thing and I, I love the fact that you make the time to do that with each of your people. So moving on to one more question, um, I I have a few more, but our next que my next question. In general, I think of human beings as just very complex. Um, we're wired very differently. We all are motivated differently. We have different work styles, we different personalities, different interests beyond what you learned from a talent assessment, which, you know, I believe is a lot. Um, beyond that, how have you been able to better understand each individual you manage and recognize what they may need from you to be successful?

Sarah Dobbins: (11:40)
Yeah, I mean, it really is taking stuff outside of the office too. Like, you can have an I F M over coffee. You can have an I F M on a treadmill, like getting your nails done. Like you gotta get outside of the office and really catch up with somebody and ask questions outside of the normal I f m questions. Like, we really wanna understand who your employees are outside of the walls of work because what happens at home also influences, you know, what happens at the workplace. So really kind of having an understanding of that and if they share something that's important to them, lean in and remember it, like listening to that is super important. Um, so like as an example, we, if somebody here and they know that if they're gonna run a marathon or they're doing something with a charity and they're participating in something, they'll come see me, we'll host a bake sale, everyone will bring in baked goodies and then we'll sell the baked goodies to the staff and then all that money raised will go towards that person's charity, um, or America or, or whatever they're, you know, whatever they're participating in.

Sarah Dobbins: (12:40)
So we try to do things that show that we care about them and we do like outside of, you know, outside of the, outside of the office office walls. Hmm. You know, another thing that we use that, um, is something that you guys provide and has been really beneficial to that as that growth guide. Yeah. Um, we talk a lot about people having their best, you know, year yet, both personally and, and professionally, but, you know, actions do speak louder than words. And so I can say that, but if my actions aren't doing that, um, then it's just words. And that growth guide really puts it into action. Um, because in that, in that time period, you're really listening to the, to your employee on what they want and how they're gonna grow and how you're gonna be able to help them do that. And so once you've done the growth guide, it's super important to follow up with them and make sure that you're doing what you said you're gonna do to help them grow and that they're, you know, owning what you guys had talked about or what we had talked about for them to grow.

Sarah Dobbins: (13:40)
Um, there's something I keep seeing on LinkedIn and it's really resonated with me and, and the responsibility that I have for my team, but it's something on the lines of like, a salary increase makes you happy once a year, but a healthy workplace keeps you happy throughout the year. Hmm. And so that to me as leaders is our responsibility to create a workplace that makes our people happy and thriving. And that starts by really leaning in and listening to them, um, and asking questions that aren't just about hitting budgets or, um, when you're gonna get that CNA or when that order's gonna come through. Like, you have to understand who they are as a person too and, and care. It's, it's really important.

Beth Sunshine: (14:20)
Yeah. Well said. I mean, what I'm hearing you talk about is you just used the word care. I'm hearing you talk about caring about your people, the human beings that you manage, whether it's how they're doing against their budget or what they're doing, um, outside, uh, maybe a marathon or, or a 5k, something like that. You're listening, um, you're asking them questions, you're using what you learn to guide them. And I love the way you connect that to engagement. Mm-hmm. , um, cause yes, you want sales to go up, you want revenue to rise, but you have, I I think just intuitively you understand the fact that when people feel cared about, when they feel purposeful, they, they show up in a bigger, better way. And that ties directly to, you know, those metrics that you're looking at. I just, I love the way you express that.

Sarah Dobbins: (15:15)
Yeah. And share with them what about things about you too. You know, like let them know about what your interests are and things that you like to do. And you know, it's a two-way street that you're like, we're both, we're all human. And so getting that human connection between the team is a very, very important piece of building a great culture.

Beth Sunshine: (15:34)
I, I agree. So you may have touched upon this already. I'll ask it in case you have anything else to add, but when you think about the people that you manage, once you've identified their innate strengths, um, the key factors that drive them, you know, how they work most effectively, all those things that you're, you're gathering to really understand the full human. Is it, what do you do with that information or, you know, put a little bit differently? How would you recommend that managers who are listening today turn that understanding into something actionable, something they can actually do to see results?

Sarah Dobbins: (16:08)
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it starts by you knowing your employee's top, you know, five talents and then having, making sure their employee knows what they are too. So having, making sure there's that, um, joint engagement on, on managing or leading with people's top talents. Um, and then put them in situations where they can shine and then share with them based on their talents. Like why you did that. Like what, why you made that action for them. Um, so like for example, you know, I think of my AEs and my employee, you know, people who work with me who are high achiever mm-hmm. . So when they have a high achiever, our, our mission is, is to make sure that, you know, once they've achieved that goal, we celebrate them and then we sit down, we talk about how they got there, and then what's that next goal gonna be for them because they're high achievers where they know that the next time they're gonna wanna beat themselves the next time.

Sarah Dobbins: (17:01)
And so how are we gonna do that together? And we share that with them. We say like, Hey, listen, you're super high achiever, congratulations on that. This is a great set. How did you do it? And then we put all the pieces down on what they did and we're like, okay, so how are we gonna do it again? And then what does that look like for your win the next time? Um, it really is just making sure that you're putting them in the situations that their talents can shine and then you're telling them why you did that. So if you give them a call in for particular, um, client, and you're sharing them the why you did that, because they're high discipline, you know, they're gonna follow up, they're gonna call that client back. Um, if you talk to a client and they're looking for certain talents you share with them why you match that client up with them so they lean into the talents that you share with that client that you had to make sure that relationship really, um, is, is as great as it possibly can be. Um, so I would say if you're gonna use the top talent and as you should make sure you're leaning into the why you're doing it with your staff so they understand, you know, why you're putting them in certain situations to succeed.

Beth Sunshine: (18:05)
I love that. I mean, I'm hearing transparency from you. I'm hearing you're not the puppet master behind the scenes, you know, moving the puppets hands and mouths. You're, you are to a certain extent, um, influencing their actions because you know how they're wired. So you have a little bit of that, you know, puppetry going on, but you're telling them, you've got strength in this area, so here's why I'm doing this, or mm-hmm. , um, you know, I love the why behind a project or a client like this is perfect for you because exactly you are now. I mean, I don't think it gets better than that when it comes to individualized management, just constantly putting people in positions to shine and telling them why. Exactly. So the transparency is cool. I'd say that's a, a great best practice. Are there any other best practices you would share with others related to individualized management?

Sarah Dobbins: (18:59)
You know, we talked about the growth guide, but you know, I would make sure that you're doing those, um, you know, make sure you're doing them with your AEs at or your employees at least once a year mm-hmm.  and to make, to make sure that they wanna be where they're at and they have goals and that you're helping them get to that particular goal. There's nothing more exciting between, you know, me and somebody that works with me for them to come running in and share something that they did to help achieve something that we talked about in the growth guide. Um, and then for me to set them up like, you know, I I think back, um, to some AEs who have wanted to get into leadership. So we put them in leadership roles inside of the building. Maybe they're running a sales meeting, maybe we're putting them in some sort of leadership training.

Sarah Dobbins: (19:41)
But once we know that that's what they really wanna do, we help guide them in the direction to get there. Because it also gives them a taste of it too. Like, is this something that you really wanna do? So let's try it and make sure that it is something that you like, um, and that you wanna continue to succeed in that. And so I would just say make sure you're setting people up to succeed all the time. And those growth guides allow that like mutual commitment to each other, um, and to the success of that individual person.

Beth Sunshine: (20:08)
It's a great suggestion. I can see why you won that talent superhero award just from that little segment alone, you really do understand your people and, and care about them. So last question for you. If you could wave a magic wand and make one thing easier to accomplish or make it better when it comes to managing people, what would that be?

Sarah Dobbins: (20:33)
You know, it's such a great question and it's one that I've been noodling , um, and I keep kind of going back and forth to a couple different things and I think I keep landing on that training piece. Mm-hmm.  is, is if I just ha could have AEs and employees take the training that they get and be able to execute on it, and, you know, I go back and forth because you're trying to lead with, you know, I try to lead with people's talent, so mm-hmm. , maybe not every training is suitable for somebody. Maybe I need to look at, um, doing it differently by taking people's talents and putting them in trainings that would help super serve those. Um, but I think ma waving that magic wand of if they could take the training that they get and, you know, execute it, um, and, and be successful with that is, is something that, you know, I noodle, I noodle quite often.

Beth Sunshine: (21:20)
That's a, a great way I think to land here. And thank you so much for spending time today talking about culture over coffee with me. You have shared a lot of information. You've even given me a lot to think about, um, related to what I can be doing differently and better in the world of individualized management. I know our listeners have probably found this valuable too. Um, so thank you for that. Thank

Sarah Dobbins: (21:45)
You. It's good to be here.

Beth Sunshine: (21:47)
Good to have you. And for those listening, I'm gonna drop Sarah's LinkedIn information in the show notes because this is someone you're gonna wanna connect with. Um, and I wanna make sure you can do that if you'd like. Also, since individualized management is such a key aspect of, you know, having a strong culture, I also want to add in a link to a self-inventory checklist so that if you're listening and you're interested in getting a sense for how your organization or your business unit is doing in that area of individualized management as well as the other areas that matter most, um, you can do that and better understand what you might need to do to a pure culture. So, um, thank you Sarah and thank you everyone for listening. It is a journey to up your culture and elevate engagement and I hope you enjoyed that journey. Thanks so much for spending time with us on Culture Over Coffee. If you've enjoyed the conversation, be sure to subscribe. Join us for every episode. For more helpful information on the topics of company culture and employee engagement, visit