BL&T No. 036: Becoming CXO

Borrowed, Learned, & Thought (or BL&T) is a weekly newsletter sent on Mondays. In every edition, I share a borrowed idea (quote, excerpt), a lesson learned from the previous week, and a thought starter heading into the new week. Learn more and subscribe here.

Borrowed

"An essential part of tracking individual growth is the creation and calibration of developmental pulls. By “pull,” managers mean a kind of challenge that, in itself, motivates growth. A person having a certain level of capability is matched with a demand (such as the skill requirements of a new project) that exceeds the person’s current level of capability. ... With the right amount of support, along with the challenge provided by the pull, growth is a natural process."

From "An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization" by Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey [Book]

Learned

On Friday, we announced new roles among the Barrel partners.

  • Peter: Director of Strategy to CEO
  • Sei-Wook: Managing Director to COO & President
  • Wes: Director of Technology to CTO
  • Me: Creative Director to CXO (Chief Experience Officer)

What is most exciting to us is what these changes represent.

Progress & Possibility

On June 1, Barrel will celebrate 15 years in business. I am grateful to be part of the journey for nearly eight of those years. When I look back on our history, here some of the themes I am most proud of:

  • Developing a diverse team of talented leaders.
  • Expanding our expertise to serve our clients more effectively.
  • Creating lasting relationships with incredible partners - clients and contractors alike.
  • Establishing a team experience framework that promotes employee development and fulfillment.
  • Growing the business with a constant desire to be better, building upon what's working, and revisiting what's not.

Looking ahead at what we hope to achieve next, we saw an opportunity to evolve our structure as a leadership team and create a stronger foundation for growth. Our transition to C-Suite roles establishes clear ownership among the partners, increasing focus on company-wide initiatives and creating space for increased leadership opportunities within discipline teams.

For the rest of this newsletter, I will share details about my role as CXO. Instead of extracting a singular lesson, I will highlight the opportunities I see as CXO, including themes for many lessons I will inevitably learn along the way.

CD to CXO

When I became a partner in 2017, I began to play a more active role in driving change beyond the Creative team. Some examples include performance reviews, company culture, business development, and process improvements. Alongside these efforts, I continued building upon the structure of the Creative team to support growth.

Through these experiences, I discovered that my passion for management and designing systems for people to thrive could extend beyond my purview as Creative Director. These days, this is where I aim to spend my time. In my capacity as CXO, I will be going deeper in areas where I have only scratched the surface while opening the doors to explore uncharted territory.

Creative Marketing Services

From an org chart perspective, the Creative team remains under my leadership for the foreseeable future. In addition, I will be overseeing the directors of Client Services, CRM, and Growth Marketing. Together, these teams form the Creative Marketing Services group.

As an agency, our mission is to help brands build meaningful relationships with their customers. The teams within Creative Marketing Services work on the front lines of delivering on our mission. Despite working closely together on projects, structurally, these teams previously existed in silos. This move is an opportunity to strengthen collaboration, develop a unified strategy, invent new service offerings, and ultimately bring added value to our clients.

X = Experience

There are two sides to the Barrel experience: client and employee. As CXO, my goal is continuous improvement in both.

On the client-side, I will be working closely with Kate, our Director of Client Services, to facilitate feedback from our clients and develop new ways to work with them, from onboarding to communication to delivery. To deliver on this promise, we must take the same level of care in the employee experience.

In many ways, an employee's relationship with their manager shapes their experience with a company. With that in mind, my focus will start with our managers. I will be collaborating with managers across the company to establish and roll out a uniform management training program. Some key initiatives include formalizing discipline structure, one-on-ones, performance reviews, and other team activities.

Lessons (To Be) Learned

As I embark on this journey, I am not shy about the fact that there will be plenty to learn. In fact, that is what keeps me going. There are a few themes in particular that I am eager to explore and lessons I look forward to learning.

Defining Creative Team Leadership

You could say that, as a concept, leadership on the Creative team has been a work-in-progress for years now. I have worked to create a team that knows how to work together, take ownership, and pull in help when needed. The difference now is that I will be taking a clear step away from the day-to-day.

The Creative team encompasses brand and design (UX/UI). Over the next six months, I will be sorting through and solidifying the requirements of leading the Creative team in both areas. In addition, I will work closely with Christine, Design Director, to document the activities that are working well today and outline our vision for tomorrow.

Managing Managers

So far, my responsibilities as a manager sat on a team where I was once an individual contributor. Currently, Christine (manager) and three senior designers report to me. Once Creative team leadership is in place, my direct reports will be managers across different disciplines.

I am excited to expand my knowledge in each discipline and grow in my ability to coach others in leading their teams.

Creating Scalable, Universal Frameworks

Frameworks and documentation will be critical to building out the components of management training. In doing so, they will need to be universal, scalable, and resonate with managers, regardless of their focus. I look forward to challenging my current beliefs, discovering new perspectives, and putting concepts to the test across multiple teams.

Closing Thoughts

During my time at Barrel, it has felt good to be consistently working at, what I consider, the edge of my capabilities. Every day is new, and that never gets old. My new role as CXO will be no different. Thanks to Peter and Sei-Wook for their continued trust and guidance. It has been a wild ride, but I am glad to be on it alongside them and Wes. The future looks bright, and I could not be more enthusiastic about what we will do together.

Thought Starter

How am I growing in my current role? Am I headed where I want to go?