Being a leader in the workplace is not easy. In addition to overseeing a variety of projects, managers are tasked with overseeing people. Whether you’re a manager or you report to one, you’ve probably come to the realization that when things at work get busy, leaders tend to prioritize their more concrete responsibilities, and it can be hard for them to devote as much time to developing and training other employees.
Krista North, who’s worked in various leadership positions throughout her career, knows that feeling all too well. “I have always loved the coaching aspect of leadership—but in most management roles I’ve had in the past, there wasn’t as much time for individual development as I thought was necessary,” she explains.
This is precisely why she loves her current job at Siteimprove, a company that helps organizations control and improve their website content. As the Director of Sales Learning and Development, Krista is excited that there is the momentum to provide the training and development of the sales staff so that everyone is successful at Siteimprove.
“I get to do the stuff I love most all day: sitting with new hires and seasoned sales professionals, problem solving, sharing stories, wins, losses, and encouraging our employees all to help each other,” she explains. “Siteimprove has allowed me to create a role where I can focus on what I love—coaching, training, helping, and growing the sales team—while others with different skillsets can focus on the number crunching. We all get to do what we’re great at, and that shows in the development of our team.”
We probed Krista to tell us more about how Siteimprove has developed such an awesome work environment of both formal and informal mentoring. She and her colleague Luke Jerviss, whom she’s mentored, have filled us in on three ways companies can foster such excellent leadership:
1. Encourage employees to pay it forward
Siteimprove strives to develop a community that is passionate about both teaching and learning from each other. Krista – who’s responsible for growing and supporting Siteimprove’s sales staff from onboarding through ongoing career development – says that when she started at the company in 2012, she was lucky enough to be trained one-on-one by one of the top producing salespeople at the time.
Now, she’s paying it forward. “I was successful very quickly, and loved sharing success stories and learning moments with other salespeople so they wouldn’t have to make the same mistakes,” she says. “I then started a monthly best practices session, where I gathered all interested salespeople with senior sales staff, and we discussed new products, techniques, etc. as a group. I was also promoted into a team lead role, helping bring on new reps in my vertical…and just this last November I was promoted into a training/coaching role here.”
Luke, who’s an Account Executive on Siteimprove’s healthcare team, also shows us how the company’s dedication to fostering professional growth played a role in his career development.
Luke sells to digital marketing and web teams at various hospitals and healthcare systems across the country. He says that part of Krista’s role has been to train and coach his team members to help ensure they were all performing successfully. “Our team had huge successes as a result, and we were even able to help pass what we had learned to others on the sales floor,” he says.
2. Deliver constructive feedback…in the right way.
Luke – who’s had a few different female mentors in previous jobs and volunteer experiences – feels especially lucky to be working with Krista. “I’ve really enjoyed working with [various female] mentors because they all were very passionate and skilled at their respective roles, they showed patience with me and made me feel comfortable enough to not be afraid of asking for their help, and ultimately they all helped me feel more confident and successful in my work.”
His experience with Krista has been unique in that while she was never his direct supervisor, she took it upon herself to share her own learnings and experiences with Luke. “I think this shows Siteimprove’s commitment to its employees and helping us grow professionally,” he explains.
Luke adds that Krista has set herself apart from his other mentors because she’s been willing to give him constructive feedback when he was clearly struggling with certain aspects of his job. “It would’ve been easier and more comfortable to not acknowledge the areas where I wasn’t doing well, but Krista was always willing to say what I needed to hear in these cases, because it was the only way I was going to improve,” he explains.
As Luke suggests, managers in the workplace — particularly female managers — tend to walk a fine line between being assertive and direct without coming off as bossy or overly critical. But Krista has mastered this balance, and it’s paying off in tangible ways.
“Her directness and honesty [have been] helpful for me, but Krista also does a fantastic job of making whomever she’s mentoring feel comfortable by treating them like a human and showing care and familiarity towards all of us,” Luke says. “I’ve always felt very relaxed and comfortable around Krista, and it definitely makes a difference in the conversations we’re able to have. I was quickly able to trust her and have since known that I can always have an open and honest conversation with her.”
3. Offer guidance — and then encourage some independence.
Krista has developed some concrete techniques to help Luke hone his communication skills. For instance, she’ll review his recorded phone calls and then discuss with him what went well, what needed improvement, and what he should try in the future. “If I was ever having trouble understanding a concept, she’s great at finding a real-life analogy to help me better understand why I should do something a certain way,” he says.
As Luke explains, Krista has worked closely with him and offered her guidance. Yet she then trusts him to have some independence and make his own decisions.
“In my two-and-a-half years here, Siteimprove has always encouraged us to collaborate and share ideas with our coworkers for the benefit of everyone and the success of the company,” Luke says. “Setting up an experienced and knowledgeable person like Krista as a mentor for my team was a prime example of this — she had demonstrated success and was able to pass on her skills and techniques to us so that we could have similar success.”
Krista agrees completely. We’ve seen how she excels as a mentor, but she also makes it clear that her ability to lead is due in part to the overall culture at Siteimprove. “I continue to learn from everyone here every day — there’s always something new to learn, and I see every day as a chance to collaborate,” she says, adding that Siteimprove is big on empowering employees by making them feel trusted.
“From the beginning of my time at Siteimprove I’ve really felt empowered by my managers to be creative in everything that I do. That’s been incredible.”