Last week at Intelligent.ly Exchange, we had the good fortune to be joined by Ralph Folz, CEO of WordStream. Ralph got his bearings as a nerdy engineer, before getting bit by the entrepreneurship bug at age 26. As a leader, Ralph is genuine, honest, and deliberate about his strengths and limitations. He has a deep understanding of his communication style, and his sense of self-awareness and thoughtfulness make him an incredibly approachable executive. Wordstream was established just seven years ago, and has rapidly become one of the most respected high-growth search marketing software companies around. His secret? Embracing diversity, laser sharp focus, and goal simplification.
Hone Your Strengths
In Ralph’s words, “There are different flavors of people.” Leaders can maximize team success by targeting each team member’s specific “flavor” or strength. You can’t make employees into something they’re not; all you can do is hone in on what each person can bring to the table, celebrating the diversity of skill sets among your team. For all you Red Sox fans, Ralph described it like this: if you had nine Manny Ramirez’s in the field, you’d hit a million home runs, but you probably wouldn’t win.
No matter how large your company is or how quickly you’re scaling, maintaining a focus on your core values is critical. Ralph noted that clarity about your core values not only creates direction, but can also help frame difficult conversations. He humbly admitted that in fact, he isn’t perfect; owning that helps him create the right team. For so many startups, growth is hectic and not easily planned. Strongly aligned values keep teams rowing in the same direction, as the environment around them rapidly changes. Transparency and conviction in upholding the culture that makes your team unique are key to developing a thriving business.
It’s all about 1’s and 0’s
In a successful team like Ralph’s, all members have the same core values, so when problems arise, everyone is able to keep their eye on the common goals. At Wordstream, the executive team shares four core goals, which allows the team to approach conflict more objectively. Alignment of goals helps the team to embrace healthy conflict with rich debate before choosing the best course of action. Ralph is an engineer at heart, which means everything can be measured. He quantifies goals as simple 1’s and 0’s. I know what you’re thinking–really? We’re bringing math into this? Fret not! Ralph assured us that success can be determined objectively, with each person focusing on three simple, measurable goals. At the end of each quarter, goals can be defined as a 1 or 0–either they were achieved or they weren’t. If there are 0’s present, the goal needs to be defined more clearly. Clear goals and values drive decisions toward success and keep the team hungry for that sense of achievement.
His last snippet of advice: Have a mentor and a network. Overcommunicate.
Thank you, Ralph!
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