Vendasta’s Mel Kozun on leading high-performing teamsBy Nicole Lauzon
Eighty-five percent of people believe trust is critical for fostering high-performing teams (Trust Edge). It’s the foundation on which Vendasta Director of Strategic Partnerships Mel Kozun has built her team culture.
Kozun leads a team of five, dedicated to serving the organization's largest partnerships. In this blog, we hear from Kozun on her strategy for leading high-performing teams. We’ll also share first-hand accounts from those she manages, highlighting the strengths and tactics you can leverage to foster high-performing teams at your own agency.
Resilience and agility play a key role in leading high-performing teams
For Kozun, her journey towards leadership began at a young age.
“My early adolescent years helped inform the way that I carry myself as an adult. That desire to to do more, to take on a new challenge, and to be better comes from competitive dance,” Kozun shares.
Kozun recounts how it was a challenge to find a career that was fast-paced, energetic, and demanding enough to satisfy her inner competitor.
“My parents were both educators, and everybody thought I should be a teacher. My stubborn nature led me to want to do anything, but that. I liked to argue, I like to prove a point. I thought I was going to be a lawyer,” Kozun says.
Majoring in psychology and English, she developed an interest in communications and found herself working in promotions and marketing at a local radio station fresh out of university.
“I got the first zest of thinking ‘This is exciting. This is fun. This is new.’ Every day was different.”
Rather than going back to school to beef up her broadcasting background, Mel was encouraged by her mentor and 42-year radio industry veteran Andy Ross to dive in.
Kozun experienced first hand how other high-performing teams were being run and got her first taste of management herself. For seven years, she learned the business inside and out, from data management as the station’s music director to content creation, event management, promotions, on-air opportunities, and more. From there, she began to think about her next big thing. Having a few personal connections already working there, Vendasta piqued her interest.
“Vendasta was, and still is, about honing in on your customer, deeply understanding their needs, how to engage them, and offering them solutions, whether that’s by offering them content or tools to take to market that support their local business customers.”
Wanting in, and knowing she could draw parallels from the work she had been doing to the goals Vendasta wanted to accomplish, she applied for an entry-level position to get her foot in the door.
“I took a leap of faith, hoping that they would take that leap back. I was grateful that they did, and my journey evolved pretty quickly from there.”
Tips for leading high-performing teams
Since her start with the company in 2016, Kozun has built a track record of progressively responsible experience, and, with it, a few tactics of her own for building up teams and delivering results. Here are a few of Kozun’s top tips and tactics for leading high-performing teams:
1. Alignment is key to fostering high-performing teams
According to Kozun, alignment has been the single greatest contributor to her success leading one of Vendasta’s most high-performing teams.
“It's alignment to the goals that we have as a business, and more importantly, alignment to the goals that our channel partners have. We cannot measure the success of a partnership if we are not crystal clear on how they are viewing the partnership as a success,” Kozun states.
Beyond your agency team's alignment to business goals and client goals, Kozun says you also need to achieve alignment with each individual contributor.
“They can’t score if they don’t know where the goal posts are. If your team doesn’t find success, interest, and the drive to want to perform in their work, then you’re not going to get the best out of them.”
Kozun and her team lead a discussion at the Vendasta Tech Conference in January 2023.
2. Don’t sugarcoat the losses
One of the nuances of being a great leader is your ability to not only rally around and celebrate the wins, but also handle the losses. Even high-performing teams will have ups and downs as they all strive to contribute to their goals, and Kozun says authenticity should be top of mind.
“Don't sugarcoat the situation. If you just pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows, you won’t come across as authentic, and people are not going to buy into you as a leader.”
According to Kozun, part of the secret sauce to developing a high-performing team is the shared responsibility of the goals you set.
“My team is so great at understanding the overarching goal that we have and what that rolls up for them to accomplish. They’re also great at acknowledging that, sometimes, it is not their day to elevate the team. On other days, it will be. The wins and losses are felt as a collective.”
Senior Enterprise Account Manager Jeremy Basset confirmed this thinking, “We achieve together. If we have issues, we figure them out together. It's never one person's fault.”
As a leader, it’s your role to ensure that those losses don’t derail the momentum of the team. Kozun says the best way to do that is to encourage your team to treat those moments as learning experiences and move on to do bigger and better things.
3. Encourage a data-driven approach to the work
The key to making more effective decisions is to back up anecdotal evidence with cold hard data. According to Enterprise Account Manager Gracen Steeg, this data-driven approach to leadership is a strategy that Kozun weaves into the daily operations of their team.
“Mel has encouraged me to fill in gaps with data to make more effective decisions. When you have data, you are so much better equipped to offer a solution or back up your claims.”
4. High-performing teams that start their day together, stay together
Another important factor to consider when developing a high-performing team is the importance of mitigating employee turnover. It’s difficult to build momentum if your team is a revolving door of new talent. It’s important to develop your own team culture and rituals that build trust and give everyone on the team the opportunity to lead.
Kozun shares the weekly schedule that she has developed for her own team. Each week they begin with a daily standup, then meet for a Monday metrics review, a weekly team meeting on Thursday, and their Friday morning coffee.
“Our weekly team meeting is really that time when everyone gets to celebrate each other and their wins. Friday morning coffee allows each team member to be an expert on anything. It can be on a topic of their choosing that allows them to grow as individuals and drive discussion around it.”
The team takes turns on a rotational schedule hosting the Friday morning coffee meetings each week. Kozun states that it is much more meaningful than it appears to be on the surface. Instead of just a moment every Friday for the team to meet over coffee, it has grown to become a nucleus of vulnerability and trust.
If you’d like to pilot the program with your own team, develop a schedule of 30-minute weekly meetings at a time that’s convenient for the group. Assign your team members to host one session each, and let them know they can bring whatever they want as a topic of discussion.
Here are some examples of what could be discussed:
- Have your team take a professional personality assessment like the Deloitte Business Chemistry or CliftonStrengths Assesment. The host can moderate a roundtable discussion. Each member can guess what they think each other’s results are. Team members can share which aspects of the personality test resonate most with them and how those aspects impact their working style.
- You can play “Would you rather?” Tools like Kahoot! can be used to build a “Would you rather?” game and participants can weigh in on proposed scenarios. Examples that are good for work include: Would you rather live under the ocean or on another planet? Would you rather give up sweet or salty snacks? Would you rather go back in time to meet someone you look up to or go into the future to meet someone you don’t know yet?
- Hosts can bring a video snippet they’ve watched, a podcast episode they’ve listened to, or a book excerpt they’ve read recently and lead a discussion around the themes and meaning of the piece of content.
These are just a few examples, but, really, anything goes for Friday morning coffee, as long as it fosters meaningful discussion and helps team members get to know each other better.
“Psychological safety was definitely a thing on our team, before it was ever a buzzword,” Steeg says.
5. Develop a high-performing team of critical thinkers
According to her team, Mel challenges the group daily to workout their critical-thinking skills and develop solutions to their own problems.
“Mel is not a manager, she is an empowerer,” Steeg states.
“When I ask her how to approach something, she asks me 10 questions instead of giving me an answer. This guides me to reach my own conclusions and solve a problem for myself so that, the next time I encounter a similar situation, I know exactly how to handle it.”
“Mel allows us to be autonomous in our roles, but if we need support, she's right there to help assist us. A good leader, I think, can demonstrate that they’re capable of supporting you, but they also allow you to develop your own skills at the same time.”
6. Dance parties can never hurt
Less of a tactic and perhaps more of a fun symptom of the team culture they’ve built together is the team’s ability to cut loose and have fun at work.
“My team is not afraid to just stop and have a dance party. We throw on a good tune and just vibe out. They do whatever they need to get back in the zone and refocus. Whether that’s throwing in your airpods, cranking a good song, or going for a walk, do whatever is going to bring you back,” Kozun shares.
“Stand-ups, team training, and Friday morning coffee are the things that happen all the time, create consistency, and reinforce alignment. We do try, however, to sprinkle some fun stuff in between all of those, too.”
Kozun and team on their way to Taste of Saskatchewan in July 2022
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This article is part of Voices of Vendasta, where our top performers and internal thought leaders come together to contribute their expertise, helping you to better support the local businesses you serve.
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