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4 Key Strategies for Building the Ultimate A-Team

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Hiring and developing a team is tough. Period. Full stop.

The challenges are now incredibly hefty for new and emerging brands in 2022 with the great resignation, supply chain lines, and a possible recession on the horizon. In today’s crowded marketplace, companies deeply understand the ultimate key to launching a wildly successful product or brand is to first build a bonafide A-team.

As a clean wellness brand innovating the hand sanitizer category during the COVID-19 pandemic, OLIKA needed to rapidly scale its team to fulfill the insane demand for hand sanitizer. As a passionate leader who connects consumer insights to unique growth opportunities coupled with my deep experience in leading iconic brands such as Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, Aveeno, and BabyCenter, I learned some valuable lessons about building a successful team to bring effective, clean, sustainable, and joyful products to the wellness community.

Awareness Is Your Superpower

In my experience, the first step to building a robust team is cultivating a profound sense of self-awareness. Before I hired and onboarded our OLIKA marketing team at Amyris, I did an honest self-appraisal: What are my strengths? Where am I challenged in the day-to-day? Where do I need more expertise?

A powerful team complements each other, fills in the gaps, and sees each other’s blind spots to solve complex business problems. It starts with the hiring manager and leadership team taking the time upfront to dig into their own strengths and areas of growth, both from a skillset and style perspective. While personality tests tend to box a participant into a particular label, I’ve found How to Fascinate Archetype, StrengthsFinder, and The Success Insights Wheel or the color wheel are solid jumping off points for self-reflection and growth. I’ve also found books and resources, such as Designing Your New Work Life, are helpful for self-introspection, which should be done throughout your career.

The next step is digging deep into leadership insights to understand what you and others bring to the table. In my years of management experience at Johnson & Johnson, MTV Networks, and Gap, I learned how important it was to challenge ideas. When onboarding new team members, I wanted mavericks who were blowing up things for the better so that the business could win. We couldn’t drive insane growth with a team full of employees who thought, acted, and made decisions like me.  

Get Crystal Clear on Job Expectations

While clarity on job and role expectations sounds intuitive, I see a lack of understanding in what jobs truly entail in the day-to-day—especially in marketing and product innovation for wellness brands. Marketers and product developers are master branders. To that end, we have overbranded our roles with titles such as Digital Growth Hacker, Director of Conversion Optimization, Senior Product & Marketing Strategist, or my personal favorite, the Chief Ambassador of Buzz. It is now tricky to understand what this person is contributing on a daily basis.

How does someone who handles acquisitions or marketing channels effectively partner with a team member who handles brand marketing? Is there really any difference? Instead, take it down a few levels and focus on the jobs that need to get done to drive growth and the business.

Where to Start?

First, look at the end goal for your team. Then, build out processes and touchpoints with other teams along the way—decide early and re-evaluate often what it looks and feels like to collaborate with the sales, human resources, product development, finance, and operations teams. Where does your team intersect with each, and how does your team effectively cross collaborate? While the brand and the marketing teams are often separated in B2C companies, I believe that the two are intimately connected and should be one in the same. A brand defines who you are as a company and what your promise is to consumers, while marketing is how and where you support sales goals. Everything you do should drive the brand. Create a system in which the brand is integrated into every single touchpoint.

For example, on the marketing side, hire and create roles to help drive a full funnel marketing approach. Ask yourself, “What does that look like end to end? And what’s motivating for team members?” The point person could be working on paid media, managing it with agency partners from soup to nuts, and working from top of the funnel awareness down through conversion, so they can see all the pieces, how they work together, and where they need to amp up any part of the funnel. On the product development side, consider having a team member who is laser focused on innovation and can forecast for three to five years to create a product pipeline that can be commercialized and fuel growth. In my experience, people prefer to shape key areas of the business with ownership of the outcome rather than having only one piece of the puzzle.

Skills Can Be Taught, Yet Mindset Matters Most

I truly believe most marketing abilities can be taught these days. In hiring, I see the mindset of, “Oh, I want skills” and “I want people who know how it’s done.” In my experience, you can train skills, but you can’t train mindset. Every year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys employers across the country and asks them to rate the top qualities in new college hires. The top skills that employers seek, according to Boston University and NACE? The ability to make decisions and problem solve and the ability to obtain and process information.

Anecdotally, in interviews, I look for those who lead with curiosity. I want a teammate who’s going to ask tough questions, who peels back the layers of the onion, and asks the why behind the why. Why do consumers feel this way? What are the issues or challenges within our pipeline? Why are sales high or low right now? An innate curiosity pushes your team to come up with new ideas to drive the business.

I also think the ability to navigate ambiguity and complexity while demonstrating flexibility is an important quality in new hires—both in the startup world and in big business. Try as we might, there won’t always be a process for how to handle situations and even if there is a process, it often needs to change and evolve. Navigating uncertainty and handling pressure while still moving forward with no clear direction is incredibly valuable.

While those traits were previously called, “soft skills,” many in our industry now realize their importance. As Harvard Business Review (HBR) details in its book, Competing in the New World of Work, “We see a consistent pattern of leadership competencies that have proven to be most successful in these turbulent times.” Through interviews with more than 2,000 corporate team leaders, HBR found that the best results were from teams that did more than accommodate changing conditions. In fact, “the best teams transformed their ways of working through ‘radical adaptability.’ These teams went beyond merely coping with a crisis. They used the crisis to reappraise and reinvent their work processes so that they could continue to adapt to unpredictable change in the years to come.”

Ultimately, great teams build remarkable brands and launch extraordinary products. In today’s challenging market, investing in and developing the team is often the missing ingredient and the first crucial step for wildly successful companies.

About The Author
Janelle Hailey

Equal parts data lover, marketing maverick, and strategy whisperer, Janelle, vice president of marketing & innovation for OLIKA, is a passionate leader who connects consumer insights to unique growth opportunities. She joined Amyris in August 2021 through the acquisition of OLIKA, where she’s been working since early 2020.

Before joining OLIKA, she worked for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, leading iconic brands such as Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, Aveeno, and BabyCenter with category disrupting innovation and communication messages for both local and global markets. Before her time at J&J, Janelle led many industry firsts, including 360-marketing activations anchored in virtual digital experiences during her time at MTV Networks. She started her career at Gap as a sales and inventory planning analyst. 

Proud to be a Wild-verine, she holds a BS from Northwestern University and an MBA from the University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Janelle currently resides in the Bay Area, where she grew up. If you are within a 100-mile radius, you can hear her laugh while she enjoys hiking, local dining, and practicing stoicism. She is also a novice voice-over artist hoping to one day fulfill her ultimate dream of voicing a cartoon character.