The Leadership Series (Part III): How to Hire, Fire, Lead and Retain High-Performance Teams

To help you on your continuous journey of personal and professional development, we held an interactive workshop between Future CMOs and CMO Mentors, and asked them the question: “What does it take to be the best marketing leader you can be?” 

There are Four Key Parts to Leading a Great Team
with Kim Feil, CEO of, and Trish Mueller, Former CMO of The Home Depot

As a marketer and brand, your team has the ability to make or break your ability to meet brand goals. Hiring and nurturing top candidates while catalyzing a strong team dynamic remains a formidable competitive advantage that smart leaders take seriously. During the workshop, two of our CMO Mentors held an insightful conversation about how they deftly manage their teams, maintaining the delicate balance between support and independence, facilitation and control, and ownership and delegation. 

Hiring for Excellence & Attitude

A great culture can start even before you have all of your team members in place. When building your team, you have the opportunity to ask smart questions that give you a look at not only what someone has done in their career, but how they approached it, the ways that they measure success and how they might contribute to a larger team.

When interviewing, think about these points:

  • Ask both skill set and culture questions.
  • Think about the overall needs for the role and look for the smaller personality traits that would make someone successful at reaching those goals.
  • Rather than only asking about experience, have an outcomes-based interview where you talk about the end result of their accomplishments. 
  • Ask them to elaborate on their process, obstacles, etc.
  • Think about how the person would fit into your team and company and ask questions that might be relevant to your team dynamic.

When answering the question of how to find top talent, Feil and Mueller encouraged members to always be hiring. Stay connected with local organizations, put yourself out there on social media in order to build a presence for yourself as a leader and your team as an amazing group of people to work with. Be open to great people finding you.  

The benefit of always keeping an open door allows you to not only optimize for talent but also cultural fit within the team dynamic - a quality that will determine how good of a match the person is in the long run. 

Lead and Develop: Getting (the Right) People on Board

Once you’ve built your team, your work as a leader has only just begun. It’s important to put in place a growth plan that will leverage each person’s existing strengths and encourage continued learning and excellence in their soft and technical skills.

A team member’s on boarding period is the ideal time to really immerse them in your company values, the projects your team is working on, the processes they use to solve problems and any other nuances of the organization. Having new members complete a personality test like the Myers Briggs or StrengthsFinder can help you cater to their individual learning style during this time, setting everyone up for a smooth transition.

Finally, consider setting up a mentorship program that allows each person to not only have a manager, but a mentor, too. This shouldn’t be one in the same, as a mentor will allow each team member to meet with someone who isn’t looking at them through a performance lens, facilitating open conversation and a safe space to voice concerns.

Firing: How to Part Ways the Right Way

It’s a simple truth that not every person will be the right fit for your team.

Before jumping right to firing (after all, you did think this person was a great fit for one reason or another), take a moment to assess the issue and see where the problem lies. Is it skills? Culture? Does there need to be more communication?

A lack of skills may be addressed by creating an improvement plan with some educational materials. If the person has a desire to learn and improve, it may be a situation that corrects itself, given some time. Culture can be a bit more difficult to overcome. Think about how you’ve articulated team values in the past and how you can improve on someone’s behavior. This, again, will require a desire on their part to be a part of a larger team and really align with the company values.

In either situation, voice your concerns and follow-up with the team member before deciding to part ways. If firing is inevitable, be compassionate and set them up for success so that they can thrive in their next role. Provide constructive feedback - sharing both their strengths and weaknesses - and be very clear about what didn’t work. 

Remember that someone who was not a good fit for your team may be the perfect match for a different company or industry.

Retain: In it for the long haul 

For the team members that you have invested in and want to see grow with the company, it’s important to manage culture and values proactively as a leader. Most people aren’t staying at their jobs for 10 years anymore, and employee retention is a two way street. 

“When I finally got a management position, I found out how hard it is to lead and manage people.” Guy Kawasaki

Here are Feil and Mueller’s tips for creating an environment that people want to be a part of for the long run:

  • Build individual investment - regular coaching and check-ins that are tailored not only to a person’s individual performance goals within the company but their career goals as a whole will show that you care about growing with your team members.
  • Engagement - getting people involved goes beyond 1:1’s with a manager or mentor. Encourage events and activities amongst peers to facilitate the invaluable camaraderie that sets the stage for a united team.
  • Trust - you have many roles to play for your team - coach, sponsor, mentor, cheerleader, etc. However, your number one goal is to instill a sense of trust as a leader and marketer.
  • Perks and benefits - people want to be compensated for their skills and efforts. This can go beyond the non-monetary, too. For example, if you see someone working crazy hours, give them an afternoon off. Surprise people with lunch or simply ask what you can do for them. These little gestures go a long way.

All of these pieces come together to create a high-performance team, but know that none of them will happen over night. Especially for marketers who have come into an existing team or are working to shift company culture, change can be slow and require extra effort. But our members who have been through this process all agreed it is well worth the effort.

After all, who doesn’t want to be a part of the cool marketing team that is doing awesome things?