This Leader Bust Through a Growth Ceiling. Can You?

"We're on track to have our most profitable year in our 12-year history," Gwen Shields proclaims happily. "Even after making significant investments in the company's future by doubling office space and increasing headcount, we'll finally exceed our growth ceiling!"

How did this "accidental entrepreneur" acquire the skills to successfully lead a team through a period of transformation and growth?

Gwen Shields, partner and Chief Operating Officer of Altitude Marketing, a B2B marketing agency, describes herself as an "accidental entrepreneur" because she didn't set out to start a business. She worked as a freelance PR expert for technology companies in Silicon Valley until her work with Andrew Stanten, founder of Altitude Marketing, evolved into a permanent role and then a business partnership.

When another partner left, Gwen took over his operations responsibilities and found herself in a quagmire. She had to fill the shoes of a manager appreciated by employees, put in place new processes for growing the business, and balance increased work demand with a limited staff -- all with little management experience.

While her background as a freelancer helped Gwen acquire a multitude of important skills, it didn't provide her with experience in hiring and managing others.She also had never had a role model for leading. When she was nominated for the Lehigh Valley Women of Influence Award, Gwen was asked what women mentors had influenced her. "As an engineer in the 80s, I didn't have one of those because they didn't exist," Gwen recalls answering. "I've learned as I go."

Partnering with Professional Development Experts

"Learning on the go" worked until Altitude hit a growth ceiling. Determined to bust through that ceiling, Gwen decided it was time to take action, so she partnered with The Professional Development Group.

Gwen started with individual coaching for herself and then expanded to including her team. At a High Performing Team Retreat, among other things, Gwen and her team learned about the 12 Driving Forces. 

"I had no ability to motivate people," Gwen admitted. "Especially people motivated by different things than I was. To realize I needed to adjust how I engaged each person on our team has been eye-opening."After learning about the types of motivators, Gwen realized there was a disconnect in her approach to nurturing and rewarding star performance. It was the first of many "aha" moments that lead to increased focus and engagement at Altitude.

In one-on-one coaching sessions, Gwen had another "aha" moment. Struggling with conversations that involved holding people accountable for unmet expectations, Gwen thought she'd get training on how to do a better job of delivering criticism. Instead, her coach taught her how to create key accountabilities for each position.

"When we were up front with people about what was expected, it was really easy to say: 'I'm seeing a pattern where this expectation is not met. What can we do to meet this expectation? How can I be helpful?' Now I'm good at collaborating, creating a common goal, and telling people what I expect, so I'm less disappointed on the back end."

Gwen also discovered how creating key accountabilities helps with putting the right person in the right role. "At the time I took the helm, there were some mismatched personnel -- people in the organization who were not good matches for their positions -- and again, without key accountabilities, it was hard to know that. We could also see that we had not hired properly."

Altitude Marketing now uses assessments in its hiring process and also relies on the Team Communication Playbook created by The Professional Development Group to acclimate a new person to the team and the team to the new person.

Goals & Growth

Gwen's decision to seek leadership and team development is leading to better hiring and onboarding practices, improved communication around expectations, and increased employee engagement. 

"The more I lead intentionally, the more people respond. I've found that comfort zone where I'm making decisions and driving the company forward with a shared vision."

One decision in particular had a significant impact on Altitude.  

Bent on doing whatever it took to grow themselves and their business, the leadership team at Altitude asked The Professional Development Group to get feedback from customers. With a mindset of "you can only get better if you face people's perceptions," the leadership team listened deeply to the customer feedback.  Then, they worked to improve their customer service.

Their goal? To achieve a 90%+ client retention rate. The results? "Right now we're looking at a retention rate of between 95-100%," says Shields.

Investing in professional development for the team and its leaders has paid off for Altitude Marketing. Gwen proudly declares, "We're definitely busting through that ceiling this year!"

Congratulations to Altitude Marketing! When leaders like Gwen Shields communicate the vision, the expectations, and the outcomes of what they want to create, amazing growth is possible.

Are you ready to bust through your growth ceiling? If the answer is yes, contact The Professional Development Group!