The Culture Interview with Thera Martens

Thera Martens

Thera Martens is a seasoned SaaS marketing leader with a proven track record; powered by data-driven strategies and out-of-the-box thinking. Her work is mission-oriented with a passion and focus on delivering measurable, scalable growth. Thera currently works as Vice President of Audience Marketing at Visier. As a change agent, mentor, and storyteller she’s always happy to connect and jam on all things marketing! Find Thera on LinkedIn.

How do you define culture at the highest level?

Culture is where you’ve come from and how you were brought up. This will affect your work and how you interact with other people.

Would that definition change when we are talking about an organization? If so, how?

In an organization, culture is more flexible, it can grow, and change. Culture is much nimbler and can continue to evolve and grow much faster in a company than in a city or country.

If you could create the ideal organizational culture with no restrictions like cost what are the first three things that come to mind for you?

  • Establish a “Work Hard; Play Hard” ethos
  • A strong culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • A culture that cares for and values employees

I am a big believer in, and personally enjoy, a “Work Hard, Play Hard” culture. I love an environment where everyone is motivated to work hard and where we also celebrate wins regularly. I’ve been involved in women in business for 10+ years and now more than ever I would not choose to work at a company that doesn’t have a strong culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Finally, a culture that cares for and values employees is a must.

When you think of poor organizational culture what are the first three things that come to mind?

  • Inexperienced or untrained managers
  • Nepotistic culture resulting in narrow perspectives
  • Not celebrating individual or organizational success

One that’s always a thorn in my side is making people managers who aren’t interested in managing people or aren’t trained to do so. Also, a nepotistic culture that continually hires friends and close associates doesn’t promote diverse perspectives and views thus narrowing the breadth of the ideas for the business. This narrowing causes companies to miss out on potentially game-changing solutions. Finally, company cultures that don’t celebrate employee and organizational success provide a poor cultural experience.

Tell us a story about being a more junior team member where you had an experience with bad culture.

I remember early on in my career working with an organization that was very top-down. The best projects and tasks went to the most senior people and as a junior team member, we had to do all the less enjoyable and administrative work. It was hard to learn and develop new skills when not being challenged with projects that offered an opportunity to grow and improve.

Tell us a story about being a more junior team member where you had an experience with good culture.

In my marketing career, having proven to myself and others that I was a capable coordinator and specialist who could get stuff done, a more senior opportunity to start a new webinar program opened up. The program needed a lot of operational love and I was able to work with an awesome team to drive a successful program. It felt incredible to be in an organization that rewarded my efforts with new opportunities which ultimately helped to launch my career.

Tell us a story about being a more senior team member where you had an experience with bad culture.

As I grew more senior in my career, I experienced one of the pitfalls of working in high-growth technology companies. It is often easier to bring senior people in from outside than to train and mentor existing employees into new and emerging roles. The latter can take more time but it can bear more fruit for the organization. It shows employees that there is a career path in the organization, it highlights that a company is willing to invest in their employees. The flip side of this is that I hit my ceiling at that company, there was nowhere for me to go and it was time to move to another.

Editor’s note: Sometimes you have to go to grow.

Tell us a story about being a more senior team member where you had an experience with good culture.

Recently in my career, I’ve experienced the opposite of what I experienced in the middle of my career. I have an executive sponsor and manager that are my champions. They saw that I was good at my job and they were excited about that and gave me more responsibility to allow me to grow. It’s vital to have important decision-makers who want to develop you into a leader and give you the chance to grow at a company.

In your career, you’ve moved from making large individual contributions to leading teams. Tell us about that transition and some of your key learnings in the transition.

The most fundamental change is moving from being task-oriented to being team-oriented. I currently work with a team of seven. My job as a leader is to remove all the roadblocks out of my team’s way, so they can do their jobs, and excel. When you have a large team, there is more pressure as your remit grows and you are needed in a wider variety of conversations. Empowering the team and stepping back from the spotlight is key. From there it’s about letting your team take the spot and be leaders of the areas that they own. Once you are a leader of people you have to set the vision. You must understand and communicate how and why things are as they are and where we are going to go. You have to ensure that all your team members are saying, “Heck yes! I am going to work long and hard because I believe in the vision that my leader is setting for the team.” That’s crucial and very different from when you are an individual contributor.

What are the best things you do to translate the organizational vision for the team?

I like to set things out with an eye to the future. “If we do this right, this is how everything will look in one or two or three years.” Giving a point in time that’s far away from now and working together to build to that goal by bringing everyone along on that journey. If the company goal is to grow revenue by 200% next year, work with your team on what happens if we hit that target and then bring everyone along on the journey to determine how it happens so that everyone is bought in.

Bringing the vision from the organization level and translating it to how your team fits in is vital. Then ensure your team knows what part of the organization your team rolls up and what can you influence and what it looks like a year from now for us.

Sometimes organizational culture isn’t a good fit between employees and companies. What advice would you give others to help them figure that out for themselves?

One of the things I do when I am first interviewing new hires is to let them know that half the interview is for them to interview me to see if there is a fit for them with me, our team, and our organization. I don’t want to grill them for an hour. I want them to have an opportunity to grill me. This also allows me to assess whether they’ve prepared themselves for the interview and have they come up with questions.

It’s important to have your key questions that you ask and the more you move in your career the more you’ll learn about the culture you like. I, for example, need autonomy. It wasn’t until I was the director that I had built the right set of questions to drill into my needs. Everyone says you’re going to have autonomy and with the right questions you can find out how true that is. I’ve developed a series of questions to establish if the company culture would work for me and to have the best possible relationship with those I report to and work with. Anything that’s important to you is key to ask about. I like meeting with other members of the organization. Check out their social media accounts and see how the company is putting themselves out in the market and how they play and have fun. These things will tell you a lot about the culture.

Can you share a couple of those questions that you used to determine if it was the right fit for you?

I only started to get this right in my more senior work as a director.

  • What is my budget, and do I own it? How do we spend that budget?
  • Who will be directly reporting to me? Really getting into that team structure.
  • How many times a week will I meet with you and what kinds of conversations will we have? Better understand the way your relationship will work with your boss.
  • What happened to the previous person in this role?
  • What does success look like in 6-18 months?
  • How would you like to work with the person in this role?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What is your management style?

I often recommend, if possible, to reach out to the person who was previously in the role. If you are a marketing person and you are not reporting into a marketing person you will want to dig into how much they are involved in marketing at the company.

Tell us about a time when you were able to create and build culture successfully. What was the hardest part?

Setting culture goes back to that overall vision. If you don’t know where your team is going, and you don’t set the north star it’s really difficult for them to see how they fit into your organization and what success looks like.

I also live and breathe the culture and work habits that I am setting for my team. I am consistently trying to hire diverse employees. I make sure that everyone has an opportunity to speak. We work hard and play hard. We win as a team, and when we lose we learn as a team.

Kemp Edmonds

Kemp Edmonds

Canadian Workplace Culture Lead

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