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How to instill empathy in a result-oriented environment?

Posted by Marielle Plessis |

As we’ve entered Q4 or what is known in our industry as the busiest time of the year, we were wondering how managers motivate their teams to outdo themselves, all while maintaining a healthy work environment. We were lucky to talk with Marielle Plessis, Head of Growth AS France & UK at Criteo, who kindly shared her experience as to lead with empathy in a sales environment. Marielle, the floor is yours! 

How to infuse empathy in a result-oriented environment? That is a tough one! If I have learned anything from my experience as a manager up until now, it is to perceive management as a constant area of improvement. Managing others is a great way to learn more about yourself. What type of environment do I want to foster for my teams? What kind of leader do you wish to be?  

Building a people-first business culture with both clients and employees 

Before anything else, let me tell you a bit more about the sales environment I work in. We operate with quarterly targets based on a dedicated Book of Business forecast made of a wide range of clients. Goals are challenging as we try to make everyone grow, learn new things, and be more resilient. When it comes to clients, we only have one rule: Each client is unique, and we must treat them accordingly. So, we try to adapt our "style" while ensuring the proper application of SLAs (Service Level Agreement). We care to create a result-oriented yet supportive and safe environment by making fun and work mix and match. I strongly believe that taking fun seriously can lead teams to deliver great results, all while enjoying a great work atmosphere. If you are working in digital advertising, then you already know that Q4 is the most crucial moment in terms of revenue for our clients and us too. It is THE busiest time of the year, during which we must stay focused and client-centric to deliver the best results on both sides. Busy and exciting at the same time, I’d say. We must be creative and efficient. As a manager, there is no need to say how much you must keep your cool if you want to provide the appropriate support and guidance for your team to reach their objectives without pressuring them. Your job here is to do your best so that things go smoothly, removing blockers and pain points along the way. Under stressful times, it is pretty much sure you will have to improvise at some point. So, the key is to prep and prioritize as much as possible, so that we have room to improvise when something goes off the grid. I think my role during those times calls for providing entertainment to relieve the pressure and keep stress to a minimum. That is why we organize internal competitions full of animations, for instance.

Approaching teamwork with a group sport spirit 

Empathy is THE trick to managing expectations while understanding your team members better. At least from my experience...Whenever you are in a rush, having empathy helps you zoom out, take some distance, and reprioritize more smartly. And that is how you truly boost efficiency in the end. Putting yourself in other people's shoes makes you grow as a manager. You get more creative as you come up with new solutions and support strategies. Understanding the people around you helps you provide the best guidance and set the right conditions for their success. If you see it like that, there is no doubt you will consider empathy as a great motivational and management tool. It makes you more inclusive and worthy of your team members' trust. When you stop imposing, you open yourself to stronger connections, new perspectives, and, sure enough, better outcomes. Understanding individual strengths is how you secure collective success. I sort of see team spirit at work the same way it happens in a group sport: Each member contributes in their own way to collective success. As Walter Payton once said; "We are stronger together than we are alone".  

The true meaning of leading with empathy 

If you want to lead with true empathy, you must understand it is not about telling others what to do but about making them realize what needs to be done. It is about helping them handle their emotions and overcome their challenges by recognizing the person as a whole. We are humans, and humans have emotions. So, knowing that we cannot expect people to work 200% from 9 am to 6 pm every day, all year long, at the same pace. I believe that if you hire the right people for the job and guide them properly, they will get the job done. I do my best to keep the communication transparent and assertive, privileging open feedback to assess and adjust the approach as we move forward. If you want people to be motivated, make them feel heard and valued! And the same goes for clients. Being client-centric is not about pitching or selling a service. It is about helping clients overcome their challenges and reach their gold medals. And if you’re able to put yourself in your client's shoes, chances are you’ll provide more accurate guidance and show results. 

Pushing harder won’t make you go further 

We often believe pushing will make us grow further, but I have learned from experience that it can also backfire. Of course, leading with empathy comes easily when we all hit our targets. But what happens when experiencing moments of complexity and, sometimes, failure? When things don’t go as planned, my motto is “There are no failures, only lessons”. By adopting a proactive attitude and a solution-oriented mindset, you can turn things around! We can’t always get it right the first time.   

So basically, I go through a four-fold approach: 

  1. Acceptance: I encourage everyone in the team to reach a point of acceptance. What happened, happened. It is the way it is, and we can’t change it now. 
  2. Perspective: I put things into perspective as much as possible, reviewing together what didn’t work but also what did. What we could do differently next time, what we should change, but also, what we should keep as good practices.
  3. Positivism: We ensure that we influence the future positively, knowing we can turn failure into success next time.
  4. Adaptation: Throughout this process, keep in mind that everyone is different. So as a manager, it is key to adapt your approach to the person you’re dealing with. 

When facing moments of tension, I help my team to focus on what’s their control zone to ensure they spend the right amount of time and energy on tasks and actions that can have a positive impact on the situation. Putting them back in the driver’s seat will often keep their motivation up and, ultimately, maximize the chance to get a positive outcome. 

As a manager, you need to find your own style, and up until now, cultivating trust and empathy has proven to be the best option for me. 

Marielle Plessis

Head of Growth AS France & UK

The Future is Yours.

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