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Expert Interview

How Shawna Prioritizes Her People at Alyce

July 15, 2021
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4 min

Shawna Curran discusses the importance of gratitude, setting boundaries for work-life harmony, and the art of caring for your people.

Corine Tan
Shawna Curran discusses the importance of gratitude, setting boundaries for work-life harmony, and the art of caring for your people.

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We’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best and brightest remote managers in the world. These leaders not only move their company forward in leaps and strides, but they also live by values of empathy and radical candor. Every Thursday, we share their learnings and stories.

This week we spoke to Shawna Curran, Operations Team Manager at Alyce. Alyce is a software that helps create personal bonds with your prospects, customers, and partners that deliver results through one-to-one gifting. Shawna and her team help hundreds of companies break through the noise and get prospective customers' attention. Beyond an expert operations team manager, Shawna is a fantastic remote manager for her team of three. We spoke to her to learn about how she leads with empathy.

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Starting with the basics, what’s your typical day look like? Got any favorite tools?

My days consist of the kinds of things you’d expect...reporting, meetings, strategizing. The majority of my effort and time though goes into making sure my team feels like they are included and that they belong. Much of my time is spent in conversations with team members to alleviate any doubts they are having, challenge them for more growth, or just listen if they need it. On the other side of that coin, when I am strategizing or doing reporting, I am doing it with my team in mind and how changes in process or policy will impact them. 

To that end, I have to say that one of my new favorite tools is Kona. I’m not pandering, I swear!! It’s just so good at allowing me to truly see how my team is doing and react in real-time.

When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?

I’m a dog and human-person mom, grandma (a.k.a. Shi-Shi), wife, spa queen, and occasionally play a little ice hockey (pretty badly but with a lot of heart!). My biggest offline joy is a program I run helping women of color transition into STEM careers and doing what I can to battle systemic barriers for them.

You’ve been managing teams for over fifteen years! What advice do you have for first-time managers?

Your metrics are never as important as your people. If you center your work on your people, AMAZING things happen. You’ll be shocked at how easily the metrics take care of themselves when you do that. 

What was the most important/hardest lesson you learned while managing?

The power of thank you. I had a remote team that had been nailing all of our goals and metrics then learned much later that they were actually working late nights and weekends to get it done. Apparently culture prevented them from telling me no when I asked them if they could meet a deadline. I didn’t realize that. I thought they were killing it and I was a kick ass manager. Turns out...not so much. I ended up handwriting a thank you note to each person on the team including something they did to help a project meet a deadline. The result was incredible. The team immediately opened up and began innovating and collaborating so well it was all I could do to keep up!

What are you trying to improve about your leadership?

I’m always working on making sure I am meeting people where they are. I’m someone who hates to be micromanaged, stifled, or put in a box so I avoid doing that with my team. The problem is that sometimes it’s not micromanaging when someone is very new to something and needs my close guidance and attention. In that case, they need me right there in the thick of things to work through it together. I try my best to keep my tendency to let people experiment from becoming a situation where they are going to set themselves up for failure and disappointment. Keeping lines of communication open is vital for that. I want my team members to feel just fine saying “nope, I need more structure and guidance than that” or “I’m good, you can leave me be now”.

Has your remote workflow changed during the pandemic? If so, how?

I’ve always worked with remote teams so there wasn’t much difference with how I worked with my team. Doing it from home while trying to also be a teacher, cook, and for some reason the receiver of all “I’m bored!” proclamations…well that was just a tiny bit different. I had to be ok with the kiddos of team members who went from being horrified at being seen on camera to jumping into the call and offering their thoughts on what we’re discussing. I had to get even more flexible as people on the team made their way through the collective trauma of the pandemic and had their own worries and struggles. Wellness days became much more expected and taken. It’s been a lot to adjust to but acknowledging it and adjusting is helping us make our way through.

How do you create work-life harmony/wellness while remote?

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. I am constantly checking on my team’s well being and encouraging them to step away from the computer or take a wellness day and if they need it. When your day is done, leave Slack alone. I’m also a big fan of scheduling your availability. Have to do school pick up/drop off? Put it in the calendar so you don’t book over it and drive yourself crazy. I like the Clockwise tool for this because it helps you to automatically schedule in focus time and lunch. The best part about this is that my team will call me on it if I’m not practicing what I preach. It’s a group effort to make sure we’re all maintaining a good balance.


Tips for folks struggling with remote management/feeling disconnected from their team?

Don’t dive right into work when you connect. Ask how team members are doing and don’t accept a one-word answer without making an effort to dig deeper. If they say they’re ok, ask what’s going on that’s got them feeling ok. Is it ok because things are pretty chill or ok despite some rough stuff going on? In team meetings, try a one word check-in and dive deeper on why someone is feeling excited, grateful, tired, or fine today. 

Amazing. And finally, any recommendations for readings, blogs, or podcasts?

Right now I’m reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Another book I love is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I always encourage reading anything that helps you see another person’s point of view. Sit with and explore the kind of feelings that come up when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You should always work to strengthen your emotional intelligence and empathy. You need plenty of both to lead a happy, productive, and innovative support team.

Meet the Author

Corine Tan

Corine is co-founder of Kona. They write regularly on emotional intelligence and people-first leadership. Their work has been featured by Fortune, Yahoo, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur, Harvard Business School, Forbes, and more. They've spoken at remote work conferences like GitLab Commit 2021 and advised Fortune 10 companies on remote strategy.

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