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Excellence in Company Culture and Employee Satisfaction, with Sheila Marmon

Sheila Marmon, CEO of the interactive media and advertising company Mirror Digital, recently sat down with Jonathan Westover on a recent episode of the Human Capital Innovations (HCI) Podcast to discuss her company's recent “Best Workplace” award and key practical takeaways leaders can apply to their own organization.


Some of the many highlights of their conversation include when she explained how a “key [part of their] success, is making sure that [all] team members know that the door is open, … that they do have a voice, and they can bring their new ideas and innovations to the table.” And although this setup has a tendency to take longer, and potentially get messy, this way “lots of great ideas [come to] the table” for the company to consider and even implement that would otherwise have gone overlooked.


Company diversity and acceptance also has played a huge role in creating such a positive environment Mirror Digital and helped the firm to complete so many well-rounded and valuable projects for its clients. Marmon, herself a woman of color, believes strongly in the company’s primary goal to “internally and externally [...] amplify diverse voices.” The acceptance that is created by this mission results in “people feel[ing] empowered and they feel like they can drive the business forward the way that they choose to.” Sheila also noted how diversity results in Mirror Digital “...getting that kind of secret sauce from everybody, given their lived experience, as well as what they've learned as being marketing and media practitioners.”


Some of the ways that Sheila has implemented both the wide acceptance and democratic set-up of Mirror Digital is to “show gratitude among [...] team members every single day” as well as keeping in mind “the future, in terms of [the] workforce and making sure that [the] young people who represent us all can contribute and help [...] continue to build a successful, not only company, but economy and world.”


Sheila always tries to keep the roots of Mirror Digital at her core. She regularly reminds herself that she “wanted to build this company. This is what [Sheila] love[s] and what [she] want[s] to grow and foster.”


You can listen to the full episode at innovativehumancapital.com/podcast, or anywhere you listen to your podcasts, just search “HCI Podcast”.


Read the full interview transcript below:


Sheila Marmon. Welcome to The Human Capital Innovations Podcast. Thank you so much, John. I appreciate the time and being here with you today. It is a pleasure to be with you. Where are you joining us from today? Los Angeles, California. Sunny Los Angeles, hopefully. The weather's beautiful. It's nice and cold and still quite dark here south of Salt Lake City in Utah. We're meeting first thing in the morning following the Thanksgiving break, so we're all dusting off the cobwebs from our minds and getting back into the swing of real life. As my wife put it this morning as we're shuttling all the kids off to school for the first time in a week and trying to get back into the swing of things. Again, a pleasure to be with you, Sheila. Today we're going to be talking about excellence in company culture and employee satisfaction and how that connects with employee engagement, productivity, innovation and those sorts of things. As we get started, I wanted to share Sheila's bio with everybody. Sheila Marmon has a passion for the launch and operation of new businesses in the digital media industry and has created innovative platforms for over 20 years. As founder and CEO of Mira Digital and interactive Media and advertising company, she helps Fortune 500 brands tap into the fastest growing US. Consumer base, the multicultural market. She has executed over 700 digital campaigns in the space for clients that include At, Amp, T, Clinique, Disney, Four, General Motors, Intel, IPT Group, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I could go on and on and on, and she just continues to do so many great things. Her success, the keys to her success really is the union of brand operating experience, world class strategy and management, fundamentals digital transformation experience, and deep passion for multicultural and trendsetting growth audiences. Again, a pleasure to be with you. Anything else you would like to share with me or my audience by way of your background and personal context before we dive on in? No, you did a good job. I see my assistants in over the long bio. Everyone got a lot of information there. No, it's fantastic. You've worked with some really great people in your company, but what we really want to talk about today is this recent award and acknowledgement that your company received around excellence in company culture and employee satisfaction. So if you could tell us a little bit more about that and then we can really dig into what you're doing at your company, kind of a mini case study of what you're doing that garnered that kind of recognition. And more importantly, just so you're tapping into the collective genius and the potential of your people. Thank you so much for that, John. Well, the collective genius of my people is absolutely right. We were fortunate to win an inc best Places to Work acknowledgement. So that was really exciting for our company to be acknowledged as the best place to work nationwide. And then we subsequently won the fourth best place to work in Los Angeles for small businesses. So continuing on that success and having people recognize the culture and the work environment that we're creating has really been really amazing and really exciting for our team. And it's always wonderful to be acknowledged for the good work that you do. So that in and of itself is tremendous. But let's really dig into the why behind this. Obviously, there are lots of things that you're putting in place, the policies, practices, procedures, the culture, the interactions that you're focusing on that you're making a priority that allow you to receive this kind of recognition, but again, more importantly, to really tap into the potential of your people. So what would you highlight as some of those core tenants of your business that have really helped as you tried to go along this path? Absolutely. So I founded Nerodigital in the kind of la. Startup culture. So really that kind of gritty, work all night, kind of limited resources kind of environment, and part of a community that kind of live that ethos. And in that sort of environment, you don't have a lot of resources to help you kind of navigate as a young company. And one of the most important things that I heard a very seasoned startup founder say is you can't do very much by yourself. And that really struck me because even though Mirror Digital with my idea and I put together the initial business plan and was out in the market talking to the initial clients, you can only get so far by yourself. And that sentiment has permeated our culture from the beginning. And that means a couple of things. First of all, everyone has to bring their talents to the table every single day. And to access those talents and to get people to really deliver those talents, you have to really see them and recognize and recognize them and create a place where they feel safe, that they can share their ideas and bring new sorts of information and different ways of doing things and really being open. And what that's meant at Mirror Digital is that we are a very democratic culture and that has its pluses and its minuses. So we have an environment where everyone gets a vote and everyone is welcome to express their ideas and opinions, but sometimes that can lead to slower decision making because we want to make sure we've heard everyone. So that's really been the key to our success, is like making sure that even the most junior team members know that the door is open, that my door is open, that they do have a voice, and they can bring their new ideas and innovations to the table and that everybody's vote matters. Yeah. And it's a different kind of an approach, but I do feel like the pendulum has swung away from kind of the top down, authoritarian, command, control kind of model of leadership to this more collaborative, inclusive, democratic style of leadership, as you're describing. And in the US. We tend to still be kind of further over this direction towards those old models. But you go to other parts of the world, for example, Norwegian countries, the Netherlands, they're very well known for companies, spotify or Ikea. These companies are very well known for this kind of democratic style of generating collective buyin. It takes longer upfront, but then usually once you get that collective buy in, then you can run really fast and everyone's on board instead of having competing interests and managing all of that. So it's a different style, it's a different approach, but it can be very, very successful. And that's really fascinating to hear that that's your approach right there in Southern California. Absolutely. And one thing I'll add to that, being a founder in the innovation space and where typically founders don't look like me, I'm acutely aware when I'm not hearing certain voices and very proactive about making sure that everyone feels like they have a stake in what we're doing and that their voice is important. And so I think that's something that is easy to lose sight of when you think that, oh, my way is the only way or the best way or the way everyone does it. Coming kind of from outside of the traditional canon of what a tech founder looks like, I've been very welcoming of having everyone have a seat at the table. Well, and I think that kind of an inclusive approach and a focus on a culture of belonging really is very important. It's one of the benefits of your style of leadership. And now, clearly being a woman of color, as you mentioned, you might physically look different than the typical kind of tech bro white guy kind of demographic that is probably more common. But I suspect you also will attract certain employees who want to work in your organization because of the inclusivity focus and because you're a founder who's a woman of color, et cetera. And so hopefully you found that that has yielded some benefits in addition to, of course, there's going to be the challenges that you've faced along the way as well. Could you speak to that a little bit more and how you've tried to foster that kind of an inclusive environment amidst kind of the predominant broader landscape in the tech labor market? Absolutely. So our company mission, both kind of internally and externally is really to amplify diverse voices. So we as a business support diverse creators in the digital space. So whether it's Web 10 kind of digital publishers or social influencers or podcasters or whatever that is, but we explicitly focused on amplifying and supporting those diverse voices. And that mission is not only external, we bring it internal as well, where we really do foster a sense of belonging. As you said. You hear a lot of people talk about, oh, bring your full self to work, and we welcome that, but you have to check yourself and see. Do you really? And what cues are you omitting to let people know that it is okay to bring their full self to work? I'm very, very proud that our company represents the audiences that we serve with respect and love. So we have very diverse, young, vibrant staff and diverse across all sorts of categories. So we have BIPOC representation, we have diversity in terms of gender expression from the LGBTQIA plus community. And since we've gone fully remote since the Pandemic, we have folks all over the country. So we are getting that kind of secret sauce from everybody given their lived experience as well as what they've learned as being marketing practitioners and media practitioners. And we put all of that into our recipe, which I think has led to some of the success that you've seen with people recognizing that as a community and as a culture and as a company, that we are getting the best out of our employees because we really do welcome all of them to work every single day. And that really is super important. Now, I'm a straight cisgender white dude, so I have all the different layers of privilege. And so when I talk about bringing my whole authentic self to work, you know, it's probably easier for me to do that. I'm sitting here wearing my elf Christmas tshirt and I'm wearing crocs. I totally understand that that's a bit of privilege and maybe other people don't feel like they would be able to be as casual as how I'm dressed at the moment. And so one of the things I need to do as someone from a position of privilege, whether I ask for the privilege or not, and I know sometimes people get nervous about throwing around those terms whether I ask for it or not. The reality is I experience it. And so I need to utilize my voice to extend those opportunities for other people, so that if someone does want to come to work and they want to wear a suit and tie, fantastic, if that's their preference. But if they want to be more casual. I need to make sure that they understand that that's okay and they're not going to be looked down on for that, that they're not going to have to deal with some sort of implicit bias or assumptions made about them because of that. And I need to utilize some of my privilege, I think, to be able to extend that umbrella out to other people to the best I can. And so that's certainly something I want to try to do as an ally in the space so that everyone truly can. And that's just a silly example of how you're dressing and the style that you wear to the workplace. But it could be a thousand things. And every workplace has its norms and it has its espouse values. But more importantly than the espouse values, it's the live daily experience of people. And if there are these really lofties spouse values, but when people show up, they're judged, they don't feel safe, they feel like they have to have their garters on all the time, then you're not going to get the same benefits as you would otherwise. Now, of course, we're never going to fully live up to all of our spouse values. They're aspirational for a reason. We're working towards them. But we have to try to align things as best as we can and try to walk the walk more than just talking to talk. Yeah, and I think we reverse engineer that a little bit where we are very clear about our values of inclusivity, of having giving everyone a voice and a sea at the table. Work hard, play hard. So if you're going to come to Mirror Digital, you kind of sign up for that. And what I think that allows us to do is no one has to cosign on anyone else what they're wearing or any other element, because every day we're telling our employees that you're enough just how you are, no matter what you're wearing or what you're bringing to the table or what you're saying. We've been really clear about what we value upfront. And if you are into that and you're down with that and you want to be part of the community, then we let you know that the small things on the fringes are less important. Just, you know, the direction, you know, our North Star, and trusting that what you are going to put forth as an employee, how you're going to behave, what you're going to promote, how you're going to drive our work forward is going to be an alignment in all of those things. And I think that is part of also what helps unlock that talent, because people feel empowered and they feel like they can drive the business forward the way that they choose to. And when we create that kind of an inclusive environment where everyone feels like their voice is sought after and heard, that they have a chance to express themselves and do what they do best every day, where there's that inclusive environment and culture of belonging, it leads to a lot of really positive outcomes. So this award that you received in terms of company culture, it leads to employee satisfaction, it leads to employee engagement, it leads to greater collaboration and innovation and creativity amongst your team. Maybe we can spend the last few minutes together talking a little bit about how you've leveraged this really healthy culture into those sorts of bottom line business outcomes for your organization. Yeah, absolutely. So again, I'll go back to saying we have a democracy, and that has its pros and its cons. So lots of great ideas at the table, but sometimes it's messy. And so thinking through what are the structures and the processes that are going to help our team be successful, making sure that there's clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, because if everyone has a voice, okay, well, who gets decide? Who gets to decide at the end of the day? So those are the things and the things that we continue to work on to create the proper boundaries, to create the proper channels of communication. Because we again want everyone to feel like they can participate in every aspect of the business, but there are certain departmental and functional responsibilities that we've got to make sure we are signing off on, getting done every single day. So really, that tension is always there, and figuring out how to manage that so that people know these are the five things I've got to get done every day, and the buck stops with me versus having everyone around the table at a brainstorm to talk about, well, what's the vision for Mirror Digital over the next five years? It's going from that 50,000 foot down to that five foot level and back and forth and having the way to navigate that. Yeah, that's excellent. And as we've mentioned, there's just so many really positive things that come from that kind of a psychologically safe, healthy, emotionally and physically healthy kind of workplace environment where people can just bring their whole authentic best selves to work, bring their passions with them, tap into those passions, grow into their potential, and just do really cool stuff. And that's what we all want, right? We all want people to just be excited. So that Monday after Thanksgiving break where everyone's still having a little bit of a turkey hangover, right? And they've really enjoyed having time away from real life for a little while. When people wake up on that Monday morning after Thanksgiving break, they actually might drag their feet a little bit, because that's normal human behavior. But they're actually going to be excited to get back to work, and they're going to be excited to see their team, and they're going to be excited to see their colleagues and to work with them and get back to the cool projects that they're working on. Like they're going to get reenergized. And I certainly experienced that. I won't lie. There was a part of me that wanted to extend Thanksgiving break another week that would have been lovely. But on the other hand, I'm excited. I'm excited to jump back in, and I'm really thankful that I have a job, that I work with people where I feel that excitement, where it's something that I truly can look forward to. Not everyone has that. And so if we can create that environment in our workplace, man, it's going to make all the difference, especially in a tight labor market when we're trying to attract and retain great people and get a leg up in the human capital side of the business. Yeah, absolutely. And there are a couple of taxable things that I'll add to that. So one thing that I like, you talk about coming back from vacation and everyone kind of getting back to the projects that are exciting. We definitely try and keep it exciting. And we're working with amazing brands, and we're doing cutting edge, innovative media programs. So all of that is really great. But I always keep in mind that Mirror Digital is my dream. I wanted to build this company. This is what I love and what I wanted to grow and foster. And this is not necessarily the dream of all of my employees. So I asked them, I'm like, what is your dream? What is your side hustle? What do you do in your spare time? And we celebrate those things. So we have someone on our team who is a chef and she has a company that's baked goods. We have someone on our team who's a documentary filmmaker. We have someone on our team who produces concerts. We have someone on our team who is a photographer. So we have all of these people that have these amazing passions that they have outside of work, and we welcome those. We want to hear about it. We watch the documentary film that our colleagues made. We watched it together, and we celebrate those things. And I think when people feel like they can show that part of who they are and that this is a key element of how they define themselves and that it's welcome in the workplace, I think that's also huge. So that's one tactical thing I wanted to share. The other tactical thing I want to share, that I think is also so important is gratitude. And we build in ways to show gratitude among our team members every single day. So we have our Monday, our weekly staff meeting. I'm actually going to it right after this conversation, and it's during that staff meeting everyone says, who was their team crush from the last week? And you acknowledge a team member who has helped you in some big or some small way. And every week everyone has a crush. And it's a way of remembering that we can't do very much alone. Going back to where I started and also giving shine to the gifts that other people on the team brings to the table every single day. I love it. I love it. Sheila, this has just been a fascinating conversation. I know we've just scratched the surface about all the cool things happening in your organization, but we're going to pause there. We're going to have to end the conversation there for today. I'd love to have you back anytime and we can continue. Before we wrap things up for today, I just wanted to give you a chance to share with the audience how they can connect with you and find out more about your work, your team, and then give us a final word on the topic for today. Absolutely. So the best place to see more about what we do is the Mirror Digital Socials. And so we're mirror digital on Instagram. We're mirror Digital Inc. On Facebook. We're mirror digital on LinkedIn and you can also find me on LinkedIn at Sheila Marmon. And again, we're all about building the future in terms of our workforce and making sure that young people who represent us all can contribute and help us continue to build a successful not only company, but economy and world. So thank you so much for having me, John. I really appreciate the time. Thank you. Again, I encourage my audience to reach out, get connected, find out more about what Sheila and her team can do for you. And as always, I hope everyone can stay healthy and safe, that you can find meaning and purpose at work each and every day, and I hope you all have a great week.


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