I encourage my team to vote for their star of the quarter. This means they have to work closely together to know who is working on which projects. They have to take time to appreciate each other’s roles in the business and show their love and respect for each other. The team member with the most votes each quarter gets a little something from me, such as a voucher to their favorite restaurant, or an opportunity to go out of the business for a day on a marketing/business course to learn some new skills, paid for by the company.

We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Emma Sansom.

Emma launched her marketing agency ‘Flamingo Marketing Strategies Ltd’ in 2019. She now leads a team of 6 and works with a number of SMEs on helping them stand out as thought-leaders in a crowded market, while generating leads and improving their brand awareness. Emma has developed strong leadership skills over the last decade, and cares a lot about company culture and creating the perfect work environment for her team. This is reflected in her exceptional ‘team happiness scores’ across the flamboyance of flamingos!

Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?

It has to be my first day working for a marketing agency. I’d previously worked as a Marketing Executive for a manufacturing company, surrounded by engineers which had been a great first role to kickstart my career — I even got to live in Chicago for 2 months. However, I vividly remember my first day at Entrepreneurs Circle. The buzz I felt being in a massive open plan office amongst 50+ people who all worked in marketing roles. I remember saying to my mum when I got home, “It was amazing, they talked about marketing from 9am ’til 6pm.” I was buzzing just from being surrounded by the conversations and learning from other marketing experts and leaders. It was probably at that moment I realized, I always wanted to work in marketing and agency-side was likely to be an even better fit for me.

What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?

Back in 2019, I walked away from a ‘Head of Marketing’ role that I loved, due to an individual in the team who was turning the company into not a very nice place to be. At the time, it was devastating, but I had no idea it would be such a blessing in disguise. Now here I am, Flamingo is 4 years old, and it gave me the ‘reason’ to start a new chapter. But far greater than that, the experience I had before I started my business, created my drive to be 100% committed to making this work because more than anything I wanted to have full control over who I employed to join my team and create a culture and work environment that is loved by all. We are now a team of 6 and the business is going from strength to strength.

According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?

Well, firstly, you need to be able to know your audience, read people well, and pick up on their behaviors and tone. As a very sociable person involved with am-dram theater groups and ladies’ football as my two main hobbies, I mix with a lot of different people with a variety of interests and personalities, so I’m used to having to adapt.

From a leadership perspective, being a good communicator is about listening before speaking. Once you’ve ‘heard’ them properly, it’s much easier to adapt your style. For example, one person in your team might work well from having lists of tasks given to them and have their hand held through the process; another team member might find it patronizing and not like to be micromanaged. Therefore, you need to communicate with them in a very different way and focus on only discussing the end goal with them, as opposed to each individual action. The more time you invest in listening to your team and clients and how they like to work, the better you’ll become at communicating with them.

Naturally, it’s much easier to adapt your style when the communication is two-way. In regards to communicating to a wide audience via Social Media or in the form of a blog, the key thing is still knowing your audience. Speak their language but DO NOT remove your personality. Techy people such as engineers might prefer technical language and a more academic writing style, but they are still people, so tap into the human side of the conversation too if you want your voice to be heard over all the other technical articles they might read, for example.

At Flamingo, our slogan is helping businesses stand out like a Flamingo in a flock of pigeons. The reality is, they often aren’t that different from their competitors regarding what they offer as a product or service; however, they are the difference. The person they are, the way they run their business, their purpose — so we focus a lot on communicating those messages because that’s what will help them get heard above the noise.

Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distributed world of work?

No matter what business you run and the different personality types you surround yourself with, everyone wants clarity on what they’ve been asked to do or what’s expected of them in their role. It’s in our DNA as people to ask questions as a way of seeking to understand! So even by checking at the end of a conversation if everything is clear and recapping on what you’ve agreed, it removes room for error and ensures everyone is comfortable with what’s been said and is on the same page.

And to take it even further, if anything is worth putting in an audit trail, including agreed tasks, who owns them, and deadlines (especially if your team works remotely and/or have very intense workloads), send an email around afterward; then there’s no room for doubt.

But most importantly, ask them — ‘Are you happy with what we’ve agreed? Does it make sense, or do you have any questions?’ Because not everyone is brave enough to ask (or willing to admit they aren’t 100% clear on what they are supposed to do) unless they’ve been given the opportunity.

Regarding distributed work teams, it’s even more important to communicate regularly with your team. My team is all office-based, but speaking to friends and family who aren’t, I know that remote working can become quite lonely, semi-demotivating (like they aren’t part of something), and they can sometimes become easily distracted from their work. So, if you do have distributed work teams, then using tools like Monday, Asana, or Trello helps massively eliminate these issues and brings a lot more clarity around what’s expected of them — plus it’s much easier to track their performance and output.

We use Monday, and it’s been a fantastic way to openly communicate with each other on different tasks. Everyone knows what stage everything is at and who to ask if they have any questions. Also, make sure you have monthly 1:1s with every single one of them! Even if they are 5–10 minutes on Teams. Simply ask them how they are doing and what they need from you to do their jobs even better and remain happy (get yourself some clarity!)… that’s how you build a culture that people want to be a part of!

We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.

I suppose it links back to when I first started the business. I hired a VA to support me with a campaign when I was on holiday (at the time, it was just me in the team). I thought I’d given clear instructions and explained everything well. She seemed confident that she could run the campaign in my absence, and I didn’t want to insult her by questioning her ability to do the job because she was brilliant, and we are still in touch to this day. So, I put my faith in her and let her crack on.

However, what I failed to do was flag all the things that could go wrong, explain what to look out for that could cause issues, and most importantly, watch her follow the process that I laid out a few times to ensure it was super clear. So now, I’ve had to master delegation to grow the business. Therefore, whenever I train anyone on anything, the process is so clearly written and laid out, the risks are explained, and I watch the activity happen a number of times before I step away from it.

The example with the VA is a great one to show that the only person who was to blame there was me, the leader. I didn’t prepare her enough or think of all the possible outcomes that could cause her issues. Never assume that everyone thinks like you or can see things that you would naturally see. Always over-prepare people or give them more direction than they think they might need to give yourself that extra reassurance, and them!

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?

We always say to our clients and prospects, ‘Stop adding to the noise.’ The market is saturated; you need to stand out. Following what your competitors are doing and mirroring it won’t get you noticed. Posting basic and ‘nothingy’ content on socials daily won’t make people want to see your content. Less is more; quality over quantity. If you want to start being heard, you need to post useful, relevant, and interesting content that people want to engage with. Avoid Shutterstock and take your own photos. Don’t talk about your sales figures; talk about your amazing team. Don’t bore people with salesy posts about your products; share success stories, case studies, and testimonials from people who love what you do. And don’t assume they will come to you!

LinkedIn and Facebook are making it harder to get organic reach because they want you to pay for advertising. Find the people you want to work with and make sure they see what you have to say by connecting with them first and nurturing those relationships. We do a lot of work on this for our clients on their LinkedIn profiles, and it’s making a massive difference.

Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What are five strategies any leader can deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce?

1. Regular catch-ups that aren’t just about work.

So, either monthly 1:1s on Teams/Zoom or quarterly face to face meetings if you’re able to come together in person.

2. Employee happiness scoring

We have implemented a survey that I re-run every quarter to see how everyone in the team is feeling. It’s a series of questions; some are on a sliding scale, others are open-ended. It’s a great way to see if there are any issues I need to address or any problem areas I can help correct. They also have a chance to tell me what socials they’d like to see, what they value most at work, skills they’d like to develop — finished with their favorite restaurants, bottle, or treat, so I can reward fantastic work when appropriate.

3. Star of the quarter

I encourage my team to vote for their star of the quarter. This means they have to work closely together to know who is working on which projects. They have to take time to appreciate each other’s roles in the business and show their love and respect for each other. The team member with the most votes each quarter gets a little something from me, such as a voucher to their favorite restaurant, or an opportunity to go out of the business for a day on a marketing/business course to learn some new skills, paid for by the company.

4. Using tools like Monday, Asana or Trello

As mentioned above in previous answers, when you’re leading any team (distributed or not), as a leader, it’s easy to lose sight of what everyone is working on. So, it’s great if you can have one place where everyone can go to look at the tasks, who is accountable, what the deadlines are, and read the updates and audit trail. If multiple people are working on the same project, then there could be a series of email trails where people get missed off, or calls that take place when people are on holiday. It leads to disjointed communication and a lack of clarity. Invest in something like Monday, and it’ll mitigate all of these issues! (if used properly, of course!) This is working so well for us now; I rarely even log on. My senior team sets all the work for the team and just updates me on projects when we catch up. They feel like they have full control, and things are less likely to slip through!

5. Setting clear objectives and deadlines

It’s very easy for remote workers to get used to having very little direction or communication from people in their team. Therefore, they can often create their own deadlines and workload. If you want to keep momentum and make sure they are aware that their input (and the speed at which they get stuff done) massively affects the bigger deadlines and objectives, it’s important to communicate clearly about what you need from them and when. Give them deadlines! Not only will this ensure that they are doing what they need to be doing (and not getting distracted with non-work-related tasks!), but it’ll also make them feel like they are an important cog in the big wheel and that their contribution matters!

What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when there is so much competing for attention?

1. Set focused time

We are big believers in the 90-minutes a day strategy. All of my team have the opportunity to have 90 minutes undistracted and uninterrupted by the team to work on a task or project they want to tick off. I’ve even done the same thing while finishing off this article. I’ve put ‘Do Not Disturb’ on my emails, Teams chat, and phone, and I’ve told the team that unless it’s urgent, I want to have 90 minutes to myself to get something done.

You can create signs that go above laptops if your team is in one office, or you can tell distributed teams to manage it themselves. You can encourage them to do it by giving them a handful of bigger projects to use their 90 minutes on that week.

2. Creating the right environment

We all know the biggest distraction is often what’s going on around you. If you work better in silence but everyone is in the office that day, go to a quiet room or corner of the office, or put your headphones on. We don’t have an office radio because firstly, it’s a massive distraction, and secondly, everyone likes different music. So, my entire team is able to listen to music all day on their headphones if that helps them focus. For those workers who like silence, they don’t have to worry about an office radio playing or an annoying co-worker singing out of tune to songs they hate.

For remote workers, if you know your children are a distraction come 3 pm when they get home from school, get a babysitter for the last 3 hours of the day. In my opinion, if you haven’t got an office in your house (where you can close the door!) or the ability to have several uninterrupted hours a day (away from children, partners, or pets that could distract you), go into the office or rent a hot desk at an office hub or hotel, so you can sit at a desk and be in ‘work mode’. Finishing work at 5.30 pm and knowing you can enjoy your evening because you’ve had a productive day is the best feeling.

For those of you who are completely alone at home, balancing your laptop on your lap on the sofa, trapped inside your 4 walls day after day — that is not the best work environment either (or particularly good for your mental health!). You need social interaction or a change of environment to help minimize procrastination. We are seeing a big disconnect in teams where remote working is a huge part of the business model, unless of course, the leaders are ensuring that the team has regular check-ins or comes together frequently to keep the human side of being part of a team.

3. Ticking off that list (and rewarding your efforts!)

There’s nothing more satisfying than ticking off a list. So, if you know you work this way, get a paper diary and write down all the things you want to get done that day. Sometimes even the feeling of sliding that highlighter across the page is rewarding enough, and you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to shut off the distractions when you’re working through a checklist (especially if you put goal times next to them — e.g., done by midday).

However, if you want to feel that added benefit — set yourself a goal that if you tick off everything on your list that day or all throughout the week, at the weekend you’ll treat yourself to that dinner at that nice restaurant you’ve been eyeing up. Or perhaps you’ll book the massage you’ve been thinking about or treat yourself to a show at the local theater. Incentivized workloads, even for leaders themselves, are a great way to keep focus. Sometimes we can get so caught up in making sure everyone else is doing what they need to be doing; we forget to keep ourselves focused and give ourselves structure too.

What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?

I’d advise that all leaders take time to look at the culture and office environment they have created for their team. From team merchandise to team socials, when you spend time with your team outside of the work environment, you get to know them on a deeper level and actually build more of a relationship with them, which naturally improves your ability to communicate with them.

If team socials aren’t something you want to do, having a quarterly team lunch or lunches with individuals in your team gives you a chance to get to know them better and build that trust. I know that every single person in my team knows they can come and talk to me about anything they want, whenever they need to. This is something I’ve constantly reminded them of, and that’s why I do monthly 1:1s with them all, even if they only end up lasting 10–15 minutes!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I believe there’s a lot of power in sharing the big and important stuff with the whole team. Things like revenue goals, plans for change and growth, opportunities in the business. If every leader, regardless of whether you manage a team of 10 or 200, made the time to communicate with the whole company, then more people would buy into the vision, and people would feel happier and like they are part of something. This might be in the form of an annual team away day, which has a presentation for those of you with larger teams, or for those of you with smaller teams, sharing more regular updates on the plans for the business quarterly but also getting their opinions and ideas, rather than just telling them what you want to do…

How can our readers stay connected with you?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow our company page on LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram, or request our fortnightly marketing and business growth blogs at the bottom of our website here.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!