Empowering Your Employees to Feel Ownership with Greg Zalkin at Creative State Marketing

The opposite of micromanagement is empowering your employees. When you have the skills of empowering your employees, they have a feeling of ownership that drives the business forward. My guest today is Greg Zalkin, CEO of Creative State Marketing. His company was ranked #384 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Greg shares his insights to empowering your employees. We look at what gets in the way of leading your people through empowerment. Discover distinct ways you add growth by empowering your employees.

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Target Audience: Greg Zalkin is a CEO at Creative State Marketing. Creative State connects global and emerging brands to their customers by providing messaging that can be touched, felt or consumed in the real world. They draw on proven methodologies to create disruptive experiential campaigns. Rather than rely on how things have been done in the past, we reimagine the best way to reach customers every day. By combining unparalleled creativity with measurable technology, we work together to build better brands.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Greg Zalkin
I don’t know anything. By far, I’m a good leader and a good team manager, but I’m not an expert in marketing. I’m not an expert in a field. So pull upon all of these resources you have. I’d say for example we have projects, you know, national tours that match. And we have a situational come up, I put the tape together, I said, what’s the best solution they actually come up against and what should we do? I said, What would you do? This is your company, you’re the owner of the company. How would you do it? And then ideas come from and that’s what’s really exciting is they bring ideas of our angles that I never thought of in the back of my head. You always asked that question, you know, which you will do as an owner which one here to team and a lot of times they’ll come from different angles and say, Wow, and surprise here. And they would surprise themselves and they grow and this is really exciting.

Intro [0:57]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only Where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gina. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [1:14]
Today we’re going to talk about empowering your employees. What does that mean? Well, the opposite of micromanagement is empowering your employees, when you think about what it takes to believe in them to have the confidence. That’s part of the equation, but you also want them to believe in themselves. You want them to share their ideas, make decisions, and have a healthy relationship with sugar. And that’s what we’re talking about On today’s episode of Growth Think Tank. We have a very special guest with us. We have the co-founder of creative state marketing. His name is Greg Zalkin. Greg and I are going to talk about you know, why is this feeling of ownership so important. We’re also going to talk a little bit about you know why he puts employees first instead of customers inside his own leadership. And then we’re also going to look at some of the details behind creating the sense of people sharing their ideas. I think if you have an organization where people have the confidence to share those ideas without fear and judgment, you have something that will rise over time. So that’s the episode today on Growth Think Tank. Now, here’s the interview with Greg.

Gene Hammett [2:22]
Hi, Greg, how are you?

Greg Zalkin [2:23]
I’m good. how are doing?

Gene Hammett [2:24]
I am fantastic. Glad to have you here at Growth Think Tank. I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about you as a leader and some of the things that you’re we’re going to talk about today. But tell us about Creative State Marketing.

Greg Zalkin [2:38]
Oh, thank you for the opportunity. It’s great to be on. graveside marketing is an experiential marketing agency. We produce and execute events across the country from product launches to festival management, to strategy and marketing initiative for brands both big and small, really any brand that we’d like.

Gene Hammett [3:01]
Well, I’m excited to talk to you today because I think we have a lot in common as it comes to our thoughts on leadership. And, and just really getting to the heart of it. It’s really about empowering others to take ownership. Why is that important to the growth of your company?

Greg Zalkin [3:19]
I mean, if you look at a company, if you’re not, if you don’t have intellectual property, you know, your software company, you’re really your company’s your people. Obviously, our entrepreneur started and sold many companies and it’s all about the staff. If you don’t have a good team that supports you and loves what they do every day and is passionate about what they do, it’s really unsuccessful in my experience. And in building that team is paramount.

Gene Hammett [3:51]
That’s the reason when I asked you my big key question about as a leader, what’s more, important customers or employees, you said?

Greg Zalkin [4:00]
Employees by far, you got to love what you do every day. You got to love what you who you’re working with. And then everything else comes, yeah, people can’t set out to make money. They set out to do their passion. And then they get rewards from that passion. And then hopefully they get the benefits of loving what they do they work with and then they make money. I think a lot of people try to do it the opposite way you see that success or failure?

Gene Hammett [4:31]
One of the things I really like about when we talk before is the sense of empowerment. You had a key question that you ask when someone comes to you and I imagine this works in most situations, but you ask your people, what should we do?

Greg Zalkin [4:46]

Gene Hammett [4:47]
So where did that come from?

Greg Zalkin [4:50]
You know, my father was an entrepreneur. My grandfather was an entrepreneur, my brother, sister, Mom, everyone. So I’ve had a great pedigree of people. To guide me, and I’ve learned that you don’t always know best. And the six most successful people that you see out there, surround them with really smart people. And, you know, top-down management and saying, this is how it should be, it doesn’t work. You need people’s opinions and people to feel part of something that’s growing, that they care about. And they need to have a voice, you know, if they have a voice, they feel like ownership and that it’s their company as well. I mean, we’ve seen it time and time again.

Gene Hammett [5:33]
So give us a situation where this went, you know, was a really kind of a breakthrough for the organization, like an employee came up with something creative or something innovative for the company or solved a problem. Does something come top of mind when you ask that question? You know, what should we do?

Greg Zalkin [5:50]
All the time daily? I’m a big believer in teaching people how to fish they could feed themselves, right? So I know I don’t know everything. By far, I’m a good leader and a good team manager, but I’m not an expert in marketing, I’m not an expert in a field. So pull upon all of these resources you have. I’d say, for example, you know, we have projects, you know, national tours that we patch, and we have a situational come up and I put the team together and I say, what’s the best solution? They actually come to me and say, What should we do? I said, What would you do? This is your company, you’re the owner of the company. How would you do it? And then ideas come from and that’s what’s really exciting is they even bring ideas or angles that I never thought of in the back of my head. You always ask that question. You know what you will do as an owner but you want to hear from your team. And a lot of times they’ll come from different angles and say, Wow, and surprise you and they even surprised himself and they grow and develop from there. It’s really exciting.

Commercial [6:56]
Hold on for a second. Greg just said something I want to make put a spotlight on You are the owner of the company. That’s what he says to his employees when they have to make a decision. What would you do in the situation? How would you handle it? Whatever question you ask, if the tone is that you’re the boss and enemas must do it the right way, then you’re not going to get the most out of that employee. But if you empower them to feel like they’re an owner in the company, and what would you do if you were the CEO, then they will look at it differently, they will look at it with more care and creativity. For example, a lot of people put boundaries on how people spend money in the company, and I get the reason for it. But if they had an owner’s mindset, they would spend the money wisely, you know, encourage them to really think like owners, you wouldn’t be worried about how they would spend the money because they would spend it for the good of the company. Now, there are many other applications of this beyond just money, but I really believe that you want your people to feel like they’re the owner and have that sense of they’re the CEO of this project and this decision. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [8:01]
Well, if you believe this, then you probably believe that part of your job is developing the person as an individual. Is that fair to say?

Greg Zalkin [8:10]

Gene Hammett [8:10]
And if they’re coming to you with a problem and you solve the problem, which sounds like good leadership, like I have no idea, I know what I would do. And you just solve it for them. You’re not really building them, you’re just expecting them to be an army of doers. Whereas I think the way we think about this you want to you want an army of thinkers and real people that are willing to process when you think about your leadership when you really want to increase their level of confidence encouraging themselves. Tell us a little bit about how that happens.

Greg Zalkin [8:47]
I totally think it’s it’s almost forcing people to go into an area they’re not comfortable with. Yeah. You know, have they manage the client know you’re coming with me to client Management meetings now you’re speaking, you’re delivering a presentation. Because like, when we, when we first started speaking, it’s all about the people like we I can’t do it. All right, our company has tremendous growth. And that growth is only because we have a great team that could go out there and represent us and is the face of our clients and our brands. A lot of brands we work with, you don’t see the brand client in the market, it’s our teams. So they really have to be comfortable in their own shoes and understand that they have the power to make the change, and they’re representing our company and our clients.

Gene Hammett [9:40]
I want to break this down into three pieces. I see these are very critical. There’s certainly more to it. But empowerment comes when the first piece would be expecting people to share their ideas. I see a lot of companies where you know, the ideas come from the top and everyone kind of says yes, that’s a great idea. But you believe that everyone should be sharing their own ideas, their own thoughts. Tell us just a little bit about how you do that in meetings and across the company.

Greg Zalkin [10:09]
Yeah, that’s a very important point. So every Monday we have an agency-wide meeting everyone together, seeing what everyone else is doing, which is really important, from HR to accounting to client services to operations. So that’s where it all starts. Because we found at other companies, people, the right-hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing or secret, or they don’t know what the future of the company is. So almost every Monday we talk about the future the company, what we’re doing, what we’re working towards, how’s everyone’s weekend, what you know, who’s traveling, and we really kind of, it’s like a sharing time, about 30 minutes, we go around the room, everyone updates on projects going on, and it’s really this environment that’s very open, and it feeds off each other which is interesting because let’s say one division, here’s another person’s talk about something.

Greg Zalkin [11:05]
They’re like, oh, I know someone that that brand or I had a similar situation in a past life because I worked in another agency. So it allows that open forum to everyone, get feedback, get feedback. And some of those meetings actually go hours because people keep on adding. And then additionally, when we get into clients, so we get a lot of requests for our business, we very rarely actually pitch business. We’ll get a client that says, hey, we want to do a project. We want you to do a project for us. So we will actually have an initial call and our client understand a project and they’ll have a brainstorming session with key people from many different departments or a whole department and just brainstorm you know, ideas, throw things at the wall and see what sticks and it’s a little bit untraditional, but we feel like one it brings good ideas and two, it makes people feel part of the team and the process and excitement of on what’s coming up.

Gene Hammett [12:01]
Yeah, you hitting on some key elements there that increase ownership, which is transparency seems to be important to you guys sharing, you know all the numbers talking about the future. And also inclusiveness, like expecting people to be a part of that meeting. I would imagine when I’ve seen this happen in my, with my clients, no one wants to show up those meetings and not be able to contribute consistently. And they’re, they’re really thinking about how they can be creative and how they can, you know, add to the value of the organization. And so that’s part one part, or piece two, is really about making decisions. If you have an organization where you’re empowering people, you’re expecting them to see a problem and make a decision forward. Make a decision, even without review under certain guidelines, I’m sure you probably have set some boundaries. But tell us about you know, how you get people to make these decisions and have confidence over time.

Greg Zalkin [12:58]
I think it’s part of this whole Process empowerment and feeling comfortable and learning. And I love it when people don’t include a decision. But it makes me so happy. Because, you know, they’re almost aren’t bad decisions. Like if you just make it and you use your intelligence to make something that needed to happen. It’s either good or bad you learn from it. And we have that structure where you’re not getting beaten down for bad decisions. You’re getting, you know, coached and say, Well, let’s think about how we could have done that better next time. But again, you can’t grow as a company.

Greg Zalkin [13:33]
You can’t develop people and have great clients with micromanagement, and not empowering your team. It’s just really impossible. And we have that’s how we’ve had some straight, great growth is really working with people and saying, what would you do? How would you do it? Does it get it done? And then a lot of times, it’s the business is moving so quickly, you don’t have a choice right? You have clients, they want to try to want you to trust them and say you need to get this done quickly, you know, I was really brought up in the business world and in New York City, and you don’t make a decision or call someone back within a couple of hours, you’ve lost a project. So that was kind of my training ground.

Commercial [14:17]
Hold on for a second. This is really a big thing. We can’t operate with micromanagement. And in fact, Greg talked about how there’s no micromanagement inside the company because that would not work to grow a company fast. And it also doesn’t work if you want to really show that you trust your employees and you want to build that sense of loyalty. micromanagement is the opposite of empowerment. So this whole episode has been about empowering them to make those decisions, be okay with failure, and to move forward and not fear for their jobs and safety. When you think about micromanagement you probably think that you don’t do it. But let me ask you a question. If you took it to the next degree, how could you complain? Take micromanagement out of your own leadership in the culture of your company. And just look for those opportunities to improve your own leadership and culture. Now back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [15:11]
This really kind of relates to this whole thing because you mentioned it, but I want to put a spotlight on it. Piece three to this empowerment is your relationship with failure and the relationship that your employees have a failure and you’re in a special place with marketing because marketing changes as quick as any other sector of the market of what you’re doing operations kind of stays, you know, moves along and evolves iteratively you know, sales changes a little bit. Customer Service changes a little bit, but marketing is changing. It seems like probably monthly now. When you think about the relationship with failure, how do you encourage people to have a healthy relationship with failure to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward?

Greg Zalkin [15:53]
Yeah, it’s really taking away the stigma of failure of, you know, not beating people down or You know, taking things away from people, it’s really communicating. Okay, that didn’t work, why didn’t it work? How do we do it better? And to your note marketing so broad now like to when you tell people your marketing, it’s almost like they don’t know what you mean, our business that our services are very broad in experiential marketing, from strategy to fabrication of products to tour. So it’s almost that that failure feeds makes you stronger because you have to be able to pivot and offer many different avenues of your business to a client. Instead of, let’s say, you know, just an event or just, you know, an advertising campaign to market the brand. You got to really go to a client say, here are all the tactics inside marketing. I think you kind of find that sometimes by failing and saying, Well, that didn’t work for that brand. No other brands were coming to us. Maybe this works. And that really speaks to the changing of the industry.

Gene Hammett [17:03]
Marketing is a series of feedback loops, right? what works, what doesn’t work? And if you’re afraid to fail, you can’t be good at marketing? No, it’s just a period. When you think about your own leadership, Greg, you’ve evolved. You’ve had some defining moments. Is there one defining moment over the last few years that really stands out as something that you had to change your own perspective of? leadership?

Greg Zalkin [17:33]
Hmm, one moment, probably some times where you got it wrong, where you, you know, didn’t get back and understand and listen to a client. And early on, you know, you learn that very quickly. Because we also communicate really well with our clients and we work with clients that we have the same values. So sometimes you’ll try to get a business with a small company because you need to pay the bills. You take something that you necessarily don’t really love. And you’re like, oh, that didn’t work because my passion wasn’t in it. Our communication style is different. So learning from that of what you’d like to do what you’re good at, I think is the most important thing. And then understanding how to listen. And a lot of people like to hear themselves speak. I like to hear what people say.

Greg Zalkin [18:24]
So it’s super important to understand and get into the ethos of the client, because you say it’s a soda brand, right? Yeah, I know about soda brands, you know, we’ve been drinking soda our whole lives, you know, but what is particularly important about this brand? What is what’s the DNA? What what are they trying to achieve? I think early on, you thought, you know, being up and coming, it’s easy to say, Oh, I know what whatever he wants and how to handle the situation, but you don’t. And you have to understand that, that each situation is different and it could be a water round. You know, water, that’s like a simple brand, but there’s 40 million of them. And they all stand for something different and go after the different parts of our community. So really looking at that and understanding, I think, because a lot of people have businesses.

Gene Hammett [19:16]
Well, I appreciate you sharing that we all think that we, you know, hopefully, make the right decisions but being self-aware enough to know that sometimes we’re wrong. And being able to, you know, come back to the team, have those conversations. If you are giving a new entrepreneur, you know, some advice one piece of advice on building a fast-growth company, your company grew, you know, astronomically fast. What would you say that one piece of advice is?

Greg Zalkin [19:46]
Only do it if you love it, give it a couple of years. Okay? Only do if you love it and make sure you love it and and and then to make sure you don’t hire people just because of the cost. You hire people because of what they bring to your team. And don’t focus on fancy websites and materials and things like that your team drives the success of you. Because there’s a lot of entrepreneurs that are good for your business, but they need a whole team to support it. And that’s kind of like the theme of my successes really been great people.

Gene Hammett [20:30]
Well, I can relate to that. It’s a lot of my client’s space, the same thing. It’s like it’s all based on having a great team and, and their own individual elevation of as a leader to empower that team. So thanks for being here, Greg, and sharing your wisdom on the podcast.

Greg Zalkin [20:47]
Awesome. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I love it.

Gene Hammett [20:51]
I love what I do. I get to have these great conversations with founders and CEOs of companies. They’re growing fast to talk about how their leadership really does impact the world. And I really believe that having a sense of ownership, and that real feeling of empowerment that you have across the organization is the key to consistent growth, you will be the leader that they look up to, but they will also be the leader that they are respected. If you empower them if you trust them enough. That’s the key to growth.

Gene Hammett [21:25]
Now, I know a lot of these episodes may challenge some of the core thinking that you have around leadership and around growth. So I invite you to reach out to me I’d love to get to know you a little bit about what’s going on inside your company.

Gene Hammett [21:37]
Just reach out to [email protected]. Send me an email, let me know your thoughts about these podcasts. Are they helping you? are they serving you in some way? Are you using something to help your business move forward? Or do you disagree with this, I’d love to talk to you about what’s going on inside your company to improve your level of communication, that sense of empowerment, transparency, anything you think is necessary to increase your retention. To increase your revenues and increase your profits, as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.


Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

GTT Featuring Greg Zalkin



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