“Listen for intent, not just to what people say”
With Kelly Menne, Chief Financial Officer of Prolific Interactive
Listen for intent, not just to what people say. Everyone communicates in different ways, and many brilliant minds and creators do not excel at verbal communication. Leaders need to develop their comprehension skills to understand not just words, but the motivation behind them. Talking through the motivation behind any proposal or idea helps flesh out what works and what doesn’t, and can lead to a solution that hasn’t been considered before. You never know what information you can glean when you listen to more than just people’s words.
Kelly Menne is the Chief Financial Officer of Prolific Interactive, a mobile-focused product agency with offices in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Durham. Using a strategy-driven, user-centered approach, Prolific creates mobile products for leading brands including Saks Fifth Avenue, Crossfit, American Express, Gap, Sephora, SoulCycle, and TB12. Kelly formerly served as the Senior Vice President of Finance at Porter Novelli and was with the company for 16 years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
One of the pivotal moments that pointed me toward a career in accounting and finance was my decision to move from the University of Delaware to Montclair State University. I moved based on family financial issues. This transfer reinvigorated my focus on my studies, which helped my grades and ultimately led to me finding a job with a Big Six accounting firm. In the last 24 years, I’ve had the opportunity to move across the country twice, work around the world, and have always looked for work opportunities that support my greater goals and ambitions.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As a working mother and a CFO, I always have several plates spinning in the air. Making sure that I’m able to effectively connect with my kids and lead as a woman within my company is both my biggest challenge and biggest opportunity. Women today have a huge challenge — literally earlier this week I was on the phone talking about revenue projections for 2019 while working to get to my daughter’s Halloween parade at school. While I realize this isn’t specific, the most interesting story has been the overarching hustle necessary to lead a company financially while being a responsible, caring, and present mother. I feel that the struggle working parents face everyday can be overlooked and under emphasized — especially in tech companies filled with younger employees — who do not typically have the extra parental responsibilities outside of work. Moving into a leadership position 2 ½ years ago with Prolific Interactive brought this to the forefront. Long before I came to Prolific the team has pursued initiatives to accommodate their employee’s lives outside of work through initiatives like 3 months of paid parental leave after a family has a baby. Or the fact that I’m able to work from home 1–2 days each week since I have a longer commute. As the CFO, I have the opportunity to continue to advocate for improvement in our employee benefits and supporting initiatives that allow working parents to spend quality time with their children while striving for excellence in their work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started with Prolific, I transitioned to a Google suite environment after working with Microsoft tools for most of my career. I was working on a project and shared financial plans with a team member, inadvertently giving them editing permission on the shared doc. One of our employees started making changes to the document — updating their personal and team goals for a specific partner engagement. When I re-opened the document in the morning, there was a moment of frenzied panic, and possibly more than a little colorful language. The mistake took a while to remedy, after which I was able to see the “funny side” of the mistake and have a good laugh. Just as importantly, I was able to learn from the mistake and have since kept financial planning documents to view only. It’s important to not beat yourself up too much, we inevitably all make mistakes, the key is to learn from them and strive to not make the same mistake again. These are important messages that I strive to make across our entire team at Prolific.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Prolific is unique in the way we approach our client partnerships. We don’t follow the traditional client/agency relationship model, we see the brands we work with as genuine partners. So, we embed teams into our partners’ businesses to become an extension of their existing teams.
The benefits of working as partners are huge. Because we gain a deep understanding of both our partner’s immediate objectives and long-term goals, we can then leverage our team’s technical skills to achieve results that benefit the business as a whole.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are continuously working on new projects as a result of our ongoing growth. My current focus is on our 2019 financial planning process, which requires agency-wide coordination. My goal is to work closely with each team member to educate them about, collaborate on, and identify their responsibilities within the finance process. I’m looking forward to the collaboration this requires and to gain their support which is essential to achieving the goal of continued success.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Encourage your team to set concrete, achievable goals for themselves — and lead by example. Set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals for yourself. Take care to set goals that are realistic for each timeframe and move you closer to your ultimate vision of success. It is important to share your vision and push to ensure the whole team is “bought in.” Hold yourself accountable and be open about your progress with your team. The more you normalize this practice, the more you and your team will feel connected to the company’s mission and its success.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Surround yourself with professionals you respect and take time to cultivate relationships with your team. Meet them where they are professionally and be a role model for them. Practice mentorship in the moment. Hold them (and yourself) to high standards and support them. Make sure your team knows that you care about them and are fully vested in their success. And know when to step back and let those professionals do what they do best.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At Prolific, we donate to organizations and nonprofits that are doing good work in the New York area. Two organizations we directly support are:
● Stoked — a youthful kids foundation
● Good Dog Foundation — a dog therapy foundation
On a personal level, I work with my children on a daily basis to show them what it means to cultivate goodness in your relationships. I believe that adding value to the world can be as simple as showing up and modeling kindness to my children so that they understand what it means to be a good person.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Develop a vision for yourself and your company and share that vision with the people you work with — it will inspire and cohere the team. When people know why they’re doing something, things run much more smoothly. You can’t assume that people inherently know why you insist they do things a certain way. No one is going to read your mind, so make it a priority to articulate your vision for the company and how the work your team is doing fits into that larger vision. That way, your team understands the motivation behind every task and can take pride in the significance of their contribution!
- Listen for intent, not just to what people say. Everyone communicates in different ways, and many brilliant minds and creators do not excel at verbal communication. Leaders need to develop their comprehension skills to understand not just words, but the motivation behind them. Talking through the motivation behind any proposal or idea helps flesh out what works and what doesn’t, and can lead to a solution that hasn’t been considered before. You never know what information you can glean when you listen to more than just people’s words.
- Provide leadership to your team — vision, support, and encouragement — while remembering that it’s impossible to be the best at everything. You will be most effective if you let others help guide the team with their expertise. Be a coach, not a micromanager.
- Don’t forget about self-care. You need to be your best self to bring out the best in your team.
- Balance, risk, and growth — don’t outrun your capital. As an agency, we often set ambitious goals for our growth which may be a real stretch and possibly impractical. Finding ways to balance the power of optimism and ambition, with the opportunities and risks associated with high risk and expansion, while also maintaining a strong and responsible financial footing can be a difficult balance — but is critical.
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’m incredibly passionate about working mothers and the struggles they face every day. I believe that if we can do more to support and equip working parents, we’ll have a healthier culture overall. I care for myself, I care for my children, and I care for our team at Prolific Interactive. And juggling so many different people and priorities can be difficult, but achieving balance is essential.
I believe that if we were able to harness the power of working parents — specifically moms who want to work — we’d be able to increase overall productivity and have more women in the boardroom and c-suite. Which is better for everybody.
This could be as simple as a working moms group where women talk about their struggles as a parent and employee, or implementing other practical support measures for mothers who choose to stay in the workforce.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Serena Williams: “The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you are very courageous: be strong, be extremely kind and above all be humble.”