Managing a team is so much more than the people who make sure their employees get their coffee.
They're managing a team of people, and that's no easy task. They have to be able to communicate with every single employee on a personal level, and they have to foster a sense of camaraderie and teamwork among their employees.
Hiring is only half the battle; training is just as important if you want your new hires to become successful leaders within your company. The best way for managers (and potential managers) to learn how do this?
Well today, we will talk ALL about it here from hiring and effective training to how to keep good relationships at work with Matt Levenhagen, who has worked in both virtual and physical teams.
Listen to the Episode
Atiba de Souza: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Build Your Team show. I am your host Atiba and today my special guest is Matt Levenhagen from Unified Web Design. Now, Matt and I had a really great conversation last week on his podcast. So I definitely want you to go check that out — The Builders Podcast. And today as always, we're gonna jump into Building Your Team. We're gonna learn some lessons from Matt of how he's grown and managed his team. Matt, welcome to the show, buddy.
Matt Levenhagen: Good to be here, Atiba. Thanks for having me.
Atiba de Souza: Oh, it's my pleasure. It's my pleasure. Now, we're gonna have some fun today because I think this is what, our third conversation now. And they've all been really fun.
Matt Levenhagen: Yes.
Atiba de Souza: Right? At least for us. But Matt, I wanna start off by asking you — I want you to go back. Go back to the beginning for a moment. Okay. And I want you to remember what it was like when you went from just being yourself in your company to hiring your first person. And what were some of the things going on within you? What were you feeling, thinking, going through and then what was it like hiring that very first person?
Matt Levenhagen: That's a great question. First of all, in first year and a half of my agency, I pretty much was solo, but I would outsource by project, by project. So maybe short term, whole thing. So I just, I looked a network of developers. And they would come in and help me if I needed something.
So that's all that was. There was no employees or anything like that.
Atiba de Souza: Yeah.
Matt Levenhagen: So the way it happened for me is — so I always knew that at some point I would be hiring somebody. When the moment had to be obvious — I knew something would happen. Where it'd be like, I need this person or whatever.
But what happened was, I got a new contract and the whole thing was — it was an ongoing monthly contract. There's a business out there that we still work with to this day. There's been about a year, eight months, something like that we've been working together. And the deal was that they didn't want to manage a front-end team and a back-end team. They do other stuff, they do marketing and all this. But they weren't good at front-end. And what they wanted was for me to find them something. And this was the deal. Like I was just gonna find them something, a dedicated resource, but I would manage them. They would be part of my team.
Atiba de Souza: Okay.
Matt Levenhagen: I would manage them but that would just be giving them a dedicated resource. It just happened out of a contract like that, in conversations with the owners of that business. So I went out and so I actually did — I even built into it that I was going to — they would have to pay me to find this person.
So they gave me a chunk of money to go do that. And then the idea was if they needed more people, the same kind of structure would occur or that person didn't work out, you know, so on and so forth. So hired that person December 1, 2020. And she is still doing work for them to this day. She was a perfect fit. They love her.
Atiba de Souza: Awesome.
Matt Levenhagen: They won't ever let me get rid of her.
Atiba de Souza: A good place to be.
Matt Levenhagen: Yeah. And she's self-managing but the interesting thing you asked me how I felt about that, it's an amazing thing, especially in this particular case, because she's so self-managing. She takes in requests directly from the client.
She puts that in Trello. She manages it there. She does the work. She has questions go directly to them or they'll give feedback. So it all happens independent of me. I come in, if I see there's an issue, or if they need input. Now, she's not a designer. So sometimes I have to come in and help her on that aspect of things.
Because sometimes they like to ask her to design stuff. So I'm there, but for the most part, this is a part of my business that just runs and I just happened to get an amazing person to fill that position. Very lucky.
Atiba de Souza: That's amazing.
Matt Levenhagen: Yeah. And then what I did at that time was obviously there was some profit to that. So what I did is I reinvested part of that profit. That's when — month and a half later, I hired my first VA.
Atiba de Souza: Okay.
Matt Levenhagen: I was getting busy enough where I needed somebody to help me with support and other things and marketing. So that happened. And then months after that, I got another developer and so on and so forth.
It was a great feeling, especially at the VA. Finally, I wasn't doing this alone anymore. Right now, I was building an internal team. I had somebody to talk to besides my dog. Oh, now I feel like a legitimate company and things were happening. Same thing would happen when I would outsource something but you know, somebody else is doing it. You can do things in parallel. I'm working on something, somebody else working on something. Now it's just happening. Like this part of my business is doing its thing. And I can do other stuff.
Atiba de Souza: Yes. So that's gotta be a great feeling. And I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you this question. Cause I'm sure anyone listening to this wants to know the answer to this question, right? Because you hired someone who was self-directing and Lord knows we're all looking to hire someone who is self directing, right?
Was it share luck? Or, were there certain things that you were looking for because you knew yourself, maybe you knew the client and you knew what you were looking for in this person that allowed you to hone in on her and know she was gonna be the right one?
Matt Levenhagen: There's some luck involved. Okay. Now I went to — you're familiar with onlinejobs.ph.
Atiba de Souza: Yes.
Matt Levenhagen: That's where I found her. And so I'd gone through a bunch of people. Now, one of the things was when I talked to her, I could tell she was well spoken. She can communicate well, and that was an important component because I knew she probably would be interfacing directly with this client.
So I needed somebody that had a little higher IQ in that department, is able to not just take in tasks and do work, she's gotta be able to figure stuff out and communicate. Some of that's kind of luck, but at the same time when I saw that I knew the search was over and I could try this person. I'm pretty sure that was part of it. And so then, it's testing her out and seeing how it goes and it just went well. I feel very fortunate because that doesn't always happen, obviously.
Atiba de Souza: Well, you're right. It doesn't. So you are fortunate, but it sounds like — which is something we talk about here a lot — is you knew the fit that you wanted for that person, right? And you didn't just hire someone because they check the box on having the skills or the experience. You knew that there was a certain type of personality that it was going to take to be able to be successful in this role. Would you say that?
Matt Levenhagen: Oh, for sure. When I hire somebody, I think about our culture. If somebody's gonna put up with me what they have to be like — I want somebody that's happy, enjoys what they do.
I talk about this all the time with my team. I wanna make sure you're doing what you enjoy and what you love, and not only what you're good at. But, you have to show up every day and be excited in what you do and what we're doing as a company. And, so I just saw that at her, she was very positive. If I'm obviously gonna have a conversation with somebody they're negative, in this they're complaining about stuff already, or they're worried about stuff. Some of that I think is just maybe experience. It's just a vibe. You can talk about vibe all the time these days. You can feel the vibe is a little off, something else might be going on there. I think a lot of it's intuitive in just knowing the type of person you'd like to work with and what you want to do.
There's situations I work with other agencies and stuff where they have teams. Sometimes I see — maybe a recent example of this I'm thinking of — somebody on that team was a little bit coarse or a little bit they were taking things personally that didn't need to be personal. Like I just stating the fact — you know, things like that. That's not a good vibe. That reflects on the owners too. Beacuse that person, especially in her position, she's representing us, me, my company, that kind of filters back on you. So you wanna make sure that you have somebody — so obviously, when she first started out, the first few weeks, I worked really close with her and that was another process I wanna get into that. But, when I first start, somebody off, I'm gonna be very close to what they're doing and reviewing everything they're doing.
So she would do project. It would come through me first and look at it, make sure it's quality and then send that off. But eventually I moved myself out of that. I had to build that confidence that she could deliver based on the requirements. And once I was confident enough and it happened. Like I said, more lucky.
Atiba de Souza: You take your hands off.
Matt Levenhagen: Like it happened within probably a month. I was able to just remove myself and I only come in if needed.
Atiba de Souza: Yeah, absolutely. And that's so important too. So you made really two really great points in there. One on what I want to touch on really quickly. And the other one, I do want to dive in a little bit more, not just with this resource, but some of the other people that you've hired as well and how you've done this. We kinda laughed about this first point but it's, it's a laughter — and I think between the two of us, it's a laughter because we know how important it is.
So audience, I want you to also hear that, even though we chuckled about it, this is super important. And you hear me talk about this all the time. You have to hire for fit. And part of hiring for fit, first, is understanding who you are. They gotta fit with me. Matt. She had to fit with you.
Right? If that vibe was off, it's only a matter of time before they annoy the mess out of you and you don't want them around anymore. And that's problematic for everyone. Right? So really getting clear on who you are is super, super important. Then you started diving into talking about that first month or so of working with her and working closely with her. And sure she was offsite and dealing with the external client. But, how are you with the rest of your staff as well? In terms of those first few weeks, making sure that the training, the systems, the processes are in place and they understand what's going on.
Matt Levenhagen: You have to have an onboarding process. It's good to have documentation placed in the beginning. If it's a new position, obviously you may not have the documentation. So that's something I try to do though, as I'm onboarding somebody to make sure I'm doing that up front because I'm always thinking that I might have to hire another person for this position someday.
Atiba de Souza: So exactly.
Matt Levenhagen: Think about it next time. But, I just try to construct a good path for them to start — first of all, to just get them access to everything. That's the simple stuff. Make sure they know how — I do have documentation, even around our communication flow.
What do we use to communicate? You're gonna use slack for this. You're gonna emails for this. Or, these are the channels you go through to get help here, whatever. So really establishing, especially that first week, just how we operate. And then, so once they understand how kind of everybody works together as a team. In slack, I have groups so I introduce them to the team officially there, generally. So that everyone knows there's a new member and everyone can say "Hi". So they feel welcome. You want them to feel comfortable that they're coming into a family. And then it's just — depending on their role and what they're doing. It's defining those first projects or what we're given or in my case for VA, it might be something in my project, probably, something I want them to do. Start small and start testing them and see how they do and be much more vigilant and much, you know, be there a hundred percent in those first couple weeks, at least.
Check in with them. How you doing? How's it going? Some people, depending on the person will be more communicative than somebody else. Sometimes you have to ask them how they're doing. Others will feel free to come to you and say I'm having issues and that's all part of it too.
That's all part of — I just had a conversation today with somebody I'm actually hiring. Basically, I said, it's kind of an open door policy here. Like, I want you to feel comfortable. I want you to know that — especially this person they're coming from like a more corporate environment — I want you to know that you can come directly to me. If you need help or you need guidance or you need input, you don't understand something, you need help there, so I make sure that's understood and they can ask any questions. They want no questions, a dumb question, that type of stuff.
And then just like I said, their first month is really assessing how they're doing and seeing if you made the right decision. Check in with them, make sure they're happy. Then hopefully have a — again, depending on the position. Some will have a roadmap, you know, for months on end or in that first hires situation, they're just going to start doing work for this company. Just monitor that situation, also listen to that client. Make sure there's no issues there. So I don't know, I think it's just in that first month. It's easy to them to culture to your company and making them part of the team making them feel welcome, all the feelings and then just slowly introducing them to projects and getting them doing.
Atiba de Souza: Yeah. It's so very interesting because especially since you and I understand this so well, working in a virtual environment. I mentioned to you, but even before we started it — my voice is a little horse today because I was coaching football all weekend. And I used to have a head coach who would yell out in the middle of practice. "What is this? I'm feeling fest?" Right? There's no feelings in football!
Right? But a lot of times we feel like that in the workplace as well. And I've come to realize — and so I'd love for you to weigh in on this, as we're talking about feelings here is — the difference between in person and virtual and especially virtual, once you go international, it's almost that you have to have more feeling.
You have to invest more in the relationship. Right? Upfront. That's my take on it. I would love to hear yours and how you feel about that?
Matt Levenhagen: I've had off — offline teams, you know? Years ago, I had a little painting repair business, construction business, and I had a crew of painters and a carpenter and all that stuff.
I think you would get to know somebody because you're riding along in the truck together. You're going to the job site hanging out at the job site all day. You have this opportunity to be with somebody all the time. So you really get to know them, pretty well.
Just like going to the office, or whatever you're hanging around those people at the water cooler or whatever. You get opportunities to get to know each other or even go have a beer after work or something. Online — well, I've had a us team of developers and designers.
For the short few years, I actually worked for a corporation as their web developer. So when I built the team there in the US, even then, it's very similar to international, because you're still not local. It's a little easier when you might actually be able to meet once or twice a year somewhere.
But international, maybe I'll go visit some of these countries someday.
Atiba de Souza: Someday.
Matt Levenhagen: But at the moment — but in those cases — so for me, it's again, and this is why people, I feel like wanna work for me forever. At the side, I had one of my employees who tell me, a month or two ago that this turned into like her dream job. But what I do is, it's about showing up, caring about your work and getting the work done because we gotta take care of our clients, that's how we stay in business.
So there is that the manual stuff that we do every day to get stuff done and making sure we're doing things well and all that stuff. But at the same time, I want to get to know each one of my employees on a more personal level. And that's where you probably know what one-on-ones are. The pace I'm at now probably on a quarterly basis, I will actually have a one-on-one meeting, which each of my employees. They're not long meetings. They're just like maybe a half hour. It's not about work. It's not about projects. This meeting is about letting them talk about what they want to talk about. But, it can be more personal, like, you know, how's life going?
You'll hear about somebody's getting married or they're working on buying a new house or a new car or their parents are visiting from out of town or something, you know, all the personal stuff.
And then you get to know what their desires are? Or what they're in life? What their hobbies are? Or whatever, and what's going on around them. What they're struggling with? Whether that's personal, that's family, I might even hear about that. I try to make it as comfortable as possible so they can be open with that stuff. I like to build those personal relationships with my team. It really does then truly feel like family. When you're remote, how do you do that while you gotta use the tools available to you? So we zoom, I don't necessarily require video, some people do. But just hearing the voice and just meeting, and listening to the voice and having a conversation that way works for me. And then we have slack all the time. We're right there. If we needed to jump on a video there or do whatever, that's always available.
But we always have those instant channels and regular structured way to talk to each other, making them feel comfortable, like they can come to me and bring up things that you normally wouldn't bring up to a boss.
I'm not there to judge. I'm there to listen because I wanna make sure that they're in a good place, but personally and professionally. And if there's something that I can do to make things easier. I might pick up on — I've had to adjust somebody's hours because they were stressed out because they didn't have enough time that's part of their day or whatever. Something was happening in their lives, where they needed a little adjustment and that's where I learned those things.
Atiba de Souza: It's so important, because it really shows how much you care about them, which in turn leads them to caring about you, which in turn leads them to caring more about the business, which in turn leads everyone to do better, which is the entire point, right?
I learned this some time ago — and so we do this in all of my management meetings, as we start off with wins and we always start off with personal wins. Since whenever the last time we met, what are your personal wins?
What are you excited about in your personal life? And sometimes it's as simple as, I'm gonna go see the new Spider-Man tomorrow and then that ensues a conversation about Spider-Man. Or, most recent one I think was Dr. Strange. Oh no, no. Thor, Thor was the most recent one. People were really excited about, right? And of course, you know, superheroes, we — everyone around here knows you're always welcome to talk about superheroes.
Matt Levenhagen: That's great because they get to know you too. Cause obviously you share as well and they get to know you more personally. And that's making the workplace fun like that, whether it's virtual or not. It's really important.
I look at my wife, she's a nurse and I see how they're treated, how poorly they're treated, how little they care, and how impersonal it is, they're basically just a number.
Atiba de Souza: Yeah, which is sad.
Matt Levenhagen: It's sad, but I look at that, I'm like, how has nobody figured this out to retain? Because to me it's logical. If you want higher performance and you wanna have better retainment of the people you have and you want people to be happy and feel like they're cared for and not just once or twice a year, give them a little cheap gift or something, employee appreciation, they give you something that's — what am I gonna do with that? It's super important. A lot of corporations still don't get it, especially in healthcare.
Atiba de Souza: No, absolutely. You're so very right. And I think honestly, the big difference is there's a disconnect because it has to come from the top.
Matt Levenhagen: Well, I keep telling my wife all the time like, "How does nobody care about this?" They don't care that — like somebody's not performing. And my wife will be like, she doesn't do anything all day or she spent the first few hours like looking at her phone. But obviously that's a lot happening because either that person doesn't have any investment in this business at all, doesn't care about what they do, but it's also trickle down.
It's somebody, somewhere is just not doing a good job managing, this person or this business, and don't understand the personal skills needed on a team or whatever.
Atiba de Souza: And so let's actually flip the conversation to there for a moment because there is this — and my wife and I were having this conversation last night, driving back six and a half hours from Ohio.
But there is this reality that there isn't a balance there between the personal relationship, which sometimes can get in the way of you holding people accountable and having things that are measurable and so on and so forth that drive things forward. Okay. Now, in the healthcare case that we were just talking about, it is the exact opposite. No personal relationship and no accountability.
You're just flopping all over the place, right? But let's talk a little bit right there. We're building personal relationships. I'm gonna be real transparent for a moment. Here's one of my challenges. One of my challenges is, I know that you do good work, and I know you're going through a lot right now. I give you a lot of leeway to be laid on an assignment. That causes problems for the whole team. That's because I gave you leeway because of our relationship. How do we balance that line?
Matt Levenhagen: Yeah, that's a good question, I guess. I don't think about it much. I think there has to be good separation there, right? You're still at the end of the day. You're still the boss.
So when something does happen, you have to also show that, maybe remind them of that in some way that I do care about the results and that you deliver stuff on time and stuff. There has to be some way to still measure performance and still show this is a job. What do they call KPIs in the corporate world or something?
Atiba de Souza: Key Performance Indicators.
Matt Levenhagen: Key performance — and I don't do this on a very structured way or anything, but I am always considering somebody's performance. If something happens that something went wrong, there was a mistake made, I'll still come in and I'm able to correct them, maybe through kindness, right?
What I try to do is I not try to come into a situation angry. I try to come in calm and everything. But at the same time, whether we built that relationship or not, it's probably gonna resolve itself better. But I think when you build a relationship though and you're not just, you know, boss, nobody sees in some office somewhere on the planet and you just get notes and they're just sending you tasks, they don't care anything.
Because you've built a relationship with them, what you wanna see is that your people care about what they're doing now. Because they built a relationship with you, they now care more probably about the business and about making sure they're not having a poor reflection on you.
I think actually by being kind and by being — and this could work in healthcare too. By really caring, your people are gonna show up every day, wanting to work, wanting to do a good job, wanting to deliver on time that never — no one's perfect. Sometimes things happen, or you have to — if somebody's not delivering at a time, I'm gonna ask the question, "Why is that?"
Maybe it's miscalculation of my part. Maybe it's more difficult than I thought, or there's something they need more help or whatever. So I have to also look internally like I've done that, where I've given somebody something that probably was a little more difficult than I had anticipated.
So I have to make sure that's the case. But I think, building that relationship, isn't about just being like kids. I don't have kids. But I hear — I mean, there's a lot of parents out there that wanna be best friends with their kids, but at the same time, you can't just be best friends with your kids.
You have to also remind them that you are — and it should be obvious. Because most of the time you're doing work. Most of the time you're managing work and we're doing work. The building relationship part is a smaller part of that. Go back kind of KPIs too and stuff.
So, I always want to kind of measure — make sure somebody's on a good path and doing and improving. Just to talk minute about the VA that I hired, where in that case — Yes, I was thinking about building that relationship, but at the same time, I set some goals for her.
I had a kind of a requirement with first VA to — I'm all about this thing called — tying everybody to revenue. I wanna make sure that they have a very specific impact on revenue, not just here —
Atiba de Souza: With KPI by the way.
Matt Levenhagen: Yeah. You're not just coming here to gimme a cup of coffee or something, virtual cup of coffee and doing some random, you clean up the office or something. You're actually there to have an impact. And so for her case, it was — yes, she was gonna help me with a number of things. Support desk, a little bit, this and that, that I needed help with. But, the big thing was for us was marketing.
And, so we established some things that I was gonna have her do where she could send me some business or get me in front of people to talk to about the business. I think her first thing was actually we did direct email or something like that, but within months we had clearly accomplished that she had gotten a bunch of people in front of me. I had closed some deals. It grew from there. So we set new goals, we do new things. Now she's well established. She's already having a continuous impact, but we're always — new project, new ideas.
I'm very lucky with her because she was a referral from the first one I hired, friend of hers. But I did get lucky in that — she's a go getter. She keeps me in line sometimes. And so, it really worked out — but I don't remember what our first question was, where we were going with this — but I think ultimately though, when you talk about feelings, it's like, yes, you want to know somebody personally because it does understand that person, all that, but that doesn't mean you're not still the boss. I still get weird. I feel a little weird sometimes, especially internationally. They'll call you the boss. I don't think of myself as the boss. That B word makes me feel uncomfortable for some reason. You're part of my team, we're a family here. At the end of the day, you are though. It's just gonna be — should be obvious through your actions and you do care about the results and what they're doing.
Atiba de Souza: Absolutely. And man, there was a lot in there. That was great. Sad to say that we're coming close to our end here of our time together because I think we can keep going forever. I definitely do want us to have another conversation, another time, so we've gotta get back together. Okay. Gotta have another conversation about this one topic that you brought up there just near the end because I know it's one that — anyone who's listening to this probably picked up on as well and said, "Ooh, I wanna know more about that". And that is tying every hire to revenue. Tying every hire to revenue. Okay. So great concept would love to talk about how you're pulling that off with, especially within your industry, right?
You gave us a little bit of a sample there about your second hire and what you did with her, but kind of what your process is. So definitely Matt, let's find the time real soon to get back together and do our next conversation on that.
But before we go, do me a favor, tell everybody — first off, we jumped right into your history and what you've been doing in management and everything.
But we've not spent a ton of time talking about what you actually do. So tell us, what do you do? Who do you serve? What's your company? How can people reach out to you and work with your amazing team? With you and your amazing team, really.
Matt Levenhagen: I'm a present owner. I hang out. I do stuff. I interface with everybody.
So what we do, we're a web design and development company, agency. Semi full service, but we're in terms of — we do design and development back and front-end. We specialize in certain areas like WordPress is a big, biggest chunk of what we do.
We do some Shopify, we will do other random things as needed. We have good depth in elasticity with our team and can find good resource to handles, and also furnish stuff. But, what we do is, we do a lot of custom work. Whether that's a custom feature, a custom WordPress theme, a custom website.
So we'll design and develop those. And we even have our own in-house frameworks. We actually have a full site editing theme in house that we use to — now build full site editing theme. If you know what that is, in the WordPress world, Gutenberg blocks, we do that. But we also — a big chunk of what we do, probably the biggest thing we do is maintenance. So we have contracts with various businesses to help them maintain their site. But it goes beyond just basically just keeping sites up to date. It's creating roadmaps, creating plans to help them get from where they are now, which is probably if they're coming to us, they're in a bad place, to improve their infrastructure, improve the website itself, and then create a plan to do more with that or get them off the server they're on because it sucks.
Just getting rid of all those plugins they don't need or rebuilding, rethinking their site. So we do that. And so that's a pretty robust thing. And as far as who we serve, it's like we do have, we have direct clients and like maintenance is mostly direct clients. Although through some agencies we're starting to do some maintenance as well for their clients. But the other thing is we work with agencies. So we try to be an extension of somebody else's team. So our wheelhouse is kind of, you know, doing web design development. We're really good at that.
We're really good at managing projects and getting stuff done. But then we work with other digital marketing agencies or advertising agencies, or it could be a SEO agency that don't have an internal team or don't know a lot about web design development, but they need a website for their client. They need a landing page so they can do that promotion. So we build those relationships. That's pretty much it, in terms of what we do.
Atiba de Souza: Cool. Fantastic. And what's the best way to reach you?
Matt Levenhagen: You can go to unifiedwebdesign.com. There is a contact link on the top menu. If you go there, there's a form. You fill out that form and hit submit, it'll open a ticket. That ticket, we found by somebody on my team and that person will notify me and that all trickle down and land right on my desk. And I will be able to reach out to you and we can get in touch.
We can talk. If there's something you need, an agent, whether it's an agency or business, we'll jump on a 15 minute call. See if we're a good fit, see what's needed and then we'll take it from there. Otherwise, I'm on LinkedIn. Twitter.
Look for Matt Levenhagen on there or Unified Web Design on LinkedIn.
Atiba de Souza: Awesome. Matt, buddy, thank you. And y'all go fill out that form. See how his team works. He just said his team is behind the form. That wonderful team that he built. Matt, seriously, thanks for being here, buddy. Once again, great conversation. I look forward to us getting back together and talking about how we can tie hires to revenue. That's super cool. And I know a lot of people want to hear about that too. Great stuff, man. Thank you so much for being here.
Matt Levenhagen: Thanks for having me. See you next time.
Atiba de Souza: You're welcome. Bye-bye everybody.