Alexandra Forsch of Awin: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain &…

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Alexandra Forsch of Awin: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Know where you are headed, don’t lose sight of it but also remain agile to adjust as needed. Empower staff and motivate them to join your journey as it takes a village to maneuver the ups and downs.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Forsch.

Alexandra Forsch is a seasoned online marketing professional with nearly 20 years of experience and a proven record of outperforming corporate goals through strategic planning, account acquisition and management, innovation, staff development and project executions. Alex has a strong background in performance marketing, media planning and buying, online marketing solutions, strategic and financial planning, team building and client relations. She started her journey with us in 2011 as Head of Account Management for and quickly progressed to lead the full North America operation, developing a high performing team and successful partner network as well as overseeing the US migration of to Affiliate Window, and later the rebrand to Awin in 2016. In 2019, Alex was appointed President of all US operations when unifying leadership of Awin and ShareASale, with goals to expand upon our strategic solutions offered to clients across both platforms in North America.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

An internship allowed me to dabble and fall in love with what was a very early stage of website development, and ultimately led me to pursuing a career in online marketing. I love the accountability of digital, and working for a full-service marketing agency for many years let me bring in-depth experience across social media, paid search, email and lead generation to Awin in 2011, first as part of its US team. Over the past 11 years I’ve led and grown the team into a successful, multimillion dollar operation to become the fastest-growing affiliate platform in North America. While considered its own channel, affiliate marketing, at its core, tracks, measures and attributes value to media sources, so I’m excited to be part of and champion affiliate marketing’s evolution from what was traditionally pigeonholed as a one-dimensional model to a multi-dimensional one encompassing any form of partnership. And especially how Awin can support driving strategic growth for any business online no matter their size.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

There are too many to count. One of the more memorable instances was when I — a native German — used an incorrect word during a client meeting and completely changed the meaning, which first caused astonished looks until one of my team, not shy to point out the error, had us all laugh out loud. It’s healthy to be imperfect as it makes you relatable and keeps you approachable. My clumsiness certainly continues to contribute to this.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Again, too many to count in all honesty. From high school teachers, university professors to several managers, I’ve had people along my journey see value in me at times I wasn’t able to see in myself. Mark Walters, Awin’s former CEO, stands out. He is someone to particularly uplift women, and who instilled confidence while challenging and developing me in my role. Much of my journey at Awin is a result of his continued and thoughtful mentorship .

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

It’s Awin’s purpose to create partnerships that drive revenue growth. This outlook has not changed over the past two decades, as by design we challenge the industry by pioneering technical solutions and service offerings fit to activate partnerships for growth and success. The industry has undergone constant iterative change since 2011, adapting to a digital landscape that’s been transformed by smartphone adoption, regulatory developments, browser and adblocking updates and evolving consumer behavior. Collectively these changes increased sophistication and flexibility to develop in the multi-dimensional model I described earlier, enabling us to keep creating new partnerships and ways of driving growth.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Awin has built a fantastic culture by putting its people first. On the onset of COVID-19, as one example, all staff were enabled to work from home with to keep everyone safe, even before government lockdowns were enforced. Even though we were dealt great uncertainty with respect to what short-, mid- and longer-term consequences the pandemic would bring, it was this concern and outlook for staff that ultimately got us through it all. As a leader, working for a company like Awin certainly makes things easier. I personally found these honest dialogs and transparency continued at a local level, allowing each member of our team to focus on areas in their direct control, and together, we made it through.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

2020 was one of the most challenging years of my career. As a leader, it was no longer about developing strong teams aligned around targets, as COVID seemed to impact every aspect of our lives. We experienced anxieties and stress unlike anything before. Social and political climates divided us as a nation, neighbors, families, friends… even co-workers. It also brought critical movements like Black Lives Matter to the forefront, shifting conversations around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to top of mind both in society and within the workplace. While these profound topics might have paralyzed businesses as they seemed to keep piling up, Awin’s global leadership tackled them head-on and championed internal taskforces so we could understand and address the impacts on employees across markets and regions. Without this, we would not have been able to support our employees in a meaningful way. Similarly, tackling business challenges with my senior team in the US enabled us to address them in the most effective way. That both the wider team and my direct management team were willing to share the load and, at times, take the lead, is what kept me going and inspired me.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

In one of our offsites I was introduced to the book ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ by Greg McKeown, which really spoke to me as a leader opening a new market with endless opportunities and challenges. Doing less with more, refocusing and prioritizing around things that matter and, most importantly, rejecting what is not contributing towards a goal became a critical focus for my team and me. We used this foundation to develop intent statements and impact maps that directed our journey over three years, focusing on initiatives that saw the highest possible contributions towards our goals. Taking this time with my senior management to realign focuses was key as it allowed us to expand our local teams, push our brand and double US market performance in just five years.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Leaders today are no longer expected to have all the answers. Instead, it is inclusive management that yields staff buy-in and engagement. Honest and transparent management was key to motivate a smaller team to share my vision for growth in earlier years. But this outlook also enabled me to build trust and support, as we have grown to over 100 staff in the US market in the past decade. It’s about inviting every member of the team along the journey — during good and difficult times — which means addressing challenges in a candid manner as much as celebrating wins. Building a strong and functional management team that shares these values is critical, and I cannot be prouder of the team we have built, proven to successfully carry through in the most difficult times.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Leaning on a great culture is a massive plus. To establish an engaged workforce, aside from a genuine duty of care for all staff, communication is key. If you are open and honest, actively listen, and carefully consider and weigh staff input… employees will feel heard. This attitude towards open communication needs to carry through all aspects of the organization, so aligning management is essential. Even though you will not be able to make everyone happy at all times, simply providing transparency as to the why and the how makes a big different in creating trust, seeking buy-in and keeping staff engaged. Asking staff what they will need to be successful and enabling them to shape the plan has been very beneficial for us, particularly during difficult times. We have adopted OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as a tool for the past three years, which keep us focused while enabling every member to contribute in a way they believe yields the greatest success. This has ensured alignment but also supported engagement and staff motivation reflected in a +8/10 NPS year over year.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

With honesty, openness, and compassion. Stick to the facts but remember you’re communicating with fellow human beings — everyone will interpret and respond differently based on their own experiences. Acknowledging the news is difficult and while you’ve done all you can to mitigate the impact, that you’re available to discuss further and have provided additional support resources will show they’re not being left to process or deal with it alone. This is the approach we take at Awin, especially over the past two years when we’ve had to communicate difficult social, political and economic developments. We’ve found that even if the news is overwhelming, staff and customers appreciate the transparency and willingness to engage in further discussions.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Become as knowledgeable as possible, focus on your core values you offer to the market, prioritize what matters and reject what doesn’t.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Know where you are headed, don’t lose sight of it but also remain agile to adjust as needed. Empower staff and motivate them to join your journey as it takes a village to maneuver the ups and downs.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  • Fail to set realistic expectations — create buffer for failure.
  • Jump to savings at a time when you want to invest to get ahead, especially when working towards a three-to-five-year goal.
  • Not including staff on the journey. It’s incredible to see what a motivated and dedicated team can do.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

Be inclusive

Be educated

Be approachable and real

Be willing to make mistakes, and admit to them yourself

Be inspired yourself. If you don’t see it or believe it, forget it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When life gives you lemons, make margaritas.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I’m very active on LinkedIn, where I like to share the latest Awin and industry developments — it’s important to me to keep our partners informed on how they can improve and achieve their business goals through new opportunities, platform enhancements and wider industry changes. I also share our latest job openings, so if you’re interested in joining our fantastic team, make sure to connect with me there. I also regularly contribute to marketing, tech and business publications, recent articles you can read here, here and here.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Alexandra Forsch of Awin: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.