As community leaders, we’re responsible for people. The people in our communities and the people that serve them. In this episode, Chris Catania, head of community at Esri, shares how he approaches planning for growth and specialization for his community organization, for his people, and for his own role.
Chris is currently hiring for three roles, a community operations manager, a community manager for engagement and content, and a community manager for ArcGIS Ideas. Chris shares the responsibilities and scope for each of these roles, in addition to the challenges and advantages of hiring right now. In addition to the effects of the “great resignation,” as specialization and scope of responsibility within the community industry grows, so does the need to be clear in our job listings, success metrics, and paths to growth.
Chris and Patrick also discuss:
- The role specializations and career paths that Chris is charting for his team and himself
- Hiring for specializations within community
- Communicating your team’s value to other execs (and around the dinner table)
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Hivebrite, the community engagement platform.
Esri’s community team is two sides of the house (1:49): “[Our community team has] a structure where we have two halves. I’ve been using the analogy of a house: Two sides of the house. … An operational side, community ops, and on the other side we have community experience and programs.” –@chriscatania
The current landscape for job applicants and hiring managers (4:31): “There’s a multi-layer effect that’s going on in the job market where you have the Great Resignation going on … [and] then you have this other layer that has emerged over the last five years where you have this proliferation of community jobs.” –@chriscatania
All job candidates have areas where they need help (10:20): “Having been in the community industry for a while, [I’ve been able to] get a good idea of all the different paths that you can take. … [This is] influencing how we are approaching the strategy of the hiring process, and knowing that there’s not one person out there that is going to do everything that we [need a given] role to do.” –@chriscatania
Planning for your team’s growth (24:46): “I started really looking at our new org structure for the community team early last year because I saw the team was growing, … individually and as a team. I saw the community industry starting to advance … people coming into it were really accelerating. I looked at my team, and [said], ‘Okay, I need to think about promotions. I need to think about their path.'” –@chriscatania
Planting the seeds to grow and promote your team (25:33): “As I have meetings with my boss about our team and what our team is doing, I plant seeds with them. ‘Look what this person’s doing.’ Because I’ve seen that work with executives over the years of trying to get buy-in incrementally, just walking in and boom, put down the plan. I like to plant seeds. I like to make a case over time so that when you go for the ask [to grow or promote], it’s like, ‘Yes, you got it.'” –@chriscatania
Giving out skimpy raises will often lose you money (28:41): “I’ve worked at places where I’d have to grind out an $8,000 raise to go with a promotion for someone who’s been there five years. I was like, ‘They need $10,000.’ ‘You can have $8,000.’ That $2,000 in our pocket, it’s worth nothing. That $2,000 in their pocket is worth something, because if we lose that person, the amount of time that I’m going to have to spend training, interviewing, we’re going to lose way more than that, in my time and in our company’s time.” –@patrickokeefe
About Chris Catania
For more than 20 years, Chris Catania has developed a versatile array of skills and experiences in strategic communication, community management, customer experience, global business strategy and emerging media production. He is a dedicated community and collaboration leader, who always thinks “people first, technology next,” and uses his passion for emerging community and communication strategies to drive measurable business results and design meaningful experiences for employee and customer audiences. Chris is currently the head of community at Esri.
- Sponsor: Hivebrite, the community engagement platform
- Chris’ website
- Chris on Twitter
- Esri community
- ArcGIS Ideas
- Chris is hiring a community manager, ArcGIS Ideas, a community manager, engagement and content, and a community operations manager
- Patrick is hiring community moderators on his team at CNN+
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Hivebrite, the community engagement platform. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and welcome to the show. Our guest is Chris Catania, head of community at Esri, a provider of mapping and spatial analytics software. This show is all about Chris’s efforts to level up his community team with specialized roles and create a career path for those individuals and for himself.
Thank you to Paul Bradley, Jules Standen, and Carol Benovic-Bradley for being among our Patreon supporters. If you’d like to join them, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
For more than 20 years, Chris Catania has developed a versatile array of skills and experiences in strategic communication, community management, customer experience, global business strategy, and emerging media production. He is a dedicated community and collaboration leader who always thinks people first, technology next, and uses his passion for emerging community and communication strategies to drive measurable business results and design meaningful experiences for employee and customer audiences.
Chris, welcome to the show.
[00:01:18] Chris Catania: Thanks, Patrick. Glad to be here. Long-time fan.
[00:01:21] Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you. I appreciate that. We were connected for the first time recently and met in-person last week at a gathering of Los Angeles area, community pros. One of the topics of discussion that you and I were both looking forward to discussing but we didn’t really get to was staffing a team and building community career paths within your company. I really wanted to talk about that, and just to set the table, how is your team structured right now?
[00:01:48] Chris Catania: Right now we have a structure where we have two halves. I’ve been using the analogy of a house, two sides of the house, that analogy metaphor might evolve, but it’s really an operational side, community ops, and on the other side we have community experience and programs. Then there would be two roles tasked with those two areas, and then we have community managers underneath reporting into that manager community experience. We have innovation sub-community, community manager for ArcGIS Ideas for our Esri community. Then we have a content and engagement community manager, which is just like it sounds, looking at content and everything related to storytelling, but also pulling content out of the community that could be translated into value content for support. Then engagement, looking at engaging the community, connecting users, connecting staff in the community, all that stuff. That makes up the role. I’ve got a bigger vision for that to expand and get into user groups, just get deeper into the company and the systems, but that’s where we’re structured today.
[00:02:48] Patrick O’Keefe: The traditional community manager role, and I use that very lightly, because the traditional community manager has often done everything and a lot of things, as you know, but the traditional community manager people’s side role rolls up into that experience and program side, it sounds like. Then the ops side is more like- how would you have people read that? Is it more software and tools and the community product side of things?
[00:03:10] Chris Catania: Yes. That’s managing the platform. We use an enterprise platform for Esri community, that’s managing that platform. Then we did a lot of initial integrations. When I say integrations, that’s meaning community platform into business systems. Getting into our product, getting into down the road with the CRM, any systems. Then it’s really important that these two, the operations side and then the community programs experience work together, but that ops is very technical-focused – working with our vendor platform and service providers, all those types of things, and just managing how we operationalize or get community into the operational flow of our business with marketing, support product, all that stuff.
[00:03:51] Patrick O’Keefe: You are making some hires right now. Correct?
[00:03:55] Chris Catania: That is correct. We are hiring and hiring and hiring.
[00:03:58] Patrick O’Keefe: What are you hiring for?
[00:04:09] Patrick O’Keefe: The roles you just mentioned, got it.
[00:04:10] Chris Catania: Yes. Community manager for ArcGIS ideas. That’s our community for innovation product ideas.
[00:04:15] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned to me before the show that you are, “Navigating the crazy yet inspiring community professional candidate job market.” What do you mean? Why do you describe it that way?
[00:04:25] Chris Catania: I’m trying to find a different word than interesting, but that’s all I can come up with these days. The reason I say that is that there’s a multi-layer effect that’s going on in the job market where you have the great resignation thing going on, people moving around, different opportunities, with COVID, work from home. Then you have this other layer that has emerged over the last five years where you have this proliferation of community jobs that are there.
When I started in community management 15 years ago, it was just you were a community manager. You wore many hats. That was only title you really saw. Then you might have seen community specialist or someone like that here and there, but it was just like, you’re a community manager and that was it. Here we are in 2020, and we have lots of different roles. We have a career path that’s emerging within that, we have companies that had evolved or had invested in community because of COVID. Some companies doubled down on the community strategies, some launched them, and you need people to do that.
You look at job boards today and you see there’s just community roles. It’s good for the industry for sure, there’s opportunities there, but it’s challenging if you’re hiring. You really have to highlight why the community program that we want to hire for is advantageous for that role. That’s maybe you want to say it’s a little interesting, it’s inspiring because I know what it’s like to not have a whole lot of jobs or have a path. You have to carve it out.
That’s what it was like, but today you see community operations manager roles, you see community managers, you see VP, you see the head of community, you see all these different things that didn’t exist, which is exciting. If you look at some of those roles, I think you do have to really dig down deep and see how that company is structured and if that role is really what it says it is. That’s a whole other topic, maybe whole other show show you could probably do.
[00:06:12] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a good point though. Do you think that thing makes it harder for you to hire than when there are roles out there that are described in a way that you would say is maybe not how you would view community work?
[00:06:23] Chris Catania: Yes. I think a large part of that, it is challenging because the way that we’re approaching hiring for our roles is I’m putting on my marketing hat, just business elements of how do you market a role because that’s really what it comes down to. In this job market for candidates you have to market why would you want to do community building at Esri? What’s the benefits of it? You have to stand out.
If those roles, when I look at them and I dig down just out of curiosity to see what those are like, some of them might say head of community, they might say community operations, they’re doing engagement, they’re doing content, they’re doing everything. Not the way that we have our operations. It’s really pure operations with collaboration with another role.
With community professionals, you got to know what you want and you have to be good at asking questions. Some of those things that we were talking about at that unconference, really going into those job interviews doing that. That’s how I’ve been looking at it. I put my hat on as a hiring manager, but I also put my head on as a candidate, what would I be looking for? Wow, this is both inspiring and challenging. Crazy, I guess, fun.
[00:07:26] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. I’m hiring two community moderators at CNN right now to join two other folks. We’ll have a team of five going into the launch. It is interesting because community moderator is a title that I think a lot of folks see as junior, an entry-level because that’s how it’s often been treated. That’s fair, but moderation is noble work. In my view, the basis point of really good communities is strong moderation. It lays the foundation. I don’t think you have much to build on without really solid fundamentals, and moderation is the fundamentals.
These roles are interesting. We talk about it in the job post, I think do a good job of talking about where else it can go, because that’s not just sitting in a queue and moderating content, which again, is meaningful work that takes skilled folks to be able to sort through and make the right decisions. I’ve had to remind people that this is not an entry-level role. Whatever you might think of as an entry-level salary, this isn’t it. You’ll have the opportunity to influence a meaningful product at a meaningful brand.
I’ve seen a wide array of folks with different job titles apply, job titles that I think we would generally consider being above community moderator, job titles that you would generally consider to be below community moderator or equal to a community moderator. It’s interesting to see the variety of candidates pop out because to your point, head of community is a more senior job for sure in the industry, but for a lot of folks, it can mean still being an individual contributor. It is just a way of earning more and showing advancement, which is important, but it doesn’t always mean you have additional reports or that you’re fleshing out a department.
I think still the vast majority of folks when they’re building a team are hiring additional community managers, people who will do all sorts of work, tied to community, whether that be managing the platform, the product, the software that’s there, interacting with vendors, making product requests, writing product briefs, whatever it might be. I think the specialization is the newer piece. It’s happened in different ways, but it’s been more niche at a smaller number of companies where maybe you would have, I don’t know, a product person, or a marketer specific to the community, or a content person specific to the community, or a data person specific to the community.
It’s always been something that I have been talking about when people ask where’s the growth. The growth is if you can specialize within the team so that people can take on specific tasks because, for example, data is very easy. We all know communities create a massive amount of data, and theoretically, that amount of data if left to a head of community to interpret and analyze and report the insights on is going to be a small part of that person’s overall job where the insights that can come from that data would be more substantial if you did have one person or more people who were dedicated to doing that as their primary function.
[00:10:19] Chris Catania: Yes. There’s so much nuance. I think that what I’ve also considered having been in the community industry for a while just being able to navigate and get a good idea of all the different paths that you can take. My background is in content and journalism, and I’ve mixed in business, going to get an MBA, just add that in there. All these different paths you can take. That’s all influencing and driving how I’m creating this career path within the community team.
Also, it’s influencing how we are approaching the strategy of the hiring process, and knowing that there’s not one person out there that is going to do everything that we needed the role to do. We always say that we had people in these roles before we reimagined it, and we took two people that didn’t have any community background. They had a marketing background, project management background, and we taught them community, and they absorbed it just like amazing Padawans and turned them into Jedis or whatever. They were moved out to different roles at other companies. That was a successful experiment for us.
That led me to believe we can hire somebody who has community experience and we can teach them the Esri product or the Esri community experience, or we can take somebody and they can have an area of focus or somebody with an area of focus who doesn’t have any experience in community. We can teach them with that, which I think you’re going to have to be flexible in that, and that’s what we are. We look at somebody, they don’t have to have GIS background, that’s what our product is, geospatial technology. That’s the question we’ve gotten a lot from candidates is like, “Do we have to know Esri and GIS?” We’re like, “No.”
[00:11:57] Patrick O’Keefe: [laughs] You would really cut your candidate pool down on that one.
[00:12:00] Chris Catania: [laughs] Absolutely. Yes. I’m the first one to say, I’m not a GIS expert. I love maps and I love the power of it, but I was not hired by Esri to do GIS. It’s more build the community, build the value of it. I tell them, “You rest assured that we can teach you GIS enough to do that.”
[00:12:18] Patrick O’Keefe: You’re only qualified if you come from Rand McNally.
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My current role is obviously with a news media org. This isn’t the first job that caught my eye that was at a big news media org. I have a lot of friends in the media, I have various friends in the space, respect the work that’s done. Believe I have skills that can translate well, but I have applied to jobs in the past where they wanted me to have a journalism degree to build communities.
When you do that, you cut down your candidate pool for people with community, moderation, trust, and safety experience down a fair amount. There are definitely pros out there who have specialized in media and news organizations and have a journalism degree, and that’s great. I have friends who do amazing work. They have both. Very talented folks. But now I’m at CNN. I still don’t have that journalism degree.
Sooner or later, if you want community talent, you got to really focus on what is a qualification? Are you being too specific? Are you asking for too much? Are you asking for something that makes no sense because you really don’t need it to be successful in that role? I think we’re seeing this on a more general sense. Definitely not to say that going to college isn’t a valuable thing or getting your MBA isn’t a valuable thing that broadens you and adds skills to your toolset because it does.
Just the requirement of, say, a four-year degree to be a community manager, debatable value. I would say that a degree proves that you learned these things, and you committed to go to school, and you were successful, and that’s great, and there’s something to say about that. Again, is it really needed to be a great community professional? To your point, you have people who are great at marketing and products, you identified those folks. You said, “We’re going to bring you in. We’re going to teach you community.” They picked it up and now they are smart community marketers and community product people.
It’s one of the skill sets. It’s very tough work, but it’s not heart surgery. Didn’t necessarily need the eight years of college or the four years of college. I use that as a loose example, but to your point about mapping, what are you really asking for, and what’s really needed to get the job done?
[00:14:44] Chris Catania: Community managers, we always say a lot, you hear this a lot about empathy to be able to build relationships, build trust, communicate very well in written form and any medium is really key. Those are the qualities that that we’re looking for and I think are successful, the ability to be agile, collaborate well with each other. Some of the basic ones if you’re going to hold a job. Community definitely got to have that empathy. I think it’s key in the strategy.
The culture that we’re building on our team here is really built off of being able to collaborate with global company, being able to have that broad perspective. You don’t need a degree to do that necessarily, but it helps to have that broad perspective of that and all the different things that go along with a community professional. You can’t teach empathy. You either have it or you don’t.
[00:15:31] Patrick O’Keefe: I like to say my mom showed me the way on that one. I like to say my mom, I think I shared that at the event. Maybe the example you can follow, right?
[00:15:38] Chris Catania: Sure.
[00:15:39] Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t want to hear anything about, “Patrick doesn’t support education,” or anything after this comes out. I actually get a tuition now at WarnerMedia. There’s a certain amount they’ll provide for education. I’m trying to decide how I might be able to spend it. I’m looking at Business Analytics course that I think will be really interesting to broaden my knowledge in a different way. Getting back to team building. You mentioned to me before the show, you want to build out an entry-level to senior-level career path for the Esri community team. How close do you feel you are?
[00:16:05] Chris Catania: We’re in the early stages because over the last few years, when I joined Esri, we had our existing community that plateaued a little bit. They brought me on board to bring everything together, build a strategy, get leadership involved, get our product team more involved, go a little deeper into support, and really build out something that can be foundational. We did that over the last five years. We did that with about three people on our team. We had peripheral champions across the company in support and product that helped us scale that customer experience, but was off part of that on innovation side.
I think we’re probably in the early stages of that because we created a lot of excitement and a lot of value and demand in the business. We don’t necessarily have a luxury of creating an entry-level position right now because we need people who have at least three years to come in. I got a vision for us what we want to do. Right now, we don’t have a luxury of hiring entry-level. Once we get stabilized, or not stabilized, but we have those people in place and we can move forward, then I want to build out roles that can be entry-level where we do have the luxury of mentoring people.
We’re getting a lot of candidates that if we were in a different spot, I would totally explore bringing them in and cultivating them right out of college, or I see a lot of promise, but they’re just not necessarily the fit that we need right now. Our team has a lot of experience in community. Like I was mentioning earlier, we have a track record of being able to teach people who don’t know about community. I get excited about the ability to teach people who have a nascent knowledge of community and want to join our team and then do that.
I think we’re on the path in the next few years. We have had interns that we’ve given the opportunity to work on analytics, events, moderation, all different types of things. They were with us for six months at a time. We’re on the path. We need these foundational roles filled, and then that’ll open it up.
The roles are really designed what we were talking about before about allowing somebody to grow in scope in the current role, like operations manager. There’s a lot there. There’s a lot of meat to go after. Meat, vegetables, or whatever you want. I like meat, but I like my vegetables too. A lot of room to grow horizontally. It could be a senior operations role down the road. That’s some carving that out. The same thing for the manager of experience and programs. Then we would add entry-level positions underneath those roles for moderation and everything. I think we’re on the right path, but probably a couple of years.
[00:18:40] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s talk about you. When you were hired, were you hired as the Head of Community?
[00:18:44] Chris Catania: Yes.
[00:18:45] Patrick O’Keefe: You’ve been there for six years in April, right?
[00:18:49] Chris Catania: Yes.
[00:18:49] Patrick O’Keefe: From what I’m seeing on your LinkedIn, that’s what it says, April 2016. You’re six years in now. You also mentioned that you want to map out the executive career path for community at Esri. You’re the top of the team. You report the chief customer officer, you’re head of community, what’s your next title going to be?
[00:19:05] Chris Catania: [chuckles] That’s something I’ve been exploring with my boss. There’s a lot of opportunities to help centralize some things. Esri’s growing a ton as a product and a business and in the area of community. We have a lot of other teams at Esri that build community with different customer audiences. I’m trying to bring together those teams to see what that looks like and see what’s the right way to do that. Our org structure at Esri tends to be flat, but it does have some qualities. We have a C-suite. We have executive and directors and things like that.
[00:19:40] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, you need that. You need that for you. I want that for you.
[00:19:43] Chris Catania: Yes. If it works.
[00:19:45] Patrick O’Keefe: What are you going for? What do you want, Chris? Do you want to be director, senior director, VP? Are you adding other words beyond community? Do you want to be director of community and X? What’s your heart-to-heart here? What are you leaning into?
[00:19:56] Chris Catania: [chuckles] Thanks for asking. If the role is a VP or whatever that has increased influence at the business strategy level, I think that’s what I’d love to do. Those are the nature of conversations that I’m having. I’m very strategic in the words that I’m using and how I’m talking about our community program. I talk about it as a program, but I talk about it as an organization as well, and that helps to set that vision. When I’m talking with my boss, and he’s talking with our owner, that’s the perception that he’s built.
Director, VP, whatever it is, for where I’m at, it would be an increase, an impact scope. The global aspect, I love the idea of expanding globally. You have a lot of customers on the global side, distributors, things like that. There’s tons of opportunities to expand internationally. Just having more influence, I think, with that, that’s what I would love to do.
I’ve grown to love the business side even more and just learning how community can help all aspects of the business. If I were to expand vertically or whatever and would be just how do we get more strategic with community at Esri? Because the other phrase that I’ve been using, the metaphor is that when I joined Esri, there was already buy-in on community. Community is a value we promise to our customers. I didn’t have to sell community. What I had to develop was a more mature and sophisticated use of community as a strategic asset.
There was a meeting that I was in in 2016. I’ve gone there getting to know a bunch of leadership team. There was a roundtable of people, my boss introduced me. I think it was my boss. I can’t remember. They said, “Oh, this is what Chris does. This is what he’s going to be doing, community.” Then half the people in the room was really interesting. They said, “I thought that was going away. I thought that was-
[00:21:42] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s nice to step into.
[00:21:44] Chris Catania: It’s really interesting. I tell that story because that was in 2016, around 2021 and a lot of people that were in that room, a lot more are champions now, most of them. We don’t have that problem anymore. I can go to our head of product and there’s been good relationships built through a lot of hard work from people who believe in community at Esri. Not just that it’s important, but it’s important because it can help their business.
That’s just something they get to do once they’re done working. It’s not something that they need to do because it helps their job and product or helps their jobs support marketing or sales. That’s the path we’re on going from community, we all know we need it like oxygen to know, let’s use this as a strategic asset. That’s the trajectory that we’ve been on, and that’s where we’re headed in the next two to three years.
[00:22:31] Patrick O’Keefe: I’m going to call it, you’re not going to get to year seven with the same title. We need something different. A year from now, April 2023, I expect something different.
[00:22:39] Chris Catania: Is there a reunion show or something?
[00:22:40] Patrick O’Keefe: Obviously you care a lot what I think, but still. I thought about one thing that I struggle with sometimes as you were talking that I find- When I say struggle, I mean struggle to get people to understand it, people that I report to or I see other people struggle with it, is the way that I manage a team, and I think a lot of people will probably feel similarly, is that people pick up more roles, responsibilities, and tasks over time as they invest in a role.
The job that they step into, the job post, the job responsibilities that they initially sign on for on day one, we don’t update that stuff very often. We update it when they get a new title maybe, when they graduate to a new level, but overall, as they go into 6 months, 12 months, 24 months, they continually do new things that weren’t part of their job. They take on more responsibility. They attend more meetings, they manage more people, they work across more departments.
They really graduate themselves, in a sense. They promote themselves through their work, through their dedication, through being proactive, and taking on new things, but they don’t get a title for it until we give it to them two years down the road. Where I see the real struggle is that with finance departments and with people who have to approve the actual hire on a financial level, or let’s say, a boss above you as your need their buy-in, they often want to know what’s different about what this person does now and what they’ll do once they get the title?
The thing that gets lost in translation is that they’re already doing different stuff. They’ve already stepped up in the last two years. They’re already functioning in a more senior way because of how good they’ve become at their job, they’ve naturally been given more tasks, more responsibility, and they’ve stepped up. That’s why you’re promoting them in recognition of what they’ve really done for themselves.
In a lot of traditional corporate environments, and I’ve seen it over and over again, it’s tough to get that across. When I promote someone, I don’t think, “Oh, you now get 10 more tasks.” I think, “Wow, you actually have grown so much over the last year or two, and you’re doing these things, and it’s deserving that you get this recognition.” If you’re not in the weeds with them every day as finance people or your boss or whoever, it can be hard to get that across.
[00:24:45] Chris Catania: Great points, because I started really looking at our new org structure for the community team early last year because I saw the team was growing and the team grew individually and as a team. I saw the community industry starting to advance, and people that I had followed or peers, seeing that and then people coming into it were really accelerating. I looked at my team, and I was like, “Okay, I need to think about promotions. I need to think about their path.”
I always wanted to, it wasn’t like I just started doing it. I’m always trying to think of what kind of advancement, what kind of recognition can I give a team. What have they earned or what do they need to aspire to and say, “Here’s the vision and strategy that I’d like for us to go after. I need you to grow for us to do this together, as we’re to be successful and to do this for our customers.” I was thinking of all of that.
As I have meetings with my boss about our team and what our team is doing, I plant seeds with them and like, “Oh, look what this person’s doing and I’m thinking about this.” Because I’ve seen that work with executives over the years of trying to get buy-in incrementally, just walking in and boom, put down the plan. I like to plant seeds. I like to make a case over time so that when you go for the ask, it’s like, “Yes, sure you got it.” I do that in the context of, “Hey, this person was doing really great here, I’m thinking about I need to promote them so that we can grow as a business and we can retain,” because retention is important, especially in this day and age.
Going back to our first question. It’s just a combination of, for me, my approach has always been to gradually over time talk about the achievements of the team and then in the same breath, say “This where I think I see them going. I want to advance them, and I want to advance the company and the customers.” I make a case for it in one package in a series of meetings. I put together a little visual, maybe that’s just because I have a background in storytelling. I love telling stories, pulling stories out of people, and doing that. I think that has influenced how gradually I like to say, “We should do this because of that,” or just make a case for it.
I didn’t get any pushback. I’ve been really grateful and thankful that I have been told no very few times. Maybe it’s because I do that well. I enjoy doing it. I don’t know if I do it well, maybe, but I think that approach has worked well. I have been told no because I wanted to grow faster. You can’t always get headcount that you want to do these things, but then I say, “Okay, well, this is where I want to be in 2023. I’m going to check back in with you halfway through this year and hopefully, we’ll be there.” I think that’s the approach that I’ve used, but I totally hear what you’re saying too.
I’ve been in that place. I’ve had managers look at me and go, “Man, Chris, you’re growing.” I’ve had to leave companies because there wasn’t any place to go as far as hire, or advancement, or opportunity, or responsibility, or scope. I’ve had managers say, “I would love to have you do this, Chris, but we just don’t have any place for you to go.” He wasn’t like, “I want you to leave.” He was such a champion in that situation that it was the same thing. I picked up on that. I’ve had some good mentors and some good leaders that along the way have influenced me, and I’ve done that my own way.
[00:27:55] Patrick O’Keefe: You really touched on the flip side there, which is that if you don’t recognize that people have grown on their own, the flip side is, retention fails but also people feel taken advantage of, to some extent. We’ve all had bosses, probably, that would just be as happy as possible for us to just continue to do more and more and more and then never get anything more professionally, no substantial raises. Maybe a cost of living increase, the 3% to 4% every year, but nothing more, you’re still this title, you’re still this level of salary, and yet you’re doing more. They would just love for you to keep it up.
That’s toxic and those people you leave, you leave the first moment you get. The moment you get that great opportunity, you’re gone. It is tough to retain people in that environment. I’ve worked at places where I’d have to grind out an $8,000 raise to go with a promotion for someone who’s been there five years. I was like, “They need $10,000.” “Oh, you can have $8,000.” That two in our pocket, it’s worth nothing. That two in their pocket is worth something, because if we lose that person, the amount of time that I’m going to have to spend training, interviewing, finding someone else, we’re going to lose way more than that, in my time and in our company’s time.
The short-sighted mindset that people can have sometimes where it’s really about grinding out every dime and getting the most out of everyone at all times in a bad way. Not getting the most out of your people, but getting an unhealthy amount out of your people. Short-sighted, long-term bullish, you lose people, they go away, they go somewhere else. They tell people about how terrible it was to work for you, and how great it is to now be at this new place. That’s just not the way to be, it’s not as easy to just replace people as some folks think. I’m just a person scorned. [laughs]
[00:29:46] Chris Catania: The other thing I didn’t mention that you reminded me of as you were talking there was the aspect of you really have to explain the nuance and the nature of the community work to people who are in the trenches or having been in that. I just do it naturally, but if I was to step outside and speak to that a little bit, I would be like– I’ve had jobs over the years where I’ve had to explain to my boss, “What do you do, Chris? Community, explain that to me. What is that? Is it like what you do on Facebook or this and that?”
Really articulating well to an executive or to a manager who you’re trying to make a case for either about yourself, for promotion or advancement, just knowing how to articulate that. There’s a whole bunch of strategies I’ve used over the years to do that, to gradually over time have the lightbulb flick on in their mind of like, “Wow, I had no idea that you do this.” I know we call it this, but understanding day to day, the nuance and the skill and the precision that it takes to do the moderation, the community, the content analytics, flip back and forth between both sides of the brain and that aspect.
Most people don’t understand that. Heck, to try and explain to somebody over Thanksgiving dinner what you do as a community professional, there is always like, “Huh?” It’s gotten easier because I figured out a little speech or a little way to explain it that understand. I think there’s a huge value in, you hear this a lot, community professionals trying to explain what they do so that the people who are making these decisions about promotions, advancements, and increasing pay, understand the value and the impact that they have.
Those are the battles and the struggles that I now enjoy fighting for my team. Just so everybody understands, this is what this person’s doing. If we don’t do it, what you’re saying, this is the impact that that’s going to have on business. You may not see it, but if I chat with my colleagues over in support and we don’t have a community manager doing stuff around product, they’re going to feel it. The customers are going to feel it. That hits home.
It’s just ability to tie it all together, but being able to articulate and come up with different strategies. I open up my toolbox and be like, “Okay, I’m going to use this to explain or plant some seeds so that over time, they paint this picture in their mind.” You painted that over time, paint by numbers, whatever, through a series of conversations. They’re like, “Oh, I get it.” Then when you go ask for that raise or you go ask for it, they’re, “Absolutely.”
[00:32:11] Patrick O’Keefe: Then one of the things I pull out of that is just always having your explanation in your back pocket of what you do because you never know who you might bump into that’ll ask you, always having a three to five sentence explanation of what it is that you do, what you mean to the business so that when someone asks you or there’s always this proverbial moment in the elevator. I think it’s less common with COVID, but bump into someone at the company, like “What do you do?” If you can explain it clearly and explain what it means to the business, then you never know where that buy-in can circle back and support you in the future when you’re looking to make that move.
The same coin, different side is just keeping your LinkedIn up to date, keeping a note of your accomplishments, of things you’re doing. I was saying about this yesterday, because at CNN I’m touching things that are larger than a lot of things I’ve touched before. I’m having conversations with people that are just my day-to-day now. This is an impactful thing that this can happen or that can happen, and bad or good, but it’s just my day- to-day. I’m like, “Actually, that experience is really valuable.”
I should make a note on that, that I’m the primary person responsible for this thing that could blow up or this thing that can go well. I’m the person there. That’s not a spot that everyone finds himself in. I need to think about all the ways I work cross-functionally, all the departments I touch and write that down and write it out. It’s the same old advice that we hear all the time from everyone, which is to note your wins, document the things that go well, update your LinkedIn.
It’s important for everyone, for the most part. There’s a few people who maybe are so big that it doesn’t matter, but for everyone else, noting those things, documenting the things that you’re working on and not just simply taking it for granted because it is your day-to-day, your experience is unique and you need to record it. It’s your next move, whether it’s at that company or somewhere else.
[00:33:53] Chris Catania: I see it from both sides as a hiring manager. Keep a good work of what’s happening in your community. I was having this really good conversation with some of my team about giving recognition. That falls in that bucket as a hiring manager or as a manager, as team leader, keeping tabs on those and watching that. Then as an individual contributor on a team, just keeping the tabs on all that you’re doing and not assuming that everybody is knowing and tracking your work.
It’s not egotistical, it’s not self-centered. It’s a thing that’s necessary because you can’t assume everybody understands what you’ve been doing. To do that, I think is a detriment, you’re fighting an uphill battle if people don’t know. I like the slow trickle effect, just letting people know and doing it in a way that adds value. You don’t need to have a personal parade or whatever, just say, “Hey, this is what I’ve been doing,” and be proud of it. You don’t have to toot the horn too loud, but it definitely helps to give people an awareness because it comes in handy. You’ll need it.
Probably another topic, I guess, but you always say you need your network. Build your network before you need it. This is the same thing, build these little pockets and little moments of awareness before you need them because as you build that up, that’s your personal brand as a community professional, both externally, that’s important, and then internally, that people get to know you, and what you’re doing, and the value that you get to add.
[00:35:17] Patrick O’Keefe: Well, Chris, we had ourselves a good old-fashioned community career and team building chat here. I really appreciate it. I appreciate your time. Thanks for being so candid with us.
[00:35:28] Chris Catania: Patrick, it was an honor, man. It was great. Glad we were able to do that. Thank you so much.
[00:35:33] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Chris Catania, Head of Community at Esri. Visit Esri’s community at community.esri.com. For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com.
Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad, and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. See you next time.
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