We'll Never Say We've Made It

By Duane Hixon Mar 27, 2017

The last couple of years have been filled with lists for N2. Suddenly, after 13 years of hard work and little recognition as a startup, N2 popped up on a lot of radars. We made the Inc. 5000 list for the sixth year in a row. Outside magazine named N2 as one of the top 100 companies to work for in America, Entrepreneur listed N2 as having the fifth best large company culture in America, and Fortune named us as one of the top 100 companies in America for women and for those seeking flexible work schedules. Needless to say, there are a lot more talented people knocking on our door these days.

At N2, all of our sales leaders had to hop in at the ground floor.

Like most of you, I have a LinkedIn account. I get plenty of requests to “connect.” A lot of the requests come from people I don’t know, and they are looking for work. It’s common for some of these people to tell me how extensive their background is in sales and sales management, coaching, leadership, etc. They ask if I would be interested in working with them so they can better develop our sales team. My response is always the same: “Sounds like you have a lot of experience. Go launch a magazine and then we can talk about what leadership in N2 looks like.” The response is usually something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, you must not have seen my resume. I am an expert in sales coaching and leadership already. I can come in and grow your sales revenue.” To which I say, “Great, with your experience this should be no problem. Once you get to print and prove yourself there, we can look at leadership.”

Because no one in sales likes it when a leader says, “I’m not sure. I’ve never done that.”

As our Culture Deck points out, “We believe in developing in-house talent.” There are lots of people out there who want to join N2 and step into leadership roles. Many of them are very accomplished and could do some great things. However, we’ve made the decision to say every leader in the field will start as an Area Director. We will not bring anyone into a sales leadership role that has not gotten on the phones, or walked into businesses, done presentations, closed sales and processed deadlines. Everyone within our leadership ranks knows what it’s like to run a publication because they’ve either run one in the past or are running one right now. Our leaders all speak the same language, because they’ve all gone through the same process. We have decided it is better to develop in-house talent than to go outside and hire a bunch of “professionals” who haven’t gone through these same experiences.

This is the N2 way. And we believe this model will secure our long-term growth.

A successful company never says “We’ve made it.” Truly great companies are never done evolving.

While it has been nice to be recognized recently for our hard work and for doing things right, we’re aware of the pitfalls that complacency can bring. It’s cool to see we are making progress, but we have a lot more to accomplish. We have a phenomenal product, one which meets the real needs of our readers to help turn neighborhoods into communities, but we also realize the importance of constantly adapting to ensure our future relevance in an effort to better meet the needs of our residents and the needs of our business partners that want to reach the residents we serve.

I think about the companies I admire -- ones that have been around for 50 years or more -- and I see how they have adapted over the decades. They preserved their core and stimulated progress. We will see evolution at work in N2 over the coming months and years, and we will encourage it; we will preserve our core, yet stimulate our progress. Our goal is that N2 will succeed, not just for a decade, but that all of us in this organization could retire from N2, and then pass it on to the next generation. Our focus to accomplish these goals for the future is to continue to develop our core, talented team, adding more of the right people that fit our culture, and staying honest in small things as well as in big. And one day in the near future, this little startup will be a $2 billion company that still thinks and acts like a little startup.

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