Preparing for the future? ‘Like changing a tyre while driving 90mph’

11 Dec 2017

Ashlea Harris, director of partner success and US operations site lead. Image: Voxpro

As part of our Leaders’ Insight series, we spoke to Voxpro’s Ashlea Harris about her role in helping partners to achieve their business goals.

Ashlea Harris is director of partner success and US operations site lead at Voxpro (now trading as ‘Voxpro – powered by Telus International’).

The Florida native has supported Fortune 500 partners in operations management, client relations, project management, business development and demand generation for more than 15 years.

Harris holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Clemson University and a master’s degree in mass communications from the University of Georgia.

We recently spoke to Voxpro about its company culture and what it’s like to work there.

‘If you get knocked down a few times along the way, keep pushing forward and make sure you speak up and contribute when you have something of value to share’

Describe your role and what you do.

My role today is director of partner success, while acting as site lead for our operations in Georgia, USA. I have the opportunity to support many facets of the business, whether it be managing the operations and account management responsibilities for multiple accounts, assisting the commercial team with new opportunities or supporting a team of managers at one our locations. I enjoy the challenge and the opportunity to lean in on many different projects. One of our core values is, ‘There’s no such thing as a normal day’ and I’m certainly living it!

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

My career is an important part of my life – however, I’m also a wife and mom of two young children. To be honest, it’s not always easy to find the work-life balance that you hear everyone talking about these days. Routines, keeping ongoing task/lists, effective email management and organisation of my space help me to prioritise my projects both at work and at home. This allows me to manage the unexpected challenges that pop up on a daily basis. I’m surrounded by a great team in the office, and technology has really allowed me to continue to fulfil each of my roles – co-worker, wife, mother.

What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?

Voxpro and our partners are scaling at a rapid pace. Ongoing growth while preparing for what comes next has its challenges. As one of my peers and I always laugh about, it’s like changing a tyre while driving 90mph! We serve companies on the cutting edge of their industries. Most of those companies didn’t exist 10 years ago. Knowing that, how do you prepare for the next 10 years when your largest clients may not exist just yet? Our expertise and what we do best is creating what we call ‘beautiful customer experiences’ – however, that can also fluctuate over time when looking at the work we do for our clients. For many, there is a desire to pick up the phone and speak to a friendly voice in a short timeframe. For others, they want the ease and quickness of email and/or chat support, while also exploring multiple locations to support specific lines of business or language needs. Anticipating what’s next and creating the framework to excel with scaling partners is essential to our continued success whether it be customer, technical or sales support services. By evolving with our partners and understanding their business, we are able to offer additional support so that they can focus on other areas of their business.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

After completing my graduate degree, I started my career in sales and development for a university. An opportunity presented itself for me to accept a position working for one of my clients, and I took the leap of faith. I spent countless hours learning the BPO industry and the high-tech space. Mainly focused on B2B initiatives, we specialised in lead generation and appointment-setting for many Fortune 500 companies in the technology, healthcare and financial services sector. I joined Voxpro in 2016, and it’s been a great opportunity to support a new market with great brands like Airbnb and Google that leverage technology to improve people’s lives.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

As a young manager, I was hesitant to have a difficult conversation with team members in fear of it not going well or creating hurt feelings. I quickly learned that in order to see improvement with your team and for individuals to grow and mature in their roles, you have to talk regularly about what’s working and what can be improved upon. Our responsibility as leaders is not just to manage, but to create an environment where your team is comfortable making mistakes. They will learn from those experiences and be more effective in their roles, while influencing those who follow them. Be willing to own your mistakes and allow them to see where you came up short. Accountability is key, and being open and honest with your team will allow you to have opportunities for them to listen to your guidance even if you don’t always agree with their decisions.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Mutual respect and positive reinforcement are important in any workplace. I do my best to facilitate an environment that offers both of those things while leading by example. When an employee has a solid relationship with their manager, open communication and coaching opportunities present themselves in order for ongoing improvements to happen with their teams. Always remember to listen more than you speak.

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, often repeats a phrase from General George Patton that helped him grow a small shoe company into a global brand: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with the results.” Our job as leaders is not to get into the weeds and micromanage our team, it is to surround yourself with good people, get everyone to buy into the same goal and then let them surprise you with how they get there.

Voxpro’s culture is one built on innovation and entrepreneurship; we want to empower our people to deliver beautiful customer experiences. To do that, we have to let them forge their own path with guidance along the way.

What are the key industry opportunities you’re capitalising on? 

There’s a lot of talk about bots, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and what that means to customer experience. Human interaction will continue to be a focal point for successful brands to scale rapidly and build positive interactions with their customer base. Given the competitive landscape, the strongest form of engagement will continue to be human engagement, which will help to solve problems fully and effectively while creating what will hopefully be a long-term personal relationship with your customer.

Knowing this, Voxpro has much opportunity to showcase what we do better than anyone else: provide cutting-edge beautiful customer experiences. We are investing and working with our global partners on how to best integrate bots and AI, all while maintaining the personal touch to create a meaningful customer journey.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?

As a female leader in a technology-driven organisation, I’d encourage women to speak up and work towards their career goals even if there aren’t enough women running alongside them. Women sometimes struggle to claim their worth in an organisation, especially those that don’t have a history of placing women in leadership positions. I’ve been fortunate to work in organisations that empower women in leadership roles. If you get knocked down a few times along the way, keep pushing forward and make sure you speak up and contribute when you have something of value to share. Powerful women know how to ask for what they need to be successful and should feel empowered to make decisions and ask for necessary resources to propel them forward. Be patient, be OK hearing ‘no’ – however, keep offering your ideas. Don’t be complacent, drive on and do your best if you are passionate about the project.

Who is your business hero and why?

I can trace everything I know about business to my dad. Ever since I was a little girl, I observed him working hard every day. He took risks, like leaving a large firm, comfortable environment and an established client base to start his own business. He treated his client’s money with the same care he would treat his own. He managed his staff with respect, which made them enjoy coming to work. He taught me that I didn’t have to settle and I could be anything I wanted to be. I hope to pass those same lessons on to my children.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’d highly recommend reading Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. If you haven’t already, just read it. It will be worth your time and full of anecdotes, informative guidance and compelling research.

I always enjoy reading insights from Beth Comstock, vice-chair at GE. She offers practical advice and I regularly pick up something that sticks with me. For example, she recently posted this reminder on LinkedIn: “Take time to appreciate. That was the painful advice my team gave to me once that I’ll never forget. We were doing great work, excited by the scope and success of our project. We were moving fast, too fast. And I forgot to tell the team collectively and the members individually how much I appreciated their work and how much I appreciated them. Lesson learned: you are never too busy to appreciate your people. Words count. According to a recent survey, 45pc of employees say words of affirmation are the primary way they like to be shown appreciation in the workplace.”

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

My husband and I both travel for work, which creates another layer of complexity to our careers and work-life balance! Here are a few essentials that get me through the work week:

  • Evernote, an app that allows me to create lists and manage my ‘to-dos’. I’m able to access from my mobile phone and also update on my laptop.
  • I always carry a great water bottle (currently love the Hydro Flask).
  • If you travel for work, invest in a good piece of carry-on luggage – you won’t regret it.
  • Find a shoe brand that works for you (Toms and Cole Haan are two of my favourites – versatile, great for client meetings, airport travel and walking city streets).
  • Don’t neglect your health. I try to fit in three to four morning workouts, which keep me focused and working at my best.

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Updated, 11.27am, 11 December 2017: This article was updated with a clarification from Voxpro.