Deborah J. Martin has a healthy respect for change. In fact, the COO of PRA Destination Management says not being receptive to change is one of the most common mistakes leaders make.
“Do what you’ve always done, and you will get the same results,” Martin says. “You must remain fluid and change with the times in order to survive.”
Martin has spearheaded plenty of change during the 16 years she’s been at PRA, a franchiser of destination management companies with 18 locations nationwide. She oversees four of PRA’s Southern California offices, with 60 full-time and 200 to 250 part-time employees.
Smart Business spoke with Martin about why communication is key during times of change and why you must empower your employees to succeed.
How do you manage change?
Sharing how the change came to be and the desired result is basic. However, it is amazing how often this step is neglected. As a leader, you must break it down clearly and not assume employees understand the rationale for decisions. Communication is the key, and that includes outlining expectations.
During times of change, employees need a more directive approach. It is important to provide compelling reasons for change and involve others in plans and decisions instead of simply dictating them.
What is your leadership style?
I communicate clearly so there is little room for misinterpretation. I do my best to hold employees accountable. To be a successful change agent, you must empower your employees.
I work hard to balance being hands-off, yet accessible. Part of my job is to bring up the generation behind me. If I keep taking back the power from employees, they will never learn.
I was afforded the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, and I give that same benefit to staff. Nobody should fear their livelihood will be in jeopardy if they make an honest mistake.
Although there are always some people who want lots of direction, most of our employees are independent, responsible and self-motivated. With this caliber of employee, a micro-management style would be disastrous.
How do you deal with trends in the industry?
First, you have to be aware of the changing tides. I stay immersed in the latest developments in the industry in a number of ways, including attending trade shows.
However, the most effective method I have found is to stay in close contact with our competition. I have built rapport and a collaborative spirit with many of our competitors over the years.
Three years ago, there was a local industry development which would directly impact the destination management business. I knew our voice would be heard louder if we worked in unison with other destination management companies.
The end result of working together was a healthy respect for one another and a unified approach to issues that affect all of us.
What has been your greatest business challenge?
I was born with a hearing problem, and for many years in my professional life, I did not admit it or ask for help. When the director of the company told me he had concerns about whether I could manage the job, it was a turning point for me.
I got a hearing aid, which was hard, since I saw this as a visible sign of weakness. Everyone has an area they need help in one of mine happens to be physical. I had a talk with myself and concluded that I needed to get a grip and ask for help.
My advice to leaders is to admit these shortcomings rather than pretending they are not noticeable. It’s better to get help before your weakness overshadows your strengths.
What advice would you give new CEOs?
Pay your dues. I have noticed there seems to be more of an aversion to this lately from Gen Y hires.
You cannot perceive anything as too lowly or menial. Performing a wide variety of functions in the business gives you knowledge and empathy for staff when you become a CEO. You can’t be afraid to get into the weeds if you want a leadership role in the future.
HOW TO REACH: PRA Destination Management, (619) 234-9440 or www.pra-san.com