Matt Rizzetta was 26 with a baby on the way when he founded North 6th Agency and began managing the business out of his basement. Through hard work and delivery, Rizzetta grew N6A into an award-winning brand communications agency.
In an industry littered with predominantly older CEOs, Rizzetta’s age has offered him a unique perspective on management and leadership. As a millennial CEO just starting his business, Rizzetta’s primary goal was trying to prove himself. Now, he’s switched his focus to fostering an environment that promotes internal employee growth as a means to maximize the company’s success.
Chief Learning Officer: As a millennial CEO, how do you handle managing and educating those in your age range? Given the stereotypes out there about millennials, is it different than educating other generations?
Matt Rizzetta: When I first started the business I was young. We had just started our company out of my basement, and we were doing everything to try and convince clients to work with us and staff members to come join us. The proof had to be in the pudding for me to be able to recruit employees.
Fast forward, it’s eight years later; our business is completely different. We have 50 people now; we don’t really have a ton to prove to anybody in terms of our ability to succeed. So, now, my leadership style is much more personal. I think, what I’ve learned through the years, is you need to invest in getting to know everybody, especially at the millennial demographic. There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to managing people around me, whether they’re my age, younger than me, older than me — that’s something I’ve found to be applicable to all types of folks I’m managing, regardless of where they fit into the work chart.
CLO: How important is a learning culture for your business’ success? What value does that investment bring to your organization?
Rizzetta: Our business really is only as successful as our people. That’s why we’re investing in a culture of learning appreciation and professional development. You want your people to feel just as invested in the success of the business as you do, and the best way to do that is to promote from within. By investing in educating your staff, they’re going to realize the benefits of that because they’re going to make more money, and they’re going to get leadership roles at younger ages.
CLO: What is the correlation between monthly performance reviews and leadership development?
Rizzetta: We’re eight years old as a business, and this probably came about two or three years in. We just started to scale, and I started to really see the need for objective data-based metrics and checkpoints to show our employees where they stood in the company, where they needed to grow, and in some cases, what was holding them back from being promoted. Our old system … annual performance reviews, it’s much more subjective than objective. Nobody should ever be surprised sitting down with their supervisor and hear for the first time, feedback about their performance at the one year mark.
So, we developed this objective, KPI-based system. Every month you sit down as an employee with your supervisor… You get ranked in certain categories that are customized according to your core role in the company. You see crystal clear how you’re performing. People have been promoted more quickly than they would have in our old system, and they’ve made more money earlier on.
CLO: What advice do you have for young leaders?
Rizzetta: Listen to your people. Your greatest asset you could have as a manager is your ability to benefit from different perspectives around you. As a leader, it’s on you to constantly keep learning. You’re going to have a pretty special business if … you can just commit to listening to your people, holding yourself accountable, and then making adjustments on a regular basis according to what they’re telling you.
I would not be afraid to experiment. I have this saying: Don’t be afraid to experiment and to move the barn to find sunlight. You never want to bet the farm, but don’t be afraid to move the barn around if you’re going to benefit from more sunlight. You don’t want to be stuck in your ways. You want to be very comfortable operating in an environment of innovation and experimentation. If you’re a young, aspiring leader, commit to that.
Marygrace Schumann is an editorial intern for Chief Learning Officer. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.