Sue Serna

Cargill’s Sue Serna shares how she sets her team up for success, with or without her.

Cargill Global Social Media Lead Sue Serna and her team take care of everything related to Cargill's brand and communications, both internally and externally — and that's a big task.

To match those growing demands, Sue's team is constantly adding new members to its roster. Currently, Sue has six people who report to her, including one in Asia. “But to do social at the scale that we do, you have to have governance in place,” says Sue.

To achieve that governance, Sue emphasizes documentation and procedures so that no information lives with just one person.

It's good to have a specialist, but the rest of the team needs to be able to fill in for a hit-by-bus scenario.

“One thing that my team and I have always joked about from the beginning is what if somebody gets hit by a bus one day on the way to work?” says Sue. “It's just our team shorthand now. It means we need to build intentional redundancies into our processes and systems so that if somebody literally got hit by a bus and had to go to the hospital, the team wouldn't fall apart, and we'd still be able to do the things that we need to do.”

And Sue has found that these redundancies are particularly necessary on small teams.

“We've grown to a size that forces us to do some of that work,” explains Sue. “But when you start small like we did, you don't always think about writing down the steps to do something. You have a lot of people who are used to defaulting to ‘I'll take care of it. It's just faster if I do it,'” says Sue. “And that's actually really dangerous for the team because you aren't teaching your teammates how to do that thing in case you ever get hit by a bus.”

According to Sue, it's particularly easy to let things like passwords to small accounts slip through the cracks.

Every time you get really, really good at something, you get additional resources, and then you have to figure out how to do it as a team. That's the real work.

“It comes down to cross training and keeping the little things in mind,” says Sue. “When people think about passwords, they think about passwords to your main social media accounts, but they don't necessarily think about what I call ‘small passwords' like the ones for Bitly or your Bazaarvoice account.”

“As your team grows, you develop specialists — like a Facebook guy who just knows everything about Facebook — and it's part of his or her job to keep track of the Facebook world and keep the rest of the team informed,” explains Sue. “But that is both good and bad — it's good to have a specialist, but the rest of the team needs to be able to fill in for a hit-by-bus scenario.”

For Sue, who owns her team's shared inbox and passwords, one of her first steps for ensuring the success of her growing team was to write down step-by-step instructions for where the passwords are kept and how to change them.

“As much as our team focuses on cross-training and thinking holistically, once we started working on documenting our processes, it was very clear there were chunks of tasks and responsibilities that were living with one person,” says Sue. “And, to me, that equals risk.”

To mitigate that risk, Sue focused on how she could manage her team to expand their skills and eliminate knowledge gaps.

“You're asking your people to be a lot more dynamic in their flexibility,” says Sue. “On any given day, I can ask someone to fill in the monitoring work or to help me on something, so everybody kind of becomes a real jack-of-all-trades. And it's not even really cross training, it's more like cross management.”

When Cargill first started expanding her team, Sue had to quickly figure out how to take programs that she owned and develop them into official processes that more than one person could do. “Every time you get really, really good at something, you get additional resources, and then you have to figure out how to do it as a team. That's the real work,” says Sue. “It's hard to take something that someone has built and figure out how to share it.”

But Sue found that it's being successful at that work that allows a team to continue to grow and be successful.

“My biggest advice is to take the time to write everything down,” says Sue.

Once you write something down, it becomes real to people. It becomes official.

For Sue, this advice can be applied in a few ways, with the first being specific to procedures within the team. “But the other is an initiative we've been working on here that I call the ‘self-help library' for Cargill,” explains Sue. “This is something that falls under the category of enabling the whole company to do social media better. I get questions from all over the company about everything related to social media you could think of. So finally I said, ‘You know what guys? Let's write it all down.'”

Sue and her team then focused on fleshing out their guidelines and details for the work they do. They were receiving the same kinds of questions from other teams frequently enough that Sue and her team decided to go ahead and write all of those answers down and organize them. Altogether, it amounted to more than 70 documents.

“We tried to keep them all as close to one page as possible,” says Sue. “In all, it's probably 100 pages of answers that we're going to post on our intranet for the whole company to use.”

Sue and her team are already seeing the impact of their work on overall efficiency.

“A lot of the time, that one question that I could tell you the answer to in my sleep because I say it so much it ends up being a half-hour phone call with one person,” says Sue. “When you're doing social at this scale, you just can't spend a half hour on the phone with everyone who has a question, and that really gets to my overarching social media goal — enabling the company to do social better.”

For Sue, it's implementing processes like these and being diligent about their documentation that allows her team to be successful moving forward. And it all stems from the act of writing things down.

“Whether it's for the company or your team specifically, just taking the time to document what you do, how you do it, and what your guidelines are around certain topics is hugely valuable. Once you write something down, it becomes real to people. It becomes official.”

Sue Serna has been a member of since 2016. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.