Havilah Tower-Perkins shares her top learnings from building up and leading Dell’s social editorial and social training teams

From a business perspective, I found that environment helps cultivate more creative ideas. Havilah Tower-Perkins
Over the past two years, Dell Director of Social Business Havilah Tower-Perkins has built out and managed two separate teams within their social business organization — social editorial and social training.

At the time, the social editorial team was evolving from essentially being a content aggregator toward finding new ways to tell the brand story through social media, and the social training team was transforming how they approached training and activation across the company.

Havilah was tasked with managing both teams — and hiring eight new employees within six months. The teams have come a long way in the past couple of years, and according to Havilah, she's taken away some critical learnings from the process.

Her first key learning has been around building upon existing expertise within each team.

“When you step into a new team, you feel like you need to come in with your own vision and build it out from scratch,” she said. “But you'll do more service to the team if you take the time to understand what they've historically done and what their existing vision is.”

Then, she said, you can assess from a leadership perspective whether that make sense for the direction the team is going.

Next, Havilah emphasized the importance of having a network outside of your internal team.

“I've had great leadership and team members, but there's something about having people to touch base with outside of that,” she said. “Hearing other leaders' experiences helps me know whether I'm on the right path with certain things, and it helps keep me grounded.”

Lastly, she said investing in your team's vision and culture are critical.

I'm trying to build out a knowledge base within my team of how everything comes together so they can ultimately have stronger conversations with their stakeholders. Havilah Tower-Perkins
“You need to have a vision for the team,” said Havilah. “As leaders, one of our main jobs is to drive that vision. It'll evolve over time. As my teams grew into their expertise, we grew and jelled as a unit, so it became important to evolve the vision.”

To build a winning culture that supports her vision for the team, she identified where their passions lie. Then, she selected a team member to be in charge of driving that culture through their regular weekly staff meetings as well as bi-weekly meetings where the teams could connect as people.

“From a business perspective, I found that environment helps cultivate more creative ideas,” Havilah said. “It's helped us share knowledge better, and people are able to think more on the edge of what's innovative.” She added that cultivating this type of culture is important in areas that rely on creative ideas, especially social media.

To build that culture, Havilah emphasized the importance of allowing her team to be exposed to other parts of the business outside of social media or their stakeholders.

“I'm trying to build out a knowledge base within my team of how everything comes together so they can ultimately have stronger conversations with their stakeholders,” she said. She makes a point to bring in special guests from inside the company to talk about business-related topics.

“Then, when my team is talking about social media, they have a base understanding of how this ladders up into conversations other teams are having across the business,” Havilah said.

She also makes a point to prioritize individuals beyond their value within the business by celebrating birthdays and life events and planning team activities.

By creating an approachable environment where people can be human and they don't have to be something they're not, we can spur important creative discussions. Havilah Tower-Perkins
“I have 11 direct reports, so I expect if you have hundreds of reports, you may need to rely on your managers to celebrate the employees' birthdays and special occasions,” she said. “We make them part of our staff meetings each month.”

Havilah explained the team also does off-site meetings to invest in bringing the team together. “We have our annual planning meetings coming up, and as part of that, we'll go do a team lunch and some kind of activity,” she said.

She also makes an effort to be approachable when team members have ideas and present the most authentic version of herself to her team.

We try to approach certain things from a creative standpoint and leverage the things that inspire us. Havilah Tower-Perkins
“By creating an approachable environment where people can be human and they don't have to be something they're not, we can spur important creative discussions,” said Havilah.

She explained it can be easy to get caught up in the expectations that are set for new leaders, but it's critical to bring your full self to the role and allow employees to see your authentic personality. “To build a strong social team, authentic leadership is key,” she said.

Havilah explained she makes an effort to combine both strategic, metric-based work and creative discussions to get the most out of the individuals on her teams.

Along with working at Dell, she's a singer-songwriter on the side — and she's noticed most of the individuals on her teams have a similar mix of both left and right brain-driven interests, so she said it's important to appeal to both sides.

“Most people are a combination of introvert and extrovert,” Havilah said. “So having a flexible workspace is important for those individuals. Sometimes you need downtime to think and be in your own bubble. And sometimes you feel the need to be connected to people in the office.”

To provide that balance, Havilah allows her team to work remotely a few days a week.

She also structures the way the teams work in a way that will appeal to each individual. “We try to approach certain things from a creative standpoint and leverage the things that inspire us,” she said.

Havilah's teams were recently moved to the global communications organization. She said she's looking forward to this new phase.

Today we have an evolved vision that will allow us to get more granular with our target audiences. Havilah Tower-Perkins
“Today we have an evolved vision that will allow us to get more granular with our target audiences,” she said. “This includes a number of initiatives such as developing new social media trainings and better leveraging social editorial's best practices for account managers in our broader social ecosystem,” Havilah said.

In the year ahead, she's also excited to dive deeper into their customer engagement — and their #DellLove program is a great example of this.

“My team recently re-launched an initiative where we create customized videos talking to individual customers and publish them on our social accounts. It's a very customized customer experience,” she said. “I expect initiatives like this will continue to grow in importance in the years to come.”

Havilah Tower-Perkins has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2018. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.