Smashing Spotlight: Lisa Forsyth, Senior Director, Strategic Accounts
Ever wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Lisa Forsyth, Senior Director, Strategic Accounts, to talk shop, the content management framework approach she oversees that powers more than 100 network sites worldwide for Sony Pictures Television, how she fosters an ‘Align and Empower’ team environment that people thrive in, and if New Zealand will — or should — ever shake its Lord of the Rings persona.
You run one of Smashing’s longest strategic partnerships with Sony Pictures Television. Throughout the years of working with them you’ve helped Smashing become a true offsite partner. What does it look like to be a critical component of a large client organization?
Working with the same client for so long has been a wonderful experience. The mutual trust we’ve developed over the years has fostered a highly collaborative environment. Our partnership includes developing, extending, and maintaining the content management framework that powers over 100 international TV network sites and provides content feeds for a variety of OTT video experiences. We design and develop new features and sites, integrate 3rd party systems, coordinate all technical activity with 3rd party service producers and developers, conduct client training for internal tools and systems, teach best practices to new users, and provide on-going support and consultation to regional site administrators. And, we’re the primary responder for 24/7 on-call support.
The work we do with Sony is an excellent example of managed services. What do you think the benefit is for clients to have managed services teams that exist outside of their own corporate structure?
Cost savings is the most commonly cited benefit of outsourced managed services and it certainly does provide that. Imagine how inflated an organization would be if they had to staff-up to provide all of the specialized skills that running their business actually requires—IT, payroll, legal, etc. In the simplest sense, adopting managed services helps controls costs because some things are left to others. Another benefit is that an external managed services team can adjust to new and emergent needs much more quickly than internal teams, which typically consist of specialized resources from multiple departments — resources that are often shared across multiple business groups and that are in high-demand. Further, using managed services to extend and maintain a product once it has launched removes the maintenance and support burden from internal resources and frees them up to focus on their next strategic priority. These benefits compound over time. Most members of the team here have been working on this account for more than 5 years, so we’re not only technical experts — we’re business and product experts as well. We service and support customers, introduce technological advancements, innovate post-launch, and help the overall business run more efficiently.
Our work does not end once a product is in market. Often times that phase is just the beginning. How does managing a product post-launch impact the value chain and dictate a product’s future functionality?
Once a product is released, the cycle of supporting, extending, analyzing, upgrading, patching, monitoring, and reporting begins. Successfully managing a product post-launch means performing all of these activities while lowering costs across the value chain and increasing differentiation in the marketplace with post-launch innovation. The benefit of adopting an overall strategy that includes outsourced managed services is that any or all of these activities can be done with fixed and predictable costs, while freeing up organizations to focus on their core competencies.
You’re a fan of the classic and horror movie genres. If you had to merge your favorite classic movie and your favorite horror movie together, what would the clever title be?
Fried Green Inferno
I’m more a fan of iconic movies throughout film history than I am of classics as a genre itself. Fried Green Tomatoes was definitely iconic, though I’m sure some of the millennials on my team would consider it a classic. And Green Inferno, wow! My favorite horror movies are ones that disturb me—not slashers, which have their own merits, but movies that play on my basest of fears, like aliens, ghosts, and in this case, cannibals.
Prior to working at Smashing, you spent several years working at MSNBC. What did you carry over to Smashing from your days there?
Understanding organizational priorities, translating ambiguous strategies into actionable plans, and ensuring alignment across multiple product groups was a key component to my position at msnbc.com. I developed a portfolio management system to ensure my teams were always working on the right projects at the right time and were advancing programs that were tightly aligned with company objectives. This included defining processes to cover project initiation, evaluation, approval, prioritization, and team assignment, while gaining consensus on key success measures, evaluating and prioritizing requests against these objectives, and monitoring and reporting on portfolio performance. I found success with this approach, so I introduced something very similar to manage the large number of incoming work requests we receive from the different regions across Sony Pictures Television.
You were an English major aspiring to be a professor. Now you’re a senior level director in a technical field. What happened?
I originally chose English as an undergraduate major because I loved to write. I had a cross-disciplinary minor in Visual Culture because I loved film. I chose the University of Florida for graduate school because I had the opportunity to teach experimental writing courses that examined how technology would transform the way students learned and communicated. I was on the path to a Ph.D., but my experience in the classroom sparked my curiosity more than anything else. I started out as a graphic designer and then moved into web application development. After developing for 10 years or so, I took a Program Management role because I wanted to play a larger role in how the entire product came together. Moving from developing solutions to managing projects allowed me to experience the joy of bringing people together and helping them realize their full potential while working towards a common goal. That joy is what brought me to people management. That joy is what I get to experience every day as a Senior Director at Smashing Ideas.
How do you future-plan for a client that has a lot of moving parts?
It’s obviously easier to make decisions when you know where you’re heading, and harder when you don’t. Remaining flexible means avoiding making decisions that paint you into any one corner. In times of accelerated change, sometimes the best decision is the decision not to make one. But when you have to start somewhere, focus on the goals of the overall system and build to accommodate change. Even if the specific technologies, frameworks, or programming languages aren’t known, it’s a fairly safe assumption that the system will involve the exchange of information with one or more other systems, so start there. Define the method signatures that will facilitate this exchange of information before deciding which mechanisms you will use to make that exchange. Whatever the situation, maintaining alignment in the face of continual change requires flexibility, and the best approaches focus on the big picture, decompose major decisions into a series of smaller ones, and postpone making decisions until they have to be made. This won’t eliminate rework, but it will help to minimize it.
Smashing’s internal Sony team is known for its strong, positive culture within the agency. As a leader, what do you think creates such a good cultural environment for employees?
I take a participative approach and delegate responsibility and authority while removing roadblocks and monitoring progress. I engage everyone on the team in conversations about what motivates them and what frustrates them, where they wish they could make a difference, and what differences they just wish were made. I share information about how the business is doing. I talk to them about headcount, budget, business drivers, organizational politics, work-styles, and communication preferences. When it comes to translating client strategies into action, I enlist commitment by involving them early and developing plans that fully leverage their diversity — the diversity of their talents, interests, work styles, and areas of growth — plans that build commitment and generate enthusiasm. At the end of the day, I want to be a hero-maker, not a hero, so I focus on painting a clear picture of desired outcomes, and then I step back to give my teams the freedom to innovate and determine the right path to success. Simply put, I leave the old “Command and Control” hierarchy behind in favor of an “Align and Empower” model that builds and nurtures high-performing, self-directed teams.
How do you balance cutting-edge technology with varying regional needs? Can you apply most general trends to specific regional needs?
The platform we’ve developed is used by administrators from all over the globe to build experiences that engage their specific audiences. While their needs do vary, most general trends do apply — the regions are heading in the same direction but are at different points in the journey. Our platform provides the tools regional administrators need to complete the journey, and they use those tools to forge whatever path resonates with their specific audiences.
You were born and spent your early years in New Zealand. What do you miss the most about your homeland that people wouldn’t expect?
I immigrated to the states when I was 7, so I miss the things a kid would miss, like the sweets —Jaffas, Crunchy Bars, Flakes, Pineapple Lumps…all of it. And I miss gumboots. And fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. And of course I miss my family — all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins still live in New Zealand, so I do miss feeling connected to something bigger like that. I doubt any of those things are really unexpected, though! How about my accent? When I first started school here I wanted to blend in but my accent made me stand out, so I mimicked those around me and dropped my accent pretty quickly. Now that I’m an adult, I sound like most other Americans out there — you know, boring and a bit expected—so I guess I could say I miss the accent.
Will New Zealand ever be able to shake The Lord of the Rings persona?
I’m not sure we need to! I’ve been a fan of Peter Jackson’s since I first saw Heavenly Creatures back in 1994. I’ve even been by his house — literally, I was driving around Wellington and my cousin pointed out the window and said “Peter Jackson lives somewhere around here” — so you know, we’re pretty tight. So, I’m not sure why we’d need to shake the persona created by a kick-ass director.
The real question is — will the U.S. Rugby team ever recover from their brutal losses to the NZ All Blacks and live up to their persona of a legitimate rugby team?
Since so much of your professional life revolves around entertainment content, we must ask: if a movie were to be made of your life, what would it be called and who would play you?
Since Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, I would probably call it The Woman Who Knew Too Much, not only because I’d want the title to give homage to him, but mostly because I’m a very stable genius. Or The Girl with the Flower tattoo, because, you know, it fits. Better yet — There’s Something About Lisa. I think that’s the winner. No matter what the title, I’d have Zoe Bell play me, not just because she’s a Kiwi, but because my movie would be action-packed and filled with stunts that only she could pull off.