It's impossible not to like Rita Zevallos. The gregarious California native trained to be a psychologist — a career choice she attributes to her love of giving unsolicited advice — but after the realities of the job market hit her, she eventually opted for advertising instead. So, when a management role opened up at Ampersand, she moved up two floors for growth and the opportunity.
Today, Zevallos leverages her Master’s in Family Therapy to lead her team of thirteen, which she sees as the "nucleus" of the workflow between Ampersand's clients and agencies and the Company's Sales team. Zevallos recently chatted with Fairygodboss about her advice as a first-time manager and how Ampersand not only supports her, but helps her grow her skills, too.
Tell us a bit about your job. What's your current role, how long have you been in this role, and what were you doing previously?
I manage the West and Central Regions’ Account Managers and Sales Planners. My team are product experts — both knowing and understanding our internal workflows, as well as helping Sales in conversations with agencies and clients.
I joined Ampersand as a Digital Sales Planner. I'd been in my role for two years before becoming a supervisor, and then, two years later, was tapped to lead a team that has grown to thirteen people. My job is to be their support system, assuring that their needs are heard and elevated if I cannot resolve them. I ensure that they are well informed by efficiently communicating company needs and changes.
What were your initial thoughts when you learned you were becoming a manager?
I was extremely thrilled and grateful for my promotion. It meant that my hard work had paid off and my career was moving in the right direction. My manager really listened to what I wanted for my career path, saw my potential and gave me the room to learn and grow.
How has your day-to-day work changed since you became a manager? What about your overall approach to work?
My day-to-day work has become unpredictable. As a Digital Sales Planner, it was a lot easier to map out my tasks. As a manager, even though I can plan out my day, there is always something different and unpredictable that requires my attention: a new issue that needs to be resolved. I really enjoy being part of the solution process. I feel lucky that I get to interact with people in different regions/departments to work cohesively and problem solve. I have learned to take everything one day at a time and slow down to really focus on the issues; I don’t just find short-term solutions but really process what is best for the business and the team.
Managing people — especially when you're new to it — is not easy. How has Ampersand helped set you up for success?
I have been blessed to have managers who are both my support system and my role models. They have worked extremely hard to make sure that I am fully supported in my role as a manager; I have room to make decisions and am trusted to be a leader.
To succeed in my role, it is important to have support. It is like a building, if the foundation is not secure, the entire building will crumble. Even when I have doubts, they continue to guide and teach me. Additionally, the Company provides managers with learning opportunities that help to strengthen our skills, help us manage internal changes and enable us to know what is going on in our country/world and how it may impact our employees.
How is this kind of support reflective of the overall culture at Ampersand?
We're able to have honest conversations, so it's not only about celebrating what Ampersand does right but there’s also a dedicated effort to reflect on what needs to be changed. For example, we acknowledge, teach and celebrate all cultural diversities while also pushing to make the Company a truer reflection of those efforts.
What's the no. 1 thing you hope your direct reports are getting out of working with you?
My goal is to help them be accountable for their work and to do whatever is necessary to get the job done, whether or not it's part of their job responsibilities.
As the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, I grew up seeing my parents work extremely hard. They both came to the United States with a language barrier and various other obstacles, and still they built a successful American life. So I embrace working as hard as I can to achieve what I want. I also accept that failure is a part of that, but I use their stories to motivate me, and I hope that I impart that same accountability and determination to my team.
My father always says, "every day and in every way, I am trying to do better and better." That's ingrained in me.
What's one strategy you've used when managing an individual (or team) that you think has been particularly effective?
I pay attention to what the teams are telling me in a group setting and in my individual one-on-ones. I provide a safe zone where we can be open and honest with each other — trust is a huge factor in developing strong relationships with my team. People don't leave jobs, they leave managers, and I am a strong supporter in helping the team grow professionally.
How do you think about making sure your direct report(s) feel well-supported in their lives both in and out of the office?
I believe that it is important to have an open line of communication regardless of the issue. I do not make promises to my team as I would hate to disappoint, but I assure them that there will be an end or solution to a problem. I also understand that all my direct reports are individuals whose lives vary and each needs to be supported differently. I do my best to ensure that they are each heard, and I help them work toward their goals, both personal and professional.
So, as it turns out, I'm putting my psychology education to good use after all.
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