CEO of Mercury Mosaics, Mercedes Austin has seen some of the toughest times personally as a leader, but she soon realised, taking care of herself will equip her to take care of her company and more importantly, her people. Here's how she does it.
There’s always been commitment to never stop improving as the driving force behind Mercury Mosaics - a perpetually evolving, growing & adapting creative organisation. I find by keeping these four simple principles at the forefront, it is possible to build a company that people want to be a part of without overcomplicating things.
- Never create positions you wouldn’t be willing to work full time.
- Stay true to your personal values.
- Be kind.
- Engage in activities outside of work that cultivate your own self-respect.
Never create positions you wouldn’t be willing to work full time.
This might sound simple, but things weren’t always this way.
Have you ever made decisions when you had less experience and knowledge - thinking only about the next few months, versus the long-term impact of something? You have, haven’t you?
Well, in business - these early decisions made with only the short term in mind, over time, have gotten phased out as the company develops, matures and aligns with the four simple principles above.
In the early chapters of the company, positions were sometimes created to foster a short-term sale, which derailed the first principle. An example of this would be regarding my poor first husband when we used to glaze & sell ceramic light switch covers. Our success was starting to bury us. The process to glaze & fire the (eye-catching & brilliant) ceramic light switch plates in the kiln at the scale to support the demand was inhumane. Because of this we only let close friends or ourselves execute the process. It did not have positive ripple effects and eventually, since there was no innovation to make the process something I was willing to personally execute, I dropped the product-offerings.
With mindfulness of creating positions I’d be willing to work full time, things like systems and organisation have become intentional. These are what help me thrive & keep my cortisol levels balanced. If these things help me thrive, the simplicity is building upon those systems and strengthening the organisation with each year: to sustain the position, grow the position into a department and soon evolve that department into a thriving arm of the company. That’s what it’s really all about - sustainability and strength.
Another example of this is our new Care Division. Currently staffed with three full-time artisans, they handle anything from supporting process improvement, after-order customer care, facility & equipment maintenance or even bringing innovations to our vendors to deliver better supplies to us. These positions have enhanced the synergy on our production floor which has made a resource for our 'Make' team that was not present three years ago.
When specific, one-off issues or things to troubleshoot in manufacturing used to come up, our team did not have dedicated resources available to get us beyond the band-aid approach. Add up 12 or more situations solved by band-aids and scale that arm of our business, close your eyes and tell me how that feels. It probably makes you cringe. With the Care Division positions we’ve created, there’s no more eye-closing and cringing. There’s on point process-improvement, training, vendor relationship adjustments and higher engagement with clients to get to the source of issues. We just handle that business & in turn it just feels better.
Stay true to your personal values
I’m a hard worker, I respect how challenging manufacturing is, the demand for excellence, and what it is to start your way from the ground up. It’s not for everyone.
Until recently, we’ve been able to promote 90% from within, which means there is opportunity for you because we’re a growing, scaling organisation.
Because I started at entry level and worked my way up at several organisations, it’s in my personal values to be of service to others and build something that lifts others up, if they choose. That goes for within my company and outside the company - I believe it is my purpose in life to create opportunities for others.
“When one of us shines, all of us shine” ~Moira Rose
Overall this is felt through our company culture and when we hit walls, like all small businesses do, when we stray, our aligned culture eventually course corrects to keep this vibe going. This isn’t to say we avoid the difficult conversations, but ultimately it’s with a commitment to excellence and improvement, those personal values driving our leadership teams at several layers fuel our forward progress. It feels like a team rowing a boat together to the same destination.
One way of bringing this to life to include more than just a few people in the company is to intentionally build bridges to our local entrepreneurial-community. By using our business resources of incredible tile and world-class mosaic artistry, we’re able to use the product we make to directly impact key entrepreneurs in our community that are starting out and building as a way to uplift their space, adding to the marketability of their space, thus increasing their ability to connect with their communities. Grassroots word-of-mouth is so vital in this day and age, so we are extremely proud that we’ve embedded a give-back model into our operations that strikes the core of who we are: creative entrepreneurs.
Sounds simple, right? Kindness is such an important element in building a company that people want to be a part of. It’s not enough to say it and want it, but having a safe environment that ensures folks are held accountable is essential. When you make it easy for people to understand not only their role, but others' roles and how the different roles within the divisions of a company work together - it brings about a greater understanding.
With this, it is easier to build trust and thus you have teams relying on and collaborating with other teams more fluidly. Recognition in the form of simple shout outs within our culture then became the norm.
What if it became a norm to look for what your team is doing right versus the toxic pattern of pointing out and micro-managing by mistakes? It has an entirely-different vibe.
We aim to lead by metrics and by publishing clear goals within the different divisions of the company. It helps others to rely on others and build up the trust so we’re working on aligned goals.
According to research shared by Harvard Business Review, it was found that acts of courtesy, helping, and praise were related to core goals of organisations. Higher rates of these behaviours were predictive of productivity, efficiency, and lower turnover rates. When leaders and employees act kindly towards each other, they facilitate a culture of collaboration and innovation.
When people receive an act of kindness, they pay it back, research shows — and not just to the same person, but often to someone entirely new. This leads to a culture of generosity in an organisation.
Engage in activities outside of work that cultivate your own self-respect.
This aspect is personal to each person, so I won’t go into telling other people what they need to do to cultivate their own self-respect, I can only share some of the things I’ve done personally.
I remember, five years ago, my own feeling of energy-depletion because my job had shifted to primarily working at a computer. Listen, I lead a creative company and we make tiles.
I hadn’t, however, been on the production line since 2010 and it was starting to really catch up to me (& my waistline). I started resenting my position and what I had to be responsible for.
My own success was burning me again. I had two options - one was to blame the company and regret that I was in a position that (at the time) was all on me - choosing to reinvent the entire sales process and figure out “this whole HR & benefits-thing”. The other option was to break down what was happening to have my waistline not reflect my image of myself (lol, forever young).
I work best with statistics and what I was seeing is I was consuming more calories than I was burning. I hate calorie-counting, that was not an option. So I searched and searched for something I could do to change my metabolism and found strength-training. I found something that, not instantly, changed my whole view of physical health and because of the intensity of the training, sitting is a relief (ha) instead of an energy-suck. I hacked the matrix and made my computer-heavy role into something that complimented my lifestyle.
It was this important to me to be able to stay the course of doing what I was doing to continue building a company that people want to be part of. That was my personal pivot and I’m proud to say my respect for myself is on point, as I’ve kept-in this discipline for well over five years and it’s just part of how I live life.
When you’re taking care of you, you have the capacity to care for your company and build it into something people want to be a part of. Building something you’re proud of, that you’re passionate about and including others in that vibe - you cannot go wrong because you have built a community.
“The best education I received was working with people in the community on a grassroots basis. Because what it taught me was that ordinary people, when they are working together can do extraordinary things.” ~Barack Obama