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Career Management Speaker Series: Tyla Nelson, Group Vice President, Client Services, Acceleration Partners

Jun 27, 2023 by Michael McNerney

Tyla Nelson joined Acceleration Partners nine years ago when the team had about 25 people. Now, more than 325 people around the world work for the affiliate management agency

She left Target Corporate to join Acceleration Partners and remembers having to reassure her parents that the company “was legit” and the opportunity was a big one.

“We've grown leaps and bounds through that time,” said Nelson, now the company’s Group Vice President, Client Services

Her decision to join the agency was indicative of her own search for a growth opportunity, she said: “I think growth happens when you’re getting uncomfortable,” she said. “I was ready to spread my wings and take on a new challenge.”

She was also intrigued by the opportunity to work fully remote – a perk that the agency offered long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Though more and more companies now offer a remote option, Nelson said Acceleration Partners has had years to learn how to do it well. 

“We have all of the processes and technology and infrastructure to really support everyone in a remote environment, and I think a lot of companies out there doing remote are like halfway doing it…they still have one foot in the office,” she said. 

Managing that many employees remotely does take leaders’ commitment to curating a company culture, Nelson said.

“We put a lot of emphasis on building real relationships based on trust,” Nelson said. That can be done via video, yes, but we still look for opportunities to get people together, face-to-face.”

That means an annual company meeting and team-building opportunities like a ropes course. Other events include a “create what’s next day” where employees break into discussions about how to drive the industry forward and how to think differently about what’s next. 

“There’s a lot of different techniques and tactics like that where we can make space for building culture, ideas and connection,” Nelson said. “But it takes time, effort and consideration. It doesn’t just happen magically.”

Becoming a leader who can cultivate an effective and enduring culture requires a certain skill set. Some of the skills Nelson said she looks for are:

  1. The ability to build and embrace relationships, which is a skill that comes more naturally for some people. “At the end of the day, we are a partnership channel and there are people on the other side of the screen…So you need to be able to understand how to build relationships quickly, establish trust quickly and then work together to find a mutually beneficial solution to an opportunity.”
  2. Comfortability with data. “Being able to look at the numbers and pull out trends and themes and try to understand why a certain thing is happening is very important,” Nelson said.
  3. Curiosity and creativity. “There’s not often a playbook for getting a partnership off the ground,” she said. “Yes, there can be some best practices and guidance, but at the end of the day, it does take some creative thinking to get a partnership or get an opportunity over the finish line. 

Increasingly, Nelson said she’s also looking for finding team members with a business development mindset because promoting partnerships requires persuasion and effective storytelling. 

“That is one of those softer skills that takes time and effort to develop,” she said. “Someone has to be really passionate about that type of work.”

Before promoting employees to managers, leaders at Acceleration Partners also try to determine if they have the desire and skillset to manage others and lead tough conversations. If they do, they undergo manager training.

“We make sure they don’t have rose-colored glasses on when they’re thinking about what it is to be a people manager,” she said. “Our managers are really the ones holding up our standards and expectations. If they aren’t able to hold our team accountable or provide feedback, it’s going to be detrimental to our business.”

Nelson said someone with all the desired skills can be tough to find. 

“We call those the unicorns – someone who is good at building relationships, good with data, good with building strategy and good with having hard conversations,” she said. Rather, the company looks to hire for specializations that can broaden the hiring pool and level up the company’s acumen in certain areas. 

Because the industry is rapidly changing, Nelson said Acceleration Partners is noticing a skill gap in affiliate. That’s why the agency is looking to candidates with digital or agency experience and then putting them through a 3-month course of training, shadowing and reverse shadowing to help them learn affiliate. 

“We’ve had a lot of success with training people on affiliate,” she said.