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Shannon Kinney speaks with Collaboration Consulting

The following is an interview originally from Collaboration Consulting with Susan deGrandpre. 

“Fast pace” is an understatement at Dream Local Digital. Learning is as big and daunting as actual operations.

Staff members stay ahead of continuously changing content. They have to:

  • Know their customer companies and industries
  • Anticipate correlated online marketing needs
  • Be totally fluent with digital and social media

Shannon’s choice to be in Maine (goal is to have 80%+ employees in Maine) gives her a labor pool that is not already prepared. Dream Local has 80-90 interns at any given time, and 40-50 employees. Only 4 or 5 have related backgrounds. And no background can be completely related, because business requirements change so quickly.

She has created a unique learning model that helps employees stay innovative.

Intern Program:

Internships give both the intern and Dream Local opportunities to check each other out. The vast majority of interns work for free, and get course credit. The program is open to any age, although the average intern is a Junior/Senior in college or a couple of years out. Most people are 20-somethings, who Shannon finds are not motivated by money, but by power, challenge and recognition. Some interns are older. They may intern at Dream Local for just a few weeks, with potential to hire. Dream Local does not hire every intern. Shannon often places interns in other companies. Some interns just want a reference from Shannon on their LinkedIn profiles, or Shannon’s introductions to other resources.

A small number of employees come through Blackstone, or have worked for Dream Local before. These people get paid, and “they’d better be pretty damned good. Paid people don’t get as much mentoring, they don’t need it.”

Mentoring Program:

There is ongoing mentoring of interns and employees. Formal training can’t work because everything changes so rapidly. Tasks are structured to learning -by-doing.15% of interns get hired. They continue to learn through structured exercises.

Honey-Badger buddies and teams are the foundation for mentoring everyone.

“Everyone here is a Honey Badger. Honey Badgers don’t stop until they reach their goals. They don’t let stuff get in their way. They keep going and they get it done.” Honey-Badger buddies and teams are formed for 90 days. Then they switch. Matches are made according to skills, strengths and abilities. People’s development is reviewed every six months, with assessment of skills, strengths, abilities, for both work and personally. It’s necessary to know how that person want to develop.

All performance levels get mentoring attention. Switching every 90 days keeps everyone’s performance in the open. Metrics are comprehensive. Each person’s performance is discussed at the management level to pay totally individual attention. Shannon works to help every employee feel like they “win” what they want.

Every 90 days new “Sprint” goals (at the whole company level) are shared, along with how people can contribute. This happens at the same time everyone gets a new Honey Badger buddy and team, so perspectives stay fresh. Learning changes very quickly to match business changes. This is also reflected in Senior management working with Junior.

Culture of inclusion:

Employees know where they fit all the time. “Give deadlines and let people work how and when they can to achieve.” Shannon is committed to everyone’s success, and will do anything she can to help someone.

People are assigned to watch things that change all the time. For example, a Honey Badger buddy pair may be assigned to follow Facebook changes and communicate to all. Everyone learns to analyze and communicate strategically.

Everyone learns about clients and how to serve by interacting with each other,and by studying a huge pool of research by client type. For example, home builders, consultants, etc. have very different specific needs. People have to learn extremely quickly.


People self-select out vs. performance management. The pace doesn’t work for everyone. Continual learning doesn’t work for everyone.
As the business scales up, it will be harder to keep up with this system. How to shift towards more formalization with the same individualization is a huge challenge. Systems need to be scaleable.
It is difficult to take into account different learning styles. Dream Local has already adapted to different backgrounds, but current systems and processes can’t accommodate individual styles. Shannon wonders if they miss opportunities to fast-track according to styles.
20-somethings “often don’t get that they’re responsible for their own long-term development. It is necessary to inspire people to master their craft.”

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