CEO – Lessons Learned from the Pandemic
By Larry Gentry, President and CEO, cStor
I have been doing this for a long time – leading teams and organizations. I have lived through three recessions, none of which are fun. However, there is a predictable playbook for what to do in a recession, and I am confident in those experiences and the abilities to navigate a team through a recession. When the pandemic hit last year, there was no playbook, no past experiences I could draw on to help predict outcomes or to navigate our organization thru this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Like me, we have seen leaders – both public and private – struggle to do the right thing at the right time. I know some have opened too fast, some too slow, but I think we need to give them all a little grace. They are just trying to do the right thing for everyone, balancing the health issues and the financial interests of the people they lead. No one has got it perfectly right.
As a leader, I strive to learn from experiences – good and bad – and hopefully become a better leader from those things that life throws at us. There are some lessons I have learned that think will make me a better leader in the future. They are:
1) Your people can be very productive working from home or remotely.
Like most companies, we had a work-from-home/remote day once or so a week for most people. Saving them personal travel time coming to the office and giving them some flexibility and control over a small part of their lives. I have always been a little nervous that productivity will fall off if employees are home working all the time. This was mostly my issue as we never even dreamed of that 30 years ago. The pandemic gave us no options; we had to figure out working with a 100% remote workforce.
Guess what? They excelled! They all rolled up their sleeves, learned how to use WebEx, Zoom and other tools to get everything done on time and stay connected. Did they have some downtime? I am sure they did, but maybe it’s better to have that at home versus just sitting in the office. I no longer have a fear that they will just goof off or not get work done. If that’s happening, it’s a personal issue and not a function of can they get it done – they can, and most will excel.
While they proved to me they can do it, we (myself and the employees) also learned we miss the social interaction, collaboration and team mentality that comes from getting together… the feeling of it being us against the world. As we allowed, not required, employees to come back to the office if needed for up to two days a week, we had many come by just to say hi because they missed being with the group.
I am not sure yet what the new norm will be when we get to 2022, but I know I will not worry about if our people can be productive remotely – they can – or how much home vs. office we will allow. However, I am pretty sure it will be some combination that allows more remote working but getting together often enough to ensure we foster and develop the team mentality that is needed in every organization.
2) You have got to communicate more than you think to your teams.
We have all known communication and transparency, to the degree possible, is important to shared consciousness about any organization’s ability to obtain stated goals. It became evident during the pandemic that we are not doing enough. This was scary for us and our employees. They wanted to know the good and the bad. What were we thinking? What were our plans? What about the Cares Act?
It became apparent to me and others that you cannot over-communicate. You need to share everything you legally can. They are big boys and girls, and they just want to know. Even bad news is better than no news. I was reminded of a quote I saved from 30 years ago, “People fear the unknown. So, to the degree you can, make it known.”
3) Many of the costs we reduced did not have an impact on revenue.
Private equity groups have long touted that they can come into any organization and reduce costs by 25% because they will make the logical, hard decisions that they believe all of us will not. Whether you like these types of groups or not, they have continually proved they are right. The pandemic forced all of us to stop doing things such as travel, in-person marketing, in-person training, buying meals for clients, entertaining clients, etc.
Guess what? Those things do not matter as much as we think they did. We do not need to travel as much; it’s easier for most employees anyway to not have to spend time on a plane or sleeping in a hotel instead of sleeping at home in their own bed. Training, for the most part, can be done just as well remotely versus in person, saving travel costs and the employees time in some cases. While we all need to acquire new clients, we like many of you, found virtual ways to do this while fully engaging at a much lower cost – because we had to! As we open back up to the new normal, I for one do not plan on going backing to the same ways of doing things.
Yes, there will be a little more travel, a little more in-person marketing and training, and a little more time getting together as a group. Ultimately though, it is better for the employees and the organization to take what we have learned and continue to operate with some of the effective lessons we were forced to receive during the last 14 months.