Four Lessons In Leading Through A Crisis From A Tech CEO

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President and Chief Executive Officer at Insight Enterprises, helping clients manage their business today and transform for the future.

None of us has been immune to 2020’s challenges. However, as organizations consider long-term solutions for their changing workplace, many business leaders are taking a step back to ask how their businesses are doing, if they’re better prepared for future unknowns and how they can take care of their people moving forward.

I’m no exception, and I’d like to offer some advice based on how my organization has navigated tumultuous times and the leadership lessons we’ve learned along the way.

Practice What You Preach

For many technology companies, one of the guiding principles might be reminding clients that people, processes and technology must be aligned for agility and mobility. Regardless of the pandemic, the business landscape is characterized by unpredictability anyway, and the most successful companies counter that through nimbleness and empowering people to be their best in any situation.

This is a principle we instill. If clients are to believe in our value proposition, we have to be proof that it works. Consequently, the transition to a mobile workforce earlier this year, while not easy, was more natural for us because our IT ecosystem and most of our employees already were set up for digital dexterity.

That isn’t to say that we didn’t face challenges enabling our technology. We’re a large organization with a global footprint, and some regions were further along in the process than others. Some teammates still used desktops, and new offices from our largest acquisition to date were still in the midst of integration. We had to quickly image and deliver hundreds of laptops and acclimate employees to a virtual desktop environment while completing our own global transformation.

We were able to work through these challenges, but it was a valuable reminder that our belief in mobility and adaptability is core to the success of modern business.

Hold Tightly To Your Company’s Culture, Mission And Values

In times of crisis, strong leadership and a clear understanding of your organization’s values — and a commitment to living them — are vital.

For instance, for companies that have a “people first” philosophy, lean hard into that philosophy and ensure your people are your most valuable asset. Make sure your teammates feel cared for — after all, the pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, as any parent juggling working at home while helping their children with online learning well knows.

We have achieved this during the pandemic through transparent communication about key business changes and ensuring that all teammates felt seen, heard and fully in the loop throughout the transition to remote work. This has meant frequent executive communications — emails, video messages, virtual events, intranet resource hub, etc. — and opportunities for teammates to share feedback so that we can adjust to meet their needs.

Spread The Wealth With Leadership

I’m continually astonished by how little companies invest in leadership despite the fact that it’s foundational to success. Where management focuses on how to do things right, true leadership emphasizes doing the right things. The latter is preferred in our organization, and we have adapted a servant-leadership approach — that “people first” mentality of taking care of our teammates and developing their personal leadership qualities.

Consider rolling out simplified leadership commitments that shift from competency-based skills to behavioral qualities. Asking leaders to commit to these four habits ensures your teammates know what to expect from the top, especially in trying times:

• Create clarity. Teams need to be on the same page in every circumstance. This occurs when leaders provide a clearly defined vision upfront, simplified processes and two-way communication. In essence, express the why and the what so your teams can determine how.

• Inspire people. Deliver energizing leadership while showing care and compassion for others. This starts by building the right team — recruit and hire a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and perspectives, and develop that talent into future leaders.

• Demonstrate thought leadership. Challenging the status quo is more important than ever — test, learn, don’t be afraid to fail. Employees thrive when given an environment to innovate.

• Deliver results. Be inevitably accountable to your clients and your teams. A hunger to succeed and drive through adversity can foster loyalty that stands the test of time.

Ease The Burdens Of Change

None of us knows when (or if) things will return to the way they were, but set up employees for success in any environment. We’ve followed these organizational change management best practices to keep teammates on track even as how they work has changed:

• Understand individual work-from-home constraints, and develop broad solutions for common issues.

• Provide ongoing virtual training and job aids for the company’s chosen collaboration tools.

• Measure usage stats and online productivity from a continuous improvement standpoint.

• Provide training that addresses usage gaps and productivity pitfalls in a remote environment.

• Be more deliberate in planning social activities for remote workers, including virtual happy hours, online office hours for managers and culture-based events. We’re holding an inaugural Harmony Day, for example, to unite teammates by celebrating a core value of working together — even from afar.

• Get more feedback from users than usual. Adapt based on that feedback. Keep asking for it.

Although the pandemic disrupted how we do things, we continue to emphasize what’s most important to our organization. Our main goal is to champion people, leadership and culture. It’s more meaningful than ever for our dispersed but connected workforce, and it means continuing to invest in teammates even as we streamline operations during challenging times.

These lessons may seem intuitive, but the disruption of a crisis — whether it’s today’s pandemic, yesterday’s economic recession (2008) or a market bubble burst (2000) — puts them to the test. It’s easy to shift entirely to “keep the lights on” mode in these moments. Success, however, requires leaders to make the conscious, daily choice to center their people and values. In doing so, you should be better and stronger from the experience once the latest challenges pass.


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