There is something to be said about timing in business — especially now as every CEO navigates this ongoing pandemic, where making critical and time-sensitive decisions is everything. But check out this timing: I had moved to the Pacific Northwest from Cape Town, South Africa, and was putting the finishing touches of relocating my company’s management team to the Seattle area when COVID-19 broke. I was looking at more permanent office spaces and closing a round of VC funding just as social distancing and quarantine measures were put in place.
Like everyone else, we are still learning how to navigate this unprecedented time. We are grateful to have cash in the bank right now and a supportive board of directors, but what has really helped is our diverse leadership team of seven amazing individuals. We have lived all over the world and have different backgrounds, which has brought a dynamic range of opinions, views, and sensitivities to the table. Hard decisions have been made easier, and our well-roundedness has allowed us to be a far more empathetic and trusting company as a result. These values resonate a lot in today’s world.
The Black Lives Matter movement has ushered in a season of deep introspection. How can we do better? Everyone in our company is resolved to reflect honestly on how to make lasting positive changes.
Leaning on trusted team members and seeking guidance from others’ experiences are incredibly valuable to solving problems and making business decisions that may occur only on rare occasions. Still, the most important thing is to stay true to your values. Here are a few key strategies for decision-making that I have used to maneuver this pandemic and sweeping social change amid a crucial round of funding, relocating our company leadership team to a new country, and maintaining core business values:
- Strengthen Your Personal Relationships
Building strong personal relationships with customers and your professional network creates an unbreakable support system for your business and employees. Developing strong customer relationships has been a hallmark of Qorus since our inception. Near the start of 2020, our customer success teams redoubled efforts to engage with our customers. We implemented a new health scorecard so we could monitor how each account is doing, and the team made an extra effort to make personal contact with each customer to see how they are during this particularly difficult time.
It’s easy to take your network for granted. I’m not talking about your LinkedIn connection list; I’m talking about people with whom you’ve built personal relationships over the years. I had a great network of work colleagues, family, and school friends in Cape Town. That network was much smaller when I arrived in Seattle. I really missed it when it was gone, and I realized that I had to invest many hours in building a strong network in the Emerald City.
My newly built network eventually led me to WestRiver Group and, ultimately, to their investment in Qorus. Keep connecting and building your network. It may look a little different, but networking (e.g., scheduling a virtual coffee meeting) may be easier now than it ever was.
- Identify Your Customers’ Challenges and Provide Solutions
Our customers have been our North Star through all of the ups and downs. When COVID-19 brought everything to a grinding halt in March, we turned again to our customers and made sure we understood their challenges, their plans, and their concerns. Their insights informed several choices we needed to make. We offered to help them transition to a new way of work in any way we could.
At Qorus, we use Microsoft Teams heavily, but it was a new tool for many of our customers. We provided help to those customers using it for the first time. Our marketing team researched what other companies were doing to cope with the pandemic and published articles on the subject. We shared our personal experiences, challenges, and fears with our customers, too.
I wanted to get a more detailed understanding of the key challenges and projects taking place with our strategic customers, so I reached out and scheduled a 30-minute catchup to make sure they knew we were available to help and that I was up to speed on their needs. This helped me to make better decisions and to improve my personal connection to these customers.
- Listen to What Your Employees Need
As new as these business decisions, processes, and extra considerations are to you, remember that your employees are also adjusting to working remotely and using new tools. We recently ran a survey with our team to understand how they were feeling on a few topics. The overall theme was, “Remote work is fine; we are more productive and waste less time commuting, but we really miss the in-person collaboration of the office.” Whiteboard brainstorming sessions, happy hours, office banter — these elements are hard to duplicate digitally.
As we’re thinking about what life looks like at Qorus once the pandemic has passed, we are considering a remote-first approach. In treating everyone as remote workers, we can make sure they are comfortable and productive in their home offices. We could also create office facilities for the desired collaboration and in-person engagement, based on the feedback we receive. This will be a flexible setup that will help us ensure our employees’ safety and will give them the resources and collaboration they need to do their best work.
Leading your company through unique circumstances can feel heavy on your shoulders, but you can always reach out for help. We are in this together, even when it feels like we’re miles apart. As the great South African civil-rights leader Desmond Tutu has said: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
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