Lessons, Gratitude and Leadership During the COVID-19 Pandemic
2020 was a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world. What we once took for granted – a beer with friends, a date night at the movies, a dinner with family – now came with risks. The challenge, for everyone, has been immense.
For businesses it has been no different. The pandemic has led organizations to make shifts in operations, marketing, sales and culture.
2020 was my first year having the responsibility of leading our company. After 10 years at Launch That, I was promoted to president and chief operating officer in August 2019. And thus, my first full calendar year as president was an active, challenging and rewarding experience.
Communication Is Key During a Crisis
Early in 2020, our executive team spent a significant amount of time tracking the outbreak of COVID-19. Doctors and scientists were confident the only way to handle such an outbreak was to slow the spread of the virus. We worked on contingency plans for several weeks.
On March 12, I announced at a team-wide standup that, effective immediately, Launch That would operate as a remote company.
This was the safest option for our team members. I was grateful to be in a position where we had the tools and operational infrastructure to make working from home a smooth transition.
During the previous couple of years we had made a heavy investment in remote processes, remote communication, and digital project management systems. That investment paid off. I was grateful to have faced this challenge under these circumstances versus where we were as an organization just a couple of years prior.
While we were relatively prepared for a remote working environment, it was critical to our transition that my communications be effectively transmitted remotely. We needed a strong connection outlet with the entire team.
We had always done team-wide standups and larger company announcements in person with a live feed for those who were remote. While getting the proper equipment proved to be challenging in such a demand-heavy marketplace, the real job was the preparation needed to develop proper remote presentations and meetings.
Our standups have been remote PowerPoint presentations since March 2020. And the framework we developed carries all our cultural staples – some fun, callouts, big company announcements and a time for anyone on the team to ask questions.
Overcoming this communication hurdle made things easier, but even bigger challenges followed. The next several months would be chaotic as society began to grapple with the very real threat the pandemic posed to all aspects of our lives. The flurry of business updates, scientific news and new regulations would keep us in a constant state of re-evaluation. And in this state of enormous change came a big challenge: answering what was going to happen next.
No leader likes to give out inaccurate information, and now I was in a position where many things could not be forecasted. Several questions were paramount to answer: What would happen to our businesses? Should our goals change, and how? What would happen to our teams and projects? Were we financially stable?
As I strived to prepare answers for myself, the board and the team, I realized it was more important to communicate more frequently with the information I had, whether I had reached an answer or not. And within that communication it was important for the team to hear our intentions.
In the early stages of the pandemic, did we know what would happen to our projects? No, but we had confidence in their future. And we knew that such a big disruption would come with new opportunities.
Thus, we would continue to take risks, be creative and explore exciting ways to do things differently. With each passing week we learned more and more about how our projects performed during the pandemic. We communicated those updates regularly.
Did we know what would happen to our team? No, but we knew we would do everything in our power to protect them and mitigate job loss.
Our team is the most important aspect of our company. They would help us tackle the biggest challenge we had ever faced.
Early on we made conservative spending decisions and cut non-essential expenses to ensure we were in a strong financial position. Those efforts and our intention to protect jobs at all costs were communicated right away. And each week we gained more confidence that we could not only save jobs, but grow.
When the Present Is More Impactful than the Future
With changes happening at a hectic pace, we had to ask the right questions for our projects to continue being effective and generate results. Examples included:
- What marketing strategies are ineffective in this environment?
- What concerns would users have? How can I alleviate those?
- Are there content or market segments that are more effective in this environment? What does the data tell me? What are our users telling us?
- What roadblocks are our service partners facing? How can we help them?
Asking the right questions led us to shift our priorities and helped us reach strong results during a challenging period. That shift in priorities also was indicative of another change during the crisis. It was important now to focus on shorter-term, more immediate challenges. Any sort of longer-term planning would be ineffective.
Questions such as:
- What are the goals for next quarter?
- What should our content plan be for next quarter?
- What will change in the future and how will we be prepared for it?
- Could we return to the office in a couple of months?
- What are the goals for next week/month?
- What should our content plan be for this week?
- What has changed and how do we take advantage of it now?
- Can we return to the office next week?
The shorter time frames led to more impactful immediate activity. As time went on and the pandemic began to normalize, we were able to increase our forecasting and vision. But in the early stages of the crisis it was important to be hyper focused on what was happening and what was immediately important.
I mentioned earlier how we were determined to take risks, be creative and look for opportunities. From a larger strategic perspective, one of the opportunities we foresaw from a down period in results was to shift our efforts into upcoming investments.
We had not started a major project at Launch That in a couple of years. It was a great time to begin our long journey of creating another staple digital brand under the Launch That umbrella. In May 2020, after a very productive and quick response from our team, we launched Retireguide.com.
Thankfully, our projects thrived during 2020. We were able to protect the team. We grew our project base with another major project. We landed as a Top Workplace and Best Place to Work in the Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal.
We learned how to operate during a crisis. Our more frequent communications, coupled with our clear intentions, led to a more connected culture during a pandemic that kept us apart.
I am excited to carry all these lessons and that connection into 2021 and beyond. And I am grateful to our incredible team for helping us get through such a challenging crisis.