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Startup CEOs are constantly navigating uncertainty. But the past year has put their leadership skills to the test like never before. Not only do you need to focus on growth and customer satisfaction in a rapidly changing, unpredictable environment, but you also need to be closely attuned to your employees who are under new pressure – whether this adapts to working at home with remote learning children? Caring for a sick family member or inability to connect personally with friends and family. All of these stressors have made it especially difficult to run a fast-growing business.
I've spent a lot of time talking to CEOs about how they're going through this time of intense change. I hope that by sharing some of their best practices and advice you can answer some important questions such as: B: As the CEO, how can you get in touch with your employees and ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction? How do you ensure that your employees are not burned out and continue to grow under rocky market conditions?
Your top three pieces of advice: show empathy and support, listen, and make an effort to build community.
1. Show empathy and support employees in the home office and at home
If you make everyday life easier for your employees and at the same time support their families, it is important to you that you do more than just what they can do for you. They can also help improve their sanity, morale, and productivity.
Shortly after the lodging restrictions went into effect, Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, looked for ways to support his employees who were suddenly working from home. He created a Covid Counsel to monitor burnout and stress among employees as they get used to remote work. ensured employees whose family members were affected by the virus had food and other support; and sent one-time grants for employees to set up their home offices. A number of Gainsight employees have used consistent, planned gaps in their day to meet their family responsibilities, as well as a generous PTO "Take What You Need" policy.
Other CEOs report similar strategies. In a recent survey by Salesforce Ventures, the group I lead, 80% of companies surveyed said they were offering new perks like hosting meditation sessions and revising vacation policies to help employees unplug and move around to take care of their mental health.
Highspot implemented a "No Meetings" policy between 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm. to make lunchtime a little easier for parents – a decision made after listening to the staff. “There's really no such thing as one size fits all, so we trust our HR managers to create safe, flexible environments for their teams, and they've stepped up to the moment,” said Robert Wahbe, CEO of Highspot. "We've seen our managers rethink their approaches with compassion and empathy, whether they're planning a distant school or other childcare needs throughout the day, or using team time for self-sufficiency."
Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild Education, set up Camp Guild, a series of virtual sessions run by fellow staff members – many of whom are former teachers and camp counselors – to entertain and teach the children of guild staff during theirs Parents are at work. "This is a challenging time for so many people, and we are working to ensure that our employees have all the support and resources they need. It has brought new challenges and stresses for everyone," says Carlson. "We always have focused on leading with empathy. And we and executives at other companies need to take a people-centered approach more than ever. "
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2. Prioritize communication – even more than usual – and listen more
The most effective leaders foster an environment of open communication, including providing forums for face-to-face discussion on difficult topics. "Opportunities to be heard and provide feedback are the best ways to maintain morale," says Mehta of Gainsight. "When teammates know they can be heard from different areas of the company, they know they are supported."
Highspots Wahbe emphasized the importance of honesty and realism as he led through a crisis: "As opposed to shrinking from or trying to fix the problems of the pandemic, we face them," he says. "As soon as we share truths, we can empathize with one another, which in turn has opened up new avenues of support in large and small ways." Wahbe recalled a time when the HR manager at Highspot started a 100-person meeting with a “square breathing” exercise: he could hear their collective sense of relief. "Through real dialogue, honesty and communication, we have been able to bring the challenges we all face to light where they are not so scary," he says.
To help people feel more comfortable talking about their needs, you need to let them know that they are not alone. "It was very important to normalize the mental health conversation. We will continue to provide benefits and talk about them," says Carlson.
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3. Strengthening corporate values through community
Establishing and maintaining real connections between employees is critical to employee health, satisfaction, and performance – especially when everyone is physically distant and spontaneous conversations are so difficult to come by.
Mihir Shukla, CEO of Automation Anywhere, was able to keep in touch through “pulse” surveys on how employees are feeling. According to Shukla, the most important initiative was an online meeting called “TenForward Lounge”, a digital event space in which employees can talk through moderators and share their thoughts and feelings. "It's also an opportunity to strengthen the company's values," says Shukla. “They increased our sense of purpose and gave clear directions during the uncertainty. When you no longer have the physical walls that define the workplace, corporate values become walls that are interconnected in a virtual world. I will continue to rely on our values and our teammates with even greater determination. "
Gainsight Leadership has also worked to build and maintain its community. The company has set up a private digital lounge where teammates can get support. Roundtables for group discussions and a 10-week “Human First Manager Training” program in which successful managers trained others on how to lead through this crisis from a distance. They also hosted a company-wide holiday celebration based in Zoom where everyone could get together. "Many teammates have said that they feel more connected to the company than before," says Mehta.
This pandemic was a tragedy of global and historic proportions. We all lost something. Some of us a lot more than others. But I was impressed by one word Mihir Shukla used in describing the things he listened to in conversations with his team: optimism.
In a survey of Enterprise Tech CEOs we conducted last fall, nearly 90% of respondents said they were optimistic about the future of remote working despite the difficulties of the past year. If these CEOs can lead through such unfamiliar circumstances with confidence and heart while promoting growth and goodwill, then we should all have reason to be optimistic.
Please Note: All CEOs and companies included in the article are part of the Salesforce partner ecosystem.
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