Leadership in Uncertain Times, Part I: Advice From the Colorado Tech Scene

by Olivia McClure
March 25, 2020
leadership during coronavirus colorado
Photo: Shutterstock

Nothing shakes the human spirit quite like change. We, as human beings, are creatures of habit, cleaving to our daily rituals with a familiar intensity, holding onto them as a compass that guides our day-to-day existence. And when circumstances interfere with the usual flow of society, anxiety begins to creep in, causing us to lose focus and stability in a time when we need it the most.

The past several weeks have been nothing short of uncanny. People’s lives have been uprooted and businesses worldwide have been forced to shut their doors as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. The world is experiencing something that many of us have never witnessed before. 

And yet, this doesn’t mean our lives must come to a standstill. While some businesses may be set back by this global crisis, there are plenty of organizations facing our present circumstances with a palpable sense of grit and an unrelenting eye for optimism. 

In Colorado, where the tech economy continues to grow stronger, companies are using this tumultuous time to foster opportunity rather than panic. In Part I of our series on leadership in uncertain times, we checked in with some of the state’s tech leaders to learn how they’re staying motivated, what advice they would give to others in their industries and how they’re preparing for an uncertain future. 

 

 

Ken Kennedy
EVP & President, Technology & Product

As a leader, you are the person people in your company turn to for answers. Who are you looking to for motivation and support? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

Our first priority is the health and well-being of our employees. With COVID-19 dominating the news and social media, we feel it’s crucial to regularly and openly communicate with our employees. We’re providing daily updates and pointing our employees to unbiased, authoritative information sources, including the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

My advice to leaders during this period of uncertainty is to communicate regularly and take into account the fact we’re in the midst of a global crisis. In times like these, leaders need to remain composed, communicate openly and act decisively.

 

Colorado is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty? What specific advice do you have for the tech community — not just to other leaders or your team, but to our industry at large?

We all need to understand that working remotely is new and different for a large percentage of our coworkers, customers and peers in the tech community. It further complicates matters that, at the same time, many of us have children home from school or relatives for whom we’re providing care. We need to be patient with each other and provide accommodations so employees can balance work responsibilities with family needs.

 

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

I anticipate two things in the coming weeks. First, remote working is going to be standard operating procedure for several weeks, if not months. Teams and individual employees will need to figure out how we can be productive in individual remote work settings over an extended period.

Second, I believe working remotely and significantly reduced personal interaction will take a toll on everyone. At CSG, we’re compensating by encouraging our employees to stay connected with each other, as well as their families and friends. This means reaching out to others with a text, a phone call or via video conferencing. One of our teams has lunch over video conference every day. Another team has arranged a weekly poker game.

 

Vicki Marchington
VP of People

As a leader, you are the person people in your company turn to for answers. Who are you looking to for motivation and support? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

Don’t get pulled into the hysteria — choose a credible news source and stick with it. My preferences would be BBC or The Guardian; if you watch and read everything you run the risk of becoming anxious — that is not what you need or what your team needs. You need to be a rock against a crashing sea of emotion. You can’t do this if you haven’t managed your own well being. That can be exhausting; make sure you talk to your peers, friends or family and create a network of support for yourself to be able to rant, vent, cry — whatever you might need.

You also need to recognize that different people are going to feel differently and this is okay. Someone may feel very relaxed and want to focus on the positive outcomes of the situation, others may feel very anxious and others will have many different perspectives in between these two extremes. You can try and influence this with your strength and positivity, but you cannot expect people to all feel the same. 

 

Colorado is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty? What specific advice do you have for the tech community — not just to other leaders or your team, but to our industry at large?

We should be perfectly placed to survive post this “health war.” We are already used to working remotely, we have the tech capability and products to enable us to work in this new world and we have teams used to working in an agile way that enable us to learn and develop ourselves, our teams and our whole business quickly. 

What I think we should be considering is how we can extend this beyond our obvious ecosystem; could we support companies who are less used to working like this, can we help our communities to learn new tactics, what about using volunteer days to support the elderly in our communities, helping our schools enable distance learning. The opportunities are limitless.

 

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

We moved to working remotely from March 12. Our first concern is around learning new ways of working and building that muscle in us all to maintain momentum and focus. We have set up a “What’s on Your Mind: Coronavirus” Slack channel. This enables people to share thoughts and ideas and keeps other channels focused on driving the business forward. We are sending out updated communication every couple of days. We have created some quick top tip videos on working remotely, asynchronous communication and general awareness of remote working practices. 

We also need to plan for how we manage any team member that loses family to COVID-19, or in fact a team member that becomes critically ill. Build your response to this into your plans, your communication, what you cover for bereavement leave and sickness. Is your life insurance up to date? You do not want to be scrabbling around trying to fix this in an emotional situation.

Maybe some will feel this is too early to do, but try to envision what you would like your team, peers, other companies and your investors to say about you at the end of this. It may help you stay positive and focused.

 

As a leader, you are the person people in your company turn to for answers. Who are you looking to for motivation and support? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

I’m actively reaching out to board members and other CEOs, as well as tapping into my own executive staff and employees across TrackVia. In times of uncertainty, I think it’s critically important to surround yourself with great people so you can tap into as many different sources of information and perspectives as possible. TrackVia is a tight-knit company, so keeping our close personal connections with one another —whether it’s through conference calls or Slack — is something we’ve put a big emphasis on.

 

Colorado is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty? What specific advice do you have for the tech community — not just to other leaders or your team, but to our industry at large?

The advice I’d give others is the advice we’re following here at TrackVia, which is to turn your attention outward and find ways to help others. That could include helping friends, family or neighbors, coworkers, customers or other businesses. Like many tech companies, TrackVia is in a unique position to help. For example, we recently rolled out a program and online app that lets other businesses use TrackVia for free during the crisis, helping them manage employees, monitor incidents and track tasks.

 

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

Our top concern and focus going forward is the well-being of our employees and customers. We are very fortunate in that we’ve had a flexible work environment in place for some time, so we’re all comfortable and used to working remote. They key is to remain connected as people so we can continue to support and lean on one another. 

As for customers, our technology is more needed than ever as businesses worldwide try to navigate how they track and manage everything from employees and vendors to supply chains and distribution. To help, we’ve made our technology available to businesses at no charge during the crisis. 

 

Greg Russell
Head of People and Talent

As a leader, you are the person people in your company turn to for answers. Who are you looking to for motivation and support? What advice do you have for other leaders who are walking into a world of uncertainty?

It’s so important to have those touch stones, especially when everyone else is looking to you. I’m fortunate to have a great, supportive boss who is working side-by-side with me on this effort. I sent a note to our people managers asking them to “Be the Rock” for their people, and I’m glad I’ve got a boss who is that rock for me. I am also part of an amazing network of people and talent leaders called PeopleTechPartners. Every day, I’m part of multiple threads offering ideas, resources, guidance, support and motivation.

 

Colorado is a strong tech community. How do you think we can help each other in times of uncertainty? What specific advice do you have for the tech community — not just to other leaders or your team, but to our industry at large?

I think sharing resources, guidance and ideas through the community is one of the best things we could do. These are crazy times and we don’t need to make them crazier by everyone trying to invent the same wheel in isolation. Even when we get back to “normal” we should be using the power of the network and our collective brains to make each other better.

 

Over the coming weeks and months, what concerns are you anticipating from your team? How are you addressing them?

I think we’ll see general anxiety and uncertainty ratcheting up as this continues. I also think we’ll see work-from-home fatigue for many folks who aren’t used to working this way and, while gamely diving in, aren’t really set up properly at home. And once this first wave of the virus really crests, we’ll see people dealing with very specific worries for friends, family members and colleagues who are sick. At Snapdocs, we’ve set up a virus tiger team to manage our response and to best take care of our people. Besides providing all the resources we can to make WFH better for everyone, we’re checking in with folks and providing as much psychological support as we can. We’ve got a strong set of operating principles and we’re actively leaning on them to help guide our response — especially empathy and authenticity.

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