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

March 24, 2020
denver city pic
Photo VIA SHUTTERSTOCK

There’s no workshop, book or TED Talk that teaches the skills needed to lead in the time of a pandemic.

Colorado’s tech leaders have been figuring things out as they go, relying on their teams, professional networks and families for support and trusting their gut when tough calls need to be made. In Part II of our series on leadership in the time of COVID-19, we spoke with five local tech execs to learn more about how they’re bringing a sense of stability to their teams and providing guidance in a landscape that’s constantly shifting and filled with uncertainty.

 

 

Cara Brennan Allamano
SVP of People, Places and Learning

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 incredibly grateful to have a tightknit community of fellow people leaders who I actively communicate with throughout the year and can turn to right now in this time of uncertainty. It’s a great reminder that we’re not alone and that there are ecosystems of leaders facing the same challenges across industries and around the world. The “hive mind” of fellow leaders allows us to collectively come up with multiple solutions and brainstorm options when thinking about what’s best for our companies.

For other leaders working through constant change, I recommend reaching out to your peers and your network. Share your challenges. Listen to guidance. It’s important to recognize that there are options you may not be considering. With that information, you can bring ideas back to your organization and help lead and make the best decisions.

 

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’re leveraging tools like Zoom and Slack to keep real-time communication going between employees, and we’re staying social. It’s important for our employees to stay connected with one another on a personal level, so we’re encouraging individuals to continue to “coffee chat” over video or host virtual “pet happy hours.” Technology is designed to bring people together and improve our lives, and this is the perfect time to show how it can do that.

As an industry, we need to pool our knowledge and share how our businesses are adapting. We need to ask and answer questions like: How did we make the transition to remote work? How are we considering our employees’ work-life balance? How can we keep our company culture and sense of togetherness going strong, even if we are not in an office?

 

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

As an organization, we’re prioritizing supporting our employees’ work-life balance as situations at home radically change. We’re empowering our employees to find the adaptations that work for them and helping our leaders support their teams on every front. As a company, we check in often with information, support and encouragement. At the end of the day, we have a policy of empathy and transparency so we can bring our authentic selves to work and do our best jobs.

Another consideration for us as a newly distributed workforce is driving the success of our new employees. We’re grateful to have a product where we can create and share our onboarding courses as well as additional training to ensure limited disruption while employees ramp up. 

 

Catherine Allegra
Senior Vice President and Global Head of Markit Digital

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 have an amazing team. We love and trust each other, and this helps me stay supported and motivated. I also have a wonderful husband and caring adult children who have always supported me and provided me with an outside perspective. In the past few weeks I have had business leaders in Colorado reach out to me and I have also reached out to them to learn in real time. IHS Markit Digital is a global company, and the leadership and my partners have been an important resource. I spent an hour on the phone last week with the Hong Kong-based head of APAC, Shane Ackeroyd, in order to better understand what his team and clients have experienced, which was very helpful.

Our teams and our clients are people — people who are worried about their health, their parents’ health, isolation, educating their children, buying groceries and their jobs. This is a moment where our care, attention and communication will be remembered. Maya Angelou wrote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We have to make sure our colleagues and clients feel seen, heard and loved.

 

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?

Companies that take care of their talent and show loyalty now will find that their investment will be rewarded when things get back to normal. We have many brilliant colleagues who have worked with us for over two decades. I know they remember how we worked together during the financial crisis of 1999 and 2008.

We also need to support the businesses and companies in Colorado that are most impacted by the pandemic. I think in this moment we are all scrambling to take care of our own people and business, but as soon as we can we should be reaching out to help and support each other.

 

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

I worry the most about the health of my colleagues and their friends and families. I want to make sure that team members who live alone or may not have a support network know that we are here and feel that they can reach out to any of us for help.

Isolation is an immediate concern. We have created two daily stand-ups for all of us to come together, but we are looking at other interactions and tools like a virtual coffee hour, leveraging video as much as possible and Microsoft Teams to not just stay connected but feel connected.

I was a teacher early in my career and know how difficult, all-consuming and rewarding a job it is. We are asking our parents to help with the education of multi-age students, and I worry about how they will manage this and all of their other responsibilities.

 

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 rely on my community of peers and mentors who, like me, have gone through crises before. We are all ships at sea, and while nobody knows how long this will last or the impact it will have, we do know that it will end. 

By looking to a community of individuals who’ve experienced such periods of instability — some of whom got knocked down and others who came out on top — you’ll quickly find that the advice coalesces. The best approach a leader can take is to run toward the fire while caring for their own employees and society at large. Any strategy that allows you to achieve both at once is a win-win. 

 

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?

Technology is a great enabler for communication. It allows us to be physically distant while remaining connected. The industry can lean into these capabilities while exploring opportunities for further innovation.

By pitching in and trying to assuage people’s fears, the tech community can uncover solutions that wouldn’t have been possible five years ago. At Wowza, we’re reaching out to our customers in the health industry, emergency response, distance learning, and more to find out how we can better empower them to help alleviate the situation.

 

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

My team’s biggest concern right now is that of uncertainty. But what we lack in predictability we can make up for in transparency and resiliency. I’m addressing this uneasiness by communicating with employees daily and redeploying resources in more strategic ways. 

From a personal standpoint, my priorities are the people that make up Wowza, the customers we serve and continuing to fulfill our promise. As an example, in order to take care of as many people as possible, we’ve transitioned our recruiters into positions where they can serve customers. We’re all in this, and together we’re better positioned to weather the storm.

 

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?

Just before everything really hit last week, I had attended a three-day leadership conference by Patrick Lencioni. During that conference we heard from several great leaders, including Ford CEO Alan Mulally, LA Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and former Seattle Seahawks running back Justin Forsett. Some of the key things I took away from that conference are very applicable in this current climate. Top leaders must present the details — no delegating — and everyone must know the plan, the current status and the areas requiring attention. 

Many of our senior leaders have been through tough times before, like 9/11 and the Great Recession. I have reminded the team at Zen Planner that what we have is special. Our customers in every market are facing difficult times. However, tough times like this do not define us. They reveal us. We will recover, and how well and how fast is up to all of us.

 

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 answer, I think, is that we turn to each other. Our theme right now is prudent precaution, not panic. I think the world and our industry needs leadership and balance, and I have challenged our team to deliver our share of the solution. 

We need to practice prudent precaution by encouraging our team members to work from home and self-isolate, if at all possible. We also need to do what we can to help our customers navigate the challenges they are facing amid this crisis. By focusing on our highest priorities, our people and our customers, we can remain calm and direct our energy toward solutions. 

 

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

We are doing everything we can to stay on top of the latest information so we can assess and reassess our situation on an hourly and daily basis. When we made the decision to close our offices and have our team members work from home, our next biggest concern was our customers. They want to know what we can do to help support them during this crisis. There is not an easy answer here. COVID-19 has created a time of great uncertainty for all of us, and no one knows how long this pandemic will last. 

What we have done is to create rapid recovery toolkits for our customers. The solutions in the toolkit will help them glean key insights, drive continued engagement and maintain communication channels. Everything that we are offering is designed to maintain both customer and member engagement.

 

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?

My kids, who are three and one. Kids at this age are so resilient and adaptable. The best advice I can offer to other leaders is that you have the privilege and the responsibility to set the tone for everyone else. 

 

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?

For the industry at large, there’s an inevitable bounce back coming at some point in the future, so you need to know your business metrics more intimately than ever before and be a little more conservative in how you forward invest for growth, but don’t take your foot off the gas pedal entirely or it will take you longer to accelerate once the markets bounce back. 

 

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

It’s clear that people are worried about their job security and earning potential. I’m trying to be transparent and direct with people, yet ensure that they recognize the future is in their own control. That’s really the most important thing through all of this in my opinion, to keep a strong internal locus of control. 

 

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