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How to lead in this time of crisis

Eran Zinman 6 min read
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Startup SaaS leaders have had a relatively smooth and easy run over the last decade, building and managing their businesses for growth. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, that era has unexpectedly come to an abrupt end.

We have now all entered a period of dramatic change and uncertainty that many of us have never experienced personally or professionally running our businesses.

This time of health and wellbeing concerns, social isolation, business closures, and a deep financial market slump requires us all to drastically change the way we lead. And to survive this unprecedented “perfect storm” environment, we must quickly adopt a risk-taking mentality as business leaders and make what could be business-altering choices to survive.

If you want to increase your company’s chances of survival in the face of a global pandemic downturn, you must lead with conviction, take risks, and act now.

Here’s what you need to do to find the daringness inside of you and become the leader your business, clients, employees, and investors need and expect.

Believe that “difficulties mastered are opportunities won”

Some companies are certainly in a better position to pivot their entire business and adapt to this new environment, but it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost for others. It all depends on how you approach and respond to the impact of the crisis.

A fellow business owner I know founded an event management startup whose successful business suddenly collapsed as a result of COVID-19-related cancellations and social isolation regulations.

Instead of seeing business closure, layoffs, and bankruptcies as his company’s inevitable destiny under the circumstances, he decided to immediately pivot his business and rebuild his product and services for planning and running virtual events.

And with that quick transformation and reinvention, his company is now relevant for these times, and back in the game.

Take all necessary risks

Doing things radically different overnight is never going to be easy or risk-free. But what worked well for you pre-COVID-19 might not work or make sense now. People are not behaving as usual; businesses have changed; the world is different now. And you can’t expect the same positive results if you’re running your business the same way as before.

And I learned that lesson myself pretty quickly. The way I manage and run — a cloud-based Work OS platform — with my co-founder Roy Mann needed to change dramatically overnight.

We understood right away what this worldwide shift to remote working would mean for and the future of work. We needed to pivot our business immediately to focus on remote work solutions to meet our customers’ current needs now and into the future.

We’ll likely never return to what we remember as normal. When all this is over, there will be a new version of normal to contend with. So that’s why you must go with your gut instincts and take a decisive leap forward now.

Shake everyone from their daily work routine

It’s important to help your company refocus because it’s not so easy to change course on a dime when you’re a relatively big ship with established ways of doing things.

While we’ve made many shifts in our business in the past, the shift to focus on remote work was undoubtedly the most dramatic. And while Roy and I knew that, it still took some time for the rest of the company to catch on.

When we initially told everyone to reprioritize and refocus on remote work initiatives, many of our teams and task forces approached this shift the same way as any other.

Our Growth team continued to perform A/B tests on our homepage, making minor adjustments and waiting long periods for the results instead of running with an entirely new version dedicated to those working remotely.

At the same time, our Product team continued to work on features that we planned to launch in two months instead of focusing on what customers need right now to work from home. And the same went for other teams as well.

We realized that even though we’re an agile company constantly shifting priorities, it was still hard for people to completely and immediately radically diverge from the usual long-term plans and protocols.

We understood that we needed to make it clear how and why we needed to change course.

Don’t let anything interfere with your prime directive

You need to make it abundantly clear across the company that you’re pivoting the business, and everyone needs to stop doing anything that isn’t laser-focused on your new objective and targets.

Roy and I told the management team that we wouldn’t attend any meetings that weren’t about remote work, and that the same goes for every team member under their leadership. Everyone, at all levels across the entire company, is expected to be talking and thinking about remote work — and nothing else.

This decision was the only way we could reset the company’s mindset about our pivot. And you need to do this too.

Communicate regularly and frankly — no sugarcoating

As a daring leader, you must instill confidence in your team that you will do everything in your power to lead them through these trying times. Celebrate all your big successes and all the little ones in between, like winning over a new client or adding a new product feature the market has been asking for.

We created a communication channel to celebrate all of our successes and everyone involved to keep the momentum going and understand that every win counts towards the greater goal.

But equally important, you need to be honest when mistakes are made and things don’t work out. We have a weekly retrospective meeting at the end of the week and it’s here where each team reflects on the week and shares lessons learned from initiatives that didn’t go well.

If you can, schedule regular virtual company-wide meetings to keep everyone up to date and in the loop about what’s happening, for better or worse.

Rally everyone behind you

Once the company is ready for action, give them the autonomy and trust them to do what their gut tells them is right and allow them to take more risks. Encourage them to use different methodologies and do what they believe is necessary to push the new prime directive forward.

Making emotion-driven decisions is how we functioned in the early days of our start-up when we didn’t have the data to rely on. We’re now using different tools and having more face-to-face time with our customers, using their feedback to understand how we need to change and adapt to their changing needs in these changing times.

And we have already gained a lot more confidence and conviction from taking risks and actions to regain control over our destiny, as opposed to just being overtaken by this perfect storm.

Eran Zinman, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of
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