When the COVID-19 pandemic required employees at Tangram Insurance Services to work from home, CEO Rekha Skantharaja felt a deep sense of responsibility to her team. Springing into action, she followed her natural instincts, and began to speak directly to her people – with a tremendously effective campaign that preserved a critical sense of connection, calmed natural anxiety and demonstrated a valuable sense of momentum. Rekha’s display of resilience, optimism, and communication are key leadership traits that other CEOs would be wise to emulate, particularly when guiding their organizations through adversity.
The cornerstone of Rekha’s communication plan is a regular “Bright Spots” email to her team, celebrating the wins that they would normally recognize if they were still together in the office, and acknowledging the contributions made by key employees. She caps this off with a weekly video distributed to the entire company – containing highlights of the week, a genuine personal reflection, and an uplifting note to inspire the team in the days ahead. The videos have gained quick notice on LinkedIn, collectively earning tens of thousands of views and profoundly positive feedback from employees, customers and strategic partners.
Reflecting on what drove her to communicate proactively, Rekha explained, “I thought it was really important to remain a presence in their lives, not just as a leader of the organization but also as a friend. This was such a beautiful opportunity to lead the team to higher ground, and I always feel naturally called upon to do that because of the privilege of the seat that I’m in.”
Engaging employees and giving them a connection to each other and the company’s mission is always important. However, it is clearly more challenging today, since the pandemic has prevented coworkers from interacting physically, and therefore unable to see, hear and experience small and large victories that contribute to team spirit and strong morale.
Yet keeping your employees connected right now is more important than ever. “Whatever you don’t communicate to your team creates a vacuum that can be filled with anxiety, rumor and negative thinking,” says CEO Coaching International Partner and Coach, Chris Larkins – noting that one of the biggest dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the uncertainty that it has generated, and the paralyzing impact it can have on your company.
An easy way to fill this void is active communication. Rekha’s emails and videos have already shown tremendous promise, with important segments of Tangram’s business continuing to thrive in spite of the pandemic, and the remote work it has imposed upon Rekha and her team.
By posting the messages on LinkedIn (see here, here and here for some of Rekha’s recent videos), Tangram’s customers can see that the company is strong, well led, and most importantly, open for business. They also demonstrate a rich culture that helps the company stand apart.
“All of us, as consumers, want to see the personality of a brand, we want to see the personality of a company,” Rekha says. “It’s not the logo or the corporate marketing that makes a company; I think it’s really the people. The more that we can show who we are, I think that’s going to stick and that’s going to resonate, and it will outlive this crisis.”
According to Larkins, Rekha’s messages have resonated so strongly with employees and customers because of one particularly important quality. “The effectiveness of these videos goes well beyond a need to feel connected. Rekha’s authenticity, her willingness to speak openly about how the pandemic is impacting her and how she is reflecting and acting upon its lessons in real time, give her a relatability that most leaders would envy. It’s clear that Rekha’s communication is a big reason why Tangram is doing so well, and it should be no surprise that her videos have struck such a strong, positive chord online.”
To follow Rekha’s example, Larkins suggests the following steps:
- Communicate Regularly. Send regular weekly messages to the team in a predictable format that is easy for them to consume.
- Keep the Message Relatable. The message is important, but the actual content doesn’t need to be complex. Focus on details that are relevant and timely: celebrate something that the company achieved recently, and recognize the people who were involved in that accomplishment.
- Paint a Picture. Find a way to demonstrate why you believe the company is making progress, even if small, toward a better future, and/or how it will emerge stronger on the other side.
- Speak from the Heart as well as the Head. Like Rekha, reflect. Show your human side. The crisis has impacted everyone, demonstrating it adds to your relatability as a leader. Pretending that you’re immune detracts from your credibility.
In the end, a CEO’s authenticity is more inspirational than platitudes.
Finding the right words for a message like Rekha’s can be difficult for some CEOs, so it’s helpful to have a sounding board. Rekha called it “incredibly valuable” to confide in her Coach, Chris Larkins, to help her validate her instincts, identify the significance of events, and strategize on tactics.
“Chris has been such a great coach, and a real champion from the sidelines,” Rekha says. “I am running the plays up and down the field, but he’s there with his headset on yelling, ‘go, go, go’.”
During times of crisis, CEOs have two equally difficult tasks: making difficult decisions to keep the business afloat, and taking care of the people upon whom they rely for success. As important as it is to shore up cash, keep a tight lid of expenses and look for every opportunity to pivot on revenue, don’t forget about the equally critical responsibility to lead and motivate your team with an effective communication strategy. Rekha Skantharaja’s example provides a terrific model for all CEOs to replicate.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 500 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 25 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 66.4% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.ceocoachinginternational.com