Viewpoint / CXO of the Future

Leadership in a Pandemic: Real Time Insights from CIOs

What are CIOs really thinking today, 8 months after the COVID crisis began? We recently hosted a CIO Thought Leadership Roundtable together with our partners at Silicon Valley Bank to gain real insights. The COVID crisis has created a significant test of leadership for CIOs who have had to manage a near complete retooling to a remote-first work environment. But that was just the beginning of so many other elements of the IT environment, operations, and team collaboration that still needed to be addressed. In record time.
We are honored to share some of the raw, and real-time insights from the Mayfield CXO Network. Here are a few words of wisdom on how to manage crisis leadership directly from some amazing CXOs.
Crisis Leadership:  What is one word you would use to describe your approach to leadership during this crisis?

  • Authenticity – Being trustworthy and genuine with your team goes a long way during times of crisis
  • Imperfection – Not everything has to be perfect all the time
  • Optimism – If you don’t think something is possible, it will be hard to convince your colleagues
  • Empathy – Everyone is going through this situation in their own way
  • Transparency – People are anxious, and providing lots of high touch information helps alleviate this anxiety
  • Resilience – Teams need to stay focused, but also need to focus on mental/physical health. You don’t want employee burnout
  • Engagement – It’s important to continually create remote engagement to keep employees connected to your team, company, and culture
  • Grit – When times get tough, the tough get going
  • Connective Tissue – The role of the team is very important with regards to culture and employee treatment
  • Flexibility – Help employees by allowing asynchronous connection; life and work have been blurred for a lot of people caring for young children, or juggling other at-home responsibilities
  • Alacrity – Teams should focus on coming together and putting their best foot forward: What do I know? Who needs to know? Have I told them?
  • Pace – It’s important to remember that this could be a marathon – we don’t know when things will go back to normal
  • Trust – When you think things could be starting to slip, instead of spamming everyone on Slack, take a deep breath for a moment and trust your team/have patience. Let them do the work you hired them for
  • Solutioning – Tackle problems head on/proactively and provide leadership: don’t just tell your team to solve it
  • Availability – Make sure you’re available to your teams in this remote world. People feel alone out there.

“The environment is crisis, problems, and scarcity: try to lead with a lens of awareness and not scarcity”

The New Normal: What have been the biggest changes brought about by COVID?

  • Prioritization: For companies less impacted by COVID, changing priorities has been less around budget, and more around focus given the “new normal”
  • Employee Productivity: The consensus is that employee productivity has remained fairly unchanged remote – with working hours changing a bit to shift away from the middle of the day
  • Some Changes Are Here to Stay: Supply chain diversification seems suited to last, alongside improvements in cyber
  • Demand Is Still High in Many Industries: A lot of consumer-facing companies are actually chasing supply and not demand
  • Work From Home: Remote work seems to be going more mainstream, with an increasing subset of companies transitioning all or part of their workforce to permanent remote with in-person hubs. Time zones more important than physical proximity
  • Shifts in Cybersecurity: Cyber is shifting from a defense model (outside-in) to an inside-out zero-trust model. Human error, fatigue, internal process changes, etc. can contribute to negative outcomes in cyber just as much. Identity-first – people having the right access to the right resources at the right time
  • The Fundamentals Are Still Important: Know where your critical assets are and secure them the best. The most successful attacks are still using the same access methods that they have always used: ransomware, phishing, etc.
  • Recruitment Strategy: It’s time to think about location strategy for companies that are recruiting remotely. Where are your main hubs? Are they in the same time zone? Why did you pick those areas?
  • Borderless Recruiting/Shift from HQ: Many CIOs reporting reduced hiring at HQs in major cities and have opened hiring to merit-based skills nearly anywhere.
  • Distributed Employee Culture: It’s to build connective tissue with remote hires, and teams feel like they are slowly burning through social capital. It’s important to think a lot about how to bring teams together in today’s remote environment

Today’s Problems: What are some gaps that still need to be solved for today?

  • Data Quality: This is still an issue. Analytics and visualization are amazing, but there are not good solutions out there for quality
  • Remote Sales: How are companies conducting their sales process remotely if they came from an industry where sales were heavily relationship-oriented or in-person?
  • Physical Presence: How do you manage mandatory in-person processes like inspecting a factory floor or touching a physical product remotely?

“It’s easy to shut things down, but how do you begin to open up? What goes first? How do you communicate? How do you operationalize?”

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