Leading in a Time of Crisis Webinar Takeaways
In an unprecedented time like this, not only are your employees looking at you to take lead, but also your partners and your competitors are watching what you do to impact your business in a positive way.
Although during COVID-19 we are all experiencing some sort of change from the usual norm, we want to help you find that guiding light in your company and within you to help boost your business during these difficult times.
Here at Alley, our primary focus is to connect early-stage startups with corporate resources, to help foster innovation in the name of creating good change. We support companies that have social impact either on their mission or on their business model and put them to work with our corporate partners who also share those values.
With our virtual event, “Leading in a Time of Crisis”, we’re focusing on the different challenges companies may be facing during this time—especially when giving clarity and tackling the health, mobility, and economic factors in this pandemic.
We hope that through this event, run by leaders like you—our panelists, Noelle, Kyser, Madan, and Claude want to bring you real-life experience and advice from businesses like yours that have put their leadership qualities under the spotlight to help you develop and shape yours.
During a time like this, you have to strip your company back to values and qualities that you think are most important. From accountability to transparency, it’s important that you find the daily strategies that work for your business—which may mean trial and error.
Even though you might not be able to fully recreate the past norm, you can make a new norm through your leadership and help develop a foundation in unchartered territories to help your team thrive during this time—and not just survive.
At Alley, our team is focusing on supporting our community digitally by sharing resources and hosting video events. We hope this event and our entire event series can help keep your business stay connected to the community, move forward in development, and grow with intentionality.
Noelle Tassey 0:00
So I think we are ready to kick off. We've got some attendees in and I'm sure we'll have more joining us in the next 30 minutes. But thank you so much, everybody, who has joined us. So we're going to just kick off quickly with introductions from everybody and then we'll get started talking about leadership in this unprecedented time. So for those of you who don't know, I'm Noelle Tassey, CEO of Alley. Alley is a company that with our corporate partners, including Verizon, Anheuser-Busch runs a nationwide network of accelerators and labs, we focus on connecting early-stage startups with corporate resources and fostering innovation all in the name of creating good change. So we're very focused on supporting companies that have social impact either in their mission or their business model and working with our corporate partners who also share those values. You can find more on our site at Alley.com and please feel free to sign up for our emails. Since we are doing about two of these panels per week as long as we're remote. Quick— quickly also for anyone who's on the line, we're running a tech for good accelerator in the Bay Area and applications have opened the deadline for participating is April 31. So definitely sign up. That's going to be an awesome remote accelerator and a great chance to explore new ideas and connect with mentors. So, awesome. Today we're going to be talking about leadership in a time of crisis with our awesome panel. I'll be queuing you all in for introductions and we'll start with Claude.
Noelle Tassey 1:51
I think she might be frozen. So Kyser, why don't you kick us off?
Kyser Thompson 1:55
Yeah, no problem. I hope that's not a— a bad omen. (Ah, there she is!) You know, while we wait for her, I'm Kaiser Thompson I run an agency called "Now What" we are a research and strategy agency or consultancy based in— based in Dumbo (Brooklyn, New York). I'm in Alabama right now at my in-law's house with my wife and two kids and dog. And we— our agency does market research and then we translate that market research into brand strategy or innovation strategy, etc.
Noelle Tassey 2:33
Awesome. Madan, over to you.
Madan Nagaldinne 2:37
Hi guys, my name is Madan Nagaldinne and I'm the Chief People Officer of Blink Health. We're about 300 people headquartered out in New York, focused on the future of how pharmacy and how the drug supply chain in the US moves and how to kind of make that service very digital and patient-first. Let's see, the last three years I've been in a few startups and prior to that, I spent about 12-13 years into large companies at Facebook and Amazon when they were very tiny. So, I had a chance to kind of see that growth of what— what it takes to take a company, which was very small, to where it is right now. And so, I'm— I'm glad I'm here. Thank you.
Noelle Tassey 3:22
Thanks so much. And last but not least, Claude,
Claude Silver 3:25
Right? Sorry about that. I'm in the backwoods of the Poconos in Pennsylvania, and it is unstable internet no matter where you go. So, again, I'm Claude Silver. I'm the Chief Heart Officer of VaynerMedia— VaynerX, a company that's founded by Gary Vaynerchuk, who you may or may not know if you're on social. I work for 800 different employees around the globe, and my job is literally to touch every single employee and infuse the agency with empathy.
Noelle Tassey 3:55
Love that and empathy is going to be a topic we're going to be talking a lot about today since everybody on this panel is trying to bring their company through a very difficult time from a people-focused angle. So I'd love to just kick off with a question to all three of you, which is: what's been the single greatest challenge as— as a leader and as a people-focused leader during this crisis? So whichever, whoever wants to start, that is for all three of you.
Madan Nagaldinne 4:28
Okay, I can go first, I think the single biggest challenge is trying to give clarity to people. Because if you really break it down into— at least for me, you've got a health challenge, you have a mobility challenge, and then you have an economic challenge. For all of us, all three of them are kind of, you know, happens in real-time. And the biggest challenge has been that when you make decisions, you know, how do you kind of make sure your decisions first are focused on keeping your employees safe, your families safe, etc. and then move the mobility and economic challenge. But in real life, they're not that easily kind of broken down. They're not that nicely siloed. So that's been a big challenge on trying to unpack this as it's kind of unraveling right in front of us.
Kyser Thompson 5:17
I would say that this— the term I've been using lately with my team, is we're in this period of "unique unknowns." And it's a— it's a time that we've never experienced, and there's a certain sense of, I don't know, togetherness in that with all— all of you and in the world, so to speak. And certainly in the business world, because there's no handbook for this. There's no real— or at least I haven't found true case study for what we're going through right now. So I think that the— the time we're in is unique, and then stuff you know, pours out from that. And— and it's also one of the biggest challenges as well as you know under that— under that umbrella is that I've never experienced anything like this where you have to take it day by day and actually early on like, hour by hour. And it was a— it has been an interesting experience in that sense of that literally in the position I'm in at least running this business of 30, around 30 people every day as a new— as a new thing, a new learning, a new change from Congress, a new issue with a client or whatever and that— that for me is one of— personally the biggest challenge.
Claude Silver 6:44
Yeah, I've been— I echo what everyone else has said and I've really been trying to use these phrases lately and we've gone from triage where it was all hands on deck, no protocol, everything changes within the hour, trying to make sure that our people are safe all over the globe and how to do that and then getting them all home and getting them set up with Wi-Fi if that's what they need, or how do we accommodate working parents and those types of things; to now, this almost like test-and-learn period, where, for the masses, things have really calmed down. For us in leadership we are— we are literally looking at balance sheets every single day, testing things out, learning from that retesting, learning. And then I think we, you know, eventually we will go into this transformative period where we will all come out you know, much stronger, I know that for sure. A leaner machine, if you will, much more empathetic, much more connected. We did not have a work-from-home culture at all, at all, at all. And now we do, so it's pretty amazing. The communication has been incredible. The— the transparency is at a level where you only hope that your company gets to. And I'm just incredibly thankful that we are there. And we got there out of necessity.
Noelle Tassey 8:15
Yeah, that's been a really interesting thing that we've heard. We've done a few of these panels. And I think to your point about transparency and also accountability, so many companies weren't prepared to work from home, weren't prepared to go remote, and I think there's a lot of reticence on the part of leaders to make that shift and you're scared of, you know, well, if everyone's not in an office together, how will I keep the team on track? How will I be accountable? And something that I've heard and that I've felt myself is my— my team has been so incredible at adapting to this challenge, being super accountable, super conscientious, over-communicating and, you know, something that I've found, I think a few other people have felt is, you know, this whole time it was really— our teams were probably much more ready to work remotely and in a distributed capacity than we thought. And it was really more of a leadership problem than anything else. And either not having the right systems in place or just not be able to let go. And I'd love to know if any of you have had that experience, either yourself, or a co-founder, or one of your other executives, And just what you've seen in terms of your teams really embracing remote work.
Claude Silver 9:24
I'll just— I'll chime in there real quick. The teams have embraced work from home, remote work, like, you know, like they were waiting for it yesterday, in many ways. I think that the bumps that we've had are literally equipment problems. Not enough bandwidth, and some logistics here and there. But it just goes to show you that the people know what it is they need and know what it is they want at scale and I— and I believe that in leadership, our— one of our main priorities is to be listening to people all the time, to be taking in the data and then to act on it. And I think this is a perfect example of how we've done that. It just took this— took this epidemic to get there.
Noelle Tassey 10:14
Kyser Thompson 10:15
One of the— fortunately for us, I mean, I think I'm on an outlier here— we were already set up to work from home. We do a lot of travel, team— we were already using Zoom, and— and all the other things. The interesting thing is, and I— and — I— my guess, my hypothesis is that a lot of companies will be going through something we went through four weeks ago, like coming up. And that was from Day One. I have a team of four directors, and they really pressed into me, "Hey, we need to— we need to do stuff now to keep the strength of our culture alive." Because we had that opportunity because we were, you know, in a position to work from home, so it's great. And I mean, just a word of advice, you know, I think is, that we've gone through like Claude has, these different stages; we've gone through triage, now we're in this new, new sort of normal. I think what's going to happen over the next few weeks months is culture will shift. And it's our job as leaders to empower the people, especially the people who you know, directly report into you. Like, hey, we need to keep a tight culture. And, and— but also be comfortable with your culture evolving in this. I mean, let's not hit anybody here. This is— this is bizarre. But there are ways that you can do that. And you could, I mean, honestly, it's like, every other meme I see is about this and there's so many ideas. Like, we had spirit week the second week, like high school. Every day was a different theme, you wore something. Like, we started that stuff from the beginning and it's been really helpful. I mean, it kind of wears of, but you as a leader, I think you need to just overcompensate for making sure those things happen, and they're consistent. Like, you know, everyone does a happy hour now. But just making sure that is a consistent rhythm in your team, and I think that cultural aspect will be— or at least make sure— making sure that you're evolving, maintaining, growing your culture, will be incredibly important for a lot of companies moving forward.
Madan Nagaldinne 12:22
Yeah, I think it's— yeah, people have embraced it, you have no choice, but it's very hard on a certain set of people. Very hard on executives, they're very hard on— if you are the CEO, and it's very hard on managers. The reason it's hard on managers is, to a large extent, the control command, you know: communicate, direct, etc, is now, to a large extent happening literally on the screen and the disproportional impact and the expectation from a manager to do all of this, to also lead the team remotely. It's very, very hard on a certain set of people, whereas if you were an individual contributor if you had just called work to do, most of us would agree— anecdotal, but I'm sure there's some studies that are gonna come out, that we were far more productive than we were than in an office, But the math on this works clearly, you're saving at least two hours, if not more on travel, on lunch, and coffee, etc. So you —while you are very productive, there are a certain set of people in the organization, in the traditional setup, usually managers and especially execs that are facing the other side of it, which is the impact or the expectation around, you know, tripling down and communication and being that much more visible. And also just consistent Zoom meetings or any screen-based meetings has a pretty negative psychological impact on people. If this group is interested, I will follow the study that just shows that you know, when you keep doing Zoom meetings, what happens to your brain? To large extenses, you're used to evoking feelings when you walk into a meeting which is just not visual or auditory, it's about feeling, it's about touch, it's about smell, so all of those senses that go in— into what you were conditioned for the last 20-30 years of your working life is now gone. You have none of them, all you have is just you and the person you're talking to on the screen. So the reset it does on your brain and the brain chemistry that gets impacted are things that I, you know, I kind of tell our managers, I'm facing it myself. And so that's— that's the downside of all of this. And as you kind of balance it out in terms of, you know, what, probably there is a middle path. I still am trying to figure that out. But that's the experience that I've had.
Noelle Tassey 14:36
We're having that experience too actually. It's so interesting that you bring that up, I— we literally just had a team town hall where we talked about the fact that Zoom calls, you know, when you're— especially if you're in management, right? It's back-to-back Zoom calls all day right now, and at the end of the day, you're like, I can't— I can't even string a sentence together. So, it's really, really, bad. So it's gotten to this point of like, what calls need to be face-to-face? Where is seeing your face going to, you— really enrich our culture and help us stay connected? Versus where would it be better if I'm on the phone, and maybe I'm like, walking around in my apartment, but at least I'm moving and I'm not just stuck in the screen. I'd love to know, you know, for everyone on this call, kind of how you guys are helping your teams balance that. We obviously— burnout is even more of a danger now when there's nothing to do really, but work or watch Netflix and eat. You know, so this is an important part of that for us. And I just love to know how you guys are kind of drawing the line around what needs to be face-to-face on Zoom and how are we making the most of that from a culture-building perspective?
Claude Silver 15:39
I mean, I— I think we're in it right now. I don't— I actually don't have any, any silver bullet in the answer. You know, we're a Creative Advertising Agency. So there are certain things that people do very well in close proximity with one another: and that is innovate, that is jam on ideas, that is bounce with— bounce with one another. And so our creative teams, our video production teams, they are doing this on a virtual screen, and still coming up with some incredible ideas. You know, I think creativity has taken on a very different slant right now in where— in the epidemic that we're in, but also in the fact that we are brainstorming on a Zoom and then going away and doing our work. And then coming back, you know, you're not— you're not creating, putting pixels together while you're on a Zoom. So, we're finding other ways that— so we're not always on this screen together. But a lot of the back-office staff, this is what we're doing, you know, and a lot of the project management stuff and I just said to my team yesterday, because we have a daily standup that we're gonna do every other day phone. Because I mean I needed— I need it just like everyone else needs it. You know, your eyes—
Kyser Thompson 17:01
That's a great idea.
Claude Silver 17:03
Yeah, I knew that my eyes are already tired, which is so different. So that's— that's what we're going to start— start doing actually tomorrow we just— just set it. So, some ideas there in terms of creativity, but we're working on it.
Kyser Thompson 17:20
Fun fact: these glasses are actually not prescription lenses. They're actually just for the screen. Yeah.
Madan Nagaldinne 17:31
Yeah. So one of the things that we've kind of educated— our managers are kind of going down this path is this— is the framework that you'll build; saying every one of your meetings needs to hit three key topics. We call it educate, execute and inspire. What I mean by that is, you need to have a framework to go into a meeting, and you're doing probably 8. 10, 15 a day, which is pretty hard. And so what we've done is that every meeting needs to have a section around with a manager educating the team on everything from what's relevant for that meeting, share that in context, you know, talking— talking about, it could be something about what's happened on the project, to what's happening on the phone, on your burn rate, on finances on how the company is doing. So as much as you can educate, you have to take a few minutes to plan for your meeting, you just can't go into a meeting, just— and hope that things would get better. So we have an education section, we have an execute section, which is, it's the job of the manager to inform the rest of her team on how the team is doing. On goals, on progress to goals, on who's doing what, what's the measure? We're kind of using in terms of like, how are we executing? So there's a section around that. And the third section is inspire. It's the job of the manager, anything from— I read this book that I think is relevant, or I think this TED Talk is very helpful, or one of our managers had a very interesting, he, he collated what happened in the last pandemic. And he went back, you know, multiple pandemics and said: "Look, this is the data, and this is how each of the pandemics has kind of played out." And then he actually compared the pandemic to World War One and World War Two, and how society kind of related to that. That was probably one of the best meetings I attended. And that was, you know, based on this educate, execute, inspire framework that we have. So that helps drive structure. If you are an exec, if you are a founder of a company, you could just be five people or 50 people, but having your own framework and following that is super helpful. Like, you know, like if you— if you kind of go to a coach, or a life improvement coach, he or she will tell you, the best thing you can do to improve your life dramatically is to build a routine, whatever that is. Walk 40 minutes in the morning, and do it for non-stop you— it'll be better than kind of randomly trying things. So we've kind of used the concept of building in routine— a routine in a digital environment. And you know, this is for us, the educate, execute and inspire. And we've also, I think I was telling Noelle about this in our last call, you know, talk about the companies that— that were actually born during the last recession. And so that is the inspire part of it. And there are some fantastic companies that were actually started in the last recession. So we talked about that. And so that's how I kind of drive a level of, you know, I would say, less anxiety in these weeks.
Noelle Tassey 20:30
And so that's the inspire part of what you're saying is really interesting to me. We just got a question in the chat, the Q&A chat, and most of this has actually already been answered. But part of it I thought was super interesting, which is how are you keeping company culture positive, during work from home? So I think it's interesting that there's this implicit assumption right now, I think that we should be trying to make, you know, bring more positive energy into our team interactions and I'm just curious how are you guys are kind of walking that line between not shoving it down people's throats? But maybe you know, moving positivity more towards inspiration or connection or not just being positive. So just curious, it's— it's pretty hard to stand up in front of your team, and we're going to talk about layoffs and restructuring pretty soon. It's quite hard to stand up and be positive when you know that you're about to have to do a restructuring or you've just laid off half your team.
Claude Silver 21:26
Yeah. I'm just going to jump in here because it's so super relevant. Since my team is the one that does the— all of the conversations when it comes to restructuring or anything like that. Literally, just before this meeting, Gary came on and was, you know, full of thanks and appreciation to our team, which I thought was really amazing for someone who is really holding this place afloat right now and doing everything he can to hustle and, and, you know, make sure that clients pay on time and all of those things, which is obviously not happening. So I will say that I think seeing and hearing from senior leadership is incredibly important. I think appreciation is incredibly important. getting people together— one of the things that I've been doing is getting different people together, different teams, different geographies, I call it 12 at 12. Originally, it was going to be 12 people at 12 o'clock and I was going to— we were just going to jam for like 15 minutes. It's now turned into an everyday thing. It's about 20 to 30 minutes. Anyone can sign up and they're from all offices and it's a way that— we do a quick like, hey, how's everyone doing? Where are you? Oh, you know, oh, you're in your grandmother's house. How are you doing? How are you doing with this time? Is there anything that you need from us? And then we do an icebreaker and everyone goes around, And it's just an incredible way to cross-pollinate and connect because obviously, you know, we are —I think we— human beings are wired for connection, or wired to belong. And so this is such a, this is a new way of connecting. So that type of cross-pollination is one thing that is really, really working and I actually do it twice a day because I do it with Singapore as well in the night. And I've trained other people to do it. I mean, anyone can do their own jam sessions and— and one of the things that I'm really proud of at Vayner that we've created what I call culture champions, you know, everyone is responsible for the culture, not just Claude, not just Gary and— and that really allows other people who I know have similar DNA or similar values and zip codes that are close by to engage. I know— we trust— we trust first. So people are very vocal on Slack and when they need something, or they're— they're really upset about people that we just let go of or whatever. I spend my time doing that. Talking to them being extremely honest on, you know, on the what and the why.
Noelle Tassey 23:59
I love that. Also, I love those jam sessions. I just actually wrote down a note to solve to— to try that we did. We did an all-hands meeting today and we've been sort of iterating on the format and we started incorporating like breakout rooms. Just having random small groups together, you know, was— was really, really fun. I think you miss that when you're in a 40 person Zoom Room.
Madan Nagaldinne 24:27
But I can— I think, Claude, it's very helpful to see what your CEO is doing. Certainly very famous for championing culture. One of the things that have worked for us is, we have a— we have a learning session with our CEO: "Learn With Jeff." And he uses that. So, for example, specifically, every month we have a learning plan. So this month was about self improvement. So we sent everybody a $10 book called: "Chop Wood, Carry Water." Very interesting book. Probably an 80-page book about self-improvement, it's actually fantastic. And then what Jeff, our CEO, Jeff Chaiken, our CEO does is, he uses a method which is very Socratic in it's teaching, he uses the same HBS, even to Harvard. And so he kind of uses that learning methodology. To have all our managers for example, we ask them to read the book. And then we did a 90-minute session with them, where you would cold call people on a specific topic. And then at the end of that meeting, we had specific behaviors that we signed up for. And then you know, then the next session is about— is on a different topic, etc. But the point here is that, from a culture standpoint, what you— what people want on the inspire section are things beyond what they can find on YouTube or whatever's available publicly. So in this case, you know, they were learning from someone who, who, you know, it's hard to kind of get his time, but that's really helped. So the learning session has helped. And also, we're just continuing to do this going forward. So that's been a big, big win for us. The second one on— while it is the inspire, well, it's not inspire— what people want from a culture standpoint is the honest truth. Everybody knows every company is running out of money. You're seeing fortune 50 companies, tapping their credit lines, not being able to pay, or you're seeing like, dissonance happening, for example, in Disney today is in the news for the wrong reason. For every company, people understand that what they want from you, as a CEO or an exec or a founder is absolute honesty, to the extent that you can share what's your burn rate, what's left in your bank, what's the, you know, what— what are some wins that— that we've had? And how are we thinking about the next set of layoffs, that they're going to come, or if we don't see growth, what do you think is going to happen? If you shy away from that conversation, then I think whatever you do in the Inspire section really won't work. And to the extent that you can be honest about it, saying this is the money in the bank, this is our burn rate, here are some conversations that we are having this is the product that we're building, which we think is irrespective of COVID or no COVID. We think it's going to have a great moment that people do appreciate it. So I would encourage leaders to kind of toggle between the inspire section on one side and the educate on the other. And in the educate piece, being very honest about it. And I think if, if I want to, you know, there's one thing that you— anybody on this call could read was how the CEO of Carta, C-A-R-T-A, the company, that— that kind of has a software that manages all pre-IPO listings, manage its layoffs. It's a phenomenal article on how the CEO had to make a tough decision and the process that he used to arrive at the people who are going to get fired. I thought it was raw, it was honest. And so if you are a founder, many of— many of you on this call are you know, that's a good, good way to start to think about it.
Noelle Tassey 28:04
That was a really amazing Medium post, the Carda one. I had, like five people send that to me yesterday, I think it really— it really struck a chord. And so that— and that's a great segue into the next thing we really want to talk about, which is layoffs. I know a lot of people on this call have had to make the difficult decision to let employees go. And I think we're now, and we've also talked a little bit about being at this inflection point, we're no longer just responding in a very reactive mode to a crisis that's changing every hour, but we're looking at longer-term business transformation. So there's the combination of taking on layoffs, letting people go either, you know, just because you need to increase your runway and you want to make sure that you can keep paying the people who are still on your payroll. And then there's also the business transformation piece of, how does this shift the business that I'm in? And then how do I need to restructure my workforce accordingly? So you kind of have both of these problems at once. So I guess I'd love to start with just the layoffs to improve runway during you know, as we head into what's almost guaranteed to be a pretty prolonged economic contraction and just hearing about your experiences with that. And then we'll move into the long-term restructuring transformation piece. Kyser, would you want to kick off? I know you recently went through this and— and had a pretty unique experience.
Kyser Thompson 29:31
Yeah, yeah. And this might— not knowing exactly who's on the line— on— in this, but this might be more relevant, just because— I'll give you a bit of a background or very, very quick TLDR of the agency. We, we had 32 people. Two— three of whom were contractors, reps for FTs and we, like I said are based in Dumbo in a big, you know, beautiful office space. We host a lot of workshops. We work on a project basis for various clients like fortune 50 clients, and we're running into all the same issues, and things I'm dealing with where, you know, net 60 turns into 180, days later, stuff like that. And I'm sure that a lot of you guys are facing that and dealing with that as well. So to add to Madan's point about that, and— and Claude, too, about what I'm— what I'm doing, we're just so much smaller and structured differently that the things I say are probably— the things we've been doing are probably kind of laughable. I mean, even in our weekly staff meeting, that we have every Monday morning, I, which we've always had, now it's just on Zoom. I— four or five weeks ago, like, early into this, I just started to share with everybody what I'm up to, which I rarely ever do, because most people don't care. But I think that there's an— there's an extreme amount of care with what the leadership of a company are— what are they doing right now? Because of the simple fact that everyone is watching the news, and tracking the news at an extreme rate. And, and that's important to understand is, that your team, I think, is just following things more closely than they would. Like, when have you ever tracked what Congress is doing? Or when— when have your junior people ever asked you about payroll protection plan, you know? So I have shared updates every week as much as I'm able to, to your point, Madan, like, you know, trying to be as fully transparent as I can with everything like: "Hey, we applied for the PPP loan, waiting to hear." and I said: "You know, we have these projects on hold. This one project is delayed and you know, this other project, they're not paying." And again, usually they would— they could care less and I would never update them. But I just want to kind of let them in and this— I go back to the unique unknown, you know, term that I keep using, it's like, they know that, they know that these times are unknown. And so anyway, that led to last Monday staff meeting, actually, in fact, two Mondays ago, I just took a more ominous tone, I knew that we were going to have to lay people off. We were in the middle of deciding that and just, you know, deciding whom we're going to lay off. And— and I didn't say we were having layoffs in that meeting, but I did say that we're considering all options. And then fast forward again to the last Monday staff meeting. I said, you know, we're— we're going to be making some changes this week, and I want to have— and I'm going to schedule a one-on-one check-in with everybody. I can— I'm able to do that. It was a— I mean, it was speaking of, you know, brain fog at the end of the day. I did that with all 32 people, and, you know, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And then Wednesday, I— you know, let go of the eight people that we let go of. So eight out of 32 was over a Zoom meeting like this, which, you know, frankly, it's wasn't so bad when the call ended because you're not awkwardly in the office. I'll just be very honest about that. But then another way is, like you miss the human touch. These are people that I really, really like. And they're really solid and— and that's difficult to just sit here in this house in Alabama and say: "Hey, we're letting you go for— for such-and-such a reason." And, and then I checked in with everybody else. The next two days one-on-one and I just had my script and I shared with them exactly what— what happened, why we made the decisions. You know, for what it's worth, I did not go through the criteria that we went through with— with each person but everyone kind of got it. And one of the, you know, I've talked to so many people and read so many things about this; one of the things that stuck with me, and I've really started to press into it, the layoffs is, you know, you— you, you focus a lot on, for us, the eight people we laid off. And sometimes you forget about the other 20-24 people. And you know, you read about things like survivor guilt, things like that. But one of the things that I thought about was the whole fairness factor. I think the biggest thing, my team— and it just relates to our culture is, they— they wanted to know, I think, I could be wrong with this, that they wanted to know that when we were making these decisions that we were being as, you know, as— as judicious as possible, as fair as possible. And that what— the decisions we were making were based on practical things. And, and I think that that fair process is— will be important for us, especially with you know, most of the workforce that we have. So anyway, I could go on forever about this.
Noelle Tassey 35:10
Claude, I think— I know there at VaynerMedia you guys went through something recently. I'm just curious how your experience and your takeaways compare? And also on the communication side, you know, to what Kaiser was just sharing, what, what were— what were you able to share? How much detail did you go into around the decision-making process?
Claude Silver 35:29
Yeah. So, um, you know, it's, it's interesting the timing in which COVID hit, because when we— we had been in the process of doing a pretty large restructuring in our creative department. Had COVID not hit and had we not left the office on the week of the 16th of March, then I would have had conversations in person with people in terms of the restructuring and roles going away. Which has nothing to do with a staff reduction or a layoff. I ended up having to do those conversations one by one by one by one on a screen. Very challenging. Obviously, we go in with as much grace and generosity of spirit as you can and empathy. In some cases, people saw that coming because they knew it was a creative restructuring. And in other cases, people were extremely upset because of the timing. We, you know, when we go about doing anything that is sensitive on a screen, it is just, you know, the idea of taking a moment and really grounding yourself. This is what I have to do all the time, ground myself and realize, like, I am going to affect someone's life right now and I'm not able to be in the same oxygen with them. And that's really—that's a challenge for an empath like myself. So, what can I do to make sure that I'm surrounding them with as much of me and as much of the, the ethos that we carry every single day that I possibly can? Knowing that some people are going to be upset and whatnot. So it is a challenge. It's a challenge no matter if you're in-person if you're not in person, but obviously, I think the screen provides just a different type of lens for these conversations. And, and the intention, obviously is always the same, which is to leave people okay, and knowing that there is some kind of forest through the trees and usually, you know, we have an alumni program where we're able to help people find that next role. And right now the alumni program is not as robust as it normally is. So in terms of the survivors and those that are left, so right now we've, you know, we've touched less than 4% of our company. So there's still a lot of people left. Today, I was on a Zoom with about 30 people who all lead up all of our ERG's, Employee Resource Groups, and was just doing an "Ask me anything." And I was as transparent as transparent can be, and really, really frank with people on what's going on, and why certain people are not here any longer. And you know, questions came in like: "Is there some— is there— will there be furloughs? Will there be staff— more staff reductions or layoffs? Will there be pay cuts? Will senior management take pay cuts?" Like, all of these things, and I need to be able to always, always just hold the space for those, those questions and the ones that I can answer with integrity, I will answer. The ones that I cannot answer with integrity and they are few and far between, but they happen, I will get back to them and they know that I will get back to them.
Noelle Tassey 38:53
So, you know with— with these restructurings in mind, I think that it's interesting, obviously both Kyser, you and Claude have gone through a restructuring during this difficult time for different reasons. And, Madan, when we talked last week, you mentioned that even companies that haven't had to restructure either, you know, because they were already in the middle of a pivot for like, the pre-existing business landscape before the crisis or companies that are responding to the crisis with a restructuring. This is— this is going to fundamentally change the way that we build culture and the way that we hire and staff. For our founders and CEOs on the call, what advice would you give to somebody who maybe hasn't had to make layoffs or break sides of the chain yet, but is kind of looking at the next 12 months figuring out what to do?
Madan Nagaldinne 39:49
So, I think let's talk with what, what is— what has this thrown up as advantages for founders? Like, what's in your favor? What's in your favorite is an absolute rock bottom talent market where you can find great skills, and very, very affordable costs. So, the question is, how flexible and how creative are you going to get to structure your company, and you start— as we start coming out of this? So if you're going to be doing work, or kind of going to grow the company, let's say, three, six months from now, in a very traditional manner, you know, it's not— you're not going to, kind of take advantage of this. For example, the world, in four weeks has gotten used to working remotely. So you have to ask this hard question— every single person on your team, including yourself, do they justify the compensation that you're paying them? If you are paying someone $120,000, and, are you getting 120K worth of, you know, innovation and productivity and everything else? Because, that same job now can be done by somebody sitting let's say, you know, in Alabama, who doesn't want to go out back into the city, with incredible skills, but she will be ready to kind of, you know, do— or kind of get onto a talent platform like Upwork and say: "Look, I can I can work for you for 20 hours a week" and therefore reduce your costs. If you don't think of these questions as a founder, everything from, you know, do I have the right set of people? Am I— am I taking advantage of the fact that I have a distributed talent pool right now? That just kind of learned how to work remotely, very quickly, then you would not take advantage of this. So that's one thing that I tell people. And if you look at some of the companies, you know, irrespective of COVID or not, have always done this very, very well. They've managed to not grow their headcount but grow their revenues and profits. And those are the dominant companies you kind of want to be or be associated with, or you want to— if you're leading that, then you want to, you want to be doing that. So take advantage of— one thing you can do is take advantage of the availability of very talented people who are now willing to carve out a specific amount of time per week, they might say, look I can do, I can work for you for 20 hours, and produce that level of outcome that you want. And then get used to talent platforms like, I just use Upwork as an example, there are quite a few of them there's Upwork, there is GoCatalant.com and a bunch of these, what I call talent platforms, where you will have a lot of, you know, people who will be willing to consult for you, and create a great kind of outcome. Including software engineering, it's not that, oh, I have to hire engineers fully, and then the rest of it, I can find a designer here for 20 hours, a marketing person there for 30 hours. I mean, every skill, including HR, including legal is now available, where it's kind of you don't need to pay, like, for a full-time employee to take advantage of this. Nobody has done it. Very few companies have done it. And if you have a plan, there's no playbook, you can go and try this. But there you know, there are things that you could do. That would make you a darling in front of your investors, because you are therefore innovating on talent, innovating on labor, and— and yet kind of producing the same level of, you know, outcomes that you want.
Kyser Thompson 43:16
I would also say that coming from a smaller company perspective— well, two thoughts. One is, I asked my director team when we were— when really I was making these decisions because ultimately that's another thing is, these decisions fall on you as the person— if you're running the company. And I, you know, I asked them about specific people, would you— would you bring on this freelancer before you brought this person on full-time again if we were to furlough. And, and that was like a good, a good gauge for me to understand like, okay, maybe some of our people aren't as strong as the talent that's— that we— that we work with, or the freelancers we work with. So that was one sort of thing. The other thing is just a word of caution. To all of you out there. Lots of laws are changing right now. And I think even in this new bill that's coming out there.— so maybe it's something in New York City. But certainly, if you're in New York and California, you need to look into the legal restraints that we have as businesses around contract workers, especially today because things are changing. And then there are different tax implications. And also, lots of protections are coming out for 1099s and all that stuff. It's something that I'm just tracking very closely right now because it's, I think it's going to affect our businesses and a lot of cities have wanted to do this for a while, put up protections for, you know, gig— gig workers or whatever. So that's just something to, to stay focused on and be careful about.
Noelle Tassey 45:05
Yeah, for sure. I think we could do an entire panel just on, on the gig economy, and managing freelance teams because that's a whole other— whole other bag of worms. So we had somebody write in with a question, and I love this because it's, it's almost somebody's checking in on— on everyone here. So how, as leaders, have you've been handling these decisions? And you know, obviously, everyone here is very people-focused either just in their role or in their outlook or both. So it's not, you know, these aren't just business decisions, they're people decisions, and no one really checks in on you. So how have you found support? And I think the other question that I have for everyone is not just how have you found support and where has it come from? But also, you know, how have you been able to find peace with some of these difficult decisions that either you've already made or that you see yourself having to make?
Claude Silver 46:03
I'll jump in. It's a— I think the second part of that question I really am attracted to because, while the decisions are difficult, and getting to that decision— getting to any decision when it has to do with a human being takes some time. Whether or not that is talking to department heads talking inter— inter-departmentally; again, I'm in an advertising agency, looking at past reviews, and then the finances of staffing plans and that person within whatsoever. Those are all things we have to take into account, but I can say that I know there's truth in what I'm doing. And I know there's a reason for what I'm doing. And I know that will pay off in time because our entire company is shifting as this is happening. Yes, everyone's company is shifting. But we— this is a— we're doing a cultural shift that we actually wanted to do. This is just has sped us up, you know a lot faster and it has really put, you know, like, the pedal to the metal and sometimes you need that, right? You need— it's a gift of adversity in many ways and it will make us more resilient. But I can say that there is— there is truth in my— in what I'm doing. So I don't feel like I'm out— I'm acting out of integrity, as I mentioned before, because that would be a real "no, no" for me, and I would never do that. And I would never be asked to do that. So when it comes time to actually— from "Go Time", it's something that all of us are aligned on, and that Gary and I see mano-a-mano on. There's no, there is no question about what I'm about to go do or what we're about to go do. It's honest. So, that's what I can say.
Kyser Thompson 47:57
I think it's a good— that's awesome. I think also it's— what's sad, like you walk into that, or you get on the screen or whatever, with a certain sense of confidence in that and— and I, I have seen, at least I felt that that has been read. Like, read as like, you—, you know the decision that you're making, and people believe in that, as difficult it is. That's just my take on it. I think that that confidence that you walk in— and sharing that decision is important too.
Noelle Tassey 48:34
For sure. And how do you guys in terms of, I guess finding your peace, is the follow on to that, with something like, shifting to— frankly shifting to like, a lower cost 1099 option that we were just talking about, right? If you're— if you're trying to manage your runway and cash on hand, how do you make that decision ethically as a leader knowing that on the one hand, it's much better for the bottom line of your business, perhaps but, you know, from a more ethical perspective, you'd rather keep the person fully on payroll perhaps, like how do you square the circle on that?
Madan Nagaldinne 49:11
I think it's modeled in a dilemma every time you have to make the decision. It's hard now because it impacts people's lives and you know that it's —it's, there's no easy answer. I think Claude did it really well, but there is a very easy answer on is it that, like, are you doing something that you wouldn't do otherwise? But in this case, the way I would look at it and is personally my opinion would be, what is your allegiance to? If your allegiance is to you— is to make sure the company survives, then you have to make that as your top priority to say, that is where you want to start. You want to say "Okay, I have to make sure that the little baby, which is mine, this is my startup, it has to survive." And once that's the supercenter, that's the underlying foundation, then you have a bunch of options that you can build on top of that. Everything from the layoffs is probably the most visible one that gets kind of written about and emotional about it, a lot of people are including me, and many of us on this call. But also then you start to think about what are your other options? And everything from pay cuts to furloughs to, I think what Kyser was saying, be careful about how you do this. And— and at the same time, if your allegiance is to say, I have to make sure the company survives, then I think the decisioning becomes a little bit more easier. Because then you can make decisions on who needs to go, who needs to stay? How are you making those decisions, what framework you're going to use? And then you could to— to an extent, your question, you know, if you're like, I'm going to layoff people, but I need certain— certain skills, certain work to be done. Can you go back to the person who just got laid off saying, look, I can give you a consulting gig. Again, there are a lot of legal laws, you need to make sure that you're not tripping, but I'm just giving you an open all of you, and saying how can you help your own people who were with you that you can no longer afford? Because you're, you know, if you go back to the framework and saying, I have to make the company or I have to ensure the company survives, then it's relatively, I wouldn't say easier, but that would be a first— first step for me. That would, that's how I would start. And if you look at how founders have made these decisions, you know, you could be a founder of five people, or you could be running a 500-people company now, but when you made that decision, it always was— the allegiance was to the entity that you formed, that you knew had a much bigger social impact or an impact to society, if it— if it had legs to run. If it does not have legs to run, you don't have enough— enough shots at gold, then you're done. So that's how I would look at it, saying that your entity, your company, will eventually, if it survives, has a much stronger impact on the largest section of the society, then that— this person that you're letting go, and then make the decision based on that.
Kyser Thompson 51:57
I would also say, or just add to that real quickly is; in addition, is thinking about those people that you still have on. We've talked about survivors, but those people you still have on, you know, it— there's a certain sense of like, you want to, and I— I do, I mean, I— I believe, and just, personal opinion, that that— that should be the priority at the top is like, you want to keep the company, you know, alive. But you think about the people, and this is what I told my "survivors" is like: "Look, you know, these decisions are made with the company in mind, and you in mind, like we want to continue—" you have to be careful about communicating it like that. But, you know, this is about them, as well. And this is about their, their jobs. And again, I don't like, directly say that to them, but just something around that. To the question, just in case this helps, about how— you know, how, as we— we, as leaders are dealing with this, like, I don't have— I mean, I have a partner and all that, but I don't— it's just sort of me. I have advisors, you know, just— I don't pay them to be advisors, they're just sort of, you know, you know, mentors that I've talked to throughout this process. And I sped up, like, I was calling, I was like, "Hey, I need some help. I need some advice." I think to Claude's point, of just like, being so prepared with your decision, and confident in your decision. And then the second thing is that you know, I just— I just want to live by— it's a Biblical principle of just rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. I think it's really, really important for us, as leaders, at least in the size of my business, is to mourn the loss or grief, like grief is a, is a big thing in this— in this world of layoffs and letting people go, is like, spend the time like processing it. Like you just— well, for me personally, I just let go of eight people. Like, I can't just— I think as leaders, we have a tendency to just— let's move on, you know, tunnel vision, move forward. But I— I just feel like I have to, I've had to process that. That doesn't mean dwell on it for months, it just might mean for somebody like a 30-minute walk. And just think about that, and obviously, as Claude, you were mentioning, like, you're affecting these people's lives in major ways. And— and I think for you, personally, for us personally, we cannot forget that. Like, that— that is on us. And, and I think that the processing of that is very important. So I've actually told my team to do that, too. I'm like: "Look, some of these your friends, some of these you've never worked with, and you don't even know that well, even though it's part of our culture, like, still spend some time thinking about this and processing this, because this is a real huge effect on them. And whether you know it or not, this is— this has an effect on you. And I think it's important for you to go through that." Anyway, that's— who knows if it's gonna work, though, I don't know.
Noelle Tassey 54:46
I love that.
Wow, I think taking the time to reflect right now is certainly not a bad thing for, for so many reasons. So I love that. And we're almost out of time, so we're just going to close out the panel with, you know, one lightning round for everybody here, which is: just the most positive development that you've seen in your team culture or, you know, the thing that, from a human resources perspective has been the— the most positive surprise of this experience. So, Claude, we'll start with you.
Claude Silver 55:21
Yeah, I think— I think rallying around the logo. I think is a really big— something that I've seen even more so that people are— it is one team, one dream. And, and that makes me really proud. And I've seen that happen virtually and I— and I feel it, it's not just I see it.
Noelle Tassey 55:40
Oh, wow. Madan?
Madan Nagaldinne 55:42
Yeah, for me, it is the fact that you can run your business remotely and run it as well, with certain tweaks— that is going to force us into an absolutely new, probably bizarre bu,t probably bizarre in a positive sense world that we're going to inhabit. I can't think of going back to my CFO and saying: "Hey, I'm going to need a million bucks to open a new office, and do all this nice stuff in conference rooms and dah-duh-duh..." I don't even know how those conversations are going to happen. So if you were in the office business is not a good time to be in. It is there is simply no appetite for it because most companies have seen that you can run most businesses remotely and run it pretty well.
Noelle Tassey 56:23
I love— I love that answer, especially because Alley obviously has a workspace component, but you're totally right. Kyser?
Kyser Thompson 56:33
I would say, in my position, you know, everyone knows "lonely at the top" and all that. I think that that is a real thing, and, definitely a real thing in this world, and it's exacerbated. But I— I just think that the people that, you know, your right-hand people, your lieutenants, whatever you want to call them. For me, it's four— it's a team of four directors. I brought them in early in the process, and I was just so encouraged by— I told you guys this the other day, like, the text messages I got, when— the morning it was happening. The Slacks from— for them, and just like— one of them sent me 17 memes just rapid-fire just like, to try to make me laugh because she knows I like dad memes, you know. And that was hugely encouraging. And then, you know, I got two text messages from two of the eight people that we laid off, you know, two days later, just saying how thankful they are of the job and everything. And I think it just reminded me of, you know, the culture that we've built and the culture you build. I don't know, it pays off in times like this and they really understand the decisions you're making, especially in this, you know, COVID-19 time. And those two things were really encouraging for me.
Noelle Tassey 57:57
Yeah, and— and to round it out, I'll throw one in, which actually goes to what Madan was saying. Obviously, Alley is a business that, for its entire history has been physical, first. We've had labs that are in actual workspaces. And we run events like this in-person that are around person-to-person, in-person connection. And seeing how quickly our team, that is very specialized in doing that well, has pivoted to running a completely different type of experience and fostering connection and innovation in different ways. And for me, that has been the big win. So, that concludes our panel for today. Thank you so much to our panelists and attendees. For those of you who liked today's panel, it is going to be available on our website tomorrow, the full recording. So please feel free to download it, share it, you know, watch it again, if— if you missed anything and tomorrow we're also gonna be doing another panel on the future of live experiences in the age of AR and VR with guests from Evercoast and Magic Leap. So we're really excited. Thank you again, Claude, Kyser, and Madan.
Claude Silver 59:07
Thank you so much.
Noelle Tassey 59:08
Claude Silver 59:09
Kyser Thompson 59:09