By: Brendan Halloran, January 05 2023
It’s no secret, it’s been a challenging time for the technology sector. Tech companies like Facebook and Amazon have experienced layoffs while the sky-high interest rates continue to pose challenges for founders and their organizations. With more challenges looming this new year, it’s more important than ever to ask, how can we lead our companies through these uncertain times?
One leader courageously tackling this issue is Michele Romanow, Co-Founder and CEO of Clearco. Romanow is no stranger to the Elevate stage, she’s inspired countless startups and businesses in the community over the years, most notably on how a startups can get cash in the door in her Elevate Live talk in 2020. She joined us again for an exclusive sit down on the Think 2030 Main Stage at Elevate Festival 2022. Romanow outlined the crucial steps leaders must take to forge a path through a challenging economic environment. From decisive action to clear communication to reframing your mindset, here are 5 ways to lead through uncertainty.
1. Pivot quickly. Markets and the economy can change, and change quickly.
“I think about what I was thinking about in January  and it certainly wasn’t [that] we are going to go into a big recession, inflation is going to be at its highest rates, interest rates are going to go up, we’re going to have a massive war in Europe, and that would all happen in the span of six months,” remarks Romanow.
It’s true. The head-spinning amount of challenges in such a short time places immense amounts of pressure on the shoulders of founders and tech leaders. Romanow relates by citing that her own company, Clearco, went through these changes while anticipating lots of international growth within the year. She says, “When the markets turned, it made sense for us to cut some experimental projects and cut a part of our team, which is devastating for a founder to have to do.”
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However, companies are not completely helpless in these times. Identifying problems and taking decisive action is essential to a company’s survival. “The companies that win, adapt quickly,” says Romanow. And what type of pivots should founders be looking at? “The people that take you through good times are also not always the same people that take you through bad times, and so rebalancing the right group of people you need on your team is really hard and it’s absolutely mandatory for this period of time.”
2. Take a Balanced Approach. Romanow suggests that bracing for the worst and hoping for the best could help you realistically navigate the choppy waters of a crisis. It’s important to see upcoming roadblocks and think about the ways they can affect your business. One of your greatest strengths will be to face adversity head-on with an optimistic outlook of your company’s future.
3. Be Transparent. Communicating bad news is much harder than sharing good news, and that’s why it’s essential to be transparent with your employees. When challenges emerge, Romanow feels the conversations need to be honest.
“Here’s the plan that we’re going to go with and I cannot promise that things are going to go perfectly, a) according to plan or that b) things will not get worse.”
Though difficult, transparency pays off in the long term. “I’ve been very clear with my team, and it’s really hard because I don’t know how this is all going to shake out at the end of the day. So, having that vulnerability and transparency with your team is exceptionally important.”
4. Reprioritize Resources. Crisis or not, the default mindset for founders should be to always consider how to do more with less, advises Romanow. It’s a mentality that she has held since the early days of her career, “This is my second business. The first business failed… We were building an early e-commerce company in Canada in 2010 called Buytopia, which was one of the early daily deal sites. And again, no one would give us money… The first thing I remember is that whiteboards seemed incredibly expensive. So, one of the weekends we went to the hardware store, we went to Canadian Tire, we bought like those big sheets of wood and whiteboard paint… I remember we made six whiteboards for like 50 bucks and I have just never heard of a founder in the last 10 years trying to save money on a whiteboard.”
5. See Every Challenge as an Opportunity. As you progress through your career, you’re going to experience highs and lows. It comes with the territory. However, Romanow believes there is always an opportunity to take advantage of market shifts.
“I graduated into the 2008 recession and so I started my career learning how to operate in far harder conditions than we have been in for the last 13 years, but this is not to say to anyone that this is easy, that this will be a short period of time, and it’s a good reminder that now is probably a great time to [think] about starting a business because there’s a lot of different changes happening.”
Watch the “Leading with Uncertainty” talk on the Think 2030 Main Stage at Elevate Festival 2022, hosted by Amber Mac, featuring Michele Romanow:
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