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How Running A Public Company Prepared Me to Lead Through Volatility

Celebrating the wins—both big and small—is more than just a feel-good notion. It translates into motivation, which is a key moneymaker.

Photo courtesy of Jason Goodman via Unsplash

If you had to sum up the first quarter of 2022 with one word, it might be volatile. From the pandemic’s toll on our personal lives, to our grocery bills and stock portfolios, everything seems to be in flux.

Fueled by this era of uncertainty, pandemic fatigue makes it easy to long for the days when quarterly plans rarely swayed, and long-term goals weren’t a moving target.

But there are perks that come with this constant state of disruption. We’ve been forced to become more flexible in our thinking, get clearer on priorities and become more efficient with our resources. It’s also highlighted the importance of operating with a strong sense of purpose.

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If running a publicly-traded company during this period has taught me anything, it’s how to lean into the fray, endure volatility and help people get through their best and worst days. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

Fewer Goals Have Greater Impact

Companies today are facing an enormous list of moving targets. Just when you think a project is trending in the right direction, supply chain disruptions or mass absences come into play and suddenly it’s thrust back into uncertainty.

When there are so many moving variables, setting goals can seem self-defeating—especially if you haven’t changed your approach to creating them. Studies suggest most people fall into a trap of setting too many goals, or choosing unattainable ones, and only about 19 percent actually achieve what they set out to accomplish. Those subpar results can wreak havoc on company morale, initiating a cycle of failure that’s hard to break.

So, how can you change your approach? Start by getting clear on a few realistic goals that will actually move the needle. Think about it—even if you only reach one top goal each quarter, not only have you moved your company forward, but you’ll have a lot to celebrate along the way.

One way we’ve gotten clearer on our goal setting is by shifting from annual performance indicators to objectives and key results (OKRs). Rather than holding ourselves to long term goals that are often out of our control, this switch has allowed us to hold ourselves accountable to what we can control from one quarter to the next and measure results accordingly.

Being clear on goals also means that when you have to pivot—as many of us have over the past two years—you don’t forget what your priorities are.

Exhausting Your Knowledge Pays Dividends

In this era of volatility, your communications staff is more important than ever.

Running a public company has taught me not only how crucial it is to get information out to shareholders and employees, but also how complicated it can be. For shareholders, there are limits to what you can say and when you can say it. For employees, there’s always a question about whether you’re under communicating or oversharing. Then factor in that everyone consumes information in different ways, and it becomes clear that nailing down the art of communication is critical.

It’s worth the effort—the more instability we face, the more important it becomes to keep everyone aligned on the greater vision. When the turbulence of the outside world feels overwhelming, it’s crucial to use every platform at your disposal to unite behind a concrete vision. Social media campaigns, town halls, pulse checks, newsletters, training sessions—they’re all more important than ever.

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Seems obvious, right? But this is where too many leaders are failing. According to a survey conducted by Asana, about 45 percent of knowledge workers said their organizational goals had recently changed, but only 16 percent felt those goals were communicated effectively.

Employees feel most assured when they’re constantly engaged. So, don’t feel bad about talking too much, because there’s never been a better time to be connected to your team and stakeholders.

Small Wins Become Big Motivators

As a CEO, I’m not immune to the emotional ups and downs of running a business—especially as we’ve dealt with huge breakthroughs and hard moments over the past two years. One way I combat the lows is by making a point of celebrating the wins when they happen. When I’m excited about something we’ve achieved, it’s not enough to just announce it. I want my team to feel it too.

One way we’ve attempted to cultivate joy into our work culture is by making our employees owners. Having literal buy-in allows our team to really feel the effects of our collective wins and hard work.

We’ve also doubled down on celebrations in our company town halls, shouting out team members who are doing solid work and pushing the company forward. As much as possible, we look to celebrate wins that align with our core values so that they become more than just words on our website—they are lived experiences that are acknowledged and openly appreciated. 

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Celebrating the wins—both big and small—is more than just a feel-good notion. It translates into motivation, which is a key moneymaker. According to Gallup, only about 36 percent of workers felt actively engaged at work last year, but the companies who succeed in engaging employees are about 21 percent more profitable. Those companies will be in a much better position to navigate prolonged volatility. 

The pandemic has had a lasting impact on all of us—it’s claimed lives, disrupted supply chains and upended businesses in every corner of the world. As ready as we may be to put this chapter of uncertainty behind us, the skills we’ve honed that have made us more nimble and resilient will strengthen our workplaces and society for decades to come. I know it’s exhausting at times, but now is the time to lean into the volatility and accept that the bumps you’ve taken can make you stronger than you ever thought possible.

As Winston Churchill said, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” I’m taking the optimistic approach, embracing the turbulence and riding it to new heights.

Dave Dinesen is the CEO of CubicFarms, a local-chain agtech company specializing in automated, commercial-scale indoor farming technology.

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