Despite the chaos and ambiguity of the pandemic, or maybe because of it, Marcia O’Connor, Founder and CEO of The O’Connor Group, was very clear on her #1 job as a CEO last year.
“To be the lighthouse,” she shares. “To rally the team. To be a beacon of hope. At the beginning, every one of our employees was wondering, ‘Do I have a job?’ As an employer, mine was, ‘Can I afford to keep everyone?’”
Looking back, she acknowledges that the crisis made the O’Connor Group stronger as a company, reinforcing what they stand for as well as the value of what they deliver to their clients and community. She also acknowledges, however, the difficulty of the work which she and her team did last year, day to day, to get them through the whirlwind.
“Preparation is everything during a business downturn.”
Marcia never ceases to inspire me whenever we talk. Her energy, sense of purpose, and commitment to her relationships and her community are truly energizing and enlightening. And I’m honored that she’s chosen to be a part of our CEO Think Tank® community over the past year.
Here’s just a few of the lessons that I learned from her in our recent conversation – about the power of preparation and teamwork, listening to the market as well as your employees, and acknowledging your own fears and vulnerability as a leader.
1) Be prepared.
“Preparation is everything during a business downturn and we were,” Marcia starts off by stating. “I founded the business in 2007 so I had lived through a recession. I knew the importance of having a strong operating system in place and a plan and knowing your numbers. You know there’s going to be ten-year cycles in business. So, you’ve got to have your reserves, at least three months cash reserve in the bank, and a plan.”
2) Have a rhythm to stay focused and a clear purpose to ground you.
Marcia used her Weekly Level 10 Meetings to stay on top of her payroll, her trailing 36 weeks, billable people and what each of her team members’ priorities were. She used her plan to keep herself focused and her faith that she is here to help others to ground herself. “My faith underlies everything that I do and gives me a sense of purpose, no matter what is going on.”
3) Be the CEO.
“My job was clear. Keep people focused and positive. Every day we would do a 15-minute Zoom call that everyone had to be on and made the agenda, ‘What’s the one good thing that’s happened?’” She also had the team pick a day that they oversaw the call and share personal stories, prom pictures, Mother’s, and Father’s Day stories. “Anything to help remind us of the positive events happening in our lives.”
“Our mantra was ‘we are here to share best practices, resources, and our expertise.'”
4) Rally the team and keep them engaged.
“One of the most powerful things that came out of last year was the expansion of our network. We were trying to help our employees feel engaged since they couldn’t work. So, we came up with the idea of doing a campaign to expand our followership on LinkedIn by sending a message to a friend and asking them to like our page. We went from 3,300 to over 10,000 followers. And then we celebrated!” Marcia also tried to reallocate her staff who weren’t billable, having them work on marketing and sales, reaching out to their network to see how clients were doing. “The great thing about Zoom is that it broke down the silos between HR and Recruiting. Now they’re working together well and have created strong relationships. We’ve got a lot more interaction and communication, even a year later.”
5) Leverage the opportunity to serve.
“Throughout the pandemic we never focused on selling. Our mantra was ‘we are here to share best practices, resources, and our expertise’. Early on, the team came up with the idea of “Survival Kits” as part of our weekly newsletter, and that turned into the “Thrive Guide” during the summer, and then ‘The Connector’. All of which were weekly emails initially but now are sent out twice a month.” Her team also held complimentary HR Office hours, Talent Talks and other face to face Zoom meetings to answer questions and create community with her clients as well as her strategic relationships.
6) Acknowledge your own vulnerability.
“I did panic at one point,” she shares humbly. “I have a massive fear of loss, our billing was 700 hours down, and in June of last year as we were making our way through all of the issues, I just started crying during our Leadership Team meeting. So, I turned off my camera, got myself together and then came back. I certainly second guessed myself many times, but I do know that the sun will shine tomorrow, and we’ll get through things together. And I’m proud of the work that everyone has done to get us here.”
“Companies that created trust during the last year are going to do well through this…[The] one’s that didn’t – they’re under threat.”
So what does she see as she looks to the year ahead?
“Companies that created trust are going to do well through this,” states Marcia. “One’s that didn’t, that weren’t open and vulnerable with their employees – they’re under threat. Prepare now. Do stay interviews. Try to engage with them. Take care of your people!”
The talent shortage isn’t going away any time soon, but Marcia and her team are committed to serve.