The DX Team: Pivoting in Uncertainty
Our story of how we pivoted as people and a company during a time of uncertainty and unplanned challenges is a story we each experienced in a variety of ways...
...as a CEO, as a mother, as director and designers of brand new programs, and as people growing and taking on new and exciting challenges.
It was a rough sea as we sailed our way through this storm known as the pandemic. We may have come out a bit battered and bruised, but stronger and more capable than ever before.
DX has bonded as a team, overcome obstacles that we thought were insurmountable, and have grown together as individuals as well as a cohesive unit.
Here is how we pivoted and what we each gained in the unique experiences of our shared story.
Alex Draper, CEO & DX Founder
As CEO of a fast-growing start-up, my work didn’t change.
My job is to co-create clarity so that my people can be empowered and have autonomy in executing their jobs, therefore affording me the time to get to know them on a personal level. I can then allocate my resources and that of the business to where it is needed. That is my full-time job.
Of course, I have management tasks; sell, market, consult, supplier negotiations, IP, legal, content creation, delivery of product, etc. etc. But my job, and that of every person who has direct reports, is to lead.
So my work didn’t change, however, how I went about it did. A lot.
On March 13th our world came tumbling down. That was the day I knew our old business was dead. It was change or die.
I spent the weekend thinking through WHAT needed to be done. This was a time when CEOs and leaders needed to step up and engage in a big-picture perspective as they identified what their business needed given the new environment.
Monday, March 16th, I told the team with brutal honesty and a little bit of hope what we needed to do.
My pivot point was to provide clarity without getting buy-in, as I saw what my team didn’t or might not understand. This was a first: My entire team was forced to adapt to changes without their buy-in.
My next big pivot point was around autonomy and how much to give.
As the months went by I started to transition to more shared commitment and ownership. I stole the autonomy from my team, but only for a short period of time. There is only so much a team can handle being told what to do!
Once we were over the proverbial hump, I could trust my team more and put autonomy back in the hands of where it should be: the people.
Overall, I'd say my most difficult pivot point as a leader was around the non-work related stuff.
We are one big family here at DX and we genuinely care for each other.
As a leader, you need time and energy to have conversations and be able to listen to the human needs of your people. Yet, when you are providing clarity while stealing autonomy, you end up “doing” more of the work and spending less time with your team. There is only so much time in a day.
Where we once had solid equity, we now have a few holes.
Prior to the pandemic, everyone used to get what they needed and there was fairness in the team. Now we have good days and bad. We used to have more bad days than good, but the good times are coming back and we are bringing balance back into the force.
The force is strong at DX as we have good people who are willing to adapt hard, even if that means not always doing the job that most aligns with their strengths or even a job that they were hired for. But isn’t that the magic tipping point; having the right people with the right culture?
We have adapted, learned, and DX is stronger because we were willing to pivot.
Kristin Dammacco, VP of Operations
When I think about the changes we have had to make in the past four months, the overall thought I have is that I’m probably the luckiest person on our team right now.
The truth is, my pivot to our current environment has been pretty smooth. Yes, there have been some added stress because I live inside the numbers, but overall my day to day has not changed all that much.
Watching our pipeline change dramatically and our clients canceling programs was and still is hard. Making adjustments to how we do business is a big deal. But none of that changes what I actually do: I gather the data, share with the team, and we make decisions based on that data.
I pay our bills, I check in the with the teams to make sure they have what they need and are doing ok, I work on contracts and invoices, and I look at bigger picture things we are doing as a company to make sure we are living our values. All of that has stayed the same.
I certainly miss those “water-cooler” moments and seeing people I genuinely enjoy being around on a regular basis, but we worked hard early on as a team to make sure we could still prioritize our relationships while also getting the clarity we need in order to function happily.
I'd say the harder adjustment for me has been at home.
DX was not a normal 9-5 every day in the office type-of environment. It was rare we were all in the office together consistently throughout the week. That being said, I was well set up to work from home pre-pandemic.
What I was not prepared for was working from home every day with a 1-year-old and my husband also working from home.
I’m an introvert at heart. I love being alone. My commute to and from work was precious alone time and my husband is the same way. Because of this, we had to have some frank conversations about our needs and how we could get those needs met while also caring for a 1-year-old.
Creating a schedule that works for both of us and ensures the baby is prioritized was hard. Being home 24/7 is hard. There have been days when I have had to tell the team that I'm not at peak performance and unless it's an emergency, I needed to take a day.
There have been moments where I have been so frustrated with myself because completing the simplest task was suddenly taking way more time than it used to. So, I try to make sure I am kind to myself.
I spend time outside with the kiddo in the middle of the day. I’m cooking better meals for our family at home more often. I'm opening up and letting the team know where I’m at.
There is so much to grieve in all of this – we have to give ourselves the space to acknowledge that and process it.
On the other hand, I have gotten to work closely with some teams that I might not have pre-pandemic. I have seen our company do some incredible stuff in such a short time and that has been inspiring!
I have gotten to spend precious time with the kiddo that I would not trade for the world. I am actually getting some projects done around the house that have been waiting for who knows how long.
I have had the time to take a look at myself and try to be a better ally to the marginalized people in our communities. I have been able to support local and black-owned small businesses.
I'd say my biggest pivot point has been reframing what I lost during the pandemic. When I go down the list of all of the changes I've experienced, I realize that I haven't lost all that much. I've actually gained a ton.
As I said – I’m lucky and I know it.
Audrey Hebson, Director of Program Management
My transition during the past couple of months has been less of a pivot and more of a whirling dervish.
My role during “normal” DX operations is Director of Program Management. This means that I handle our kit inventory, logistics of getting session materials to client locations, meeting with clients to handle any customizations, getting facilitators where they need to be, etc. etc.
When the quarantine first started, I certainly had my hands full with managing all the cancellations that were coming through, but after that, I didn’t have any programs to manage.
Fortunately, I have some other skills in my back pocket. When we started developing a whole new virtual program and devoting more time and energy into marketing this program, I was able to put those skills into action.
Now, my days are spent in a more creative world: designing brochures and new imaging for our marketing endeavors. I am writing newsletters, the occasional blog post, and managing third party creative work. I'm meeting almost daily with members of my team that I barely interacted with before as we work together to meet our marketing and sales goals for this quarter.
When this year started, I never thought I would be doing many of the things that I’m doing now. I have gotten to imagine and be creative, which I didn't get to do very much in my “real job”.
I have grown and stretched myself as we have grown and stretched as a company.
To be part of the many different things we are executing (and succeeding in!) has been eye-opening to me in regards to what we can accomplish when we are willing to be flexible.
Now that DX is providing more virtual opportunities, I know this will open up a whole new world in my program management role.
I'm already developing systems and processes to ensure that all of our virtual programs are delivered smoothly while still planning on working that creative side of myself as we continue being flexible with the whirling dervishes that come our way.
Matt Sandel, Director of Design
How have I pivoted in my role during the pandemic? To put it in one word: Drastically.
From solely being an in-person experiential learning company (barring our online reinforcement tools) to creating virtual sessions with the same amount of “Aha!” moments that DX is known for… it took some serious grit and creative thinking; and, to be honest, I relished in it.
It was something new and exciting and we had the right team and the right mindset to do it.
I cannot tell you the number of comments on the design team communication channels that ended with, “Alright, let’s do it.”
Failing fast, learning from mistakes, and actively listening to those close to us that saw the alpha of the alpha was just a glimpse into the future we can manifest.
The team rallied, the team succeeded, and we are now immensely stronger because of it.
We quickly realized that CLARITY was and still is the name of the game.
Crystal clear expectations, implementing constructive feedback loops, and constant communication with our team and colleagues enabled the pivot and consistent changes we were experiencing to turn into just another day at work.
There were grueling days that turned into long nights, but our team stuck together. We saw the light at the end of the tunnel and the light turned into not just an end-point, but a whole array of possibilities.
We opened the door at the end of the tunnel and now we have dozens of doors to peek through leading us down not one path, but many.
Our minds are open and we are ready to face new possibilities!
Ryan Aguiar, Business Psychologist
My introduction to DX was a unique experience as I’ve spent less time on the pre-pandemic team than the post-pandemic team. In many ways, it felt like working for two different organizations.
The first DX I worked at made a point of making a human connection in each session we conducted by making sure we were in the room together. We emphasized human interaction before that became a health hazard.
In our eyes, it was necessary to see each other in order to make a human connection. So much so that we traveled all around the world to deliver that message in person. Yet, quarantines around the world made us reevaluate what it meant to connect with coworkers.
How could we still find that connection in a remote world?
The new ecosystem forced adaptation, and with it came innovation. We were forced to confront the problem of making human connections over the internet.
What we found was that it actually wasn’t that hard!
After removing that limitation from our minds, we realized that this new format could increase the number of people we reach and help while still delivering impactful human learning experiences.
Through the chaos and uncertainty, we were able to find a silver lining.
Moving forward, we are much more excited about the opportunities these new solutions present to us.
Emily Markanich, Director of Sales Support & Marketing
Looking back, it's hard to identify what didn't change for me at DX.
I was two months into a new role at a new company spending 80% of my time supporting our CEO in sales and 20% of my time getting to know our brand and executing small marketing projects. Then the pandemic hit.
I'd be lying if I didn't say I was slightly freaking out.
The day 80% of our pipeline was wiped out was the day I thought to myself, "Oh no. Did I make a wrong move in taking this job and leaving my previous job at a tech start-up?"
Good news: turns out it's the best move I could have ever made for myself.
We needed to change to survive as a company and so did I.
I transitioned to spending 80% of my time on marketing with 20% dedicated to sales support. That eventually shifted into spending 100% of my time working on strategizing and executing marketing initiatives that support the sales process.
I created a new blog from scratch and have had my hands on editing and identifying graphics for every blog posted. I generated and implemented content ideas like our weekly Leadership Learns videos while talking marketing and sales strategy with our team. I've managed two third parties that supported us in developing our brand and executing strong social content and advertising. I even booked our CEO on two feature stories at one of the top-rated news radio stations here in Chicago.
In essence, I've learned a lot, grown tremendously, and continue to find myself learning and growing in the ever-changing narrative that is my job here at DX.
My new motto is to find growth in whatever pot I am planted or re-planted in.
On top of all of this, I've gotten to partner with an amazing team that has the fluidity to strategize marketing and cry about the life-stuff all in the same Zoom call.
I love what I do and who I get to do it with.
No matter how rough the sea may get I'm proud to weather the storm with a team like ours.
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