An unforgettable first year as a ‘remote’ CEO, but for all the right reasons

27/04/2021
Jon Pickering
CEO

An unforgettable first year as a ‘remote’ CEO, but for all the right reasons

As I wrote in my blog last year, I arrived at Tiger just prior to the UK lockdown. None of us could’ve known what was about to unfold and I’m often asked what it was like to join a business as its new CEO during that time.

I can now look back on those first few months with a certain amount of pride. It’s fair to say my induction was a little turbo-charged – mostly driven by my own impatience to get going and start making an impact.

We had started to get the first cases of Coronavirus in the UK and initial murmurings about what could happen next began to pick up pace. Fast forward four weeks later and we were in Lockdown 1.

Amid Covid-19, I’d become a CEO and was ultimately tasked with taking charge of a different business during a global crisis.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have some concerns about how quickly I would have an impact. Working remotely full-time with the lack of in-person interactions I’d been used to in my previous roles, was a particular challenge to navigate. My remit was to build a plan for Tiger to grow over the medium to long term and, like many managers, this type of pandemic was something many of us had never experienced before.

Like every other business, we didn’t know what the impact would be on our customers, so we simply had to wait and see. We helped all of our staff get set up at home with their IT, and we checked in regularly as well as held virtual social events to keep everyone motivated. Overall, our organisation adapted pretty well to vast change.

Evolving and being agile to meet an ever-changing market

After an initial period of nervousness, we worked alongside our partners and customers to overcome pain-points they were experiencing, and as a result customer retention remained strong.

Working life means so much more than simply ‘doing a job’ and culture is a huge driver of Tiger’s success. For us, we genuinely miss every day, face-to-face interactions with our teams and are desperate to get back to more social working.

And despite everything that was happening with the pandemic, I knew we couldn’t stand still. We had to make changes to strengthen and improve our offering, so our leadership team used this as an opportunity to double-down and continue the crucial work we had started pre-lockdown.

The reasons for setting my stall out from day one

When it comes to starting any new role, it’s pivotal to establish clarity and perform a non-biased evaluation of everything – so that’s what I did. I spent a lot of time understanding the business, finding and analysing data to provide a clear picture of the ‘now’. In parallel, I asked everyone in my new team to think about, “what ‘good’ would look like to them in two to three years?”

We used these conversations as the basis for building a strategic plan that we felt would lay the foundations to grow the business even further. We started this process pre-lockdown and despite having to manage business continuity like every other organisation, we completed the process 10-12 weeks after I started.

That strategic direction has given us real focus over the last 12 months and, although it wasn’t perfect – like any plan – it had to be adaptable so we could evolve effectively and stay ahead of the curve. We didn’t achieve all the objectives and admittedly had our setbacks, but I’m proud of the things we managed to do extremely well in the face of adversity.

The best decision was to immediately publish our plan and send to all staff. Although it was unedited, it was important that they saw a visionary document that detailed where we want to take Tiger over the next three-plus years. It has united our entire business because we all have clear goals for the future.

Nobody has all the answers, but it’s important to keep learning from experience

One valuable thing I’ve learned over the years is there is no such thing as perfection. You never know everything before you make big decisions about your company’s future (and where’s the fun in that anyway?!) Joking aside, in a time of such uncertainty, it’s easy to over-analyse and hold back from making decisions for fear of something not quite working out how you would have hoped.

Building a cohesive plan is, of course, critical. Putting some clearly defined outcomes and objectives in place is a good start, but more important for me are the plans that centre around how you’re going to achieve them.

How are you going to behave in an increasingly urgent world, and how will that impact your culture? This is vital towards ensuring you push towards your overall vision. In addition, how will you allocate time to achieve – and defend – those priorities, and evaluate the best way forward? This is easier said than done, it takes effort and discipline, especially when you’re under a constant deluge.

Key takeaways for fellow CEOs and leaders

If I was to give any advice, it would be to keep your priorities visible, make decisions every day, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t quite get there – we’re all fallible and that’s okay.  Most people I have worked with underestimate how long any projects take anyway, so achieving 80% deserves praise, not the opposite!

One thing I have tried to instil since I joined Tiger is that it’s about achieving together, and that strategy doesn’t solely sit with the leadership team – it’s part of everyone’s role. It has been great to see how colleagues have connected with what we’re doing, and how they’ve contributed in their own way.

For people to feel able to do that and make their voice heard, they need to work in a culture of trust that’s without fear. They should know that if they fail or make mistakes, there won’t be repercussions and instead they’re encouraged to learn from them and go again.

There have already been massive changes to how we all work, and this will continue to provide challenges for businesses as they look to deliver the same level of productivity post-lockdown. I genuinely wish everyone luck on their continued journeys.

Let’s see what the next 12 months brings.  Hopefully there will be a lot more human interaction with colleagues, partners and customers, despite it being firmly put to bed that you can’t work collaboratively and achieve great success when you’re remote-based. It comes down to effective communication and having strong leaders throughout your team.

Additional ways we’ll be achieving this will be via ongoing team catch-ups and training, internal surveys and regular newsletters, and a greater focus on wellbeing.

One thing’s for sure, I’d like to see my nickname the ‘Covid CEO’ fade away, and never return! In all seriousness, like many other organisations in the IT sector, we’ll stay positive and execute on our plans to keep improving, adapting to business flux, recruiting top tech talent, and remaining agile so we continue to provide high-quality customer service and best-in-class workplace data analytics solutions – whether that’s achieved virtually or in-person.