Humanity will save us in tumultuous times for tech

The pace of change the industry has seen in just the past month underscores the importance of consistent, open and honest communications delivered by executives who lead with vision, commitment, humility and care, notes AxiCom CEO Matt Lackie.

Tech executives are often communicating with empathy. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Change, disruption and invention are part and parcel of working in the technology sector. The industry that embraces the idea of “failing fast” is not without its challenges, but its bias toward innovation has helped the world benefit from the transformational power that technology can play in nearly every aspect of our lives at home, at play and at work. 

It’s also an industry that, at times, enables technology leaders with big visions and unwavering confidence to achieve idol status when unwarranted — the CEOs of Theranos and FTX come to mind. 

The past few weeks, particularly, have shown just how quickly the industry can move. Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and his subsequent activity are providing a constant source of storylines. And as the platform’s future is questioned, the tech sector is already exploring a new model — hello Mastodon! The industry simply never stops pushing forward.

Concurrently, we’re also seeing some of technology’s biggest companies announcing layoffs, many citing slowdowns in spending or corrections of over-aggressive hirings.  

The pace of change the industry has seen in just the past month underscores the importance of consistent, open and honest communications delivered by executives who lead with vision, commitment, humility and care. 

Focus on long-term vision, not singular moments

With technology embedded in nearly every aspect of our lives, the media now cover the sector alongside entertainment, healthcare, finance and energy. So, while it’s no surprise that the recent layoffs made significant headlines, it is important to note that these layoffs only represent one moment in a company’s story.

The debate shouldn’t be about how a brand deals reactively with a redundancy controversy, but how it expresses and commits to its vision and brings employees and all stakeholders on that journey, through good times and bad.

It seems simple, but with many competing interests and a rapidly changing market that prioritizes bottom-line performance, companies can lose sight of their north star – leaving behind their employees, customers and partners.

Why leaders are born during times of adversity

In November, Stripe CEO Patrick Collison shared an open letter to employees addressing redundancies. His letter was clear and straightforward. It didn’t attempt to over-explain the decision, and the tone was honest, humble and human. As Maya Angelou taught us, “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Collison took full ownership of the decision, emphasizing the outcome was a result of the current climate, not the performance of individuals being let go. His address was brave, took courage and is a great example of how to communicate about workforce changes. 

Leaders are forged during difficult times. No doubt there will be backlash against any decision involving people’s livelihoods, but I suspect Collison’s approach will serve him and Stripe well moving forward.

Establish routine, set strategic milestones, meet people where they are

In tech, companies and leaders must be prepared to tackle wildly different scenarios at any given moment, all while communicating progress against a singular strategy. 

Part of this comes through establishing routine and expected moments to connect with stakeholders. This regularity builds trust, creates safety and inspires commitment. 

One of my favorite examples is Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s annual company letter, which reviews the year’s performance and outlines the company’s goals. 

These communications not only keep employees focused on helping advance the business, they also reduce the element of surprise for all stakeholders when difficult situations do occur. 

Embrace the challenge and opportunity

As 2022 draws to a close and economic uncertainty remains on the horizon, let’s remember we’re not sitting on the cusp of a tech meltdown or dot-com bust. Far from it. Technology is integral to every industry imaginable.

Technology CEOs, like any other, need to stay focused on their long-term vision and remain tightly connected to their key constituents. They must demonstrate understanding of an ever-evolving market; that they are listening, learning and adjusting; that they are committed to delivering on their purpose; and that they are willing to make the tough decisions when needed to ensure the business and its people can achieve their goals. 

Doing this will ensure companies will emerge from bumpy times better, stronger, and more trusted than ever. 

Matthew Lackie is global CEO of AxiCom. 

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