3 Leadership Lessons To Help You Thrive In Uncertainty
Corporate America had advertised this autumn as “The Great Office Reopening”. Instead, we’re dealing with the Delta variant, supply chain disruptions, inflation, and “The Great Resignation”. The stormy waves of uncertainty that arrived in March 2020 continue to pummel individuals, teams and organizations. Leaders at all levels have their hands full.
Yet, in the midst of all of this volatility, some companies are doing exceptionally well. What are they doing differently? And what can be learned from their example?
Semtech is one company that’s thriving. A supplier of analog and mixed-signal semiconductors, Semtech employs over 1,300 people with 32 locations in 15 different countries. Despite the impact of the global pandemic, fiscal year 2021 proved to be a banner year for Semtech. It grew net sales 9% to $595.1 million.
Yet, just like every other company, the events of the last two years have confronted Semtech with some major challenges. These include:
· Effective teaming in an all-virtual setting
· Work/life balance in a work from home environment
· Navigating the uncertainty of covid-era economy
The key to Semtech’s success? Leadership.
However, this isn’t leadership of the old-school, solo-heroic mold. Mohan Maheswaran, Semtech’s President and CEO since 2006, believes that leadership is not just the province of the CEO and Executive Team. Rather than a title, leadership is a mindset and skillset of behaviors that can be learned and developed. Everyone in the organization, no matter what their role, is asked to embrace this way of thinking and acting.
Maheswaran shared three leadership principles that Semtech employed to tackle these challenges.
In the absence of information, people tend to default towards the negative. To counteract this negativity bias, Semtech ramped up their virtual team sessions almost immediately as the pandemic began. Maheswaran shared, “Effective teaming is built on the basis of strong relationships. This is easier to do in person—having a meal or sharing a coffee. We want to spend time and energy with people. That’s the root of engagement. How do you do that when you can’t meet face to face? Virtual team sessions were the next best thing we could do to create strong working relationships. To make the virtual team sessions even more valuable, we started to engage people as early as possible in the decision-making process. It increased their level of investment and ownership.”
2. Increasing Feedback
At the root of inclusiveness is the sense of belonging. Everyone wants to be seen, heard and valued. The willingness to ask for feedback and then act on it is a powerful way to show people that they matter. In addition to stepping up their virtual team sessions, Semtech also ramped up asking employees for feedback. They found it was critical to get feedback on the local level, to keep a finger on the pulse of what people were thinking and feeling.
For example, through the use of surveys, Maheswaran learned that while information about pandemic safety and preparedness was clearly understood, clarity on the company’s vision and strategy was getting lost. That feedback prompted a reset on communicating the strategy to the whole company worldwide.
Feedback was also critical to helping foster work/life balance. Some employees loved working from home; others hated it. By asking people for feedback about their specific needs to work effectively from home, Semtech was able to tailor solutions for each situation. As Maheswaran explained, “Our leaders have to help our people cultivate a positive mental attitude. What are their drivers of happiness, motivation and peace? For some that meant giving them new tech tools. For others, that may have meant renting an offsite office or help with childcare. Employees truly value when the company works with them to find peace. The key question we need to ask is: What can we do to make your world better?”
3. No One-Size-Fits-All Solutions
If an employee wants to work in an office, Semtech provides the flexibility to do so. If an employee wants to work from home, the company offers tools to make that option work. Navigating uncertainty has meant increasing creativity.
This creativity goes for working with customers, too. For example, when the pandemic forced countries into lockdown, Semtech’s supply chains were disrupted. They had to find creative solutions to meet their customers’ needs. This involved notifying customers while redeploying resources to execute novel global solutions.
Maheswaran highlights how embracing diversity is key to increasing creativity. He shared, “When you have people of different races, ages, genders, backgrounds, you get a greater quantity of ideas, and ultimately better-quality ideas. This leads to better and more creative solutions.”
While Semtech may sit squarely in the tech sector of the economy, their solutions to navigating today’s uncertainties are industry-agnostic. Overcommunicating, increasing feedback, and not settling for one-size-fits-all solutions are leadership lessons you can apply, no matter what industry you’re in. Because if you’re a leader, you’re first and foremost in the people business.