cyBARR Chats Episode 4: Small Business Ownership in Uncertain Times

By June 19, 2020Videos
In this episode, BARR founder and president, Brad Thies, discusses tactics he uses to lead during uncertain times, and what the other side of the pandemic looks like for cybersecurity and technology companies.


Hi everyone and welcome to episode 4 of cyBARR Chats a video series featuring BARR specialists covering a range of topics. I’m Michelle Smith, director of marketing, and today I’m very excited to be speaking with Brad theis founder and president. We’re going to be covering the topic of small-business ownership in uncertain times. Brad, I will jump right in with our first question.

In times like these, how do you lead differently compared to “normal” times? 

I think that’s a great question. I think it’s more of an emphasis on active listening and speed to action. Normal is always about perspective. Change is hard enough as it is on people so don’t make things more difficult by changing your approach to leadership there’s just more of a call to action and to find out what you can and cannot control take action on the things you can control for example if I were a sailor during uncertain times of Storms and clouds trying to navigate to a particular destination, I don’t just forget about the North Star and how they navigate to it it might be harder to see but as a leader I think that is the sailors job to help others see the North Star amidst all of the uncertainties I don’t think your fundamental leadership changes, if anything it’s more of a test on what your leadership is about and a time for feedback on things that you’ve done in the past that you’re trying to understand what is working and what’s not working. I’m not saying take a passive approach to these uncertain times. I think it’s in fact the opposite. You’re just leveraging some of the tools you’ve got from the past and making sure that your ears are getting real big and trusting that uncertain times, just like other problems or obstacles standing in the way, are about the collective mission. Leadership is about the process towards that mission. And the mission doesn’t change, the people that believe in the mission—that doesn’t change, or at least hopefully it doesn’t. You’re just dealing with a different set of resources to influence those. I think there’s, like I mentioned, a greater sense of emphasis on listening. 

Walking the halls of your business or organization and making sure you’re when you’re walking those halls, you’re always listening with intention and to the voices around you, and checking up on your employees. Not only your employees, but your clients, partners and other stakeholders. Check up on the mission, that you’re really trying to lead toward and ensure that there’s willing consent to pursue it in these uncertain times. 

Some things that I’ve learned is that there’s also great opportunities for others within the organization to rise up to the occasion. That’s where that listening comes in—to figure out what’s going on in the company,

How do you keep your employees engaged and morale up?

That’s a tough one because you can’t control everything. So, the way I look at it is that there’s two outcomes: we all either get through this, or everything falls apart and I think when you phrase it up into that perspective that if everything falls apart, it won’t matter anyway. And if we get through this you have a pretty good chance of seeing things go back to normal even if it’s that new normal. We’re all real people, real humans that deal with these ups and downs, and it’s important to never get too high during the highest highs, and ever get too low during the lowest lows. Be human with people, be real, truly care about the human side. Come from that perspective first versus leading with some other agenda. I think that’s sometimes a very subtle mind shift to think things through and make sure you’re not being afraid to talk about what’s going on. We’re brothers and sisters here; we can all make it clear that we’re in this together. Like I said, I can’t make somebody be engaged If they have other fears going on. Only tyrants believe that they can control the uncontrollable. So perspective helps, having gratitude helps, but in these types of times to engage somebody that you also have to remember to never ask anybody to do something that you wouldn’t otherwise be willing to do yourself. You think about the safety, whether it’s the pandemic or some morale issues that are going on, and from my experience, those types of things really help put things into perspective on how you should be communicating to the team to help with morale. 

What tools do you use to demonstrate your accessibility to your team and or your customers?

Fortunately, we’ve got some great tools here at our organization. We were a remote-first organization to begin with, so it wasn’t too bad of a transition. Some of these tool sets make just checking in a part of our culture, so that it doesn’t feel awkward if we’re asking for feedback, or other things like that. So that started even before the pandemic and the uncertain times that we’re in today. We leverage a tool called 15Five that gathers insights each week on how people are feeling during a particular week. It lines up the different objectives and OKRs that we are tracking for the quarter and seeing how you’re stacking up against those. And also what are some things you’re doing on a given day to align to those objectives. More importantly, just “how are you doing” and “how are you feeling.” That creates an environment that makes people feel safe to even communicate how they’re feeling—being honest and transparent about what’s going on. All this goes to say about listening how critical it is during these times because if you’re just asking for feedback, you’re not really listening. I think that part of the tool, the tool sets in your repertoire. We can have all the tools we want, 15Five, or others, but actually listening and taking that in and being proactive enough. For me, as the leader in the company, that means making phone calls and reaching out to those folks who might otherwise be having a rough week.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve faced since the start of this pandemic and how have you tackled it?

Compared to what’s going on in healthcare, the restaurant and travel industries, I’d say we’re pretty lucky. I think that’s part of the gratitude that I’m always thinking about. Some of these challenges are really miniscule when it comes to some of these other industries being impacted. There’s still shock though. Once you get over the shock of it, the biggest challenge for me was the messaging. We talked about communication already, but it is so much more important at a time when people are wanting some type of leadership. You have to make sure that message is clear and concise. A lot of times I tend to go off the cuff with some of that stuff. So what I did and how I tackled that is I leveraged a lot of others within the company. Bounced some ideas off them, what are they thinking about. I reached out to other mentors and tons of leadership resources just to help bring some clarity to my own thoughts. And introspective—I have to digest this and process this. If I haven’t processed this—this is where the speed comes in—how is my messaging going to be clear. So indeed to take action on that as quickly as possible to make sure that messaging was clear. And I’m never going to get it right 100 percent, but I think having that reflection and being able to reach out to resources. Personally, though, outside of communication, I think the chaos of working from home with three kids, but that’s certainly another story.

Business continuity planning is top-of-mind for business leaders now more than ever. What would be your recommendation for small business owners who either don’t have a business continuity plan and set up, or are struggling to get their current one up to par?

Well, if anything it’s a good test of where you might have holes in your plan. We’ve talked to a lot of other organizations and clients about this and we test business continuity plans all the time. A lot of them say “well we’ve just tested the plan and here’s where our holes are.” I’ve seen a lot of organizations who rely on things like VPNs in a limited fashion, then they can’t handle this large influx of remote workers that slows the internet. Hopefully it’s a wake-up call that there’s no excuse anymore. Things can happen and the benefit and we have, the luxury I should say, is that we live in an environment and society where we can build in these resiliencies for a relatively low-cost effort. We can build that in our business plans from an operations perspective, but also from a financial perspective. These downward cycles happen. They happened in 2001, they happened in 2008, they’re happening now. It’s important to remind yourselves of those types of things—that they do happen and you’ve got to be able to have these break-glass plans, if you will. What happens if I have 90% revenue? 80, 70, 60, and so forth, so that it’s easier to process these decisions when they occur so you’re not shooting from the hip or making knee-jerk reactions. It’s easier to stay calm, collected, and focused. Hopefully, you can test these plans and build that into your processes.

What have you learned thus far during this pandemic as it relates to leadership and running your business?

Change is inevitable. I think I’m starting to master the ability of holding meetings with a 2-year-old hanging on my leg and holding our newborn baby that we just had three months ago. And besides that, I have a 5-year-old who has a rollercoaster behind me. I don’t think that was the intent of the question, but the lesson applies to business. Nothing’s perfect, but it’s ok. What I really appreciate about the people you surround yourself with is they recognize and have some empathy with what’s going on. Holding those conversations about those types of things and knowing it’s ok to be frustrated. There’s days working from home that I can’t get over the distractions. I can’t control everything from a business perspective, but I can recognize how I feel in these situations and I can control how we evolve and adapt with all the uncertainty. Like I mentioned before, there’s the premium on speed and not being afraid to act. In our case, the act of communication at speed is just to say something about how to recognize how quickly we’re moving and how quickly the world is changing. One day we were flying consultants all over the country, and the next day we literally stopped. And that’s ok. I commend our team for being able to embrace this change as well as we have.

Last question: what’s next for tech companies and the cybersecurity industry as all we come out the other side of this pandemic?

That’s a key point, there’s going to be another side of this. We’re still figuring out what that will actually look like. If you weren’t already in the digital world pre-COVID, I hope you are now. I hope you’re building in that digital world within your process and environment. Even all the way down to the restaurant business, there’s things we have to do to be able to adapt to these types of things. I personally miss the face-to-face meetings and handshakes. But those will come back in time. Going back to gratitude, those are the things that regardless of whether you’re in tech or cybersecurity, those relationships are important. Continue to have these Zoom meetings, continue to have these things we are doing. I think the interesting part will be to see how companies change their remote operations. Realize a lot of companies out there are realizing it is working quite well. It does present some security risks and there’s opportunities for bad actors there, but after the dust settles with the pandemic and we start to push more data across public lines, the more important it is that we address some of these evolving risks. Even risks from supply chains. Now building in that resiliency even as a tech company you may have redundancy in your own operations, but we have to build those within our suppliers too. In the cybersecurity world, the frameworks won’t change, but the risk profiles will be a bit different that we will have to address.

Brad, thank you for your time and insights today. We will see everyone next time on cyBARR Chats. Have a great day.