3 Leadership Lessons to Help You Thrive in Uncertainty
Corporate America had advertised this fall under the name of “The great reopening of offices”. Instead, we’re dealing with the Delta variant, supply chain disruptions, inflation, and “The Big Resignation”. The stormy waves of uncertainty that arrived in March 2020 continue to hit individuals, teams and organizations. Leaders at all levels have their hands full.
Yet, in the midst of all this volatility, some companies are doing exceptionally well. What are they doing differently? And what can we learn from their example?
Semtech is a successful business. A supplier of analog and mixed-signal semiconductors, Semtech employs more than 1,300 people at 32 sites in 15 different countries. Despite the impact of the global pandemic, fiscal 2021 turned out to be a banner year for Semtech. It increased its net sales 9% to $ 595.1 million.
Yet like any other business, the events of the past two years have confronted Semtech with major challenges. These include:
Effective teamwork in a fully virtual environment
Work-life balance in a home work environment
Navigate the uncertain economy of the Covid era
The key to Semtech’s success? Direction.
However, this is not the leadership of the old-fashioned solo-heroic mold. Mohan Maheswaran, President and CEO of Semtech since 2006, believes that leadership is not just the preserve of the CEO and the management team. Rather than a title, leadership is a mindset and behavioral skills that can be learned and developed. Everyone in the organization, regardless of their role, is encouraged to embrace this way of thinking and acting.
Maheswaran shared three leadership principles that Semtech employed to meet these challenges.
1. Too much communication
In the absence of information, people tend to look negative. To counter this negativity bias, Semtech stepped up its virtual team sessions almost immediately at the start of the pandemic. Maheswaran said, “An effective team relies on strong relationships. It’s easier to do in person: have a meal or share a coffee. We want to spend time and energy with people. It is the root of engagement. What to do when you can’t meet face to face? Virtual team sessions were the best thing we could do to build strong working relationships. To make the virtual team sessions even more interesting, we started to involve people as early as possible in the decision-making process. This increased their level of investment and ownership.
2. Increase feedback
At the root of inclusiveness is a sense of belonging. Everyone wants to be seen, heard and valued. The willingness to ask for feedback and act on it is a powerful way to show people that they matter. In addition to stepping up their virtual team sessions, Semtech has also stepped up employee requests for feedback. They found it essential to get feedback at 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 if information on pandemic safety and preparedness was clearly understood, clarity on the company’s vision and strategy was lost. This feedback has resulted in a reset of the communication of the strategy to the entire company around the world.
Feedback was also essential in fostering work-life balance. Some employees liked to work from home; others hated it. By asking people for feedback on their specific needs to work effectively from home, Semtech was able to tailor solutions to each situation. As Maheswaran explained, “Our leaders must help our people cultivate a positive mental attitude. What are their drivers of happiness, motivation and peace? For some, that meant giving them new technological tools. For others, it may have meant renting an offsite office or helping with childcare. The employees really appreciate that the company is working with them to find peace. The key question we need to ask ourselves is: what can we do to make your world a better place? “
3. No single solution
If an employee wishes to work in an office, Semtech offers the flexibility to do so. If an employee wants to work from home, the company offers tools to make this option work. Navigating in uncertainty means increasing creativity.
This creativity also applies to working with clients. For example, when the pandemic forced countries to shut down, Semtech’s supply chains were disrupted. They had to find creative solutions to meet the needs of their customers. This involved notifying customers while redeploying resources to run new global solutions.
Maheswaran emphasizes how the acceptance of diversity is essential to increase creativity. He shared, “When you have people of different races, ages, genders, backgrounds, you get a greater amount of ideas and ultimately better ideas. This leads to better and more creative solutions.
While Semtech may be squarely in the tech sector of the economy, its solutions for navigating today’s uncertainties are independent of the industry. Over-communicating, increasing comments, and not settling for one-size-fits-all solutions are leadership lessons you can apply, no matter what industry you are in. Because if you are a leader, you are first and foremost in the Company people.