As the CEO of an early stage startup I am used to managing at what feels like wartime. Ben Horowitz does a pretty good job portraying in his book “The Hard Things About the Hard Things” the hardships of startup life and how to be a wartime CEO. The question is if modern enterprise leaders are prepared for wartime amidst COVID19 a global recession and an added complexity, remote work. 

Our company, Datagran was founded in 2017. By 2018 most of our employees worked remotely and by 2019 all of our 80+ employees were working remotely. Although working remotely can be challenging it is not that of a big deal if you have technology and processes in place. The real challenge is how do you lead remotely at times of war.

As Ben Horowitz explains in his book, a war time CEO behaves completely differently than a peacetime CEO. As an MBA grad myself, I usually tell people that MBAs for example teach for peacetime. These are the usual things that MBAs will teach to their candidates:

  1. Empower your management team 
  2. Plan and build short, medium and long term strategies with the team
  3. Create a strong culture
  4. Be a good CEO, parent and family member
  5. Be accessible, be emotionally intelligent.

A Wartime CEO as the name says it needs to behave the same way soldiers behave at war:

  1. A clear leader that gives orders
  2. A team that follows orders
  3. Sometimes needs to raise its voice and of course occasionally say the F word.
  4. Makes quick decisions without necessarily consulting the team.
  5. No time for culture building. 

With this I am not saying that MBA’s can’t be a good wartime CEO. I am just saying that MBAs don’t teach what's needed in wartime.

As most of you can imagine the military has operations in multiple countries with thousands of different units. Reason why the most important assets are discipline, Comms and intel (data). The only way to keep control of your team at wartime is to have the confidence they will follow orders, have the systems in place that will allow you to communicate effectively with your team and at the same time have a reliable system that will allow you to share data with them.

Take a Seal team unit. Here are the things that they rely on before any operation:

  1. Readiness: Is the team physically and mentally ready to execute.
  2. Intel: Digital maps with images, classified information and routes.
  3. Comms: Satellite phones and radios that guarantee communications with central command.

In the modern workspace at times of war and remote work, the mix is pretty much the same as the arena the military is used to operate at times of war. For that reason companies need the culture, tools for Comms and intel that will be key for their survival. In my experience, if you can keep control of your team's emotions, company communications and information flow, your job will be much easier and successful. Let’s breakdown my experience in those three fronts in a company environment:

  1. Culture: Your team needs to be aware that they are at war and that things will not be as usual. Some will not be ok with it and that’s where you will have to assess if they are the right team member for the occasion. Good team members adapt, but they will need to understand from you first what that means and what they will expect.
  2. Intel: Data will be a key aspect to keep the control of your team. Who is working on what, when are they working, what’s the revenue, what’s the cash flow, how are inventories behaving, what does forecasts says, what products should we sell, who should we sell to, price, etc. Usually companies don’t have control of their data and worse, data is just static, there’s no intelligence behind it. Not only the CEO does not usually have access to data, people in the ground don’t have access to it. Most importantly, people should have access to the strategy based on data. The same way Seal teams have access and escape routes, the several teams within companies need to have clear data strategies. For example, is there a cashflow plan a, b and c? The problem is, big data is like teenage sex, most teenagers say they do it but most of them don’t. 85% of big data projects fail according to Gartner, meaning we know most companies are failing with just the first step of the process. 
  3. Comms: Permanent communication is key and here is where I differ with some people. Traditionalists think that you should sustain daily or weekly meetings with the team, etc. imagine soldiers having daily meetings with captains via zoom. Instead, I believe in permanent communication, being present. For that, at Datagran we use tools like Slack, Google sheets and Google hangouts to maintain permanent contact or jump on a call immediately, if there is an issue. 

Below is an example of the dashboard I built for our team. It contains our revenue, cashflow, churn, behavioral data, campaigns, projections, etc. 

A Revenue chart

In summary, COVID19 and its consequences in the global economy will increase the need of wartime CEO’s and as in every war we will need good intel and Comms, more so with the added complexities of remote work. Gaining control of your organization is key to lead in wartime and control is all about instant communication and data.

Stay safe.