Back to Thoughts
COVID-19 x MITP Agency
Part 1: Leadership through Crisis
By Alex Paioff
Wednesday, October 28th 2020
A series written by the directors detailing their experiences leading MITP Agency through the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. Part 1 details the very early stages of our COVID response from in march and how we kept our team together, motivated and feeling safe.
The display of ‘mateship’ has been one of the shining lights during the current COVID-19 outbreak. We’ve seen communities come together like never before - solving problems, pivoting and supporting locals to help business make it to the other side.
When Made in the Pile first sat down in early March to talk about what COVID-19 meant for our organisation, we all agreed to a set of pillars that would best guide us through the uncertainty we were facing;
- Flexibility & Communication
- Field of Focus: Action not hesitation
- Be community leaders
These pillars served as a framework for the way we should be tackling problems as a remote team - with honesty, optimism and assertiveness. Our main aim was to keep our team together and their spirits up, but what happened next will impact our business long after this is over.
Flexibility & Communication
We wanted our staff to understand that while we would be working to remain as communicative and transparent as possible, we would not have all the answers - and with changes happening on a local, state and national level with each passing day, the answers we do have would likely change. At a management level, we would need to acknowledge the emotional strain this situation could place on the team and how that may influence the creativity and output. With the decision made to work remotely as a team, we made some immediate changes
The weekly Monday meeting shifted into a daily morning call. This was an opportunity to see each other's faces and discuss the work for the day. When it was your turn to talk we had the team give their mental health score out of 10 with a reason why. This allowed the entire team to understand where each individual was at and check-in on them if they were struggling which allowed us to speak honestly to each other and communicate a huge amount in a short time frame.
For our clients our actions included immediate invoice relief whilst still maintaining a level of service that they needed during the time. We saw an opportunity to step up and change the dynamic of client vs agency to a partnership. It was important to be human and understand every partner's needs would be different during this time.
Action not hesitation
When everything is moving quickly around you it’s important to know when to break away from conventional processes and cut down the red-tape. There would be no time for long board meetings and round table discussions as delaying decisions could be costly. We had falling revenue, as work was cancelled, creating surplus time across our entire team.
Focusing on what we could control meant being ready to cut the tape on ideas that reduced expenses or could generate revenue. We changed what would take weeks of discussion to daily sprints. The team would weigh up the risk vs reward factors, present their solution which would be reviewed within the hour of submission.
The team responded to this request immediately. The same day we gave our big COVID-19 briefing the team spun up a new website for ‘Perth Streaming Services’ and launched a Patreon for our Music Media channel, Pilerats. Our strategy and operations team moved quickly to cancel as many monthly subscriptions as possible and build alternative solutions using free software. These free services might not make our workflow as efficient or look professional to our clients, but we knew that would not be important in the following months.
In these periods of rapid change and uncertainty it’s important to focus on the factors you can control and ensure you are doing everything you can to extract value from those areas.
Having something productive to work on prevents the outside world's problems and uncertainty from creeping into your team's mindset. Maintaining this focus as a team was instrumental in improving our financial position heading into lockdown COVID, while achieving goals as a unit gave the team a sense of optimism and hope that helped push us forward.
The times were changing and so would we.
While the community was still trying to determine how to manage the health crisis, we wanted our organisation and our team to lead from the front. We committed to keeping ourselves informed and acting as quickly as possible to any medical advice given. This would mean we each committed to standing up to friends, family and clients that might not be taking this as seriously as it needed to be. Difficult conversations are just that - but in a time of misinformation and political agendas side tracking conversations (seriously why are we even talking about masks still?!) we all agreed it was important to do our part within our circles of influence.
Before home working arrangements were part of the international dialogue we could see this might be necessary and had tested a partial working from home week. We knew this measure would become important for the health and wellbeing of our teams and their families and wanted to be prepared to pull the trigger, which we did the following week. If clients wanted face-to-face meetings we instructed this would not be possible. In retrospect this all seems obvious, but it was the first time any of us had to question the way we do things in this way.
We wanted to stand up as an example of how things can be done for our partners, colleagues and friends.
What happened next?
When the full extent of COVID-19 and it’s immediate impact were known, our team banded together more than they ever have before.
As business owners during this time we feel a moral obligation to do everything we can to keep as many people employed as possible. That is what our economy needs.
The eternity of March was drawing to a close, we had dropped well over 80% of our monthly revenue in less than a week and decided to call a team meeting to update them on our position. There was no wage stimulus at this point, and as Founders and Directors, we had already cut our salary dramatically. We discussed the only two options we could see openly and transparently with our staff;
- Stand people down and run with the minimal viable staff number.
- We meet with each team member individually to discuss the minimum amount of pay they could live on and we all sacrifice wages to keep as many people as possible.
The team, in a unanimous decision, decided to sacrifice their personal income for each other. As a group we decided to push forward together, to see this thing through together. Shortly after everyone had already decided to sacrifice wages, JobKeeper was announced and our dream was kept alive.
Our team is now moving forward with the knowledge that they have made a commitment to each other and our organisation. They move forward with a sense of security that their workplace will prioritise their needs as much as its own revenue.
We are all a long way from making it through this but regardless of any future outcome, I will look at this part of the journey as a success.