2020 – a year that certainly will not be forgotten! Every year typically has a few defining moments, but this year has contained many world-changing events that have shifted the way we live and work. At CLA, the global pandemic has provided challenges, opportunities, and great learnings. We have remained agile, open-minded, and resilient during these times in order to continue to support our clients. As the year comes to a close, let’s find out what the CLA co-founders, Marcele De Sanctis and Terry Coyne have to say about the year that was.
What is something CLA accomplished this year that you are proud of?
M: One of the big things I am proud of is the full migration to working from home but more importantly the seamless experience that our clients had in taking programs, projects, and deliverables online. For our existing clients and work as everyone made the move to work from home, we made an absolutely seamless transition to delivering a flawless participant and client experience completely virtually. To the point where, LEAD, the program we deliver in partnership with Business Chick will likely remain virtual. This has enabled us to reach a much bigger audience and create that leadership development experience for women more efficiently. We’ve been able to reach female leaders in many more locations!
AFR fast starters 2020 is also something I am really proud of. CLA were humbled to have placed 68th in The Australian Financial Review Fast Starter list for 2020, representing Australia’s fastest growing companies.
T: There have been lots that I am proud of but I think that pride comes from two main sources – the way our team has responded and how we have helped our clients. First of all, our team has worked so well and shown great resilience in the face of difficult circumstances. This has meant that we have been able to support our clients really well during COVID. We have kept our clients at the forefront of our thinking. One of the ways we were able to do this was, during the lockdown we were able to help leaders by offering pro bono support through our Leader Assist Program. In the current context and this unprecedented period of uncertainty, challenges have been faced by many. It was important to us that we could make leaders feel supported. We have received fantastic feedback and it has been well received and appreciated by many. We have also been able to pivot in order to meet our client’s needs in a seamless and cost effective way. LEAD is a great example of that.
What were the biggest challenges?
M: Personally, I would say it has been having a baby and going on leave during a really crucial time for business. Balancing letting go in order to enjoy my maternity leave with understanding when I am required to get involved in CLA from a business owner perspective has been challenging. Balancing the new baby Richie with my first baby CLA! There are certain things as a business owner that I need to make decisions on and it can’t necessarily be delegated to others. So I have needed to understand how much to let go of and what not to, that will still enable me to make key decisions.
From a business perspective, it is about trying to hone in on and articulate what people want in the moment. We need to listen, understand and be able to think clearly about what the industry needs, i.e. what products or services do we dial up and promote because they are more likely to meet the needs of our clients.
We have navigated a very challenging year in professional service, especially in a business where we would be classified as discretionary spend. During a challenging time for the economy and the industry, we have weathered the storm really well.
T: I’d say the fatigue of the year, which is not uncommon. One would think that working from home would assist that, given you don’t have to commute etc, but the fatigue factor was high and we managed it well. The constancy of zoom meetings has been another – zoom fatigue. Seems counterintuitive, but it has been more draining. It has meant that many people are not getting the distance from work (physical or mental) or downtime like they normally would. The question of how we protect our downtime has been raised given we are living where we work and it is harder to create that separation. With the return to covid normal, we find ourselves thinking about how and where we will work and how we create balance.
What have you learned about yourself as a leader?
M: One of the key things I have learnt, and it is something we share with our clients, is ‘vulnerability with boundaries’. It has been really important to have confidence and optimism about the future, be transparent about the brutal facts and share my feelings but not so much that it creates fear or uncertainty for others. I have felt that it is important to not let too much of my stressors impact how I lead and how I communicate. As a leader, I set the tone for the business so I am conscious of how I do this for the team.
T: That leadership is still really hard and requires you to be on the game the whole time. You can get lazy in your leadership. You need to make the space for leadership and time to reflect. In my case, I have been much more involved in deliveries which has meant that I need to more actively create the space for leadership. It has also been so important to actively support and empower others. One of the roles of the leader is the symbolic function in terms of presence. You need to be present and be seen as a leader to show that we are all in this together.
Who has inspired you in 2020?
M: Every CLA team member! They have shown so much resilience, courage, and kept a good sense of humor. We are all riding our own roller coasters, as are our clients, but we are riding them out together with great support. Also, having the support of my family as I juggle having another baby and leading a business has been so important to me and very much appreciated!
T: Of course our CLA team. The team has been really resilient. If I think beyond that some others that come to mind are; our national broadcasters for the ABC. They have been really good at converting really informative and non-sensational messages related to COVID and the bushfires. They have done a great job in presenting balanced views on crises. Others would be epidemiologists from various universities that have kept the community sane by providing a good science base for the pandemic.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
M: In some ways, it feels like we are starting CLA all over again but with so much learning, a good reputation, track record, clients and team. We have established ourselves in business for 5 years and I look forward to resetting our goals for the next 5 years. We are entering the next phase at CLA in such a good position. The foundations are laid and ready to be built on!
I am looking forward to a strategic reset. We now have absolute clarity with our team about what roles we need to fill to be successful. I am looking forward to saying no to certain products and yes to others and doing it all in a very tech-enabled way with our systems and processes.
T: For me, getting back to the office where the light and shade of human interaction can play out rather than the full colour of the zoom conversation. It is those subtle conversations, the side jokes, eating the chocolates from Haighs, that are important. As humans we need that connection in all forms – even the downsides. That is something that I think we are missing when we work virtually. I think that in person, people can be less guarded and it is important to see humanness and it’s subtleties.
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On behalf of the team at CLA, we wish you all the best for the festive season and the new year. We look forward to seeing you in 2021!