How Tech Companies Can Strategically Navigate Uncertainty

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Mark Anderson is the CEO of Alteryx.

Uncertainty is the name of the game in the technology industry. To stay afloat during turbulent times, organizations must gain market recognition and dominance while placing their products top-of-mind for consumers. Previously in my career, I stewarded two companies, F5 and Palo Alto Networks, through periods of strategic growth while navigating an uncertain macroeconomic climate. Today’s macroeconomic environment introduces new and unique challenges, which many leaders are experiencing. Yet, one thing remains consistent: The name of the game is driving value for your customers.

Along the way, I’ve learned that product differentiation and innovation are a given for any tech company that wants to survive and thrive during economic uncertainty. Products must be best-in-class or close to it; they must continuously capture the hearts and minds of customers through various iterations. But product differentiation and innovation alone will not ensure success. Instead, to grow strategically, tech companies must deliver value by combining product differentiation and innovation with three fundamental strategies.

Strategy 1: Prioritize The Customer

During times of uncertainty, leaders need clarity about their organizations’ strategic imperatives, namely, which strategic imperatives will help them best serve their customers. Leaders should collaborate with their product, marketing and sales teams to gather customer insights. From there, leaders can pinpoint which technical and product additions will make the most sense for customers.

Often, feedback from customers can result in not only new product directions but also adjusting the ways in which products are sold. Customer buying preferences change over time, and if companies don’t adjust the way they sell to the way customers want to buy, they will slowly fall behind. For companies, aligning their go-to-market strategies with their customers’ buying patterns might involve developing enterprise license agreements (ELAs), offering online purchasing options or providing value-add services.

At this point, if they haven’t already done so, leaders should consider moving all of a company’s solutions to a cloud platform to help customers do more with less. Using cloud platforms, customers can increase the efficiency of their workforces because end users will be able to get acquainted with the product and learn its features faster, which ultimately boosts productivity—and helps customers see the business value of the product sooner.

Strategy 2: Plug The Right Leaders Into The Right Roles At The Right Time

Prioritizing return on investment for customers is vital for growth in a turbulent macroeconomic climate. But to orchestrate this, it is imperative for companies to place leaders that have the right backgrounds into the right roles at the right time.

When considering leadership candidates, companies should screen for three essential qualities. First, they must ensure that the person they’re considering has good character and high integrity. Second, they must make sure the person has the intellectual capacity to think through the problems the company will have to solve in the next three to five years. And third, they must check that the person has critical thinking abilities that will help them read between the lines, connect different data points and create and execute strategic initiatives to achieve relevant goals.

If a leader has previous experience at a company that has been through a strategic growth period, all the better—but dig into their history to learn about their specific responsibilities and accomplishments related to that growth. However, ultimately, such previous experience is not necessary. As a baseline, if a candidate has integrity, high intellectual capacity and strong critical thinking skills, that is a good starting point.

Additionally, it is imperative that any leader can work smoothly alongside existing teams. Existing team members should be introduced to candidates during the recruitment stage so that all parties can get a sense of how well they would work together. After a leader is onboarded, a company’s senior leadership should immediately start imparting their knowledge to them. That way, the new leader can quickly get up to speed and begin developing and executing strategies in a manner consistent with the company’s goals.

Strategy 3: Lead With Empathy

Empathetic leaders get better results. Consider 2021 research by Catalyst that found that “47% of people with highly empathic managers report often or always being innovative at work, compared to only 13% of people with less empathic managers.”

Leading with empathy is always vital, but it’s even more crucial during times of economic uncertainty. Why? Requesting that employees drive a company’s mission while navigating changing external factors is a big ask. Often, employees have to sacrifice other areas of their work and personal lives to achieve success for the company. Without empathetic leadership, employees will be more likely to feel burned out and unappreciated and ultimately might leave, jeopardizing the company’s goals.

In my experience, empathetic leadership involves learning who your employees are as people and understanding their strengths, dreams, motivations and concerns. Leaders need to create an environment where employees feel psychologically safe, appreciated and recognized, and must provide them with the tools and resources they need to succeed.

One of the best ways leaders can create such an environment is by leaving their offices and getting face-to-face time with their employees on the ground. By doing so, they can see what’s working and what’s not for employees and make the adjustments that will improve employees’ daily lives—so employees can be at their most creative, innovative and productive and unlock more success for the company.

By keeping these three important strategies in mind, leaders have a better chance of successfully navigating uncertain times and propelling their businesses to new heights. Uncertainty also represents opportunity, and great leaders know how to capitalize on this dynamic.

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