This Core Value Has Seen My Company Through Every Season Building my business with this principle front-and-center has helped our team thrive.
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Every Monday morning, our team members come together and, with our videos on, share two words about how we are feeling. No additional context is provided, and no follow-up questions are asked, but every single team member, including me, tells their colleagues their current state of mind.
When my CMO first suggested the idea, I wasn't quite sure what to think. I'm a very private person and tend to keep my emotions exceedingly close to my chest. I worried that sharing might create a little too much vulnerability. Shouldn't we just focus on business matters? Plus, if I heard something like "anxious" or "frustrated," would I spend the rest of the morning trying to figure out what they were referring to?
What I've come to understand, however, is that the practice is an excellent example of a routine and ritual that is core to our business, both internally and externally — transparency.
Transparency is one of the core values of To The Market not only because of our mission to shine a light on retail supply chains, but also because it's essential to the way I want our team to show up on a daily basis. When we became fully distributed and virtual during Covid, I knew we risked disconnection, a weakened organizational culture and even loneliness. To try to mitigate that distancing, we put into place a number of routines that have kept my teammates, from California to Portugal, feeling aligned.
The two-word share
The two-word share is an example. Not being in the same physical space prevents me from picking up on energy levels and body language, but the two-word share gives me a sense of my teammates' head spaces on Monday morning. The transparency of sharing our feelings gives each of us more empathy when dealing with one another, creating more team cohesion.
This is a practice I particularly encourage our executive leadership team (ELT) to exercise with one another. Radical candor doesn't have to be unkind. In fact, I've come to learn that clarity is actually quite kind, because you aren't pretending something is working when it isn't. I want the ELT to feel comfortable telling me that the new approach I just rolled out was not well received, or that my public speaking is increasing our company's visibility and that I should do more. Whether good news or bad, the candor allows us to move forward faster and farther.
Given that we are working in five different time zones, I strongly prefer that teammates make their professional calendars open to everyone. My focus is on productivity, so I'm fine with colleagues doing school pick-up or attending a doctor's appointment during normal business hours. My ask, in return, is communicating to teammates about if they are only available by phone during certain time periods, for example. If a To The Market team member looks at my calendar, they can see everything from workouts to investor meetings. This builds trust and eliminates concern that we are being ignored.
Our commitment to transparency extends to how we operate externally, as well. It isn't enough to simply provide transparency to our clients regarding who is making their products and that they are being ethically and sustainably made (a major tenant of our value proposition). We also want to have transparency with our external partners.
What functions are foundational to our business?
Letting clients know which functions are foundational to our business and which are not has never been particularly easy. As a startup, in particular, you don't want to turn away revenue. If you get enough of the same request, it might also be a market signal. But when the occasional request to perform a task that falls outside of our business model comes up, our team is transparent with our clients about what we can and cannot do. This openness is appreciated by our clients, and they often respond positively to our focus.
Communicating what's working
Communicating with clients and suppliers about what's working (and what isn't) also represents a key transparency routine. As painful as it is, we communicate with our clients about the difficulty of the current supply chain crisis and its impact on shipping costs, for example. This extends to pricing, so we often share candidly with clients how our costs have been impacted by labor shortages, or let a supplier know why their current cost of goods will be hard sells in the U.S. market. Providing this additional information allows them to operate in the same contextual environment and reduces misguided assumptions.
Finally, acknowledging emails within 24 hours, even if we don't have an answer, helps to create trust. There are few things more frustrating than sending off an email to someone you know and only receiving "crickets" in return. Although there are only so many hours in the day, I've learned that it's far better to tell a partner or client I will get back to them by X time than not respond until I have time or the answer. By acknowledging the email, I can dispel the impression that I don't think they are important.
Do I fall down on the above routines and rituals sometimes? Yes, I do. But do I still espouse them? Absolutely. The team's commitment to transparency has carried us through times when we've had more work than we've known what to do with, and it's carried us through times when it seems like no one is returning our calls. But along the way, our approach to transparency has created deep connectivity among our stakeholders and each other, leading to well-earned feelings of trust. With our gold medal value proposition being that "we are a trusted supply chain," it feels good to be doing our best to live out this value authentically.