Leading Through a Crisis and Protecting Your Most Valued Assets: Employees

July 13, 2020

Mike Vellano, President & CEO, the Vortex Companies

Back in January, when the world first heard reports of the novel coronavirus and its potential of reaching pandemic proportions, did we really believe we would still be battling its spread today? Did we really believe that it would have such a devastating economic impact across the globe? Did we really believe there would be upwards of 13 million cases and over half a million deaths recorded so far? I think the short answer is no.

But here we are today, six months later, deep in the worst global pandemic the world has ever known. As a business leader, it’s been the most trying and challenging time of my life. However, early on, our leadership team decided to develop an emergency business continuity plan that we hoped would get us through the long haul, because the bottom line was to keep our doors open and protect our employees.

To give you a quick history of Vortex, we’re a trenchless water and sewer infrastructure solutions provider with offices located throughout the United States. We’re also young but growing fast. Since our founding in 2016, we’ve grown from 15 to over 400 employees. We recognized this kind of growth was not sustainable without defining who we are and creating a winning and inclusive culture. With the help of Deutser, a Houston based management consultancy, we created the “Vortex Way” book that clarifies who we are as a company and has become our roadmap to ensure our vision, values and company habits stay on track.  Our culture development journey is far from over. However, had we not invested in this process, our company may not have been prepared to shift gears to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic.

With government offices shutting down, stay at home orders in place, small businesses shuttering, travel restrictions and layoffs mounting, we needed to be more aggressive than ever to keep our service crews, sales and support teams working.

Although far from perfect, our business continuity plan has proven to be effective. It is also aligned with our core values in the “Vortex Way” book. Collectively, these initiatives are in place to guide our company and employees as we address the challenges of the COVID crisis and seek the light at the end of the tunnel.

Value: We Are Safe

The safety of our employees is our number one priority. Since we are an essential business, we immediately adopted and communicated CDC guidelines as a company best practice. For our service crews, we ramped up safety training and quickly supplied essential guidelines, masks and sanitizer. In fact, when we were not able to source enough hand sanitizer, we began making it ourselves at one of our facilities. For our support staff, we implemented a work from home protocol and had the proper tools in place to make an immediate switch. Throughout, we have continued to reinforce the value of our employees and the unique culture we’ve built at Vortex. Admittedly, working remotely was scary at first, but a necessary step we had to take to do our part to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Value: We Are Driven

Culture aside, I’ve come to realize that no one in this organization backs down from a fight. It was a very difficult decision for me to tell our leadership team we had to slow down, cancel all travel and fundamentally shut down our office-side operations. When we made this call in early March, I believe it not only defined our approach to the crisis, but who we are as a company. With offices located all over the country, we challenged our service crews, the sales and marketing team and support staff to find ways to improve processes, generate sales and even create a backlog. With remote work orders in place, we implemented daily team calls and required each member to report on activities and initiatives that are helping drive the business forward. These calls also became a platform for a great information exchange.

Value: We Do It Right

I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed more company pride that what I’ve seen over the last four months. This is a testament to the culture we’ve created and our employees’ dedication and commitment. In addition to finding ways to stay close in a remote environment, such as increased communication to keep employees up to speed on the latest regulations, we’re using innovative ways to stay in touch with our customers. For example, the sales and marketing team introduced and hosted a webinar series, we added new website content, we increased our social media and email marketing messaging, but mostly, we stayed in touch with our customers when many companies went silent. Our message was simple. We’re open and we’re here to support and help them with current projects and plans for future ones.

Value: We Think Big

When COVID-19 hit full steam, our country was not prepared for the initial surge in demand for hand sanitizer and protective masks. It was nearly impossible to source enough of these items to keep our crew and staff safe. Our products division, which manufactures epoxies and resins, suggested we produce our own hand sanitizer. Within two weeks we were making our own. Not only that, but we also created a new brand, crew CARE™, and began marketing our hand sanitizer, masks and other PPE, targeting other essential businesses. We also donated to healthcare facilities that were short on supplies. This ability to pivot our manufacturing from industrial products to a full line of FDA registered hand sanitizer is a credit to our people and leadership within the organization. This shift kept our operations open and many people employed, as well.

 Value: We Win Together

This value may very well be the most important of all, especially during a time when we’re physically apart. This isolation could have easily weakened our work ethic and dampened our spirits. With all the digital solutions that are now available to us, now when we jump on our morning video it feels like we’re in the same room. In many ways, I believe this pandemic has brought us closer together as a company. Because collectively, from the leadership team on down to our crews in the field, we’ve worked so hard to stay in touch and keep each other informed. We’re now four months into the crisis, and it appears even the experts are unwilling to predict when it will be over. All we can do is remain on our path of connectedness, treat every job won with the same enthusiasm and finally, support each other during this very up and down environment.

Looking back, there is no question that our investment in building a strong foundation based on a culture of winning together is paying off. I’d be lying if I told you we haven’t struggled, but our company was built on grit, determination and desire to succeed. I believe those qualities in our employees have allowed us to remain competitive and relevant while other businesses have struggled. From one business leader to another, let’s all stay focused and continue to bear down, because we got this!

Topics: Blog