As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Thibaut De Lataillade, GVP of GetApp.
Thibaut De Lataillade, GetApp GVP, has more than 25 years of experience in business management, sales, and marketing under his belt. He has a proven track record in cloud, mobility, digital marketing, CRM, marketing, sales, and growth strategies. Thibaut has held managerial and executive positions at large tech companies such as Cegedim and SAP.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your back story and how you got started?
I have quite a long career behind me as I started working in the early ’90s and had a lot of different work experiences. But the key moment in my career was moving to Arthur D. Little, a strategic consulting firm: It gave me an opportunity to cover a lot of C-level issues and learn how to address them. Strategic consulting is a career accelerator!
After spending seven years in consulting, I decided to branch out. In 2000, I co-founded a website for healthcare professionals in France and in the U.S. We reached $1 million in revenue within the first year, which was a great success, but it was the end of the internet bubble, and we ran into some finance issues. We sold the company, and since then I have stayed in the internet / tech industry.
I eventually met the founder of GetApp while sailing catamarans in Barcelona and started a new journey with this company which now belongs to Gartner.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?
This story was more of a hiccup than a business mistake, but it made my team and I laugh for a while and provided a valuable takeaway.
My boss at that time was Scottish, and he organized regular whiskey tasting events with us. We all became experts in Scottish whiskeys from Islay. Although the island of Islay is only 25 miles from top to bottom, it boasts no fewer than eight distilleries!
Once, after a long offsite business meeting, we did a blind taste test. I was very confident with my answers and got the first four right! The fifth one, however, was not whiskey but a cold English breakfast tea, and not one of us recognized it, as it had the same color and temperature as whiskey. Our eyes and palates were saturated with good whiskey, and we couldn’t see outside of our expectations and own experiences.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson: Never take things for granted. Just because an opportunity looks similar to a previous success doesn’t mean that it will follow the same pattern. Ask yourself the right questions, and consider all the possibilities before making a decision. Just because something looks like whiskey doesn’t mean that it is. It could be tea.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person that you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are now? Can you share a story?
When I worked as a consultant for Arthur D. Little, I learned from my boss how to build the million dollar slide. When you’re invoicing hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for strategic consulting, the client expects a final presentation that includes all the details of your analysis, recommendations, and action plans.
But the most important slide, and the one the client is most likely to remember, is the executive summary: One slide made of seven bullet points (the magic number according to Barbara Minto’s pyramid principle) that says it all.
And believe me, it’s tough to summarize months of interviews and findings into seven points. This is what my boss called the million dollar slide.
This strategy has been helpful in many areas, but most recently, I was able to condense large ideas into bite-sized pieces which helped me convince my leadership team to invest significantly in headcount and expand our international operations.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision? What, also, was its purpose?
A company’s vision gives it purpose, and a good vision can grow and expand as the company itself grows and expands. When Getapp was founded, its vision and priority was to help software buyers select the best product from a long list of similar software platforms. This list of software gave small to midsize businesses (SMBs) a way to parse through all of their options.
Now, ten years later, our purpose is to help SMBs embrace technology to grow. The vision for GetApp has grown from providing a list of software products to buyers to empowering all small businesses to scale using technology and help them make informed software buying decisions.
Thank you for all that. Now let’s turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team forward during uncertain or difficult times?
Some management and leadership principles never change, even during uncertain or difficult times. Setting a clear vision and leading your team in the right direction is always important, but it’s even more crucial when your business is facing uncertainty.
COVID-19 has presented difficulty to people across the globe, including members of my own team. To help them through this time, I’ve tried to be even more transparent and granular in setting objectives. We’re using methodology similar to OKRs (objectives and key results) to align mission critical priorities with the day-to-day of each team member.
When 100% of your team is remote, SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) help build trust and empowerment among teams.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue pushing through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I never seriously considered giving up, though sometimes I’d appreciate taking a long break!
I find the strength to move through challenges by team spirit, believing in GetApp’s vision, and making an impact we can measure by counting the number of SMBs we help grow through good software buying decisions.
I also believe in the power of optimism and finding the bright side of things. This mindset helps me put challenges in perspective and find opportunities in the midst of difficulty.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
My role as a leader is to set the direction of our business goals and make important decisions. Jeff Besos recently referred to his role as making a few decisions per day: The two-doors decision (which one is the best option) or the one-door decision (the one that will change the course of your business and isn’t reversible).
During challenging times, a leader’s role also includes emphasizing the company’s strengths, looking to the future, and pulse checking morale. The world is made of crises so it is not avoidable or realistic to think you can shield your business from disruptions. But good leaders who value communication and listen to their employees can help the business survive and become stronger in the process.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?
When the future is uncertain, it’s important to move forward with enthusiasm while also acknowledging and validating the difficulty of the situation. Listen to feedback from associates and hear them when they talk about the challenges they’re facing in learning how to work remotely. Be willing to be flexible and work with employees instead of against them.
In times of uncertainty, it’s important to over communicate messages. By constantly and consistently communicating, you offer reassurance to employees that they know what to expect. Also, in times of uncertainty, people may not be retaining information like they did before. Communicating messages repeatedly makes it easier for people to get on the same page.
One challenge we faced at GetApp was boosting collaboration among the newly remote teams. We wanted to figure out how to keep teams connected to each other, the business mission, and their individual roles to play. The key for us was using technology and software to fill in the gaps when we moved quickly to 100% remote work. We used video conferencing software for both business calls and informal coffee chats. We also relied heavily on software to collect employee feedback and share updates.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to your team and customers?
There is never a good time to deliver bad news, but how (and when) you deliver it can impact your team’s trust in you and customers’ trust in your business. It is always important to be transparent with your team and customers. Don’t delay delivering bad news or let an issue worsen by delaying the inevitable. Identify the issue, set a plan to improve or correct the issue, and deliver the news to your teams as soon as possible.
By communicating bad news in a timely manner, your teams will trust your leadership and appreciate that you see them as your teammates with whom you want to work through challenges together. Similarly, communicating bad news to your customers will show them that you value transparency. This may turn them into loyal customers who see your business as a brand they can trust.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Making plans can be difficult when the future seems unpredictable, but you have to keep moving forward, and remember that crises never last forever.
As a leader, I remind myself that crises will eventually pass and that there are always opportunities hiding within them. The goal is to identify these hidden opportunities before our competitors.
When sailing in stormy weather, the captain will want to propel the ship forward with enough speed to stay on course rather than just getting pushed around by waves and wind. The same idea applies to business: Secure crew and cargo (the fundamentals of your business) while keeping an eye on your destination.
Additionally, don’t spend money on things with no short-term expected return.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle for navigating turbulent times is resilience. A resilient business fosters a resilient mindset among teams and recruits leaders who exhibit resiliency in their leadership.
Resiliency is built up over time and through hardship, and it starts with not giving up but also knowing what to let go. Letting go of a project that loses importance or relevance when a crisis occurs is not giving up; it’s being flexible, willing to adapt, and resilient.
Can you share three or four of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Technology can accelerate and transform your business by acting as a driver that makes you stand out from the crowd.
The most common mistakes I’ve seen other businesses make are under investing in technology, not adapting old processes to new realities, and halting new projects and freezing under pressure. Doing these things jeopardize your business, turning it into a sitting duck.
Instead, don’t lose momentum. Set up a new playbook for your business, based on the new paradigm. According to our research, 92% of small business leaders report pivoting in at least one way — only 8% didn’t pivot at all!
Pivoting pays off and keeps the business strong during turbulent times.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
During COVID-19, our most recent crisis, we kept hiring people. We kept investing in new technologies and found new, innovative ways to use the technology we already had.
We conducted research into the buyer’s journey to provide an even better user experience for potential software buyers.
To continue forging ahead, we reduced non-essential spendings to focus all of our investment capacity on key projects.
We turned inward and checked in on employees. Turbulent times can be hard on a business and the people who keep it running. During these times, it’s important to reset expectations to prevent burnout among employees. At GetApp, for example, we recognized that some people on our team faced challenges adjusting to working from home and allowed them to adjust their schedules as needed.
Like most other businesses, pivoting so quickly to 100% remote work left many of us wondering how it would bode for the company. We had to adjust processes, employees had to make major adjustments to their work schedule and routine, and we all were figuring it out one day at a time. It was incredible seeing teams adapt so quickly and continue to exceed expectations with their performance even under unusual circumstances.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Lead with optimism…and empathy.
Be enthusiastic and optimistic with your teams, but not to the extent that it is tone deaf to the very real challenges they may be facing at work and home during turbulent times. Be an optimistic leader, but also empathetic.
2. Listen to your employees and work with them.
Ask your employees about their ups and downs. What’s going well for them? What do they feel most comfortable and confident doing at the job? On the other hand, what’s been a challenge, and why? Hear your employees out, and offer to work with them, if possible.
3. Be transparent in delivering news, both good and bad.
Being a leader means that sometimes, you have to be the bearer of bad news. When you have news to deliver to the team, be transparent, and don’t delay unnecessarily.
4. Don’t abandon technology in times of despair — it can help you pull through.
One of the biggest mistakes I saw from businesses during the pandemic was under investing in technology. During turbulent times, technology can help your business fill in the gaps and improve processes. These benefits can not only carry you through the crisis but help you continue to grow even after the crisis subsides.
5. Remain a visionary and continue looking to the future.
No crisis lasts forever. As a leader, it’s important to do what’s necessary for the short-term and ensure your business stays afloat, but equally as important to not lose sight of the long-term plan. Remain a visionary, even if the vision might be a little foggy from uncertainty.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
If there’s no struggle, there’s no business. Businesses do not exist in a utopian bubble; challenges are unavoidable.
It is how a business reacts to challenges that defines its future. It can decide to wait out the challenge and risk becoming stagnant and irrelevant after a world-changing event (such as a pandemic). Or it can face the challenge head on and adapt. This comes with risks and may seem intimidating, but in doing so, a business can grow and become stronger in the long run.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find me on LinkedIn and my Twitter. And you can find all of our research and insights at GetApp.