As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Goodmanson.
Tom Goodmanson is the president and CEO of Calabrio, the global customer experience intelligence company that builds software to enrich human interactions. Since 2008, Tom has led Calabrio’s vision, culture and growth to 700 employees today, helping more than 6,000 customers around the world engage with and understand their customers.
A long-time supporter and board member for Habitat for Humanity Twin Cities, Tom brings to Calabrio his generous spirit and a passion for driving social progress and positive change by investing in others, championing local businesses and supporting philanthropic causes. He currently sits on the board of The Nerdery, is a past chairman of Winland Electronics and a past board member of Virteva.
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 share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I wish more of my mistakes were actually funny, most of the time they are just plain expensive… Being very passionate and competitive, it is not unusual for me to call someone out if they are not being a part of the team. There was one time that I called a CEO of a partner company that I thought was not representing our company as well as they could have. Well, it turned out that I called the wrong partner and got myself chewed out for not having all the facts.
There were two lessons here. First, I wrote an apology to the person that I chewed out and we are still friends today (people are fast to forgive if you are sincere and humble in your apology) Second, do the homework and double check the facts before you go “all in” on getting what you want.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I have read Antwon Meyers, “Once an Eagle” three times and have probably handed out 100 copies. The story follows an enlisted soldier from the Spanish American war at the turn of the century, becomes a military leader and dies during the Vietnam War through sheer hard work. His life and career trajectory were contrasted with another soldier who during that same time frame went to West Point and rose through the ranks very politically. While the first blush of this is that of course hard work will win, when you peal the onion a bit, it lets you know that the tact and decorum of understanding an organization’s political landscape can make that hard work pay off. Rather than just being a grind-it-out person that lets things happen, you can study the system and become much more effective in your grind. That is the 3-sentence version. The book also has a lot of life lessons regarding family, friends and the toll of leadership on them.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
When I took on the position as CEO of Calabrio in 2009, I had a vision for the future of our industry and the reimagination of the call center. At the core of everything I set out to do, I wanted each step to be focused on the customer and listening to their needs and their feedback — good and bad. Listening to the needs of our community has been a fundamental part of Calabrio’s success. It has driven our ongoing product promise to customers to provide them with solutions that are easy, personalized and smart.
Just as I say to our customers who are elevating customer-centricity in their own service delivery, a customer-first attitude starts with employee-centricity. At Calabrio, I and our leadership team have always held a passion for our people, how to empower, support and challenge them. For a business to be purpose driven, every employee within the organization needs to feel purpose driven themselves.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Mark Twain probably said it best in two ways. First, “it is never wrong to do the right thing” and second, “do the right thing, it will gratify some and astonish the rest.” When you are running a business there are plenty of ups and downs. Frankly, it is really easy to do the right thing when things are going well. It is when things are hard that you need to continue that mantra in order to really show what you are made of as a leader, which reflects on the company as a whole.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I am an eternal optimist. For myself, each week that goes on that we cannot come back together or go to a restaurant or just not think about the steps for the grocery store in order to keep ourselves and our communities safe is one in which I can easily get frustrated. I want to be safe; I also want to get to work. We have a lot of cool things to offer the market and I want to get going. I deal with it through a lot of phone calls to peers, employees and friends to come to a common ground on how we can keep momentum will still being quarantined.
For my family, I would say that it has been shocking how little challenge there has been. I have had four of my six kids living at home and homeschooling from eighth grade to freshman in college with another senior in college quarantined in Iowa and a recent grad planning a wedding. They have all stayed levelheaded and worked really hard to stay on top of their work and physically and mentally fit, which has resulted in an amazing lack of drama (thanks, family).
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges I have faced has been being honest with myself about the tough choices and then being honest with my teams. Leaders have to communicate about the tough topics, even if it is easier to avoid them. While I always thought of myself as an over communicator, the last weeks have shown that I must do this even more. Putting such transparency into practice is difficult but essential.
When it comes to our customers, it is also about communication and empathy. One of the early decisions I made was based on listening to my gut. I felt that that the last thing a customer would want was to be upsold on technology when their focus was on employee health, safety, and functionality. I sent letters to our customers, reminding them that we are here to help. To say I was overwhelmed by the feedback would be an understatement.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I have had to pay close attention to team morale, have empathy and listen. I am doing my best to observe what is happening with my team. Recently I saw that we were all getting quiet on staff calls and in internal collaboration channels and realized people needed to recharge. I gave the company a day off and so many employees commented on how much it helped. It was great to feel the energy rise once more and see the animated discussion in our calls and message boards.
We have also encouraged our employees to create connection points in other, digital ways. We have rolled out live daily yoga sessions that anyone can join. Bringing previously office-based monthly traditions online, such as Waffle Wednesdays. Teams are scheduling virtual coffee breaks that create a sense of normalcy that you would typically get by meeting up with co-workers at the office. Cross-company virtual happy hours are also popping up as a way to celebrate.
Our HR team have also initiated a mental health and well-being webinar series that all employees are invited to.
This added level of emotional and mental support is alleviating stress and enabling employees to focus on themselves, their families and helping our customers in this new environment. As we plan for an eventual, safe return of teams to offices, we need to be just as in touch with employee mental health and well-being.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
We can all agree that there is no getting back to “normal,” but there is an opportunity to create a modified way of doing business that allows us to serve customers as well, if not better, than we did before 2020.
First, I think a concept we should all keep in mind is that from crisis comes opportunity.
When situations are not predictable, the routine is snapped, and this allows for breakthroughs and more creative thinking. Now more than ever, companies cannot afford to fear straying from the status quo, that stifles creativity. What practices have we learned about digital collaboration, adjusted efforts and flex working that could continue into Post-Covid operations?
Second, in terms of the economy itself, my hope is that in our post-pandemic recovery, the need for community support and collaboration will be embraced and the sense that we are all in this together will help propel the economy forward. Businesses (and individuals) having a siloed, inward focus toward finances right now will only make for a further economic downturn.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I do not foresee one singular day when all our employees return to the workplace. This is going to be a rolling return. We need to work with each office to ensure the safety and productivity of our employees as well as uninterrupted service for our customers.
We are planning for a three-part wave of employees returning to offices, social distancing measures, reconfiguring workspaces and a range of office sanitization routines. In-office meetings will be assessed. Should we collect in meetings rooms or should we continue virtual meetings for a while? Knowing what we know now, remote teams may play a bigger role in our company going forward.
Our people will be returning to work within a continued climate of stress and uncertainty with COVID-19 — it will not have just gone away — and the very notion of what it is to be back in the office will have changed. Business as usual will not suddenly resume.
We are surveying our employees in order to get a “pulse” on what they are thinking. It is amazing how thoughtful and engaged they all are on the topic when given an avenue for discussion.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Thankfully, while others have had layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts, Calabrio has not. But our management team have flexed between different business scenarios to pave the way forward and have had to make hard decisions to ensure the immediate and long-term health and safety of employees and customers, and the economic health of Calabrio.
Our goal is to be both transparent and empowering, for employees and customers. We have had to put aside language that focuses on what we do and sell, and shift to language that helps people understand how we can support them to reduce the impact of so much change. This has given us the courage to try new ideas and be much more adventurous and collaborative in the way we think, talk and act.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage others to:
Get Honest with Yourself: Even for those organizations that have weathered the pandemic, there are going to be hard decisions. You do not want to be caught off-guard, so start thinking about how a cultural change might impact your business and your brand.
Be Prepared for Losses: No one can predict what will happen next so think about the potential losses that might impact your business. Examine your financial vulnerabilities and understand your revenue model to determine where loss can be tolerated and where it will hurt.
Pay Attention to Team Morale: With the continued changes we are all going through people are getting tired. The emotion and effort required just to maintain a sense of any consistency in our lives is draining. Employees that feel good — physically, mentally and emotionally — and that have a chance to balance their life and work requirements create a better, stronger culture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have so many! Just ask my kids and anyone who has to work with me regularly. However, I always lean on various Gandhi quotes with one in particular being so apt: “Action Expresses Priorities.” In any facet of your life, you can quickly figure out what someone is thinking by paying attention to their actions. Are the actions consistent with what they say their priorities are and if not, why? It can be a very helpful management tool, not to mention a great relationship tool.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Reach out to me on LinkedIn if you have stories or tips you want to share. I would love to engage with you.