In the weeks leading up to—and after—the 25th annual Business & Leadership Conference, we asked NSCA leadership to share their insights and expertise on many of the subjects covered at the event. Here, Christina DeBono, president at ClearTech, describes how she prioritizes principles, culture, and core values during challenging times.
It hasn’t been easy to be at the helm of an integration company over the past three years, but it helps to fall back on core values.
When times get scary—the business pipeline dries up, supply chains freeze, a pandemic grinds the economy to a halt—leaders need to take decisive action to maintain continuity, control costs, reassure customers, and do everything necessary to keep the wheels from coming off the bus.
But here’s one thing I’ve learned: By focusing on triage to the neglect of your core values, principles, and culture, you’re only going to make things worse. That panic you feel will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Ties that Bind
In the face of confusion and chaos, we all know the consequences of giving in to panic. What we don’t necessarily consider are the costs of compromising on our values and cutting corners on our commitment to one another.
If I’ve learned anything from the challenges of steering ClearTech through three years of turmoil, it’s this: Our principles and core values aren’t mere “nice to haves.” They’re the glue that keeps us together and provides the strength we need to remain a team.
During the worst of the pandemic, my leadership team and I made the conscious choice to do everything we could to support our staff and live our values. We saw it as essential to remaining a cohesive, resilient, and viable organization. In a world where so much was out of our control, we could at least remain true to our most deeply held convictions.
Living Our Core Values
One of our most important values is community. From ClearTech’s inception, I felt strongly that we should not operate in a vacuum. We’re tightly woven into the larger social fabric, and it’s essential—especially in tumultuous times—to remain connected to our community. In ClearTech’s case, that meant doubling down on our support of organizations like the Western Service Workers Association and the Commission on Voluntary Service and Action—two longtime partners.
In the past year, we also founded Sustainability in AV (SAVe), the first industrywide, U.S.-based organization to bring stakeholders together to take concerted action to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. SAVe will help provide the leadership our industry needs to safeguard the biggest community of all: our planet.
Another principle embedded in our DNA is investment in our people. That means training and promoting from within and providing team members with opportunities to flourish professionally and personally. After all, we want prospective hires to look at ClearTech as a career destination. We’re asking them to invest in our company; in return, we have a responsibility to invest in them as well. In so doing, we enhance retention, provide consistency for clients, and continually enhance our culture.
The last value I’ll mention is DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). Being serious about DEI not only strengthens our communities, but also strengths our company by giving us the benefit of new ideas and perspectives. In fact, we purposefully recruit people from outside our industry to diversify our “gene pool.” We love to hire people who have great skill sets, but what we really care about is whether applicants embrace our core values and are willing to learn.
It Must Come from the Top
In times of turmoil, it can be tempting to turn your attention away from your core values and principles. But it’s my strong conviction that principles, culture, and values matter most during challenging times—because they’re what make your company worth fighting for. They’re what lead your staff to hunker down with you rather than abandon ship.
When commitment comes from the top, and when it remains steadfast in times of crisis, the rest of the team will take notice. Not only that, but they’ll also assume the mantel of leadership as well. Thuy To Chin, our director of operations, told me just the other day that, when she conducts new-employee orientation, a meeting about ClearTech’s values, principles, and culture is at the top of the list. I didn’t direct her to do this. She took it upon herself to help ensure that every single person on our team understands ClearTech’s values—and lives them in their professional life.
This year, ClearTech earned national recognition as one of the nation’s fastest-growing integrators of its size. That kind of success was not something we specifically drove toward in our strategic planning. Rather, it was the result of what we did focus on: creating the strongest, most cohesive, and most motivated organization possible by investing in community, supporting one another, and championing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Christina DeBono is president of ClearTech and NSCA Board of Directors treasurer.
Save the date for the 2024 Business & Leadership conference: details at www.nsca.org/blc.