Editor’s note: We asked Milwaukee-area business leaders to reflect on how they navigated their businesses through the challenges of 2021, what lessons they learned along the way, and what’s on the horizon in 2022. Responses will run throughout the week in a multi-part series. This is the second part of the series. Click here to read the first part of the series.
What business lesson did you learn in 2021?
"At Milwaukee Public Museum, we were reminded of how this community treasures its cultural institutions and how consumer trust built over time can help businesses overcome even the toughest challenges. We prioritized both our visitors’ and front-line staff members' needs, soliciting their feedback as we navigated the reopening process, ensuring we were flexible and responsive as circumstances changed. As a result, many visitors said this was one of the first places they brought their families to once they started venturing out again."
-- Ellen Censky, president and chief executive officer, Milwaukee Public Museum
[caption id="attachment_540085" align="alignleft" width="215"] John Feaman[/caption]
“Business legislation experienced a major shift in dynamics during the pandemic (Payment Protection Program, employee retention credits, and COVID sick leave). Sometimes, the rules were revised on a weekly basis. Our team understood the regulations and conveyed them to our clients.
“Like many Wisconsin businesses, we pivoted toward a mobile workforce. But a remote or hybrid-functioning team did not impact our clients. We balanced operations and provided customer service in the ways they have come to know and expect.”
-- John Feaman, president, IPS
[caption id="attachment_540090" align="alignright" width="226"] Dr. Madan Kandula[/caption]
"2021 validated that clarity of vision and purpose is a business superpower. It empowers you to fight through the noise and enact the right decisions at the right time."
-- Dr. MadanKandula, founder and CEO, ADVENT
[caption id="attachment_540087" align="alignleft" width="201"] Michael Novak[/caption]
"Two of the most effective ways to address uncertainty are leading with vulnerability and radical candor. At an early stage startup, things can change at an accelerated pace based on company vision and user insights. Caring personally, challenging directly and being vulnerable allows you to gain respect, buy-in and trust from team members when dealing with uncertainty."
-- Michael Novak, chief of staff, Fiveable
What do you see as the biggest concern and the biggest opportunity for the Milwaukee/southeastern Wisconsin business community heading into 2022?
Censky: "For businesses hit hardest by the pandemic, there is concern the 'return to normal' we all have been craving for nearly two years will continue to be delayed well into a third year. However, many of the businesses that have thrived during the pandemic have been able to pivot quickly, turning a perceived challenge into an opportunity. From unexpected turmoil has come widespread innovation that will forever change the way we live and work."
Kandula: "In 2022, COVID will turn from a pandemic to endemic disease. The companies, cities and regions that embrace that change will have abundant opportunities. Those that continue to live in the past will lag. Milwaukee/SE Wisconsin's scorecard through the pandemic has been mixed. The more leaders in the Milwaukee community who can grasp the dynamics around the post-COVID-pandemic world, the stronger the community will be."
Novak: "The growing trend of remote work provides an opportunity and concern for the business community in attracting and retaining talent. As people continue to move from technology hubs to more affordable cities, Milwaukee can play a pivotal role in brining new talent to the region if they invest in remote work infrastructure and relocation programs. Similarly, the city needs to find ways to retain talent whose roles no longer require them to work from the office."
Other lessons learned this year?
Censky: "A successful leader is one who prioritizes communication—whether it's keeping employees and visitors up-to-date on what's happening in the organization, or being receptive and responsive to feedback from others. Regular, two-way communication is essential, especially as information is changing rapidly as we’ve experienced repeatedly over the past two years."
Feaman: “With the ‘great resignation,' employers are looking for more opportunities to cater to their employees. Whether working from home, in the office or on the go, providing data access anywhere on any device empowers employees to have a better user experience. It helps them feel valued and can increase their general productivity.”
Kandula: "A thriving culture is a must-have not a nice-to-have. Culture is easy to neglect when times are good, but it's a life preserver when times turn sour."
Novak: "The well-being of yourself, your customers and your peers are the most important things for the success of your business. By offering support to our employees through partnerships with companies like Good Human Work, I've been able to see the impact firsthand. We have built a workplace culture that fosters vulnerability and promotes taking care of ourselves before anything else. As a result, this has led to a more productive and welcoming workplace."
Check back throughout the week to see more reflections on the year from area business leaders.