The People of Draper – Leading Through a Crisis
Written by Jenny Kinsman
As a boy, Mike Crones would hang out in the home workshop, watching his engineer dad tinker with electronics, tear things apart and put them back together again.
Soon Crones was doing the same with computers – and a bright career path connected.
I had always heard is that you should try to find something in life that turns your passion into your work,
Crones says. “I really enjoyed what I was doing from a computer hobby perspective, so why couldn’t I make this my livelihood?”
Approaching 25 years as an engineer and technologist, Crones has achieved that blend of passion and work. It drives how he shows up as a leader as CIO of Draper, and perhaps never has that leadership been more on display than during this COVID-19 affected spring of 2020.
As he led his IT team into new territory, facilitating remote work protocols for a company that rarely ever stayed home – even on heavy snow days – Crones is watching how his people react to the rapid change.
He knows his people are watching how he leads.
When things go back to our new normal, people will remember how you treated them throughout this and how they came together,
Crones says. “If nothing else, it’s just the human thing to do.” Treating others with kindness and respect should not be at odds with achieving the mission of the company.
Crones reflects on how the people of Draper have come together since this major disruption changed how they work.
How has your organization has responded to the new environment forced upon all of us by COVID-19?
Forced is the key term there. The organization has responded incredibly well to something that was ambiguous. You could see this coming, but we really weren’t sure how big the wave was going to be and if the wave was going to be real. From an IT perspective, we have always been a company that has worked primarily in our buildings. We are a 2000-person engineering company with nine US offices, and the majority of our business interactions have traditionally been done face to face. Building and maintaining personal relationships has been key for how our company culture runs. Going to a remote model was very different.
I think after the initial week of everyone working remotely, we took a breath and realized how well we all responded to the sudden shift. We could then begin to fine tune areas that needed bolstering and wrap them with supporting processes. It’s actually helped to bring areas of the business together to address common challenges that benefit the company at large.
When it comes to your organization’s response, what is one thing that surprised you and what did you learn from that?
Initially, I was concerned with the quality of the user experience we could provide to the workforce. I wasn’t sure that our processes could adapt to the shift as quickly as we needed them to. It was also a very stark change for the IT staff. I saw several of my team members really start to take on informal leadership roles. They might not have been in a leadership role, but their subject matter expertise pushed them to the front in a few different areas. They were extremely creative with their approach to problem solving to ensure we were not going to impact our ability to do business. I actually was not surprised that my team reacted in this fashion. I knew it was there, and this just happened to be the opportunity for them to rise to the challenge.
What are you most proud of in how your organization stepped up?
Traditionally, there have been silos of ownership, and I think those boundaries have melted away. If anyone needs help, everyone jumps in to make sure that team has the resources and people that are needed to support that area. The level of organizational maturity has gone up because we all know we are fighting this common mission. It’s not about just getting your stuff done, it’s about making sure that the team gets its mission done. What I have really enjoyed watching is people crossing boundaries to help wherever they can. Not that they didn’t do it before, but now it’s very pronounced. Many of the staff are also stepping out of their comfort zones to take on new challenges that have popped up. Great opportunities for growth!
How are you growing as a leader through this? What leadership principles are carrying you through?
I would say it has made me a bit more thoughtful in how I am engaging with my team. A lot of this in general has hopefully slowed me down. Not that I have really had time to slow down, but I’m being more thoughtful on how I am approaching things. I am hyper focused on looking at the personal aspects of this overall situation and executing work in parallel. It’s so important to just understand that people at home are juggling the worry of the unknown, illness, home-schooling, etc. You really need to be mindful and make sure you’re aware of other people’s perspectives and actively helping to successfully bring them through these uncertain times.
What positives are you seeing from this crisis?
The main positive outcome from all of this is the team cohesiveness. I just think how much stronger we have become as a team. We had some great chemistry prior to this pandemic, but while working remotely for the past month, we haven’t missed a beat. There is a lot of great team building that has gone on.
Overall from a Draper perspective, we have started to step back a little bit and examine how we are doing things. In the past we were a company focused on having people come into the facility and leverage personal relationships to gets things done here every day. We’ve had to abandon the philosophy of you need to be in the office to be effective and adopt a work from anywhere mentality. However, we still need to ensure we do not lose the strong personal relationships and collaboration that have been a strength of the company. With this shift in working location and style, I think there is an opportunity for improved quality of life and diversity on how we approach our work challenges. To me, it is the beginning of some interesting and challenging time for change, learning and growth. It’s actually pretty exciting to think about the new normal that we will evolve into.
What is the future of work going to look like?
Well, I can start out by saying it isn’t what we have been used to. We will have to figure out what that looks like over the summer and into the fall. The longer this goes on, the more normal it feels and generally becomes the new reality. Remote work is here to stay, and we need to make adjustments to expectations, processes and many of the norms we have formed over time. This is going to push so many opportunities that we are not even aware of right now. While it can be perceived as negative, trying and brutal in many ways, I think that a lot of opportunities and a lot of growth comes out of this. In some ways, it is good to go through experiences like this because this is when you grow. This is when you grow as a person, when you grow as a leader and when you grow as a company.
Special thanks to Mike Crones and Draper.
by CIOs, for CIOs
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