Alexandra Panousis

CEO, Carat

Today marks my first month as CEO of Carat and, during one of the most topsy turvy business cycles. While I was hoping my first days would be filled with observation and learning a new complex organization, the reality is that I had to jump right in. Learning the mechanics of a new company is like learning a new language, there is a code, standards, processes, culture, what you see center stage, and what is hidden behind the curtain. Hard enough to crack at the best of times but, during a pandemic, it has proven extremely challenging.

I planned for my first-day pre-Covid. I had a sweatshirt made and all kinds of fun stories to share with my new team...but it proved hard to make an impression during a virtual intro. Simple things like getting up to speed on the day-to-day, meeting colleagues, forming new relationships, meeting clients, are all tough to do via Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Communication stumbles with the "harshness of email" and learning an organization's DNA has been much more difficult during Covid. That's some of the tough stuff.

But there’s are so many positives to starting at a challenging time: Conversations getting to the core issues faster; Trust taking an expedited journey; people are overly genuine, generous and kind. This baptism by fire has been exhilarating, to say the least.

Here are a few things that mark my first month:

Under pressure to make decisions faster This is a time where we need velocity in decision making. Managers cannot sit on the fence. The reality is that prioritizing and learning to operate with a level of ambiguity is what the business needs to do. Honing that skill and flexing that muscle has been very important. On the best of weeks, I’m a high-velocity DM but it seems like this has been on steroids. Fast decisions also need fast pivots, if you are wrong. Move quickly to course correct is equally important.

Give up on perfection Further to the point above, moving fast is more important than being perfect. In media helping clients understand and provide a POV can sometimes fall in the area of "it depends" but today as stewards, we have to take the information we have, move forward and then course correct if things change.

Your words matter now (more) I am one of those people that speaks fast. But, I have had to slow down. Words matter. Not just what I say, but how I say it especially in situations of stress. Being true, authentic and caring isn’t just great leadership skills they are core essentials today. (Also, when you are meeting people only on teams/zoom and cannot get those nonverbal cues you need a higher sense of a bank of good jokes.)

What will you tell me that I need to know? It is the question I asked everyone during my onboarding meetings. Surprisingly, this creates instant candour and helped arm me with early feedback that I was able to use quickly.

For a business to survive you have to make tough decisions That has been hard. But critical. We need to make tough decisions to ensure the resilience of the business. If not now, then when? Strategy has always been about choice. Making short-term decisions require experience, conviction and a path forward. You have to be clear and work with the best information you have.

Find time to be human and recognize people are afraid of "the Boss" no matter what you say I write a weekly email to my team telling them how I am doing, sharing some of the trivialities of my life and suggesting articles and information for them to read. In my two town halls, I have tried to be fun (adding dance music, or sad songs to sing along). Clearly, I need better jokes and finally, one thing I have learned, if people don’t ask the (sometimes obvious) tough questions – you need to tee them up and share them upfront. Don’t shy away from tough questions. You will never get trust if you do.

A contribution culture Today, more than ever we need to Do What We Can to help. That could range from a POV on spending, to a random act of kindness, to a shout-out to someone that is working above and beyond. Being helpful, kind and generous are basics that we need to do in every conversation we have. Encourage balance – support families – support passions. Encourage volunteerism. Encourage training.

Mediocrity we cannot afford This is a big one for me. And an important one to reframe the business of media. We cannot have mediocrity now. The stakes are high. So, those things that are not working have got to go. We need to move faster, be more agile and step up with new skills. Clients and brands need to find new ways to create human connections, new ways to drive experiences...and they also need proven ways to drive results. And that means we have to elevate taking everything we know, to do everything we can.

How will we change as we re-emerge? Businesses and people are going through epic change. One of the most challenging economic times and, the perfect storm of market factors. Yes, we will change, but how we will adapt is the question I ponder most. And in many ways, this opens up opportunities for reimagination.

Finally the best advice Thank you Wendy Woods who wisely shared this gift with me “Keep swimming” the rest we will figure out together.