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Joe Fuca Of Reputation On The Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Sara Connell

Stay connected — While leaders always have a lot to manage during turbulent times, it’s important to stay connected with your team. From your c-suite to the employees that report to each executive team member, I think the most successful leaders find ways to connect with everyone. Whether it means dropping into meetings or working on broader initiatives to keep the entire organization connected, I believe the more meaningful connections we can make, the easier it is to navigate challenging situations.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Fuca.

A thirty-year technology veteran, Joe Fuca is known in Silicon Valley for leading both private and public companies through worldwide growth phases, transformative customer success, and category leadership.

A former DocuSign executive, he was the first senior leader that its former CEO Kieth Krach hired to build out the infrastructure necessary to grow the company ten-fold to $250 million in four years. In addition, he designed DocuSign’s vertical strategy, priorities and positioning; expanded its presence globally; and forged strategic partnerships with Salesforce, major financial services organizations and top-tier consulting firms.

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 tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have a great story about how I started my career in tech. I was moving furniture for someone after I got released from the Rams — the first time they were in Los Angeles — who was the Chief Revenue Officer of a software company. I got to talking to him, and he told me to reconnect when I was officially done with my playing career, so I looked him up a few months later.

I basically became his lackey, and a big part of my role was doing research in the magazine Computerworld — it was the go-to magazine for the tech industry at the time. I would research specific topics in old issues — and as silly as it sounds now — and it literally changed my entire career trajectory. I learned so much from reading about this one specific technology topic the company was focused on that I was officially hooked. That background knowledge prepared me so well for selling that I ended up being the company’s #1 sales rep.

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?

In the first year of my career, I was brought along to a sales pitch and dinner at a potential VC investor’s house in San Francisco. The investor had a really intricate, antique dining room table — everything in the room was something you didn’t want to touch out of fear of breaking it. We were in the middle of our pitch, and somehow the investor got me on the topic of boxing. I started acting like a boxer in this match we were talking about, and of course, I do a few moves and the chair splits and falls to the ground!

That moment taught me about the importance of focusing on the business at hand in important meetings. There are times to have fun with your team and enjoy what you are doing, but big meetings require focus from everyone on the team, no matter your job title or level of experience.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

When I first became the CEO of Reputation, I hired a CEO coach — a colleague of mine that was a CEO for 10 years and now advises others that have taken a similar path. It’s the best money I’ve ever spent. He’s given me advice on everything related to leading a company — how to navigate fundraising rounds and investor proposals, the graceful way of dealing with challenges across the c-suite, running effective board meetings, and more. I still meet with him every Friday and share my successes and challenges, and he is there to listen and give advice where he can.

While no coach could have guided me through leading during a pandemic, his advice has been invaluable since I began my tenure as Reputation’s CEO. Whether you’re a first-time manager or stepping into a c-suite position, I would advise everyone to find a trusted mentor who has successfully held a similar role before — their guidance will be invaluable.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Reputation as we know it today began as a way to help businesses gain feedback from their communities in order to make targeted improvements — specifically improvements that would help grow the bottom line. We started with feedback from reviews and surveys, but have evolved our platform to provide businesses with a full view of what their customers are saying across all digital platforms — from reviews and surveys to social media sites, rating pages, and other public and private forums — so they can improve and grow.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

I am a first-time CEO. When I joined Reputation in 2018, my main focus was to foster growth at an already impactful organization and drive the company’s pivot towards a B2B enterprise technology company. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to lead the organization through a long-term global pandemic. For that matter — 99.9% of business leaders didn’t expect to navigate something like this — there is literally no playbook for the twists and turns the past two years have dealt us.

During the early days of the pandemic in 2020, so much was unknown — both about the virus and the economic impact it would have on businesses — either on Main Street or Wall Street. My most pressing concern was to preserve as many employees’ jobs as I possibly could, even when our customer base was shaky because businesses were bracing for impact. I am extremely proud of how we handled those early days- we watched our balance sheet like a hawk, kept our customers happy and their CX programs running, and retained every employee on the team.

I also focused on being flexible — with employees and customers — as everyone adjusted to the “new normal” of working from home and the challenges that went along with it. I quickly realized that I’d have to give my team some grace when it came to defined working hours as they were suddenly dealing with kids out of school, spouses working from home, and unexpected financial implications of the pandemic. I made it a point to over-communicate with my employees. My once monthly All Hands meetings moved to weekly and my executive team focused on communicating consistent messages with a level of transparency we previously felt was too risky. We talked openly about real-time business updates and highlighted the great work happening in all parts of the business.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

In the world of being a revenue leader, you are always working in three- to five-year cycles — sometimes it’s easy to think about making a career change, but I would never say ‘give up.’ I’ve never said that in my life because I don’t believe in giving up, I believe in finding a solution to tough situations. because I am too stubborn.

I have faced challenges, though. When I was at DocuSign, the CEO at the time and I were having dinner and he brought up the name of someone that he felt would be a great Chief Revenue Officer. As the SVP of Sales at the time, a part of me thought “Wait, I’m the guy,” but the CEO had other plans. He was smart though, he engaged me to help with the recruiting effort — I was the first person to have dinner with this candidate, and I could sense he brought something different to the table that would only add to our team. In that situation, I was someone with a high degree of confidence that put my own career ambitions aside and hired my new boss. Giving up the pursuit of that CRO role ultimately changed my career path and made me a better leader.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

I really enjoy John Wooden’s books on coaching and leadership. He shares lessons in his books from his coaching career that have inspired me throughout my career. I always recommend John Wooden titles to up and coming leaders on my team.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

A CEO navigating turbulent times sets the tone for the rest of the organization. Your people will get your organization through any challenges, so it is critical as a leader that you provide them what they need — from acting as an example in the practice of resilience, to offering inspiration or acting as a sounding board. All leaders, but especially the CEO, must wear many hats when faced with adversity in business.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Leaders need to consistently practice open, transparent communication, especially when an organization is facing a challenge. Check-in with your teams, and make sure to engage with employees at all levels of the organization so they feel seen. I make a point to join department all-hands or smaller group meetings from time to time so our teams feel that they know me a little bit better and realize that I appreciate their work.

Also, be open to feedback from your employees — creating an environment where your team members can speak freely about what’s on their minds, with leadership acting on any constructive feedback will do wonders for morale. When people feel heard, they will work even harder to meet their goals, even in times of uncertainty.

Feedback is in Reputation’s DNA, so leading the organization through a global pandemic, I knew we needed to hear from employees about what was done well, and where we could improve. Before we formalized an internal feedback process, I started reading employee reviews on Glassdoor and made note of trending comments because in my opinion ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ can be applied to employee experience. This might not be perfect in terms of timing, but you are able to read honest, unfiltered opinions and understand exactly where your organization can improve. In fact, we’ve identified and fixed several challenges this way.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Delivering bad news to your team or customers is never easy, no matter where you are in your career journey. Direct, tactful communication is key when sharing bad news. In some situations, I would also say it is important to highlight how a challenging situation might lead to a new, better opportunity, or how you have learned from said situation.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

In an unpredictable world, leaders can still plan effectively but they must set realistic expectations for themselves, and with key stakeholders, including other executives, their organization’s employees, the board of directors, and investors. The expectation must be that plans may need to change. The world we live in today requires leaders to have more flexibility than ever before. For example, you might plan to launch a new product in six months, but if it would be best for the organization in the long term to hold off on that product launch for another month, you need to have the ability to make that call.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

In my opinion, there is more than one key principle for handling a crisis, but if I had to choose, the “number one principle” is to communicate clearly. Meaningful, clear communication is critical all the time but especially in turbulent times. No longer is it acceptable for an organization to share too much or too little information with employees. Leaders that continue to succeed in this new world will be the ones that provide open channels of communication internally and share the right information at the right time.

At Reputation, we believe open communication leads to meaningful collaboration, both in the office and working remotely. When the pandemic began, we over-communicated, hosting an all-hands meeting once a week to share relevant information with all employees. While we’ve adapted due to feedback, moving back to monthly all-hands meetings, this was a great way to make all employees feel looped into company happenings in a challenging time.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

I’ve seen several mistakes made during crisis situations, both during COVID and in “normal” times:

  1. Poor communication — Sometimes leaders communicate too much, too soon when they’re excited about something, or exercise more caution than necessary and share too little — I know I’ve been guilty of both in the past. Internal communication is an art and science, so it’s important to engage with the right experts to develop an appropriate cadence. The quality, consistency, and cadence of your words matter in a time of crisis.
  2. Avoiding feedback — It can be easy to want to avoid negativity, especially in turbulent times, but you need to address the ways a crisis situation is impacting your stakeholders — both internal and external. Listening to your team has two benefits. First, it can help boost morale and lead to high employee retention rates. Second, seeking out, analyzing, and addressing feedback from your employees will improve the customer experience, which is essential to protecting your brand during challenging times.
  3. Failing to plan — Let’s face it, no one could have foreseen a global pandemic in 2020, but it taught us all that planning for challenging times is a business necessity. Many businesses still do not have a plan in place for a crisis situation, but it is critical for maintaining brand trust, regardless of your industry.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Lead with empathy — This is so important when you’re leading a global organization. Reputation has offices across the United States, in the UK and India, where there have been a wide variety of responses to the global pandemic. What works for my team in the UK is different from what works for the team in India, and there’s even more variety in the United States. I’ve learned that it is important to understand that everyone has a different situation outside of work, so equipping your team with a variety of choices will make a turbulent period more bearable.
  2. Stay connected — While leaders always have a lot to manage during turbulent times, it’s important to stay connected with your team. From your c-suite to the employees that report to each executive team member, I think the most successful leaders find ways to connect with everyone. Whether it means dropping into meetings or working on broader initiatives to keep the entire organization connected, I believe the more meaningful connections we can make, the easier it is to navigate challenging situations.
  3. Communicate clearly — As I mentioned earlier, I think leading through a crisis requires effective communication. Whether you choose to have regular all-hands meetings as we did at Reputation or share regular written internal communications, you need to deliver a clear, consistent message to your people.
  4. Read feedback — It might be hard to accept feedback during a crisis situation, especially when it is constructive, but the more you are open to understanding where you can improve your business and how you can improve as a leader, the better you will navigate a turbulent period of time. Using feedback from all stakeholders and making changes accordingly will not only improve morale but can help you grow your bottom line and emerge from a challenging time even stronger than before.
  5. Be flexible and open to changing your opinions — Flexibility is so important as a leader, especially when challenges seem to keep coming. I am a great example of this — I am very much someone who likes to be in the office and collaborate in person. However, the pandemic forced this to change. My own experience working from home, combined with the need to manage teams across a diverse set of geographies, has evolved my opinion on returning to the office, and I now favor a more flexible approach.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“True sales does not start until the customer says no.” I have always felt that when a customer says NO, they are really saying they have some challenges to overcome to get a deal done. We need to listen to challenges and then help them solve them one by one. The best in the business take NOs and turn them into YES with a classy touch along the way.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn or visit Reputation.com.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Sara Connell

Sara Connell

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