Small Giants Community

Chief Storyteller | Small Giants Community

July 12, 2020

Missing Human Connection? How to Care for Your People and Invest in Their Growth

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For Small Giants, no matter what in the world around you changes, your core purpose remains the same. At times, it may feel like everything in the world has changed — but purpose-driven leaders are relying on the strength of their culture, its purpose and values, and most of all their people to see them through.

A leader is only as good as their team, and putting your people first and investing in them is not only the right thing to do, it’s good business. But with so many teams working from home, how do you provide meaningful growth opportunities for your team? How do you cultivate a caring culture in times of change? And what kind of training is most beneficial to your people and your organization right now?

In this installment of Stepping Up, we’re talking to leaders with creative, bold ideas for training and caring for employees in order to come out of this a stronger, more connected team.

Meet the Leaders:

Candice Gouge, Chief Operating Officer
Vivayic offers learning solutions that strike a balance between solid research and lived experience. Vivayic is a 100% virtual team and its purpose is to build others’ capacity to do good in the world.

Michael Marsiglia, Co-CEO
Atomic Object is a custom software design and development consultancy. Atomic Object is a Certified B Corporation and a 2018 Forbes Small Giant.

Sasha Stephens, Executive Project Manager
Lester Thornhill, President & CEO
Life’s Abundance provides an array of superior quality, safe and effective products born out of a commitment to improving the health of people, pets and the planet. Life’s Abundance is a 2019 Forbes Small Giant.


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Meaningful Growth Opportunities
for Your Team

If you ask leaders what their top priorities are right now (and we did!), one of their top answers is growing their people. That’s because purpose-driven leaders know that the innovation, collaboration and dedication of their team members is what will help them thrive through this time and come out stronger on the other side. Training is especially important for those roles and positions where there’s limited upward mobility. Training offers a path for development even when there’s no role to grow into. 

But prioritizing training right now isn’t easy — many teams are dispersed, the mental load is heavier than ever, and there are distractions abound. But offering your people opportunities to grow is a great way to support them through this time, show you care and offer them the chance to level up, personally and professionally. Here’s how three leaders are putting training first.

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Your Company Picnic Isn’t Cancelled

Candice Gouge, Chief Operating Officer

Missing your team’s in-person events, like the annual company picnic or quarterly team meeting? There are plenty of ways to facilitate meaningful events virtually, and Vivayic’s recent two-day team meeting is a great example of how to get it right. 

For Vivayic’s leadership team, their go-to training program for emerging leaders is the Small Giants Leadership Academy. Vivayic is a longtime Small Giant, and they believe in offering training opportunities for the entire team. 

Vivayic has always been a virtual company, but they usually get together in-person three times a year for team meetings. June is typically a big summer event that gathers team members in a fun location for a few days of planning, training, and celebration — this year may have looked different, but it was special in its own way. 

Here’s a glance at the agenda:

Day 1

Day 2

  • Fun Activity/Icebreaker: Led By a New Team Member
  • Small Giants Community Guest Speaker: Tom Walter, Founder of Tasty Catering and Jamie Pritscher, Co-Founder of That’s Caring and nuphoriq
  • Quarterly Book Club: Breakout discussion groups
  • 2-Hour Professional Development Breakout Session
    • Project Owners: Team members share best practices
    • Designers: Live Skillshare course for practical learning of new technical skills

Leading up to the meeting, team members started posting photos of past trips and sharing funny hashtags about the ‘new normal.’ There was a lot of build up to this meeting, and everyone was really disappointed they couldn’t gather in-person. The leadership team knew they had to find ways to make the meeting special.

Although they’d presented it as a two-day virtual event, the calendar invite they sent to everyone blocked out three days.

“After two days of meeting, we wanted to celebrate with a virtual family picnic on Thursday morning,” says Candice Gouge. “We sent yard games, picnic baskets, toys for kids and pets, and snacks for the meeting days to their homes. We started the third day with an hour of family games on Zoom. We had 70 people — team members, spouses, kids, and siblings — competing in fun games and competitions.”

After the picnic’s virtual kick-off, families dispersed to enjoy their picnics and a day off, posting photos to the company Snapchat and taking part in fun contests like dessert and cocktail competitions.



On the Job Training for Core Business Survival Needs

Michael Marsiglia, Co-CEO
Atomic Object

No matter how the pandemic has impacted your business, it’s important to be intentional during this time. What should leaders be focusing on? At Atomic Object, Mike Marsiglia’s top priorities are growing his people by investing in their skills and experience, protecting revenue, and maintaining a strong culture. 

To that end, the pandemic has inspired Atomic Object to increase its focus on core business survival needs like sales, AR collection, and account management. This focus has led to a series of tactics that have improved the skill set of its senior managers, such as: enhanced automation and visibility into key business metrics, enhanced organization and discipline around sales pipeline management, and experimentation with new types of lead generation tactics.

All small businesses should be paying special attention to cash management and monitoring right now, and Atomic Object is dialing up its level of focus and transparency around company financials. The Co-CEOs now share updates like weekly cash on hand and outstanding AR, and they’ve initiated a twice-a-week revenue meeting where senior managers discuss key metrics, active clients, past-due AR, hot sales, and any internal people challenges. 

“The on-the-job training that the team is getting has made us a stronger and more connected team,” says Marsiglia. “This will benefit us for years to come.”


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Put Your Best People on the Biggest Problem

Sasha Stephens, Executive Project Manager
Lester Thornhill, President & CEO
Life’s Abundance

It’s the worst-case scenario for any business leader: someone on your team has COVID-19. At Life’s Abundance, it was someone on their warehouse team, so everyone in that warehouse had to quarantine for two weeks. 

Life’s Abundance makes and sells mail-order health products and pet supplies, and they weren’t willing to allow any delays in shipping to their customers. Instead of shifting people around from other warehouses, Lester Thornhill gathered his own personal all-star team from around the company: himself, their Project Director, Operations Manager, an employee from the compliance department, plus his son and his best friend, and they took over warehouse operations themselves.

“Always put your best people on the biggest problem,” says Lester Thornhill. “I knew we would get it done, and I knew we were going to come out of it stronger. Within a few days, we uncovered tons of operational inefficiencies that we can fix in order to make the warehouse team’s jobs easier and more consistent, and specifically, save them time.”

Sasha Stephens, who is developing her own leadership skills through the Small Giants Leadership Academy, was immediately game to shift gears and help out in the warehouse. In fact, she’s since earned her forklift certification so that she’s ready to step up again in the future.

“Having a desk job isn’t an excuse,” says Stephens. “We believe that by putting your best people on a problem, you get the best innovations. We’ve already put two major changes into practice in the warehouse that will give us a competitive advantage.”


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Caring for Employees

Right now, purpose-driven leaders are feeling the weight of caring for and supporting their team members through such a difficult time. They’re checking in more frequently, they’re looking for ways to facilitate connection, and they’re trying to create a sense of calm.

Purpose-driven leaders believe in caring for team members in the totality of their lives — not just in times of crisis, but always. It’s a staple of the Small Giants philosophy, and emerging leaders learn in-depth practices for creating caring cultures as part of the Small Giants Leadership Academy curriculum.

But with our work lives turned upside down, caring for employees — from mental health and wellness to professional development — requires new levels of creativity. Here are a few great ideas from Small Giant leaders.

Delivering Office Furniture to Team Members

Michael Marsiglia, Co-CEO
Atomic Object

Most people are relatively new to remote work, which has led to makeshift home offices with furniture and equipment that aren’t ideal for the long-term. With their office buildings sitting empty, leaders at Atomic Object decided to distribute office furniture to employees (whom they call Atoms) who needed it. Vice President Mary O’Neill spearheaded the effort, putting together a simple Google survey and sending it out to the entire team.

O’Neill asked if people needed a desk, chair, or both, and she even specified desk dimensions to make sure the furniture would fit in their home office spaces. She then hired a mover and arranged for everything to be delivered to Atoms’ homes.

Huge shoutout to @maryoneill and anybody else that made the office equipment drop off possible! I never realized how much of an impact a nice chair makes until now!

@BobbyClotman told me he feels a bit like Santa Claus, and that seems fitting because I definitely feel like a kid on Christmas morning right now. Thank you Bobby and @maryoneill!

“This was relatively inexpensive and a huge hit,” says Marsiglia. “The furniture is a resource we already own, and it sure felt nice to deploy it.”

Beyond ensuring Atoms have comfortable, healthy workspaces, Atomic’s leaders also focused on sharing even more communication and transparency. On a day-to-day basis, this shows up as more frequent one-on-ones, daily stand-up meetings, increased financial transparency, and Friday afternoon “Atomic Toasts” where individuals share someone they are thankful for that week over a Michigan craft beer through Zoom. 

For those with Zoom fatigue, Marsiglia offers a more traditional alternative.

“I've personally started to use the phone a lot more with one-on-ones,” says Marsiglia. “I try to encourage the person I'm speaking with to do a phone walk with me. I've found that much more enjoyable than yet another Zoom meeting.”


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Daily Cultural Storytelling

Sasha Stephens, Executive Project Manager
Lester Thornhill, President & CEO
Life’s Abundance

At the beginning of this crisis, Lester Thornhill had a singular message for his team: how is this going to make us better? 

“In every situation, figure out how you're going to come out of it better,” says Thornhill. “I don't want to just get through this — I’d consider that a personal failure. How is this going to make us better?”

One way Thornhill has reinforced that message is by instituting daily morning meetings on Zoom for all 53 team members. Some days, it’s a brief, 15-minute meeting to check in, share updates, and motivate one another. Other days, Thornhill invites a guest speaker to address the team and share a story or life lesson.

“I invited one of our co-founders to come speak to the team,” says Thornhill. “He exited the company 12 years ago, and many of them haven’t had the chance to meet him and hear the company story from his perspective. Now, he’s more than just a picture on the wall for them.”

Thornhill also invites some of his peers to these meetings, including CEOs and leaders from other companies. For him, talking to other leaders is commonplace — but for some team members, it’s access to a level of mentorship they usually don’t get. These meetings have been a source of inspiration and professional development for the team, and Thornhill doesn’t see them going anywhere, even when they return to the office.

“During one of our first 15-minute morning calls is when Lester addressed the team with the idea of ‘how will this make us better?’” says Sasha Stephens. “It surprised some people, because so many companies were in the mode of just trying to survive the crisis. But it really set the tone. We’ve stayed true to it — the company is productive and moving forward, and we’re all in it together.”


Small Giants know that their team members are getting them through this downturn, and they’ll be the ones leading the way for the upturn. The leaders you met in this article all have one thing in common: they never stopped investing in leadership development. 

Growing confident, emotionally intelligent leaders who understand the business, can set clear expectations, and inspire teams is the best way to future-proof your business. Atomic Object, Life’s Abundance, and Vivayic all have certified Small Giants on their team, and they are thriving today thanks to a deep bench of leadership talent.


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