A CEO’s Perspective: How We Quickly Adapted and Where We Can Still Improve

September 10, 2020
Rich Cavagnaro, CEO & President of AdEdge Water Technologies

By Rich Cavagnaro, CEO & President

As with all companies, COVID-19 has forced us to change our business practices and adapt to a changing work environment. AdEdge had to ride that wave like many of you. We have done a terrific job of adapting to changes, but also have wobbled a few times as well. Here are a few things we wanted to share with others on how we have adapted or learned to work in a new environment over the last six months.

Safety

We respected the severity of COVID-19 early and put guidelines in place to protect our staff and to service our customers. As the CDC and federal and state governments modified information, we stayed flexible during these times to put in new company policies and to communicate weekly to staff, especially during the first three months. Now, we provide weekly briefings to the management team and monthly meetings to staff. To date, we have not experienced any lost time work due to COVID-19.

Flexibility

We transitioned to a remote workforce much easier than I ever expected. This was a bit of strategic luck as we had recently promoted several key millennials into management positions. These millennial leaders grabbed the bull by the horns to make a rather rigid engineering-driven company be able to work remotely through the use of technology. As a company, we already had a growing remote workforce supporting the business and some tools were already in place. My remote employees had to provide some reverse mentoring to the staff at our headquarters who were now asked to work remotely. We had some fumbles in communication early on, but we continued to ensure our core value of exemplary customer service remained front and center. We have had to address many challenging situations such as a startup in the middle of the crisis in New Jersey and our team had quite remarkable success.

New Software Tools

Using Microsoft Teams has been an exceptional tool to communicate with staff daily, weekly and monthly. We have been able to conduct bi-monthly cultural events, communicate with customers, hold webinars, and share drawings and files with customers—all within Teams. This has been our default tool for video calls with customers, but we remain agile in learning other technology platforms such as Zoom, Duo, WhatsApp and Whereby. While face-to-face is the preferred way of communicating, we all have learned how to use video calls more effectively and bridge the gap of creating more intimate personal relationships with staff and customers.

Social Media

We effectively transitioned to using social media platforms to engage with current and future customers. We focused our staff to provide content to support digital marketing from mundane work-at-home pictures to case studies on cost-effective and treatment solutions for problem contaminants. I’m very proud of how our team has adapted to support our customers despite the radical change in business practices by not attending trade shows and ceasing sales visits to customers.

Future Growth

Finally, we looked at the future and started accelerated pilot campaigns to generate more data on contaminant issues we identified as future spending opportunities from our customers. Some of these efforts may be specific to certain key customers, but more visible actions have been to support water reuse with our ROTEC FR-RO technology, PFAS removal, groundwater nitrate removal with our biological treatment, biottta®, and phosphate removal from source waters. We have expanded our fleet of pilots and challenged our pilot operators to work with the challenging COVID-19 travel restrictions; however, we are excited about the future payoff this investment will make for us.

While we have many positives to share, and I highlighted a few achievements, we can look back on a few shortcomings, too. Staff, clients and families are under increasing stress. As we shifted to a remote environment, we lost some of the daily relationship exchanges that helped build teamwork and strong company culture. Supporting children with virtual school, the closing of daycare facilities and not being able to visit sick relatives all added to the challenges each of us have had to adapt to without a playbook. These are all issues we have had to recognize and provide flexibility on. We got many things right, but we also missed seeing how social distancing and isolation can cause such an abrupt change in our daily lives.

While we think we are wired for change, all these COVID-19 challenges came at a faster pace than we are accustomed to and have created increased anxiety for all of us. I have spent my entire career working in an office and coming home to “escape” from the office. Now, home is the office and the workday has lost the boundaries of defined working hours. We still are figuring some of these balances out as we work through a more difficult economic challenge. We have implemented a software tool called Heartcount that can be used as a trigger for us to measure employee engagement and for members of the leadership team to identify opportunities to coach an employee on work or outside of work issues.

We also were adequately staffed to support a business model different than what COVID-19 has thrown at us. We have realized the shift has caused us to have some staffing imbalances and a more determined pursuit to implement Continuous Process Improvement throughout the company. We have an aggressive sales team looking for opportunities and driving our proposal team to be busier than ever. Our field service team has to deal with more challenging startups due to COVID-19. This can impact everyone’s schedules, especially if quarantine is involved, and we must minimize extra trips to a job site.

Upfront attention to details is a necessity, and we are providing more training programs to minimize any communication gaps; however, training and onboarding new employees is a focused area of need, and the strategic decisions on how to support 2021 are being evaluated daily. Next year will provide a different product mix of projects and customers for AdEdge and a shift in our staffing alignment is needed to make sure we maintain our Core Value of providing exemplary customer service.

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