We talked to Trefor Munn-Venn about the use of a unique shared leadership model at Rhapsody Strategies. It comprises of the three owners, Rob Dale, Eric Deschamps, and Trefor Munn-Venn. They set the strategy together, make the key decisions together, and implement their operational plans together.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Trefor Munn-Venn: Thank you for asking. For each of us, our families are safe, and COVID has not directly touched any of our family members.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Rhapsody Strategies.
Trefor Munn-Venn: Eric Deshcamps and I launched Rhapsody six and a half years ago with the mission “To build the most sophisticated leaders who change the face of business.” We’ve been blessed with great success over that time as the company has continued to grow both in size and in impact.
How does Rhapsody Strategies innovate?
Trefor Munn-Venn: While innovation sometimes happens by accident, we believe that it requires a deliberate effort to sustainably and successfully innovate.
If we had a patron Saint at Rhapsody, it would be Leonardo da Vinci because of his rare ability to combine science, math, architecture, and engineering with art, design, and creative expression. We take inspiration from his approach in our innovation processes and work to combine what we refer to as artistry & architecture.
The artistry refers to the unpredictable creativity that produces new products, services, and opportunities. We listen and watch for that artistry. We encourage it and nurture it. We are regularly checking in with our team members to inquire about “Ah-ha!” moments or new insights that have emerged from their work.
The artistry is coupled with architecture, the structure of how we innovate, and the systems that support it. For example, we don’t just wait for team members to share ideas. As part of our regular one-to-one sessions, we are specifically asking them to share those insights. Our operational approach has specific processes to capture, explore, and make decisions about ideas, so they’re not simply floating around the organization, but we’re putting them into motion. Perhaps most importantly, we have assigned accountability in the organization to ensure this continues to happen on an ongoing basis.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Trefor Munn-Venn: Our Coaching services are largely focused on the most senior executives, CEOs, owners, and Boards of Directors. Without a doubt, we saw an initial drop in business in March and April as organizations scrambled to understand what was happening and how to find their feet in the midst of the pandemic. Many cut spending across the board, laid off staff, and held back accounts payable to protect cash while they were establishing a clear path forward.
But the core of our business did not falter, and we have seen a return of a number of those clients. We’re operating now at a higher level of efficiency and with a much greater focus.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Trefor Munn-Venn: Absolutely, we had to make some difficult decisions — that’s part and parcel of leadership. We had to let some of our staff go — staff who had been with us from the beginning — which was a very emotionally difficult decision to make. We care deeply about one another, and we’ve continued to stay in touch with those individuals — they matter to us.
We did a rapid and aggressive review of all spending, which turned out to be an excellent exercise. The pandemic helped us, and so many other organizations, realize what was truly essential and core to their business. As we focused on that and eliminated everything else, we became a stronger company.
When we reflect on our response, a number of themes become evident in terms of our priorities.
Cash — Maintaining cash flow is always a priority in business, but the level of uncertainty that businesses faced required a much more aggressive approach. We cut everything we could and were undertaking ongoing assessments of our cash position to ensure we knew exactly where we stood. Our fast action here kept us in a stable position throughout the entire pandemic, and we continue to focus here.
Communication — Communication is always important, but in the context of a crisis, it takes on even greater importance. We increased our interactions with team members across the board in part to check in on how they were doing and to update them on the decisions that were being made in the organization. That was important because as new information was emerging about the crisis — sometimes on a daily basis — we were constantly making new decisions that they needed to be aware of.
Creativity — This was a time where rapid action was required. It was not the time to “wait and see” what would happen next. This required that we exercise maximum creativity to lead the business through these unpredictable circumstances. For us, this meant finding ways to automate activities that we previously believed needed to be done by staff. It meant new ways of communicating with our clients and the launch of two new external communications programs to support them. We built out new products designed to help leaders as they were making HR changes in their organization, and we put in new measures to help our clients manage their cash flow while still working closely with us. All of this was on top of the regular functioning of the business.
Clients — We found we spent much more time communicating with our clients during the pandemic, and we’re continuing to do so. These are the moments when the strength of relationships is revealed — good or bad. Regardless of the situation of our clients, we’ve continued to reach out to them, support them, and provide them with resources and relationships that will help them as they continue to work their way through this time. In times of crisis, it’s incumbent on us to support those we care about, and business is no exception.
Culture — Crisis tests culture like nothing else. You get to see who people really are and what they’re truly capable of. Crisis helps to cement your culture as well. The choices people make, the words they choose, and their mindset shape your culture in these moments. We’ve been so proud of our team and the way they have worked through this together. It hasn’t been perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. But each of us has been real with one another on good days and bad days. We’ve supported one another. We’ve done the best we can, and we’ve continued to grow.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Trefor Munn-Venn: As of today, we’ve been home with our families for 253 days now. Work has been turned upside down, and the education system is scrambling. Kids can’t see their friends, do team sports, go to summer camps, or do all the things that they’re used to.
The stress of changing virtually every system in society is massive. We’re fortunate to have some talented therapists and counselors on our team, and we’ve been able to draw on their expertise internally and to share it with our clients as well.
We’ve made it easy for team members to candidly share where they’re at during the pandemic. If they’re stressed or worried, they’re sharing that with us, and we’re taking the time to talk with them and listen deeply.
We’re focusing on our self-care in terms of our physical health, diet, sleep, meditation, and all the activities that we know keep us grounded and centered. This is a long-term focus for us because when we do this well, we have more to give ourselves, our families, and our work.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Trefor Munn-Venn: There are thousands and thousands of Coaches out there, so keep our primary focus on our clients and their emerging needs. We’ve found that most of our clients are bringing us more deeply into their organizations. Our relationships are growing stronger, and they’re are drawing on us at increasingly strategic levels. We will continue to serve them in that capacity while keeping our eyes open for deeply experienced Coaches to augment our team.
Your final thoughts?
Trefor Munn-Venn: What has served us best through this process has been the willingness to make decisions very quickly, with incomplete information, and to put those decisions into motion right away. Some days, the pace was dizzying, but the approach was very effective.
There were some decisions that needed to be changed, but that is simply part of the reality of responding to an unpredictable situation. Organizations that moved slowly or were not willing to make some courageous decisions suffered more and, in some cases, have closed down altogether.
We’re not out of this yet. No one is. We encourage leaders to continue to make bold decisions as we work through Wave 2 and whatever is yet to come. We also encourage them to put in place the level of support they need to truly rise to this occasion.
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