On paper, we finished 2020 as strong as any company our size could have hoped for amidst a year of global supply chain collapse, factory shutdowns, and economic uncertainty. Our sales performed well during the pandemic, with folks spending more time at home, in their kitchens, and wanting to make their homes feel nice; by the end of the year, we were still struggling to meet demand. By year’s end, we posted our first-ever small profit of $76,000 and we had just hired our 100th employee. There was and is a lot to be proud of, but it seemed like just about everyone in the organization was exhausted and raw after a year-long uphill sprint.
We began our annual planning process way later in the year than usual—it felt kind of ludicrous to think of making a plan before the election and in the midst of the pandemic, and so we put it off until we couldn’t, which meant a harried, fractured process. In debriefing the process with our advisory board it came up that our Executive Team—myself, Connie, and John—only met once a week for a short, undefined sync. One of our advisors gawked and said, “I have no idea how you are getting the results you are getting when you’re hardly talking to each other.” That small comment was the catalyst, at least for me, that something had to change.
For the next four months, for four hours a week, we met and we unpacked. We had already been in conversations about promoting our Director of Operations, Zoe Dadian, to the role of Chief Operating Officer, and so she joined us in a process created and lead by Connie to wrestle through the impact of some of the relationship dynamics between the four of us that were getting in the way of being an effective team. Right off the bat was an acknowledgment that none of us knew what executive leadership really meant— we were artists, writers, cooks, activists, and craftspeople. We were not MBAs. We talked with an Enneagram expert (guess who’s what type below and if you’re right we’ll be very impressed), a consultant who specializes in executive team restructures who’d helped companies like AirBnB through transition periods, a facilitator based here in Asheville who specializes in transformative justice, an Astrologer and Intuitive, a Birkman facilitator, and our advisory board. We turned over every habit, every gut reaction, every unspoken narrative, every fear, and every pattern we could find. We dug deep into every conversation we had been too scared or too tired to have.
We also looked at the roles we had assumed and questioned their efficacy for the future of East Fork. We acknowledged our individual strengths and passions and how those should best serve the organization. The process was long and got really difficult at times, but the four of us came out the other side of it reenergized, resilient, and ready.
The biggest change to emerge from our conversations is something that in hindsight feels so inevitable and right that I wonder why we didn’t see it earlier. Last week I transitioned out of the role of CEO, and my wife and former CMO Connie will take that title.