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April 7, 2021,

Jitka Dvořáková, CEO of CZC.cz: After a year “under lock and key”

Jitka Dvořáková, CEO of CZC.cz: After a year “under lock and key”

Photo: Lukáš Oujeský, Economia

A year under lockdown brought many changes to the companies in the Rockaway portfolio. In addition to many purely business-related aspects, it is also changing the entire area of leadership – and Jitka Dvořáková, CEO of CZC.cz, described how these changes are being reflected in its management.

It’s been a year since the “cage slammed shut” for the first time. I was on the way back from our Slovenian office at the last moment, right before midnight, and I was imagining the border closures being a bit like at the end of August 1968. 🙂

Don’t worry, I don’t want to get all dewy-eyed over sales growth figures in the tens of percent – we all know that on-line business has been doing well over the past year. But I’m proud of everything we’ve achieved on that parallel path alongside everyday business. Including the internal change I myself, a staunch opponent of home offices, was able to undergo toward the end of my career. That’s because I realized that there were roughly two of us at the company with this perspective, and that I had to conform. Today, I’m able to see this continuing – because there’s definitely no going back.

So that no-one is forgotten
Right at the start, in a fit of euphoria, we showed ourselves what a strong corporate culture can achieve and what things look like when customer service really and truly comes first.

We wanted to be, at all costs, those who quickly allow people to work from home and to allow children to continue their education. March and April are usually slow, so we had to really do everything we could to make sure we could handle the demand. After that it was a wild ride during which there was not time to think about the fact that there was no place to go for a vacation.

That’s because its one thing to remotely manage a company that has 20 people all told, plus has a more or less horizontal structure, and it’s quite another to do so with 400 people and a five-layer structure, because that’s more complicated. Being a manager, even if you only have six people under you for example, and managing them remotely can be extremely demanding and requires lots of changes. And I don’t know if we all realize it by now, but the entire leadership changes. Minimally from a transactional form to a transformational one. There is great pressure related to how to set up one-on-one meetings, their ideal frequency, and their content. How often you should perform evaluations and give feedback. When a company is large, it’s extremely important for teams to be able to align their priorities so that everyone knows what everyone is working on, and so that no-one is forgotten. Feedback must be given much more often. Objectives must be defined bottom-up or at least jointly. And rules have to be established, because if someone thinks that I’m always sitting at my monitor and will immediately answer every email, this will lead to misunderstandings – because I routinely have four calls in a row and will get to their email who knows when.

Run two races at once
So it’s good to set rules. If we use email, we expect an answer within 24 hours. If it’s urgent, it’ll be a text message or chat. And if you let the team establish their own rules, bottom-up, it won’t have problems respecting them. And it’s good to do it as soon as possible. One minor problem is that our business did well all year, and so one can get the impression that everything is actually fine. With a bit of luck for humanity things in this country will gradually turn around, and we’ll have to work earn that business luck on our own, again and with all our retail competitors. And so it would be really nice if we then didn’t have to run two races at once.

We’re working on it every day. Every Thursday we hold a digital round table during which we discuss strategic topics, results, or even discuss slightly more sensitive topics such as whether we have a fair wage policy or how to express disagreement with management. Anyone can participate, and we routinely have around 90-100 people for that hour and a half, which seems amazing to me.

Or we held workshops. The first was about how the global situation had changed. We looked at surveys, for example on how to care for mental health. Then we held another, about the biggest managerial challenges, so how to manage productivity remotely, how to motivate and lead people, how to recognize when someone isn’t in a good frame of mind, and how management tools are changing. We also discussed issues that the team needs to address, and mainly how to stay in touch. One doesn’t even realize how much information we routinely gain from those “weak” contacts, like when I go to the bistro across the street for coffee and am standing in line with three people from various departments that I don’t usually interact with. We don’t have this source of information now. Absolutely none. That’s because that you’re so tired from those calls that you don’t seek out these weak contacts, but this can be quite a problem for a large company. A big topic is also a feeling of trust – which is also complicated, because if you have a disagreement with someone, or even an argument, usually you say, OK, I’ll drop by tomorrow, buy them some chocolate, we’ll have a coffee. But few people want to pick up the phone and apologize. But if you don’t renew that trust immediately, the problem grows.

To not only have an idea, but to be able to sell it properly
Every year I look at data on key management skills from this one global survey so that we have the right ones in our management evaluations. Last year, two new soft skills were added – one was emotional intelligence, which we’ve been evaluating for some time now, and the other is persuasiveness. This is something that we need to concentrate on now – to not only have an idea, but to be able to sell it properly, otherwise promoting an idea and its success are problematic. I personally think that the key is to take an interest in how people in the team are doing, in their mood. And you have to evaluate people more frequently, in an inconspicuous and spontaneous manner – for example concerning only a few points or as part of one task, and not wait for annual or even quarterly reviews.

We’ve also got “walking 1-2-1”, we make e-coffee, go for e-beer, hold quizzes and contests, watch funny videos… People participate and we’re succeeding in maintaining our team spirit and culture.

Initiatives are sprouting up everywhere
But new hires are a big problem. Over the last year we’ve had people leave because they were simply unable to engage. This doesn’t apply across the board, but these ones told us that they didn’t feel that they’d become part of the team. That’s because beginnings are really hard. Last year, on April 10, Katja, our new finance director started, and I still remember her description of how terribly exhausting it is to hold a call for every new piece of information, collect documents, processes, ask for explanations, all only over the phone or via email. She had to constantly add to a long list about “when I want to know this or that, who I have to call”. I myself have already held an interview in a park, because when we reached the last round in choosing a candidate for the management team, I couldn’t just do it over a screen. And we’re trying to have his team meet in the park too, because otherwise that new person would go nuts.

It’s been pretty crazy and quit e possibly still will be for a while. But after a year “under lock and key”, I can see that the company’s integrity has never been stronger, the personal responsibility of middle management has grown by an entire level, and initiatives are sprouting up everywhere. It’s a nice feeling.

But there’s something that we all need – a government that doesn’t create a crisis, but rather deals with it. Because we all really finally want to go for a beer safely!

Jitka Dvořáková
General Manager of CZC.cz