Three Steps to Take if Your Organization Needs a Fresh Start, From a CEO Who Spent the Last 2 Years Reinventing

A photograph of a woman heading out to surf

By Emily Pritchard, CEO, The Social Lights

There’s a reason we’re told to not reinvent the wheel—because it’s brutal. If reinvention were easy, we’d climb that (figurative) mountain regularly and share our hard-won lessons and newly-earned wisdom far and wide. We’d all have the privilege of being the fully realized, best version of ourselves (and could skip reading countless books, case studies, and op-eds ????). Reinvention doesn’t work that way. Not for individuals, and certainly not for organizations.

As Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder wrote, “A serious surfer doesn’t plan to go surfing next Tuesday at two o’clock. You go surfing when there are waves and the tide and wind are right.” An amateur surfer myself, these words helped form a mantra that have guided my path into the future as someone who must do what’s needed to ready myself for what comes my way, be it on the water or in the boardroom.

Reinvention is patient, it’s deliberate, and in many cases an exercise in failure and fear—things business leaders are often told to avoid. As a bootstrapped, millennial CEO, I’ve tried to take the path of least resistance to reinvention, but I’ve discovered preparation is only part of the puzzle, and a bias for action is required to unlock your organization’s potential. Now, as my company celebrates its 11-year anniversary and more than two years of challenges and successes on our path toward reinvention, we’ve finally found the clarity–our tailwind–as we forge ahead into the next decade.

As my team and I chart a path through the most challenging market of our careers, here are the three things that have stuck with me (so far) from my journey of reinvention:

Be more deliberate than you’ve ever been before. Early founders focus on product market fit. You test and learn, optimize, adapt, and work your tail off with one goal in mind: survival. This phase is excruciating, as the business races to seize its opportunity before the industry changes or someone beats you to the prize. Additionally, if you emerge from it on the other side without pausing to reflect on how you’ve changed and evolved alongside your business, it is easy to lose focus on why you’re doing it in the first place.

So often founders lack perspective. Their business is their universe, and removing themselves from the grind to acknowledge and systematically address issues feels like a personal affront. But, it’s the first step toward clarity. For me, I removed myself via a two-month long, device-free sabbatical. That time and space allowed me to come back and make sweeping changes that were the catalyst for more thoughtful, sustainable growth.

To change, begin at the top. As a leader, I learned the importance of looking inward to decide how I wanted to lead and manage my business moving forward. And, in the past two years, I’ve made a commitment to put that into practice, even in challenging times. It’s easier said than done, but it is as simple as that. The most senior level leadership needs to lead by example in order for behaviors and team culture to translate across the organization.

Identify deficiencies and build the right team where you need support. Ultimately, the burnout I was feeling led to reinvention. When I returned from my sabbatical, I intentionally shifted my mindset toward the future, toward building my business for the long haul. To achieve longevity, I needed balance. I recognized that—as hard as this can be to admit—we cannot be everything, to everyone, all the time. After reflecting on my own strengths and opportunities, I made a commitment to building a senior leadership team to compliment my areas of expertise and drive forward the areas where I needed support.

As a leadership team, we challenge ourselves to model this self awareness. We encourage all of our team members down the path of exploration, to find their own strengths, and to focus their energy there. We’re all more productive (and have a lot more fun) when we leverage and hone the skills that come naturally to us.

Looking ahead to the next decade, I know there will be a time when reinvention is needed again. And amidst the changing tides, I’ll be anchored by these foundational learnings.