Anastasia Belousova, Chief People Officer at Growe, opens up on one of the most difficult problems that could face any company – trading successfully and leading your workforce in times of conflict.

Firstly, can you update us on Growe’s current story?

Growe Company has been operating for about five years and has firmly established itself in the industry. Today, Growe is a successful international corporation with a presence in 10 countries across three continents – Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Currently, we are expanding our operations in Tanzania, Ghana, Chile, and Brazil.

In 2023, the company grew to 817 employees, an increase of 110 individuals in our global team. When compared to the 2019 figures, this represents a growth of +787 employees. 

Also in 2023 we opened an office in Warsaw, where a significant number of our colleagues reside and work. We invest in our talents, undertake educational initiatives, expand new regions, and support Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression, as we have professionals who work there despite this outrageous invasion.

So, to cut a long story short, I can state that Growe faced rapid growth in a very short time. Not only did we withstand the challenges, we also managed to rise above expectations, surpassing our plans, and we are happy to share it with the world.

Looking at the role of leadership and how it encourages resilience during times of crisis and war, what are the biggest challenges to achieving that? 

What I am absolutely sure of is that leadership in times of crises and disasters cannot operate in a vacuum. It must be cultivated, infused with meaning, and developed alongside the team. Corporate culture truly manifests itself in such situations, where all strengths and weaknesses become tools for either victory or defeat, serving as accelerators in one direction or another. 

A robust corporate culture establishes the foundation for unity and stability within the company; it upholds values and unites teams even in the most critical situations. If you are not paying attention to values, unity, and employee morale, start it today. Integrate values, live them with your teams, infuse them into events, impart meaning, and lead by example.

When employees feel like they are part of a unified team and see that their leader cares about their well-being, it fosters high morale and motivation even in challenging times. Encourage employees to work together and exchange ideas to find the best solutions. We have created an ecosystem where people can openly propose ideas, communicate directly with management, host regular open events for all employees, and collect opinions and feedback.

What sort of mindset do you need to overcome those challenges and how do you present a positive face to team members during such difficult times? 

One of our three core values is “Ready for Change”. Perhaps the utmost flexibility and adaptability are the key competencies and skills that are absolutely necessary for a leader. Our goal is to be able to quickly analyze complex information and make decisions based on available data. We must be prepared to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

The role of management in conveying the message and energy is also crucial. In fact, during dark times, it is the responsibility of leadership to move forward, ignite inspiration, and be optimistic. Creating charitable activities where people can contribute and feel better about their input is also important.

Furthermore, another equally vital component of success is the ability to envision long-term perspectives. It is crucial to see and share this vision with the team – what lies ahead, where we are heading. Even if the long-term strategy is limited to one month, in times of crisis, it serves as the light at the end of the tunnel, helping to maintain focus on positive changes. We address this by organizing quarterly open online meetings with the management team.

Can you give us some practical examples of the solutions you have used to engender resilience among teams during wartime?

Here are the practical examples of solutions and projects we implemented to enhance team resilience during times of war:

Educational initiatives: we developed and launched educational programs for our employees, helping them acquire essential skills and competencies in an environment of change and uncertainty. These initiatives included webinars, workshops, and online courses covering crisis management, psychological support, and strategic thinking.

Grading projects: we introduced a grading and motivation system to incentivize teams to work more efficiently and achieve set goals. These projects included bonus systems, rewards, and recognition of achievements, motivating our employees to deliver outstanding results.

Values: we actively promoted and strengthened our values within the organization. This not only fostered team unity but also served as a guiding principle for decision-making in challenging situations. Our values became the foundation of our corporate culture, increasing internal identification.

Brand ambassadors: we encourage our employees to become brand ambassadors for the company, supporting their external and internal initiatives aligned with our mission,  values and corporate culture. This enhanced the sense of belonging and patriotism within the team.

Office openings: despite the challenging circumstances, we decisively continued to expand our physical presence by opening new offices in strategically important regions. This created additional opportunities for our teams and reinforced our market position.

Aid to Ukraine: we actively participated in humanitarian and charitable initiatives to provide assistance to Ukraine and its people. This included financial aid, sending humanitarian shipments, and participating in support events. 

“Growe for Ukraine”: we established a special program called “Growe for Ukraine” that united the resources and efforts of our company to provide various forms of assistance and support to Ukraine, including humanitarian aid, education, and social support.

Open feedback and “people first” approach: we placed special emphasis on open and honest feedback with our employees. The “People First” principle became the cornerstone of our approach, prioritizing the well-being and safety of our teams above all else.

And finally, what are your top tips for remaining competitive and innovative during times of conflict? 

I would like to highlight several crucial components that undoubtedly played a pivotal role in our case.

People: the most valuable and vital element of a business. In times of war, you come to understand this on a physical level when the lives of individuals and their families become your foremost priority. Supporting employees takes on new dimensions: evacuation, providing shelter, resolving urgent issues. Leadership is showcased to the maximum extent by caring for the well-being of employees and their families in conditions of uncertainty and danger, becoming the defining factor.

Communication and connectivity emerged as paramount during wartime. Our task was to provide efficient, rapid, and transparent communication both internally and with external parties to ensure stability and support. On one hand, our channels of interaction and communication with teams were always open, with shared chats, notifications, and urgent channels for requests and assistance. This significantly saved us time in interacting with teams at any point and throughout all stages. On the other hand, operational information, evacuation from hotspots, on-site coordination demanded new engagement and involvement. For this, we appointed leaders who took on roles in interacting with people.

Risk management, trust, and taking responsibility: a leader must be capable of assessing risks and making swift decisions to minimize potential threats to the business and employees. Let’s be honest, in some cases, we were faced with the choice between two bad options. However, decisions had to be made to transition from the current state to a new one. Any action is better and more effective than inaction. It worked for us also because the team is built on maximum trust in each other. This allowed us to delegate responsibility with complete trust and decision-making freedom to the leaders on the ground. They were able to solve the tasks that led to the desired outcome considering the current situation, without waiting for “permissions and approvals from above.”

Resource constraints: uncertainty and unpredictability compel you to assess risks and determine the resources at your disposal. Let’s be honest, access to resources can be limited or restricted. A leader must know how to optimize and allocate the available resources to ensure business continuity and employee safety in a way that doesn’t get stuck in survival mode but discovers new opportunities for provision.

Through all challenges, we find the strength to move forward with unwavering optimism, faith in our collective resilience, and the determination to emerge stronger than before. We embrace the unwavering belief in our mission and the relentless pursuit of our values that guide us toward brighter days ahead. We have faced adversity head-on and have come out stronger on the other side, proving that even in the most challenging circumstances, leadership and a united team can prevail. We are ready for whatever the future may bring, armed with the lessons learned and the indomitable spirit that defines us.