Bridge Southeast Asia

David Bonifacio, CEO & Founder

The New Normal: Our 1-Page Active Response Plan

I’d like to share our team’s very simple approach tackling the challenges the Coronavirus has brought about. We have purposefully kept it simple and focused because of the time, money, and energy constraints we and many businesses are facing during this period. I, personally, dislike unnecessary complexity. While I don’t think anyone would ever admit to liking “complexities”, somehow the plans, strategies, and approaches of well-meaning managers are full of them. In extra volatile times, it’s important that we don’t complicate our actions, but try to be as clear, competent, and committed as possible. It’s easier to understand, commit to, and execute a simple plan. While a complex plan might seem impressive, for limited companies like our’s would have a hard time bringing that plan to reality. So here’s our 1-Page template for planning a response.

As you can see, it’s more a framework than an actual plan. In the first column are our two priorities: Our People and Performance. The second column is the Defense column. Here we ask, What is our plan to survive? How do we protect our people and performance from the effects of the Coronavirus? The 3rd column is our Offense column, where we ask, What is our plan to thrive? We want to make sure that, even as we’re acting as prudent as possible given the threats we’re facing, we are still thinking about our core purpose for existing as a business. We don’t start companies simply to survive hard times but to Create and Capture Massive Value. Our Offense column makes sure that we have a plan to continue doing those two things despite the difficulties.

I’m extremely fortunate to have very strong leaders in Eric Wong (COO of Bridge), Junnie Lopez (CEO of Bridge People Solutions), and Janna De Guzman (CEO of Bridge Access), so I focus mostly on coaching them and guiding our strategic frameworks more than simply deciding for the team and ordering them around. As has been said, over and over, why “Why hire really smart people and not make them think by telling them what to do?” I know I give up a lot of control with my style of management, but my goal isn’t control, it’s success, and I find that empowering the people who are closest to the customers to influence and execute strategy works better in the long run than a single person expected to be omniscient, or worse, thinks he or she is omniscient. So when discussing this framework with our team, I asked them individually and as a group for their feedback, and that influenced our final “plan”.

Here’s what a basic plan looks like for us. I’ve already mentioned that we are a startup. So this means we have the resource limitations that are common to early stage companies and have to plan accordingly. This means that most of the activities we are doing must not eat up a lot of resources. If you look at your People row, you’ll find that our efforts are not around bailouts or insurance plans but more “education”. I believe that the number one benefit startups offer is a high rate of learning, including a high rate of personal learning. The leaders and I spoke about what we can offer, and we zoomed in on making sure our people are staying physically healthy, mentally healthy, and have as much job security as possible. For offense, for moving forward, we’re focused on helping teach our people how to grow into workers who are not paralyzed by the circumstances.

A lot of the Performance items are things you would expect in a standard crisis plan. I kept it quite general since the specifics are in the more details version of this framework for each subsidiary. Janna and Junnie take these themes and work on specific action plans that fit their context.

Here’s a little more detail. The yellow “post-its” are the priorities and the different colored ones are more actions items. It’s important that our plans are as actionable as possible. We then assign these action items to the right people (or to multiple people).

Summary

More than showing you what we’re doing, I want to share our approach. What you end up doing may be different from ours because your situation is different from ours. But I’d like to encourage you to keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future, connecting, or bridging, what is to what can be. There will always be challenges in business and in life, but they don’t have to stop us from progressing and growing. If you’re not sure how to proceed, follow these steps:

  1. Draw the 3×3 matrix on a piece of paper or white board
    Category:
    Defense Offense
    People
    Performance
  2. Start with Defense: Think of what you need to DO in order to survive. This is a painful but necessary exercise.
  3. Move on to Offense: Think of what value creation you can start working on for your people and customers.

I hope this helps you as you formulate your own plans for addressing this once in a lifetime event.

Bonus: Thoughtfulness Beats Lavishness

One of the best things about being a startup and not having a lot of resources is that we have no option but to be very very creative about how we deal with our challenges. One thing I’ve learned throughout my career is that lack and necessity are two amazing ingredients for innovation. Because we can’t afford to be generous with what we don’t have, and we don’t have a lot of money, we focus on being as thoughtful as possible with the value we want to offer. I like what Eric Wong, COO of Bridge, shared with us in our huddle. He told us about how he spoke to his family about the financial impact the Coronavirus would have on them. His son is 4 years old and his daughter is 1. He remembered how his own parents explained to him and his siblings when they went through their own challenges in the past, teaching them and showing them how to address things head on as a family. This is something we want for all our own employees, that they may maximize this period of learning by treating it as an opportunity to mature, get stronger, and to face fear, not simply something ride out with hour after hour of Netflix.

While I wish we were in a position to absorb the shocks of life, the reality is that we aren’t, and that we are better off growing our people to be able to independently handle the shocks themselves. While we can’t give them the assurances large companies are making, we can provide them with something just as valuable, if not more so, which is an example of strong leadership during a time of crisis. I want them to come out of this remembering calm and clear-headedness, understanding and decisiveness, proactiveness and support from everyone in the company. While they may not appreciate these things right away, they will someday, because there will always be more challenges down the road.

The New Normal: Incorporate Life Into Your Work’s New Normal

We’re launching a series to discuss work’s new normal. We hear those two words a lot as we navigate the effects of the Coronavirus, and I think it’s important that we are deliberate about designing our new normal. The new normal, whatever that actually is, includes greater use of technology and the application of new best practices (some actually having already been used for a while). But one thing I want to make sure we don’t miss is the chance to redesign a kind of work that is tangibly more impactful, more inclusive, and addresses inequality, ideas corporations and titans of industry pay lip service to but haven’t actually attacked with the same energy they’ve applied to earnings growth. I think both can be bridged, and we have a chance to design that bridge as we rethink what work looks like.

In this first post, I share a little on my motivation for work, which is to create and capture massive value, and my criteria for value. I also share on how my concept of value has shifted from something primarily material and inert into something more people-oriented and living. Hope this podcast encourages you to incorporate not just the best ideas of productivity but also the concept of valuing life as a core part of work.

Related Links: Bridge PayDay   |   Bridge Access   |   David Bonifacio Podcast

Cultural Debt

Seems all my writing (other than my poetry) is directed at us at Bridge. The main motivation for this is my great fear of something I call Cultural Debt. Cultural Debt is the most dangerous kind of debt an organization or a team can accumulate. Some form of “debt” is hard to avoid when scaling anything. All debt is similar in that they achieve present goals or requirements at the expense of the future. Financial Debt is the most obvious, which comes from using up more financial resources than the organization has. This is solved by paying off the debt with money. Technological Debt is another one that has gained prominence through the rise of tech companies and platforms. Technological Debt accumulates when future technological capacity is sacrificed (knowingly or unknowingly) for current requirements (usually for speed and cost issues), and is solved through additional rework down the road. But Cultural Debt is by far the worst. Cultural Debt accumulates when we sacrifice stated principles for in addressing present day concerns, usually for the sake of growth, speed, and convenience.

If Financial Debt is measured in money and Technological Debt in terms of development time, Cultural Debt, to me at least, is measured in stories. What stories are my team members telling themselves and others about our company? If there are more stories of me or anyone in the organization sacrificing our core purpose and principles for present performance than there are of us standing by core purpose and principles even when it costs us, we will increase Cultural Debt. You can’t spend your way or develop your way out of Cultural Debt. In most cases, Cultural Debt is never addressed. Those organizations that do attempt to fix their cultures understand that it requires overhauling the management team. You cannot fix the culture of an organization with the character (or lack of character) of those who allowed it to become that way.

Once Upon a Dark Time…

I’ve taken it upon myself to make sure we make and share the right stories. We make the right stories by living up to our core principle of “In a world of OR look for AND”, and we need to share these stories to show other show they can also be AND people, people of possibilities, of connections, and of solutions.

I would like it, in this time of flux, of uncertainty, a natural disaster (we just had a volcano), a pandemic (Corona Virus), personal disaster (we’ve had a few deaths in our Bridge family in the last 6 months), and all on top of the stress of being in a fast-growing start-up, that make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime backdrop to write an amazing story for ourselves, a story of understanding, yes, but also a story of courage, of hunger, of diligence, of mastery, and of service. While most people are reacting, I want us to remain purposeful. Purpose is a North Star when changing times cloud our view.

It is our purpose, even in this time, to grow as an organization. Let me tell you how exactly we are going to do that. As a team, we will focus on:

1. Grow Your Roots (Don’t rush to branch out)

A tree doesn’t only grow its trunks and branches. It also grows its roots. Sometimes we think that growth can only come “branching out”, doing more, adding more clients, adding more services, going regional, and other obvious metrics of  growth. I want us to focus on depth.

Growing Roots, in our context, means strengthening the fundamentals of each of our departments, including how we serve existing clients, how we cultivate existing team members, and how we develop existing technology. While most people will be paralyzed by this period, you be different. Ask yourself, “What fundamental area can I improve?”

2. Grow Your Partnerships (Don’t be distracted by competition)

Some of our most beneficial relationships have been with “competitors”. Our reasoning has always been simple: in an underserved market, we’re better of segmenting and cooperation, and at some point merging, than fighting. Sadly, finding like-minded companies has been difficult, but the logic still works. It makes no sense to spend more resources to acquire the same value when partnerships can capture more value and divide up the cost. Less resources go to jockeying for position and more goes to providing customer value. The best thing about difficult times is that it reveals who is really out there for your success. When people start withholding or attacking during crisis, you realize who is a partner. You be different. Make sure Customers, Team Members, and Suppliers know that Bridge is a partner even in tough times.

3. Grow Your Focus (Concentrate instead of expand)

This is going to be a difficult year. All of us will have to tighten our belts in some way. By focusing more, removing parts of our operation that are non-essential, we make sure that valuable and scarce resources go to keeping our essentials healthy. But the bigger threat to our focus isn’t more work, less resources, nor external threats. The biggest threat to our focus is the non-stop and unprocessed flow of information coming at us from all sorts of sources. I, personally, can’t keep up with my email and messaging apps, and neither can I follow the streaming news from politics, to climate, to health, economy. If you add all my “connections” on personal and professional networks, it’s easy for me to drown. I’m sure much of the stress, physical and mental issues, and relationship issues are caused by our physical, mental, and social systems being overwhelmed by too much. You be different. Choose to focus on the timeless things about yourself and your work. Don’t focus on things like diversity. Focus on being understanding, kind, and in making those around you better. Don’t focus on political correctness. Focus on honesty, humility, apologizing when wrong, forgiving when right, and sincerity. Don’t focus on what you don’t have. Focus on who you are becoming. Don’t focus on the threat. Focus on your response.

The End…

I don’t know how this will all end. I’m no prophet. Who really knows what tomorrow will bring? Will crisis lead to poverty? Will poverty lead to extremism? Will extremism lead to war? Will war lead to a nuclear holocaust? No idea. Will we be able to pay our bills? Will we be able to visit loved ones? How will our business be affected? Will we be able to care for our sick? Will we be able to afford college? Will we be able to get married? Will we be able to protect our children? I really don’t know.

This I know, tomorrow we will wake-up early and face the day, whatever that day may be, and we will do what we can to grow our roots, grow our partnerships, and grow our. focus. Be cautious but don’t fearful. Be prudent but don’t’ be paralyzed. Be informed and turn that information into insight. We don’t need to know how everything will conclude. We don’t need the assurance of prediction. After all, our beautiful stories don’t come from promised happy endings but from courageously and creatively responding to life’s call.

The Bridge Basics

Last January 2, 2020, I got together with the leaders of Bridge and the presidents of our two subsidiaries: Bridge People Solutions (HR) and Bridge Access (Fintech). I wanted to kick-off the year with the same format I use over and over with our teams: Clarity + Competence + Capital. Clarity for us means answering the Why are we here question again and again. It means reviewing our mission to Make Work-Life Better and the principles we live by, which are, Hunger, Understanding, Diligence, and Empowerment. Competence for us means answering the question, “What will we be excellent in?” While the Capital section is a review of our approach to handling the different kinds of business resources. Together, these give us the overarching plan for 2020.

I have provided an outline of what I passed on to the team to give you ideas on how you can approach your own 2020 preparations. One of the things you won’t find in our framework is an obsession with valuations or marketing. As our business grows, and as the pace of innovation speeds-up, it’s even more important for the team to be excellent on the timeless business fundamentals.

Bridge in 2020

 

1. Clarity: Why do we exist?

a. Purpose: Make Work-Life Better (by improving the ability of every worker to create and capture massive value)
b. Principles: Hunger (Whatever It Takes) + Understanding (In a World of OR look for AND) + Diligence (Meet the Demands of Reality) + Empowerment (We Master the World by Mastering Ourselves)
c. Objectives + Key Results (confidential)

2. Competence: What are we going to excel in this year?

a. Business Fundamentals:
Get good at the timeless functions that create and capture value. Get good at removing distractions and stop relying on conventions.

b. Leadership Development:

Get good at developing our next level of leaders. Developing leaders to create massive value and helping our leaders capture massive value in return is a major differentiator of Bridge as an employer.
c. Productivity Technology:
Get good at overcoming the circumstantial realities of traffic, beauacracy, and distractions by mastering new technology and new best practices of work.

3. Capital: How dowe Acquire + Develop + Deploy + Secure the following resources?

  1. Human Resources (HR): Leadership Development
  2. Intellectual Property (R&D): Innovation
  3. Data (IT): Security
  4. Financial Resources (Finance): Stability
  5. Customers (Business Development): Satisfaction
  6. Qualified Leads (Marketing): Predictability

I’m keeping a lot of detail out since it’s an internal document, but what I really want to show is our simple (and boring) focus on Clarity, Competence, and Capital Management is 

more than enough work for the year. The challenge in this day and age isn’t having too little to do but having too much to do. We are purposefully limiting what we’re going to work on, focusing on high impact activities that lead to great customer and team experience. We’re not going to focus on valuations, on pets in the office, work life balance, events, or talks. Those are all extras.

I encourage you to discover your own “basics”. What are the fundamental principles that affect your business? What practices should you adopt that are high impact? Don’t be distracted by the latest and greatest, by the high profile, or the fancy. Focus on your purpose and the activities that help you fulfill your mission.