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Purpose, optimism and leadership lessons in difficult times

By Bernadette Nacario Published Jul 27, 2022 5:00 am

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The past two years brought turbulent times for all of us. When the first lockdown in 2020 was announced, I was just four months in at Google and my leadership was immediately put to the test. Like many of you, I felt like I was thrown into a deep river without a life vest.

This year, it is so heartening to see so many aspects of life reopening again, giving us a sense of normalcy and renewed hope. That hope — together with the help of my family, friends, Googlers and especially our frontliners — allowed me to regain my bearings and swim to safety.

Read what Bernadette Nacario wrote about Google in InBetween: Paving the path forward to digital transformation

As I continue to navigate the new waters brought about by this crisis, I’ve learned a handful of leadership lessons that helped me become more effective in this new way of life. Let me share some of these with you.

The importance of purpose

COVID-19 proved that while nature can always change our plans, it cannot change our purpose.

At Google, our purpose is very simple and clear — be helpful. To respond to the pandemic, we used the best of our technology, provided grants and entered into various partnerships, among many others, to connect Filipinos to trusted information and help in the fight against COVID-19.

This year, Google.org provided an additional $1.5 million worth of Search Ads grant to Philippine government agencies, including the Department of Health, Department of Trade and industry (DTI), and Department of Education, to help them continue providing people with authoritative information about the pandemic.

We are also supporting media organizations to ensure that Filipinos have access to news they can trust online. We introduced the Google News Initiative Digital Growth program this year to help small-to-mid-sized news organizations achieve digital success through workshops and online sessions at no cost to them.

Beyond this, Google has contributed to economic recovery by helping digitize small businesses, which form more than 99 percent of our economy. We are glad to share that, together with the (DTI), our digital skilling program MSME Caravan has successfully trained more than 100,000 micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) owners and employees. This success was also made possible by the many Googlers who volunteered to conduct some of the training.

Google worked with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), among others, to launch the MSME Caravan program, which has since successfully trained more than 100,000 micro, small, and medium enterprise owners and employees.

In addition to pandemic response, Google supported the national elections by removing harmful and misinformation content, and by helping surface authoritative information. From Feb. 2021 to Jan. 2022, we removed over 400,000 videos violating YouTube Community Guidelines. We also used our product features to promote the Commission on Elections’ sources of credible information, driving over 40 million impressions.

At Google Philippines, our mantra is “Kasama Ka Sa Pag-Angat.” This means that the Filipino public is a big part of our mission. We want to make them feel that they belong, and that everyone is included.

As part of its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, Google runs several programs including the annual Pride Conversations campaign which aims to promote inspiring LGBTQ+ stories to foster equality and allyship.

To make a difference for the LGBTQ+ community, we run long-term internal and external programs. Among our efforts in the workplace are Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) talks and the use of preferred pronouns to ensure that every team member — especially our Pride team members — feel safe, comfortable and included. Externally, we hold the annual Pride Conversations, a campaign that champions inspiring LGBTQ+ stories to foster equality. Last year, we promoted small businesses owned by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and provided a digital workshop to help them reach their customers amid the pandemic.

Thriving during a crisis requires the ability to articulate bold objectives, cultivate a culture of innovation, and lead with empathy and integrity.

It is our sense of shared purpose that keeps us excited at Google to get up each day, open our laptops and go on. This inspires our team to see a deeper meaning to their job and career, which becomes their anchor even in the midst of uncertainties.

The value of healthy optimism

Nothing brings morale down faster than uncertainty. While the situation seems to be looking up, we still have to be cautiously optimistic.

As a leader, we need to inspire our team to focus on our goals while acknowledging reality and aligning everyone to collectively approach the future with optimism. Thriving during a crisis requires the ability to articulate bold objectives, cultivate a culture of innovation and lead with empathy and integrity.

This happened to us at Google Philippines when the pandemic hit and we were all uncertain of how it would impact the business. However, we created and lived by the tagline "Bounce Back in Second Half," which encouraged us to rise to the challenge.

We were clear on our priority to be helpful to our clients and our community. We kept a very strong engagement with our partners and assured them that we were committed to helping them with their digital transformation journey.

Tools like Google Trends, Think with Google and Mobility Reports are some ways we helped them understand trends and act on insights to achieve their business objectives.

Inspiring a grounded and healthy team helped us pivot without losing track of our shared purpose. This resulted in a forward-looking mindset which helped in our recovery.

Well-being as a foundation of culture

Employees are the heart of an organization. Our top priority is to ensure that they are safe and healthy, especially amid the pandemic.

In addition to vaccination and self-care kits, we created programs and virtual activities to promote physical and mental well-being. Our Culture Club team came up with creative virtual activities, including virtual workouts, watch parties, cooking classes, and candle-making, where we invited experts to help us learn new things. We also introduced “global days off” and “no meetings weeks” to allow employees to pace themselves and de-stress.

Recently this year, Googlers held a clean-up drive in Marikina City as part of GoogleServe, a long-term campaign that empowers employees to volunteer in communities.

We are committed to helping Googlers proactively prioritize self-care and normalize this as an important part of their career.

Self-care is a personal commitment that spans across physical, mental, emotional, and social life health that contributes to one’s wellness. With this initiative, we hope that self-care will allow Googlers to give the world the best of themselves, not what’s left of them. As leaders, I hope we can champion the commitment to well-being among our teams.

The pandemic showed us that plans can always be disrupted, but not our sense of purpose. Our North Star should always be inspired by, with and for our stakeholders, including our team members and employees, partners and the broader community. In the uncertain odyssey of life and business, our sense of purpose is the compass that will always point us to the right direction. I hope that as leaders, we will continue to cultivate a strong sense of purpose among our teams so we can use both the best of ourselves and our businesses to make a difference during — and beyond — the pandemic.