Stepping Up

How Leaders Are Rising to the Occasion

Throughout the Small Giants Community and beyond, leaders are doing what’s right when it matters most. These are their stories.



At the end of a company-wide, virtual town hall in early April, Vivayic’s leadership team answered questions submitted by team members. It didn’t take long for the question on everyone’s mind to come up: how will COVID-19 impact the business?

“I told them the truth: I don’t know,” says Co-CEO Doug Kueker. “I don’t have a crystal ball. We’re realistic about the uncertainty of the future — all I can do is be transparent about the steps we’re taking to prepare.”

Let Your Values Lead the Way

Doug’s response reflects one of Vivayic’s core values: authenticity. No matter what, they show up real and vulnerable to teammates and clients. Vivayic develops strategic learning solutions, and they’ve yet to see a significant drop in client services. As organizations around the country adjust to working from home, Vivayic is already ahead of the curve — its team has been fully remote for 13 years. But even though it’s largely business as usual inside the company, the reality is that everyone is still impacted by what’s going on.

ImageThe Vivayic team together for team meetings.

“There is growing dissonance for me,” says co-CEO Seth Derner. “The outside world seems to be filled with panic and chaos and yet our world, within Vivayic, seems to be near normal — other than a few more small “co-workers” in the background.”

As the leadership team — Doug and Emily Kueker, Seth and Carrie Derner, and Candice Gouge — began to notice this tension within themselves, they decided to proactively address it with their team members. In times of crisis, you run the risk of letting fear and worry paralyze you into inaction. They wanted to remind the team of Vivayic’s purpose in the world, and let that drive them instead.

“I’m not afraid to be vulnerable and say I don’t know what’s coming next month. My mantra is to stay flexible and stay rooted in who we are.”

Building Together 

Naturally, they turned to their core values as the lens and framework through which they would communicate with the team. Vivayic’s core values are the secret sauce to its culture and they guide how everyone on the team lives and works on a daily basis. With 33 team members distributed across 13 states, their values connect them to one another and empower each individual to make the right decisions for the company.

“People are looking for leadership right now,” says Emily. “We want to offer a sense of stability and calm amid the chaos. We’re putting together a series of blog posts called ‘Building Together’ for our team that translates each of our core values into small, impactful actions they can take every day to build others.”

Consider the feeling of dissonance Seth described. How could the team deal with the dissonance of their relative security while the outside world is hurting? He pointed them to their core value of ‘Initiative,’ which is represented with a discarded gum wrapper from one of Seth’s favorite business fables.

“As the story goes, a CEO observed her employees deal with a gum wrapper that had been left on the floor,” says Seth. “Many ignored it, others noticed it but did nothing about it. Finally, someone stopped to pick it up and discard it. That person took the initiative to do a little thing that would improve the situation for everyone else.”

Vivayic’s team members now found themselves with hundreds of “gum wrappers” around them: hospitals that need supplies, neighbors that need assistance, and clients that need help responding and staying focused on their goals. If they are truly living their values, now is the time to take the initiative to pick up the “gum wrappers” in their communities and for their clients.

Wisdom From Experience

Like many, Vivayic’s uncertain what the future holds. They’re unsure if they’ll feel the most impact in three months or three years. But when you talk to their leaders, you get the feeling they’re not scared to tackle whatever challenges come their way. It’s in their name: derived from ancient Sanskrit, Vivayic’s name translates to “wisdom from experience.” There’s a certain confidence that comes from knowing that no matter what, your foundation — your purpose, your values, and your vision — will remain unchanged.

“One of our values is durability,” says Doug. “I’m not afraid to be vulnerable and say I don’t know what’s coming next month. My mantra is to stay flexible and stay rooted in who we are.”

What do these leaders have in common?

These leaders are part of Small Giants companies — companies that prioritize their purpose and culture and invest in their emerging leaders.

One way Small Giants companies invest in their next generation of leaders is by enrolling them in the Small Giants Leadership Academy. This robust one-year certification program consists of virtual learning sessions with expert leaders and coaches, an extensive resource library, on-the-ground meetups with your cohort, a leadership assessment, and your event ticket to two Small Giants gatherings.

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