The Primitive Podcast: Casting a Vision for 2021

Posted by Kade Wilcox | January 20, 2021


In the second installment of our two-part episode, host Kade Wilcox is joined by Primitive’s own Marketing Manager, Morgan Reneau. 

In this unique episode Kade finds himself in the hot seat answering, with complete honesty, questions about 2020’s challenges, opportunities, and of course, growth, while also expanding on his vision for the year ahead. 

Connect with the folks behind the episode: Morgan Reneau and Kade Wilcox

An Honest Look at the Challenges of 2020

Morgan Reneau: Kade, thanks for walking us through your thoughts on 2020 and what you see coming for 2021. 2020 had its fair share of challenges. What to you was the most challenging part?

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, I'm really excited to talk about this stuff. No one ever asks me my opinion. So having your own podcast is where you get to, like, fake other people's interest in your opinion.

Morgan Reneau: I'm genuinely interested.

Kade Wilcox: Fair enough. Well, the first thing I would say to you is, “Thank you.” 

One of the consequences of being a teammate of mine is on occasion you get these like last minute, “Hey, you want to do this?” And it's not really a question as much as it is, “Let's do this.” So thanks for being willing to do it in a really short time. I'm excited about spending these next 30 or 45 minutes with you. When I think about 2020 and what some of the biggest challenges were for us, I would sum them up in two parts.

One would be just what the impact of all the things going on around us was having on our team and then how you actually care for your team. One of the things that's really critical to the culture at Primitive is we care about the whole person. What that fundamentally means is we don't just concern ourselves with that person as it relates to their work specifically at Primitive, but their whole self, their whole life, their spiritual well-being, their emotional well-being, their mental wellbeing, their financial wellbeing. 

And so when you have a year like 2020, and you have over 40 team members with unique personalities, from different backgrounds, with different world-views, with different experiences, with all kinds of differences that make us into the team that we are and make each of those individuals unique in their own way, one of the challenges of that is identifying how to care for each person based on what they actually need. And, so not to over-generalize it, but you may have one teammate who's just really confident and optimistic and noticed the challenges around them, but their confidence and their optimism and their happy-go-lucky personality really serves them well when chaos is ensuing around them versus another teammate who might really feel things. 

And therefore when a lot of really challenging things (between the pandemic, the economic fall out of the pandemic, these cultural moments like Black Lives Matter, the presidential election in 2020) are being thrown at you, different people respond and absorb those things differently.

And so I'd say as a leadership team, from my perspective and in my role, one of the most challenging things in 2020 was really figuring out how to focus on the team's needs so that you could really care for them and serve them well. And doing that in a way that's good for them and not based on how I operate because I absorb things differently than I think a lot of people. And so I can move on from things and not really care about what's going on and just plow forward.

I think the second real challenge about 2020 as I reflected on this question was just the impact uncertainty has on planning. That when everything's going well, and everything's fairly predictable and everything's fairly stable – whatever all those words even mean in the first place, but compared to 2020 – when things are stable and more predictable, it's a lot easier to plan and to stay fairly connected to those plans as it relates to going through a year through quarters and accomplishing your goals and things like that.

And so the impact of the uncertainty, and there’s a lot of uncertainty – uncertainty of the pandemic, uncertainty of these cultural moments, uncertainty of the presidential election regardless of how you vote (there are two parties and they have fundamentally different views on how to govern, policymaking, and taxes, which impact businesses and the economy) – all these uncertainties made it challenging to plan. And so I think those two things for me were probably the most challenging parts about 2020.

Morgan Reneau: How did you approach identifying how to help individuals with how they were feeling? Was there anything that you did to maybe get to know how someone was taking the impacts versus others? Or what did that look like?

Kade Wilcox: There are two things that immediately come to mind. One is we get to cheat around here because we have Annie. For those who are listening to the podcast, Annie Gilbert is our Chief of Staff, and she does a lot of great things at Primitive. But her primary role and how she spends, I'm going to say 90 plus percent of her time, is really caring for people. She has no operational or sales responsibilities, in terms of client facing responsibilities, and she's a licensed counselor, so she's incredible at her job. So for Primitive, we're really fortunate that we have someone of Annie's caliber who's really leading our organization from a culture standpoint and caring for our people. So how I handled that first was to really lean into Annie and let her lead in a way that she was really strong – she's incredibly empathetic and understanding and great with people.

The second thing is more of a personal thing that I really tried to get better at. Not saying I got better at it. Certainly, I have a long way to go. 

I alluded to this a moment ago, and I've been this way my whole life. I tend to move on from things pretty quickly. I try to learn from them. I try to assess them. I don't necessarily feel like I'm sweeping them under the rug as much as I am just like, it is what it is. Let's move on

I've tried not doing that, again imperfectly, but I've tried to listen. I even can recall some conversations that I was a part of with friends and family and teammates where I just fundamentally have a completely different view, whether it's culturally or politically or financially or economically or in business. And instead of just camping out on my own thoughts, I've really tried hard to understand, to seek, to understand before being understood. And that's really helped me try to understand some of our teammates who I might have completely different personality or worldview or political leanings or whatever the case might be. And that's been really challenging for me, but I think it's good for my own growth.

Morgan Reneau: Yeah. I think it was a challenging time. You can look internally and see how I approach different things and approach conversations with people. Am I one that will stick to my guns and not listen to anyone, or am I willing to listen and even agree to disagree, but have that point to just being willing. I think it is one of the biggest pieces there. So besides the challenges, we all know it was challenging, what was fulfilling from that? What came from 2020 that was the most rewarding?

2020’s Most Rewarding Moments

Kade Wilcox: Well, how long do you have? Oftentimes people say, “How was 2020?”, assuming I'm just going to have a dreaded answer. I say it had its challenges, but in many ways, and I'm not trying to sound overly optimistic or not trying to false engineer positivity just for the sake of it, but it really was an incredible, incredible year. 

If you enjoy learning, if you believe that really challenging, hard times are actually what makes us better versus good times, then 2020 was just a treasure chest of those opportunities and those learnings. And so a couple of things that come to my mind as it relates to 2020 in terms of what was really fulfilling was experiencing our team really leaning into our culture.

Over the last 18 to 24 months, we've tried to make an extremely intentional effort to define our culture, to document our culture, to discuss our culture, and to demonstrate it. So to see the fruits of that effort really start coming through in 2020, when things were hard, I felt like our team really leaned into our culture and that we started to really benefit from all the effort that our whole team and our leadership team has put into really building out the culture. To see that come out in these individual instances of teammates being selfless and teammates working really hard and going above and beyond during challenging times – there are so many countless actual stories of our team where you really saw our culture being modeled it was a tremendous blessing and it was really fun to watch.

I think another thing that was really fulfilling is working with our leadership team. I remember the day that we lost a lot of clients and it was a significant amount of revenue. I distinctly remember getting on an emergency Zoom call with our team and just being able to see their confidence, being able to see them being present in that moment, then being level-headed, then being optimistic, then being committed to figuring it out, even though we were all in uncharted territory – it was just a huge gift. 

I really, in that moment, felt the responsibility of being the person leading us. It was really reassuring to know I have a real role in this, but I am by far from being alone here.

That was a real gift. We learned a lot. We've been in business over nine years and I feel like I personally, as the leader of our organization and a young leader, learned more in the last nine to 10 months than I have in the previous eight years of being in business. So if learning is one way we grow in terms of being a better and healthy organization, then we got years of learning all crammed into that. And I love that. It was great. And I think the organizations that are going to come out of this healthier, whenever the out of this happens, are the ones that lean into that learning, acknowledge it, and really try to press into it versus ones that are being consumed by the chaos. And they're just trying to react to everything versus being proactive with that learning.

So that's been really rewarding. And then, lastly, is just the number of opportunities. I personally feel like in chaos and in challenging times, the cream rises to the top and those who really work their way through it and learn from the moment, learn from their failure, and innovate and are creative and think big and dream big, even when that's difficult  because of what's going on around, you are the ones that stand to capitalize on the opportunities that are available. I feel like, by God's grace, that's been true of our team and will continue to be true in 2021. Those are the things that were really fulfilling.

And, sorry to bemoan this, but there are too many things. I loved being with my family so much. Prior to March when everything started shutting down, I can't really think of a single time where I'd wake up and just be with my family all the time. And there was like a two month stretch where we were literally together from sunup to sundown and it was really fulfilling and it was really fun. That was a huge blessing.

The Changing Tide of Leadership

Morgan Reneau: That's awesome. One of the things you mentioned was that emergency leadership meeting. How do you think from that point on your role as a leader of Primitive has developed or changed any, or do you think it remained the same?

Kade Wilcox: That's a really good question. I think in some ways it probably changed, but more than anything, I think what that moment and what the last nine to 10 months has forced us to do is to really focus and clarify what our roles are. I think this is true of everybody on our team, but it's also certainly true of our leadership team and myself as one of our leaders. I think one of the things that happened in that moment and has happened in moments since is a real need to clarify and define what is my role and what is needed of me in this moment. That was really helpful. I think when times are really good we can almost be more distracted in the good times than we are in the bad times.

I think some of the challenges we've experienced in the last 10 months have made us focus. And out of that focus comes some really good things. But practically speaking, I think some of the things that the season has required of me in a unique way is when I think of vision, it's almost like a chief reminder officer, you know what I mean? It's like my job is to continually remind us of where we've been, of where we are, of where we're going, what we've learned from from the past, what we're learning now, what we're expecting and anticipating in the future and keeping those things in front of our team as a reminder that everything's okay. 

And not ever allowing the conscience of our organization and team to wonder and create its own narrative because no one is leading that narrative proactively.

I think that's been really critical. I think being optimistic and energetic in a season and a time where it's difficult to do that has been really critical and I'm fortunate and thankful that's my natural tendency in the first place, but I would love to hear our team's opinion. I think that it is critical for the leader to not fake it. To not just make it up artificially, like put a bandaid over a problem, or just stick our head in the sand and pretend everything's hunky dory, but almost an energy that comes from the real confidence in our team's ability and our ability to do the right things to lead us out of this. And so those are the things I think of when I think of my role the last nine months.

Morgan Reneau: Yeah. I would say from a team member's perspective, the positive attitude and the confidence that you would bring to any team meeting or team check-in that we had was a realistic approach. Things are going on, here's where we're at, but enough confidence and positive attitude that we're going to get through it. And I know, at least for me personally, that was helpful to know that if Kade thinks things were going well and things are going good, then we're going to be fine and we're going to keep going through it. And it gave motivation each time that you brought that energy.

Kade Wilcox: That's encouraging to hear. One of the interesting things about being a leader is a lot of times you don't get a lot of feedback. At our organization, your team gets a lot of feedback from their direct supervisors, from Annie, from their annual evaluations, their quarterly check-ins. We have all kinds of mechanisms in place where our team is getting good feedback. And so to hear you say that is encouraging because it personally feels important to do that. And I can't overstate the importance of not faking it or lying, like it isn't to create false optimism or false hope. But I think that there's real power in optimism and confidence. Like even if we get punched in the face 10 times in a row, we're going to be okay because we will figure it out.

Morgan Reneau: We're going to get up the 11th time.

Kade Wilcox: Right. And I think that's a positive thing.

Casting a Vision for 2021

Morgan Reneau: So talk about vision and casting that piece of it. Do you have any predictions for, or what the vision looks like for 2021?

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, I think for Primitive, but I also think just generally speaking, I think that 2021 could be really, really difficult. I think that some great things are happening related to the pandemic in terms of the vaccine and some things like that, but I think we're still very much in the thick of things and that there's going to be really long term, lingering effects, economically, of the pandemic in a way that we haven't really felt yet. And so, consequently, I think 2021 from a business standpoint is going to be really difficult. I don't know what that means. I don't know when it will happen, but I don't feel like, and I hope I'm wrong, but I don't feel like we've really felt the economic fallout from the pandemic. And so it's gonna really challenge businesses to be creative and to be innovative and to make tough decisions and to be adaptable and flexible based on what's being presented to you in that moment.

I think that's something that's going to be true of 2021, but the flip side of that, and I believe this equally strongly, is that 2021 is going to have tremendous opportunity. And it's going to create opportunity for those organizations, for those individuals, for those leaders who are aware of what's going on and are ready to adapt and be flexible and to be creative and to be resilient in the moment that they're called to be those things. And so it goes back to what I was saying earlier about how the unknown makes it really challenging to plan. And so one of the fun things that I've learned practically over the last 10 months, and this is obviously not rocket science, but it's pretty powerful both individually and for an organization, to have like two or three different plans, right? Different variables. 

And I am terrible at chess. In fact, I don't know how to play chess. But I visualize and I imagine a chess game where you have three or four different things that you're thinking about based on the move of the other person. And I think that's what 2021 is going to be. The person that's able to think through all those different plays based on what 2021 deals them is going to create tremendous opportunity. And I believe that for myself individually, I believe that for Primitive and our other companies and I believe that to be true of any organization.

Morgan Reneau: Yeah. You have to have the adaptability to know where you're going, where you can make quick changes and where you have to hold your ground and keep moving forward. Are there any lessons that you learned in 2020 that you want to take into 2021?

Carrying Lessons Into the New Year

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. There are several things really, and some of them relate to our organization and some of them just even relate to my own life and leadership. One of the things that I learned in 2020 that I am really thankful for is almost like just affirmation that I'm doing exactly what God created me and called me to do. And a lot of people, I feel like they float through life, not really understanding their skills and their weaknesses and how that translates into life and meaningful work. One of the things I'm really thankful for from 2020 that I think very much will influence and help me move into 2021 is just this affirmation that I am doing exactly what I'm supposed to do. Not perfectly, I got a long ways to go as it relates to being a good leader in all those things, but just the confidence that comes with that I'm doing literally what God created me to do is a really powerful thing that was affirmed in 2020 through challenges, but really encouraging and inspires me as we move to 2021.

Another thing I learned from 2020, but again makes me excited about 2021 and really building on and leveraging even more, is this realization that I have to have a team. I have some real strengths, but I have a lot of weaknesses. And one of the things I became acutely aware of in 2020 and really appreciated getting to observe even personally was how powerful it is when you have a really great team. The team that we built at Primitive and then even the leadership team, specifically, is really critical to my own success and my success is critical to them. Just seeing that clearly has been really great and I think is going to be good moving into 2021.

Lastly, again this is a lesson learned in 2020, but something that I think that's going to help tremendously in 2021 is just how critical personal health is. Anyone who hears that statement is saying, “Obviously,” but it's a real thing that if I'm not my best self and I'm not bringing my best self to those that I'm interacting with, whether it's my home, whether it's my friends and extended family, or whether it's the organization that I get to be a part of, if I'm not bringing my best self to that, then everyone suffers. And so to the degree that I am healthy and to the degree that I am whole has a tremendous influence and impact on the health, wholeness, happiness, and success of those that I'm surrounded by. That's a big deal. 

Being spiritually healthy, being emotionally healthy, being relationally healthy, being physically healthy, and able to work long hours and endure the unknown, to being financially resilient, personally, helps us be financially resilient as a business. It's one of the greatest learnings from 2020, and one of the things I'm most excited about continuing to grow in and to leverage for everyone's good in 2021.

Morgan Reneau: Yeah. I think one of the quotes that I like a lot that ties into what you were saying is that you can't pour from an empty cup. If you're trying to pour into people and be a servant leader, you can't pour from an empty cup, so you have to make sure your cup is full first.

Kade Wilcox: 100 percent.

Morgan Reneau: So having been affirmed and really knowing that you're in the right place, what else are you looking forward to in 2021?

Kade Wilcox: There are a couple of things that come to mind. First of all, this doesn't sound all that fancy, and it sounds really obvious, but I'm really committed to applying what we learned in 2020 to 2021. I think that the only thing that's terrible about a crisis or challenge is wasting it by not learning from it and then applying it. And so I really want to be focused on understanding what we learned and then applying it to the moment we're in 2021. So I think that's really critical and something I really want to focus on.

This one's not real fancy or sexy maybe, but we have to grow revenue. Because I think 2021 is going to be a really difficult year, one of the ways that you can create resiliency in like a backdrop to the unknown is financial resiliency. For us to do that at Primitive, we've got to grow revenue. In addition to that, related to revenue specifically, I think there's something marvelously exciting about growing revenue when growing revenue is the hardest thing you can possibly do at that moment. So if you can figure out how to be a healthy organization in every way, but also an organization that grows financially at a time where it's very difficult to do that for a lot of industries, I think there's something special about that and that added level of challenge really excites me. It's something I'm really looking forward to.

And then lastly, I really want to continue to focus on building a healthy and a resilient business. As we've worked our way through 2020, and as I've spent a lot of time, even personally, just reflecting on this and thinking about it, what I believe makes a healthy organization and a resilient organization is really simple. You have great people and a healthy culture. There are four parts to a resilient business in my mind. And I've reflected on this all of 2020. 

You have to have a healthy culture. And really what a healthy culture means is you have great people. If you don't have great people, you don't have a healthy culture. If you've got a great culture, it's because you have a bunch of great individual people, right? And so I want to continue to focus on people. 

Second, I really want to focus on operations. And what that means for our business is that we have extremely good internal systems and processes that facilitate, nurture, and cultivate the delivery of our services to our great customers. And so operations isn't just this fancy word for all the moving parts behind the scenes. For us it is, the lifeblood of how we deliver great services and results for our customers.

The third thing I really want to focus on related to the health of our business and creating a resilient business is finances. It may be boring. It may sound really obvious, but businesses that are sitting on a lot of cash have a lot more flexibility than businesses that have no cash. And for small businesses, that's really hard. It's really hard. And so people who are financially resilient and prepared for the unknown are in the minority and I want to be in the minority, right.

Lastly it's sales and marketing. We really just want to keep getting better, keep getting better, keep getting better.

I think if we do those four things really, really well in 2021, we're going to continue to be a healthy business, grow into a more healthy business and more than anything because of the times that we're in, we're going to be a resilient business. A business who is healthy in those four ways can withstand whatever is thrown at it culturally or economically, or governmentally or whatever the case may be. So those things are what really excite me moving into 2021.

Morgan Reneau: I think it's going to be a great year in the ways where we can come together as a company and attack whatever challenges come at us. And it'll be fun to take the learnings that we have from 2020 and the motivation that the positive pieces brought us and carry that on through the year.

Kade Wilcox: A hundred percent.

Morgan Reneau: Thanks for sitting down with us and talking us through your reflection on 2020 and what we are looking forward to in 2021.

Kade Wilcox: Thanks again for being the host. Those listening may be saying to themselves, “Morgan should become the regular host of The Primitive Podcast.” But for those listening, thanks again for joining the podcast. Next week, we'll resume by interviewing some great leaders. We are really excited about what we have prepared in 2021 and really appreciate you coming along for the journey. Thanks, Morgan. Appreciate you.

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