How Our Team Met the Moment During COVID-19
David Solomon, Lightspeed Technologies
February 23, 2021
If you were to call our Evergreen® company, Lightspeed Technologies, and ask the person who answered the phone, “Why do you work for Lightspeed?” My guess is that you’d be very likely to hear, “I really want to make a difference for teachers and students.”
Our Purpose, to “improve the lives of those we touch with our research, products, service and partnerships,” runs deep. We are passionate about serving students and teachers in the classroom setting through instructional audio systems that help project voices with the right volume and clarity so every child has the same access to learning.
About 75 percent of all learning, particularly in younger children, happens through auditory processing. Unfortunately, particularly among kindergarten through third graders, about 30 percent of students at any given time have some form of mild hearing loss. That means about a third of the students in those classrooms aren’t hearing the teacher properly, and in areas with high poverty rates and nutrition deficiencies, it’s even higher.
Our system provides for a very low-volume, highly intelligible, even distribution of sound throughout the entire classroom so every child can hear every word. Independent data we have evaluated shows that when you put these systems in the classrooms, students perform better.
While our Purpose has always guided our work, the power of our team’s shared commitment to that goal and our related core values became crystal clear as we faced the COVID-19 pandemic together.
In February 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the U.S. we started to get really concerned about the potential impact on our business. Our headquarters are in Oregon, and in March all non-essential businesses were mandated to close. We were able to maintain many of our functions, but orders just started disappearing.
We were getting emails from school district officials who told our salespeople, “Do not call us.” They were under siege, confronting huge problems, and they had no intention of talking to a salesperson. We had a lot of people just sitting by the phone. By mid-April we had to lay off 25 percent of our team.
It was quite a brutal hit. Our entire team was reeling as we processed the impact of the layoffs, the potential long-term impact on the business, and the effect of the situation in our personal lives. In the midst of this storm, our Purpose pulled us through.
When we started seeing schools struggle with conducting classes across a variety of in-person, hybrid, and remote models, we came together and asked, “How can we help?"
We knew how impactful our products could be in the classroom, but we also knew we needed to adapt to the new remote and hybrid learning environment with product innovations that would meet teachers’ and students’ needs. And, once we had created solutions, we needed to quickly reposition our messaging and our approach to share our products with schools.
Over a period of two months, we did both.
First, we examined how students and teachers were interacting and how their audio needs had evolved. We knew that in many cases, teachers who were in the classroom with students would need to wear masks, which would significantly impact the intelligibility of what they were saying. Kids in the classroom would be impacted, and it would be even worse for the kids joining remotely. Audio, it turned out, would be one of the major problems for online learning.
From there, we asked, Can we create a way for every child in the classroom to have a microphone? If so, this would enable full participation: Students at school would hear their teacher and one another clearly, and students at home would hear not only their teacher but each of their classmates. To meet that need, we created a product using existing technology we had designed for small group instruction and applied it to the broader classroom to provide each student with a microphone. We also ensured the technology could be connected to the wide variety of online learning applications, given the broad range of platforms in use by schools.
Having innovated technology to meet the need, our marketing communications team worked quickly to revise materials and inform educators about the audiology research behind our products and the impact of improving intelligibility—more important now than ever in the new learning landscape. But developing the new messaging was only part of the effort. We now had to make sure we could get the word out in a time when in-person visits and sales calls weren’t an option.
In response, we created a series of three webinars in which we hosted panels of superintendents and audiologists who shared challenges and barriers to learning in the new classroom environment and whose insights illustrated the benefit a product like ours. Like so many businesses adapting to this new marketing strategy, we initially didn’t know what kind of response we would get. The result? Generally, our webinars generate around 200-250 registrations. In this case, across three webinars, we had over 5,000 registrations. We had eyeballs and focus on a level we had never had before.
These Pragmatic Innovations across our services, product, and marketing communications teams were driven by our shared Purpose and our core values of innovation and collaboration. Working almost entirely remotely, we came together very quickly to adapt and serve teachers and students when they needed it most.
The effort and innovation that led us to develop and market new products in the wake of the pandemic reflect our team’s Purpose. Collectively, we want to make a difference in the lives of teachers and students. That shared goal led to record sales in 2020. And yet, our pride in this success is tempered by both the sadness we feel at the circumstances that have led to the need for our product and the layoffs and personal challenges we have experienced as a company and individually in the wake of the pandemic.
As we look forward, we’re thinking a lot about how to take the lessons and innovations of this experience and apply them for the long-term success of our Evergreen company. We know we need to make the most of the brand equity we have built over this time and continue to innovate for teachers and students.
One experience among our team during this time makes me confident that we’re up for the challenge, unified in our commitment to drive forward together. In the wake of the necessary layoffs during the early days of the pandemic, we read Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game as a team. The meetings we had to discuss the book created a new sense of solidarity that I believe will stand the test of time. Throughout the company, people were inspired by the idea of building a 100 year + company. As a leader, that was music to my ears. While leadership can be isolating, especially in such turbulent times, knowing you’re surrounded by a team equally committed to your Purpose, core values, and sharing a long-term view, is incredibly inspiring.
David Solomon is President and CEO of Lightspeed Technologies.