Innovation is key to growth in business, but it’s not often that a need to innovate is thrust upon the business world in the way it has been since the coronavirus pandemic changed the nature of work in early March. Yanni Hufnagel, founder and CEO of Lemon Perfect, said he and other CEOs had to make fast decisions as news of the public health crisis hit, immediately shifting to work-from-home orders and virtual meetings. But, says Hufnagel, as his beverage business settled into a new routine, full of Zoom meetings and virtual check-ins, he’s found that a number of the innovative ways they’ve come to do business in the era of COVID-19 have been beneficial to the business overall. Now, he’s looking at additional ways that they can capitalize on the lockdown and learn from this moment to strengthen communication channels, practice greater employee empathy, and incorporate efficiencies into how they do business. There’s a lesson to be learned from the pandemic, Hufnagel said: That both employees and consumers are ready to transition to a new way of doing business.
Yanni Hufnagel has always embraced innovation – beginning in 2017, when he first launched a new beverage line, Lemon Perfect, as a healthy alternative to energy and sports drinks. The cold-pressed, organic drinks are available in four flavors — Just Lemon, Blueberry Acai, Dragon Fruit Mango, and Peach Raspberry — and capitalize on the power of lemons, with electrolytes and Vitamin C, and no added sugar or colorings. More innovations followed. First, he moved to a shelf-stable product that greatly expanded his distribution network.
When the pandemic hit, Hufnagel quickly saw that he could bring similar innovation to his internal business strategy. One of the first lessons that became abundantly clear, notes Hufnagel, is that empathy would be a critical skill to drive the success of his business in a post-pandemic world. Employees were adapting to very sudden changes in their home lives and work-life balance. Many had children or other family members who were now sharing their workspace and needed attention. Still, others were coping with exhaustion, anxiety, and stress as they tried to balance the many demands on their time and attention and the regular onslaught of bad news.
Hufnagel made sure to check in regularly with his employees to ensure that they were coping, and to provide flexibility in their schedules so that they could utilize the hours of the day when they could be most productive and distraction-free. He also recommends “taking the pulse of employees” at the start of regular meetings – to give employees built-in opportunities to connect and share in a less structured format about how they are adjusting and what pressures they might be facing. As a former university-level basketball coach and top recruiter for schools like Harvard University, University of California, and Vanderbilt University, Hufnagel knows well the power of human connection and coaching to motivate a team – whether of athletes, or employees.
Now, more than ever, he says that leadership has to be attuned to the added pressures employees are facing. But there is also, he says, an opportunity to expand what work looks like, to build on the lessons learned from this work-from-home experiment.
Many employees like the freedom that comes from working from home, Hufnagel says. They like not having to contend with a frustrating daily commute, and not having to dress up. They like being close to home if they are needed, or to travel and work from any location. And they respond well to interacting digitally. Many employees find that they are communicating more, not less since remote work began, he says, and they have discovered that response time to inquiries has improved. As expectations shifted to digital interactions, the only downside, it seemed, was internet connectivity.
Just as tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have come to embrace remote working for most employees as a strategy until at least until 2021 if not beyond, Hufnagel wants to capitalize on the advantages of greater digital interaction. He’s encouraging employees to use Zoom for meetings in order to maintain the advantages of face to face contact, and to utilize their increased time online to become savvier social media users, and better brand ambassadors.
Because it is not just employees who are now, more than ever, doing the lion’s share of their work online, says Hufnagel; it is also consumers. During the pandemic, more people are shopping online to avoid transmission risk, and online retailers like Amazon and grocery delivery service Instacart are reaping the benefits. While it’s likely that some of that surge will start to subside, there has been a fundamental shift in the way Americans now approach work and shopping, said Hufnagel, and the companies that do well will be those that recognize this shift and cater to it.
Just as employees have been able to adjust to new, more streamlined ways of communicating and doing business as a result of the pandemic, Hufnagel wants to take this time to examine his business model and to find ways to build on internet sales, market growth, and social media impact. Internally, he wants to create a more empathetic culture, improve digital communications, and continue to find new efficiencies.
People are open to new ways of doing business right now, Hufnagel says, and that’s exciting. Especially for CEOs with an innovation mindset.
About Lemon Perfect
Lemon Perfect is a naturally refreshing, zero sugar cold-pressed lemon water with antioxidants and electrolytes. Certified organic and full of flavor, Lemon Perfect is widely considered by industry insiders to be one of the most scalable, exciting, and innovative emerging beverage concepts in the marketplace.
About Yanni Hufnagel
Yanni Hufnagel is the Founder & CEO of Lemon Perfect, a naturally refreshing, zero sugar cold-pressed lemon water with essential antioxidants and hydrating electrolytes. Certified organic and full of flavor, Lemon Perfect – named “Best New Product” at BevNET’s Best of 2019 Awards – is widely considered by industry insiders to be one of the most scalable, exciting and innovative emerging beverage concepts in the marketplace.
Founded in 2017 and backed by an extraordinary team of investors, the company’s mission is to democratize drinkable wellness by making Lemon Perfect accessible for anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Before starting Lemon Perfect, Hufnagel served as an assistant men’s college basketball coach, with stops at Nevada, California, Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Oklahoma. Hufnagel earned the reputation as one of the most dogged recruiters in America, consistently lauded for signing nationally-ranked recruiting classes. In Hufnagel’s 10 years coaching college basketball, his teams reached the NCAA Tournament six times.