Oxana Razumova of Sensemakers: “A good joke is not forgotten, just like the person who told it”

First of all, it is a vision. The idea that the business is built around. And everyone in the company should see this “picture” the same way. This is incredibly important for synchronizing everyone’s understanding of their roles, feeling and appreciating the importance of the project being built. When there is a vision, it is […]

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First of all, it is a vision. The idea that the business is built around. And everyone in the company should see this “picture” the same way. This is incredibly important for synchronizing everyone’s understanding of their roles, feeling and appreciating the importance of the project being built. When there is a vision, it is sense’s turn. Why is this important to you? Why does this motivate you? What do you find in the project that resonates in your heart? And if there is such a thing, then a person will go to work every day with a light heart and a pleasant anticipation. When there is a common vision and sense, there should be a clear plan of action for everyone. What, when and how do we do it?

Great company is one that employees are proud to work for.

As part of my series about the “How to Take Your Company from Good to Great,”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oxana Razumova.

Oxana is the Co-Founder of Sensemakers, Head of Board of Friends Charity Foundation, and a communication & strategy trainer, strategy facilitator, and philanthropy consultant. She is also a Process Communication Model & Emotional Assertiveness trainer and a member of the Control Commission of the Moscow Polytechnic Museum.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

For 20 years of professional activity, I managed to switch from law and finance to PR, working in the largest media holding in Russia “National Media Group” as a Director of internal and external communications. Simultaneously became the head of press service of one of the Russian news TV channels. It was active and exciting. People from a large financial сorporation and people from a large media holding company were surprisingly different. The Corporation valued strictness, seriousness, restraint and clarity in everything. However, the first colleague I met on the TV channel said “be simple”. That was the recipe for success. The main place in this world of media was occupied by such strengths as creativity, spontaneity, imagination and speed of decision-making. The media sphere attracts diverse people-analysts, producers, actors, presenters, a whole platoon of employees from Directors to lighting designers. And they are all very, very different. Over 5 years of working in the National Media Group, I have learned exactly that the main thing that a Manager should be able to do is not set goals and KPIs, but manage relationships in the team, and reduce conflicts based on employee communication to a minimum. Always be an accurate tuning fork for everyone in your team. Create an atmosphere of mutual assistance and understand how and when to motivate someone. And I won’t reveal a secret if I say that we are all motivated by different things. If you want to be a first-class boss, you have to be a great Communicator.

After that, I moved into the charity industry, becoming the first Director of the Friends Foundation, a platform designed to help other non-profit organizations become more professional and successful. I still remain in the Fund, but now in the role of Chairman of the Board.

And at the moment, together with my three partners — Victoria Mikhailova, Dr. Eyal Ronen and Gor Nakhapetyan we are building an international company “Sensemakers” , engaged in personal and organizational development.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

My first two years at the Charity Foundation were the most difficult in my entire career. There were no people, no money, no office. We worked on almost naked enthusiasm, but in truth there was an abundance of it. I was passionate about the Foundation’s ideas. We came up with the concept of professional philanthropic education, started promoting the idea of intellectual volunteering, and created a program to help other NGOs. And that’s where all my previous work experiences came in handy. But at the end of the first year, I obviously felt like I was breaking down. It was simply too much for me. I made the decision to leave the Foundation, realizing that I couldn’t cope with the amount of work and the rest of my life — children, home, friends — there just wasn’t time for all of this. I was greatly helped by the founders of the Foundation, who on the one hand understood and supported me, but on the other kept me in the Foundation. The solution was to attract more people to the team and delegate more. We invited an operations Director, and I moved to the level of global management.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I remember very well that when I was studying at the University in Moscow at the law faculty, I dreamed I would become a famous attorney or finally a famous lawyer in a large international firm and there would be a queue of people who would like to get to my meeting at my big and important office. And so I graduated, got a master’s degree, and diploma with honors and … randomly got a job in a large telecommunications company, but not in the legal department at all. I was hired by the securities department, where, as an employee who spoke English very well, I was involved in the programs of American Depositary receipts placed by Russian communications companies at JPMorgan at that time. That’s when I faced the first and not the last challenge in my life — I didn’t even know what it was — American Depositary Receipts. On my first day at work, a stack of documents in English was placed in front of me, behind which I was simply not visible. None of my colleagues could help me for the simple reason of not knowing a foreign language. I learned to work carefully with documents, what helped me many times in the future. However, it did not save me from one funny mistake, which my boss later recalled all 5 years of my work. While preparing a large set of documents to send to JPMorgan, verifying each letter and number, I did not notice that an error crept into the header of one of the documents, which probably only a young employee like me could do — the document had a horrible misprint which i cannot mention in the interview, but I still remember how my boss both swore and laughed at the same time. That’s when I decided that I would only work with people with a good sense of humor!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I would like to share a simple but very important story for me. Not even a story, but a review that I received not so long ago from my colleague — an employee of Sensemakers. Discussing some important and acute topic at a meeting, the exclamation was: “I have been working with you for more than six months and no one has ever raised their voices, no one has accused the other, everyone helps each other and sincerely wants to help. I thought there were no such companies. I’ve never encountered a team like this before and it’s incredibly inspiring.” Should I comment on this? This is the most important feedback for me and my co-partners. We want to create an atmosphere for cooperation, fruitful for creative energy and assertive.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I talked about the difficult first years at the Friends Foundation, when I was exhausted. It was a real burn out. It wasn’t just fatigue that could be “fixed”, it was total apathy and complete physical exhaustion. My main mistake at that time was to continue working, instead of taking a long vacation. But the feeling that we are just unwinding and we can’t put anything on pause was stronger. Half a year later, I couldn’t help but admit to my partner that “I can’t do it anymore.” I wish I’d done it in time. This severe exhaustion made an impact on health. And then I realized that asking for help and admitting to weakness is real courage and strength. Making brakes at the right time is important. There should be balance between life and work. Periodic informal communication with colleagues also helps. It’s inspiring that I work with such interesting and versatile people. You can schedule an extraordinary day off. For example, half a day of two Fridays a month I devote only to myself — tango lessons, qigong or just meeting with friends. This extra piece of recreation colors life and creates extra bright colors.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

5 years ago I met another amazing person, my teacher and friend Gor Nakhapetyan. After an hour and a half of our first meeting, I realized that working with such a fantastic person is a chance that does not happen often. I must say that I was always lucky with my superiors, and I hope they were always lucky with me. But Gor won me over with his sincerity, sense of humor, absolutely amazing attitude to people, love of life and wisdom. Working together on the Sensemakers project, I learn a lot from him, but more importantly, I am charged with his energy, which he generously distributes.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

It seems to me that the difference between good companies and those who became great is in the approach to the business itself. If your main driving force is the desire to earn money, then you may be able to achieve this, but it is unlikely that you will become the company that is spoken about with anticipation and delight. Great companies are those that are built with meaning. This sense attracts not only professionals, but also caring people. There is a synergy of their joint efforts. As a result, the total effort exceeds their simple sum. I saw it in the Friends Foundation and I see it in Sensemakers. We are building an OK-OK company where there are 2 equally important focuses of attention — internal and external audience. Both the company’s clients and sensemakers themselves are our target audience.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

In transactional analysis, there is a model of human relationships — the Stephen Karpman triangle. This is a psychological model of interaction between people. At the same time, there is a triangle of positive interactions, where happiness and joy are born, and there is a negative one, in which people play at happiness, but do not achieve it. If you shift it to the organization (and the company itself does not exist without people), then the most important aspects of the functioning of a great company become clear.

First of all, it is a vision. The idea that the business is built around. And everyone in the company should see this “picture” the same way. This is incredibly important for synchronizing everyone’s understanding of their roles, feeling and appreciating the importance of the project being built. When there is a vision, it is sense’s turn. Why is this important to you? Why does this motivate you? What do you find in the project that resonates in your heart? And if there is such a thing, then a person will go to work every day with a light heart and a pleasant anticipation. When there is a common vision and sense, there should be a clear plan of action for everyone. What, when and how do we do it?

All of the above seems so clear and even banal. But from experience, I can say that most companies lose positions or “do not take off” to a new height precisely because of the lack of a unified vision. And it is relevant not only for executives, but for every person in your company.

A great company is one that employees are proud to work for.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Participating in the creation and promotion of a new international commercial project Sensemakers is a life project for me now. From the very first moment of the company’s creation, we promote the ideas of social impact, which are shared by all employees of the company and this unites us incredibly. And this is very important for me. But not only these ideas. We are building a new profession “sensemaker” — a person who promotes the idea of creating a wise world around and who has the tools to share his wisdom with the world. Wisdom can be created within ourselves, in companies and organizations, and even in countries and global movements. Our goal is to help these communities apply wisdom, using insight and understanding together to achieve something more productive, more enriching, and more profound.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

We regularly hold mini strategy sessions within the company, where everyone can share their thoughts and ideas on how to transform and strengthen the business. We perform analysis using the OHD (Organizational Healthspan Diagnostic) system to have fresh data on the company’s analysis and, accordingly, to be able to correct hidden misunderstandings and conflicts that arise.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

The global pandemic put many businesses on hold. This is a really difficult moment when, after successful growth, your company is moving on a plateau or even its indicators are falling. It seems to me that the most strange and wrong thing at this moment is to sit back and wait for everything to get better. Moreover, we understand that this new “viral” era may not end. We are just living in a new reality. And it is what it is. Therefore, they are not afraid to try new approaches and new ideas. Transform your business. But it’s also a moment to transform yourself. The business itself will not change. People change it. And to do this, you need to change yourself. I believe that we do not know even half of a person’s potential and it is so interesting to discover it for ourselves. And the main skill is communication skills. So much is written about it, so much is talked about, but still only a few really attach importance to it.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

One of the most unexpected aspects of running a company to my mind is humor. We at Sensemakers laugh a lot, make jokes, arrange informal meetings, even in the online space. This gives us a lot of life energy and brings together colleagues in our multi-cultural space of the company. Moreover, we believe that humor is something that our customers also like. A good joke is not forgotten, just like the person who told it.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

The best strategy is to be always different, try new approaches, new channels and forms. In the modern world, everything is changing at a fantastic rate. It’s not the time when a business could use one approach for years on end. Now the business must keep up with the speed of changes in fashion, social agenda and global movements. Videos, animations, webinars, live-talks, social media, game integration, and much more.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Nowadays, a brand is no longer just a company name and logo. These are the values you bring to the world, your social contribution and positioning. But first of all, these are personalities who are the faces of the brand, its real creators, employees. Every person in the team is important. For example, at Sensemakers, we make posts in social media channels about each of our new employees, regardless of their position. People are the main focus of the company. Therefore, the team that shares your ideas and values is your ambassadors to the outside world.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

A clear message that you enter the market with, and also stands out from others. And this creative process of finding new ones can never stop.

Emotional, open and sincere communication with your clients.

Of course, a very deep knowledge of your target audience. And this is not just the ability to analyze the client’s behavior, but also knowledge of his psychology. It also helps to continuously optimize the user journey.

And, of course, establishing a constant process of information exchange — through mailing lists and social media from yourself and collecting feedback from the client.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Like many companies, we actively use social media in its market promotion practice. At the same time, we do this in a multinational format and launch social networks simultaneously in several countries. We were surprised by the difference in approaches and audience of the same social networks in different countries. If Instagram in Russia is one of the most selling channels, in Israel and, for example, in France, it is considered almost indecent and certainly ineffective to promote your serious business project there. LinkedIn, which works well in Europe and the United States, is almost powerless to promote your business in Russia. Our strategy is a mix of global content with local content, multi-format, clarity and openness of the language, and, of course, sincerity in the presentation of materials. So I would say that our main approach is to combine flexibility in adapting to the national mentality and a unified approach in building a brand based on universal values.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Mistakes can be very different, but I would highlight a few in my opinion frequent. Looping all internal processes on yourself. The tendency to put together a team of people who are pleasant to communicate with, which is great, but does not speak about their professionalism. Or attract people with a similar psychological type, thus limiting access to individuals with other strengths of the individual. Often in such cases, there is a certain bias in the direction of either creativity, or too calculating dry approach. In my opinion, it is important that the team is balanced in this area as well. Also, the main focus is on tasks and goals, not on the team, which is sometimes the key to success.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would include a mandatory communication course in the school curriculum. And for both students and teachers. There would be less stress and more happiness. And I believe that happy children grow up to be happy adults.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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