Here’s Oxana Razumova, Co-founder of Sensemakers

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Oxana Razumova, co-founder of Sensemakers, talks about how to take a company from good to great

Over her twenty-year career, Oxana Razumova has switched fields from law to finance to public relations, having held a job in Russia’s “National Media Group” as the director of internal and external communications. She has also become the head of the press service at one of Russia’s news TV channels. After that, she became one of the co-founders of Sensemakers, and the managing director of Friends Foundation.

Currently, Oxana Razumova is a communication and strategy trainer, a strategy facilitator, and philanthropy consultant. She is also a process communication model and an emotional assertiveness trainer. She is also a member of the Control Commission of the Moscow Polytechnic Museum.

At Sensemakers, Oxana Razumova and her team follow a distinct process to improve their clients’ organizational wisdom. They work with “organizations, teams, leaders” to get a sense of their wisdom. Then they “combine proven business management tools and human alchemy,” an element they understand to be a “hidden motor of growth.” After that, they “improve performance of organization by dealing with underlined processes and hidden emotions.” Finally, they show their clients that they may not own wisdom, but they “know how to get there.”

Oxana Razumova and Sensemakers provide clients with values that they can apply to improve their organizational performance for years to come. They provide clients with “globally proven tools for professional development,” “experts [you will get a chance to learn from and share your ideas and experience with,” “global resources to promote you and your work,” “conferences and partner events…for incredible learning opportunities,” among others.

Check out more interviews with globally proven strategists here.  

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

Oxana Razumova: 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.

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

Oxana Razumova: 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.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Oxana Razumova: 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.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Oxana Razumova: 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.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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”?

Oxana Razumova: 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.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Oxana Razumova: 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.

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

Oxana Razumova: 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.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Oxana Razumova: 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.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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.

Oxana Razumova: 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.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Oxana Razumova: 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.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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. 🙂

Oxana Razumova: 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.

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

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