Strategy and culture in the time of Coronavirus

The fallout from COVID-19 happened at speed and scale. Businesses had plans and roadmaps in place and most of us were tracking nicely towards another solid set of financial results. Things seemed to be positive. Then all of a sudden “bam”!  

In normal times there is generally an outline of a playbook which leaders can follow. Right now, there isn’t.  So that means we need to invest the same, if not more, thought into the actions we take today as they will have a profound effect on the future of our businesses.  

With the absence of defined rules, companies have been rushing to cut costs. For companies in service industries like Talent, approximately 90% of our assets are intangible, therefore our value sits is in our people and our brand.  Many companies in this space have had a knee-jerk reaction and rushed to cut people without considering the long term bigger picture. While sometimes unavoidable, losing good people will most likely have a devastating impact on the organisation’s culture and will amputate their ability to rebuild.

So, how can companies build a strategy to ensure their business and culture come out of this crisis stronger?

Define the outcomes

 A way to do this is to set up a taskforce or team that includes senior and branch leaders, with the objective to clearly define what you ideally want your business to look like on the other side of this crisis. Look at the outcomes you want to achieve and also consider what you prepared to sacrifice to achieve them.

Cash flow is critical but so is coming out of this crisis with your people, customers, brand and a strong culture intact. When it comes to cash flow, early discussions with both debt and equity funding providers will create confidence especially if done off the back of a clear and concise plan. Part of the plan needs to show how the business will look, financially and structurally, in the future. These discussions and agreements will help you to determine what bandwidth you have to weather this crisis. 

With the future of our business in mind, we made sure we had the right people in our teams.  With everyone “on the bus”, we wrapped our arms around our people and created the concept of #OneTeam to unite everyone towards a common goal. 

Building confidence through transparent communication

I have always found that transparent and candid communication is the best way to ensure team buy-in and create confidence. This is even more important in times of crisis.  

At Talent, we shared our detailed plan and scenario analysis with everyone in the business. The plan was designed to be simple to explain and easy to understand based on the premise of the income hurdles for the entire ANZ business, thereby reinforcing the #OneTeam principle. We explained what we will be doing at each phase of our plan. This was done virtually through conversations with each local team, creating an open and informal environment.

The key was to take away fear by assuring our people that at each stage their jobs will be secure, and if any salary reductions are to be made these will be taken by the senior executives and management teams. We also worked with the group leaders across the business to ensure all our messages were aligned and that support was consistent. The expectation in exchange for this is that everyone gives it their all, ups the cadence and just as importantly lives the purpose and values of the business.

This had a huge impact on our teams.  So many of our people went out of their way to express their determination to get through the crisis and their commitment to this company. The absence of fear encourages more innovative and out of the box thinking, which is exactly what we need in times like this.

As we continue through the crisis, we have weekly updates as to which phase we are in and what our next actions are. The updates are open forums where the teams are encouraged to ask questions of the leadership team.

We also completed a company-wide Gallup confidential feedback survey last week to give people the opportunity to share how they were feeling about our approach to navigating this new world. The results generated some fantastic suggestions and showed that our engagement scores remain very high, something that I was really proud to see. We have already begun acting on the feedback.

Creating a new norm as quickly as possible

With all the changes we’ve seen through the pandemic, including our teams moving to WFH, we were genuinely concerned that we would not be able to maintain our culture. We feared that if we didn’t have the daily physical contact, the celebrations, lunches and all of the other things we used to do together, our #TeamTalent culture would suffer. 

With this focus, we rolled out a new team communications platform that has made it much easier to keep connected. It’s allowing us to share wins, information and laughs much more easily and informally.

During this time we have also recognised that many of us, if not all of us are feeling anxious and uncertain. Like many companies, we have referred all our team members to our confidential counselling Employee Assistance Program which is designed to help our people get through these times. But we took the extra step and extended this support to all those who contract through us as part of our Engage portal. We know that many contractors miss out on the benefits afforded to permanent employees which becomes more evident at times like this. We have always offered a wide range of services for everyone in our Engage community, but in the past months, we have put a greater focus on doing what we can to help our contractors look after their physical, mental, professional, and emotional and community wellness.  

I’ve made it a personal goal to video call people regularly, as I think it’s so important to see people’s faces at times like this. Sharing a smile or a shrug and seeing someone’s facial expressions when you ask them if they are ok is such a big part of staying connected.  

Continue to reinforce your purpose and vision

The businesses that have taken the time to define and communicate their vision and build a true sense of purpose that goes beyond profits will have a huge advantage in these times. Focusing on our purpose is critical at the moment. The purpose provides the ability to think longer term and continue to provide value for customers, contractors, candidates and colleagues without simply focusing on short term gains.

What’s to come?

Under the concept of #OneTeam the bond between everyone in the business has been made stronger.

I think we are doing well, but we don’t have all the answers and we are constantly looking for new ways to adapt and change. In all of this, I am so grateful to the entire team, they are invested in this company and in each other and they are motivated to see us all succeed.

I truly believe that both a strategy based on keeping your team strong and a focus on company culture will help create the foundation of the company you transform into in a post COVID-19 world.