Leading and Learning During Unprecedented Times
I began this year in a new role, excited to lead our Secure Power Division. Like many other leaders, I had carefully defined plans in place and ambitions to achieve. By the end of Q1, business as usual had been completely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With government lockdowns deployed across countries with the intent to flatten the curve, seemingly overnight, we were forced to simultaneously pivot on two fronts – the way we live our lives and the way we run our businesses.
As many countries start to cautiously re-open, and we begin to navigate our new normal, I’ve taken time to reflect on the learnings gained over these past few months. Many of which, I intend to apply moving forward as we work to rebuild and hopefully, to do so more sustainably.
An ambition-led growth mindset begins with the well-being of our people
In leading the Secure Power Division of Schneider Electric, I understand that delivering on our commitment to ensure Life is On, begins with our people. Given the unprecedented nature of this health crisis, my priorities were clear — engaging with our customers and partners, securing the business, and, ensuring the welfare of our employees.
With employees in the Secure Power Division in varying stages of their respective country lock-down, I presented my leadership team with a unique and ambitious goal — to check in and speak to our 3,500+ employees worldwide. With the help of a core team, we quickly developed a framework for our Secure Power Leadership Connect Sessions, hosting 28 calls over a two-week period by leveraging available technologies (Microsoft Teams and Klaxoon). Although I did not meet my initial goal of speaking to every employee, I did to speak with 1,600+ employees across 70+ countries and gained some valuable insights in the process.
Leverage every opportunity to continue learning
Learning every day is a core value we live at Schneider Electric and one I practice personally. Here are some of the key insights I’ve gleaned from speaking with employees around the globe which will influence my leadership style moving forward:
- We’re more alike than we are different…but differences are embraced — These Connect Sessions were purposely designed to be conducted in a more intimate, albeit virtual, setting to promote open and honest dialogue. Given the global nature of our organization, we faced some initial barriers to participation in terms of language and culture. The informal setting of the calls did enable us to pivot as needed to ensure employees felt comfortable to share. Once employees adjusted, they openly shared on some of the biggest challenges they were facing while working during the pandemic:
- working from home with spouses and children all relying on the same home infrastructure
- achieving work / life balance without a physical separation between work space and personal space
- feeling disconnected given the lack of physical human contact
As we progressed through the sessions, I was struck by the similar challenges we were all facing. Certainly, there were differences in our individual situations, but we were all working to overcome the same challenge – adjusting to life during a global health crisis. This resonated across the employee base as well where individuals responded that they took comfort in knowing they weren’t alone.
- Shared experiences build stronger relationships – A shared understanding among the employee base that many of their peers were in the same position has strengthened working relationships across teams. Living and working through a shared health crisis has changed how we communicate and engage with one another. For instance, we began every Connect Session asking employees to share how they were really feeling in that moment. There was no right or wrong answer. It was simply an opportunity for employees to openly and honestly share how they were feeling, reinforcing the notion that we bring our whole selves to work. Moving into our new normal, I do believe that the stronger relationships built during the last few months will serve as a key enabler for accelerated collaboration and innovation.
- Acceleration of our digital transformation – We’ve witnessed organizations across all industries accelerate their digital transformation these last few months. This was also mirrored in our individual circumstances as we quickly transitioned primarily to a work from home environment globally. This shift was easier for some employees than others. In some cultures and countries, working form home is not a normal practice as it is in the United States. This transition required a shift in technology, mindset, and routine. It was interesting to hear how employees were dealing with the greater demand on their home networks with everything happening from home. Experiences over the last few months have brought a deeper understanding of many of the themes we’ve been discussing as a business – the proliferation of edge computing environments, greater demands placed on IT networks, and growing need for remote monitoring. As we move forward into our new normal, we will see a parallel shift in how businesses and homes operate now that the concept of an all-digital world has been proven.
- Empathy is universal – One of the questions we asked employees to reflect on was, “what should leaders and managers do differently during challenging times?” The overwhelming response from employees around the world was communicate and show greater empathy. This was a strong reminder that everyone wants to feel heard and know they matter. Communication and empathy are business imperatives. Why? Because employees are our most valuable resource and the driving force behind our innovations and the value we bring to the market daily. I personally commit to further incorporating communication and empathy into my leadership style moving forward.
- Resilience is innate in the human spirit – Before closing the session, I asked our teams to share how they felt about returning to the office following the lifting of country lock-down orders and in accordance with local laws and health guidelines. The responses shared ranged from cautious optimism to excitement at the prospect of reuniting with co-workers, customers, and partners – albeit socially distanced. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of employees who expressed their willingness and eagerness to be back in the office. Many employees had new ideas, spanning offers to processes, that they were looking forward to putting into practice. Lastly and equally important in my mind, was the resilience displayed by employees. I was impressed by the readiness of many to get back to “business-as-unusual”, see customers and partners again, get back into our R&D centers, and contribute to our business.
Hosting these Leadership Connect Sessions offered me an opportunity to reconnect with employees in a new way. I was and continue to be impressed and inspired by our employees. The dedication to our customers and partners, to the communities in which we live and serve, to sustainably innovating for the future of our planet has brought a new dimension to ‘Life Is On.’ As we continue to manage our new reality, I encourage everyone to reflect on the learnings from this experience and how those learnings can be applied in our new normal.