Winning the game in the days of Covid

What is the biggest challenge for businesses these days?

Someone will easily answer revenue, cash flow, finances, turnover.

What else;

And yet, this period the challenge is different: how to keep our people engaged in the organization, its purpose and values.

One could easily argue against this.

“Let’s secure the finances and we’ll find the rest”.

This is an opinion… Legitimate… And yet, experience has taught us.. Have we learned our lesson?

Let’s start with the Basics: what does it mean to have highly engaged people in my organization?

It means having people who look where I look, that is, they share the goals and objectives of the business. It means that I have people who are willing to “go the extra mile”, who are not afraid, who enjoy working for the business. People, who I don’t need to chase or control them to be effective, but give their best not because they have to, but because they want to.

What does it mean for an employee to have high engagement? It means the simplest thing. To want to get up in the morning to go to work. To be concerned about the progress of the company, and not only about their assigned “tasks”. To look for solutions on their own without someone asking. To feel proud to work for that organization. To be inspired and feel confident.

Let’s think about it, when can an organization best ensure its financial results? When it has highly engaged teams and people or when it doesn’t? The answer is self-explanatory.

Yet how many organizations decide to invest in their people during critical situations?

There are those who look ahead, who look towards tomorrow with the same care they take care of today.

The situation we’ve been experiencing for the last few months has brought many challenges. However one major challenged proved to be just that.

Many entrepreneurs or Top Managers were seriously concerned about whether their people would actually work from home. Or to put it bluntly, whether they are “lazy” when they are not in the workplace to be “supervised”.

Still others had no such concerns.

Instead, they set goals, rallied the teams, kept them “alive”, understood the conditions and…came out victorious. As clear as that.

A small true story.

The company is one of the medium-sized Greek companies. A leader in the field. Let’s call our company Pharco. Before the corona virus, it was in the following situation: after years of business-as-usual, it had undergone significant changes, the well-known restructuring. Older employees left, roles changed, new colleagues arrived. The coronavirus found the team in a really difficult situation, almost disbanding. And in fact, this dissolution had begun to “hit” the numbers, the turnover. Shortly before the “crisis” the business owner had decided to invest substantially into people and turn the situation around. But events caught up with him…

As soon as the lockdown started, all the companies in the sector were suspended from operating. In other words, they took advantage of the provisions and practically stopped operating.

All but this company of our story…

In the face of this great crisis, the business owner was faced with essential dilemmas: should he take the “safe” path of suspension or should he trust his team? The situation required courageous decisions. And he knew that whatever decision he made had risks and costs…

After many discussions inside and outside the organisation, he made the big decision. To trust this “hurt” team. The stakes were really high, given that the company was far from ready for teleworking. As long as his clients were working, he figured the opportunity was there.

The first thing he did was address the group. He organized a conference call (for the first time) and told everyone about his decision. And not only that… he told them about his goal: “To be there for our customer.” He make sure that within 10 days everyone could work from home, making significant investments. When all the competition stopped everything, his salespeople were there to support their customer. Morally, but also practically. Orders were being delivered faster, with no quantity restrictions. And suddenly, while the turnover in the first weeks had dropped to 50%, it started rising. Every employee in the company (as a figure of speech, since everybody was working from home) knew what the goal was. And that was not the survival, nor the turnover. It was to support the clientele. To feel that they have them by their side. To support them. Every two weeks he repeated the teleconference with the whole company and conveyed the news and developments. Also, make sure that managers were close to their people on a daily basis.

And without any further actions, a miracle happened. People became real “ambassadors” of this purpose. They were excited, “hooked” so to speak, and they succeeded. More than they thought.

Their commitment? They proved it every day. And they succeeded…

The difficulties were many. Maybe more than before.

But some things changed such as:

  • There was an open line with management
  • Absolute respect for family life
  • Clear purpose & goals
  • Pride in what they wanted to achieve
  • Support/Training* for what they found difficult, such as lack of personal contact and working with virtual teams, etc.

*Team meetings were organized with the Management, where each employee could report ideas and suggestions on how they can move and they gave direct feedback from the market.

* Education: they got all the help they needed. They took short but comprehensive actions that gave them confidence, but at the same time kept them together.

Talking to people, their commitment is obvious. You don’t have to ask them. They tell you themselves how proud they are of what they have accomplished.

For this reason it is important at this time, more than ever, for organizations to focus on the engagement of their people:

  • To share a vision, not fear
  • To positively reinforce them in feeling part of the effort and not the cause of the problem
  • To strengthen their self-confidence, supporting them with knowledge and skills that will help them respond to new conditions
  • Not to stop investing in the team and in the people

This is a great road that builds the foundation of the business. And then no one and nothing will tear them down.

Marina Kounalaki
Managing Partner
Avocado Learning Experiences