From the Trenches- Battling and Learning from Covid -19
Centelon is a 4–year-old company with over 110 employees, focussing on IT services and products with a presence in Australia, Singapore and India. We are an employee owned company and culturally, a healthy mix of being financially conservative ( zero debt), aggressive/bold when it comes to actions taken and mildly socialistic/informal in our general approach.
Over the last two years we have been growing well, were looking forward to another good year and had significant expansion plans across multiple geographies. We adopt a Quarterly Planning process which was underway( Feb end) when Covid-19 made its unwelcome presence felt across the globe. Through this blog I want to share the actions and the thinking guiding our plans from a leadership perspective.
Battling Covid: Staying a step ahead
Like any start up, Resilience, BCP, Scenario planning was never at the top in our priority list and we did not have any playbook to deal with a scenario like this. We had recently formulated our company’s values as being Entrepreneurship, Trust, Mateship and Detailed Oriented. I always knew that our values would be put to the test at some point: However I never expected them to be tested so soon or so thoroughly!
On 29th February I sent my first mail alerting senior management and our shareholder group about the impending situation and within a week we shut all our offices and had 100% of our employees working from home. We achieved this by treating Covid-19 as an Incident and started working on our Incident Management Framework detailing a purpose, priorities and actions. It was great to see the whole organisation rise to the occasion and deliver. Key aspects I would highlight that enabled this were honest and transparent conversations with staff and increased frequency of communication. We also consciously continued with a ‘business as usual‘ mindset including getting on with our quarterly planning.
Battling Covid: Reinforcing Structure
We were happy with the way things were moving until we realised there was a different set of challenges to confront:
- Business realities of impending recession, massive customer spending cuts and potential revenue dips
- Staff concerns on the above especially when #Centelon was just a 4-year-old company
- Employee’s welfare and emotional well-being while coping with the idea of a possible long-term work from home as well as the lack of peer support due to being physically distant from colleagues
Once again, we adopted a structural approach to battle the same:
- Designed a Business and Action framework that clearly articulated different business scenarios and what actions might be taken. Details of our current financial state and the framework of which was shared with all staff. The key promise we made to all was that we would transparently share our company’s position and plan of action and take decisions that reflect an equitable gain and pain model.
- All the actions defined in the framework were executed reinforcing again that the framework was not a mere theoretical tool.
- Launched a Centelon Cares Program with the immediate agenda of addressing staff welfare needs but with scope and purpose to go beyond once the current crisis had eased.
Over the last two weeks, after dealing with our immediate battles, we started changing our focus to ” #Beyond Covid“. This, in my view is still a work in progress but some of our initial thoughts/plans below reflect our intent:
- Institutionalise and strengthen internal processes and governance
- Build/Enhance skills and competencies in key areas like acquisitions, marketing
- Improve productivity, relook the ways of working and question every assumption
- Strengthen/Build a culture that we desire, albeit in a virtual workplace
- Define a long-term business resilience framework and strategy
Covid-19 is a once in century event and in a few years, it will be a distant memory, but for all of us in #Centelon it will serve as a reminder of a time that tested our mettle. It is still too early to evaluate our decisions or know how successful we will be battling the incident. Irrespective of what happens, I feel immensely proud of the poise and grit of every #Centelonian undertaking this long journey ahead.
As a CEO, these have been my key learnings about managing these times:
- Leading from the front is critical
- Taking timely decisions is more important than whether those decisions are perfect or not
- Rely on Values to decide on actions when there are no processes
- Invest time in culture building/staff relationships and it pays off while battling such incidents