„The crisis made us find many new ways“
Management was more visible
Looking back at the months behind – what are major changes your company has gone through?
I feel that our company has been much better at communicating recently. When you create your content for digital communication, record some videos for example or even produce cartoons, you need a stronger focus on what is the actual message? That way your communication becomes more relevant to your audience. Additionally, what I keep hearing is that especially the top management, including our board members, are now much more visible. They have started to share more information about their strategy on a more regular basis comparing to the situation we had prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
Did you make any experiences throughout the crisis that surprised you?
We have seen the power of our crisis teams. They were super helpful. Some of the best practices came from our region. For instance, we had an excellent crisis team in Denmark. It has been replicated as a best practice across different market units in Europe. That is great! Suddenly you start appreciating a body that was entirely invisible – non-existent even – until there was an intense crisis to be handled. And that is what they did.
Central and decentral decision-making
What was so exceptional about the Danish team?
The Danish crisis team worked separately as a stand-alone unit, but at the same time it was highly engaged with the local management teams. The local management didn't just outsource difficult topics to the crisis team, they were in constant communication - working tightly together to find the best solutions. Leveraging both central and decentral knowledge and coordination. That made all the difference.
COVID-19 aside, we see the trend that more and more decisions are gradually being taken locally.
Did you generally experience a new balance between centralized versus decentralized decision-making? In our interviews we often heard that on the one hand decisions had to be taken more locally than before, on the other hand there was a huge demand for top-down information and guidance. How would you say has that balance changed in your organization?
Of course, in the middle of a crisis top management communication is super important. But indeed COVID-19 required a very balanced approach. Generally all guidelines were given by the global organization – but then each region and each market unit had the flexibility to decide on their own on how to implement them. Actually, COVID-19 aside, we see the trend that more and more decisions are gradually being taken locally – but again I'm pretty sure that's not just because of the virus but mainly because of our new management.
In many cases employees had less or even nothing to do any more from one day to the other. How did your company deal with the changes of the workload?
It is true. There were some employees who had significantly less to do. But we quickly decided we did not want to lose anyone even temporarily – so we found new ways. Some of our consultants for example were suddenly sitting on the bench because their project was stopped by the customer due to the virus. So we decided to launch a free of charge training program for some of our customers and use these consultants to plan and execute the trainings. The customers were very happy with that. This kind of flexibility was required in order to keep everybody productive and have high utilization in our teams. This can be challenging of course but in these difficult times you cannot just be tied to old roles or job descriptions. You have to be ready to adapt.
Were there employees in the company who got more visible or even thrived in the crisis?
Yes. Many younger employees in sales for example are coping extraordinary well with the fact that you cannot visit the customers on-site anymore. They are not only digital natives, we also trained them to use their skills and capabilities in digital storytelling for the company. They have been great in the crisis with using digital channels. In fact so great, that I decided to let them work on certain topics and practices we now want to also scale for the older generations. This is needed. Whereas the younger ones adapted fast some rather traditional salespeople tend to struggle a bit.
In these difficult times you cannot just be tied to old roles or job descriptions. You have to be ready to adapt.
Because they are so used to getting into their car, driving to the client and talking to them face-to-face?
Yes. For all of their careers. Some of them are now saying, “If we cannot have meetings on-site, I cannot execute my role anymore." There is simply a lack of experience with the digital possibilities in some cases – but there may also be a bit of resistance to change. That can be worrying – if you want to thrive in our organization in the future you will need some flexibility and interest in new possibilities. These do exist.
Get rid of unnecessary processes
The crisis can work like a magnifying glass – could you identify any other parts of your company which need to change? Has anything become more visible to you?
It is not in my range of influence or part of my decisions – but I believe we can get rid of some unnecessary complex processes. For instance – it is hard to keep an overview of all the cloud assets we have. We have acquired many different companies, many of them are still independent entities. Every single line of business has their own rules, deal desks, data security type of checkpoints. Some of our people are sometimes forced to spend more time getting a quote approved internally than talking to the actual customer. When that is the case, you know that something is wrong. This is not a new phenomenon but you feel it more, when you cannot just walk into an office to get things moving.
We learned that online calls can be very useful – but they are a double edged sword at the same time.
Let us switch to the bright side – are there any new experiences you found so valuable that you think about how maintaining them?
We learned that online calls can be very useful – but they are a double edged sword at the same time. I used to favor a model where ideally meetings do not take place too often. In the middle of the crisis it became very clear that we actually need to at least catch up more often to go through our key learnings together and share them. I have seen that this is a practice which is very much required and we will keep it on.
And what is the downside of online calls?
It just happens too fast that you have too many calls. When you are not traveling and you don't have any onsite meetings you suddenly find yourself starting at eight o'clock and you finish at nine o'clock in the evening and you did nothing but calls all day. The lesson is: You must evaluate which of these calls are really required. Combine them, get free time to be in the field and to spend time with the customers. You can do that digitally very well. In fact, this is when digital tools and platforms really start to shine: When you reach out to customers and utilize the tools for online-marketing.
How do you do that?
Earlier, our marketing meant putting our customers on stage explaining how they have gained business benefits by implementing one of our solutions. Now, instead of having these on-site events, we take a company which is one of our customers and we know that their CTO is happy. Then we invite that happy CTO and five potential customers who are interested in the same product and simply host a 30 minutes call with them so they can talk to each other. Easy to plan, easy to execute. This is another good thing that we definitely need to keep on having in the future.
We used to travel to the maximum, that decreased our productivity. We need to re-evaluate which decisions and which meetings need to be taken on-site, and which can take place virtually.
Looking into the near future: Do you have a vision for your organization in the post-COVID-19 time?
First: Let's put our employees and customers at the center of what we are doing. Reduce unnecessary internal work if it doesn't really bring any additional values. I hope that that will be a mindset of all of the employees who are working here in the Nordics.
Then, true for our organization, possible for others as well: We used to travel to the maximum, that decreased our productivity. We need to re-evaluate which decisions and which meetings need to be taken on-site, and which can take place virtually. When you keep on traveling, you are not available – even when you should.