Three Things I Learned from the Coronavirus Crisis That Will Make Companies Stronger
No one likes to experience a crisis. It disrupts lives and economies. It shakes public confidence. It makes us wonder about our future. And in the case of the coronavirus, it raises concerns about our health and well-being.
At the same time, out of necessity, difficult times can also trigger new thinking and ways of doing things. Enterprises around the world have been forced to rethink how they can meet the needs of their customers and employees while millions of people now find themselves in self-imposed isolation.
The current pandemic enables companies to rethink how they should do business, especially us. We are proud that our global network is helping keep people connected and feel less isolated. COVID 19 challenged us to provide levels of data capacity that might have seemed unimaginable only a few years ago. More importantly, we are taking steps now that will allow us to exit this crisis a better company than when we entered.
We have all been part of an unprecedented learning experience, and in most cases, the best teachers have been the customers themselves. Let me share what lessons we have learned from the operational side of the CenturyLink Family.
Trust your gut during a crisis—In the early stages of the pandemic, we had to make a critical choice between rigidly following established processes or meeting customer needs. Over the decades, we had developed rules and policies as safeguards, but they were getting in the way of our ability to deliver network augmentations for customers at the speed they demanded. Organizations of all kinds—from governments to Fortune 100 companies—depended upon us to find a way to meet the extraordinary task of moving hundreds of thousands of employees into remote work environments.
So, our operational teams began to follow their intuition, prioritized ordering and billing policies that truly made sense, and managed to compress what used to take weeks into hours and days. We often complain about how bureaucracy and burdensome rules can hamper our ability to meet customer needs quickly. This crisis offered us an opportunity to make radical changes that will allow us to remain nimble into the future.
Safety will become part of every business plan—The coronavirus has raised new concerns about how we keep both our employees and customers safe. Successful companies will figure out how to make their commitment to safety a business advantage rather than just a cost of doing business. For instance, the pandemic accelerated CenturyLink’s own efforts to encourage consumers to play a greater role in the installation process. Our technician’s need to enter homes is now minimized, thus increasing safety for themselves and our customers. We deliver the equipment with easy-to-follow instructions facilitating the homeowner’s ability to manage installations on a schedule that is convenient to them. For enterprise customers, we have deployed a number of smart, automated tools that allow them to monitor and manage their capacity needs independently. Customers like being in control, and we are delivering, while keeping the safety of our customers and our employees top of mind.
Adversity drives cultural bonding—Large enterprises usually organize their employees by areas of functional expertise, and that naturally leads to silos. It’s not always easy to find a way to establish horizontal relationships across these silos to ensure everyone is on the same page (such as how do we put our customers first). A crisis blows away these silos, as everyone rallies to address common issues. Management empowers employees to use their perspectives to find solutions. People start “problem-solving” with each other, and technicians, salespeople and IT folks begin to see first-hand how their individual activities interconnect. You can see trust and pride develop into true cultural bonds, and these bonds drive stronger employee engagement. When business requirements become more routine, challenge will be to make sure we don’t backslide into old habits, but instead take advantage of the agile work environment now in place.
John F. Kennedy once gave a speech in which he claimed the Chinese word for “crisis” is written with two brush strokes that represent two other words – “danger” and “opportunity.” Chinese scholars quickly pointed out that Kennedy’s interpretation was wrong, but the point he wanted to make was pretty sound, especially today. It’s easy to recognize how today’s pandemic poses dangers to people, to society and to business. The secret is finding the hidden opportunities that will help us all emerge stronger than before.
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