Here are a few of my lessons from lockdown. Five key ones stand out for me…
Jeff is the Cluster General Manager of Jacobs Douwe Egberts for Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Asia Developing Markets, having previously led Regional Marketing for Haagen-Dazs in Asia with General Mills and built and developed iconic global brands like Dove, Clear, Vaseline, Signal, Knorr around the world for Unilever
1. Purpose matters and anchors the organization and the team
When fundamental questions surrounding the economy, business, and jobs became the main topic of conversation, it was very easy and automatic to reassure the organization on these same topics. What I realized is that in times of uncertainty and challenge, the why behind ‘why we do things’ – our purpose – was even more important. It gave people a reason to continue working beyond just the paycheck or the quarterly target. It gave the team direction and a sense of belonging to a bigger agenda. It allowed them to play a role in the economy and the longer-term success of the company beyond the pandemic. More importantly, it gave people hope that this too shall pass.
2. Resilience will be tested
Work From Home (WFH) was the new buzzword and part of everyone’s lives, not as a new organizational mantra but as a necessary step to keep safe. And because WFH became the norm, physical, mental and psychological resilience was truly tested. Organisations under-estimate the scale of the impact WFH has. I personally felt the fatigue after months and months of working in isolation and not being able to physically meet customers, team members and stakeholders. Everyone in my team felt similar fatigue physically, mentally and emotionally so it was crucial to keep reminding them that this year was different. It was important to regularly check the pulse and energy level of every individual through surveys, small group discussions and even just asking people before starting virtual meetings how they were. We often take mental health for granted, especially in Asia. For me, Covid made me really prioritize mental health for myself and the organization as a whole, because in the end, it’s the people who make up the organization and they are the most important asset.
3. Focus on the positive
In a year of uncertainty brought about by Covid, I chose to focus on the positive. It was a way for me to energize and distract myself from things I couldn’t control. It also helped me lead the organization and provide the needed stability to keep my team focused and on-task. Watching any news bulletin, it was easy to get sucked into the doom and gloom with increasing cases, lockdowns or recessions. I couldn’t influence that, and I learned to focus on the things I could influence; to be thankful for the things I was blessed with – a great job, an industry that was surviving, and an organization that was taking care of its employees, family, friends and colleagues.
4. We’re all in this together
Beyond collaborating within just your own company, I found that strengthening relationships with agencies, JV partners and customers helped everyone survive the initial stages of the lockdown. It created a positive momentum for our own business too. Coupled with this, as a company we also chose to support charities: we donated to frontline health workers, we subscribed to government traineeship programs, we played our part. And this created a very strong feeling of pride and a sense that we were all “doing the right thing”. Everyone needed help, and by not just looking inward, it gave the whole organization a sense of being part of a larger community, helping the countries deal with this pandemic.
5. Be agile and stay the course
It seems almost like an oxymoron, but great organizations with powerful visions and focused strategies don’t need to dramatically change direction when a crisis comes. We wanted to continue growing in Asia, and that meant the ambition and strategies remained. It was the executions that had to shift with the ever-changing Covid landscape. And this is where everyone needed to adopt an agile mindset to adjust plans and tactics with lockdowns, social distancing and control measures. The funny thing is that we saw how resilient our product categories were, and that gave us even more courage to scale-up our ambition. As they say, in every crisis there is an opportunity, but you need your organization to have the agility to act on them.