While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruption to businesses around the world, the challenges it’s created have forced leaders to sharpen their business agility—and that’s a good thing, said executives from organizations in the Asia Pacific who participated in our digital event, Conversations for a Changing World.
“There's a great saying: ‘Don't waste a crisis,’” said Penny Lovett, chief human resources officer of The Salvation Army Australia. “And I think being a charitable organization, The Salvation Army is really good at dealing with a crisis, and this has stood us in really good stead throughout the pandemic.”
Lovett, along with Ivan Ng, who serves as chief technology officer at Singapore-based global real estate operating company City Developments Limited (CDL), shared how their organizations were being impacted by the pandemic—and how they’ve pivoted amid challenges with an outlook to emerge stronger.
“What we're trying to do is find ways to adapt so that we’re going to be a lot more effective after COVID is over,” Ng said.
Lovett and Ng highlighted key areas where their organizations have transformed: the shift to remote operations and customer service, an increase in strategic digital investments, and strengthening employee engagement and leadership collaboration.
Like many businesses, both The Salvation Army Australia and CDL had to pivot in how they meet the needs of their customers amid the pandemic. The Salvation Army Australia shifted to online delivery of their essential services, and having employees work from home.
Through that process, parts of the organization that had invested in cloud-based technology were able to “make the shift and respond to the crisis in a very agile way,” Lovett said, and that has led to a “dramatic speed up in the adoption of technology across the organization.”
“We want to make sure that we continue to work with [customers] so that as they are coping with the uncertainties, we emerge together stronger through the crisis."Ivan Ng CTO City Developments Limited
For CDL, building trust and delivering the level of quality expected by their customers required continued investments in infrastructure and core systems. Ng cited a study about customers switching their preferred brands during the pandemic simply because their previously preferred brand wasn’t available or wasn’t engaging with them.
“We want to make sure that we continue to work with [customers] so that as they are coping with the uncertainties, we emerge together stronger through the crisis,” Ng said.
The need for strategic investments in new technologies preceded the pandemic, but COVID-19 increased the urgency. Ng said he advises his teams at CDL to evaluate technology initiatives based on two buckets: The first bucket is assessing if the initiative allows the company to save money and time, and the second is about connecting the initiative to enabling the business.
The first has been helpful to justify technology investments in, for example, cloud and automation because they both improve productivity, are scalable, and save money. For the second bucket, initiatives should aim to connect to these three pillars: growth, enhancing assets, and transforming operations.
“When we look at our technology initiatives, I tell the team we must be able to meet one of these pillars and show its impact,” Ng said. By taking that approach, his team is able to be “speaking the language” of the CFO and other business leaders by connecting the technology to a business outcome.
Many of the leaders at The Salvation Army Australia were already managing some remote workers before the pandemic. However, the pandemic required leaders to gain new skills for managing teams remotely and online. Among the unexpected benefits from the greater shift to remote work has been the increased sense of feeling “more part of a team than never before.”
“Now we have everyone using the technology in an even way, or an equal way, and it enables people to be able to contribute much more easily to the conversation,” Lovett said. “That's had a really positive impact on teams and on engagement. I think we will see that becoming part of our culture moving forward.”
A similar transformation occurred on the executive team.
“The crisis has really brought the C-suite together, and I would say enhanced the relationship significantly throughout the period,” Lovett said, adding that having “good, quality data” has helped organization leaders to come together and effectively review the challenges and come up with solutions.
“We haven't spent time debating the data,” she said. “It has meant that as a team, we've been able to appreciate the strengths that every individual has brought to the group. That has helped us to build trust as we've moved through [the pandemic], and I think we are emerging from this in a stronger position than when we went in as a team.”
Interested in hearing more from these business leaders? Watch their full session at Conversations for a Changing World.