Our latest webinar, titled “Risk and Resilience: Ingredients for Innovation,” we asked business leaders how resilient, innovative culture enables organizations to more easily navigate fast-changing market conditions and manage disruptions. The panelists included:
- Michelle Goldman, SVP of HR at Verizon
- Dr. Kim Fleming, SVP & People Strategy Executive at Truist
- Dr. Stacy Campbell, Professor of Management at Kennesaw State University
- Nelson Derry, Expert Practitioner, North Highland
How has the pandemic impacted operations at Verizon and how have you had to adjust from the challenges of the pandemic?
Michelle: When the pandemic hit, our first priority was balancing employee health and safety – providing critical connectivity with products services and support for our customers. With our call center employees, we quickly shifted to a work from home model. Within 10 business days, we had close to 100 percent of call center-based employees taking calls from their homes. However, the retail space was a different story. With shelter in place and stay at home orders, we decided to close more than 70 percent of retail stores and limit retail staffing to essential staffing model that complied with Social Distancing requirements. This left us with about 16,000 retail employees sitting at home with no work. Instead of furlough or layoffs, we decided to try something new and created a program called Retail Redeployment. We surveyed those employees to identify their preferences and then reassigned them to new temporary assignments where we could leverage their skills and knowledge, and upskill their training to operate in a new environment. This approach has been so successful that we’ve seen many employees reach out and ask if they could make their temporary role a permanent position. Our leaders were willing to take a chance and challenge the norm by retraining 10,000 employees. We never thought the shift could happen so quickly. Leaders and employees had to be flexible to help our customers. Because of this, our customers haven’t missed a beat throughout the pandemic.
What about at Truist? You were already headlong into the merger between SunTrust and BB&T when COVID-19 hit. What has your journey been like? How are you dealing with resilience?
Kim: The heritage Banks of BB&T and SunTrust came together in December to form Truist Financial Corp. We were newly off the merger and headfirst for client integration and planning client day 1 when COVID-19 hit. We were two independent banks that came together and became the sixth largest bank. We had already rolled out our purpose, mission and values. Our teammates were able to use them to rally around the purpose and goal that was in front of us. We put our purpose, mission and value at the center of the decisions we were already making as bringing the two companies together – now the energy was fueled into how we solved problems and challenges with the pandemic. We put clients, teammates and communities at the center of our decisions. We moved teams to work remotely, figuring new ways to operate our branches and operations. We made new decisions and programs to offer clients and teammates communities during this time.
What is unique about financial services in this period is the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program. This provided an opportunity for our teammates to come together faster than they would have done without the pandemic, because we had to build a new platform to originate loans and to serve our business clients. Leaders were able to evolve and quickly meet the needs of clients. One aspect that helped this evolve is that we already had a cross functional team working together as we came through the merger. There was great diversity of ideas at the table. Now there was a new challenge in front the team. We had people lean into new roles that they haven’t done prior, as volume of work increased. Ultimately, leadership and diversity were critical in advancing us along the path.
How have shared events like COVID-19 amplified collaboration and improved levels of resilience?
Stacy: COVID-19 is not like anything we’ve seen or prepared for before. We used to look at Agile changes like flying an airplane – you made changes while you were in air. But If you are leading an organization today, it’s different. The plane is in the sky and you are building the plane while it’s in the air. The pandemic forced everyone to collaborate and to make changes quickly.
We don’t know if it’s going to work or not – but people are showing they aren’t giving up, they’re being persistent and resilient. That’s how we will survive. When we look at organizations who aren’t able to come together and collaborate, they will not survive and they won’t be around after the pandemic. Truist & Verizon are great examples of companies who responded, restored and are thriving. What we are seeing is this shared event has pushed us to be resilient. Today I am a professor at a university. For the past several years, I’ve never had to look at the fall semester to think “what will fall look like?” but this year is very different. For higher education, COVID-19 has forced us to work together. Faculty, staff and students have to work together and figure out how we will adapt and change - and do it quickly. This is impacting all industries.
What role can leaders play in cultivating a culture of innovation/creativity in their teams?
Nelson: Creating an environment where individuals and team members can feel psychologically safe is one of the most important things leaders can do to unlock full creative potential of their teams. This is about creating a work climate where individuals feel and believe it is valued to speak up with work relevant ideas, ask questions or feel able to constructively challenge. What happens in environments with low levels of psych safety? If you have a brilliant idea and you’re 80 percent sure others will also think it’s a brilliant idea, you’re likely to speak up. But if you’re only are 20 percent sure that people may like your idea, in an environment of low psych safety, chances are you are more hesitant, you will size up the implications and the likelihood is you’ll hold back from saying anything at all. There are four practical ways leaders can help bring psychological safety to their teams:
- Replace skepticism with curiosity. Important leaders adopt and develop a curious mindset: having the situational humility to recognize that leaders don’t always have the answers and signal that to their team. Leaders need all perspectives and ideas from their team to solve challenges.
- Encourage dissenting perspectives. Leaders should surround themselves with employees who are willing to debate with you and constructively challenge each other
- Be intentional about your role in the creativity process. As the most senior person in the room, leaders feel compelled to do the majority of talking in team meetings, but consistently being most dominate voice in room can create unintentional effects of stifling conversation –creating a mirroring effect. As a result, team members consciously or subconsciously gravitate to most senior person. What that creates is defaulting to agreeing to that individual or not feeling safe to challenge or not feeling safe enough or offer a different perspective.
- Reinsuring all ideas are heard and evaluated equally. Susan Cain once said, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” What you’ll find is when solving problems, teams default to brainstorming. Often 80 percent of ideas get generated from 20 percent of the room. Given today’s environment, working remotely, this issue can get more compounded. Think of an alternative way to exchange and create ideas. For example, get all team members to write ideas on a card anonymously. These cards can go on a virtual or physical wall. Take time to discuss each ideas, come up with pros and cons of the ideas.
In summary, creating more psychological safety with team is a great unlock for innovation and creativity.
What is the most important part of developing resilience – especially people resilience?
Michelle: It’s about empathetic leadership. More importantly, it’s making sure that leaders are trained on empathetic leadership because it’s not necessarily innate. This means showing what it means to be an empathetic leader and giving leaders the opportunity to hone that skill. This is what creates an environment of psychological safety - and making sure leaders are equipped to lead that culture.
Kim: The most important aspect of developing resilience is creating more opportunities for experimentation and learning. It’s about running toward challenges, failing fast, quick iterations and learning.
Stacy: It's your health - your physical, mental social health. You must focus on having a healthy lifestyle in order to be resilient.
Nelson: Having a healthy relationship with failure. It's ok to fail. Failure is recognized and rewarded when you can iterate and learn in a psychologically safe environment.
Interested in learning more? Click here to watch the full webinar recording and find out more insights about how leaders can instill resilience and foster innovation linked to thinking from our latest e-book.