Change, connection and compassion in a crisis

Change, connection and compassion in a crisis

April 22, 2020

It is a truth well known that change takes time. Except in case of emergency. And so, here we are in the age of COVID-19 and what may be the most transformative working experience we ever know.

Anxiety inducing and stressful though it is, when it comes to improving diversity and inclusion and flexible working practices, Lion Australia’s People and Culture Director, Margherita Maini’s description of COVID-19 as a “beautiful storm” for workplaces has resonance.

“We have had to shift very quickly to a place where culturally we can move faster, be more decisive and break down silos," she says. "We have been forced to think differently, to do things differently and to prioritise differently.”

Like all in the industry, the executive team at Lion has worked intensely and urgently these past weeks to pull pandemic protocols into place, re-deploy employees to areas where they are needed and set up as many employees as possible to work from home, upskilling people to adopt and adapt to new technologies extremely quickly.

Michelle Pelizzari and Danielle Beale

Michelle Pelizzari, Customer Director, Coles Liquor Group (pictured above with Amatil's Danielle Beale) adds: “This is an exercise in building trust within the team and across the entire business. We are seeing that people want to go the extra mile. They want to support and deliver more for the business.”

For Michelle, this moment of crisis and change has revealed an enormous willingness for people to support each other right across the business. Team building has never been better.

One of Lion’s first responses to bars and restaurants being shut down was to credit on-premise customers nationwide for the 85,000 untapped kegs sitting in venues. It was a huge operational task that had to be implemented very quickly. Lion employees from all different teams quickly unified to make it happen, with the primary vision being to ease some of the pain for their on-premise customers.

Danielle Beale, National Business Manager at Coca Cola Amatil, describes a similar experience: “So far in our Australian business we’ve implemented flexible working adjustments, including actively redeploying our people across sales channels and functions to ensure we can continue to service our customers and keep our people productively engaged in meaningful ways throughout this uncertain time.

“For example, we’ve redeployed 250 State Immediate Consumption field team members into our Grocery channel. Retailer feedback has been very positive, and we’ve seen great collaboration and enhanced learning across the teams. So many of the salesforce have stepped out of their comfort zones, it’s brought huge benefits including fresh ideas, innovation and employee development opportunities. Individual networks have been broadened and there is a new appreciation for other channels and between teams, and I think a gratitude for the support we’ve received from Amatil, and the opportunity to be part of building a stronger Amatil for tomorrow.”

Five weeks on, with responses to the crisis in place, the mood and pace is now settling into a new rhythm. However, connection and communication remain of paramount importance during this time of change, especially when it comes to the more vulnerable members of the workforce like those who are older, unwell or living on their own.

From a team management perspective, Michelle says that this involves balancing long and short-term business goals, staying connected, communicating often and being compassionate for all individuals and their particular domestic situations. This way, hopefully anxiety and fear of the unknown can be kept at bay, one day at a time.

With her team of 16, Michelle sets objectives for the week every Monday morning over a virtual coffee. They also take the opportunity to discuss each person’s working capacity for the week, consider the priorities and how the team can support each other. The team celebrate again at the end of the week with a Thursday afternoon catch up. Lion also runs weekly virtual capability sessions on topics like hope, optimism and resilience.

Michelle says: “We have to trust our teams more than ever before. Let’s be honest: nobody is sitting at their computer 24/7. This is an opportunity to ask what flexibility looks like. What is stopping us from trusting our people to deliver outcomes?”

Surely there can be no further doubt that working and meeting remotely are effective and productive ways to do business.

Christian Campanella

While many larger organisations have long been set up to support a remote workforce, Christian Campanella, HR, Communications and S&R Director at Pernod Ricard (above), observes that for smaller organisations, it is a forced challenge.

Indeed, in times of crisis, we get to see the very best of ourselves and our colleagues. We get to see just how crucial a sense of purpose and action in crisis is. And importantly, we also get to see just how quickly change can happen when crisis calls for it.

It is the lessons that we take from this extraordinary time which are the chapters we are yet to see unfold. Just how much of a transformative opportunity when it comes to diversity, inclusion and flexible working practices will COVID-19 prove to be?

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