Leadership In A Time Of COVID: An Interview With Hisense Mexico
We recently caught up with Mauricio Silis, HR & GMO Director, Hisense Mexico to find out what impact COVID-19 has had on Hisense Mexico, and the leadership challenges they have faced during the pandemic.
How has the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic impacted Hisense Mexico?
It is a unique moment in time for sure. Even though we faced a swine flu epidemic in 2009, this crisis has been of very different proportions. We are following many recommendations that we received back in 2009. We will perhaps keep in mind these practices forever now, not just for a short period, or epidemic situation. We have all had to redesign our daily working lives all around the world, and because of what we went through with the Swine flu, we had already learned how to do this to an extent.
We were also fortunate to have seen how our Headquarters in China handled the situation; they faced a huge challenge there; everything stopped there very quickly – so in a sense, we knew what might be coming and that it might change every part of how we work.
How did you respond to this situation both personally and corporately?
Our first priority, both inside and outside of the company, was health – keeping our people safe was paramount. So immediately we began to adapt our office. As soon as our Chinese colleagues started facing severe problems, we began to make some changes in our offices and to communicate with people and take specific measures to keep people safe. As a company, we also decided to be cautious, making sure that we had a stock of all the supplies we need for our health prevention.
We also started our "home working" policy earlier than many Mexican companies, which helped us a lot. We had enough time to prepare everything and start creating a certain culture in our company to combat COVID-19.
The economic situation and our performance were also critical; we very quickly worked to reduce costs and renegotiate with certain landlords, suppliers and customer service providers. On the other hand, we also received the same sort of requests from our customers; they asked for extended periods of credit and cut certain purchase orders. Everyone was scared; they wanted to avoid having a huge amount of stock in their warehouses, as did we. So for that reason, we were very conservative in terms of economy.
Communication was hugely important too. We trained our staff on how to behave in a pandemic. We let everyone know that homeworking was the best solution for many people. Again we were lucky that due to our HQ being ahead of us in terms of the pandemic, we had made sure that our infrastructure and IT systems could support employees working from home and that our security was up to the job.
Another huge part of our response was updating our e-commerce. In Mexico, we are still beginners in terms of e-commerce, so it was a steep learning curve for us – but we managed! We feel very privileged that we have not stopped our operation and managed to adapt to the new way of life.
What do you consider were your top three leadership challenges during this pandemic?
First of all – Connectivity. Getting everyone working on a remote basis was a challenge. We didn't know how the infrastructure in Mexico. Fortunately, our IT people deployed an essential implementation to give us adequate tools for working from home.
Secondly - Connecting with leaders on a remote basis. Managing from afar is a new skill for many of us. When we moved our people back home, we had to change how we work, report, and engage with our customers and service providers. It was undoubtedly a challenge! We set very clear objectives and set up different assessments for performance, but also we had to all learn to adjust our expectations – everyone was learning. It was also vital for us to share our experience with our fellow managers and directors in managing this way.
Thirdly - Business continuity. Mexico is a country that suffers a lot of earthquakes and hurricanes, so civil protection activity is something significant in our country. We have built our company in a way that is adaptable to these kinds of events. We have to be prepared for if we all have to hide out for some time.
Honestly, no business continuity plan could match the current circumstances and experiences we are facing. We had to build new strategies to deal with this. Sometimes we were assisted by specialists. Sometimes we were following instructions from the government. Sometimes we exchanged information with other companies and tried to create a model that could fit with Hisense. We had to be fast and creative and keep in mind that we were all human beings at the end of the day.
Did you draw inspiration from other leaders, corporations, or partners in their responses to COVID-19?
I would say that we did draw from many sources, all across the world. After all, this is not a local issue. This is a worldwide issue. We took recommendations in terms of infrastructure, in terms of supplies, and in terms of how to protect people.
When our Chinese HQ went through the pandemic before the rest of the world, we sent them funds and resources to help. Ironically two and a half months later, they ended up doing the same for us. In the beginning, they sent us thermometers and almost 250,000 masks. These masks were for internal purposes and to donate for hospitals and charity organizations in Mexico and our customers.
I also used my network across the world to draw from other's experiences. I have spent 30 years in global human resources, so I am lucky to have a large network. I ensured that I was checking in with people in Asia and Europe – getting the bigger picture. They were saying: keep focused on your objectives, on how to measure those objectives, reward your people, recognize their adaptability, and keep watching your economy.
How have you been keeping your employees safe, informed and motivated?
Keeping people at home has been first and foremost. As a company, we are fortunate that much of our workforce can work remotely. But some of our team also had to be on the ground. What we have done for these people is that we have alternated the activity at our office so that everyone is not there at one time.
We have also been providing all types of supplies to our employees. And also, we have been adapting the office in accordance with the COVID19. Our total office capacity was reduced by probably 30% and the health and hygiene was a huge priority - sanitizing carpets, distance markers, division, the list was long!
The second measure that we took to keep our employees safe, informed and motivated was through open communication. We made sure that we provided informative bulletins, newsletters, messages, meetings, spots. We sent cards to employees' homes, threw virtual birthday parties, and celebrated people's achievements. Our people must know that we value them as human beings.
We even had an initiative where we sent out coin boxes for folks to save money, board games and some chocolates for their kids who have also been stuck at home. And also we put some tickets to watch films to watch movies online. We wanted to make sure that they knew that Hisense valued them and their families.
How are you managing your leadership team?
As I mentioned before, taking the pulse of the employees very important. Sometimes I just called, to say like the song, “to say we love you” rather than only to discuss our work challenges. These calls allowed people a forum to talk about their challenges and to keep boosting their morale. We have made sure to create a supportive new culture.
The optimal infrastructure is also critical. If people start to face problems with a mobile phone system or with applications, they start to feel that’s not what we want. So we tried to ensure that we had not only robust technology but also good support on hand.
We have also been conscious to be more tolerant, many have not only a home office, but we have a home school going on – so we have been more flexible with when people work and with interruptions.
We are all having to be very conscious in general. Keeping focused on economics, in terms of political issues, digital issues, health issues, and social issues. It’s a lot to deal with, but we must keep our eyes open and keep adapting.
How do you see the next 12 months for Hisense, and how different might it be?
We will need to balance the collaborator experience and maintain an efficient company in terms of process and cost. We have to look forward. We have to keep on balance. We will look continue to work to keep our talent motivated.
We are looking toward the future. For instance, it’s very possible that moving forward credit cards may be replaced to an extent with QR codes, so we are looking to digitalize in ways like utilizing QR codes.
We will continue to implement flex time and part-time work. It’s essential to recreate our employee experience in a way that works for the times. Part of this will be continuous training and contact. And, of course, our leaders will need to continue to be resilient.
Finally, we need to be very mindful of discrimination, if one of our people (or a member of their family) suffers directly from COVID-19 there must be no discrimination. We must support them and continue to create a culture where our employees can thrive.
What is your advice to leaders of other businesses at this time?
I think sharing is hugely important; let's support our economies by talking with our fellow business leaders about what is working for us to keep our companies going through this period. Keep thinking about assessments, about your roles and responsibilities. Take the pulse of your employees and organization – ask them what is working and what is not.
Keep flexible, keep adapting, and keep caring.
Mauricio Silis is the HR & GMO Director of Hisense Mexico. He previously worked for the Samsung Group for 27 years, eight years at Samsung Corporation and 19 years at Samsung Electronics Mexico. Mauricio joined Hisense Mexico in 2018.
Hisense, a high-tech company and sponsor of UEFA EURO 2020, was founded in China in 1969. It is one of the leading international manufacturers of flat- screen TVs, household appliances (refrigerators / freezers, washing machines, stoves, ovens and dishwashers) as well such as air conditioning and climate control equipment, mobile devices and entertainment electronics.
Hisense has 54 subsidiaries worldwide, strategically distributed around the world, with the ability to distribute its products to more than 160 countries. Hisense's production is carried out in 14 plants, the largest outside of China is in Mexico, which allows it to meet needs and be within immediate reach.
Hisense continually invests in research and technological development. Thanks to an international team of around 75,000 employees, the company carries out its goal: to make Hisense a leading brand worldwide. To do this, Hisense has more than 14 production centers and 12 R&D centers worldwide, as well as subsidiaries in Europe, North America, Australia, Africa and Southeast Asia.