Leadership through COVID-19 - With Ger Groot Wesseldijk.
This week we had the pleasure of speaking to Ger Groot Wesseldijk, Motion Managing Director FraBeNelux at Norgren. In the first of these "Leadership through Covid-19" articles, Ger gives us his insights on how IMI is adapting to the new business and how to navigate through a global pandemic.
IMI plc (formerly Imperial Metal Industries), is a world-leading engineering company headquartered in Birmingham, England, specialising in motion and fluid control technologies. IMI is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index. Norgren is one of three divisions alongside IMI Critical and IMI Hydronic, who produce and sell pneumatic and fluid control technologies.
The coronavirus has been a crisis like unlike any other that we have experienced. How have you responded to the situation?
A global pandemic is something we have never experienced before. The safety of our employees is always our top priority, so even before the government-led lockdowns were announced, we implemented home office arrangements for all our office-based colleagues. Through several challenges, cooperation between the local and international management was key to achieving our priorities. IMI has high standards as an employer, and we wanted to make 100% sure that our colleagues weren't put at risk in any way. Securing people in a safe environment, whether that was working in the office or from home, was our priority. We also ensured that we maintained consistent and simple communication and conversation (both daily and weekly).
What would you consider the top three leadership challenges have been during the coronavirus?
Health and safety have been our top priority, that's number one for us all. We have to make sure that our team is safe, not only physically, but mentally too. We take a great interest in motivating and engaging our people. That has been key for us at this time. What we then wanted to do was maintain strong working contact but with as much of the team as possible working from home. As a result, despite us being an international company of 11,000 people, we have had very low rates of Covid-19. Under the circumstances, we feel like we have done an excellent job.
Secondly, we have wanted to maintain business continuity. To do this, we have needed to support our ability to provide our customers with the products that they require and to keep up the best possible standard of customer relations. Maintaining customer satisfaction is key. We continually measure customer satisfaction via the Net Promoter Score, and we know that even when you have problems in your supply chain, customers appreciate it if you communicate this to them. Even though we all struggle without our usual human contact at times, keeping those lines open is key!
Thirdly, cost control is essential. We are listed on the London Stock Exchange and will have to present our facts and figures and will need to secure our margins and profits. We try to monitor our financials as well as possible, which is difficult currently, as nobody has any experience with this type of global crisis. It is tricky to predict the long term, so we are focusing on the short and medium-term at this stage.
How are you keeping your employees motivated?
Separately from Covid19 we already have a great engagement program in Europe, of which I am a leader for the FraBenelux division. We always want to make sure that our people are motivated and engaged. Of course, now there is an extra element to this as we don't see our colleagues face to face. We are trying to find a balance and maintain good relationships with our team, mostly through video meetings, which we do two or three times a week. It's crucial to have personal (one to one) contact as well as team meetings to keep everyone motivated and work through the new sets of challenges we are facing due to Covid19. We also support this with internal online training that aims to inspire people and improve specific sales skills and competences.
We have also tried to promote strong interaction between different teams. A specific example is between our field and internal sales. Usually, the field sales team is out meeting new customers, and internal sales are focused on taking care of our existing customer base. Now, these two teams are coming together to share their skills due to the new business landscape we find ourselves in. Finally, we still need to ensure that we reward our teams and celebrate top performance; France had a fantastic Net Promoter Score last quarter, so we made sure that despite everything, we celebrated their achievement.
How are you managing your management team?
Usually, I would travel weekly to one of the countries within the FraBeNeLux region to meet with the management teams face to face. Now we have bi-weekly meetings via video instead, and individual calls with members of our management team. I want us all to stay as focused, as always, on our targets, despite the difficult circumstances. Again, while remaining mindful of the challenges people might facing personally.
How are you preparing for the future?
In the short-term, it's things like how we get people back into the offices now some countries are relaxing their lockdown. How do we figure out health and safety plans for that? Who is key to get back first? We are also now offering part-time work.
Honesty is also is a massive one. We have been very honest with our customers, and they have in turn been very honest with us. We have understood and made arrangements for those who needed to figure out different payments, and they have understood if sometimes we have had delivery delays. Ultimately we just all need to be transparent.
In the medium-term, we are monitoring how the market is developing, we are trying to project the ways in which this may go and to stay on top of our game by continuing to provide quality products and services. Medium-term, we also are thinking about structure. Now more than ever we must have the right people in place. As we are more independent, since we are physically not next to one another, it's crucial that we can trust each other's abilities to do our jobs.
What advice would you give other business leaders at this time?
My one big take away from working through the 2008 financial crisis was that many businesses perhaps focused internally too much, this time I want to make sure that we keep our customers close to us on this journey, as well as my team. We have a much better chance of coming out of this together if we stay close, stay honest and support each other.