We spoke with Joanna Swash, CEO of Moneypenny about her thoughts on leadership during the current pandemic crisis.
Moneypenny handles 20 million calls and chats on behalf over more than 21,000 clients in both the UK and US. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread we received a surge in enquiries about remote communications services as companies across multiple industry sectors tried to adjust to their staff having to work from home, or to their premises being closed with no-one to handle customer calls. Since then we have been working in partnership with our clients to prepare for the post-COVID economy.
Our business model follows three states of activity: thriving, growing and surviving. Before lockdown Moneypenny had always operated in ‘thrive’ mode, so we had to shift to ‘survive’ very rapidly. Challenge one was to arrange for our 1,000 employees to work from home. Challenge two was providing brilliant support for our clients including the introduction of short-term contracts and introducing innovative new products and services to help companies transition to the requirements of home-working such as offering our digital switchboard services for free for 3 months to help clients manage high call volumes and the shift of their employees to home working which uses AI voice technology to route the call correctly through to mobiles. We have also launched new self screening bots for clients to help them get their businesses back on their feet as well as introducing a number of new integration tools, including Microsoft Teams so the Moneypenny PA’s have access to clients status so they know when to transfer calls to their mobile or landline and when to take a message.
That’s all well and good on the practical side but how do you manage to lead compassionately in a crisis and empower your teams as this can be the difference between success and failure.
Culture has always been very much at the heart of Moneypenny and we have always maintained a very authentic, honest and open two-way communication approach with our employees and compassionate leadership is in the very make up of how we operate.
Early on at the start of the pandemic, we made the decision to keep everyone informed of the developing situation and impact of the virus as soon as we knew it. We shared good news of great customer feedback, bad news as the lockdown caused some customers call volumes to drop. Our strategy was to lead from the front, posting video updates whenever there was news, sharing the facts and our feelings.
To be a leader at Moneypenny we believe that people must have the necessary empathy to inspire understanding and knowledge in team members. Empathy is key. It opens doors and removes confusion. When people are open, you can be more creative in solving problems in ways that drive productivity and long-term success. As a CEO it is hugely important to surround yourself with brilliant people who are full of ideas that can enhance your skills and knowledge to lead even more effectively.
As an example, we make sure everyone knows why other are on a team and the value they add. We also ensure that people know how to communicate with others of a different mindset in a positive way – it is crucial not to let conflict fester. It is important to watch people in action but never to undermine them in front of a group. Tackle it offline and feed back later.
Empathy is crucial externally as well as being able to stand in your customers shoes. So many of our clients have been so grateful for our approach to payments during this pandemic. Not only, we feel it is the right thing to do but it also creates loyalty and trust.
Empower teams to make mistakes and put aside anything that would hold them back. Only by being brave and bold will people be able to come up with powerful and effective ideas.
Don’t pretend you know everything. Being honest and open is key as is being authentic and delivering on your promises. Be very clear if you have to make tough decisions though and tell people why. Find out what has worked for other people leading other businesses and adapt that to yours. And trust your gut feel, take time to listen to it.
None of us has a crystal ball. Get everyone involved as many opinions from a diverse group of people will give the best result. A mix of positive and negative. Give them something to buy into to, explain to them what the world will look like if you don’t achieve them. Be honest and have a baseline plan to overachieve against (delivers confidence and a euphoric feeling!) and another plan that’s a bit of a stretch.
Give your employees the confidence in failure. This is so important. It doesn’t matter if they fail on a project as long as they learn. Make them feel safe and secure but let them know how you feel. While making measurable and achievable goals, never be afraid to DREAM BIG. Give people the permission to think big and to rip up the rule book and be creative. but make sure you remind them first of the key principles of how the business operates and what is important.
Ensure employees know 100% that they are trusted to do the right thing and leave them to do a brilliant job. Empower those same people who are driving the business to focus on creating efficiencies at the same time. They’ll step up to the mark.
And don’t forget about making life work for everyone. I have always drawn a big circle in the air and said to people, ‘it doesn’t matter how you do it, it’s all in your circle. You need to be flexible and make it work’. This ethos has stood me in good stead through this crisis. My team knows that I trust them and there is no guilt.