Resilient leadership during Coronavirus

Resilient leadership during Coronavirus

As a manufacturer in an economic environment like Australia, Integra Systems is no stranger to successfully navigating crises. Granted, the world hasn’t seen anything like this pandemic since the early 20th century but the team at Integra is applying what they’ve learned in overcoming previous challenges to position themselves firstly for (a) survival, and (b) growth in a post-COVID-19 world.

Professional services and global consulting firm Deloitte recently published a study – The heart of resilient leadership: Responding to COVID-19 – into what effective leadership looks like in a crisis. With the focus of the study being resilient leadership, Integra’s leaders, Paul and Erika Hughes, talk about how their organisation is meeting Deloitte’s benchmarks for resilient leadership in the context of COVID-19. 

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MISSION FIRST: Stabilise today and harness both the energy and the constraints of volatile conditions to spark innovation tomorrow.

The Integra team is using the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to emerge stronger on a number of fronts. One of the key strategies of Integra has been to use what otherwise would become a bit of downtime for an informal internal review; an opportunity to prepare, refine and then “plough ahead” – as Paul describes it – with their own development.

“There's an underlying mission to really enhance our positioning, so that Integra’s in a really good position when we come out the other side," says Paul.

“We're talking with our people about how we move forward through this,” adds Erika. "What we've been talking to our team about is our mission as a company to provide cutting-edge and innovative design services. For us, it's all about harnessing that – reshaping the way we're delivering our services.”

The principles of Industry 4.0 have also played a significant role in Integra’s quest to turn the present crisis into an opportunity for the organisation. Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, Integra had already been working on some Industry 4.0 initiatives within the factory, such as connecting machines together and leveraging real-time data through real-time monitoring.

“We realised that there are lots of parallels with what we're doing in-house with Industry 4.0 connectivity, to what might be required in external applications as well,” says Paul. “We have effectively created an in-house touch screen kiosk system that links our drawings, our machines, our ERP systems – all our internal data – into a single user interface."

SPEED OVER ELEGANCE: Decisive action with courage.

Recognising that Integra’s output would take a hit from COVID-19, Paul and Erika immediately initiated a top-down review, which involved brainstorming ideas for where to focus energies in a rapidly changing landscape.

“We assembled team members from production and from design, and had a really good spread of viewpoints,” explains Paul. “We looked at different markets that we could apply our technology to, and targeted some growth areas. So, again, while the external production has taken a bit of a hit, we're really ploughing ahead with our own developments.”

As well as taking the temperature of every aspect of their organisation, Erika believes roundtable meetings and business development plans have demonstrated to staff that Integra is powering forth, despite external threats.

“Our team knows that we've been through some really tough times in the past,” says Erika. “They know we've got through those tough times, so they trust that the decisions we're making now – the investments we're making now – will pay off long-term, even though there's nothing set in stone. We're the ones taking the risk and we're being brave and getting in there, boots and all, at a time when a lot of people are backing off.”

“I think that investment in ourselves and our development, and also investment in new equipment, new processes, continuing to do that while things were starting to go pear-shaped around us is really inspiring for our people,” adds Paul.

DESIGN FROM THE HEART: Seek and reinforce solutions that align to your purpose, your societal obligations and serve the heart of the organisation.

Erika and Paul believe that keeping the team together, and not instantly looking to furlough staff, has been a concrete demonstration to their employees, their customers and the wider community that they have everyone’s best interests at heart. They believe that doing what they can to provide job security for their team employees has a number of important economic and social benefits.

As well as these priorities, they also place a premium on positive mental health. Erika makes a point of noting that a positive frame of mind facilitates the kind of inspirational and innovative design that’s become synonymous with Integra.

"We don't want anybody to feel they are less valued,” Erika admits. “We want them to come into an environment that's supportive and stimulating. We want them to have good, strong mental health.” 

From the customer perspective, constant communication has been the order of the day. As Paul explains, "We’re reinforcing the fact that we're all in it together. We’re continually talking with our customers and suppliers to get their thoughts and empathising with their situation, listening to their concerns about their health and their family’s health.”

“It’s important that we keep things running for the business,” concludes Paul. “But it's important that everyone's health and their families are all good."

EMBRACE THE LONG VIEW: Stay focused on what’s on the horizon to instil confidence and steadiness across your ecosystem.

COVID-19 has seen the closure of a number of global borders, leading to a scarcity of manufacturing imports into Australia. It’s a position that Erika and Paul have been active in warning the industry about for a number of years – well before COVID-19 impacted the global economy – and, consequently, have been positioning Integra accordingly.

“We have long argued that Australia needed to be a lot more self-sufficient, build our sovereign capability, and reduce our exposure to overseas markets,” explains Paul. “That's been our mantra for many years now, so we haven't changed anything in what we've been about. [COVID-19 is] reinforcing that.”

“For a long time, we have felt like we have been swimming against the stream. And now we feel like the stream's starting to go in our direction," says Paul.

“All of a sudden, people are starting to see what we have been talking about all these years – about agility, speed to market, import replacement through relentless innovation, rapid change and maintaining competitive advantage,” adds Erika. “That way, we’re helping our customers have a competitive advantage.”

“For once, we're actually in that sweet spot. We've never been there before, because we've always been the ones trying to push the message that this is the way the country should operate – and now we're here! So, we're working with customers on new product development. We know they're not in a position to move forward with a lot of the ideas they've got but we also know, through collaborative relationships we have with these clients, if we invest in them now, they’ll be on the front foot when the time is right.”

OWN YOUR NARRATIVE: Paint a picture of a compelling future and a path forward that your stakeholders can support and rally around.

Regular briefings with staff and talking about what’s happening in the global economy has been an important factor in combating misinformation and rumour at Integra.

“We're talking to them about what's happening on a global basis, and about a global recession and what that means for us,” says Erika. “Because we’ve focused on agility, we hope to be able to invest in the way we operate, invest in our people, and invest in market opportunities that are going to make the company stronger. So that's part of just trying to keep a lid on that boiling pot – the boiling pot of misinformation and rumour.”

External news has helped fill the void at Integra. As Paul explains, “We also shared good news stories from our customers and suppliers. I'd get on the phone some mornings on the way to work with customers to check in to see how they were going. They'd pass on really good news, and I’d pass that onto the team.”

“Our Production Manager, Sanjay Babu Jeyachandran, has been doing a fantastic job of really focusing on the job at hand,” Paul continues. “He’s an example of come to work, get stuck into it, enjoy it – focus on the job at hand and job security.”

Looking into the crystal ball…

Everyone is still contemplating what a future after COVID-19 might look like. Who will be the survivors? Who will be the thrivers? And who will disappear in the aftermath of the pandemic?

The team at Integra knows they’re here to stay but, as mainstays of Australia’s rapidly changing manufacturing landscape, they also know the market will look quite different in the post-COVID-19 era.

Harnessing these changes, strengthening their business model, and engaging the energy and agility of their team will be critical, while still keeping their values front and centre. Same same, but different.

Join with Integra to Make Your Vision Real. Speak with us today.

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON May 01 2020
Written by Emma Westwood