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Q&A with Leaders 4th May 2020 4 minutes read
One of the most gratifying elements of my career in executive search is speaking with so many individuals, across a broad range of sectors and business types, and learning about their key business drivers and challenges. Never has that been more apparent than over the last few weeks.
We have had an open ear to the personal and company-wide challenges that so many of you are facing and have been heartened by the pragmatism and determination that has been prevalent. And while certain sectors are currently in full ‘head down’ mode, without the latitude to think about how others are reacting to the maelstrom, we have been able to do exactly that; listen, observe and share.
I am therefore pleased to share with you the first, in what I hope will become a series, of Q&A’s with leaders, exploring the steps that organisations are taking to proactively overcome their sector challenges.
2020 is set to become a defining year on many levels, for some incredible challenge and for others opportunity and new ways of working. The secret is how we adapt, learn and prepare for the future. In our first Q&A with Chief Financial Officer, Michael Kennedy, we learn how Bidvest Noonan is doing just that.
Chief Financial Officer
Who are Bidvest Noonan?
Bidvest Noonan operates in the facilities management sector, providing cleaning, security, technical, and ancillary services to a wide range of public and private sector clients (covering healthcare, education, retail, property management, corporate, life sciences, agrifoods, and government) across the UK and Ireland. We have a diverse team of 20,000 people generating revenues of approximately €450m.
How was the business structured pre COVID-19 and what has been your response to the changes it has forced you to address?
The business has four business units focused on sectors and service lines. In early March we put together a COVID-19 Response Team consisting of 40 or so senior managers from across the business on daily update calls. It very soon became clear that this crisis would have far-reaching implications from the safety of our people through to existential threats to our client base.
Within a week of setting up the Response Team, we transformed it from being a risk and compliance-led exercise, to a new way of running our business. We implemented executive-led cross-functional workstreams that focused on Resolve (taking care of our people), Resilience (commercial, supply chain, and financial impact), Return (bouncing back), and Reimagination (adapting to the new reality). These workstreams meet daily, are semi-autonomous, have a diverse skill set and are given priority over the traditional org structure. As we moved through the crisis this has served us well and allowed us to focus, adapt, and make quick decisions.
How has that impacted your views on workforce planning, your values and your organisational structure?
Our response to the crisis has been rooted in our credo (people first, the basics, earn trust, adaptive and agile, social care, imagination) and driven by the COVID-19 Response Team. Workforce planning has been one of our greatest challenges as some sectors have shut down completely whilst others have seen a surge in demand. We have had to navigate the challenges of managing large numbers of self-isolations, furloughing our people where their sector has been shut down, and maintaining the safety of our front-line people who are doing an amazing job.
Our Resolve workstream has been heavily focused on internal communications for topics ranging from safety SOPs to remote working support. We have run a resilience webinar for our senior managers and have a daily check in routine with our remote workers to identify stress and encourage downtime. Our Return workstream is busy planning how we re-mobilise and we have tried to keep front-line and middle managers on board and not furloughed as these are our key people for getting back on track as we exit lockdown.
What has been the role of finance in this period of change and how does it operate differently than it did before COVID-19?
The core focus of the finance team has been around financial and regulatory challenges. Weeks of constantly changing client situations and the evolving government response to the crisis and business support initiatives has meant that real-time forecasting has become paramount. This has required a renewed focus on business partnering to access the real-time changing landscape. We are running daily revenue, EBIT and cash forecast reviews through our Resilience workstream. This has allowed the executive team to make quick and decisive decisions. Other functions that report to me have been embedded in the new workstreams with IT, shared services, and procurement being heavily relied upon to keep the show on the road.
How has this period of extreme challenge and change made you think about key skills sets needed for your teams after this has stabilised and your views on Talent attraction?
As with all crisis management situations, talent rises to the top. Our people have certainly needed to be adaptive and agile. I think it has reinforced our view that, now more than ever, our credo engenders the key skill sets we need to thrive as an organisation. Our credo must be the benchmark by which we attract and manage talent. The war for talent is constant, and we need to demonstrate that we live our credo in order to attract the best.
In summary what have you learnt, what improvements have you made that you will retain and how your credo values have assisted you to navigate the transformation?
I think we have learnt a tremendous amount about organisational effectiveness as the COVID-19 Response Team evolved and found its feet. By effectively ripping up the org chart, we now have a more adaptive and agile way of managing the business, anchored in putting people first and getting the basics right. We can’t lose this by reverting to business as usual as we move into the new world.