Covid-19 interim report
What we have learned so far
Covid-19 interim report – What we have learned so far
Some months into Covid-19, and three Hager Group managers met for an online session to discuss the challenges and opportunities the pandemic has brought the company so far. The participants were Stéphanie Kleinmann (SK), Corporate Risk Manager, Jean-François Malleville (JFM), Group Human Resources Business Partner Director and Torsten Schulz (TS), Vice President Sales and Marketing Germany.
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. Now that we are a few months into the coronavirus crisis, do you see anything positive, any opportunities in this unexpected crisis?
Definitely. Lessons learned are always part of the crisis response process for Hager Group. Covid-19 has given us an opportunity to take stock and examine what we might have to change in our organisation and which processes to strengthen. A crisis like Covid-19 also represents an opportunity for us to reinforce our customers’ trust and our relationships with suppliers, wholesalers and other partners.
A challenging time like this is a good opportunity to test our capabilities and find where there is room for improvement. Each crisis is a good opportunity to learn about yourself. Which is particularly important given that the world may be facing increasing crises in the future.
We have kept our customers in the loop with over 500 webinars in 13 countries and more than 20,000 participants.
So, will this crisis mode really become the new normal?
We do indeed expect crises to become greater, more regular and more systemic in the future. In an interconnected world like ours, incidents in remote parts of the globe can quickly become serious for us, which is another reason why we have to improve our responsiveness.
Stéphanie Kleinmann is Hager Group Corporate Risk Manager, she is responsible for the assessment of all relevant risks to the company and related insurance.
Our traditionally strong relationships with customers helped us through this crisis.
We are currently a few months into Covid-19, how strong are our customer relationships?
My biggest lesson learned from so far was that we had underestimated the flexibility of our employees and customers. We were able to show our customers that we’re able to manage even a severe crisis like this, ensure constant supply and find a balance between security and hygiene measures as well as production requirements. And our customers appreciated that.
I think our traditionally strong relationships with customers helped us through this crisis. In a situation like this, you are always concerned about delayed or failed payments, however with the trust we enjoy with our customers, we avoided these types of problems.
Customer relationships are very much based on meetings and conversations. Trade fairs like Light + Building, customer visits and even training had to be cancelled this year, so how can we stay in touch with customers when social distancing is a must?
That’s a good question for which we have developed a few quite interesting answers. One solution we came up with was virtual factory visits, which now take place every Wednesday and have proved extraordinarily popular. We’re also planning a three-day online event in September called Hager live; it’s for live chats and podium discussions on our portal. We would love to see it attract around 10,000 customers, around half of the number we would expect at Light + Building. It’s not the same as the real thing, however it’s a great replacement event to welcome this many people. And I can very well imagine that in the future we will run both in situ and digital customer events.
Jean-François Malleville is Group HR Business Partner Director, responsible for the company’s most valuable asset, its people.
RUN was a way of focusing people on what is important during the crisis.
How severely has the pandemic hit the business of our electrician customers?
For electricians and building companies in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Northern Europe, the project pipeline was so full that they almost continued working as usual. However, the situation in France, Spain and Italy is totally different as Covid-19 hit much harder and construction sites were closed.
The market situation is closely linked to the lockdown measures that the government ordered. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any consistency in the European crisis policy, which led to completely different economic results.
What have we learned regarding our relationship with other colleagues? How did employees react to the crisis?
What positively surprised me was the commitment employees showed throughout the company to ensure safety and keep our business going despite the difficult circumstances. During lockdown, for example, some employees came to the factories to manufacture masks for their colleagues, others switched from their regular jobs to become helping hands on production lines.
Take, for example, our sites in France and Italy where we had temporary closures. When we started to reopen there, we had many more volunteers than expected wanting to help get our production levels back to normal. They just said, “We are here to help” and came with their own gloves and masks. That was incredibly encouraging. I would also like to thank our social partners all over the world for their continued support and willingness to work with us on solutions.
Quite a few weeks into the crisis, Hager Group started an approach called RUN. Could you tell us a bit more about it?
RUN was a way of focusing people on what is important during the crisis. RUN is an acronym for Responsibility, Uninterrupted and Net situation; the three key areas of focus for our company in this crisis. With RUN, we coordinated everything that had to be done to ensure business continuity and protect the company’s financial position. I think it was a smart way to communicate what had to be done.
But it doesn’t stop here, we’re already at the next stage, as emphasised by the slogan “RUN ahead”, which reminds us of our objectives. It means showing positive leadership in times of crisis. And that is indeed what, in my opinion, we managed to achieve.
Torsten Schulz is Vice President Sales and Marketing Germany. In his role, he stays in touch with the customers to keep abreast of their needs.
We are able to achieve much more than we think, and that’s a very positive insight.
What will you personally take away from the last months?
We have to make sure that we keep the momentum going and do not go back to the old way of working. I will personally take responsibility for reducing the number of physical meetings and make sure that, when people come to the office, it is not for Skyping or other digital activities. We will therefore try to optimise our time at the office, and reorganise the rest.
What I learned is that we are only limited by our imagination. We are able to achieve much more than we think, and that’s a very positive insight. Take, for example, mobile working, which we got up and running within only a few days. Under normal circumstances, this would have taken months or even years! So, in fact there’s more openness for radical change in our company than we had expected. We underestimated ourselves, and that’s something very positive that we can take from this.