The New Normal- Lessons from a Crisis
By Chief Operating Officer, MTN, Mazen Mroue
It has been more than six months since the unprecedented global crisis precipitated by COVID-19 broke, impacting almost every single sphere of our lives from our lifestyles, to our work, our family and our relationship with government. As a global collective, we have had to come to terms with these changing dynamics. In January, we didn’t have to think twice before we reached out to shake hands or hug one another; now, we keep our distance to safeguard ourselves and those around us.
2020 has been synonymous with change. In many ways, it has shown us how unsustainable our lives were prior to this pandemic, and it is hugely important that we look back, assess the situation and ensure that lessons are learnt and applied accordingly.
During the period between the spread of the coronavirus disease across the country and the imminent shutdown of the economy, transitioning and adapting to new realities seemed like an incredibly daunting and perhaps insurmountable task. It is exceedingly rare that we are kicked out of the complacency of day to day life into a crisis of global proportions, and many organisations were unprepared. For many scenarios that hit the corporate world, there are existing manuals and strategies that outline how organisations can quickly respond and adapt, but dealing with the sudden outbreak of a pandemic was not one.
We had bits and pieces of the puzzle, but in only a few weeks, many organisations had to make decisions and implement changes that would have previously seemed very difficult and impractical. This is as true for MTN as it is for anyone else. In some ways, it was even more challenging, as ensuring that our business was not disrupted was critical to ensuring that many others were able to continue operating. Network connectivity has always been important, but it gained a new level of relevance, almost overnight.
Successfully leading an organisation through a period of crisis like this is dependent on the ability to provide a single lens through which multiple complex and often competing priorities can be viewed. What has worked for us at MTN is the adoption of a stakeholder-first approach. Our coping mechanism and mitigation strategies were built around creating a balance for all our stakeholder groups, with a critical focus on employee satisfaction, customer experience, shareholder satisfaction and family life.
First and foremost, this meant ensuring that our employees were equipped to continue to do their jobs, and could manage in a new environment. It was vital for us to ensure that wherever they were working from, they were protected, safe, and equipped with the right tools to help them deliver as efficiently as necessary, from the highest levels of senior management to the most junior staff member. Once you know that your people are safe, and can continue to deliver services, then you have to turn your attention to the people that rely on you for connectivity, your customers. How has the crisis affected their wellbeing, and how can the business provide support?
As the pandemic effects deepened, our focus was ensuring that customers could stay connected to friends and family and ensuring they got the best experience despite the disruption going on all around them. We invested in network capacity to ensure uptime, we provided free SMS to our most vulnerable customers and allowed all our customers to access critical healthcare and education websites free of charge on the MTN Network. We equipped our customer service agents with the work tools they needed to ensure that they are able to deliver remotely and quickly attend to customer queries. I’m very proud of the pace at which we were able to put these things in place, and of the level of support that we were able to provide.
Next, are the shareholders. In a crisis situation, the business is not going to run as usual, and revenues and margins are likely to be affected. Keeping a very close eye on performance, optimising costs and ensuring investment is focused where it is most needed are all essential parts of this process. In 2020 we have seen our traditional revenue mix change significantly from quarter to quarter and then return to a semblance of normality, so flexibility is critical.
Finally, I want to focus on the importance of family. One of the happy consequences of COVID for me has been the stark reality check it has given us on what is important, and how it has brought many of us closer together as colleagues and friends. It has helped us see that family goes beyond the traditional nuclear structure and has forced organisations to understand their people on a more personal level. This is important as it creates a sense of community as people deal with the effects of a crisis, especially where they might think that their jobs are no longer secure. It also creates a bond that improves trust levels between the employer and employees.
This crisis has taught me and MTN, as an organisation, that when things are done properly, carrying critical stakeholders along, the results are often better than imagined. Despite the fact that most of our workforce is required to work from home, I have seen productivity and loyalty levels increase. During this period, our leadership team has risen to the day-to-day challenges by evolving from traditional executives leading by authority, into social chiefs leading through influence. Depending on our instincts, some of us naturally became Chief Empathy Officers, while others took on the roles of Chief Motivation Officers and Chief Inspiring officers etc.
COVID-19 has shown us that if we put our minds to something, there is no telling what we would achieve. We have delivered within time frames previously deemed impossible and kicked out the last vestiges of old-world thinking. Take, for example, our ongoing plans to internally transition to digital. What we thought was a cumbersome task, was delivered over a matter of days. Now going back to a more manual and analogue structure seems like an unnecessary burden to bear.
Even though the rate of infection within the country has dropped significantly, the immediate future is still uncertain. As organisations and individuals, we must stay alert and understand that we cannot immediately return to a new normal. In some cases, we may never do so, as the crisis has helped us to discover better and more efficient ways of doing things. For me, and I would recommend for you too, the major lesson taken from the past months is to continue optimising and improving existing structures. Apply all lessons learnt accordingly, to ensure that we are not caught unawares again and dedicate time to ensuring the workforce is fully unified, motivated and inspired