No time to panic: how a newly-appointed global tech CEO led through the upheavals of 2020

27 Jul 2020

No time to panic: how a newly-appointed global tech CEO led through the upheavals of 2020

Chief Executive Officer Pam Maynard explains what it’s been like to face the coronavirus lockdown and answer calls for social justice, just six months into her new role as global CEO.

Pamela Maynard

Mike Drew, Partner and Head of Odgers Berndtson Executive Search’s Global Technology Practice explores what’s on the agenda of the CEO of global IT solutions provider, Avanade. 

Mike: Pam, thanks for joining us for the next in our series of “At Home Interviews” with Technology CEOs. You were just six months into your role as CEO when the pandemic hit, how has it shaped your outlook and what have you learnt about yourself?

Mike, the first thing is to embrace the fact that things do go wrong, and it’s important that you don’t panic when they do.

My first focus was on our employees. Helping them to adjust to being effective with remote working and identifying where they were in that process. I lead a global organisation, so just making sure everyone got to where they wanted to be was important.

The second thing was about our clients. What could we do to help them adjust? That means being receptive as things happen. Naturally, it can be very disruptive, but above all, do not panic.

As CEO at the top of the organisation, it’s important that people could see that I was remaining calm throughout the crisis, because of the potential negative effect, or the ripple effect if you like, of me panicking.

The second thing was about the need to be creative and innovative in how we responded to the disruption.

It’s our 20th birthday year at Avanade and we had some in-person celebrations planned to celebrate that milestone internally. We needed to adapt very quickly. We still wanted to celebrate with our people, but we needed to find different ways to do it.

Immediately, we started doing video calls, very important because another side effect of working remotely was feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Especially when you’re juggling eldercare or homeschooling of children.

It can all be a bit overwhelming, especially when you are no longer getting that human interaction you would get by going into an office, in person with your colleagues, helping to counterbalance some of the negative stuff.

It was very important, especially initially, to replace that human interaction. We ran virtual events that pushed the boundary in terms of big virtual events and smaller intimate team events, town halls, happy hours, even yoga online.

Watch a ten-minute video of this ‘CEO leading through the lockdown’ interview with Pam Maynard, Chief Executive Officer of Avanade.

Being agile, innovative, creative and adapting was the second priority.

Third, for me personally, was the importance of boundaries. Being a leader in a global organisation, I usually used travel time as a time to think, reflect and plan. Suddenly, that went out of the window.

Another side effect of lockdown is that it is very easy for the days to run into each other and for you to lose sight of where your boundaries are.

I’ve had to be much more deliberate about planning my downtime.

One of the things I do is I don’t have any calls before 10am in the morning.

My days do tend to run quite long, but at least those first few hours of the day I get some clear space to think and to maybe do some exercise etc. Applying that to our people, it’s also been very important to help them understand the importance of health and safety and their wellbeing.

From your conversations with other business leaders, what’s keeping them up at night? Where are you advising them to focus and set priorities?

The global pandemic, of course. And more recently, it’s how, as business leaders, we needed to respond in the light of the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent global and social unrest. There are clear expectations for business leaders to help to drive some systemic changes to society as a result.  

The leaders that I have been talking to have been grappling with both, but let’s start with the pandemic. The conversations are across five key topics.

Firstly, cost containment. How do you contain and reduce operating costs, freeing up capital to start to invest in driving the changes that have become very apparent as needed as a result of the pandemic?

Secondly, creating resilience in business operational and technical infrastructures is important. This means addressing issues that the pandemic has shown up in the supply chain.

The third one is around talent and talent agility.

We were just talking about remote working, as businesses have moved their people to remote working, they need to make sure that they have the right technologies that make their teams effective. It’s a complex mix of dealing with their own customers and providing their own products and services, but also at the same time balancing health and safety, and care and welfare needs.

In customer care and operations, we have seen that businesses, during the pandemic and into recovery, are looking at how they take care of their customers.

How can businesses maintain the connection to their customers? How do they recapture customers as they recover from the pandemic and analyse how they lost customers to the competition? And then, what do they need in terms of customer service to attract new customers?

The last point is around products and services. How do they need to adapt their product and services portfolio to be able to cope with future disruption as the pandemic has taught lessons about the opportunities to evolve their product and services portfolio?

How about the issues around black justice and equality?

First, I can say this from my own personal perspective of being a leader, and a leader of colour, the first job is to create an environment that’s safe for people to speak out and share their experiences. There is no substitute for communication.

It’s not just about talking about your intentions as a leader.

It’s putting yourself in a situation where you can listen and understand the experiences that your people are going through. And to then take that forward into a tangible set of actions. But first and foremost, it’s about creating a comfortable, safe environment where people feel they can share their experiences, and you and your leadership team can respond to them.

There’s no doubt that employee and customer experience has been transformed by this pandemic, what do you think the long-term impact will be?

The first one is remote working. As you talk with business leaders, but also analysts and industry influencers in the technology industry, that trend is expected to continue.

IDC, the industry analysts said that prior to the pandemic, only around 15% of people were remote workers. More recently, Gartner published their view that post-pandemic, around 48% of employees will do so.

I feel we are not going to see a massive switch back to how we were. There will be some obviously, but working remotely will remain very prevalent. 

Businesses will, therefore, continue to invest, ensuring that remote working infrastructures are there and effective. Plus, employees will also be thinking about how they create the right home-working space so that they can be effective.

The second impact is around talent and access to talent.

Access to talent will be borderless and boundaryless.

We already work in a global organisation, used to working as a global team. I think that this will be another opportunity from the pandemic, as we are able to access people with the right skills, regardless of their location.

The opportunity to access talent in a different way and on a broader scale has been catalysed by the pandemic.

The third impact is about the whole shift to online business, also catalysed again by the pandemic. For example, those people who weren’t used to shopping online for groceries, but suddenly found it a necessity.

Businesses have had to shift from providing interactions in-person to doing that in a compelling way online or over the phone. That is going to stay, with even more shift to services online.

From a technology perspective, we will see more opportunities where businesses are really focussing on the touchpoints with their customers in a technical way. Technologies like IoT, AI and analytics help understand those experiences, so will become more prevalent in the drive to strengthen brand loyalty, attract and retain a customer base.

Thanks Pam, those are valuable insights. In Part 2, we will explore further strategic leadership issues, including diversity and inclusion in the workplace.