How do you hit the ground running in a new leadership position when the company you are joining is locked-down?

07 May 2020

How do you hit the ground running in a new leadership position when the company you are joining is locked-down?

Onboarding during a global pandemic – an interview with Katlego Makgoale on his experience with Volkswagen South Africa.

Odgers Berndtson’s CEOx1Day programme pairs promising MBA students with leading CEOs for a day.

Katlego Makgoale spent his day with VWSA CEO Thomas Schaefer. But his relationship with the automotive manufacturer Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA) didn’t end there. Katlego accepted a  role as Project Engineer within the organisation’s Waste to Energy division, in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape.

This not only required Katlego to relocate with his wife and family from his home in Johannesburg, but also to onboard into his new role during the nationwide COVID-19 shutdown in South Africa.

I reached out to Katlego to find out more about his experience with the CEOx1Day programme and how he is managing the process of onboarding into a new position under these unprecedented circumstances.

Katlego Makgoale

Lauren: What have you learnt about yourself in the context of taking a new job opportunity during the COVID-19 lockdown?

Katlego: I learned that I could spot opportunities for career growth even in the most uncertain times. I have internalised significant events in my career into what I call ‘keystone learnings’, which are incidents in which I have come to discover unknown traits within myself.

One learning is not to wait for instructions, but to hit the ground running with the execution of tasks and projects, because it builds my confidence in what I am doing.

Relocating to a new job in a new city during a global pandemic left me thinking on my first official day: “What do I do now?” “Who can help me?” “Will I be forgotten as the crisis unfolds?”.

However, I realised this period is an excellent time to display, through my actions, my ability to work autonomously, to reach out and make contact with my team members unprompted and display my zeal for my new position by ‘pressing my shoulder into this new unknown boulder’.

Lauren: What were some of your chief anxieties about the move and how did the team at VWSA ease these anxieties?

Katlego: My chief concerns were around the logistics of relocating over 1000km’s to Nelson Mandela Bay and settling with my family. I got to witness the caring culture exhibited by VWSA first-hand when they proceeded to assist me in the move. Following that, my direct manager even reached out and offered to assist in helping me find a suitable school for my child in his personal capacity, completely unprompted. VWSA has made efforts to put me at ease by being in constant communication with me regarding my move.

“We are excited that Katlego has joined the Volkswagen family. We are looking forward to the skills, value and experience he will bring to our company."

Percy Smith, Director, Human Resources at Volkswagen South Africa, continues. "Onboarding a new person during COVID-19 has called for some adaptations, but we are pleased that our approach has worked for Katlego and his family.” 

Lauren: What are some observations about your new employer and their leadership during this crisis?

Katlego: I have come to realise that VWSA understands their role within the Nelson Mandela Bay community.

The leadership knows that the relationship with the community is not just economic; there is a social dimension as well.

VWSA is essentially an automotive company during a health crisis, but the leadership understands the social capital that the business holds within the community and has shown that they understand they are expected to aid the community in the response to the pandemic and have done so.

Lauren: How do you think participating in the CEOx1Day program has helped you in navigating this unique situation?

Katlego: CEOx1Day gave me the chance to engage face-to-face with the executive team. It was an opportunity to gain valuable insight from top business leaders and get a glimpse into the person at the helm of the organisation. It was a chance to see what it takes to lead an organisation today. My CEOx1Day experience helped me rethink what kind of leader I want to be. Ultimately the programme reassured me in my decision to work for VWSA.

Lauren: How do you think the impact of COVID-19 will change the way leaders behave and respond in the future?

Katlego: The impact of COVID-19 will force business leaders to be much more agile in their response to external circumstances.

The speed of the spread of this virus has caught those businesses that have a ‘wait and see’ mentality flat-footed.

Lauren: How can organisations adapt and change in the months and years following this crisis?

Katlego: Organisations will have to communicate with their suppliers and employees around the fact that the existence of this virus has (not will) changed the world of work.

Social distancing, increased personal hygiene and anxiety as to what the future holds will become the norm in the short term. Measures that can lessen the spread of COVID-19 like remote work, video conferencing and screening of employees will need to be part of company policy from now on.

Lauren: What are the key take-aways from your current remote induction and onboarding to a new employer?

Katlego: My biggest learning during my remote induction is who to talk to and who to reach out to. My remote induction has been a time when I’ve had to overcome any initial anxiety about introducing myself and reach out through cyberspace to others for assistance. Keith Rolag wrote in his book ‘What to do when you’re new’ to have the goal of building relationships when you make introductions. I approach all my introductions with that goal in mind.

Lauren: What advice will you give to others who might be in a similar situation?

Katlego: Note and reflect on the worries, anxieties, and reluctance you feel when you are in a new position. Be prepared as they will appear. Find chances to put yourself in new situations and practice introducing yourself to unfamiliar people, especially now. Start in your new role to establish credibility and building trust from the onset. Make them remember why they hired you.