Leadership During Crisis: A Human-Centered Approach

In May, I celebrated my one-year anniversary as CEO of Genesys, and I couldn’t have imagined or predicted how the world as we knew it would be so dramatically different than it was when I first took this role.

No one anticipates two global crises. From a global health pandemic that caused us to isolate from human contact to global protests against systemic racism that are now becoming a binding human force, the magnitude of the crises we have faced over these last several months has been unprecedented.

That said, it has given us the opportunity to accelerate our company’s vision of Experience as a ServiceSM and how we bring more empathy into the business world.

In putting people first, we empowered our employees to help our customers do vital and mission-critical work, such as enabling hundreds of thousands of call center agents to work from home and ensure crisis hotlines and food banks were running during the pandemic.

Leaning into a more human-centered approach of leading with empathy transforms anxiety and fear into courage, hope and action.

Gather Human Data

To make effective decisions, you need “human” data — real-time data from many sources. I constantly consult with other CEOs, customers, partners, employees and our various Genesys site leaders around the world to gather as much information as possible on any given issue. Knowing how your employees and customers feel about a situation — and how they’re affected — is at the heart of being an empathetic leader.

When COVID-19 first hit, I quickly gathered as much data as possible to understand what it meant to our more than 5,500 employees across the globe. That information was critical to achieving my top goal: ensuring the health and safety of our employees and their families came first.

Take Quick, Decisive Actions

When a crisis happens we, as humans, go through phases to process it. For me, it was denial (“This is happening elsewhere, it won’t affect us”), then panic and anxiety (“How will I keep my family safe and ensure the safety of my employees?”), then coming to a breakthrough realization that this is a new normal (“What can we do? How can we adapt and take proactive steps?”).

As a leader, one of the worst mistakes you can make is to linger in inaction as you move through these stages.

We took fast action to ensure the safety of our employees and their families. Genesys was one of the first companies to have all employees in our 70 sites around the world work from home. Quick, decisive actions for your employees moves them out of the path of chaos.

Our technology enabled our customers to move quickly, too. With Genesys Cloud™ solutions, customers had new contact centers up and running in less than 48 hours. We enabled more than 3.3 million customer interactions in a week during the height of the crisis.

Communicate with Transparency

Amid crises, providing regular and clear and communication is important for fostering the feeling of security among employees.

During the first couple of months of COVID-19, my leadership team and I sent weekly video updates to our employees to share what we knew and what we were doing as a company during the crisis. We were honest about how we were feeling, too. Honesty and transparency breed trust. And that trust is vital to ensure you’re bringing every employee through the journey.

We put a cross-functional task force in place and sent weekly employee updates on decisions that were being made. We also created a COVID-19 employee portal dedicated to making information readily available for our employees — from dashboards showing regional risk levels to FAQs and practical prevention tips.

Be Real. Be Human.

Many times, as leaders, we don’t have all the answers. Especially during times of crisis when information can change by the day, even by the hour. Sometimes we don’t know the right thing to say. Amid the protests after George Floyd’s murder, my son had the wisdom to tell me to stop dancing around the subject of racial injustice and “let’s just have an honest conversation.”

And, at Genesys, we did just that. We hosted a one-hour All Hands meeting over Zoom, where four Genesys employees courageously shared their personal stories of racism and discrimination. It was a watershed moment for our company to create the forum for such real and authentic conversations. It created a shift for our culture by demonstrating, in actions, what it means to create a safe space to listen and understand each of our human stories.

We Fly in Formation Together

I often think of how my four children’s worlds were turned upside down overnight over the past few months. What’s striking is their resilience and ability to adapt. Like most of you, we’ve recognized as a family that things have changed, and probably won’t ever be the same. What remains the same are the values that connect us and bind us closer together.

You can call it a shared consciousness, a shared vision. It’s part of how you build and continue to be intentional in the evolution of the culture with your employees. More than physical locations, culture is about getting to the nuances — the values and the connective tissue that binds each of us to a company’s mission. It’s the shared values and shared trust in each other to reach the same goal. It’s about keeping the focus on what matters and getting there together.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to hear stories from our employees about how we’re taking care of each other, our customers and our communities. It leaves me encouraged and hopeful that we’ll emerge from these global crises with more care and humanity.

Listen to our Genesys podcast, “Take a Moment,” as we talk more about people-first leadership.