Yuriy is responsible for executing Avenga’s vision and global strategy, expansion to new markets, change management and integration.
Few moments in world history are so significant that most people can tell you decades later where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news. The assassination of John F. Kennedy is such a pivotal event. The fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11 are other examples.
This year, we had a turning point of similar significance: When Russia started its appalling attack on Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, we all woke up in a different world. Many, like me, literally, because I was awakened by blaring sirens warning us to seek shelter from rockets launched to hit targets all over my home country.
Avenga, the company I lead as CEO, has partly Ukrainian roots. Our 11 Ukrainian offices host 1,300 employees that provide IT services to dozens of clients in the U.S.
To ensure that we could keep our employees safe and simultaneously deliver on our promises to our clients, we developed a Service Endurance Plan as early as autumn 2021. Looking back, it worked.
Let me share five lessons I learned.
1. Preparation is everything.
“Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” is an idiom we’ve all heard countless times. But for us, it rang true: We were very fortunate that the war did not catch us unprepared. However, everyone is the architect of their own fortune. Ours was built on our modus operandi “better safe than sorry.”
While Russia was building up its troops at Ukraine’s borders, we transferred our critical infrastructure and data to secure environments in the EU and U.S. When the attack began, our Service Endurance Plan had been implemented, and all conceivable scenarios had been tested extensively.
All employees knew whom to call, where to find prebooked buses that would take them out of danger zones and which offices and hotels in and outside the country they could go to.
Due to our detailed preparations, everybody in charge was well-trained and had the necessary information and skills to make tactical decisions on the ground. As a result, the real-time execution of our evacuation and relocation was even faster than any practice run despite the extreme external circumstances.
Over the last few months, we have done everything to make our offices autonomous. Diesel generators, Starlinks, bio cabins and stored water will allow us to operate without interruption, even when blackouts plague the country.
2. Communication is key.
The word “communication” is derived from the Latin word “communicare” and means “to share.” Communication bridges the gap between individuals and groups and is the basis for all other basic management functions.
In an uncertain situation with countless unpredictable variables, you can hardly be oversharing. Employees must constantly be informed about ongoing developments to make the right decisions. Customers and other stakeholders require transparency because your situation could negatively affect them.
As a rule of thumb: When you think you are completely overcommunicating, you are probably just doing enough. Sharing is caring, not only when it comes to food.
3. People can work from anywhere.
When Covid-19 hit early 2020, our company switched to remote work mode overnight. In retrospect, this almost seems like it served as a dry run under much easier circumstances. But it prepared us for what was yet to come.
Today, our employees can work from wherever they have internet access and feel comfortable. Ironically, after the first weeks, the war had the opposite effect as the pandemic: As our offices in Ukraine are well equipped against power and internet outages, many employees have started to come back regularly.
4. Set your management free.
Mission-type tactics (German: Auftragstaktik) were first deployed in the German armed forces in the 19th century. In a nutshell, they require leaders to give their subordinates a clearly defined objective and time frame along with the freedom to choose the methods they deem best fit to fulfill the mission.
Why? Because hard-and-fast rules seldom work in the realm of uncertainty, chance and human emotions.
When push comes to shove, it’s all about having the right people in place and enabling them to do their job. It’s mission over method, always. If you feel the need to micromanage everything your employees do, you are either a control freak or have the wrong people in place. Either option will set you up for failure.
5. Pity doesn’t last forever.
“We stand with Ukraine” was what business executives all over the world promised Ukrainian companies when the war broke out. But they are in a difficult situation. At some point, they have to make a risk assessment.
As David Segal put it elegantly in his article in the New York Times, the noble impulse of doing the right thing will sooner or later “collide with the unsentimental imperatives of running a business.” At that point, only one question matters: Can you deliver or not?
Preparation is everything—until it’s not.
As I said in the beginning, I am a big believer in preparation. There is no way we would have gotten our people to safety or would still be fully functional if we didn’t think at least two or three steps ahead.
But in the end, every plan is only as good as the people executing it. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance to empower the right people and let them do their job.
I don’t know if there is a universal formula for how to find these people. But I can tell you how to keep them and build a team of high resilience: Show leadership and be there for your employees when the situation demands it.
Critical voices might even argue that we put people over profit. However, they couldn’t be further from the truth. As a service provider, we are in the people business. Without people, there is no profit—it’s as simple as that.
Moreover, every cent we invested has been paid back a thousandfold. Through gratitude. Through loyalty. And through performance.
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