When COVID-19 annihilated the travel industry in March of 2020, the team at G Adventures had some difficult decisions to make. The had a five-phase plan that they anticipated would guide them through the 30, 60 or 90 days crisis.
The Monday after things shut down, they implemented phased one.
Two days later, they implemented phase five.
Things we changing faster than anyone could have predicted, and with hundreds of thousands of customers trapped beyond closed borders, his team pivoted from paradise-planning to rescue mission. Through it all, Founder Bruce Poon Tip was faced with a series of gut-wrenching calls, from lay-offs to finding ways to preserve institutional knowledge. Some things he feels he got right — others, he wishes he could have done differently.
Bruce joined us for an intimate roundtable with HR leads across leading Canadian companies to discuss what he’s learned from the pandemic.
You must abandon your ego (and other leaders do, too)
Like many companies, G Adventures had to make some deep cuts to stay afloat, and that included massive rounds of layoffs.
“For the first time in 30 years we had to look at positions rather than people,” shares Bruce.
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Amidst the devastation, Bruce feels his team did one thing particularly well — they abandoned their ego, and sent their furloughed staff, with all of their training and institutional knowledge, directly to competitors using a carefully crafted Linkedin strategy. Take a look at how they did it.
It take a lot of P’s to spell success
The “triple bottom line” is an accounting framework that refers to the three things it takes for a business to maximize its value: people, plan and profit.
Bruce thinks there are a couple of factors missing in this model: passion and purpose; two elements that he believes will be absolutely vital to guide businesses and their teams out of the 2020 rubble.
“When you expand that spectrum of success within talent management to include passion and purpose is when you really create engagement with your customers,” he explains.
When it comes to prioritizing talent, Bruce has a personal hero that he thinks really had it right. Take a look.
And the timing for talking about passion and purpose is, in Bruce’s opinion, absolutely perfect.
“There’s no better time to engage people in passion and purpose than right now. Everything is up for grabs.”
Teams, he notices, have moved into a community-minded survival mode. Employees are willing to try things that are outside of their comfort zone or direct set of responsibilities. In general, he finds there is more open-mindedness when it comes to restructuring and blue-sky thinking.
“Sometimes big companies have trouble changing because they make small decisions as they grow, and ultimately become a goliath with bandaids on all of these problems. They want to pivot and be agile but just can’t.”
Goliath or not, companies are being given the change to totally redesign how they do things, and he suggests they take it.
Train Remote Managers
Bruce points out that COVID has profoundly changed the suite of skills that an effective manager needs to have in order to run their team remotely, and suggests that HR leaders focus on giving them those specific abilities.
“We’re in a world nowhere remote management is a skill that everyone needs to have. Lead by example is the easiest. You work hard, they work hard. But when you have people in a hundred countries and you have to inspire them to be their best, achieve their potential, love their brand, and deliver on an aggressive brand promise, but you might not meet them in their entire careers, it’s a very different kind of leadership.”
Skills that were once obscure (and perhaps even incidental) are now very in demand, and it’s up for HR leaders to create a whole new system of engagement and a new definition of managerial success for this evolving work environment.
“It’s all about being as transparent as possible and as clear as you can about the path to success; what are the matrices that are going to define success? I don’t think we know that, but it’s up to us to clearly define it, because for people to achieve it they have to have targets.”
Veer off the Path
True to form for an adventure-based company, Bruce feels strongly that businesses need to build in opportunities for random interactions — that, he says, is where innovation comes from.
Bruce has noticed that, in the remote world, meetings tend to run a little bit too on track. People tend to be a little bit too efficient. There simply aren’t unplanned run-ins anymore.
“When you have a meeting now, you have an agenda, follow the agenda, talk about the agenda, and leave the meeting. That didn’t use to happen. You’d run into people before the meeting and get ideas…those random collisions are so important to innovation.”
Recognize the Silver Lining
Like most people, Bruce and his team anticipated the crisis lasting 60 days, maybe 90. As we know now, that’s not what happened.
“It went from a company that’s so focused on culture and people, and suddenly we were in a position where we were trying to preserve our culture. It was about preserving institutional knowledge and making sure we have the right people on the other side of this. It’s almost like the zombie apocalypse.”
But now that we’ve made those decisions it’s actually quite exciting.
While coming through the crisis was challenging to say the least, Bruce is excited for the new start that G Adventures (and countless other companies) have the opportunity to leverage. Teams are smaller, of course, but that also means that companies are left with their absolute best teammates. The ones who are agile, committed, passionate, and indispensable.
That’s not a bad place to be.