Leading Through Uncertainty

April 16, 2021

How Optus is Growing Through the Pandemic

To say that 2020 was a year of turmoil and change is an understatement. Everything within our daily routine was—and continues to be—turned on its head. The normalcy of everyday life, from educating our kids to socializing to where and how we work, has shifted rapidly. Nascent changes have literally become the new normal with virtualization of the workplace, online learning, telemedicine, and expanded e-commerce. And understandably, we have all struggled to juggle these paramount shifts in the day-to-day. 

Rapid and unexpected change can often leave people and organizations feeling confused, vulnerable, and fractured. This is a challenge in and of itself as times of change and uncertainty require resiliency, continuity, and collaboration. That’s why it’s so important as leaders to continually evaluate how we’re engaging with our teams. Traditional models of leadership weren’t necessarily built for this kind of rapid, unrelenting change, which means we’ve had to adjust on the fly. Here are three ways we’ve found success in navigating this period of uncertainty.

Be Authentic

Posturing for the sake of power and control is a thing of the past, especially in the face of rapid change. A key component of our success at Optus has been our ability to be open, authentic, and compassionate with one another. This has been especially true during the pandemic. In order for us to continually evolve and weather the constant uncertainty of the past year, we’ve focused on maintaining these values—exhibiting humility, flexibility, and trust at every level of the business and adjusting our strategic focus according to what the circumstances require. It’s important for our employees to feel that they can trust both our actions and our words, and that’s been a big part of how we’ve built a culture of authenticity, even prior to the pandemic.

Communicate a Shared Purpose

Feeling united under a shared purpose and common values enhances focus, cohesion, and resilience in the midst of significant change. During times of uncertainty, it’s critical for leaders to define and share intentions that focus on something larger than themselves. Doing so unites our motives with our actions, and in the workforce, this combination allows us to efficiently and collaboratively solve complex challenges. 

At Optus, we focused on several guiding principles during the early stages of the pandemic. First, we chose to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. This meant doing what we could to mitigate risks to the business and to our employees. Because we were prepared, we were able to transition to remote work quickly and safely—with no disruption to our customers. Next, we looked for ways to be more proactive in our communications to employees. This meant shifting the frequency of our (virtual) meetings and emphasizing the measures we were taking to ensure business continuity and financial stability. During a time of extreme uncertainty, we wanted every employee at Optus to feel safe knowing that we would protect their health and their employment. Lastly, we optimized our resources through cross-training. Doing so allowed us to designate meaningful work and distribute the shift in demand across multiple areas of the business. These efforts ensured that we were able to take collective action—working together to make sound decisions, help our customers, and take care of our employees. 

Focus on Trust

During times of significant change and uncertainty, it’s common for humans to skew toward the negative. Our stress response kicks in, and we become anxious versions of ourselves. Because of this tendency, psychological safety is even more important during times of ambiguity. When team members feel safe, they perform at their best. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to empower teams and individuals by instilling trust. During the pandemic, we’ve focused on building trust through strong relationships, fluid communication, and transparency. For us, this meant shifting from quarterly to monthly business updates and ensuring that every decision we made was in the best interest of our employees and our customers. We also committed to a positive, but always honest communication strategy. And once a vaccine was available, we took steps to ensure all employees understood the facts about vaccination. We provided first hand testimonials, verifiable statistics, and multiple educational opportunities from medical experts. Our hope was that our commitment to transparent and proactive information would help our teams to feel safe.

Moving Past the Pandemic

As we near the end of the Covid-19 global pandemic, one thing is clear: change is the new normal. Leaders, teams, and organizations must learn to skillfully navigate change and uncertainty in order to thrive. Here at Optus, we understand the need to evolve and adapt more quickly, but we also understand that effective evolution requires our whole selves—and a new approach to leading others. Just as we continue to reshape our industry and our solution offering to accommodate our growing customer base, we must also adapt our leadership style to empower and amplify our human capabilities. 

This era has taught us that uncertainty is an opportunity to refocus on the qualities that move us forward and make us human, like authenticity, trust, and a shared purpose. In 2021 and beyond, we will continue to offer greater flexibility to our employees and dedicate time and resources toward their total wellbeing. Both as leaders and as humans, we will remember 2020 as a year of uncertainty and grief—but also as a year of resilience, courage, and hope.

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