The year 2020 has brought a lot of turmoil with it. It is not often that businesses across the world face this level of volatility and uncertainty. Consequently, a growing number of organizations are embracing agility to enhance their practices, increase efficiency, and improve employee and customer experience. According to an article by Mckinsey & Company, “agility at an enterprise level means moving strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward a new operating model by rebuilding an organization around hundreds of self-steering, high-performing teams supported by a stable backbone.” Based on research, the people dimension of change is the most challenging to get right.

In light of the above, some of our clients and partners at ideas group have shared with us their personal challenges in 2020 and how they managed to navigate through them. They were asked to talk about the plans that were disrupted, the emotions they experienced, how they dealt with them and what advice they have to offer, especially to organizational leaders who are trying to sail through massive challenges while guiding several teams and stakeholders in the process.

Engineer Abdullah Abdulbadie, a Specialist in Material Management at Saudi Royal Fleet, felt overwhelmed and demotivated at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, especially with the disruption of his career advancement plans. The way he dealt with these emotions was by looking at things from a different perspective and a wider point of view. He compared the recent events to the black swan theory that describes “an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.”

According to him, it is vital to understand the causes and effects and to focus on what matters most. The advice he offered was to:

  • Have a vision of the future in order to confirm meaning, spark motivation and create an internal and external identity
  • Understand the interconnection of everything and reflect on in the present context,
  • Think meta-strategically by starting from result and moving backwards
  • Harmonize skills

Abdullah ended on the following note: “complexity causes waste; waste of time, motion and energy. Simplicity, flexibility, agility and adaptability are the key approaches. Focus on what counts and apply energy where it will have the most effect.”

Nermine Naeem, People & Organization Development (POD) Manager at Al Ahram Beverages Company (ABC) – Egypt, talked about her experience with managing several teams throughout all the volatility of 2020.

In 2019, ABC had prepared the POD department goal for 2020 with a lot of new initiatives to be launched in 2020 for both pillars: Learning & Development and Talent Acquisition. Most of these initiatives were related to “Positioning ABC as Employer of Choice”, shedding the lights on some collaborations with universities, training providers and partners to launch campaigns and programs that will further position ABC as employer of choice thus strengthening its corporate identity. Because of the crisis, a decision was made to put on hold all training & development activities and programs along with all recruitment & hiring processes.

At the beginning of the crisis, Nermine felt worried and concerned about her team in specific and ABC employees in general. Leading eight teams, whose members have different personalities and thus diverse reactions to sudden change, was a first-time experience and challenge for her. The first thing that she thought of was how to best utilize these teams during these tough times, how to grab opportunities to up-skill their capabilities and  how to transform this crisis time into a learning opportunity.

The way to achieve this was through:

  • Bonding with the team on daily basis
  • Regularly updating them on what’s happening to avoid any rumors and insecurities
  • Allocating time for “Breakfast & Learn” for learning and freely sharing their emotions
  • Assigning projects for all the team to work on regardless of whether these projects are within their scope or not.

In addition to this, ABC leaders revised their 2020 plan and seized the opportunity to turn some planned initiatives into virtual/digital ones – two of which were recognized by the region as best practices during crisis times and otherwise. The POD department, led by Nermine, also managed to create a People Re-deployment Plan to ensure all employees are fully utilized during the crisis and to guarantee business continuity. This plan gave them insights on the available opportunities across the organization for those who are not fully deployed and could provide support to other departments.

Nermine’s key takeaways from 2020 and the advice she has to offer are:

  • Showing empathy and humbleness to people can make a real difference.
  • Strategies and plans could change in the blink of an eye.
  • Agility is a mindset and flexibility can change plans from good to better.
  • Behind tough times, there is still a learning experience.
  • Invest in your people, they are the real treasure.
  • Step out of your boundaries to experience diverse opportunities and business exposure.
  • Offer support to other functions/stakeholders and show willingness to help in whatever task, regardless of your areas of expertise and seniority.
  • Read a lot on what’s going on during uncertainty.
  • Be well structured – your organized plans and thoughts are key.

Sami Tohme is a facilitator at ideas group who has been volunteering at the Lebanese Red Cross for 16 years. Sami describes 2020 as one of those years we will be telling our grandchildren about. It’s a big change that brings a lot of intense feelings with it. Sami’s coping strategy when the emotions resulting from crisis get too intense, is to disconnect from technology and practice hobbies he loves, such as playing drums and reading. He advises us to disconnect when needed but to do it while accepting all present emotions.

He concluded by saying: “We have to accept emotions but also to do something about them, not stand still. Our future selves will look back at 2020 one day and will remember it, not in terms of what we are feeling right now, but what we did about it. We humans like to stay in our comfort zone, but this is not the way to do it. We have to embrace uncertainty, take life into our own hands and navigate gracefully through change no matter the emotions that come with it. It’s not easy, but agility is the main ingredient. Even if we do not see a destination, as long as we look within us we can find what matters, which are our core values that constitute a compass for the direction we are heading towards until things get better. I wish everybody courage, patience, and grace while navigating through these hardships.”

Charbel Khoury is the Founder of the financial advisory firm, Atlantis Financials, and Author of the book “Life is Fair”. A lot of people ask him how he can still believe that life is fair after everything that has happened, especially in Lebanon, where most people’s emotions are ranging between sad and devastated. Charbel shared with us a section from his book, “Life is Fair”, that has been the basis of his decisions for the past two decades: “It is in the darkest moments of life that if you learn to find the gifts that God has hidden for you, then you would have earned the keys to His kingdom, and you would have learned how to live with passion.”

Charbel concluded that “the gifts that we earn in life during the darkest times are the most valuable, but the trick is to believe that life is fair without any doubt. And this is the challenge that everyone faces with everything happening around them: to still believe that life is working to their advantage and pushing them to explore new boundaries and try new things. If I have one advice for you, it’s that you’ve tried your way all your life, now how about you try to find your own gift during these dark times? Instead of resisting what’s going on, embrace it and create your own story that you may tell, when all of this ends, for the rest of your life.”


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