When I shifted into my new role at NetApp in February, I had no idea how much the world was about to change or how relevant my thoughts about my new position would be.
Several weeks ago, just before COVID-19 emerged as a worldwide crisis, I shared a post on LinkedIn about how much technology has changed the world of leadership. Here is part of what I said:
Technology has changed the way organizations communicate and how they drive decisions remotely. More and more global leaders are distributed around the world. People can be in five different countries and make decisions together without physically sitting in the same board room. It’s more than just a technology change. It’s a structural change that brings more diversity to the way companies are run, and I think it’s a positive one.
Reflecting on what I wrote then, I’m amazed how quickly remote work and decision-making became even more overwhelmingly important, and how that has influenced the way I think about my job as I work with my team and our customers to manage the impacts of COVID-19.
Business continuity is about people
A huge part of my new role (senior vice president, Worldwide Enterprise and Commercial Field Operations) is to find ways to support our customers. Right now, our customers need that support more than ever before.
The current crisis has accelerated digital transformation for some customers who were already on that journey. It has also demanded instant transformation by thousands of people who weren’t ready for it. In all cases, people have been forced to adapt while living through an unprecedented healthcare crisis in a world where all the rules have changed, and while full of concern for their health, their families and their future. All of this brings business continuity into sharp perspective for me.
On the technology side, NetApp is well-positioned as a company to help organizations keep their businesses up and running. We have tools to help companies increase their IT capacity to manage the demands of a remote workforce. We know how to help people optimize their infrastructure, and we know how to protect their data.
At the heart of it, though, technology is secondary to all of those things. Technology is there to support the people who need it, and it’s the people who matter most.
Technology enables the people who use it
I believe the most important thing for leaders to remember during a crisis like this is more fundamental: We need to look after the people around us.
Across the world, my team is made up of human beings. They are moms and dads with children to care for; they are sons and daughters with elderly parents to look after; they are individuals with medical concerns of their own; and they are members of communities full of other people who play all these roles and more.
How does someone in a leadership role manage all of this? By stopping to ask a few simple questions: How are you doing? What do you need?
It’s incredible how relevant those questions are, no matter who I’m talking to. When asked from a place of genuine concern, they make all the difference in the world to employees, colleagues and customers alike. Some needs are concrete and specific: someone needs us to locate a piece of equipment and find a way to ship it, or they need access to certain networks, documents or data.
Other needs are less tangible: people need more time to get things done because they’re helping kids with math homework and preparing meals between meetings, or they need help prioritizing tasks because their to-do list has increased 100-fold. Sometimes people just need reminding that it’s okay if their toddler or their pet suddenly pops into a video conference.
Supporting people in the art of the possible
In a different era, staying connected through a crisis like this would have been near impossible. Just as I was observing a couple of months ago, technology allows us accomplish so much without sitting in the same room with other people. At the time, I also said my new role would have me spending a lot of time of the road, which obviously isn’t the case right now.
Like all of you, I’m eager to return to face-to-face meetings and team lunches as soon as we can safely do so. In the meantime, I’ve suddenly had to use technology for all the things I still prefer to do in person: connecting with my team and our customers. In the process, I have been reminded of the things that really matter.
I am grateful that technology gives us the ability to maintain personal connections despite the physical distance. I’m also proud to be part of a technology company that puts people first. Within the NetApp community, I am surrounded by a team of people that is committed to helping each other maintain those connections, both personally and professionally, with each other and with our customers. For more information about how NetApp can support organizations, visit our business continuity resources.
Meanwhile, as we all try to adjust to our changing circumstances, I invite you to ask the people around you—how are you doing, and what do you need?