Our response labs: An empathetic ear for an uncertain time
When the impact of COVID-19 first seized New Zealand back in March, businesses were faced with the formidable challenges in the form of a nationwide lockdown and unprecedented limits to their usual way of operating. During this difficult and confusing time, many carefully planned strategies suddenly became invalid, and new ways of working had to be developed in rapid time. In order to support the response, our Deloitte team mobilised quickly to develop virtual workshops that could be delivered across New Zealand, providing tailored strategic advice when it was most needed.
These workshops, or diagnostic labs, have taken several forms in the months since. The majority have been conducted in partnership with NZTE to support exporter organisations, but the team has since developed specific formats for tourism businesses, as well as Māori and Pasifika organisations. All have challenged our Deloitte teams to step up their skills and work together across New Zealand, and since their introduction, around 400 labs have been delivered.
The NZTE labs were centred around Deloitte’s ‘Respond, recover, thrive’ framework, equipping businesses with the tools and knowledge they need to effectively crisis plan and respond to the unexpected. Taking advantage of our international networks, they incorporated key learnings from firms across Asia Pacific and farther afield. At the same time, the team provides specialist guidance to leaders, using a 'resilient leadership framework'.
Deloitte Partner Stephen Nicholas led several of the Wellington-based workshops and saw many of the challenges that businesses were facing upfront. The biggest concern for many, he says, was around people – ‘There was a deep concern about wellbeing in the whole team and how they were going to communicate and lead that team.’
One of the organisations which took part in the NZTE workshops was Times-7, a high-tech company in Wellington. As exporters with an international reputation, the impact of COVID-19 was expected to be significant. Giuliana Gilges-Richards, Times-7’s Marketing & Sales Lead, describes their initial outlook -
‘As a Lower Hutt-based manufacturer, with almost all our business derived from exports, we were concerned for our competitive position. Component supply has been disrupted, costs and availability of freight were problematic and some of our competitors were not under lockdown at the time.’
The business was seeking confirmation they were on the right track and nothing had been overlooked. During their workshop, Deloitte had the opportunity to help them put their business under a microscope and find a way ahead.
Despite what was a challenging time, the workshops themselves proved to be an opportunity for positivity. As Nicholas says, ‘they ended up being very upbeat workshops. While it wasn’t a great situation for anybody, organisations were willing to look at how they could both secure recovery and reform the business at the same time.’
That’s the impression that Times-7 got as well. Gilges-Richards describes the labs as ‘a very positive experience that gave us a lot of confidence. The initial workshop presentation demonstrated a good understanding of who Times-7 is and what they do and added to the impression that the team was there to listen and understand the challenge, identify weaknesses and strengths and ultimately provide valuable advice. ‘
Taking that overarching framework, strategies were developed and tailored to individual businesses. The number of labs became an increasing benefit further down the line as well, as facilitators could bring in experiences from previous workshops to bring a greater sense of context to the participants.
As Nicholas says, ‘we could help with insight across the sectors, having done a number of workshops. We relayed anecdotal stories without naming anyone, which really helped as for many organisations, facing the recovery could feel like a lonely experience.’
For Times-7, the insights from the lab became a key part of their post-COVID plans, with an emphasis on the ‘Thrive’ section of Deloitte’s ‘Respond, recover, thrive’ framework. They increased their online marketing efforts to show added care to customers, encouraging engagement with entertaining updates about the business as well as interactive webinars. Gilges-Richards says, ‘the result was that we attracted some new customers and developed stronger customer relationships, all of which will assist with business recovery when our international customers can return to work.’
These sessions have highlighted how critical strong facilitation and empathy skills are. Many business owners were – and still are – going through a significant crisis. This was an opportunity for Deloitte to provide them with the best advice possible, while considering their individual situations and responding empathetically. In unprecedented times, it was how we could make an impact that matters.
Jen Scouler works in the Deloitte clients & marketing team across digital content and social media. She also works closely with Deloitte Private.