Necessity is the mother of all inventions or in today’s context ‘Necessity is the mother of all transformations’. Here we are fighting a pandemic with lockdowns around the world, and still enabling business continuity and resilience by adapting to all the near term needs. Organizations are realigning their strategies to stay relevant and productive, including one such revolutionary change is the merging of physical and digital into ‘phygital workspaces’, a result of work from home and distancing. Quick adaptability to the holistic changing needs of the business is mandatory in today’s environment.

As these are uncertain, unprecedented times, organizations are reacting in different ways to safeguard their existence, sustain in the turbulence. If Darwin lived in this century, the phrase from his evolutionary theory would have been “Survival of the most Agile.” Referring to the downturn in 2009, an Economist Intelligence Unit report found nearly 90% of executives believed organizational Agility is critical for business success, with 27% fearing competitive disadvantage through not being agile enough. Agility is not only a combination of responsiveness and speed but also includes a strategic element of making the right choices so that we move fast and even in the right direction. It is a test of our ability to quickly adjust our strategy and move swiftly in the right direction, rather than in circles.

In a situation like this that has turned the world upside down, we must react to the changing needs without losing time. For us as well as many other organizations in the ESO segment, work from home enablement is a drastic shift in the business. At QuEST, most of the workforce either work from our offices or our customer premises. However, in a short span of fewer than two weeks, we managed to enable 80% of our employees (10,000 people) to work from home. We anticipated the need for this change, we saw this coming, and we responded with Agility to make it happen. Agility in thinking for preparedness for the unforeseen situation is a must along with rapid execution.

Similarly, Agility in thinking strategically and aligning with the changing business needs is crucial to overcoming turbulent times. We had seen this back in 2003-04 when one of our strategic customers ramped down because of business disruptions. We quickly pulled back our employees from projects whose funding was stopped and redeployed those resources on other opportunities. While doing this, we reacted with empathy to our customer who was going through a rough financial phase. We ensured a quick and smooth transition, supported all the data requests, shared in-progress reports of the halted work, and gave them an inventory the data so that they can restart the project whenever the time is right. Our customer appreciated our swiftness in response and the professionalism we exhibited during the challenging times. During the later years when business picked up, we were viewed as their preferred partner, and that’s how we were able to scale again starting in 2006. Agility in thoughts and actions during challenging times has worked brilliantly for us.

Quickly evaluating the reality of the situation, understating customers’ position and their plans so that we can come up with the right strategy has consistently worked. It is similar to what we are doing today like repositioning the business to be aligned with our customers’ priorities. There will be a lot of short term challenges and reacting with Agility to find solutions will be vital to building a business in the long term. We have done it in the past, and that experience is helping us in the present. Having the right, empowered people close to the customers in identifying the right opportunities and receiving the correct feedback will help in quickly adjusting our approaches in such dire times.

Agility is always harder in larger organizations where there are many more resources, organizational layers and functions. To get them all mobilized to the changing needs, aligning and thinking about deciding in a short time is challenging. I have seen how we dealt with a similar situation when we were small. While doing reprioritization and getting realigned to customers, the leadership knew almost everybody in the company, and they could figure out who is the right fit to take which roles and decision making were very agile. Now when we are a global workforce of 12,000+ employees, the leadership is several layers away from the folks who are doing hands-on work. It takes longer to go through the complete cycle of repositioning, and it is quite challenging when you compare it to when we were relatively small.

To combat the barriers of Agility, there are teams of teams where we have people who are pulled out from their regular responsibilities or are given additional responsibilities to drive some of the critical changes forward. The teams break through the typical chain of command to drive quick decisions and actions. These mini-projects report progress almost daily to our CEO who drives us forward with an utmost sense of urgency. That’s how we can respond with speed and flexibility, and the benefits of broad organizational knowledge, even though the organization is much larger.

In these unsettling times, when the future looks opaque, mental Agility is needed to evaluate new opportunities based on what we can contribute and what we can learn to broaden our knowledge and skills. At QuEST, the leadership team is cross-functional and diverse. We have taken cross-functional and cross-border assignments which allow us to implicitly understand the broader organizational needs and move much faster in times of crisis. Such a culture gives us the strength and confidence that we will overcome the dark clouds and see the sunshine again!

Written by James Gallo

on 11 May 2020

James Gallo, Strategic Business Leader - Energy.
The way of doing business is drastically changing around the world because of COVID-19 pandemic. The bigger question is, how should organizations react today to ensure business continuity and growth in the future. A future that would be very different from the past that we lived in. Here are some of my thoughts.