Elliott: learning from our experience in crisis

COVID-19 has changed our lives - how we work, how we shop, how we interact with family and friends. How our customers do their banking.

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It’s very valuable to reflect on this change. While we strive to deal with the health and economic effects, we should also consider what we’ve learnt. At ANZ we recently held a company-wide “retro” – an exercise in retrospection – to understand what’s worked well and what we could do differently.

For me, five lessons stood out:

"We’ve run two large-scale employee surveys where we asked whether we were doing enough to support people during the crisis. Reassuringly 94 per cent said we were.”

1.  People are your first priority

First and foremost, this is a health crisis which has impacted everyone in some way. From the very start it was clear we needed to support our people. We’ve done this through a range of resources, including mental health webinars, counselling services and a digital app to help people with their mental and physical health.

We’ve made it a priority to engage with our people often, listen to their feedback and take action. Initially, I held daily – now weekly – all-staff calls with our people in Australia. With so many people working from home, this is one way we’ve been able to connect with thousands of our people and make sure they stay updated. I invite internal and external guests to join me on these calls, as I believe it’s vital to give people a well-rounded perspective on what’s happening.

We also ran two large-scale employee surveys, with over 31,000 responses, where we asked whether we were doing enough to support people during the crisis. Reassuringly 94 per cent said we were.

2.  A framework provides focus

In early March, as the crisis unfolded in Australia, we created a four-pronged framework: protect, adapt, engage and prepare. The framework was designed to provide clarity around how we’d respond to the crisis and aid focus at a critical time.

Our first priority is ‘protect– our people, our customers, our balance sheet. Secondly we need to ‘adapt' for the new world – whether helping our staff work from home or responding to our customers’ changing behaviours. Third is ‘engage’ with all stakeholders, whether regulators, customers, staff, government or the broader community. The final priority is ‘prepare’, looking to the future and the inevitable rebound, being ready for new opportunities.

The impacts of this pandemic are changing constantly and this framework applies equally to our customers, many of whom are seeking our support and guidance on the decisions they make now and into the future.

3.  Stress provides the opportunity to learn in compressed time

In just weeks ANZ has experienced more change than in my previous four years as CEO. This does stress test an organisation’s culture, values and agility.

We must learn and adapt to thrive. The stress and anxiety this pandemic has generated can’t be underestimated yet it has revealed great resilience and flexibility at both an organisational and personal level. It has been difficult but we must use this as an opportunity to learn and improve. We learn a lot about ourselves – I know I have.

One of the key lessons from the “retro” for my executive committee is ensuring we adopt and sustain new habits and change some behaviour – like using less PowerPoint – while continuing to make bold decisions rapidly, even with imperfect information.

4.  The importance of the ability to evolve under pressure

We’ve all had to adapt during COVID-19, whether at work, at home, or both. At ANZ, over a three-week period, we enabled 50,000 of our people who would normally work from the office to work from home. Of course, we have many digital tools for people to collaborate and work remotely but many of our staff had the added challenge of caring for family or managing their children’s remote learning.

We have seen forced innovation. If “necessity is the mother of all invention”, for our customers the necessity was to generate income to stay afloat or keep their staff employed. I’ve heard terrific stories from customers who’ve completely changed their operating model or started a new business online during the crisis.

Throughout the pandemic around 25 per cent of our retail customers interacted with ANZ via a digital channel, compared with 5 per cent pre-COVID-19. We will see what the future brings but early indications tell us that shift to digital will endure.

5.  The future of work will look different

For many, our work and personal lives have collided in a way we could have never imagined. We had to scramble to rapidly enable 95 per cent our people to work from home so we could continue supporting our customers.

We’ve been experimenting with different work environments and encouraging flexibility at ANZ for years. Now we have an opportunity to further question the traditional workplace, whether the physical work environment, technology requirements or collaboration tools.

We’re looking more broadly at why people come to work, what helps people be productive in a workplace. And we must ensure our organisation’s purpose, aspirational culture and values are not only maintained but accelerated, whatever our workplace might look like.

When I started as CEO, I spoke about my aspiration to lead a bank known for doing the right thing. That is even more vital today.

In times of upheaval, great teams quickly adapt, in a material way. The response throughout this crisis by every member of the ANZ team should give customers, shareholders and the community great optimism about how we have and will continue to adapt and manage through this crisis and emerge in a stronger position than before.

Shayne Elliott is Chief Executive Officer at ANZ

This article was originally published on Elliott’s LinkedIn page. You can follow his updates here.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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