Gillian McIver is a current MBA student and Forté Fellow, previously working in group insurance plan management. She pursued an MBA to be pushed out of her comfort zone, and address strategic and operational decision-making with both confidence and analytical skills. In her blog below, she writes about how Mark Poweska, President and CEO of Hydro One Limited, shared the challenges and successes of managing both consumer and corporate interests through COVID-19, and what an unexpected new normal could look like. Poweska spoke to students on May 19 for the MBA Teachable Moments Virtual Speaker Series, a program designed to provide Ivey MBAs with unprecedented access to accomplished leaders.
Guiding principles through the unknown
Every company and CEO can plan for a crisis, but it comes down to the actions taken and steps executed that separate success from failures. Poweska shared that while Hydro One had multiple emergency actions plans in place, it was not until the severity of the crisis was present that it became clear what had to be done. From the beginning, remaining true to task and clear with objectives, Poweska has led by following two guiding principles of responsibility; protecting his employees, and ensuring that the services Hydro One delivers to the public remain both safe and reliable. Poweska provided great insight that while this crisis is dynamic and confusing, with clear intentions and objectives, leaders can continue to deliver on expectations and responsibilities in times of abnormal operations.
A balancing act
Hydro One is, like any company, accountable to a long list of stakeholders. For Poweska, this includes balancing the responsibility of delivering results to shareholders, acting in the best interest of employees, providing dependable service to customers, and working with government and community groups to navigate public and economic concerns. Hydro One’s service delivery demands continuous in-person management and involvement, creating a potential for risk to employees and, in turn, their families. But, by quickly adapting to the situational changes while operating in an organized and thoughtful manner, Hydro One has not faltered on its promises to stakeholders, while ensuring the health and safety of employees. Developing a functional, long-term strategy has allowed Poweska to remain consistent on deliverables, while extending resources to address the pressing issues at hand.
Health, wellness, and productivity
What returning to the office will look like when the economy opens up remains a question, but something Poweska looks at with a refreshing air of innovation and promise. Creating the ability for employees to work from home (“WFH”) in a matter of days was a forceful push into the unknown, but proved that with innovation and ingenuity come great results. Hydro One is seeing productivity equal to, if not higher than in the office - an outcome that while perhaps not expected, has potentially opened the door to a more customizable work experience moving forward. COVID-19 has spurred widespread innovation across sectors, bringing about changes, and new and exciting opportunities to traditional operations. These innovations have increased efficiencies, and are certain to continue to impact consumer and corporate behaviour well past the immediate impact of the pandemic.
In crisis comes opportunity
No one wants to be faced with a crisis – it’s scary, it’s uncertain, and it can be mentally and emotionally draining. Yet, Poweska sheds light on the positives of the situation, and the opportunities that have been found in its midst. Among these is a lesson in leading with empathy, as consumers and employees alike are experiencing new levels of fear and stress. This has presented the time to connect and communicate with employees in open, honest, and forthcoming discussions. It has allowed time to listen to how individuals are responding to the changing global and local environments, and has encouraged greater information and strategy sharing among industry partners. COVID-19 has caused the world to connect in new ways that, without a doubt, will continue into the foreseeable future. Poweska opened our eyes to the values of empathy, compassion and innovation that every leader should carry forward.
The Ivey way
As Ivey MBA students, we learn the importance of decision-making in ambiguity, and the strength of leaning on our peers through the learning process. Whether it’s case preparations or in our post-MBA careers, we will undoubtedly have to make impactful, significant decisions in the unknown. Poweska left us with a message to stick to clear principles to guide the decision making process, and to look out for each other when enveloped in uncertainty. As a class, let’s deliver on this directive as we navigate a future that, while unclear, is full of promise and opportunity.