CEO Zoé Lewis recently had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) with Trevor Hoyle, Senior Vice President of Ground Operations at FedEx Express Europe, who is responsible for over 40 countries across the region.
They discussed the crucial role of culture in leading people through COVID-19, the importance of leadership, and how a positive mind-set and drive for continuous learning have helped FedEx navigate these challenging times.
ZL: How have you handled the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your area of the business?
TH: During my 25-year career at FedEx, I’ve faced many crises that have impacted our business. COVID-19, however, has had an unprecedented impact - affecting all of us in a way that we’ve never experienced before.
One thing we knew immediately was that we had to address the safety of our teams, and reassure our employees that we had put the right – and required – measures in place. This is not only critical for our teams, but also those who were relying – and continue to depend – on FedEx to keep goods moving. This is particularly important when we consider the role we have played in transporting critical medical supplies that are needed to contain the pandemic.
Our culture has also been a key part of how we have been able to work through the pandemic. Throughout the crisis, I have tried to keep people focused on the idea that you have to go into these types of situations with a positive mind-set. There are always opportunities to be found in difficult times, and individuals should focus on the belief that you will learn from this and come out the other side even stronger. My role as a leader in times of adversity is to encourage people to look towards the future and keep them motivated by helping them see that there is an end in sight.
ZL: As a leader, what guiding principles do you use when making decisions during a crisis?
TH: A crisis calls for calm, fact-based decision-making and it is vital to be honest and transparent with people. Individuals look to leaders to set an example, and how a leader responds impacts those around them. So for me, it’s about casting my leadership shadow in a way that positively impacts those around me.
Something else that guides my decision-making process each day is the organisational culture embedded in our business that has really supported us during this pandemic.
We have a strong people culture and have always made decisions that are right for our people that will provide long-term benefits as opposed to just addressing immediate needs. That is what has kept me here for 25 years!
Our culture is built on four pillars, which guide how we operate:
We have always put safety first, and during the pandemic this was front and centre. A significant number of our employees were moved from the office to work from home, and we adapted and equipped them as needed so they were able to do this efficiently.
In many countries, however, we are considered an essential business and not everyone is able to work remotely. As such, we ensured that those who had to be physically present in hubs, depots and vehicles were safe, whether it was through provision of PPE, social distancing or adapting our operations.
We are always learning at FedEx and the pandemic has offered new opportunities to do this. For a start, working from home means my IT skills have never been so good!
We’ve also learnt to interact with each other in new ways. When we could travel and meet, we used to do two-day leadership meetings. Since doing a two-day virtual equivalent isn’t possible, we’ve shifted to doing shorter two-hour bursts on different days, which has been a great success.
In fact, the irony of this situation is that in many ways virtual working has made me more visible and I have been able to engage with a wider audience – that is a real positive!
I’m certain that we will have so many other positive learnings that we can take forward from this situation. Business operations will never be exactly as they were before, and we should always continue to learn and evolve.
A key area in which order has played a role has been the way we have communicated with our people throughout the pandemic. From the very start, we established a daily drum beat of communication on our COVID-19 response. This was for three main reasons. First, to ensure everyone within the business was aligned on our approach and to quickly identify and solve any operations issues. Second, to outline the steps that have and continue to be taken by FedEx to protect our people from the risk of contracting the virus. Third, to highlight the important contribution our business has made to the global response to this threat by keeping trade flowing and delivering vital medical equipment to where it is most in need.
We are an organisation that is already good at communication, and this served us well. As an example, we heard regularly from our colleagues across the globe on how the pandemic was starting to impact their operations before it hit our region. This helped us to prepare and learn from some of their lessons, ensuring that we were in the best possible position.
We have also been continually sharing our purpose, which has also been an important part of our communications. In times of crisis, particularly when certain employees aren’t able to go into offices, people can become to feel isolated. We are collectively proud of how our employees and key workers have – and continue to – operate. This includes moving vital shipments, such as medical supply deliveries, and communicating this is essential.
Results can mean different things at different times. During the crisis, we needed to focus on delivering those critical shipments in time, supporting our customers through a challenging time, and keeping the economy moving.
ZL: How have you supported people working remotely across the business?
TH: We are aware that we have asked many individuals to work from home, and are conscious that this has not been their personal choice. Part of our support has been in trusting that our employees will work virtually, as well as empowering them to do so. Many have to work around family commitments and ensuring that we’re allowing our employees to be flexible is key.
We have a good provision for mental health support and have been ensuring that people across the business know what is available for them. This includes providing a safe space, and reiterating to our employees that they are able to talk freely and openly about any mental health issues they are facing.
We also started to have more open and deeper conversations than we often have in an office, which has been a great positive. We have started to learn more about people’s home lives (where they have willingly shared!) and their backgrounds, which has helped us to develop even more as a team.
ZL: What have you been doing to look after yourself throughout this?
TH: I noticed early on in lockdown that I needed to maintain a routine and ensure some discipline for myself. I usually work from 8am until 5pm, and now make sure I work in the dining room. I was previously set-up in the kitchen and was far too close to the biscuit tin for my own good!
I run every other day and also make sure to chat to my partner at the start of each day to arrange a time for us to have a cup of tea. We do this while walking round the garden together, our “five minutes with nature”.
In my role, I normally spend a lot of time traveling, so in many ways I’ve gained time. I’ve used this to read more and I’m also learning some languages via a phone app. As someone who grew up in an era of blackboard and chalk, I’ve learned so much more about how to work virtually and have developed some great new digital skills!
The final thing we’ve done is wait until Friday night before we open a bottle of wine, that’s the signal for the weekend; a cue for our time to relax!
ZL: What three tips would you share with other leaders about leading through such uncertain times?
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
2. A strong people culture is essential to help see you through.
3. Recognise that things will change, be responsive and eager to adapt to the new situation.
ZL: Trevor, thank you for sharing your insights on leading through this pandemic, it’s been a pleasure talking with you on this topic.
TH: My pleasure, I’m happy to share a glimpse of how we operate at FedEx. It’s a brilliant company and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been here over 25 years!