Safely navigating through a crisis

2020 will go down as one of the most difficult for companies and leaders around the world.  The corona virus has taken lives, isolated families, closed airports and put a fear into many like never before.  Whilst most of us have had the privilege of a stable life occupied with routine, the future is now filled with uncertainty and disruption.  As our new normal evolves, some organizations will be strong enough to survive, but a great number will fold.

Leaders have never been more challenged to guide their teams through uncharted territory. Amid this crisis, and so much uncertainty, it is the actions and direction of leaders that will determine the fate of an organization.

Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, the company Optalert has shown incredible growth in its Medtech business this financial year.  Optalert has developed world leading technology and algorithms that are capable of monitoring and quantifying drowsiness, and are also capable of identifying neurological biomarkers, all through the blink of an eye.

Whilst many companies are downsizing, reducing hours, and laying off staff, Optalert continues to grow and expand its workforce.  In an interview with Mr Scott Coles, CEO of Optalert, he explains the challenges his organization faces and how he manages to navigate successfully through a crisis.

How has Optalert managed to stay successful through the Covid crisis impacting the world?

We have been fortunate in planning early, identifying issues that may impact our business and working with our customers and suppliers to address concerns before they arise.  Essentially, we planned for the worst-case scenario to ensure that we could combat each challenge.  Through the catastrophes that were unfolding in Europe, we knew it would not be long before the repercussions were felt closer to home.

As a leader what were the key challenges you identified?

As news of the pandemic continued to spread, we knew we had to start planning for a global disaster.  Borders were closing and airports were shutting down, my immediate concern was for the safety of our global sales and support teams, and the impact supply disruptions would have for our customers.  We knew supply chains would be severely impacted.

How did you manage to address those challenges?

As increased production was underway, the sales team worked closely with customers to close deals and organized products to be delivered early, to allow for future disruptions. This was a real strength for us, whilst many companies took on a ‘Wait and see approach’ we made immediate choices, allocated and protected key resources, and had multiple plans for different eventualities.

How has your team managed to continue training and product implementations with travel restrictions in place?

We anticipated international travel would be limited so we set about working to find new ways to train customers and provide implementation and support remotely.  We developed a range of marketing tools that included online training and videos in multiple languages and like most businesses we increased communication through video conferencing.  We also relied on our international distributors to assist in filling any gaps.

How do you motivate and lead your team through a crisis, when there is so much uncertainty around us?

In times of crisis, decisions need to be made quickly. Trust your instincts and make the relevant decision on the available data and make it quickly. Decisions made allow actions to be planned, and action provides purpose which unites an organization.

We have virtual meetings on a regular basis to increase communication within the team and we try to install some humor through weekly challenges and other fun activities.  Motivation comes through focusing on the big picture, being united in our goals, and working together to overcome hurdles.  We try to focus on the things that we can control, share success stories as they arise, but also seek to learn lessons from negative situations.  The team motivate me every day through continuing to be positive and I hope I do the same in return, it really is a two-way street. Like a lot of companies, I really believe Optalert will come through this period as a stronger company.

What do you think the new normal will be for the company?

Our aim is to continue supporting our own people and our customers and finding new ways to improve our products, customer service and interactions.  We are incredibly lucky to be living today in an age when we can do so much online and communicate so easily. I expect ‘change’ itself will become more normal as we will not be able to continue doing things as we did in the past.  As borders and airports open, and restrictions ease, we will need to adhere to a new set of guidelines.  I expect we will become used to having a series of diagnostic tests performed everywhere we go, and personal health information will likely be added to the biometric data attached to our passports.  Whatever happens there will be opportunities, and it is up to all of us to look past the immediate confusion and seize opportunities as they present themselves.