Looking back and learning
Reflecting on the past 18 months Staffan Göjeryd, CEO of Telia Carrier, shares the leadership lessons he gained while leading a major telco during a global health crisis
Looking back over the past months, I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved at Telia Carrier. That pride is even greater when you consider that 18 months ago nobody on earth, never mind in the business world, had any idea of how the Covid-19 pandemic was going to change everything. At Telia Carrier, we began to see the impact of the pandemic a little earlier than other businesses because of our presence in Asia, which was of course followed a few months later by Europe and then North America.
The global economy and the telecoms industry were put under incredible strain by the pandemic, and the value of our network as a mission-critical enabler was truly put to the test.
The world found itself trying to work and keep itself busy from the confines of living rooms and this led to our traffic surging more than 50%, growing the total traffic over our IP network to a mind-blowing 70+ Tbps. The shift to a work-from-anywhere environment saw traffic to web conferencing solutions increase four to six-fold over just one month, direct cloud interconnections grew six-fold compared with previous quarters, and cloud security solutions doubled.
This all came at a time when, first and foremost, we wanted to look after our staff – and there is no question it challenged all of us – I was no exception. At Telia Carrier we are used to working as distributed teams as we are an organisation of only 530 employees, managing the number one ranked global backbone network.
The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated to us that people can work virtually anywhere and feel empowered while doing so. Our own teams went the extra mile, without us having to even ask them: finding ways around problems, keeping motivated and giving us an enormous sense of pride in the process as they maintained operations and the integrity of the network. They cared immensely about the important role our network was playing.
In many ways, the pandemic exposed the true meaning of leadership – both good and bad. For me personally, it’s even clearer now how important good management, consistency and empowerment are for a successful company – and, ultimately, for a great customer experience.
Reflecting on how we handled the pandemic, as the person at the helm I would normally be thinking in the long term about the company. But for the management team and I, I think it was actually a good thing that we did not know the pandemic was going to last as long as it has, as I think we might have struggled to comprehend what to do as a business. Instead, we were tactical and action-oriented, thinking about what needed to be done, rather than being frozen by strategising.
For our people, it has been a challenging time in so many ways that it is impossible to generalise. All have different personal circumstances: some will be very social, or have families at home; others will not. It means that everybody’s experience has been different.
Indeed, as a global company, different parts of the business have been in and out of different levels of restrictions at different times too.
As a leader, it meant that, rather than preach to people about how to work, we had to make sure they had the tools to work in the best way possible. It wasn’t just about supporting on a practical level with a good working environment, but also giving them permission to take time away from screens, and encourage teams to meet socially, even if virtually, with no work agenda. We also worked hard to ensure that employees had access to support services if they needed to speak with someone about how they were being affected by everything.
At this stage in the pandemic, when we are starting to see some tentative signs of a return to normality, I think the experience has had an impact on my leadership style. I’ve found myself thinking strategically about what the true role of the office is, not just on a practical level, but culturally – are we actually as dependent on it as we thought? Or in some ways does it hinder us?
More than anything – and advice that I will give freely to anyone that will listen – is never underestimate the abilities of your people, but with one caveat.
As a leader, you need a clear sense of purpose and that must be galvanised in your staff through your good leadership. I am in no doubt that, without that belief and purpose in our own employees, the past 15 months for Telia Carrier would have been much harder.