Agility has been a defining factor for the businesses that were able to weather 2020. According to the leadership team at Masslift Africa, the way agility manifests itself in your business depends on whether you can adapt your leadership style to get the most out of your team during very trying times. Chief Executive Officer, Marco Caverni and Chief Financial Officer, Thembi Mazibuko, explain how their people-led approach equipped Masslift to be as agile as 2020 and Covid-19 demanded.
Shifting lockdown levels, fluctuating sector challenges and varying client requirements over the past year have been met with an agile approach that has made all the difference to how Masslift Africa, the sole distributor of Mitsubishi forklifts in Southern Africa, has maintained operational continuity and proved its resilience.
“This was undoubtedly the key to our survival over the past year, but this didn’t happen overnight. From a leadership point of view, we realised that our staff would need to be equipped and supported within their individual roles every step of the way. We knew that asking our staff to outperform in highly stressful conditions was a huge request and so agility had to start at the top – we as management had to respond quickly to the situation developing around us and start looking at what training, support, work from home equipment and measures we needed to take to get through this as a business and as a team,” says Caverni.
Results above and beyond resilience
Masslift’s journey through lockdown started in April 2020. Although declared an essential service, Masslift operations came to a virtual standstill as few of their clients were trading at the time. “We used this time to lay the foundation for resilience. We knew that the situation would be unpredictable for months, even years to come and so we used this time to set ourselves up to be as flexible as possible moving forward.
“We realigned job descriptions, KPI’s, and commission structures. We updated policies, adjusted certain procedures and then we trained, trained, and trained our staff! The view was that we were going to tackle the rest of the year with a better foundation and a stronger team – and I feel we did exactly that,” Caverni explains.
From here, the Masslift leadership team focused on regular, more frequent reviews of their operational strategy as they became aware that this was now evolving at far shorter periods than it had before due to rapidly changing circumstances. Masslift’s agile approach extended to their offering and customer service models as well and several customers were provided with ‘special terms’ which reinforced Masslift’s relationships with a large percentage of their customer base.
This, along with strong relationships with their OEM, Mitsubishi, and local suppliers, kept Masslift’s operations moving forward.
These efforts had the desired effect, reports Mazibuko, as the business was able to start turning things around just a month later. “The financial results from May 2020 onwards were outstanding. Our aftermarket department turned their attention to short-term rentals, which cushioned the blow of the contracted new sales market.
Masslift was able to pay full salaries monthly throughout 2020 with no retrenchments and we were able to put through an annual salary increase and pay incentives twice. Looking ahead to our upcoming financial year end in March 2021, we are likely to report a more successful year than the one before, despite the pandemic and lockdown.”
People first, business second
This success, explains Caverni, is credited to the Masslift team, without whom he says they would not have made it through the year. This stance inspired the people-led management strategy that he, together with the company’s leadership team, embarked on as soon as lockdown was announced.
Masslift made taking care of their employees’ physical and mental health the first step to be taken when South Africa’s hard lockdown was announced. This ensured that their staff were in the right frame of mind to maintain the high service levels that their customers have come to expect.
Managing work-from-home challenges were next on the list. Realising that not everyone was having the same experience working from home, Masslift conducted a survey to find out how they could better support and equip their staff within each person’s individual environment. A 24-hour counsellor was also made available to both Masslift staff and their immediate family.
Next up was dealing with the emotional and mental impact that the isolation and remote working has on employees. “We gave the team additional leave days throughout the course of 2020 to allow them time to de-stress away from work, spend time with their loved ones and to maintain a clear head during these trying times. We also issued a digital fatigue guide in early June to assist teams in managing their times on and off screen,” Mazibuko elaborates.
“Our employees are the heroes of the Masslift success story during this pandemic. Our field technicians and salesmen were on the frontline, in the uncertainty of an uncertain virus, maintaining our service levels and selling the Masslift dream. They kept our lights on during hard lockdown while the admin teams were focusing on how to streamline processes to ensure efficiency amidst a remote working structure.”
According to Caverni, the leadership team communicated transparently on the status of the business to help combat uncertainty among the staff. “I would send out updates every one-to-three weeks. We believed being transparent with the staff would build trust and support them to focus on exactly what they needed to. There were many areas we needed to concentrate on, but I would only point out a few key areas at a time as not to dilute their focus. Besides that, we were always available to speak to any of the team to assist them. The philosophy is a simple one, focussed on customer centricity – they serve our customers and therefore our job is to serve them.”
According to Mazibuko, businesses will need to be agile, adaptable, and innovative to be able to weather this still difficult period with any degree of success. “We will all have to accept that COVID-19 will probably be with us for a while, and we need to be able to safely navigate around it. Leaders will need to be flexible and open to doing things differently, but effectively.”
Caverni echoes Mazibuko’s thoughts on flexibility. “I think it’s important to define what you can control and what you can’t. There is no point wasting energy focusing on things out of your control. Apply yourself on areas where you can add value, over-communicate consistently to all your stakeholders, work hard and try not to take life too seriously.”
“Digitisation has moved at a rapid pace due to the pandemic and thus it’s important to have controls in place to manage the risks around that, but also foresight needs to be applied to situations. It’s business unusual, we don’t have the comfort of the experiences from the past to draw from and thus it becomes critical to have a clearly articulated strategy on how to steer the business to profitability.
“Focus on the employees because they are the heart and the engine of the business. If you take care of them, they will take care of the company for you,” Mazibuko concludes.