“This has impacted us all in incredible ways” — Jeffrey Russell, President of Accenture in Canada

Published by Speaking of Business Podcast on

Transcript

Goldy Hyder:
Welcome to Speaking of Business. I’m Goldy Hyder of the Business Council of Canada. During the COVID-19 crisis, we are featuring conversations with business leaders to find out how they are being affected by the pandemic and how are they responding. How can businesses adapt to physical distancing guidelines? Will the COVID-19 crisis change the way we work in the future? What could that so-called new normal look like? Those are questions Jeffrey Russell is thinking about. He is President of Accenture in Canada, a global professional services company that offers clients a range of expertise, including strategy and consulting and technology leadership.

Goldy Hyder:
Welcome to the podcast, Jeffrey.

Jeffrey Russell:
Thank you, Goldy. I’m delighted to be part of the series and join in. Thank you.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, let’s just jump right to the core thing that people are thinking about. I mean, how are you and your team adapting during this crisis?

Jeffrey Russell:
Thanks for asking. Firstly, I couldn’t be prouder of our people across Accenture and, for that matter, our clients and our partners as well. I think our folks have really rallied with purpose to keep Canada moving, working very closely with our clients, adapting to their needs in real time. As we’ve put our safety and the well-being of our people front and centre, we very much focused, I guess it was now four and a half, five weeks ago, on moving to a complete work from home model, as many of us have. It was amazing to see almost, some 5,500 people across our group, across the country in four days, literally from Monday to Thursday, pivot to that work from home model. For many of us working remotely is in our DNA at Accenture. In fact, we’re one of the world’s biggest users of Microsoft Teams for how we collaborate and so the mobilization was quick.

Jeffrey Russell:
I think, also, it’s probably worth mentioning, in terms of working from home, a recognition that we’re social beings at the end of the day and we’ve tried to take that to heart. We’re making our video calls wherever we can possible. We recognize there’s kids, and there’s pets, and our partners are making appearances and we embrace these moments. I know personally my wife and I are sharing the same working space and sharing the same kitchen space for meal breaks, et cetera. We’re also trying to be patient with each other. Parents are helping kids with school. Others are on their own, cooped up. We acknowledge things are not normal. So we’re trying to incorporate all that into how we live and work.

Jeffrey Russell:
Then last, but not least, we’re trying to do some things that are very targeted and purposeful to help one another. So for example, we recently launched a wellness program for all employees called Thriving Minds. It’s based on research from Stanford. It helps you to prioritize things like your mental well-being, understanding and dealing with stress, guidance on things like breathing and food and sleep, et cetera. I know for me, personally, a whole practice of mindfulness is very important. We’ve been incorporating that into my life, and our lives, and collectively.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s good. A good insight for our listeners on that. How about your clients though, what are you hearing from them?

Jeffrey Russell:
There’s really kind of two worlds that are playing out over the last five weeks. As you’d imagine, the first world was the emergency response, the urgency, the notion of trying to get business continuity maintained, et cetera. So I think, we’ve been helping our clients, first and foremost, on each of those regards and in some cases also helping them ensure their people are safe and working from home and maintaining mission critical operations.

Jeffrey Russell:
We’re also helping them with new ways of communicating, in terms of new tools and technologies that we can both collaborate in the first instance, but also co-create and co-innovate because we have to get work done together in addition to just talking to one another. So, how to do that? A couple of examples, interesting examples. One around the supply chain and getting critical items through to people including food and cleaning products and batteries and, of course, toilet paper which was getting a lot of press time early on. We’re also helping the government get the financial stimulus out into the market.

Goldy Hyder:
How are you doing that, Jeffrey? That’s interesting. How are you doing that?

Jeffrey Russell:
For a variety of different departments, both federally and provincially, we’re helping spinning up call centres overnight, literally four days response, in the case of one example, to deal with overflow of calls. Through another example, actually building financial platforms to help in the case of getting money into the hands of business operators through financial institutions.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s interesting. Thanks for sharing that. Now, I’ve been saying many times, and it’s been said many times I guess, over the past few weeks, that we’re all in this together. Dealing with this crisis has also included giving back. You mentioned some of the wellness programs and things you’re doing for your employees. What are you doing at Accenture for the community in which you operate?

Jeffrey Russell:
Firstly, let me just say that, kind of the notion of responsible business and giving back is very much at the cornerstone of who we are and it’s in our DNA and our value set. We recognize that especially at this time, the imperative of business serving society and not the other way around, and how do we in turn help to do that? I think there’s a few ways. One is, we’re working with various partners, clients, partners around how do we help in the case of healthcare, and getting some of the healthcare products ultimately, to the healthcare workers and the frontline worker and working with different clients to help pivot their current capabilities to new capabilities. In terms of auto part factories, we’re seeing them pivot to ventilator manufacturing and we’re seeing distillers making hand sanitizer, et cetera. We’re seeing our grocery supply chains pivot and our clients in that space pivot to be able to move a lot more product.

Jeffrey Russell:
I think on the community partner side, we’re prioritizing our focus in places where we think we can make the biggest impact. A few examples there, in terms of food banks, we’re seeing an incredible spike unfortunately. Therefore, how do we help both the grocery supply chains get food into the food bank and then equally how do the food banks get it into the hands of citizens. United Way is another example, giving aid to Canadians.

Jeffrey Russell:
Then the last point, which I think is quite exciting for us, we have something called Skills to Succeed and that’s really about skilling up people looking to get into the workforce with improved digital skills, improved business and financial skills that may otherwise not get the opportunity. So, off the back of that work, we’ve created a learning exchange, called the Skills to Succeed Learning Exchange. We’ve offered that to our nonprofit partners, who in turn are helping people gain new skills and get comfortable with technology, as they think about pivoting through this, and post this pandemic, what they’re going to do to fruitfully get a job and get employed. That’s seen a big spike in terms of application and take up over the last few weeks.

Goldy Hyder:
It’s probably not a fair question, Jeffrey, because it’s dangerous to make predictions at any time and it’s particularly dangerous to make them in a crisis, but you know, I said off the top here, we should talk about what the new normal might look like. I’m wondering if there are things that you would say, let’s look three years out, not six months or 12 months, three years from now, where you’re going to say, “This crisis made these things natural, normal.” What do you think those are? We’re talking a lot these days about medicine and health and education and telework and so forth, but what really is going to change in your opinion, for sure?

Jeffrey Russell:
I think the notion of telework, first and foremost. I think about how we’re all working today. I think what we’re seeing is our clients exploiting collaboration, ways of working much faster than otherwise they were. They’re under pressure now and I think that’ll continue. I think we’re seeing, in the case of technology, the move to cloud and we’re seeing an accelerated look at that, on behalf of our clients, for many that really haven’t moved down that path in earnest. I think this notion of resiliency is going to get much greater focus, in terms of both the physical side of the filament within our client’s organizations and their supply chain. But I think also resiliency, in terms of the way they collaborate as industries and as a country. I think this notion of comparative advantage as a country, I think the resiliency we now need to have as Canada, its capabilities and its abilities across the board and how we compete as a country. So I’d say resiliency, I’d say a shift to cloud and collaboration and yes, I think more and more, will change the way we work at the heart of this.

Goldy Hyder:
Well look, before I let you go, a final question if I can squeeze one more in. It’s one that I know that you and I have talked about before and a big part of your job. How is this crisis changing you or informing you to be a better leader?

Jeffrey Russell:
For me, leadership, a big element is building mutual trust and respect, creating this sense of transparency and openness. You know, kind of the at a very emotional level, this has impacted us all and in incredible ways. I think being real and transparent and authentic as a leader, I think, is more and more coming to the fore. I think authenticity overall is going to be a key attribute that we’re all going to hopefully take something away from and learn from, to build up that mutual trust and respect because I think also, there’s going to be a greater need for all of us. You know, this working together notion is very, very important and I think it’s going to only accelerate. I think, therefore, our level of transparency and mutual trust and respect that we can build across industry lines, across customer supplier lines, et cetera, et cetera, will become more important. So us, as personal leaders, and really starting to continue to build on those past experiences, but I think this is going to bring that to the fore for all of us.

Goldy Hyder:
Terrific. Great place to end. Thanks for doing this, Jeffrey, much appreciated.

Jeffrey Russell:
Thank you, Goldy. My pleasure and our pleasure as Accenture.

Goldy Hyder:

Jeffrey Russell is President of Accenture in Canada. We’ve heard a wide range of voices and perspectives in this special series and I encourage you to listen to more of our conversations at SpeakingOfBiz.ca or wherever you get your podcasts.

Goldy Hyder:
Thanks for joining us. Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder

In light of the COVID-19 emergency, we’ve temporarily suspended our regularly scheduled series of conversations with Canadian CEOs. But we’re not going away. Instead, we’re going to pivot to the health emergency itself. We’re going to explore the impact on companies and workers across the country. And we’re going to find out how business leaders are responding to crisis.

Jeffrey Russell, President of Accenture in Canada, discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected his employees, how Accenture is helping governments get help to those who need it, and what the new economy could look like in the future.

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