Adapting through the Covid-19 pandemic 

By Darren Davidson, Siemens Energy, Managing Director Power Generation, Power Service

We can’t deny that Covid-19 has brought about seismic shifts to each and every one of us affecting our lives in both a professional and personal capacity. It’s been a tough time that’s for sure. But through the collaboration, communication and compassion shown by employees we have been able to navigate that change with resilience and agility, allowing us to service our customers, keep each other safe and move our business forward.

 

There has undoubtedly been hurdles to overcome, but sadly non greater than losing one of our own to this indiscriminating virus.  As a close-knit team with an unwavering family culture, this has been the hardest challenge we have had to face and as such I would like to begin by paying tribute to our much loved and sadly missed colleague Kevin Wallace.  As Operations Manager at the Seven Power Plant, Kevin unfortunately contracted Covid-19 in April and sadly passed away in May.  His death has left an indelible hole in all our hearts and is a stark reminder of the devastating reality of this disease.

 

As colleagues and friends, so many people across the Siemens Energy network and particular our colleagues at Severn Power Plant played their part in supporting each other through the bereavement and the wider changes imposed across the organisation, showing compassion and understanding.

 

The speed at which Covid hit and the uncertainty it brought led to many changes to the operational side of the business too.  As leader of my business there was certainly an expectation to have all the answers. Do we continue our customer outages or do we down tools and stop altogether? Answers that in the end were sought collectively by talking and listening to colleagues and steered by an overriding commitment to maintain consistency of service for customers and keeping our staff safe.

 

Thankfully, our investment over the years in business continuity and crisis planning really came to the fore during this time, helping us deal quickly with the changes imposed. Short term we looked at the outages we had booked, deciding which could be moved and which needed to be completed. This involved mobilising teams, putting in place strengthened PPE and new social distancing measures. With many venues and hospitality businesses closed, we also had to consider how we would feed and put a roof over our employees’ heads – something that was fortunately resolved through the private rental of a few hotels.  

 

Our power station in Cottam which was part of a 30-day outage that started in February was one of those projects which required completion. This was our first real experience of working under the new measures but the commitment from the team was exceptional. This outage was shortly followed by work at the power station in Peterhead and demonstrated another great example of service delivery in challenging circumstances for both our customers and our colleagues.

 

We were fortunate that throughout we were able to keep our Newcastle facility open too which meant we could continue to manufacture parts and work on customer assets. Many of our staff worked from home, but we also created a socially distanced office block for those needing to work onsite.  It was encouraging to see how quickly the team adapted and to see their over-riding drive and willingness to make things work. Difficult decisions had to be made regarding who to furlough and who not, but everyone took it in their stride, and we are pleased to say they are all now back at work. 

 

Communication was a fundamental part of our crisis management and we held regular business continuity meetings with senior managers, and gave regular updates to employees. People certainly had very strong opinions on different issues, but it was important we welcomed and embraced the debate. Ultimately, however we were led by doing the right thing and making quick but well considered decisions.

 

Similarly, we remained committed to regular communication with our customers to reassure them about how seriously we were taking the situation and how we were able to support them going forward. At times like this it’s important to lead from the front and be visible and it’s thanks to virtual technology we were able to make that a reality! 

One thing that hit home during this time however is just how much you learn about yourself and others.  I always knew our team were incredible but none more so than at this time. They really stepped-up, taking ownership, making decisions for their safety and that of their customers and colleagues and leading from the front. 

The human side of individuals was very much at the fore with employees showing empathy for the different situations and circumstances facing their colleagues.  People were willing to take on extra responsibility particularly at the start. There was a clear appetite to play their part in chartering the Siemens Energy ship through uncertain waters and I remain incredibly impressed. Sinking in any capacity wasn’t an option and they were proud to be at the helm and captain their respective voyages.  

 

Personally, this time has also given me an opportunity to learn a lot about myself, and despite my initial thoughts, I’ve discovered I am able to adapt and respond quickly in a crisis. As hard as it’s been, I’ve enjoyed the challenge, no matter how hard the situation was at the time.

 

Covid has also enabled me to change my mindset and pre-conceived perceptions. Take homeworking for example. I’m not going to lie, but I wasn’t the biggest fan to start. Call me old fashioned but I always considered the most preferable way to work was in the office. It’s been wired into my DNA and as a people-person I don’t think you can replace face-to-face interaction with employees and customers which I believe is vital for collaboration, creativity and problem solving. Those chats in the canteen, kitchen and corridors  do really make a difference!  But as a leader you must be objective, trust in your people and allow them to make decisions and I must say I’ve been very impressed by their productivity and drive working at home. In many cases it has made employees more efficient and helped us become leaner as a business.  

 

As a leader in a crisis situation continually informing, inspiring and motivating your staff has been important. As well as our standard communications, we introduced regular Covid-19 updates; but it was the simple things including one to one conversations with colleagues that mattered most.  

 

It’s true that different leaders have managed the crisis in different ways but if I knew what I know now at the start of the pandemic there would have been three simple pieces of advice I would give. 1) Make sure you invest in business continuity and crisis management as an ongoing process – this really helped us hit the ground running. 2) Have trust and faith in your team and give them the autonomy to make decisions. 3) Communicate – and the more the better.  Be visible in your communications. Lead from the front. People need to see the whites of your eyes and know senior management are there for them. 

On a personal level I’ve learnt a lot too...

I'm definitely more grateful for the simple things in life including my friends, family and the position I have here at Siemens Energy. Hard as it may be at times, I never underestimate the privilege it is to have this job and to lead the people I lead.  

Oh and I’ve embraced the bearded man look too! Lockdown has allowed us to let a lot go or is that grow?  There is also a new member of my family too - our Cavalier King Charles spaniel Joey! After years of badgering from my daughter and following a rather persuasive campaign that included an impressive power point presentation and photo gallery showcasing all the benefits of having a dog, I finally succumbed!  

 

Puppies and power points aside though, it’s been an interesting time and I’m in little doubt we have a long road ahead. But amongst the covid chaos there are exciting times too as we recently launched our new Siemens Energy business. As we have  migrated to the new company on 1 October, we now see the four business units including transmission services, solutions and products join the Newcastle site which will provide great opportunities for our customers, encouraging further collaboration amongst our employees.  

 

Overall, I’m incredibly proud of the people I’ve had the opportunity to lead through this crisis. We have pulled together, supporting our customers and one another with compassion and professionalism and it’s because of that I truly believe we have come out stronger. And it’s those relationships and our unwavering commitment to doing the right thing for our people and customers that will help us navigate those unchartered waters and indeed whatever might come next.