How COVID-19 made us stronger: HR Project Partners’ CEO Jacqui Winter shares her lessons learned from these difficult times

How COVID-19 made us stronger: HR Project Partners’ CEO Jacqui Winter shares her lessons learned from these difficult times
Jacqui Winter, founding partner and CEO of HR Project Partners Inc, is one of Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEOs for 2020.

By any measure, 2020 has been a difficult year, and it’s not over yet. While recovery processes must coincide with adapting to life with COVID-19, we know that planning ahead offers business a solid foundation for mitigation and survival in uncertainty.

A key part of our survival this year was having started 2020 in a strong position. With that said there are many factors that helped us weather the challenges that running a business during a global pandemic can bring. These were:

  • new business development focused on diversification in offerings and clients;
  • investment in staff development and a work culture supportive of health and wellness;
  • a robust work-from-home policy and the necessary infrastructure to support remote working; and
  • a solution-focused approach driven by flexibility and adaptability.

Diversifying for growth and survival
Our outlook at the start of the year was positive; we had a lot of growth but we were careful and consistent in managing that growth.

We also had managed growth through the diversification of our client base. While we are a niche business, focusing as we do on human resources, we do not rely on any one sector for clients. As a result, we were able to adjust our business model to deal with any shortfalls in one business sector and we avoided staff layoffs by taking advantage of government support programs and modifying our workloads.

Investing in staff
It’s not enough to have a solid vision, clear values, and an effective plan. A company needs employees who are invested in meeting the company’s goals for success. I learned early in my career what it meant to have your hard work recognized and to have your employer invest in your growth and professional development. I want the same for my staff and every day I see what this investment in them means.

While professional development is a critical part of personal growth, creating and supporting a workplace culture of wellness and mindfulness is also essential. During the lockdown, we maintained our daily check-ins and one-on-one chats. I also supported staff in taking time to attend training offered by Workplace NL specifically geared to managing demands and issues arising from the pandemic.

Working remotely by design and by chance
New tools give us options to work in new ways. Last year we spent time developing a robust work-from-home policy and creating the infrastructure to support it such as cell-phones and laptops. Clearly explained policies help employees work better. We complement those policies with clear and consistent communications regardless of where you work.

This worked well during the state of emergency in late January when we all worked from home. While a weather-related emergency situation is a short-term event, the uncertainty of the emerging pandemic meant working remotely long term was a strong possibility. Our transition to our whole team working remotely for an extended period was smooth and uneventful. Because of our investment in their capacity, our staff were able to take what they needed to keep them working throughout the lockdown.

Pivot, pivot, pivot
Successful growth depends on adaptability and flexibility. Managing change does as well. There’s nothing like a pandemic to create uncertainty. But it also creates opportunity. We paid attention to what was being discussed and planned. We took advantage of all the programs we could find. While we weren’t eligible for some of the relief programs available, we did succeed in getting support from others. This meant we could avoid layoffs and keep our team together.

We also took advantage of the downtime to achieve some objectives we had identified earlier in our strategic planning. We were able to complete our document review and refine our file storage practices and policies. We also began work on our marketing strategy and continued to nurture some new initiatives. We are well prepared to focus on delivering services to our clients as they themselves resume operations.

Looking ahead
While lockdown took place precipitously, we did not want to do the same with our return to the office once the situation allowed it. We planned our protocols for working in the office again using the guidelines from the provincial government and by listening to our employees and planning together to ensure our continued health and safety. As we go forward living with COVID-19, the most important lesson I can take away is knowing we could live our values as a company and create a positive environment for surviving and succeeding. •

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