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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Why empathy should be part of your business strategy

Lessons organizations have learned in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic are the same lessons that should apply as they move into Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the recovery, according to the head of IBM's U.S. federal business.

Jay Bellissimo puts those lessons into three buckets: Empathy, Urgency and Assurance. To explain, Bellissimo shared with me some examples of how IBM and other companies responded to customer needs.

“We need to think about what worked well and first on that list is empathy,” said Bellissimo, general manager of the IBM U.S. Public and Federal Market unit. “I know that sounds simple and soft, but when this first happened people and organizations were scared. They didn’t know what to do.”

For contractors supporting these customers, Bellissimo said the best thing they did was come in and listen and gain an understanding of the situation.

A close second lesson he cited is is bringing a sense of urgency. One example of what IBM did for a customer was stand up chat bots to help nurses at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to handle the huge volume of calls that were coming in. Children’s Healthcare is the large children’s hospital system in the country.

The hospital needed a solution “in hours, not days,” Bellissimo said.

Assurance also developed quickly as pillar number three. Organizations were looking for answers on what was coming next, which can vary greatly for each of them.

IBM had one customer that needed a call center with 1,000 people responding to inquiries. Nearly everyone was digesting the massive amounts of information coming out of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.

Bellissimo used the hockey terminology of understanding where the puck is headed and getting there before it gets that. That’s a challenge all organizations are facing right now as the economy starts to slowly move toward reopening.

IBM has created a guidance document (Beyond the Lockdown) that describes how Big Blue itself will determine how and when to reopen its facilities. Before the pandemic became one, 60 percent of IBM’s 350,000 employees worked remotely. Once the pandemic hit, that share quickly moved to 95 percent.

Beyond the Lockdown also describes how workers will begin to return through all three phases of the reopening. Worker safety is a top priority, but Bellissimo said there will be many ripples that radiate out from particular decisions.

One big question will be the availability of child care during the workday and if schools are reopened along with how those facilities reopen, either fully or part-time. That will have an impact on who can return to the office.

As many people have told us, Bellissimo said there will be many people who will continue to work from home by choice.

IBM's document sets up a set of principles for returning to the workplace.

  • Base decisions on five considerations such as guidance from local authorities, local health data, what other companies are doing, the views of your workforce and availability of services essential to your workforce such as day care, schools and camps.
  • Base return of employees on pre-defined waves that are data-driven, evidence-based practices and policies.
  • Carefully assess the market-specific health and policy landscape to determine future waves of returning employees.

Capabilities need to be put into place as more people return to work that need to be addressed and chief among those is case management and contact tracing, Bellissimo said.

There also is the need to balance protecting people’s privacy. “It gets complex very quickly,” Bellissimo said.

But Bellissimo turned again to those first lessons as a guide -- Empathy, Urgency and Assurance.

“Because until there is a vaccine, it is about taking care of people."

Posted by Nick Wakeman on May 29, 2020 at 10:12 AM


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