5 Q’s for Verizon Business CEO Tami Erwin on surviving and thriving during COVID-19

By Giselle Abramovich

Posted on 12-01-2020

Telecommunications is a fast-moving industry that has seen a lot of innovation and change over time.

That said, 2020 has seen an acceleration in transformation, with the COVID-19 pandemic kickstarting an almost all-digital economy in just weeks.

“For us, just like so many businesses, we had to accelerate our digital capabilities within Verizon to serve our customers differently,” says Tami Erwin, CEO of Verizon Business. “I’d like to tell you that we were far along in that digital transformation journey, but the reality is we’ve only recently, in the last year and a half, gone through a pretty significant transformation at Verizon, something we refer to as Verizon 2.0, and that’s reorienting how we face the customer.”

Business Continuity Playbook

COVID-19 is upending the way we live and work. In this playbook, we share lessons we’ve learned — from our own experience and from our customers.

Learn more

We sat down with Erwin to discuss how the pandemic has affected business, what it means to be a digital and truly omnichannel business, as well as why leadership is such a core part to how Verizon Business shows up for its customers. Watch the video below and read on for her insights.

Let’s talk about an important characteristic of successful companies during this time.

I think leadership is such an important element of how we show up for our customers. I believe that leaders have a responsibility to provide direction for the team and then provide the tools, resources and the information that they need to be successful. Then leaders need to get out of the way and let their teams go towards the mission.

I believe that involves having a well-defined strategy. At Verizon, our mission is to create the networks that move the world forward, so we’re clear on that mission and how we define what success looks like.

Success during the pandemic has also brought on even greater need for collaboration among teams. Teamwork enables us to serve customers faster and better; We’re stronger together.

I know you’re passionate about what you refer to as three key human-centric and interlocking pillars for leadership: “The head, heart, and hands.” Can you talk about that concept and why it has even greater importance right now?

The heart has become more important during this crisis than ever before. This crisis has created so many cycles of grief for many people. I lost a dear friend to COVID and at that moment, it went from being an academic exercise to a personal exercise where all of a sudden you realize that in the U.S. alone, we’ve lost nearly 200,000 lives. People have also missed out on milestone moments like graduation, vacations, and more.

I believe my job as a leader is to create the environment that allows people resiliency and hope, and the belief that we will get through this. It’s a balance of having a well-defined strategy, while respecting the fact that the single most important asset we have is our people. Our job as leaders is to create a strategy and then make sure they’ve got the tools to be successful but creating an environment of hope and resiliency is just as important to get through this. Leaders need to work together and with their teams and help one another.

Has your relationships with customers and employees changed by putting empathy front and center in your strategy?

Even before COVID, I have always dedicated time to spend with both employees and customers because when you’re face-to-face you really have a chance to understand the environment in which they’re operating, the problems that they’re trying to solve, and demonstrate the humanness of connecting regardless of the level in the organization.

I have a belief that every job in the organization is important, and I want to listen and understand everyone who works here, including and especially our frontline employees who are the face of our brand.

During COVID, there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for in-person interaction, but I’ve been doing my best to listen and to engage. We have done a number of surveys over the last six months with our employees to really understand what people are feeling and what they need. How do we make sure we’re in tune to not only what they need as employees, but as caregivers as well. I’ve got a passion around women in the workforce. And I think about women today that are trying to have a career and at the same time trying to be the teacher in their home as they’re trying to educate kids that are distance learning. As businesses we have to recognize that we’ve invited ourselves into our employee’s homes and they have all said, “come on in.”

And that means we meet their dog, their cats, their kids, and those are the moments that I’ve found you have to embrace those moments. You have to say hi to the kid who shows up on the screen because he just wants to ask his dad a question, or he needs some help from his mom. Understand a parent who’s going to be an hour late because they need to get their kids started in school. And accept that broadband only accommodates voice for one of your people because they’re sharing the broadband with their kids. It’s all of those moments, I think, that matter and show just what kind of leader you are.

What do you feel is the most important hurdle facing all of us right now, regardless of industry, and what steps can we take as leaders to ensure we overcome and thrive?

It’s important for all of us as leaders to think about how to reimagine what the future looks like. There will be new models that are introduced as a result of what we’ve been through with this crisis. For example, most of us will never go to a doctor’s office sick again because we’ll learn to use telemedicine in a rapidly and radically different way. I think the same thing is true of education. As leaders, as we face challenges and uncertainty, it is important to be present in the moment, demonstrate compassion and kindness, be clear on the goals, and then realize that we’re going to have a chance to reimagine and redefine what success looks like. And one of the things that I think is so important for us right now as we think about the uncertainty our employees face, giving them the security and confidence of knowing what success looks like when they show up at work is really important.

What are you most excited about in the coming months?

As leaders we can have a huge impact on not just our companies, but also how society reemerges and redefines things like customer experience, equality, racial justice, and more. I think now is the time to lean in on those opportunities and really leave lasting change as a result of this, for the greater good.

Business Continuity Playbook

COVID-19 is upending the way we live and work. In this playbook, we share lessons we’ve learned — from our own experience and from our customers.

Learn more

Topics: Telecom, B2B, Customer Stories, Future of Work, Leadership, Digital Transformation, Experience Cloud, COVID-19, CMO by Adobe, Marketing,