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Leading through COVID-19 the CPCS way

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CPCS, a global management consulting firm specializing in infrastructure, exhibits resilience as it continues to advance infrastructure priorities for clients around the world amid COVID-19 pandemic.

  • “People over process” mindset drives the employee-owned company
  • Keeping a global team connected is key to success
  • Future trends dictate changes in the way CPCS does business

“Projects don’t stop,” says Jean-François Arsenault, Managing Partner at CPCS. “We have more than 100 on the go at any given moment.”

CPCS is doing fairly well despite difficult global affairs. Why?

First, like healthcare, the need for infrastructure is huge.

“CPCS also puts people over process,” adds the economist who studied at Cambridge. “We’re an employee-owned company after all.”

To bounce back stronger, he stresses the importance of sharing the burden and staying united. This means bigger salary cuts at the top and adopting other measures across the organization, such as weekly all-staff hangouts.

Increased dialogue and listening have also helped the global team adjust to a new normal. These initiatives have brought staff closer too.

Protecting a highly skilled workforce

When COVID-19 hit, Jean-François’ first thought was: “We need to protect a team that has taken us years to build.”

After all, the firm’s success rests on its highly skilled team.   

As such, Jean-François, alongside his co-chief Marc-André Roy, acted on principles of compassionate leadership.

Sharing the burden to go farther, not faster

To avoid laying off employees, CPCS opted for early contingency planning.

“By letting people go, our recovery phase would be much more difficult,” he admits.

The management team and senior employees have taken the biggest pay cuts.

“It’s a mindset, but it was also the right thing to do,” he adds.

Another measure to absorb the shock was encouraging employees to take advantage of accumulated vacation time to reduce hours each week. Once the situation improves, CPCS will be ready to operate at full throttle.

As a result of these measures, not a single employee has been laid off since the start of the pandemic.

Keeping a global team connected and in high spirits

After securing the team, CPCS worked on making people feel comfortable and helping them adjust to this new reality.

Managing Partners understand that team success cannot be measured the same way it was before coronavirus hit. Physical, mental and emotional health is now far more important.

Many people are not “working from home”; they’re at home trying to work during a crisis.

Adopting more frequent global meet-ups has instilled a greater sense of togetherness. Employees gather once a week via video conference to interact and hear updates from the management team. Attendance rate averages 95 per cent.

“It forces Marc-André and I to be transparent and understanding, and it keeps everybody in the loop,” says Jean-François.

Employees also use these meetings to raise concerns, ask questions and, in some cases, engage in banter. 

But as jovial as these meetings are, people are going through difficult times.

“There are real tragedies happening in our networks,” admits Jean-François. “We lost a long-time friend and esteemed colleague from COVID.”

All this led CPCS to put more focus on dialogue, listening and support.

First, CPCS set up a confidential and anonymous channel to preserve psychological safety. More often than not, messages employees submitted have been constructive and have sparked genuine discussions and change.

One such change, implemented in less than three days, was adding mental health to the firm’s paid leave policy.

“Our ways to help employees cope with the situation are inherently limited as we’re all working remotely,” says Jean-François. “But it’s important to show that we’re working with them. We can’t afford to lose them.”

Adapting is the normal thing to do

Beyond measures to keep the business moving, CPCS sees trends and wants to ride the waves of change (rather than being swept by them).

CPCS thinks business will be conducted this way moving forward:

Far less travel around the world in the short to medium-term

As countries respond to COVID-19 with various degrees of effectiveness, international travel will likely become more complicated, restrictive and expensive.

In response, CPCS will entrench even more its local presence in key markets to avoid unnecessary back-and-forths. For instance, the firm will at some point send a balanced mix of junior and senior consultants to Africa for multiple months.

The firm will also look at opportunities for expansion and acquisition in regional offices with renewed interest.

Technology will speed up decision-making

If virtual meetings have increased, it won’t be at the expense of face-to-face communication.

The key will be to know which activities can use technology and those requiring in-person interaction.

“While technology will increase the frequency of touch-points, firms with a strong local presence and good relations with clients will be in a better position to use technology,” says Jean-François.

Risks between public and private entities

Business management in the infrastructure sector is about balancing risks between public and private entities. COVID-19 taught stakeholders that risk assessments has to include global health crises and other “black swan events.”

CPCS is already taking into account this development as it gauges risk in infrastructure projects.

Uncertain demand

Furthermore, public funding and private investments will focus on crisis management. Demand and funding for infrastructure projects is likely to become scarcer in the short run.

Fortunately, crisis management goes hand in hand with infrastructure resilience. This is one of the firm’s core strengths. In the medium-term, CPCS will be ready to assist governments to adapt to this new demand.

Available supply of labour

Higher unemployment rates means that competition will likely go up. On the other hand, investors, entrepreneurs, services firms and clients may turn inward and focus on their domestic markets.

CPCS operates in a niche market, and its expertise is hard to replicate. This limits competition from new entrants. Moreover, its on-the-ground expertise dovetails the rise of local activities nicely.

Gearing up for tomorrow 

CPCS plans to recover quickly and remain a force for good. It has to, because communities and economies will continue to grow. 

As for keeping its position as a leading infrastructure advisory group, CPCS is making adjustments to the way it operates. The business world is changing, and it doesn’t wait.

Thankfully, CPCS has the right team to lead through this change and others to come.

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