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What 2020 Has Taught Us About Leadership – A Q&A with a CEO

 
 

Innovation | John Cotterell |
18 November 2020

At the beginning of 2020, we sat down with our CEO, John Cotterell and talked about Endava's 20th anniversary, the company's past and future and some of John's favourite moments over the past two decades.  

Today, John reflects on the challenges that emerged in 2020, talks about the importance of inclusive leadership, building a sense of purpose and shares his view, as a CEO, about business resilience. 

1. What are some concerns that 2020 highlighted for leaders/CEOs and what hopes do you see for 2021?   

This year's pandemic has led to a great deal of disruption across organisations worldwide, which proves to be a big challenge for businesses, CEOs and leaders alike. It has been unprecedented, I think, in my lifetime to see so much change happening in such a short period. 
 
There are a lot of conversations happening around a K-shaped recovery, where some industries are recovering strongly and are seeing a massive ramp-up in their growth. While others, due to the substantial shift towards digitalisation, are still being hit hard and have been forced to run at small percentages of their standard operating rate.  

Transformation that would have happened in seven years is now being fast-tracked to reach the same level in only seven months, and this makes for a very dynamic market to operate in. 
 
To be able to embrace new opportunities, your focus as a CEO is to think about how to make sure that your organisation is agile and responds quickly to a volatile market. Even if we can keep the virus under control with the help of a vaccine, the business trends, the recession rate and the economic dynamics it has triggered will flow well into 2021. 

2. Given today's challenges, how can a CEO grow a company's advantage and differentiate itself from current competitors?  

In a highly dynamic market, as we're experiencing at the moment, the big challenge for a CEO is to point the organisation towards areas where it has innate strengths. So, you can capitalise on growth opportunities that are emerging as clients shift their spend into these new high growth areas, whether we talk about consumers or corporations. 

Endava is in an excellent position when it comes to these kinds of opportunities, as our capabilities sit between next-gen technologies and the digital trends that are transforming the way people and companies operate. 

3. What innovative measures and inclusive leadership initiatives have been adopted within Endava to help employees better cope with this year's changes and that help push the business forward in 2021? 

As we moved, almost overnight, to working from home, our people found themselves separated from the traditional work environment. They transitioned from office desks and a shared open space to interacting almost exclusively online, via Teams or Zoom, with both team members and clients. Our new set-up prompted us to think harder about wellbeing and how our people's mental and physical health is cared for in this different work environment, where they don't get to go out and about in the same way.  

To offer our people the care they need, we launched a programme called Endava Wellbeing, based on four pillars: Mind, Body, Home and Community. The programme offers a collection of different tools and resources that enable our people to grow and stay connected during the current unpredictable context and well beyond, as we aim to develop and grow the programme even after we get back to a normal or new normal work environment. 

Another coping mechanism we considered very important was keeping our people informed. We cascaded key messages on time through the leaders in Endava by creating a virtual venue where the executive team, myself included, were able to address people's questions and concerns in a live forum – which speaks to our need as individuals to keep connected and engaged. We also looked at understanding their struggles, as well as their professional needs, in terms of career development and how we can help our people achieve their ambitions in the current context. 

4. What leadership skills do you find most useful in today's changing work environment? 

I think the most important things to keep in mind are: number one, face the brutal facts, face the adversity the world is dealing with and the impact it has on the organisation. And secondly, be open and honest with your people about the changes taking place and how these influence the business and ultimately them as individuals.  

For instance, back in March and April, we had a few customers who wanted to stop the project work they were doing with us and others that wanted to expand it, illustrating the K-shaped recovery I was talking about earlier. However, people who were on the teams that had to stop were quite worried about what's happening to the organisation, so for them, it felt like we were slowing down dramatically. In this case, it was essential to let people know that we understood what was happening and reassure them that we weren't going to make anyone redundant. No one lost their job because of the changes the pandemic forced us to make, and I think that enabled people to feel confident that Endava was in a good place. I believe that being open, honest and transparent with everyone in the organisation and following through on the promises made, is a mark of a good leader.  

5. What is your approach when it comes to building a sense of meaning and purpose, for both employers and employees? And how is this keeping the engagement going so that business objectives, both this year and in 2021, are met? 

We have the same approach today as we had before the pandemic and it mirrors our core purpose – the reason why Endava exists. We exist to create an environment and a culture that breeds success by number one, caring for our customers as individuals and number two, enabling our people to be the best that they can be. So, it's all about people, the people we work for, on the customer side, and the people that work with us, in Endava. It's about how we can have a positive impact on them and their careers, help them be successful in what they are doing, and that applies just as strongly now, in 2020, maybe even more so given all the change and pressure we are facing. 

We are still recruiting people during the different lockdown situations across all our locations, paving the way for new employees, graduates or interns into new jobs within Endava and making them feel part of the team. 

One of the exciting things we've seen is that our productivity has gone up during this period. I believe it has been encouraging for both our people and clients to know that we can deliver and do a good job, even during a lockdown.  

It has been 20 years since John founded Endava, and two significant elements have contributed to the brand we are today: our people and our core purpose. We look forward to continuing to practice this philosophy as we reimagine the relationship between people and technology.

John Cotterell

Chief Executive Officer

John has over three decades of experience in the technology sector. He began his career by establishing a Business Process Outsourcing division for Cap Gemini. He later went on to establish an IT consultancy before eventually starting Endava, which he has grown over the past 20 years into the successful business it is today. In his spare time, John enjoys spending time outdoors, sailing, being with his family and friends and travelling.

 

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