Beckhoff Automation has maintained a strong presence in Australia over the past two decades and managing director Nick Psahoulias has been with the company since the beginning – leading from their head office in Melbourne.
This long-standing track-record has given Psahoulias a unique leadership perspective: the ability to guide a company from strength to strength, and to continuously identify where there may be room for improvement.
In March 2020, one such area for improvement became impossible to avoid in the most unexpected of circumstances. How could Beckhoff maintain and strengthen customer relationships in the midst of a global pandemic?
“Once the hard lockdown began it quickly became apparent that we were not comfortable with video meetings, and neither were our customers,” Psahoulias said. “We were able to ‘stay connected,’ but the communications we were having with customers during the early stages of the pandemic were not as effective as face-to-face interactions.
“We needed to become more adept at relating to customers who were not across the table, in the same room. Innovate Learn is the best at what they do, and we reached out to them to help us overcome this obstacle.”
Adapt or be left behind
Melbourne-based training company, Innovate Learn, assists businesses to strengthen identified growth areas. Capabilities include: sales, leadership and team development, effective communications and culture change. With the guidance of a skilled coach, the Beckhoff team was able to comfortably and effectively transition from a face-to-face environment to conducting all of their customer meetings via a virtual platform.
“Tools and techniques were provided so the sales team could quickly reduce the tension and awkwardness of the situation and build trust – with new prospects and existing customers. Once both parties are comfortable with the process and environment, information flows more easily back and forth and customers are more willing to collaborate and move things forward” says Hazel Stewart, Managing Director of Innovate Learn.
Psahoulias adds that his team’s biggest takeaway from the training was a simple change that made all the difference.
“ We were encouraged to ‘actively listen’- meaning to give the speaker our undivided attention to uncover the subtext of what they are saying. This helped us to overcome the challenges of not being able to read body language or establish eye contact during virtual meetings,” he said.
“Active listening enabled us to not only take in what was being said, but also why (and how) it was being said.”
Psahoulias shares that while the Innovate Learn program achieved Beckhoff’s initial goal of meeting sales targets, the training was a success in other non-tangible areas too. His team reported feeling an increase in both their confidence levels and mental wellbeing following the sessions, which was a huge boost for those who were struggling with feelings of isolation during the lockdown.
Temporary crisis, permanent changes
On a more personal level, Nick says that Innovate Learn’s coaching helped him to view his own leadership style differently. “I was able to recognise and prioritise what was important – the needs of my staff – and to be consciously aware of what support each individual needed. Some were able to flourish while working remotely while others struggled with the isolation.”
This heightened awareness of individual needs is the reason that Nick has made the option of working from home permanent, even with business returning to post-COVID ‘normal’ in Australia.
“All office staff have been set up with a duplicate workstation at home so they can choose to work from where they feel most comfortable. The training helped us to recognise that working remotely wasn’t a threat to the team’s ability to perform efficiently – if anything they’re more efficient when working from home without distractions.”
“Instead, the biggest threat to individual effectiveness was the challenge of doing all of our communication virtually. Luckily Innovate Learn provided us with tools, skills and confidence to enable us to open up and effectively relate with both our clients and each other,” said Psahoulias.
Nick comments that he views the previous year as a wonderful opportunity for learning and growth, rather than a year defined by challenges.
“If this pandemic has any ‘upsides,’ it’s the changes to how and where we work, as well as our ability to perform better using the tools and knowledge we acquired during 2020,” he concludes.