Executives discuss challenges during COVID-19

Every industry has been impacted by COVID-19. But in what way? What challenges are unique to these industries?

We spoke to a handful of executives in varying industries (and with very different backgrounds) to get their thoughts on the biggest challenge their industry is facing due to COVID-19.

Here's what they have to say:

Learning & Development

Woman gives a presentation about the learning & development industry


Melodie Turk, Learning & Development Executive


With the outbreak of COVID-19, 42% of the U.S. labor force is now working from home (Nick Bloom, Stanford).

We have the opportunity to make #intentionality a daily behavior instead of an inspired pursuit.

  • Gathering the right people together becomes an intentional exercise of planning. We have the opportunity to collect the true stakeholders in each situation—by role and skill—not just the people we see the most each day.
  • Working in a virtual environment increases screen time exponentially, causing information overload. We have the opportunity to be intentional about what messages are shared and how they are shared—no more hallway conversations—every message & response can be planned for ultimate effectiveness and impact.
  • Working in a virtual environment gives us the opportunity to intentionally prepare ourselves BEFORE interaction. We can think about how we feel, what the interaction will be like, what goals we're working towards, the challenges for stakeholders, and what info we should share. Better preparation increases our emotional intelligence, helping us bring our best selves to the interaction.

Melodie Turk has a passion for transforming people and organizations. With her 15+ years of experience in change management, making a difference in tomorrow is always the goal. Recently, she led talent development strategy and implementation for 1600+ employees—adding learning hours, training sessions, and diversity and inclusion conversations—all which increased employee engagement, enhanced culture, and promoted workplace satisfaction.


Man working in the healthcare industry during COVID-19


Martin Davidek, Operations Leader

I think the #1 challenge in the healthcare sector as a result of the pandemic is the ability to ensure there are enough employees to provide the necessary services. Not only does not having enough employees mean some people go without needed service, but the remaining employees are also at risk of burnout potentially exasperating the issue. One key solution to this is clear and standardized human resource policies related to absences such as leaves. It is critical that leaves are reviewed and approved in an equitable way, within legal confines and the decisions are able to support the continuity of operations.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the new learnings across the world with changing governmental policies meant that effective organizational guidelines were difficult to develop. Now that there has been some settling of the situation it is paramount that companies review their policies to ensure they are in good shape should another wave hit.

Martin Davidek, a seasoned operational leader, has worked in a variety of sectors within healthcare for his entire career. In addition to managing a wide range of team sizes, he has managed data analytics to inform governmental policy, conducted internal training programs, and thrives off of building partnerships.

Nancy Eller, Healthcare Administrator

While the obvious impact on healthcare due to COVID-19—not enough resources, staff shortages and burnout, beds not available—the other impact that is significant is the delay in getting routine healthcare.

First, many practices closed for several weeks, so only emergencies could be addressed. Even with this, there have been reports that people delayed treatment for illnesses such as heart attack or stroke, with dire consequences. People put off routine appointments and screening appointments so that there have been delays in diagnosis. Elective surgeries were canceled for several months in various markets, so there is a backlog of cases. This means delays in diagnosis and treatment, and pain and suffering for many.

For example, where someone may have had symptoms and needed screening for some sort of cancer, the delay in diagnosis by three to four months could mean a difference in outcomes. People are still scared or concerned about going to the doctor's office. Office staff need outreach to get patients who are fearful of coming in and educate patients on the measures that office is taking to ensure everyone's safety.

Offices have had to change their daily operations significantly. Like any retail operation, protective barriers have been put in place. Most offices take your temperature upon entering and ask a series of questions. There are markers at check in and check out to denote six feet for social distancing. Chairs are marked off in the waiting area, and schedules are reduced making access a little more challenging. The number of "visitors" who can accompany a patient to a visit are limited.

The limits on scheduling patients/limited access also mean that some practices may look to expand their hours to accommodate the same number of patients. Ultimately, patients will either need to feel sick enough to go to the doctor (which is what you want to prevent) or will need to have renewed faith that the protective measures are enough to make it safe to seek care and treatment.

Nancy Eller is a healthcare administrator with 20+ years of experience improving physician and hospital operations. She has helped many practices improve their patient experience scores as well as their revenue by training staff on best practices and implementing improved workflows.

Susan Leys, Healthcare Coach, Consultant, and Career Navigator

The #1 challenge the healthcare industry faces amid COVID-19 is an uncontained pandemic virus that is continuing to affect hospitals and healthcare professionals nationally. Without always having the personal protective equipment, staffing, or bed availability that they need, the healthcare professionals in hospitals across the country are continuing to provide care for their patients (our families) while navigating fast-paced, high-stress healthcare environments.

While we are only slightly beginning to see and understand how complex the challenges faced by healthcare professionals are, the ongoing stress faced by healthcare professionals is taking a toll on clinical teams across the country. They need to maintain their clinical knowledge and emotional strength while providing compassionate care for critically-ill patients separated from their families. It's a demanding and difficult task amid a "perfect storm" of immense stress, the contagiousness of the COVID-19 virus, and the data—over 167,000 people dead and over 5.25 million confirmed cases and rising.

What has remained inspiring is how healthcare professionals across the country have stepped up to support their colleagues (often in different parts of the country) as the volumes of patients fluctuate, and the coronavirus spreads to different states.

A career in healthcare is not easy, but imagine being "that person"—the nurse or physician who needs to care for your family member because you cannot be with them. They will establish a relationship with your family member or friend so they can assess their symptoms, get to know their needs, and potentially have a very difficult conversation with them, and then with you. They will be the ones who will hold the phone up to their ear to speak with you, pray with you, and have the difficult conversations necessary to hold on or let go.

These are challenging days to navigate; professionals working in healthcare deserve an abundance of thanks and our continued respect.

S.A. Leys is a coach, consultant and career navigator at https://www.coachingfornurses.io. We provide coaching, consulting, and debriefing for the healthcare professionals and teams who care for all of us. Follow our hashtag #debriefyourteam on LinkedIn to receive information and strategies to assist your team with coping and retention strategies.


Banking executives talk with a client during COVID-19


Robin Timbrook, Banking Executive

I believe the #1 challenge the banking industry is facing amid COVID-19 is how to handle the shift in how customers do their banking. Toward the beginning of the crisis, most banks closed their physical branches leaving customers to bank using various other methods: drive-thru tellers, ITMs (interactive teller machines), online & mobile banking, ATMs, and online account opening. If the customer normally visited the branch, they had to figure out other methods rather quickly or wait in a long line at the drive-thru. If the bank was not already offering these various methods of technology, they may have already lost some customers; if not, some of those customers will not be returning to the branches as they did in the past.

Once an individual starts using mobile banking and realizes the convenience and speed, they could start thinking of their bank not as a building but as their smartphone. I believe this will change the landscape of banking. Branches have been slowly dying for years and COVID-19 may have just sped up this process leaving some banks with way too many brick and mortar facilities and employees. Banking executives will need to closely monitor the traffic both in-branch and online. They may need to ramp up their technology. If they have not installed ITMs that would be a great place to start as these can be replacement options for a few branches.

Although there is a cost associated with an ITM, the cost is minimal compared to the operating costs of a branch. The beauty in this solution is there can be one location for the ITM tellers who service all the ITMs. These tellers could be set up to work remotely if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 or another pandemic.

Robin Timbrook is a banking executive with 20+ years experience in deposits, sales, and digital technology services. Her most recent leadership position was with a $2 billion asset commercial bank, where she managed all the customer points of contact.

Tonya Towne, Strategic Planning Leader

I believe the #1 challenge from the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the banking industry is balancing customer expectations and diminishing revenue. With a U.S. unemployment rate of 10.2% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2020), banking customers are faced with tough decisions to pay their loans and credit card payments or default and put food on the table. Some banks are trying to proactively mitigate the anticipated higher rates of default by offering solutions to assist with a customer's financial distress, while minimizing losses.

Getting ahead of a customer's financial crisis by offering programs such as payment or interest deferment, refinancing, or allowing them to modify current debt with a lower interest rate, are just some options to reduce potential loss exposure, while maintaining a good customer experience.

With these options, there is some loss of revenue. But that can be managed by exploring other internal expense-saving strategies (i.e., simplify product offering, reevaluate supplier contracts, reduce travel, overtime). Proactively offering solutions to impacted customers provides a long-term financial benefit for the banks and keeps happy, paying customers.

Tonya Towne is a strategic planning leader with extensive experience in the financial services industry including mergers and acquisitions, process transformation, product management, and non-performing asset sales. She has developed and led teams of 2-20 employees with operating budgets of $1M - $15M and maintained employee engagement results above 90%. In her most recent leadership role, she managed program portfolios from $2M - $50M in technology investments, as well as led the sale of $1B in unpaid principal balances of non-performing loans and credit cards in Canada and the U.S.


Executives in the tech industry talk about the effects of COVID-19


Steve Barriault, Global Technology Sales Leader

One major challenge many software companies are facing right now is how to expand their market further. How do you attract new clients in a very conservative environment, especially when many lead generation activities are currently on hold? Proof of concepts may also be much harder to deliver due to travel limitations.

Web effectiveness is crucial, now more than ever. Keep in mind that your competitors are in the very same boat, which means they are also paying extra attention to their online presence. That means you should step up your game. Be bold and innovative. Don't be afraid to try new strategies, float new messages, and create additional content.

Monitor traffic on your website and evaluate the effectiveness of these messages. Quantity is one metric, but quality matters even more. Who are you getting in webinars? What kind of questions do they ask? Which web pages are attracting the most attention? Why? How effective are your referencing and Google ads?

A lot of these actions will concern mostly marketing. That may mean sales or even application engineers have more downtime than usual (unless the extra complexity on the proof of concepts keeps them arch-busy). Consider investing in further training. Sales can learn more about their products and how to demo them. Engineers can develop new and promising integrations they know can give them an edge in the market. These can later integrate your innovation pipeline.

The idea should be for your sales organization to become like a compressed coil—geared up for explosive growth as soon as the COVID-19 storm abates.

Steve Barriault is a global technology sales executive with 18+ years of experience in business development on three continents. He is currently serving in a 3,000 employee-strong company providing embedded software testing solutions in multiple industries such as automotive, avionics, industrial systems, telecom, and others. Multilingual, he holds advanced degrees in business, science, and computer science.

Amy Hinderer, Business Management & Operations Executive

Some may argue that the impact on the technology industry is far less than in other industries. That may be true to some extent, since high tech firms appear to be more adaptable to changes in the workplace, like implementing a remote workforce. On the other hand, the technology industry has its uphill challenges to resolve, especially when a company's planned digital transformation strategy is accelerated due to COVID-19.

Executive teams, along with their HR leaders, will need to reassess the skills required to successfully implement their digital strategies in this new normal. Technology skills are no longer just limited to the IT department; these skills are needed across all business units. You can see for yourself as you read through job descriptions, regardless of industry. Digital skills are called out in most roles you come across.

Now more than ever, companies will be required to transform digitally, and to do so, business teams across the organization will have to find innovative ways of creating and delivering value. Depending on the company's business model, digital transformation initiatives will vary. For example, some companies may focus their initiative on productivity or cost reduction, while another company may focus on developing new digital business growth plans. Regardless of the initiative, the common theme for digital transformation is the requirement for digital skills.

I urge executives, cross-functional business leaders, and HR to work together to develop and implement their skills strategy that propels or jump-starts their digital transformation so that they are prepared and can quickly adapt to changing market conditions on demand.

Amy Hinderer is a business management & operations executive with 18+ years of experience in global enterprise and start-up businesses. She has managed teams ranging in size from 10 up through ~35K supporting revenues between $2M - $9B.

Duncan Prior, Senior Consultant

The consensus is that there will be a significant acceleration to digital as a result of the pandemic crisis. The cloud computing providers as well as the large platform businesses such as Workday and Salesforce will be the beneficiaries of this. But what is the number one challenge now facing SME digital transformation businesses that help organisations realise benefits of these offerings?

The number one challenge is the culture at their clients that is required to embrace the transformation to digital that the pandemic crisis has accelerated.

Let's start with an example. Many people have seen the benefits of working from home during the pandemic. The technology has delivered and was successful because everyone from the CEO down was affected in the same way. Even if staff felt a sense of isolation and being "out-of-the-loop," that fear could be reconciled with a situation that has affected the whole planet. That will not continue to be the case and peoples' fears will increase as a result of the pandemic crisis. There are three cultural issues the clients of consulting businesses will need to address.


Surveys show that the majority of people do not like their job. When asked, people struggle to recall one piece of work or project that they really enjoyed. As the pace of change accelerates, people will hate their jobs even more unless they get to the bottom of what they are all about and their inner motivations.

Growth mindset

A growth mindset enables a person to take a step back from their job and to see the work in the context of their own career and what they want. This could mean moving on from the organisation so it is vital to have the inner confidence to recognise the situation and embrace the opportunities that the change brings, rather than fight it.

Conflict resolution

In order for organisations to tackle the acceleration to digital, it will be necessary to improve the way that people are able to question approaches and ideas objectively and openly. The absence of such a culture in the past has been masked by the hierarchical nature of businesses and the simple presence of everyone in the office.

Consulting services companies will need to design projects to surface these topics, partner with specialist organisations, and collaborate with stakeholders to ensure that digital transformation projects keep pace with the changing world around them.

Duncan Prior is a senior consultant at BML Digital with 20+ years experience specialising in digital transformation delivery. He has most recently been leading the development of predictive analytics products for the insurance industry at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. His background is in solution consulting with IBM and rapid application development pioneers, Cambridge Technology Partners, managing teams of 10-25 and budgets of £2m. Switching to industry he built technology partnerships as an IT director with companies such as Kainos, Oracle, and Experian to deliver innovation for organisations in education and investment management and savings of £1m.


Engineers work on overcoming a challenge


Roger Erikson, Product Development Engineering Executive

The #1 challenge I am seeing in product development engineering during this work at home time period is collaboration with other system teams, suppliers, and product groups. To achieve the best innovation and success, I would focus on high performing system integration engineers to lead precise weekly design reviews, keep CAD model up to date within a high level system, and make sure all team members are available to constant communication channels.

Roger Erikson has 12 years of design engineering experience, leading teams of 4 to 10 people, and managing an operating budget of 500K. He has completed two full new product introduction cycles with 200-300 part numbers being delivered as well as 3 partial cycles, 10 cost/quality improvement projects for total savings of 350K/year. He is skilled at evaluating design solutions using CAE and FEA tools to improve cost, quality, delivery, and performance of engineering applications in conjunction with other personnel as well as collaborating and developing a team to execute a successful project.

The COVID-19 pandemic brings unique challenges to each industry. The executives above, with their years of experience, provide great insight into what those challenges are, and the changes that need to be made post-crisis.

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