After Covid-19: “Help People to Create the New Normal” (Interview)
After Covid-19: “Help People to Create the New Normal” (Interview)

How can you overcome the crisis and emerge the better for it? In an exclusive interview, Sabine Weishaupt, Head of Leadership Development Consulting and Initiatives at Deutsche Telekom, talks about her experience managing the crisis and about the future of L&D.

Read on for Sabine’s hard-earned advice on practising agility with limited resources. Some of key her tips: give people room to laugh and cry, meditate, and turn competitors into collaborators.


CHROs and CLOs are facing so many challenges right now. They are managing daily operations during unprecedented disruption, while also thinking about long-term adaptation. What leadership principles can they employ in order to keep people engaged and successfully steer their organisations through the crisis? What should they prioritise?

The sole priority in the current state of the crisis needs to be supporting people, as the safety of employees – physical as well as psychological – is at stake. There is no trade-off possible. HR is needed now more than ever, and so is ongoing, open communication about the infection rate, the state of health of employees in the company, and the actions taken to prevent further spread of the virus. Role models and an employee-centric view are most important.

In other words: communicate and role model honestly when it comes to facts. Aim for solidarity and ongoing hope and encouragement for the future. Second, act as a strategic partner with all other functions in the company in discourses about the economic consequences and in finding solutions to support a midterm economic recovery.

Third, push – especially from the CLO side – to understand this crisis as a learning challenge and support people with methods and tools to pave the road towards a more resilient business model. 


Read: After Covid-19: Speed up Digital Transformation or Face Extinction (Interview)


Do you think agile methodologies may be pertinent right now? If so, how can they help?

Without any doubt, agile methods are crucial now on many levels – from business model adaptation to team work or even for individual coping. Agility is based upon a customer-centric and growth-oriented mindset. As such, I think it is a fair prognosis that customer needs have not only changed drastically right now, they also will keep changing over the course of the further development of the virus. We see many companies already adapting fast to new business models by shifting, especially to digital and hybrid offers.

For teams, agile ceremonies like retrospectives offer great platforms to work through the perceptions and experiences of the last weeks, get insights, take forward what has worked, and change what didn’t.

Also, individual employees start to adapt and use agile methods and tools like Kanban boards at home. They help to get structure into a day and into a family life that now centre around the apartment or house.


What would you say are some easy, inexpensive approaches HR and L&D leaders can put to use today to strengthen their response to Covid-19?

  • Very easy and no cash out: communicate frequently, not only once a week, on the status of the company.
  • Use what you have: package your existing offers in digital learning and make people aware of them again via guides. Set up trainer sessions internally to spread knowledge fast.
  • Communicate a policy or ask for tolerance in the company for one hour’s lunch break so people can prepare a meal and feed the family – no meetings allowed. This will help to reduce stress levels.
  • Take down possible barriers to using digital tools, social media, or new channels to connect and collaborate. The cost is to embrace the risk.
  • Reach out to your competitor or suppliers along the value chain and start to re-imagine collaboration. 


Should corporate learning and corporate culture initiatives take a back seat? If not, how should they change? What should people be learning right now, and how can HR and L&D deliver it under the current constraints?

The backseat is clearly the wrong place. Currently our people are more than just out of their comfort zone. There is a high need in many companies, within all functions and roles, to learn about digital collaboration and facilitation. There are tons of free offers on the internet, and tons of experience at all levels of the company. It helps tremendously if these are sorted and prepackaged.

Keep up the positive spirit and ensure that all leaders and teams understand that keeping a personal connection is now key. Teaching leaders to actively address the need for safety by offering open information, clear guidance, and consistent space to vent, cry, laugh, and to just feel connected and do self-care is paramount right now.

Help people to create a new normal – this crisis will take a while before it is sorted. In these circumstances a company’s culture and underlying values come to the fore and prove their strength (or lack thereof) in actions – this is an opportunity. The time for glossy papers and shallow words is over.


How do you see HR and corporate learning changing after this crisis, more broadly?

The crisis is in a certain way a painful learning journey – yet a learning journey nonetheless and we will come out of it stronger, yet transformed. For example, we are gaining extensive data now that home office does not automatically lead to lower productivity – insights that cannot be ignored and will shape our way of working.

Not only will digital solutions be more accepted and in demand; in general, business will strive to become more resilient – a concept that is not new, yet might have been neglected.

I believe that many organisations will reconsider the term “learning organisation” and that HR and corporate learning will have a much stronger role in shaping the company.

I also believe that the way we look at collaboration with peers, competitors, and governments needs to be drastically re-imagined, and HR skills play an important part here as well.


How are you personally responding to the crisis? What do you find helpful and motivating in your work? How do you connect with your purpose?

I feel privileged in having the experience of 3 years working in a global team with decentralised locations all over the world. The crisis does not really change my working structure, tools, or ways of collaboration. I am thankful that, together with my team, we can rather help others to cope and transform – this alone is already a great motivator and a rewarding experience that is fully connected to our purpose. Having the opportunity to listen to others’ stories, learn from creative solutions, or just hear about the situation in other countries helps to stay humble and patient. Having the family closer than ever is also a wonderful motivator and even if it is stressful sometimes, it helps to keep my day structured and is a source of energy. Personally, I try to laugh more and louder than ever before and I have tried out a colleague’s generous offer for a virtual group meditation – never done this before, yet I can strongly recommend it!


For another take on what this crisis means for L&D, read our interview with digital transformation evangelist Filipe Carrera: “Speed Up Digital Transformation or Face Extinction”.