MONTREAL, Que. – The World Health Organization didn’t declare a pandemic until March 11, but Quebec-based Group Morneau was already preparing for Covid-19.
Fleet vice-president of human resources Sylvain Gagnon had been watching the evolution of the virus, and began to lead a related contingency plan with a Covid-19 committee on March 9.
“We were going into proactive mode, targeting who would do what if the threat materialized, so that we were able to deploy our measures quickly,” says director of operations and administration Catherine Morneau.
It involved establishing a clear chain of command to support the operation with 21 Quebec terminals, more than 1,200 employees – who the fleet refers to as “collaborators” — and a large LTL network. Essential information had to be gathered from the field, while everyone was encouraged to become involved.
Above all, decisions had to be anchored in a focus on employees and their health, safety and well-being; customers, whose needs change every day; and business sustainability.
Daily meetings of an emergency committee help to keep everything on track.
“Every day, I connect all of my supervisors and managers. We talk about the day’s results, we answer questions,” Morneau says. They also look to answer frontline challenges, such as how to provide drivers with a disinfectant to clean steering wheels every day, even if the cleaning products appear to be out of stock everywhere.
“These are the real problems,” she says. “If what the drivers want is disinfectant, then someone goes hunting to find it. And if someone finds some somewhere on the road, they are allowed to buy it and the company reimburses them.”
The committee includes team members with expertise related to crisis management, human resources, and health and safety. Operations teams handle the business continuity plan and related procedures.
“The watchword I gave to the operations people from Day 1 is to shift any nonessential meeting and focus on being on the ground with your teams. You have to be in constant communication and, above all, listen to people on the ground,” Morneau says.
Communicating: a priority
There was also a need to ensure that Covid-19 information was communicated, leading to a related website for partners, suppliers and employees.
“It is really focused on our measures and actions related to Covid-19, and everything is done in a completely transparent manner,” says external communications consultant Martine Bernier. “After we went online, we announced it on social media and communicated the information to customers.”
Such communications also need to be short and clear as possible, adds Estelle Vasquez, head of internal communications.
“We want people to focus on the information that is most important. Often our communications are in bullet points, for example, when we request hygiene measures. It’s not the time for beautiful sentences. It’s time for action and to reassure people by giving them clear instructions.”
Information is conveyed through everything from driver bulletin boards to tablets.
“It is difficult to have formal oral communication with drivers and dock people, but we make sure that they receive communications from managers,” Vasquez says.
A heartfelt message from the fleet president added to that.
“People need to feel that we are super present and super aware while not being alarmist and agitated,” says Morneau. “What you absolutely must avoid is that people feel that the management is agitated. They must feel that it is effective, quick and coordinated. They need to be reassured and feel they can count on a strong team of leaders.”
Morneau knows that situations will change, that different emergency notices will come and go. But she stresses that it will be important not to lower the team’s guard too quickly.
“The watchwords in the group are adaptation, resilience, and mutual aid,” she says. “And keep the focus on the real priorities.”
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