While almost every business has been deeply affected by the COVID-19 virus, few have been able to successfully deploy solutions to the urgent problems facing society. The FMI team had the opportunity to interview Faith Technologies’ senior vice president John Gunderson, who runs Faith’s manufacturing division, Excellerate, to learn how his team is leveraging existing capabilities to innovate product offerings while securing labor and broadening markets.
John, how is Faith Technologies innovating to address the current crisis? How did you decide to take action?
Using our prefabrication capabilities as well as our work in containerized solutions, we decided to repurpose and combine our separate efforts and make mobile and transferable hospital rooms. It’s not far off from the containerized solution we were already making, and not much different from our construction trailers. It was a bit of a stretch, but one that we were able to make in terms of product capability and capacity. I would say it was on the edge of what we thought was possible.
It came together organically. We were wondering what we could do to support the community based on what we were already making, and we wanted to create a solution that would keep the business moving. We spoke to a doctor in Chicago who told us about his facility’s makeshift hospital beds; we knew we could come up with something better.
What drove your team to reach this solution so quickly?
In 2008 and ‘09 during tough economic times, one of our biggest takeaways was the importance of getting in front of these things and making the best of the situation and hitting it on the head versus just “waiting it out.”
Redefining what’s possible and driving innovation are part of our core values. We were already prefabricating equipment for the Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee,and doing containerized solutions elsewhere. So when we put it all together, it made sense to innovate and bring a solution to market. Five days later we started talking to customers about the solution.
What was the team’s reaction?
It was a good boost for the team. Everyone had a lot of energy going into it and felt like being a part of the solution to this larger crisis. It’s interesting from a leadership perspective in this type of situation to see how people can go negative or they can elevate their game.
How do your purpose and core values inform your decisions in a time like this?
In times of crisis, the most basic aspects of your core values become the most important. Our four are: a focus on safety and trust, redefining what’s possible, team ethics and team success. In times like these, you can rally around those; these are the bedrock of how we solve problems. They help to get alignment around the goal of getting a solution to market and doing as much good as we possibly can. And it’s a win-win for suppliers, trade partners, workers and the health care community.
What are other unforeseen benefits of this strategy?
We’ve seen a lot of silver linings in the crisis: We’ve made improvements and leaps forward in some of our structural and building designs. Some of our product development moved faster in the past two weeks than it did in the past two years. We’re learning what comes with actually doing rather than just conceptualizing.
When you have a relevant offering, it gets people’s attention. In terms of brand recognition and reaching different areas of the country and different potential customers, that all will end up being a benefit.
What were some of the leadership competencies that you noticed from yourself or your colleagues during this process?
The biggest thing is someone’s ability to deal with ambiguity. You’re operating with limited information and somewhat limited resources―they’re not infinite. Many of our employees are either tradesmen or engineers; their expertise is not necessarily focused on taking big risks. But we had to make some assumptions and take risks here; and the design had to be iterative.
It was also interesting to see how challenges with working relationships can sort of melt away when you’re working toward an urgent vision. This allows people to come together to achieve a team goal that they hadn’t yet thought about. I cannot understate the amount of energy and effort that needs to go into it from a leadership perspective.
What advice would you give to industry leaders during this time?
There are many different ways to add value in any situation, but you have to think about how your particular capabilities might add up to a solution. We never thought we were going to solve the whole problem; we thought there’s probably a place where we can help. Our problem statement was: We can do better than what we see out there. We didn’t set out to change the world; we just set out to solve one problem that was matched with our capabilities.
Faith Technologies’ innovative course of action exemplifies one way leaders can motivate and inspire their teams to reach a bold vision by leveraging company values and hard work. More than ever, leaders must think critically about how they can utilize their existing resources to proactively respond to the changing environment. The industry has always found innovative solutions to big challenges, and many will undoubtedly continue that focus with the current crisis. The most innovative and effective solutions come from leaders who intentionally leverage the creative thinking of their teams and pursue paths that align with their purpose and values. Now is the time to look closely at how your leadership team is driving the organization forward.