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A Silver Lining in a Cloud of Smoke – Next Generation Leaders Develop Management Skills while Responding to Community Crisis

2019-11-20  |  8 min read 

Last month, Northern California experienced unprecedented community distress when faced with the fast-moving Kincade wildfire near populated areas, coupled with widespread power outages. Impacting hundreds of thousands of Sonoma County area residents, including Keysight’s headquarters, the company stepped up to support affected employees and help with community crisis response.

But this isn’t a post about our collective corporate impact, or how the company didn’t miss a beat in delivering to customer commitments even though the incident occurred during the last two weeks of our fiscal year. Instead, this post tells the story of a specific set of Keysight employees, our next-generation employee group, that quickly mobilized to address immediate community needs. By doing so, they not only provided critical crisis support for area residents, but also experienced a significant leadership-in-action opportunity. The result was a figurative silver lining among the clouds of wildfire smoke.

Mobilizing for Quick Response

While many Keysight employees were personally impacted by either evacuations, power outages, or both, they still mobilized to support one another and the community. One group in particular, our Santa Rosa NextGen team, stepped up, got actively involved and as a result experienced some positive side benefits from their efforts.  

Keysight’s next-generation employee groups, referred to as NextGen, are active across many company sites worldwide. The groups are primarily focused on providing networking, volunteer, and development opportunities for our younger employee population. And while each group has a local executive advisor, older-generation folks like me often participate in NextGen activities and support the team through mentorship engagements.

So, having worked with our local Colorado Springs NextGen group myself, I was intrigued to hear about the actions of the Santa Rosa group during this recent crisis. As I inquired more, I learned that the team — made up of executive advisor Andy Botka, our vice president of strategic planning, 4 leads and 11 team members — mobilized on the first day of the crisis. They immediately formulated a project team with the goal of utilizing NextGen organizational resources in coordination with Keysight corporate funding to address the critical material needs of evacuation centers close to our company headquarters.

To do this, the team first met to align on the project objectives and establish a “hub and spoke” structure whereby supply teams would actively communicate and take instruction from a central command group at the regional evacuation centers. During this first meeting they identified the project scope, evacuation center supply requirements, delivery timeline, and secured the required budget. Essentially, they mobilized and developed a full project plan with scope, schedule and resources all within a day!

Delivering Community Support

The next day, the team moved into the implementation phase. They purchased, packaged, and delivered supplies to the target community evacuation centers throughout the region. In all, the team directly supported 500 impacted individuals and came in under their targeted budget.

While Keysight’s corporate efforts during this crisis most certainly reached more residents across the community, the 500 people that directly benefited from this individual effort were very appreciative. And beyond that, the effort provided the Santa Rose NextGen team a view into how quick action can make a strong and positive impact in the community.

Alex Landry, Manufacturing Engineer and NextGen Core team member said that “the whole project was such a positive and empowering experience. The knowledge that we were actively helping those truly in need, the feeling of encouragement and full support from Keysight management, and the process of watching our NextGen community step up so passionately – these are all things I’m so grateful I could experience and be a part of.”

Learning in the Face of Crisis

For some of the Santa Rosa NextGen team, this was the first time they had directly managed an end-to-end, quick-response project, and they had the opportunity to utilize problem solving and project management skills from recent Keysight training in Six Sigma. It served as a real-world experience in developing leadership skills to address critical and urgent needs, not only in the process and approach, but in managing through changes in scope, budget and resources along the way. For example:

  • The team actively adjusted to manage real-time priority updates, evacuation center location movements and unexpected pricing changes that impacted budgets.  
  • As evacuation orders changed, many stores closed or would run out of supplies, requiring quick-thinking adjustments to plans and communications.
  • Challenges such as keeping mobile phones charged and within cell service range required navigating around electric outages and cell tower availability.

Laura Swart, R&D Software Engineer and NextGen Core team member noted the experience taught her that “the NextGen community can be very resilient and adaptive in a time of crisis. We were able to assemble, execute, and deliver on our objectives with surprising effectiveness thanks to the guidance from Andy and our accumulated projected management experience.”    

Andy concurred with Laura’s sentiment on the team’s speed and effectiveness, as well as handling the challenges and rewards of the project, stating that “the team creatively adapted as they encountered challenges, ultimately achieving their goal, although not exactly as they initially imagined they would.”

Exciting to be Part of a Successful Team

I am proud to work for a company that has strong crisis management and disaster recovery procedures in place and has actually proven that these procedures ensure business resilience in the face of crisis. But I am even more honored to work alongside employees like the Santa Rosa NextGen group that are not only the future leaders of our company but are adept at supporting our local communities through tough times.

I think Andy said it best when he noted that “it was truly an honor to work with such a talented, dedicated and passionate group of employees to help the community in one of its greatest times of need, and based on what I saw in action during this project led by our NextGen leaders here in Santa Rosa, I feel very confident that the long-term legacy of Keysight is in great hands.”