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Being a Leader During a Time of Change with Natalia Kryvasheina

Being a leader was not a new role for Natalia Kryvasheina, Senior Manager of Learning and Development at EPAM. After graduating from university, where she studied law, she was hired in the global HR department of a tobacco corporation, and as a result of her hard work, was asked to join a HiPo (high potential) Employee Program in her first year. It was in this program that Natalie was able to learn different roles, such as leading talent development initiatives, reward and recognition projects, and change management programs in different places around the globe.

Wanting to challenge herself in a new industry, Natalie applied to EPAM and for the past five years she’s been working alongside EPAM leaders bringing value to the business, working with like-minded people, overcoming challenges and helping fellow EPAMers grow in their career. We sat down with Natalia and asked her to share her view on learning to be a leader in a time of change.

What does it mean to lead at EPAM?
Leadership development approaches may differ significantly from one organization to another depending on their size and maturity level. At EPAM, we strive for a strategic leadership development approach that is fully aligned with the company’s business strategy and performance objectives. 

To me, managing the leadership development unit at EPAM means working closely with the business in order to understand its context and its current and future needs to provide effective solutions aimed at improving performance and growing the business. During a typical day, this means:

  • Conducting holistic ‘needs assessments’
  • Exploring and analyzing best practices in leadership development
  • Studying future trends of business and workforce development
  • Analyzing all collected information, formulating learning goals and getting leadership agreement on these goals
  • Evaluating results and the impact of our learning solutions

What does EPAM do in order to create the leaders of tomorrow?
We are investing in the development of leadership skills at each level. To do this, we design and develop core programs such as Career Journeys, Grow to Lead, Leadership Essentials (what some colleagues call an EPAM mini-MBA program), Managers Mentoring, Leading Teams and others. We also put a lot of effort into creating programs and courses aimed at preparing our leaders for a specific role (Delivery Managers, Account Managers, etc.).

Right now, we’re focused on moving all our educational solutions into a blended format. Leadership programs include both face-to-face or online sessions with a facilitator or trainer, an individual learning plan and action learning – project assignments, case studies, mentoring and coaching.

Another important focus for us is the globalization of our programs. We fully understand how managers in the CIS region may lead in a different way than their counterparts in North America. We tackle this by aligning our programs with the universal values that define EPAM: Focus on the customer, consultative approach, ownership of results, cross-cultural sensitivity, teamwork and collaboration. These values are consistent for EPAM around the globe.

What kind of leaders do companies need in uncertain times?
Under any conditions – in times of stability, but especially in times of change – our company is looking for effective leaders. From my point of view, the most important thing in any situation is to remain levelheaded and rational. Leaders who behave calmly, deal appropriately with negative emotions and focus on priorities are the most successful in times of uncertainty. 

Secondly, being adaptable is essential. That means not only adjusting to a new environment but also being agile in your work by regularly revising past processes and methods to adjust them to new circumstances in the business. This is essentially what happened during the pandemic with EPAM: We reinvented ourselves in an incredibly short time at a scale of 40,000 people. It was incredible.

During times like these, reeling from uncertainty is normal. But being consumed by fear and confusion leads to paralysis. That’s not the kind of mindset that helps us move through a crisis. The business needs leaders who are accountable, focused and decisive – they are ready to take initiative, make decisions, set directions and goals for the team, and make things happen.  

Finally, it’s important to communicate with care and empathy. While some have adapted quickly to the new normal, others are struggling. Whether you’re communicating with a teammate or a customer, think about what they might be going through and show that you’re open to listening, connecting and understanding.

What advice would you give to someone interested in taking on a leadership role?
My recommendation for anyone aspiring to take on a leadership role is to know yourself first. Start with understanding your talents, maybe excellent communication skills or exceptional analytical skills. You can build your authentic leadership style based on your strengths, but recognizing your shortcomings, especially in time of crisis, is more important. You can use the current situation to understand yourself better, observe your behavior in critical situations and be open to feedback from others. In this context, I find mentoring communication helpful.

How has EPAM leadership handled the global pandemic?
If you ask me, I would admit that the reaction to the crisis was swift and decisive – and that is what was needed in that situation. The leadership team was very clear about their priorities of protecting EPAM people and proactively partnering with our customers to help them navigate an unprecedented situation. This clear vision, risk management plan, decisive action and communication of the crucial focus, regularly and on different levels, helped to avoid frustration and bring all EPAMers together. Our entrepreneurial culture and teamwork allowed us to be nimble and adjust our business practices to the new reality in an incredibly tight time frame. 

Could you share some best practices in crisis leadership?
Crisis usually involves many unknowns and surprises. The most common question that managers have in this situation is how to make decisions when there are so many unknown factors. To cope with uncertainty and the feeling of anxiety, management consultants advise to continually collect information. It could be called the “pause-assess-anticipate-act” approach. In practice, this means pausing from time to time, assessing the situation from multiple points, anticipating what may happen next and then acting. This cycle should be ongoing, as it helps leaders maintain a state of calm and to avoid overreacting to new information as it comes in. 

Another best practice is maintaining transparency and offering frequent updates. This helps reassure stakeholders that leaders are confronting the crisis. Regular communication also helps you to understand your audience’s concerns, questions and interests. 

And finally, be attentive to yourself and take care of yourself. Crisis situations are characterized by an overwhelming flow of information and a high level of  stress and fatigue, so one day you might unexpectedly find that your abilities to process information, to remain cool-headed and to exercise good judgment have diminished. Therefore, investing in your well-being is crucial to sustaining your effectiveness in times of change.