BayWa r.e. CEO on ‘transforming the mental models’ for solar leadership in the new normal

new normal

The BayWa r.e. Solar Town Hall on June 17 will focus on shifting our “mental models” and the changing “solar mindset” of contractors.

As states and counties begin modifying COVID-19 sheltering restrictions, the pressure to return to “business as usual” is substantial. But practical concerns like hygiene, compliance, and customer assurance remain a priority, and the opportunity is ripe to envision a future that differs significantly from even the recent past.

More than two months into the pandemic, an important question has emerged: How are leadership teams transforming their mental models for management?

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During a recent BayWa r.e. Solar Town Hall online roundtable, there were many helpful ideas from solar contractors who have been taking careful measures to safely return crews to work. These new best practices included:

  • “self-certification” of the health and well-being of field staff,
  • obtaining adequate personal protection equipment (PPE) for their employees (without impacting PPE supplies for health workers),
  • setting up portable handwashing stations at jobsites, and
  • rotating crews in and out of the warehouse on a schedule to maintain physical distancing.

Training issues, materials procurement forecasting, insurance concerns, and the need for transparency between contractors and customers were also topics of discussion.

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Some common themes emerged across the stories of these solar leaders — words like listening, communicating, flexibility and adaptation. Each company recognized that it needed to define its own norm for managing safety — it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. As each owner, CEO, or president weighed their options, they made conscious, personal decisions to trust mental models that still applied, while abandoning or transforming mental models that did not.

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The world has changed, and the solar industry has a different set of operational principles associated with it than before.

Everything from digitalization (especially in the sales process) to global supply chain resilience (and how that’s going to be prioritized over just-in-time or lowest-cost principles) to a new emphasis on individual and community energy security, to increased awareness of the balance between economy and environmental well-being: all these changes from these mere few months exemplify our new reality — and a new, requisite awareness to match.

As regions consider reopening, how do we keep crews safe, stay compliant, and build consumer confidence?

The balancing act that business leaders must perform to navigate this global pandemic and its human and economic fallout is certainly a rational exercise. But good leaders recognize it is also a psychological one. A rigid mentality of “but we’ve always done it like this” — caused essentially by fear of the unknown — will prevent a company from adapting to (or even defining) an altered playing field. Increasing our comfort with ambiguity and being open to possibility are essential leadership qualities to cultivate in this time.

In the coming months, I’m really excited to see how the solar community takes stewardship of an emerging awareness — in examining our lessons learned to-date and asking ourselves which of our preexisting mental models still serve us, and which ones may be ripe for transformation. I look forward to seeing how we innovate on every level — individually, organizationally, as an industry, and as a society — in response to unfolding challenges and unexpected opportunities.

Yes, we all need to get back to work. We all need to take care of our livelihoods and take care of our families. And in order to survive and thrive, we need to also challenge our beliefs and assumptions about how the world is changing. The mental models of our teams must be flexible and adaptable to new conditions and possibilities, so our strategies and policies have space to transform.

Boaz Soifer is the CEO of BayWa r.e. Solar Systems LLC, a supplier to solar installers in the United States with best-in-class components, business planning advice, and a community of experts. The BayWa r.e. Solar Town Hall on June 17 will focus on shifting our “mental models” and the changing “solar mindset” of contractors.

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