For Sure, 2020 will test not only the leadership acumen of CXOs, but also the ability of enterprises to operate in the face of extreme ambiguity. Starting as a localized issue, the corona virus (COVID-19) has now reached almost all nations, impacting enterprises across the globe –with dire consequences.
Already, thousands of people have died, hundreds of thousands have become ill and health services have been stressed way beyond their capacity. For most, the pandemic – and response to it – will be the most significant, and most concerning, event they have experienced. It has cost enterprises billions of dollars in lost revenue (potentially up to $2.1 trillion by the end of 2020). It is clear it will result in a significant drop in economic growth around the world. At this stage of the COVID-19 outbreak, enterprises need to deal with two equally important factors – keeping employees and their families safe, and ensuring business continuity as much as possible. Leaders are scrambling to secure supplies, keep fearful employees motivated to work, and planning for the future while dealing with the here and now. But eventually, like other Black Swan events, the virus will end. And when it does, enterprises need to be ready.
In today’s turbulent world, some have become better at planning for and mitigating against risk in the face of a crisis. They have resilience built into their structure. But for many others, this could be a time of confusion, fear, and rash decision-making. Unfortunately, in our increasingly ambiguous, volatile and inter-connected world, unanticipated events like this are likely to happen more frequently – and leaders will need to be more agile, transparent, and forward thinking. A new set of attributes will be key to navigating 2020, which is likely to be having tow strategic viewpoints . The first viewpoint will be spent dealing with safety, containment, continuity, and contingency planning – a time for prudent, agile leadership and the second viewpoint will be centered around taking advantage of the pent-up demand in the global economy through transformation and innovation.
For enterprises to respond now and plan for recovery, they must learn to operate in a state of constant disruption. In a time of unknowns, one thing is certain: what has worked in the past is unlikely to keep working in the future. New habits are forming quickly – people are working from home and consuming products and entertainment in very different ways out of necessity. Building a culture that not only tolerates this shift but thrives in it will separate the winners from the losers.
This may mean thinking differently about performance and target setting, to keep teams motivated and ensure everyone works collectively for a shared purpose – even when working remotely. It will certainly demand a proactive and empathetic communication response from leaders, who will need to consciously demonstrate the values and behaviors they wish to encourage across the organization. But it should not necessarily mean putting recruitment and retention plans on hold. In challenging times, the quality of your talent can be the ultimate advantage. Retaining your top people has never been more important, and future talent acquisition strategy will be done through the lens of recovering and resetting after the crisis. Ultimately, leaders will need to adapt quickly to changing circumstances – shifting from a measured, inclusive approach today to setting the pace post recovery and making up for lost time.
In times of crisis, people depend on leaders to provide clarity and hope. Fear can be contagious, breeding irrational behavior and anxiety – and in business, this can lead to lower productivity and employee engagement. While no one can be certain how the impact of this virus will continue to unfold globally, one thing is known: we will experience another business crisis again in the future. Leaders who can use this disruptive period as a time for self-reflection and an opportunity to re-frame their mindset are likely to be better prepared when the next crisis comes along.
This is the time for agile leaders who can anticipate change – such as the necessity of working remotely – and turn it into a positive new way of working. They can also drive a sense of collective purpose and optimism, accelerate innovation and test new ideas, partner with others, and build trust. So how can you keep responding to such volatile market demands, find new ways to create and act on opportunities, and keep your teams aligned to a common purpose? Now is the time to be in thinking different and be in action mode , a global consumer product brand has ramped up its digital outreach while foot traffic to physical stores remains low. By doubling their digital efforts, they are taking this opportunity to get closer to the customer and build a strong sense of community around their product, which in turn anticipates a significant shift in the way their products will go to market in the future.
Adaptive leaders can anticipate opportunities like this, while also using strong communication to build trust and engagement within their teams. This will set their enterprises up to thrive through recovery. Best of the leaders are known to use down cycles as opportunities to grow. The following are the five strategic interventions , leaders need to follow in this phase:
Uncertainty demands over-communication:People need reassurance that there is a plan and a path forward, If town halls and coffee chats are impossible while teams work remotely, build communication channels via WhatsApp groups or run video seminars. CEOs can share daily 90-second video updates to keep everyone aligned and build a sense of community around new tactics and plans. This gives everyone a common language to take to clients and partners. It’s even more important to stay connected with your team at this time, and create routine ways for people to work together so they feel like they’re fully supported as part of a team.
Be realistic and build no exaggeration:Leaders are now living with uncertainty and ambiguity, and it’s acceptable to say you don’t know all the answers. Listen to employee concerns, and acknowledge there are sometimes no easy solutions. If you don’t have the answer, bring your team together to discuss and experiment with solutions – focus on testing new things quickly. Being transparent and open in this way may feel uncomfortable, but it can go a long way to building credibility and trust – with staff, customers, shareholders, and the wider community.
Plan swiftly and make bold decisions:Some leaders will need to make difficult decisions in the interest of long-term business continuity – such as reducing labor costs through staff lay-offs or forced leave. Being really clear and upfront about your plan, or it could be toxic to morale. If you know there will be headcount reduction, or you need to close down a loss-making project or pull back from a market, be compassionate and clear – don’t mislead or give mixed messages, And if you have to do this, do it once and then move forward.
Engage more with your high performing teams: Leaders may need to prioritize where their energy goes – and your best talent and clients should top the list. For example, when Chinese firm provided face masks, which were already scarce, to clients very early in the outbreak, it sent a strong signal that it wanted to keep them safe. Similarly, it’s a common mistake to neglect development of high performers during economic tension – especially when you are relying on them more than ever. When the market recovers, they are likely to jump to new opportunities first. Give them the recognition they need to feel valued right now, in addition to opportunities for personal and professional development. This is one of the highest drivers of employee engagement.
Build a strong emotional intellect: Although it seems the weight of the world is on your shoulders, you still need to take time for yourself and spend time with family. Only then can you be available for your team – because working intensely under pressure for months on end is not sustainable. This includes taking time to build emotional intelligence. The four domains of Emotional Intelligence (EI) — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management —can help a leader face any crisis with lower levels of stress, less emotional reactivity and fewer unintended consequences, One impact of the virus is likely to be permanent change to the way organizations work. This is your opportunity to learn how to work in a more agile way, including virtual working and rapid prototyping.
This is a critical moment to develop the leadership capabilities you will need for a very different future. Are you ready for the challenge?