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June 24, 2020 Wednesday 12:52:55 PM IST

Corporate Success Redefined

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As the Covid-19 pandemic turns the global economy upside down and disrupts the way we do business, leaders are struggling to manage the imminent fallout. While many unknowns exist, what’s clear is that many organizations will not survive then challenge, some will be spared due to their positioning as essential businesses, and all will be changed forever by this experience. Responding to crisis happens one step at a time, and the decisions made by senior leaders now will shape the future of these organizations. Due to the current crisis, approximately 2.5 billion people, or more than four out of five workers in the global workforce, have been affected by lockdowns and stay-at-home measures.

Organizations’ first priority in crisis response has been ensuring the wellbeing of its employees. Now, as organizations begin to emerge from this phase, leaders are focusing on the next set of workforce challenges as they plan for recovery. The biggest challenge organizations will likely face in recovery is the tension between getting back to work and rethinking work as they embrace a new reality. Studies have identified three key characteristics that support and predict leaders’ ability to navigate unfamiliar or complex business challenges successfully. Here is how we anticipate the best leaders will draw from them to navigate the Covid-19 crisis.

Vision

Vision is particularly crucial during a crisis as world-wide and systematic as this one. Variations that you might have had five years to anticipate in a normal environment might reveal in a matter of weeks or months. Trend lines, such as those towardstelecommuting, telemedicine, online shopping, and digital media consumption, are abruptly much steeper. Some of the basic assumptions underlying your current business model may have been (or may soon be) upended. In an email to employees in March 2020, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote to employees to share his vision, explaining that during this unprecedented time, it is evident that software, as the most flexible tool ever produced, has a pivotal role to play across every industry and across the globe.


He went on to describe how Microsoft’s tools are being used in telemedicine, in e-learning for students forced to stay at home, in remote work, and for cyber security at a time when employees are quickly adopting new digital tools. The vision has already paid off. In China, the firm has seen a 500% increase in Microsoft Teams meetings, calling, and conferencing. A powerful vision will help individuals thrive in their work—not only at disruptive technology start-ups that routinely set their sights on changing the world but at businesses everywhere.

Empathy

Business and economic consequences aside, Covid-19 is most essentially a human crisis that is impacting employees and societies in ways few recent events have done. In addition to safeguarding the physical safety of their workforce, leaders should be wise enough to address employee anxieties with empathy and provide a sense of psychological security. Emotional intelligence in this new reality encompasses a delicate equilibrium between preparing the workforce for the worst-case scenarios and upholding morale and engagement. For those managing global teams, this requires further consideration to the unique socio-cultural undercurrents at play across various communities. Last year, the Business Roundtable, an organization of US CEOs, announced that businesses need to do more than create profits and need a purpose that serves society at large.

While 180 CEOs signed the statement, some alleged the declaration as mere lip service, and few concrete changes ensued. Just months later, the idea of purpose has never been more vital. Businesses from a broad range of industries have started pitching in to find ways to turn the tide of the pandemic. Nike, LVMH, and many others are shifting their production from sportswear and luxury accessories to protective equipment and disinfectant— embracing strategic business moves that integrate key features of social impact and corporate citizenship. Before the coronavirus, the empathy was one of the most overlooked elements of leadership. Now is the time for firms to create a more empathetic culture.


Action

The current Covid-19 situation--labelled both as a pandemic as well as an ‘infodemic’-- necessitates leaders to cut through the noise to detect and address the most pressing problems at each point and take quick action. It also stresses that they think ahead, and retain the sight of the bigger picture to avoid decisions that could have unplanned adverse consequences, today as well as in future. In addition to this business intelligence, the rapidly changing nature of this crisis necessitates agility in thought as well as action, where leaders need to assess and frequently recalibrate the way forward as the situation evolves.

Global leaders have long understood the challenge of bringing togetherteams that work in different locations. Based on the idea that some of the most insightful, conversations happen in a kitchen, German industrial giant Siemens resolved this problem by fashioning a “virtual café” for its global HR team. In this digital space, team members from all corners of the globe can meet, find out new information, and share questions and ideas. This informal space has built a sense of belonging and engagement, in turn building a truly collaborative, global team. Many firms that had not previously found good solutions to the challenge of a dispersed workforce now have a much greater incentive to do so.

In the current Corona crisis that we face, transformation has become the default state for most organizations. But it is worth keeping in mind that all transformations needn’t be devastating, fatiguing, or disheartening. We owe it to ourselves, our establishments, and society itself to confidently transform the method we take to transformation. The vision, empathy and action of transformation is not a panacea, but it is a holistic and human-centric approach that is proven to enable organizations that truly embrace it to succeed today and thrive tomorrow.




Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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