As the world still tries to come to terms with COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear that this virus is here to stay and is in no hurry to leave. Slowly the world, countries and businesses are now learning to adjust to the new way of living and working.
Adapting to the new normal is not easy. Most of the businesses were not prepared and couldn’t see what’s coming their way. When the crises started unfolding, the reactions to it were stiff, and decisions were made in a hurry, there was a flurry of measures taken by companies to respond to the crises to ensure business continuity and survival in the tough period.
Most of the leaders are using the word ‘unprecedented’ in their conversation quite often. Yes, we are living in unprecedented times, the world has never seen anything like this before, it has seen recessions, depressions, financial meltdowns, dot-com busts, but what’s currently going on has no comparison. The current crisis has made life extremely difficult for many businesses and has already forced many to shut down, leaving hordes of people jobless. The jobless claims in the US have hit a record high, even higher than the depression period, indicating that it is the worst period that the modern world is witnessing.
The COVID-19 has affected different industries and businesses unevenly. Some are hit hard with practically no or little income due to the lockdown measures, some have seen moderate drying up of the revenue, while some businesses have seen a surge in demand for their products and services and are trying to keep up with it, but there aren’t many such companies.
The current crisis has put Leaders right in the middle of the battleground; leadership role has become challenging and tricky, as the navigation between employee safety, driving business activities and managing growth aspirations are turning out to be a litmus test. There are many questions but not many answers, and we are witnessing businesses responding to the current situation differently.
Hard hit companies like Uber, Airbnb, Oyo are announcing major layoffs to stay afloat, along with some raising the capital to survive this tough period. Companies like Disney have to retort furloughing its employees as it had to lock down its core business amid the uncertainty. From India, there is a mixed and varied response. Some companies have announced pay cuts to stay in the fight while unusual yet rare move came in from Asian Paints, announcing salary hikes!
When leaders are asked how they are responding to the current crises, most of them have a common yet predictable answer .i.e they are ensuring employee safety, business continuity policies include work from home, they are using masks and sanitisers at workplaces, they are keeping their employees engaged by organising virtual sessions around wellbeing, health & fitness, learning, skilling and so on.
Yes, these are quite necessary and important measures to address the immediate needs of the business. Still, at the same time, to do more than what they are doing currently, leaders need to capitalise on this opportunity. The world has seen some companies coming out loud from the recession period, many companies were born during tough periods, and they went on to become part of the Fortune 500 list. To capitalise on this opportunity, leaders have to Re-imagine, Re-wire and Re-Energise their business.
Let us look at these closely:
Let’s agree that the world of business has changed. It wouldn’t be same like before. Hence businesses and leaders must go back to the drawing board. It is time to Re-Imagine the business, look at its roadmap and vision again, and align it to the new normal world. Many companies have already seized the immediate opportunities, e.g. some are manufacturing sanitisers, masks, PPE kits, ventilators and so on, as they had the un-utilised capacity and acquired requisite know-how for producing those items. This is just a small example of re-imagining the business, but companies need to think around the mid and long term solutions, how their business would look like, how would their business stay relevant, they need to chase right opportunities in the new normal world that is emerging faster by pivoting in the right direction. The strategy would play an important role in shaping the future of the organisation.
Once the strategy is in place then its crucial for leaders to align the company and its resources towards attaining those objectives, it might call for re-wiring the company, it’s systems, processes, structure etc. Re-wiring might mean taking a fresh and different approach than the current one; it might call for removing inefficiencies in the systems and processes to bring in required agility to support the business. It also calls for having the right Digital Strategy in place. Today, many companies survived and are operational by deploying the right Digital Technologies and tools. Effective Digital strategy would ensure smooth re-wiring and aligning the company to the new normal and the re-imagined organisation.
COVID-19 has pushed a lot of employees to work from their home confines, and most of the homes are not designed to function optimally, whereas the earlier office and work environment had a different feel and energy. Due to working in isolation and online environment, dealing with the COVID-19 related uncertainties have taken a toll on both physical and mental health of many employees. Companies are doing their best to keep employees engaged, but it is still a challenging task to keep up the morale. Hence, the leaders also have to focus on their people strategy, around how they would keep their workforce motivated, inspired and happy working in this new normal. It calls for re-energising, that should build confidence and new momentum, which is required to steer the company towards an original path, where all are aligned and equally excited to become part of the new journey.
Unprecedented times call for the unprecedented response, leaders now have this quite crucial responsibility to ensure the business is back on track, growth and profits numbers look promising, employees are safe, and the industry continues to create value for all its stakeholders.