The COVID-19 pandemic has completely transformed organizations and the way they function. This is a time that we had never seen before. So, it was obvious that riding through this tough wave would not be easy. As the lockdown gets extended in many cities, organizations are trying to find answers to many questions relating to resuming work from offices. But one thing is for sure; the crisis has changed the very ecosystem of the workplace and there will be a “new normal” that we all must learn to adapt to. Leaders too will need to redefine their leadership style to be more effective in these testing times.
In an exclusive interaction with us, Dr Niranjan Hiranandani – Founder & MD- Hiranandani Group and President – Assocham & NAREDCO, shares what is keeping him awake at night as a business leader, what the workplace would be like post COVID-19 and how leaders can manage business continuity and people strategy simultaneously in these tough times. He also highlights how passion and persistence with integral commitment and unwavering efforts is the key to achieve success and scale great heights.
Dr. Hiranandani is known as a Co-Founder and MD, Hiranandani Group, who recently started a distinct Business Unit - Hiranandani Communities. Currently, he spearheads as the National President for National Real Estate Development Council (NAREDCO), which works under the aegis of Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, Government of India and also appointed President of one of the oldest trade body of India -ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry). He has also been conferred with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Management with thesis on real estate.
He is known as ‘Builder Extraordinaire’ and as the visionary man behind redesigning the skyline of Mumbai. With his profound knowledge, sharp business acumen and an ambitious attitude, he has been conferred with the leadership role across various prominent business organizations and apex chambers by Industry pundits.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
In these unprecedented times, what is keeping you awake at night? What is your biggest worry as a business leader?
My people; and my fellow citizens. I look at thousands of fellow Indians trudging along miles to reach their villages from the cities they were till recently gainfully employed, it breaks one’s heart. Why have we let things reach these levels of human tragedy? Profits and losses are a part of business; human suffering which could have been avoided – and wasn’t – hurts all the more. If we can’t take care of our fellow citizens by providing them with transport back home, how does it matter whether we are a market leader or just another Fortune 500 company. That thought keeps me awake at night.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak impacted the real estate industry in particular?
Work has ground to a halt; trained migrant labor has been lost to the pandemic fueled worries and the world we lived in prior to COVID-19 is gone. So the biggest impact, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, is change. Yes, there will be buyers for the homes we build, but the specifications that home buyers will want in the post-COVID world will change the paradigm of real estate. Sales and marketing will complete the shift to digital; automation will increase and new technology that reduces dependence on labor – including usage of prefabricated structures - will get integrated into the work process. In other words, ‘driving the need to adapt to change’ is how the outbreak has impacted real estate.
What is your immediate focus area? How are you managing business continuity and people strategy simultaneously?
Taking care of your people – the team that worked wonders in good times – this is the immediate focus area for any business leader in challenging times. From the migrant labor on construction sites which we took care of, to ensuring alternative means of productivity for white collar human resources, to ensuring that the planning, architecture and design team keep the changed paradigm in mind while working on projects that will be future-ready – it is all about keeping the team gainfully occupied. The challenges will be met, once the team is provided with the right sort of work profiles – and the platform to create it on. You ensure future success by keeping your team fit and fully functional while passing through any crisis or challenge.
How can leaders deal with the fear, uncertainty and doubt that their employees are going through?
You have to be the father figure – someone who can be relied on for support when times are tough as also one who plays the role of a strict taskmaster when necessary. It is a combination of being soft and tough at different times, as required. The team has to be motivated, given new challenges as also rewarded when they perform. One needs to keep in mind that the fear, uncertainty and doubt that their employees are going through is at a much higher level, also being faced by business leaders. It is about keeping calm while helping the team handle its worries and concerns. As the leader, the buck stops at your table, and dealing with issues like fear, uncertainty and doubt are all in a day’s work.
In this time of crisis, what has worked for you and what hasn’t?
As a corporate entity and as a group of companies, we have faced many challenges over the years so, there’s a crisis management template in place. Positive thought and a constructive approach works in a crisis – as it does in normal times. Teamwork in the real sense, especially the willingness of the leader to listen to suggestions from any member of the team regardless of their designation, when they have something constructive to contribute works - even more so during a crisis.
What hasn’t worked is the expectation that policy decisions would translate into actual movement at ground level. So, when authorities announced positive moves, they have not all translated into actual moves at ground level.
If you had to take a tough decision, around people (for example, pay cuts, downsizing, cost -cutting measures, redundancy of certain roles), how would you do it? What should leaders focus on and what should be their approach when it comes to making these tough decisions?
It is the overall good that needs to be taken into account while taking any tough decision. If you are ill and have to take an injection to recover, the pain of the syringe is something you have to deal with as part of the process of healing from the illness. You can’t duck out of taking the injection; similarly, pay cuts, downsizing, cost-cutting measures, redundancy of certain roles – these have to be done when necessary. One has to bite the bullet, be transparent and open on why certain unpleasant decisions have to be taken. A leader has to be realistic, look at the bigger picture and figure out how best to deal with the challenges. Delaying the inevitable does not work; one’s approach has to be straightforward and direct while making these tough decisions.
Many organizations are seeing opportunities emerging in addition to challenges, whether it be in addressing new client needs or opportunities to improve your organization’s effectiveness. What opportunities are you seeing?
Every challenge is an opportunity; at Hiranandani Group of Companies, we have seen this work in the past, across many challenges that have arisen. COVID-19 brings in a paradigm change in the way we do business and also address the needs of our customers so that we give them a real estate product that is ‘future-perfect’. The ‘new normal’ is still being defined, where we have made a virtue from the adversity of being flexible enough to be able to adapt to the ‘new normal’, regardless of whatever specifications it finally emerges with. We are integrating automation and technology at a very fast pace, ensuring that we are relevant to the world as it is present-day; as also ensuring that our products and services are ‘future-ready’. Marketing and sales activities have adapted to the digital and online platforms, and we are relevant to new-age customers as also the existing customer/ investor base.
How is the Hiranandani Group preparing for the new world of work post COVID-19?
We are already working as per the specifications, which we see defining the scenario expected in the new world of work post COVID-19. It is a world where virtual and digital will seamlessly combine with the human interface, leveraging automation and technology across new-age work platforms be they 3D or virtual reality riding on artificial intelligence and machine learning, and bringing the future to us in the present day, today!
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