The world is grappling with a crisis it has not seen before. And to steer the mass of humanity through this crisis, even the leadership has to reinvent itself. From being empathetic to communicating clearly to putting the greater good ahead of all other concerns, leaders have a responsibility to keep calm and try to maintain business as usual as much as possible while managing employee experience in such testing times.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Ajay Tripathi, Chief Human Resource Officer, L&T Infotech shares what are the key things a leader needs to focus on during this crisis and the need to not soft-pedal things in a crisis.
What are the key things for a leader to focus on while in a crisis?
In a crisis, the leader should fall back on the first principles- the first one being making decisions boldly. One of the traits that become important in a crisis is empathy. A leader needs to put people before business in a crisis. The second important thing a leader needs to do is to identify and empower the experts, which will define the organization’s response to the crisis. The third important thing for a leader is to listen-because in a crisis, people want to get heard and provide their inputs. That’s what helps shape the type of decisions that are made and generates trust for the leader during a crisis. As trust becomes more important in a crisis as compared to a normal situation. Lastly, the leader does not need to soft-pedal things, he needs to be upfront.
What is the importance of sticking to company values during an emergency?
In a crisis, it is very important to find a glue that binds the workforce together. Because at the end of the day, it is very easy for things to just start falling apart. More often, when companies demonstrate a very strong vision and value system, that starts serving as a glue to bind people. So even if an employee is in a far-flung area, he always has an assurance at the back of his mind that no matter what happens, my organization will take care of me. And that assurance binds him to the company.
Thus these values will become the common minimum parameters that one can expect from each other, even in a crisis.
How can leaders lead the conversation internally unambiguously and genuinely?
There are a few things which leaders need to be focused on when it comes to communicating. It is better for an employee to hear it from a leader than figure it out from a grapevine. Also in a crisis, if leaders are listening closely and are able to decipher which are the elements creating anxieties and start communicating around those anxieties, that’s the way to do it. Also, employees want to hear an assurance in a crisis. Often, the first thing on their minds is their job going to be impacted? Is their compensation going to be impacted?
“Thus a very clear articulation of business continuity and recovery plan is a necessary element of communication.”
That generates comfort among people that whatever measure the leadership is going to initiate, it might have a short term negative impact; but the leadership knows what is there in the future and will get them up the curve. That’s how people will rally behind the leadership teams.
What steps do leaders need to take to maintain business as usual as much as possible while maintaining the employee experience?
In a crisis, it is important to focus on the employee first and then follows how we enable him to deliver on business priorities. It requires taking a step back to understand what employees want to be addressed first.
Today, if we look at the IT industry, it has responded well to the crisis by enabling employees to WFH. Five years back, leaders in the IT industry unanimously would not have been open to this idea of WFH. Because of customer contracts, confidentiality issues, data privacy-and all such factors. But today, overnight things have changed. Customers have become open to relaxing their norms, the government has become open to relaxing Internet norms, and employees have accommodated by moving their systems to their homes overnight to continue business as usual. In fact, we are seeing significant increases in productivity in a few of the cases.
What has been your moment of truth during the crisis? What are some of the hard decisions that you have taken at L&T Infotech?
The amount of movement we have done in 48 hours to enable people to work from home has been a significant achievement for us. So we have not seen much of an impact on our customer deliveries. In the early part of the crisis, when people were struggling with partial information, we were able to operationalize a global helpline to address their queries. We were able to provide them a repository of information upfront. In fact, we did not push out a single joinee and were able to onboard them remotely and enable them to work remotely.
Also, as far as going back to the office is concerned, we are not in a hurry to get 33% of our workforce back to the office as stipulated by government guidelines. We are trying to do it in a staged manner and trying not to do disrupt things and continue to enable employees to WFH. We will start office with a very small population which might be very essential to get in but it will be in single-digit percentages. And we have already prepared the office premises to cater to that-with social distancing norms enabled, segregated floors, meeting rooms locked out among other measures.
What are some things leaders should deﬁnitely not do in a crisis?
A crisis is definitely not the time to look at short term gains. The company may be under intense pressure, but a leader should never make a decision contrary to what he has been living through while managing the crisis, in order to make a short term gain.
“Thus a leader needs to avoid quick fixes of any kind in a crisis in order to not jeopardize the trust he was generating all through.”
Lastly, as a leader is always at the center of everything, he can never demonstrate a loss of hope.