Article: COVID-19: Change lessons learnt for life

Leadership

COVID-19: Change lessons learnt for life

Change is inevitable. Change is also difficult and slow. Here are some lessons that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us.
COVID-19: Change lessons learnt for life

Contagion: Are we sitting and watching the movie or is the movie playing out in real life! Given a choice, everyone would have liked it to last out only for the duration of a typical film screening. 

It all began with a murmur and a lot of us shrugged off the possibility of moving to work-from-home as a paranoia of sorts. That ‘this too shall pass’ even before we know it.

Reality hit us all fast and hard! Starting with Lockdown 1.0 in March, we are now moving toward Lockdown 4.0 in the middle of May.

In this short span of time, we find ourselves disarmed and combatting an enemy we have only just begun to understand. Or, have we? 

An enemy we do not know, cannot see or predict its next move. An enemy that has made the entire world and the mightiest of corporations its captive. It has questioned every strategy, the most sophisticated predictive analytic tools and robust processes, the very ammunition that once helped us in staying ahead of every possible competition and perceived threat.

THE FUTURE OF WORK THAT WAS SO FAR DISCUSSED AND IMAGINED AS A CONCEPT, IS NOW A LIVING REALITY.

Till recently, to ask your sales force to stay back and work-from-home was, you said it – unimaginable! Equally unimaginable was the possibility of manufacturing units grinding to a complete halt! It has, though, come to pass.

Our world view, our reference of normalcy, and approach towards making decisions and choices has changed forever. We still wonder, that once a treatment is found, will we fall back to our old habits and ways of living! Very unlikely is the general consensus. History is our witness that each time countries have suffered wars, calamities and pandemics, they have been transformed forever. 

All around us, we can see for ourselves how as individuals, families and as organizations, we are changing and adapting to survive. Surgical masks were once seen mostly in hospitals, but today they have entered our homes, our meeting rooms. 

THE PANDEMIC IS FORCING US TO TRANSFORM QUICKLY AND MAKING US THINK CREATIVELY IN EVERY ASPECT - THE WAY WE MANAGE OUR TALENT, OPERATIONS, AND BUSINESS. 

Leadership is getting tested and many styles are emerging 

  • Leaders who have adapted and responded with speed and navigated through ambiguity have distinguished themselves.  
  • It’s alright to be vulnerable. Authentic leaders who have shared their vulnerability and focused on co-creating strategies to leverage collective wisdom, ideas to innovate, are showing better success.
  • Leaders who continue to operate with archaic ways of thinking, rigidity, ego, and who lack empathy, are increasingly finding it difficult to survive. 
  • The much-needed values of compassion and empathy are assuming (finally!) higher significance as leadership attributes.

Honesty, character, and stability goes a long way. 

  • People connect to a cause, a purpose. During this crisis, my personal experience has been that leaders need to constantly communicate candidly with employees across levels. We initiated a practice to conduct weekly town halls to address anxiety and provide clarity and direction to people during this crisis. We launched virtual coffee catch-ups with leaders, to get a pulse of the organization and give another platform to reassure them that we are thinking about them.  
  • What we communicate makes all the difference. Honesty and transparency will help organizations and leaders to tide over this crisis. The way we deal with suppliers and employees during the crisis will establish the credibility and character of the organization. Which in turn, will be the fine difference between organizations respected and viewed as an employer of choice going forward. Employees will surprise you with their understanding, loyalty, support, and resilience.
  • Dignity, respect, fairness, and honesty will build brands in the eyes of our talent. Organizations seen as stable with strong cash positions may be viewed favorably, over several start-ups as the trend was a few months back. 

W-F-H will be the new normal. 

Once we start finding simpler and more efficient ways of delivering high performance, we will never go back to old ways. 

  • For years organizations have struggled to find the right way of integrating different ways and formats of working. There has been immense scepticism on whether work-from-home affects productivity. 
  • Even once we start opening offices, for a long time we will not be able to let the entire workforce come to work together for the fear of the unknown enemy and the safety of all. 
  • WFH is making organizations focus investment toward improving their IT infrastructure instead of just continuing to expand their office spaces. Policies are being revised, processes are getting a complete overhaul. 

Digital transformation is a necessity. 

Digital transformation has been an aspiration for many organizations for quite some time. Organizations have been forced to reimagine how they evolve their workflows and processes differently in these times.  

  • While employee experience and customer experience will continue to be the focus, the way we are approaching it is changing. 
  • Organizations have started exploring contactless sales processes enabled by technology. This is challenging the existing premise of seeing sales as the critical factor of relationship and proximity to our customers. Accordingly, our customer expectations are also changing.
  • We have been leveraging AI to gauge the sentiments of our people and get real-time inputs to stay more relevant for our employees. In times of COVID-19, our digital medical benefits and offerings have seen a higher adoption by employees. These are clear indications that we are gearing towards hastening digital transformation.
  • Similar transformations are also being seen in areas of supply chain and operations, helping organizations to enhance productivity and efficiency and adding to the customer experience.

Boundaryless talent landscape 

Forced wfh has made working from anywhere and anytime widely accepted. It has broken many constraints and physical boundaries. 

  • We are quickly learning that the presence of an entire workforce at one site or even a country for ensuring delivery is no longer necessary. This opens up a totally new dimension in acquiring talent, skill sets and planning succession. 
  • I recall not too long ago when I was working with a leading Telecom Service Provider, the time when 3G was being launched in India how we struggled to acquire the skill set and implement global best practices. On reflection, perhaps if we had viewed it as a similar challenge in those times, our approach would have been entirely different and less restrained. 

A variable workforce will rise and gain focus 

Integrating GIG workforce in mainstream roles is gaining impetus. 

  • Technology enablement and restricted mobility is changing the scope of several roles in future. Jobs are getting redesigned to suit the new demands and constraints. 
  • Creative solutions in the retail industry and healthcare industries have seen unique synergies in workforce sharing, making collaboration a way to succeed and utilize capacities better. 
  • To respond to a rapidly changing business environment due to the pandemic, Agile team concept is on the rise. It enables the much-needed innovation and speed required in the wake of the pandemic. 

Paranoid about cost

The financial crisis has not just left millions of people but also large organizations vulnerable and financially insecure. It’s a question of survival for many and quite a few are even inching towards bankruptcy. The lessons we are learning on spending and investment will go a long way. 

  • A frugal mindset and “no-frills” will become par for the course.  
  • All investments will contribute to the top-line or the bottom-line in the form of productivity, efficiency or cost optimization. 
  • A fine balance between where we spend and how it adds to experience for our customers or employees will be sought.

Recognition of mental health issues and wellness is finally taking a front seat. 

With Lockdown 4.0, offices are coming back to life. Despite the challenges and fears haunting us, we will gradually learn to coexist in common spaces and deal with anxieties. 

  • While the economy may take more time to recover fully, financial insecurity is already on top of everyone’s list of woes. 
  • Such difficult times mean that mental wellbeing will assume importance equal to personal safety. Organizations will have to support employees to cope by providing assistance programs. 

Your team is your only currency 

All through this crisis, the only currency that will not fluctuate and be your strength is your own team. As true leaders are showing the way to guide their teams, one should be open in sharing with them, nurturing them, understanding and working with them, and co-creating the future with them. 

People will be the raison d’etre that will keep you motivated and inspired to carry on and walk towards the light.

While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic may have come to us as a crisis and robbed us of the  ‘old normal’, it is no doubt also helping create newer opportunities to adapt and take the game to the next level! The choice is ours to make.

 

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Topics: Leadership, #GuestArticle, #COVID-19, #LeadTheWay

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