Article: In a crisis, don’t pretend like you have all the solutions: CEO & MD, Godrej Consumer Products Limited


In a crisis, don’t pretend like you have all the solutions: CEO & MD, Godrej Consumer Products Limited

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Vivek Gambhir, Managing Director & CEO, Godrej Consumer Products Limited shares what are the key things a leader needs to focus on during this crisis and the need to rethink the way we lead.
In a crisis, don’t pretend like you have all the solutions: CEO & MD, Godrej Consumer Products Limited

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, Vivek Gambhir, Managing Director & CEO, Godrej Consumer Products Limited shares what are the key things a leader needs to focus on during this crisis and the need to rethink the way we lead.

What are the key things for a leader to focus on while in a crisis? 

This pandemic is impacting our lives in a way that we could never have imagined possible. None of us has ever dealt with a crisis of this magnitude, so, unfortunately, there is no playbook. But what is clear, is that we need to rethink the way we lead, and adapt to what is needed.

- Rally your team around your company’s purpose. Go back to your core. Draw your strength from this. Keep reminding your team members why and how their work matters.

- Be clear about your top 3-5 priorities (and keep reiterating them every chance you get). Have a clear framework for decision making. Be more comfortable with ambiguity and chaos. You will not have most of the answers and will make plenty of mistakes. So, be prepared to adjust, improvise and pivot. Invest time in learning. This is both a sprint and a marathon. Work on short term goals, but also build for the long run and a new normal.

- Have a critical incident management team. Track a daily dashboard and stay alert. Check-in with your team daily. While you will need to spend a lot of time to tide over the current situation (such as ensuring safety and conserving cash), also look ahead and plan for life post the crisis. New opportunities will emerge and you must be able to leverage them.

- Strengthen direct connect with the front line; show empathy and compassion. Make sure that bad news travels faster than good news. Have an accurate and up-to-date picture of the ground reality. Don’t get filtered information. Look after your team. People are probably very anxious, so engage frequently and meaningfully. Learn to lean on each other.

- Prioritize self-care. It is quite normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious with all the uncertainty around. Take time out for yourself, meditate, paint, or exercise. Pace yourself and manage your energy to feel better through the day.

What is the importance of sticking to company values during an emergency? 

“Values are relatively easy to live up to when things are going well. The real test is in the face of adversity.”

The choices we make when it’s hard to live our values - those are the ones that we will be remembered for, especially right now, when everything is in a flux. At Godrej, we are united and inspired by The Godrej Way (which is what we call our purpose and values). It is the cultural cornerstone that guides our choices and actions. It defines why we exist as a company, how we add value, and how we bring meaning to what we do. We are finding it a very useful lens when it comes to making difficult decisions. It helps us be more clear and focused on things that matter. 

For example, one of our core values is Trust. At a time like this, how we foster trust with our team members, partners, consumers, and our communities becomes one of our most important imperatives.

Why is it important to put the greater good ahead of all other concerns? 

For companies like ours, which have been around for over 120 years, it is important to build for the long term, while ensuring that we can weather the storm in the near term. Our purpose is centered on ‘Goodness’ – bringing the goodness of health and beauty to consumers in emerging markets. As we see it, success is not based on the profits we clock in one quarter or one year. We succeed only if we are good to our team members, consumers, partners, shareholders and communities.

There is a perceptible shift today in what our team members, customers and investors expect from us as a business. Of course, we must meet growth targets and objectives, but more importantly, we must do so while ensuring we do good for our communities and the environment – placing people and planet alongside profit, as we say at Godrej.

People want to work at companies where they find meaning and are making a difference, while also growing in their careers. Consumers want great quality and affordable prices, but they also want to spend on brands that are committed to larger causes. Investors are increasingly seeing more stable, long-term returns associated with companies with holistic, responsible world views.

There has never been a more important time to stand in solidarity with our communities. At the Godrej Group level, we have created a fund of Rs. 50 Cr to support relief efforts in India. Over time, we will extend this to our other geographies as well. Our country teams have also initiated focused efforts. In India for example, through the #ProtektIndiaMovement, we are building awareness around hand hygiene, and partnering with local government and other organizations to equip health workers and government staff with essential hygiene and safety products.

How can leaders lead the conversation internally unambiguously and genuinely?  

As we continue to grapple with this new normal, effective communication has become critical. As leaders, we must send out the right message to our teams, especially since many people are currently working in isolation and grappling with unprecedented problems. It is important to project a sense of calm. 

“Be honest and transparent. Admit that you don’t (and honestly can’t) have all the answers. Ask for feedback and encourage people to speak up.”

Given the immensity of the current challenge, some of us may be emphasizing the silver lining and trying to motivate our teams with assurances. Others may see it as their duty to issue dire warnings about how the world has changed forever and how the economic situation may never recover fully. 

I understand the reasoning behind both these stances. However, a middle-of-the-road approach might be more effective - be a realistic optimist. Use the Stockdale Paradox as a guide. This concept gets its name from Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was held prisoner for eight years during the Vietnam War, with no release date nor any assurance of getting out alive. As the highest-ranking American officer at the camp, not only did he have to deal with his personal struggles, he also had to lead his men through the seemingly endless imprisonment – both of which he did admirably. He attributed this success to two simultaneous factors – an unwavering sense of hopefulness and a capacity to confront reality head-on, no matter how unpleasant. Be honest and clear about the challenges that your company is facing. But at the same time, show what the future could look like if we conquer the challenges.

What steps do leaders need to take to maintain business as usual as much as possible while maintaining the employee experience?

Given the uncertainty, people are understandably feeling very anxious and we must engage with them even more closely than before. This starts with acknowledging that the employee experience when people are working from home will be different, more so with the current lockdowns where you likely don’t have regular support systems functioning. So, how do we help people be productive from home? How do we enable them to play multi-faceted roles and achieve the necessary balance? 

- Establish team norms. Develop guidelines and ground rules that everyone can align on – like when and how and when to get in touch with colleagues and how to collaborate on virtual platforms. It’s also helpful to make training resources quickly available.

- Maintain as much rhythm as possible. Have daily check-ins, brainstorming sessions, or informal virtual dialogues so that conversations don’t get thrown off track.

- Celebrate. When working alone, it’s easy to become demotivated and dwell on losses. Keep morale high by recognizing accomplishments. The success stories don’t have to be big and spectacular; even little wins deserve to be acknowledged. We are leveraging Workplace by Facebook, our in house social media platform, to celebrate commitment shown by our frontline teams, reimagine inductions for new hires, and host online engagement sessions. 

- Keep people updated. People will have questions on the larger business and plans, so share more frequent communication on what is happening at an organizational level, and in your industry. Our big focus has been to rally our teams around the theme of #EmergeStronger, talking about how we can continue to be resilient and find the opportunity in this crisis to reimagine ourselves in the new normal. 

- Provide emotional support. Unlike planned remote working options, this was pretty much thrust upon us, and that too at a time of unprecedented turmoil. People are worried and stressed out. So, reach out proactively, empathize, solicit feedback and try to spot signs of anxiety. This is especially so for team members who are working on ground, in sales or factories. At Godrej, we have ramped up our communication around our mental wellness platform, through campaigns, workshops, and one-to-one counseling sessions on email, telephone calls, and virtual meetings. 

- Encourage learning and experimentation. Given all that is changing, now is a great time for people to invest in upskilling. We are encouraging this in different ways, making online learning courses and platforms available for people to choose from. We are also hosting curated knowledge sharing sessions for peer learning from in-house experts.

What are some things leaders should definitely not do in a crisis?

“Don’t pretend like you have all the solutions because you can’t.”

In a routine situation, a top-down approach might work. But in a crisis like this where there is so much uncertainty and things are changing constantly, it is important for leadership to be distributed. So, have a clear direction, but also empower your teams on the ground to act fast. The temptation in a time of crisis is for leaders to put themselves at the center of all activity. Have the humility to avoid falling into that trap. Don’t micromanage. Instead, leverage all the support you can. Be clear about what needs to be escalated and ensure that you can mobilize resources quickly to support your team members. 

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Topics: Leadership, #LeadTheWay

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