Uncertainty, ambiguity, managing anxiety of self and others, finding opportunity in chaos, there is a lot a leader has got to go through and do in times of crisis. As the entire world of work battles the pandemic and its impact on business, business leaders have a lot on their plate, from ensuring business continuity to ensuring employees’ safety to transitioning to the new normal of work.
In a recent interview, we discuss with Dharmender Kapoor, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Birlasoft the challenges business leaders face today. He reveals how the current pandemic is transforming him as a leader and also shares how Birlasoft is managing the crisis.
Do you think a crisis is the make or break of leadership?
Crisis redefines many things: roles, responsibilities, leadership styles, etc. As it is said, “Gold only shines when it’s put under fire.”
The idea behind this is that crisis takes a pressure test of leadership in which some often emerge as a hero. The right leaders will come to the fore during times of crisis. Volatility requires leaders to act with strength. There is no easy way out of a crisis. Apart from the obvious like selecting the correct route to take, leaders also face the monumental task of reassuring employees and persuading them to follow the right route as well.
Leaders in every organization will be tested in an area where they have not fully developed their leadership muscles, and the learning curve will be steep.
I believe this crisis has created a level playing field for many of us and it is an opportunity for all wherein with determined efforts and planning, we can thrive to achieve a better future.
According to you, what are the key pillars of leadership in crisis?
We are living in unprecedented times. Things constantly change during a crisis, but there is one point of certainty; a guiding north star that every employee must look up to – the organizational values.
During the time of crisis, various aspects come into play while defining our key pillars. Perseverance and values are the key for any leadership. An individual or team should always trust and follow their values. In Birlasoft, our three values have most often provided us the answers during tough times.
These three values are Engaged, Dependable, and Challenger.
- Engaged: Crisis is the time to test the blended work environment, a leader should know how to motivate his/her team, stay connected with stakeholders and more importantly, ensure business continuity.
- Dependable: Your team, clients, and all stakeholders should have faith in you and should depend on you because during a regular scenario, everything will be delivered in business-as-usual manner, but your resilience and faith is tested during the time of crisis.
- Challenger: I believe in leading by example during tough times and one should know how to sustain and innovate in businesses. This is the time to leapfrog and not think incremental.
Has the current global health crisis changed your leadership style?
The new decade 2020 is unfolding complex chapters for leadership; it is giving us a chance to be brave, take a stand and make decisions we know that are good for us, but are hard to swallow.
Leaders are the bulwark of the organization and in unpredictable situations like these, they should be objective, flexible, adaptive, and willing to make difficult choices while being collaborative and compassionate. This is the time to showcase the ability to respond quickly and alongside guide your team to understand the importance of being responsive and proactive. The situation has brought in extraordinary demands on leaders in businesses and beyond.
How are you helping your team navigate through this crisis?
During these turbulent times, we have implemented many employee initiatives to ensure that the teams are bonding much more than before, with each other. Large teams have been divided into microcosms to ensure business planning and project deliveries encounter no suffrage. With a 99.6 percent work from home metric, employees are being encouraged to take up critical tasks within their portfolios to ensure that the customer confidence remains unwavered.
Employees and clients are optimizing online collaboration tools to ensure productivity. We, at Birlasoft, are seeing no drop in our service levels and have ensured zero disruption; all made possible due to our employees’ commitment and drive to excel.
What is your current leadership mantra?
“Smarter together”; in my opinion, leaders must facilitate in ordinary people, the ability of doing extraordinary things. They must provide vision, encourage their teams and personnel to keep their aspiration levels high, develop a camaraderie that binds thought processes together, thereby enabling people to be successful in their endeavours.
How are you striking a balance between ensuring business continuity and managing employee experience?
Our flexible approach towards delivering business solutions, the agility to customize and deliver more has tremendously aided in our business continuity without any hiccups. We are committed to supporting our customers’ business with our services throughout. At Birlasoft, we have formed a COVID-19 Leadership Taskforce that meets regularly every single day, to assess the current situation and accordingly advise teams on the next plan of action.
We have established a WAR room for project teams to easily reach us and use the latest information to answer questions that arise from employees, customers and suppliers to ensure we have the best response and that we all stay connected.
We have a suitable Business Continuity Plan in place, and we will continue to prioritize safety of our employees, while they deliver support to our customers. Employee engagement is being given serious emphasis. We have created an online platform named ‘Creative Masters’ for employees and their kids, where they can contribute by writing poetry, sharing paintings, sketching and scribbling life-enhancing blogs. Sessions on well-being of kids and the elderly are also being promoted via online collaboration platforms with guidance of mental health and wellness experts. Virtual gamified engagements via apps are also being promoted. To inculcate and curate a reading habit among kids and employees, free E-books and E-storybooks are being offered through websites. Along with wellness challenges, employees and their families are engaged through online quizzes and Virtual Antakshari (Sing-along, Karaoke) sessions.
Do you have a post lockdown strategy in place?
While the coronavirus pandemic and associated disruptions are being faced globally, we have started adopting a set of new business conditions. Digital transformation is demonstrating its value and its impact on the ecology of business in these tough times. We need to adapt newer models wherein we can continue business processes smoothly whether working from the office or from home.
Additionally, we have proper SOPs in place for every office at different locations, like maintaining a clean and hygienic workplace, promoting regular and thorough hand-washing by employees, screening of all visitors for COVID-19 symptoms, awareness posters, etc. We are closely monitoring all government announcements and conducting series of sensitization workshops, webinars and virtual communications.
Are some of the new workplace practices you have adopted during lockdown to be continued or scaled even after the crisis gets over?
Our enhanced precaution and preventive measures will continue to be an integral part of our workplace practices, since COVID-19 will not leave us immediately. The virus affects humans and spreads virulently, so we all should be vigilant as individuals. The placement of sanitizers, hand soaps and increased frequency of facility-sanitization shall continue, as employee health and safety is prime for us. As and when the lockdown eases, we have planned to have critical employees coming in, through a calibrated mechanism and will ensure that social distancing norms are honoured. Our lives, during and post-COVID-19 will be a test of resilience, strength and patience for each one of us. We must urge ourselves to practice and promote good hygiene for ourselves and others too.
How has the business needs changed and hence how have the manpower requirements changed?
It becomes imperative for organizations, businesses as well as individuals to introspect into this catastrophe not just in terms of what is lost but what might be gained. While the industry is doing everything possible to ensure business continuity, it is important to re-align our operations to the new normal and ensure that we are available for our customers. Each one of us has united zealously and have gone an extra mile in ensuring continuous project deliveries with minimal impact due to this situation.
As COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives, employee safety and well-being remain the industry’s top priority. We are looking at all possible solutions to ensure that there is minimum disruption in the lives of our employees. The silver lining of a crisis is the chance it provides every organization to be grateful for cultural strengths, and understand how humanity rises to keep the faith strong in one another.