It’s clear that the current pandemic is creating a moment in history, equivalent to the 1918 flu pandemic or the two great wars. Covid-19 will accelerate high-speed digital connectivity, linking us with our schools, doctors, shops, and even our gyms, changing the whole way we work.
The new normal has emerged as a buzz word. For a number of us, finding that consistency to exist, stay motivated, positive, and inspire others, during such trying times of uncertainty, can seem difficult to achieve. Change in itself is difficult, but change at such magnitude and with this level of real and perceived impact can be challenging, to say the least. And it is important to acknowledge that managing, accepting, and handling change differs.
In this interview with Kishore Jayaraman, President, Rolls-Royce India, and South Asia reflect upon how the times of the crisis is also an opportunity for change.
Q: What are some 'moments of truth' that this pandemic has brought forward for business leaders?
A: The disorienting effects of COVID-19 on our daily lives, on global health, and on economic activity have so emotionally overwhelmed people. As a crisis strikes, a leader’s reflex is typically to first stabilize the threat. For me, there are three elements that I can classify as ‘moments of truth’ that the pandemic has put forward:
- Communication: A leader’s words and actions can help keep people safe, help them adjust and cope emotionally, and finally, help them put their experience into context—and draw meaning from it.
- Empathy: Awareness of what others are feeling, and role modeling vulnerability, empathy, and compassion during a crisis has been shown to lower stress and limit the adverse physical symptoms of team members, while also improving team goal achievement and productivity.
- Integrate the new ways of working: Businesses need to take proactive measures around the new ways of working like integrating digital technology that can increase their organization’s resilience, deepen customer relationships and emerge better prepared for the future.
Q: How do business leaders approach tough decisions like cost-cutting, layoffs, etc?
A: In a moment of crisis, reactions set the leaders apart from the followers. And it is situations like these and how leaders face them in real-time that will make way for a better tomorrow once the crisis is over.
There are two aspects to approach such decisions- professional and personal. There is no denying that cost-cutting, layoffs, and furloughs by businesses cannot be avoided, especially for businesses that are receiving the maximum burn. From a professional point of view, you would have to make these choices until you have an alternative and support from various government schemes to support your employees. However, in India, as of now we don’t have such alternatives.
If I talk from the personal point of view, you need to be informed that pandemic is new for everyone and none of us have ever imagined that it could have impacted our lives to this extent. For some, it’s about coming to terms with the loss of work and deep financial concerns. For others, the health risks are unfathomable and very scary either for themselves or their loved ones. As I mentioned earlier there is a need to empathize with your employees, understand their challenges and extend help in your own capacity.
We need a very balanced view on this situation here. At Rolls Royce, we have and will keep on balancing personal and professional decisions and people are our priority.
Q: Times of the crisis have historically also been opportunities for change. Are you optimistic that as we emerge from this and it could be an opportunity to create better workplaces, businesses, and economies?
A: Absolutely yes, 100%. The larger the crisis, the greater the evolution. Crises are not a prerequisite for innovation or positive change in the world, but major reforms and new paradigms often require the breakdown—generally publicly recognized—of old orders, institutions, and processes. Resolving such crises and charting a more positive trajectory should be a focus for leaders now.
Q. What are some areas do you think organizations and leaders should focus on to recover from the impact that the pandemic can have on business and people?
A: Thinking out of the box while you also think inside the box. You cannot possibly think outside the box unless you understand the nature of the box that bounds your current thinking. One should know that nature deeply and have real insight into it.
Q. It takes a while before one can switch their perspective and look at crisis as an opportunity. How can leaders guide their teams to accelerate this transition?
A: For most people, the current situation is akin to a major war and the majority of us have not experienced that. We are looking at very long-term adaptability, whilst at the same time scrambling to understand and adapt to constantly changing situations around us, such as working from home, home-schooling our children, and how we feel about being locked down.
It is critical for organizations to drive employee-centric culture. Organizations’ success will depend on how they sailed through this crisis together. At Rolls Royce, the leadership decided that care for employees will drive our success amidst this pandemic. We are constantly working on offering infrastructure, support to keep people motivated, engaged, and keep their productivity at the same level. In case, our employees feel difficult to work in the current situation, we go back to them to understand their challenges and extend our support to help up cope with the issues. It is a lot of care that is required, the more care you show, the more they respond.
Q.What are some of the leadership lessons that have guided you in the current times of crisis?
A: Communicate, communicate, and communicate