Managing business through crisis and beyond

There are, as discussed in our recent insights, multiple practices and considerations that organisations must observe as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Firstly, to navigate the difficult circumstances within which they currently find themselves and, secondly, to prosper following its retreat. The task of providing effective leadership during such times, however, is neither a new practice nor is it exclusively reactive or proactive.

Governance, guidance and leadership are indispensable to organisations’ immediate requirements and long-term planning. Safeguarding efficient and secure practices whilst staff work remotely, easing the anxieties sparked by uncertainty and offering reassurance are prominent examples of responsibilities leaders must undertake to manage existing situations. Strategising, budgeting, looking ahead – anticipating change – and identifying ways to use it to an institution’s advantage or negating the harm it could cause their more enduring equivalents.

Academic studies have shown that organisations with strong leadership skills can succeed with inferior business plans. The same report also concluded that a lack of leadership can cause irreparable damage to even the most well-researched and robust model.1 Despite its importance, though, only 14% of CEOs believe their organisations possess the leadership talent needed.2

To lead effectively, a team needs to possess or be willing to develop certain qualities and adopt mindsets. Organisation leaders must also be aware of the need to encourage and develop these qualities throughout their existing workforce. Here are, in my opinion, traits possessed by effective leaders that all organisations will need to both navigate the immediate effects of and recover from the coronavirus pandemic:

Leaders listen

Whilst 88% of employees believe it’s vital that their leaders listen to them, only 60% feel like they actually did.3 A large number of respondents reported that their main concern was that, whilst they felt leaders made a concerted effort to listen, they did not feel like they actually ‘heard’ them. This led me to an important conclusion: leaders need to be good listeners or, more appropriately, to identify when they’ll be able to listen effectively.

Our ability to be attentive at any given time is influenced by a variety of factors. If we’re particularly busy, for example, our minds are likely to wander mid-conversation. If an employee approaches a leader at a time when they feel like they’re not in a position to have an in-depth conversation, it’s important that they understand that it’s perfectly acceptable for them to communicate this – provided they take ownership of the matter and ensure they make time for the employee as soon as possible.

Creating a culture within which leaders listen and empathise also leads to a workplace where ideas are freely exchanged. At times such as this, where anxiety is high, it also provides employees with the reassurance that comes from knowing that they can access support when required.

Leaders communicate

As well as listening, leaders actively communicate with employees. In recent weeks, I have made a concerted effort to send regular messages to all of ROCK’s employees. I want them to be kept informed of the goings-on within the leadership team, the decisions we’re making and what we’re doing during this difficult time. It’s important that leaders communicate and operate in a transparent fashion.

Not only is this important during times of crisis, but it is also an integral part of day-to-day practice. Successful organisations implement change (I’ll discuss this in greater detail later) regularly and, as we all know, change can be stressful. A study published earlier this year reported that 79% of employees regularly feel stressed or anxious to some extent4 and, whilst this is unavoidable at times, leaders should reduce such sensations, not exacerbate them.

The now infamous Change (or Kubler-Ross) Curve argues that employees’ initial resistance to change stems from a sense of shock, a lack of understanding and blame that is initially reflected inwards before being directed at others.5 Updating employees on organisational performance, the changes being considered and the reasons why typically negates the first two stages of this curve, minimising the adverse effect change typically has on performance.

Leaders are self-aware

Just as employees want their leaders to listen, they also want them to accept that they’re fallible: 84% think it’s important for leaders to admit to mistakes, but only 50% believe that they do.6 It is entirely possible that a lack of honesty or even subterfuge can be well-intentioned, of course as leaders can be motivated by a desire to protect employees’ wellbeing rather than their own. As this finding shows, however, irrespective of the reasons, doing so is counterproductive.

Leaders that are self-aware recognise when change has been unsuccessful. Their plans are informed by evidence rather than pure speculation and, contrary to what some may expect, they inspire confidence.

A person that is seemingly unaware of where they have made errors is one that is unlikely to be able to improve in any meaningful way. A good leader is self-aware and recognises that their mistakes provide them with an opportunity to learn and improve. In turn, this assures those around them.

Leaders embrace change

Digital disruption (and I make no apologies for the fact that this theme will be the driving force behind this point) is expected to drive 40% of Fortune 500 companies out of business by the end of 2027.7 Embracing change – and developing a culture that is accepting of it – has always been a fundamental business practice. The omnipresent force of tech, the ways in which it continuously transmogrifies the business community and the opportunities it brings make it the most profound form of change most organisations can embrace at this time: bodies with leaders that advocate its benefits outperform those that do not by 50% in financial terms.8

Big data and analytical tools can power decision-making and understanding; artificial intelligence has the capacity to streamline an infinite number of protocols and procedures; automation can transform laborious and time-consuming tasks into uncomplicated projects that are consistently completed promptly and to the highest possible standard. These are just the tip of an iceberg that can fundamentally change businesses for the better.

Leaders that are proactive and develop digital transformation strategies before the coronavirus epidemic reaches its conclusion will be better placed to fully optimise and align their infrastructures with their respective objectives and models.

Leaders create leaders

Leadership is a resource that the majority of organisations lack. Not because they do not have individuals in possession of the abilities and mindsets needed to set directions – but because they do not foster those who do, turning what should be a renewable resource into one that is frequently exhausted. This leaves institutions bereft of direction and, when the need to replace leaders arises, with unnecessary expense.

Developing the people that will influence your organisation brings about superior performance, of course, but it also galvanises your culture. It serves as an embodiment of values, inspires high performance and creates a stable environment.

To me, the opportunity to progress people internally is an absolute privilege. It is tremendously rewarding on a personal level and is something I advocate to all decision-makers for its tremendous benefits. In recent weeks, ROCK’s leadership team have personified the positive qualities – the ambition, resoluteness and calmness – required to pilot organisations through the current crisis. Via osmosis, the same qualities have been maintained throughout the entire company. As polymath and renowned psychologist Gustave Le Bon once said: “ideas, sentiments, emotions, and beliefs possess in crowds a contagious power as intense as that of microbes.”

  1. Procedia Engineering 181:1043-1048 (2017) Leadership Effectiveness Measurement and Its Effect on Organization Outcomes
  2. DDI, The Conference Board and EY (2018) Global Leadership Forecast 2018
  3. Business News Daily (2020) 5 Traits Employees Want in a Boss
  4. O.C. Tanner Institute (2020) 2020 Global Culture Report
  5. University of Exeter, The Change Curve
  6. Business News Daily (2020) 5 Traits Employees Want in a Boss
  7. Information Age (2017) Digital disruption will wipe out 40% of Fortune 500 firms in next 10 years, say c-suite execs
  8. DDI, The Conference Board and EY (2018) Global Leadership Forecast 2018 ​​​​​​


Digital strategies in the time of COVID-19

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