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COVID-19 Related Changes: Implications for Strategic Leadership (Part 2)

The study of 128 CEOs, Presidents, COOs, and senior-level executives spanning 50 industries across the United States (many of them with global reach) revealed that some organizations struggled in the initial days following restrictions being put in place due to the pandemic while other organizations seemed prepared and found the transition less cumbersome and time-consuming.

Interviews conducted and a follow-on survey disclosed that the pandemic has required organizations—regardless of their industry, profession, or government sector—to change the manner in which they interact with their key stakeholders and the manner in which their employees interact with each other.

Our study revealed that the speed in which the shift to remote work took place, the time and energy required, and the success of the transition process relied on how well organizations embraced six key principles.

1. Be transparent to reduce employee anxiety and stress.

Although transparency has been considered important over the past decade, there is now a new understanding of this term. The focus on transparency previously focused on executives sharing information about decisions already made. Our survey spotlighted the importance of another kind of transparency requiring executives to think and act differently than in the past:

  • Leaders now must not only be open about their decisions and decision-making processes but must also—in light of the ambiguity and uncertainty—be willing to share their own concerns and fears.

  • Executives now recognize more than ever before that they must speak authentically and genuinely to be perceived as someone who can be trusted.

2. Establish a culture of accountability.

A majority (81%) of the organizations reported cultural norms emphasizing responsibility and accountability to be key in setting the stage for consistent performance through the crisis. Reliable performance through the transition was crucial, and relatively few (19%) organizations relaxed performance requirements relating to workload and project timelines.

A majority of the respondents reported that having a competent (88%) and self-confident (83%) workforce contributed to their maintaining consistent performance throughout the public health crisis. Cultural norms emphasizing personal responsibility, accountability, and meritocracy were frequently (81% of the time) cited as being key to set the stage for consistent performance of the workforce.

3. Focus on what’s vital while broadening your perspective.

A majority (88%) of the organizations reported remaining close to their clients and customers, resulting in 35% deciding to change payment terms for their clients and customers.

Furthermore, information we received from our survey suggests that leaders have taken additional steps to reduce or mitigate risks. A majority (88%) of the respondents reported that their organizations are actively remaining close to and engaging more frequently with their partners, suppliers, and distributors by building on their new digital relationship.

Financially, 71% reported taking immediate and decisive steps to conserve cash. From a “people” perspective, about half (49%) reported that a portion of their workforce will not return to their offices after the shelter-in-place order is rescinded.

4. Adopt investment policies for the “new better.”

Investment in digital technology processes for employees and customers made the transition to remote work seamless. While it is evident executives are taking action to alter the expectations related to management practices, they stress that changes will be required to policies and procedures to clarify those practice changes.

While digitization has been central to organizational productivity throughout the crisis, it will now play a vital role in operational disaster preparedness. And many organizations report that they will invest in new health and safety policies, e.g, passively or actively conducting temperature checks at entrances to monitor the health of employees and visitors so communicable diseases and ailments are recognized and addressed in a timely manner.

5. Reexamine and as needed modify partner agreements.

Many organizations now recognize the impact the crisis will have on their agreements with community councils, governments, and investment representatives.

Survey responses emphasize steps being taken to refine policies and procedures so they more clearly match and reinforce the words and actions of the leaders. For example, survey respondents report they are now working hand-in-hand with external partners and affiliates and modifying goals and strategies to bolster alignment. They are also adjusting product and service road maps to ensure their organizations continue to seamlessly provide needed products and services to their customers and clients so they can in turn continue providing products and services to theirs.

6. Invest time in business continuity planning.

Interviewees and survey respondents reported that having a business continuity plan in place proved beneficial during the COVID-10 crisis. To minimize business risk in the future, respondents report that a single executive will likely be appointed to manage business continuity and contingency planning. In cases where an organization lacks the resources to assign this responsibility to a single executive, an executive will likely be given the added responsibility of monitoring trends to determine whether emergency actions need to be taken or changes in policy or practices are required.

To further minimize risk, many organizations will likely adopt practices relating to risk assessment and management, and such strategies will play a more central role in their strategic and operational planning.

COVID-19 has served not only as a incredible revealer but also a great accelerator in pushing businesses on their way to create a better world by strengthening relationships with employees, customers and partners to rebuild economic vitality.



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