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Consultant și analist de risc politic, CEO Smartlink, fost Policy Manager la Google Bruxelles

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Resilience amid Restart and Recovery Plans:  a Leadership Recipe

We often hear that this is an unprecedented crisis, but we fail to grasp the full meaning of the statement. A particular one is disregarded despite its consequences: with this pandemic, everything is on the line and what was accepted and tolerated in the past has dramatically changed.
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The pandemic is not only an opportunity, as some like to say it, but also a major – and very palpable – threat for those who do not understand that, confined to their homes and subject to fear and anxiety, people will also be looking for actors, stakeholders and organisations to blame. Although incumbent and mainstream politicians are the ones to be most concerned, this goes beyond the world of partisan politics. Brands and businesses will likely be impacted if they fail to comprehend what is at stake during these times and that a human- and society-centered leadership is the recipe for resilient leadership. I will seek to make the case for what resilient leadership means these days, amid increased talk -but no real walk yet- of restart and recovery plans and strategies.

 

Resilience is not a destination, but a way of being, as Deloitte rightly shows in a recent report. As we move from responding to the crisis to recovery, we have to understand that trust is the catalyst for bouncing back. To build and maintain trust, it all starts with empathy, with being aware of the needs of employees, customers and the society. It continues with decisive action and overcoming the fear to act.  Here, a key part is the attempt to get across one’s narrative: it involves transparency, no sugar-coating, and an honest assessment of trade-offs, challenges, and difficulties. Yes, the goal is to recover the lost ground and to maintain profitability, but it is the reputation that, in the long term, consolidates the brand, and allows it to distinguish itself in increasingly competitive markets. Reputation management should be part of the equation when arbitrating between short vs. long-term goals.

 

As the governments will allow people to go back to work, at least gradually, a major share of responsibility will be shifted to businesses, as they will have to decide how to find the right balance between health and economic concerns. Let’s not forget that, despite some encouraging news, any vaccine is still many months away. Operating in this environment will ask for reimagination of the business model and reforms in accordance to people’s new behavior. According to McKinsey, reimagination will have to be multifaceted. It is commonsensical in my view to take a fresh look at former yearly or multiyear organisational strategies and adjust them in the weeks to come, including in terms of how to deal with stakeholders in the new corona normal. It requires a start-up mindset to rapidly recover the lost ground, while putting the human dimension at the core of activities. It calls for acceleration of digital, technology, and analytics, in an effort to understand what customers want and value.

 

All this can be achieved in an ecosystem that is welcoming to adaptation and to reconfiguration of global value chains, suppliers, to automation, and a deeper dive into sustainability. Even more importantly, the new normal will raise questions that cannot be answered behind closed doors: who we are, how we work, and how we grow. Strategic communication should play its role in promoting simple, clear, and frequent communication, in finding and proposing order amid chaos and fear. In the end, giving people reasons to hope is the way to go and involves, as others have expertly put it, celebrating the positives, helping people to help, and, maybe most importantly, building and consolidating communities. A demonstration of vulnerability is also part of the charm, as long as it is directed towards resilience.

 

Recently, Klaus Schwab, the founder of WEF, made the point that, in this crisis, an entire business model is questioned. His advice? Embedding a company in society, bet of resilience, contribute to the societal emergency response and give signals of virtue (solidarity with workers and pay-cuts for the leadership vs. bonuses to the CEOs of companies asking for public bailouts). The gist is to sacrifice short-term profit orientation for stakeholder capitalism, for understanding that accountability will become one of the encompassing buzzwords of the pandemic. Henry Kissinger aptly said that the historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Well, we will for sure have the opportunity to see who leads and who falls behind these days, in business, politics and beyond.

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