With Covid-19 dancing all over the planet, democratic leaders and civil society institutions are struggling. Business leaders are no different as they move (largely clueless) to deal with a host of problems from declining sales and stalling supply chains to keeping employees healthy, maintaining customer relationships and making business continuity possible. Below, I explore six areas business leaders must look into as they march towards stabilising the business outlook.
Massive Investment in Employee Trust
Trust is perhaps the number one tax a company ever pays. The Covid-19 challenge demands an organisation-wide deliberate and transparent conversation aimed at bringing clarity and perspective to the required response. Think of it as a new strategic direction that demands unprecedented agility in execution. This requires senior management to access the best information regarding barriers to execution. This information gathering exercise must include the employee perspective – and this requires that senior management effectively communicates that they want to hear from across all levels of the organisations about their ideas and perspectives. The Covid-19 challenge (like any other crisis) is a huge opportunity for leaders to nurture a trust-based culture rapidly; if they fail to do so now it will undermine their ability to develop a trust-based culture for many years to come.
Empower Employees to Make Customers More Helpful
Covid-19 has shown how interlinked we are as a global community. The generosity exhibited by civil society institutions and individuals is heart-warming. These contributions will persist when life goes back to normal. Future-centric leaders will run better organisations if they create conditions that empower employees to encourage customers to become helpful, although there could be three barriers to prevent customers from becoming more helpful. They are an inability to help, not knowing how to help and not believing their help is important. Let me explain this further. For example, cinemas have developed a helpful customer behaviour process – silencing mobile phones before the film starts. Airlines do it by training us to play our part in tidying the plane before landing (a flight attendant will ask us to hand over our trash and unused items to a crew member) and we gladly play our part. Here it is important to note that when the rationale for asking customers to help appears to be about enhancing profitability, the request may not be complied with. However, once it is established that our engagement is helpful (to ourselves and to others), most people participate voluntarily. By identifying concrete ways where customers can be helpful, providing clear direction about what they can do and clarity as to why their partnership is a positive contribution for everyone involved, business leaders can improve interactions between their employees and customers and help everyone achieve better things together.
Working From Home is Here to Stay
During this time when companies and employees are figuring out how to be productive and happy working from home, the most practical advice is to identify someone who is experienced in remote work tech tools (people familiar with Slack, Teams and Zoom) and make them our WFH mentors. This is an opportunity to learn new ways to work as these tools will remain helpful even when people go back to the office, which will in turn call for restructuring organisational processes in terms communication, socialisation and coordination. The physical and mental well-being of employees needs to be ensured by encouraging them to develop a personal regime that includes exercising at home and reaching out to people, even if virtually. This will ensure employees are engaged, happy, mentally relaxed and productive to the extent that they can.
A New SOP for SOPs
Many of the changes companies will have to make in the short-term include reduced travel, more WFH opportunities (at least for white-collar workers) and changes in business operations to reduce human contact and improve workplace hygiene. I believe there is more to come once this emergency is over. The great recession forced employers to revisit their staffing structures and the result was a shift in the ratio of part-time to full-time workers across businesses. Covid-19 may lead to similar or even bigger changes. Think about essential staff and non-essential staff. Some sectors (air travel, hospitality, tourism and high-end consumer brands that rely on traditional retailing for the bulk of their sales) have already been demonstrably compromised. So too will industries that revolve around large gatherings. This may contribute towards a reinvention of SOPs at all levels.
Supply Chain Professionals Are the New Rock Stars
In the short-term companies that rely on global supply chains will be affected. Once they have run through the safety stocks provided by a far-flung supplier base, they may face issues fulfilling demand until their supply chains ramps up. Supply chain professionals who traditionally focused on short to mid-term levels will have to go back to work and develop systems to track even more strategically into the chain. The biggest losers from Covid-19 will be those service industries that have seen their revenue dry up. Airlines, hotels, travel and event businesses are losing revenue and cash flow that will be difficult to replace. Manufacturers can run overtime and make up for lost production, but services demand is perishable and hard to replace. This will have knock-on effects on their suppliers; for example commercial aircraft manufacturers and hospitality equipment producers. Businesses around the world have painfully realised how dependent they are on China for everything from key raw material or parts to finished products. The magnitude of the shock means that after they recover from the present situation, many will start thinking about supporting local industries and vendors, or at least diversifying their risk by developing alternatives in other countries.
Employees and Buildings Will Be Healthier
Covid-19 will change the way our offices, shopping malls, apartments, schools, hospitals, and government buildings will operate. Concern about the spread of this and other communicable diseases may fade a little after the current infection is over, but there will probably be more outbreaks in the decades to come. This means that we can expect our physical structures to change. Think about it. Airports may no longer be just about checking for weapons and drugs, but also about the infections passengers may be carrying. Such checking may also become a feature in terms of entry to office buildings, schools, and other public transit points. I definitely see a rise in investment around healthy buildings. As a global community, we must become more conscious about the indoor spaces we design. Surveillance within offices may go beyond time-entry machines and extend to collecting information about who enters a building, when and under what circumstances and conditions; for example facial recognition technology and infrared cameras may result in delivering data about people’s temperature. Public health will surely be a domain to work on in the near future – at a massive scale.
The above are not prophecies or predictions; they are my reflections about how the business may evolve. I pray for human well-being.
Sohail Zindani is a Management Innovation and Leadership Consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org