Has COVID Changed How You Lead?

By Dave Hickey

The humanitarian challenge of COVID-19 is massive. Millions of people are ill, hundreds of thousands have died, unemployment is rife in the world’s strongest economies and governments are struggling to deliver critical services.

Businesses across the world are dealing with sudden and unforeseen changes to how people work, how customers behave and how supply chains operate.

CEO’s and business leaders have transformed how they lead in reaction to these changes. While they may have been the result of necessity, many of these changes have the potential to be longer lasting and be of more benefit to their organisations than previously thought.

Goal Setting: Think Bigger and Faster

During the pandemic many organisations, including the State, have accomplished what was previously considered impossible.

Some med-tech companies shifted production from profitable products to urgently-needed ventilators in a matter of days or weeks; something that would previously have taken months to plan and implement.

Medical practices and pharmacies adopted technology to deliver both virtual appointments and e-prescriptions in a matter of weeks across Ireland. Certainly, the technology has been there for a long time but the will to implement was absent until the pandemic hit. The need to protect clinicians, pharmacists, staff as well as patients provided the opportunity, and the essential change in consumer behaviour made widespread adoption easier.

Research has shown that leaders who make one or two bold moves double the chances of achieving outstanding performance for their businesses.

Barriers to boldness and speed are less about technical limitations than about mindset, willingness to change, corporate policies and bureaucracy. COVID-19 responses have shown how these can be overcome. Operating models have been unfrozen presenting the opportunity to reset how work gets done. The challenge for business is to make this change in approach permanent.

Stakeholders: Widen the Net

Traditionally CEO’s are measured on their success in delivering shareholder value although many have started to look at and measure the wider impact of their businesses on society.

The pandemic has accelerated this process as business leaders realised that actions required to combat its effect impacted employees, customers, suppliers and wider society.

For example, business leaders needed to make decisions on matters they were never trained for such as employee health and the need for attending at the traditional workplace.

Business found that in the course of the COVID-19 lockdown they had to prioritise employees’ general health and jobs; then consider their community response; followed by working with suppliers who needed support – particularly the smaller ones; and then look at how the business needed to change.

Consumers too have taken note of those businesses who have behaved ethically (in their view) and responsibly to a wider range of stakeholders than traditionally. Organisations that are seen to care about what consumers care about have a much higher preference rating amongst those consumers.

Employees, customers and stakeholders increasingly expect CEO’s to articulate where they stand on critical issues and they will react accordingly – choosing to work with or buy from those whose values align closest with theirs.

Because of COVID-19, 2020 has become a true inflection point for society and business, probably the biggest since 1945. Whatever we learn through this process must not go to waste.

Has it changed how you will lead from now on?