Staying afloat in Post-Pandemic World

Tree of Knowledge

By Niranjana KarthigaiRajan

“For people in business, 2020 is just a year for staying alive. Don’t even talk about your dreams or plans. Just make sure you stay alive. If you can stay alive, then you would have made a profit already,” said Jack Ma, Alibaba group.

Business leaders need to carve out new ways to operate post-Covid 19, and the actions they take now and in the weeks ahead will define them and their companies. Leaders have to envision what the future will look like, how employees and customers will have changed by this crisis, and what their companies will need to do to meet their emerging needs.

In a time of crisis, business leaders have to be a courageous champion like Winston Churchill, and not like Neville Chamberlain. That is how Churchill’s courageous leadership, profound speeches, and ability to confront reality defeated his enemies.

Responding to the crisis

Thriving in this downturn requires immediate action planning. And decision making amid uncertainty is not easy. Every good-to-great company faces adversity on its path to great, and during those adverse situations good-to-great leaders need to approach those challenges as Admiral James Stockdale did. James Collins, a business strategist, in his book Good to Great, relates a conversation he had with James Stockdale, US navy admiral who was imprisoned and tortured for seven years during the Vietnam War. This conversation lead Jim Collins to coin the term the Stockdale Paradox (named after Admiral James).

The Stockdale Paradox is the ability to retain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. The psychological duality of ‘balancing realism with optimism’ will increase the odds of making a series of good decisions during a bleak situation.

Adopting to new normal

Businesses can’t go back to the way they operated before. Instead, businesses have to become more adaptable, implement new tools to aid collaboration, and rediscover business building.

For instance, the Covid-19 outbreak is going to spike business automation and greater use of technology; increase preference for local over global products and services; supply chains built on just-in-time inventory may have to be reevaluated; teams have to be empowered without top-down governance; reexamining of policies and practices on employee benefits, and much more.

In restructuring the business operations, companies must have employee safety and customer safety as the top priority. Companies have to innovate on contactless option and forecast on emerging new needs of customers post-lockdown.

For instance, retailers may have to innovate ways to minimize crowd gathering in stores. For example, by introducing ‘Buy online, pick up in store’ option, modifying store hours, training and equipping staff to engage with customers online, and much more.

Retooling is the key

Companies need to prioritize the most pressing issues first to ensure business continuity and stability. That also means having the discipline to ignore non-essential activity.

Leaders have to define the best ways to resolve: 

  • Global supply and demand shock through end-to-end single integration platform across the supply chain.
  • Companies’ financial health by identifying opportunities to shorten the cash-conversion cycle.
  • The need for new working and shopping experience by digitization and automation in order to improve resilience, scale, and speed.

 Leading in a crisis

In today’s crisis atmosphere, the shortened timeline for companies to react has put leadership style to test as they have to make unprecedented decisions.

The companies that utilize adaptive leadership will emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic. Business leaders can follow the following techniques to make rapid and effective decisions during times of uncertainty and circumstances with imperfect information:

  • Fishbowl technique
  • Balcony perspective

In fishbowl technique, the decision makers and key experts sit around a table (or virtual table) allowing a few empty seats. The stakeholders observe the meeting and they can also contribute ideas by temporarily taking one of the empty seats. This technique allows various views and debate from various stakeholders unlike the hierarchical approach. Also, this method saves time and enhances the potency of the message.

Balcony perspective proposed by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky suggest that leaders mentally step back from the action to get a complete perspective. In this technique, you learn to be both an observer and a participant at the same time. Unlike as on a dance floor, where the perspective is only limited to things just around you, when you move out of the floor to the balcony, you get a more strategic view of your business.

“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity,” said Albert Einstein. Decision making amid uncertainty isn’t easy. Rediscover, rethink and continue to learn as you go.

Niranjana KarthigaiRajan

* Published in print edition on 8 Friday 2020

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