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Leading the workforce of the (uncertain) future

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, businesses and leaders are learning to operate in new ways, absorb the shock and come out of the crisis in a better position than their competitors. Relying on hope is not a good strategy at the best of times, and particularly in a business environment where a successful restart will require more than just re-opening the doors, leaders need to remain resilient and adapt to the new business as usual.

For millions, the crisis means that they are at risk of redundancies, pay cut or furlough, if they have not experienced it already. At the same time, many industries are experiencing shortages as people are unable to return to work due to health-related issues, including those who are caring for others or are vulnerable to infection. Employers are also finding that newly needed skills are short in supply, such as productivity-based management techniques or digital sales skills amongst many others.

Resilient leadership

Resilience is key to business continuity and future profitability. According the McKinsey research on the 2008 financial crisis, there was a small group of businesses in each sector that outperformed their peers and recovered more quickly. These resilient businesses had their profits increase by 10 percent on average a year later, while the rest of the businesses saw their earnings go down by nearly 15 percent. The difference between the resilient and non-resilient businesses was their level of preparation before the crisis.

The economic damage of Covid-19 is likely to outperform the financial crisis and it might not be enough to tweak the current business strategy – leaders will need to rethink it. Wall Street Journal has found that the current crisis revealed weaknesses in succession planning as leaders become absent due to sickness and deputies quickly need to be found across various departments. Business are learning that succession planning needs to be widened beyond the C-suite, not only during a large-scale crisis, but also in response to short-term disruptions.

Going the social distance

According to a recent study, over three billion people live in countries where the borders are now closed for non-residents because of the coronavirus. But as physical doors close, digital doors are widely opening. Technology is helping to shift the physical distance and teaching individuals, businesses and governments new ways to connect. It allowed entire businesses to move to remote working arrangements and these practices are likely to impact the future of work, allowing for better management and more flexible workforces.

Whilst in the age of digital communications, there are many tools that can help employees to communicate and collaborate remotely, what is missing from emails and phone calls is body language and social interactions. Especially during times when there is already a great amount of anxiety caused by the coronavirus outbreak, this can be extremely distracting and therefore regular communication can help individuals to feel connected and maintain the sense of belonging.

Social distance measures allowed business leaders to understand better what can and cannot be done outside the traditional business processes and many are seeing the positive impact of some of the operational changes. Necessity is the mother of innovation and the coronavirus crisis is forcing both the speed and scale of business innovation. Businesses are forced to do more with less, finding faster and better ways to operate.

Business leaders globally are facing questions whether their industry will rebound from the economic shock or sustain lasting damage. Every business, industry and region is different, but the one skill that can be essential to manage and respond to the crisis is resilience. At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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