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Leading on the road to recovery

Following the initial shock and effort to save companies, protect employees and keep supply chains moving, leaders are now setting off on the journey to the next normal, despite many unknowns ahead. Many organisations simply cannot continue to operate the same way they have in the past. What made them successful historically may no longer be possible during and after the crisis, as buying habits have changed and operations may need to be restructured to deal with increased cautionary measures.

According to a recent McKinsey survey of more than 200 organisations from various industries, over 90 percent of executives said that they expect the fallout from Covid-19 to fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years, with almost as many predicting that the crisis will have a lasting impact on their customer’s needs and behaviours. At the same time, over three-quarter of respondents agreed that the crisis will create significant new opportunities for growth.

Adapting your leadership style

As lockdown eases and doors reopen, an essential early step is to effectively address the anxieties of employees who are worried about the future of their work and their health. With the sudden shift to remote working, leaders have seen the volume of their emails more than double since the crisis began, as employees and stakeholders turn to them personally for answers. As a result of it, many leaders are now reducing the length of their internal meetings to 20 or 45 minutes, rather than the half or full hour to manage their time better and they are even more inclined to pick up the phone.

Whilst leaders need to communicate openly and frequently, over-communication and constant meetings can lead to fatigue, or even burnout. The anxious brain is a master of reactivity and not productivity, as it is superficially tending to many things, but resolving none. However, thoughtful sharing of information leads to profound shifts in group innovation, and performance as it offers access to unexplored ideas. But improving team cohesion depends on the courage of the leader to go first by offering insight into their own professional struggles and emotional experiences, and in doing so, they can create and drive team connection and, subsequently, agility.

Driving innovation and growth

With primary focus on maintaining business continuity, implementing safety measures, and driving productivity, commitment to innovation has been continuously decreasing, except the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors. However, the lack of innovation may have a long-lasting impact on the organisation’s ability to grow in the years to come. Focusing on innovation can help organisations find new ways to solve pressing problems, widen the space for value creation and drive employee engagement.

Whilst the negative impact of the crisis has been lifechanging, positive collaborations started to emerge over the last few months too, with many organisations starting to work together in innovative ways, putting value ahead of profits. Siemens opened up its Additive Manufacturing Network to anyone who needs help with medical device design, heavy truck maker Scania is converting trailers into mobile testing stations and Ford has partnered with GE Healthcare, 3M and United Auto Workers to build ventilators using seat fans, 3D printed parts and portable battery packs.

These are just a few of many examples that remind us of the great potential innovation brings, whether we are in a crisis or now. As John F. Kennedy once observed, the word “crisis” in Chinese is composed of two characters—one representing danger, the other opportunity. His linguistic interpretation might not be entirely correct, but it highlights that even in challenging circumstances a crisis presents a choice. 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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