Covid-19 has brought a fundamental change in leadership in many organisations. The lack of a road map for a crisis like Covid-19 has left leaders to manage their response mostly by relying on their existing skills and personality traits. Many leaders who stood out during the pandemic have shifted from a demand and control approach to building a culture of winning teams, with a focus on communication to build trust and continuously linking their actions to the future of their organisations.
Organisations are now moving to fewer meetings and less PowerPoint, and more non-mission-critical decisions are being delegated, so that the senior leadership team can focus on fewer decisions. Under the new circumstances, first line leaders need to take more responsibility for execution and collaboration, instead of being micromanaged. But they need to be equipped with the right skills and mindsets to resolve problems and not just wait for instructions.
Evolving at speed
With the need for speed, organisations had to respond to the pandemic by removing boundaries and breaking down silos to streamline decisions and processes and empower first line leaders. Organisations that were set up for speed are already seeing positive outcomes, not just in better performance, but also improved cost efficiency and revenue. They also have a higher sense of purpose and improved organisational health.
In the next phase, the adrenaline-driven speed during Covid-19 needs to be replaced by long term acceleration. Leaders need to sustain the speed in ways that will engage and motivate employees, without reverting to old behaviours and processes. This will require moving to new ways of working in a flatter organisational structure, taking a more radical approach to decision making and execution.
The pandemic has also seen the deployment of small and fast cross-functional teams working together, with each team in charge of a specific mission. Whilst having one agile team is good, having many across the organisation is even better. A recent Harvard Business School research suggests that companies that had launched agile transformations pre Covid-19 performed better and moved faster during Covid-19 than those that had not. Agile organisations already had cross-functional teams and clear data that proved critical to adapting to the pandemic, and therefore adjusted faster and better.
Particularly during a crisis, organisations need to bring together experts with cross-functional perspectives to solve rapidly changing, complex problems with significant impact and long-term implications. The diversity of the team allows them to see risks and opportunities from different angles which in turn helps to generate new solutions and adapt dynamically to changing situations. However, research suggests that anxiety makes people more risk averse and sceptical about new perspectives, so they instinctively focus on actions and solutions that have worked in the past.
The initial response to any crisis is often to cut cost and strengthen controls, because in volatile markets, margin expansion is a safe bet. But those measures directly impact employee wellbeing, motivation and job security. People and innovation are key to business – pre, during and post Covid-19. Investing in people even when times are difficult will lead to long term growth once the pandemic is over and build a culture of innovation and motivated employees. The new business as usual will see more people working in a hybrid way, combining remote and on-site working. The new hybrid model will unlock significant value such as access to a wider talent pool, greater flexibility and improved productivity, whilst reducing cost, but it will require strong leadership to build a culture of growth even when physically disconnected.
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 email@example.com.