07 Jul Leadership in Times of Crisis Part 3: Handling the Next Quarter: Risks and Top Priorities
As COVID-19 continues to impact the way businesses and countries operate, many leaders have started to think about what signs will reveal an uptick to the economy and how they will handle any changes in a society that is constantly in a state of flux. We asked our founders and CEOs what they perceived to be the biggest risk to their companies over the next three months, as well as what they are prioritising to counteract this risk.
Keeping employees engaged
An overwhelming consensus told us that the biggest risk to leaders’ businesses, as well as what they would be prioritising, is their people. As Deborah Mason, SVP Global Talent of PageUp states: “People are at the heart of any organisation’s success”.
With dispersed teams, it can be more challenging to keep employees engaged. Jon Dobell from EY warns that, as a leader, it’s easy to forget or neglect certain people when you’re not seeing them physically every day or week so you must pay extra attention not to do so. Similarly, given the pay cuts and reduced capacity necessitated by COVID-19, Nina Devouge of Essence notes that they risk disengaging talented employees, which in turn will have an impact on business performance.
“First and foremost, these are tough, tough times for all of us. We must ensure we operate with a heightened focus and degree of empathy during these times, because it will be remembered.”
– Jon Dobell, APAC Innovation Leader, EY
Identifying and rewarding hardworking and high-performing employees is also crucial during times of crisis. Even if an employee’s role is no longer critical due to decreased demand or restructured operations, leaders should consider upskilling them to deliver productivity in a different area.
“Internal mobility and redeployment plays an important role in avoiding redundancies. If a person’s role is no longer required, their skills are still valuable, and could be harnessed in another part of the business. Consider also how you will support people in their current roles if they need to take on additional capacity.”
– Deborah Mason, SVP Global Talent, PageUp
With this in mind, finding other ways to support and reward employees is crucial if you wish to keep them engaged with your company. Lee Thompson, MD of Nutanix ANZ, suggests an extra emphasis on celebrating successes as means of positive reinforcement to bolster engagement. Addie Wotten of Smiling Mind encourages leaders to provide resources that explicitly target and provide support for employees’ emotional well-being.
“Prioritise providing accessible high-quality resources and programs that can support good mental health, and use this time for people to look after their mental health.”
– Addie Wootten, CEO, Smiling Mind
Clients and customers
Staying close to clients and customers was the second biggest priority for our leaders. During a time when two-thirds of businesses across all sectors are reporting heavy losses in revenue or cash flow, increasing touch points with existing clients is crucial if businesses are to weather the storm.
This includes showing empathy for clients, listening to them, and adapting services accordingly. Many also stressed the importance of providing insight and thought leadership to clients. For example, HR Software company, PageUp, has been working with their clients to redeploy their workforce and move internal talent to where they can be more effective for the organisation, as well as showing customers how to re-engage and activate specific pipelines of talent as needed to help organisations fill critical skill gaps as they arise now and into the future
As Brett Savill, CEO of Quantify Technology states, it’s about focussing on your existing clients with the ways in which you can support them.
“For us, it’s important to delight customers we have, rather than overinvesting if the market is not quite there yet.”
– Brett Savill, CEO, Quantify Technology
Doing so not only bolsters your company’s reputation as a thought leader during times of crisis, but also builds a pipeline of potential business once operations resume. This is especially important considering Forrester predicts that it will take “four years to overtake the levels of growth seen before the pandemic” and that “non-grocery offline sales will see a 20% decline in growth overall”.
“They may not be ready or set-up to engage with us right now, but they will at some point in the future and it’s about being front of mind for when they do.”
– Jon Dobell, APAC Innovation Leader, EY
Regardless of your approach, whether you are increasing your online presence, providing consistent official communication, or reaching out to clients personally, it’s clear that maintaining a close and helpful relationship with clients and customers alike is key during a crisis.
Balancing short and long-term strategies
It’s no surprise that many of our clients cite the unpredictable economic climate as one of the biggest risks to their companies. But how do they manage this uncertainty?
“Our priority is to draw up what the new norm looks like for us and put in place actions to work towards that.”
– Ajay Bhatia, Managing Director, Carsales Australia
David Weinberg, Co-Founder of Vervoe stresses the importance of prioritisation and balancing short-term opportunities with long-term strategy. That is, capitalising on opportunities that didn’t exist before (short-term strategies) whilst maintaining the vision and execution of their long-term strategy and remaining focused on the bigger picture.
“It is easy to get caught up in what is happening and overcorrect because of some news that has come out, or what certain customers are doing. Therefore, it’s important to stay focussed on the bigger picture – on where you see your business and delivering the dream and the vision even amongst all this turmoil.”
– David Weinberg, Co-Founder, Vervoe
That said, Mark Wells, CEO of Cogent also recognises the uncertainty of how long business operations and economics will be impacted by the pandemic, as well as the economic, social, mental health uncertainties that come hand-in-hand with this. Therefore, while many companies will be forward-planning, it is still important for all businesses to maintain a simultaneous focus on breaking even for the rest of the calendar year.