Global disruption is not a new concept. If anything, it’s normal.
Since 2000, there have been at least 12 financial, geopolitical or viral crises, including the Dot-com bubble, September 11 attacks and the SARS outbreak. And with these previous crises come the recoveries, lessons and turnarounds.
While the global pandemic is unprecedented, this latest turn of events in 2020 has meant C-suite executives — who already play a significant role in efficient business recovery periods — have even greater expectations placed on their decision-making, leadership and people management, particularly as employee safety becomes top priority.
Ultimately, today’s leaders are tasked with turning 2020’s challenges into positive change.
Gene Klann, author of Crisis Leadership, says during a crisis, “your goal is to reduce loss and keep things operating as normal as possible”. Therefore, effective leadership is crucial to speedy and efficient business recovery. The aim is to quickly identify the next focus, and nimbly forecast and plan for challenges in a fast-changing environment.
Here are five key areas of focus for recovery-oriented business leaders at the C-suite level.
1. Fill in deficiency gaps
Julie Spencer, Chief Financial Officer of M/Group says market ambiguity and uncertainty provides a host of risks, which are often manageable in the near term.
“But don’t take your eye off the longer-term growth mission. Where there is distress, there is opportunity. Ask yourself: ‘How can I support the business to pivot and harness them?’,” she shares.
More than ever, according to Spencer, CFOs need to know what will drive success in their given roles and be honest in what areas they are deficient in.
“Be aware of what these are and ensure your team can compensate for you in those areas. Be sure you genuinely can connect with your executive peers and have the mandate to deliver through meaningful business partnering,” she offers. “When managing your team, I like to remember that we don’t manage people, we manage processes – people manage themselves. Focus on the policies and processes of your department and get it in order so you can focus on supporting the growth of the business.”
2. Surround yourself with smart leaders
Optimising processes but also recognising the progressive skill sets in your people was a hiring theme highlighted in the Michael Page “Tomorrow’s Talent” series. Emerging technology, for example, was highlighted as having a valuable lead against competitors when it came to current or incoming talent.
For Melissa Juminto, Chief Operating Officer of Tokopedia, she reveals the Indonesian tech company specialising in e-commerce will always seek to meet and work with people that are smarter than them.
As the adage goes: If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
“Having the humility to learn like a student and the sincerity to share like a teacher is extremely crucial,” Juminto shares. “Other must-have skills for COOs also include having a collaborative spirit, being able to bring people together, and building a culture of integrity and having strong guiding principles.”
She believes being a COO today and into the future is about putting the needs of others before your own.
“Remember that you can only be as effective as others; if my team is not effective it means I have failed, but if I’m effective then it is not my credit to take,” she says. “Also, always have the humility to learn like a student because that is the only way to continuously grow and reach your full potential.”
Question whether your teams feel empowered and believe they can make a difference during and at the other side of disruption.
3. Understand trust’s role in a recovery
Deloitte’s “The Essence of Resilient Leadership Report” highlights trust as a catalyst of recovery.
According to author Stephen Covey: “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
The interplay between trust and an organisation’s recovery efforts is defined well by social impact investor Andy Crouchk, who says that “in order to find our way to the new playbook for the mission and people that have been entrusted to us, we will need to act at every moment in ways that build on, and build up, trust”.
This means leading your team into business recovery can be measured quite tangibly. How fast this happens, however, can be influenced by the power that C-suite executives give to their people.
Nilay Khandelwal, Managing Director of PageGroup Singapore, says leaders can foster trust amongst employees by making use of the current opportunities that remote and work from home arrangements bring.
“COVID-19 has forced us to work remotely and instilled that trust between an employee and their manager,” he says. “As and when working conditions improve, leaders need to utilise elements that have worked in a relatively tough environment and continue to create stronger bonds across the company.”
Harvard Business Review’s “How our brains decide when to trust” explores the notion of trust as the enabler of global business, as well as the hallmark of high-performing organisations.
Andy Bentote, Regional Manager Director of PageGroup Greater China, says the reality is, leaders will not always have all the answers.
“Showing humility and maybe even vulnerability is important, as this will show true authentic leadership,” he says. “Also ensuring that employees have a vehicle to share their own ideas to help with business recovery can make a difference.”
4. C-suite leaders must delegate decision-making
Forbes predicts that the latest disruption’s impact on the future of work will mean that as companies grow and mature, speed will increase and bureaucracy will be reduced. It expects that unnecessary systems and processes will be eliminated and the better way of working will be about delegating decision-making to enhance speed in this new market, which in turn, will result in employee empowerment.
Career coach Jane Jackson calls for business leaders to learn how to delegate and start to exercise it.
“One person can only do so much — not being able to stop or switch off is very difficult for leaders because there is a heavy weight of responsibility. There are a lot of A-type personalities that thrive on the adrenaline and enjoy the sense of urgency so they can rise to the challenge. But there’s a danger of running on that adrenaline and a high risk you reach your breaking point,” she reveals.
“Being able to prioritise and delegate is important — like triage in a hospital — otherwise you’ll constantly be fighting fires.”
5. Showcase other experience to stand out from the pack
Bentote says leaders with experience from previous market downturns need to leverage their track record of getting their people through the tough times.
“Highlight what the future will look like — we will get through this, so painting a picture of what the company looks like post-pandemic will show clarity, direction and leadership,” he says.
And as C-suite roles continue to evolve, taking a very personal look at how one defines success is crucial, Spencer shares. “Then find your path to get there,” she says. “For me, I will be driven by (a) being a relentless problem solver and (b) by planning and executing the business mission.”
For CFOs, Spender believes the role is moving more towards the CFOO model or ‘CFO and corporate finance’ so professionals need to be more than what their title is.
“Be sure to showcase your non-accounting experience where you think it will add value to the role. What separates you from the pack? For example: IT, legal, corporate finance, corporate governance, debt or capital raising experience,” she says, adding that corporate finance or M&A experience will be a real game-changer.
Khandelwal offers the following actions for C-suite leaders:
- Be decisive and empathetic towards you people and customers
- It’s okay not to know everything, particularly given the current conditions
- Providing revised clear, simple goals and expectations are important
- As the head of an organisation or division, as well as an individual, take pride in delivering these revised goals and expectations.
Fast-track your impact as a leader
Where there is distress, there are opportunities - be sure to identify them
Have a collaborative spirit and bring people together in a culture of integrity
Ensure employees can share their ideas to help with recovery
Paint a clear picture of what the business looks like post-pandemic
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