Malcolm Follos discusses some of the strategic themes that leaders need to be attending to.

The challenge of Covid-19 is a once in a lifetime event for leadership teams to face. The sheer scale and complexity of the challenge and the amount of unknowns has created a totally understandable short-term reaction, based mostly around the immediate need to survive.

As the lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease there now needs to be a re-focus and collective time given to the opportunities and threats that are approaching fast. To help frame this thinking and the subsequent leadership team discussions, it is helpful to consider some emerging themes around which difficult decisions can be made to help organisations plan their return to full activity.

  • Hope and Realism – There is a need for leaders to get this balance right. One of the main jobs of any leader at this time is to be a purveyor of hope. The ‘ask’ is to find value, pockets of growth and harness any tailwinds that are blowing through your sector. This may require pivoting business models to deliver a sustainable future, finding new ways to add value and welcoming new customers to your products and services where you can.
  • Organisational Change Capability – The job of the leadership team is not to get the right answer, with so many unknowns and quickly changing variables this is an impossibly high bar to set any leadership team. The focus should be on how to make your organisation agile so it can change quickly and has the capability, confidence and capacity to pivot processes, products and services quickly and effectively as and when required.
  • Listen to the workforce – For many the lock-down has been a great revelation as they have quickly adapted to working from home and have reaped the benefits of shedding the commute, increased productivity, focus and personal control of their lives. For others it has been a total nightmare, as they juggle the conflicting demands of home schooling, unstable technology and lack of space to work. Leaders need to recognise that the new normal has to take both these extremes into account and plan a return to work that is safe, effective and accommodates the best of both home and office working.
  • Attend the University of Life – What weaknesses and shortfalls did the lockdown lay bare in your organisation and what can you do to increase organisational resilience? The C-19 crisis has ripped off the sticking plasters of many festering unattended problems and now is the time to face up and fix underlying issues once and for all. What went wrong? Make a list, understand the root causes and develop then implement creative, sustainable solutions that protects your organisation from future global shocks.
  • Future Finance Provisions – Government is propping up several sectors and organisations at the moment. This can’t last. Where are your future capital investments going to come from and how are you going to balance the books in what could be a very different capital investment market going forward? Sacrificing margin in order to fund capital is a short term fix at best and your CFO needs to work with their team to develop a roadmap out of this dilemma. Balancing profit and cash-flow whilst building balance sheet value are critical to proactively manage at this time.
  • Time to acquire – Money has never been so cheap and many organisations are ready and willing to sell so, if you are one of the few already resilient organisations out there, then the time for responsible value adding acquisitions is now!
  • IT Security is key – With so many working from home the ‘attack surface area’ for criminals has dramatically grown. CIO’s and their teams need to provide robust cybersecurity solutions to protect your core data and processes from attack.
  • Innovation is key – The time for solutions to big problems is now. Get your ‘Game Changers’ and ‘Strategists’ focussed on developing new ways of delivering value and move with speed to capture opportunities, before someone else eats your lunch. There are a lot of hungry people out there just now!
  • Safety and resilience trumps shareholder returns – The age of trading resilience for increased shareholder value is over. The efficiency improvements of the future cannot be delivered at the expense of organisational resilience, or indeed employee safety and wellbeing. Society will not stand for this.

In summary, leaders with their teams need to grapple with these themes, reach a consensus and act quickly. The need for a bias for action is strong. The stakes are high, if organisations are to survive, thrive and grow then leaders need to step up. Now is their time to shine.

Contact Malcolm at [email protected]

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