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COMING OUT – Are we all in the health business now?
Extraordinary times bring out extraordinary responses. For so many, we turned our focus on health - of the organization, yes, but so too on the health of our employees, of our customers, of our community, of our suppliers, and of our global responses. Agility and flexibility have had to be rapidly embraced, challenges and difficulties addressed, new ways of working and managing applied, and new cultures and solidarities formed. But what happens when we all come out? Speculation is rife as to how much things will actually change, so we turned to Echo’s Advisory Board for the latest pulse to help guide our next steps.
1. As we slowly come out of this lockdown, what should be top of mind for leaders and communicators in the first 100 days back?
“Leadership is an exercise in humility, not pride. Never more important than now. Leaders will need to convey that they are listening and being responsive, almost as in a gospel choir’s call-and-response sequences. The lockdown will have marked each interlocutor in their own way, and slightly altered them. So people, people, people.
Patience and pace, pay heed to the proverb 'more haste, less speed'. It will be a period of immense adaptation for everyone. We have no idea what the mental/emotional scars will be from the social distancing, working from home, sense of isolation and potentially the loss of loved ones and the effect these will have on individuals. Leaders should have, and embed, qualified first aiders in mental health in the workplace or provide access to them externally. Leaders should give everyone permission and time to come together, show compassion, share feelings openly and safely, allow for distractedness and avoid any type of 'one size fits all' messaging. They will need to seek ways to really engage with/talk to their people—treating them as human beings rather than human resources. Optimism and future-focus need to be framed in the reality of what we have been through (and are still experiencing) with a heavy dose of caution thrown into the mix as none of us know what the future holds. Vulnerability, integrity and humility are the leadership traits that matter now, far more so than charisma and drive.
Listen to employees and clients/customers. Show (don’t say) that you understand what people have been through and how they may want to adapt their ways of working/personal priorities. Check that your organization’s purpose and behaviors fit with the new post-COVID world and a wider public purpose. AND understand that transparency and candor are the new must-haves of communication.
The challenge coming out of lockdown will be having in place the means to monitor for, and control, emergence of new infection. This means an approach to testing in the general population that can quickly identify and close down new outbreaks of infection. With this in place, leaders will be able to turn to questions of rebuilding economies that will be different in their potential than the economies that existed pre-pandemic. Their potential will have to be developed out of new relationships between government and business, new ways of working, travelling, educating the young and taking recreation. The opportunities for communicators to contribute to continuing to protect public health, rebuilding economies, establishing new ways of working and leading social life will be enormous, if communicators are prepared to use their imagination, and insights informed by thorough data analysis to take up these opportunities, which should now be top of mind.
Business need a plan BEFORE the first 100 days which is how will we do business in the “new normal”. A time of distance, caution, diversity and difference…
2. Against the human desire go back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible, what will the ‘new normal’ look like and what are the challenges for leaders?
The ‘new normal’ will be that after the crisis is before the crisis. As a community, we will still be immensely vulnerable. That will change how we see things. Impossible to say exactly how, but it is hard to imagine that priorities will remain the same. So leaders and those advising them must be extra sensitive. Emotional intelligence (EQ) needs to be combined with societal intelligence (SQ), so that currents can be identified, understood and acted on.
The challenges are immense. Any starting assumption of 'back to normal' is flawed. People will be looking to their leaders for a meaningful and understandable framework for what the new normal will be. The challenges will be very different depending on the phase a business in. Still survival mode? Starting to emerge from the storm? Benefited from opportunity and growth? Or anywhere in between? No matter the 'phase', organizations will be consciously or unconsciously shaping an 'After Coronavirus Corporate Culture' which will be very different from before. A critical step is to identify the 'gaps' that might have been exposed around their purpose (Why do we exist? Why are we here? Whose needs are we here to meet?) and to explore What they did and How they behaved. This can help to provide a framework for re-grounding themselves in their purpose or even re-defining it.
The new normal is unpredictable. Don’t make assumptions. The challenge for leaders will be to focus both on the immediate/urgent AND the long-term bigger picture. Don’t brag about how well you did in the crisis. Show that you have learned some lessons.
The new normal will be different from what we regarded as normal before the pandemic. The new normal will be one of constraints on economic and social life, the ways in which we consume and take our leisure. Economic life will be reorganized for resilience, to ensure business continuity where old certainties, regarding supply chains, amounts of inventory, availability of labor will be reexamined and new arrangements made. Certain aspects of economic life, relying on predictable consumer behavior - for example, large numbers of people booking early in the year for summer holidays, or customers coming in to shopping malls to browse - will be changed and new approaches to doing business will have to be found.
To understand this is different and show it as a leader. How I operate, how I communicate, how I meet, how I make decisions, how I work - different in every way and the example starts at the top. That is how I show I have learned lessons, I lead differently…
3. With support for hyper-local and worries about a possible anti-China backlash, is this the beginning of the end of globalization?
It may be the beginning of tribalization – the jingoistic ‘us first’ populism seen in recent years – becoming acceptable, and a growing counterweight to globalization. Trade will continue, but consumers may well become less willing to see their own countries hand over their skills and income to other nations far away. The backlash will hit both China and the US. China because it is too important and the US because it has abdicated its role as a leading crisis manager.
In the way we saw it 'before', yes. Businesses may do Coronavirus SWOTs or Lessons Learned on many aspects of their business operations as they seek to foresee, prevent or mitigate future scenarios of such scale and therefore do things differently. Many of things we took for granted - just-in-time, ease of travel, cross-border supply chains, interconnectedness etc - will be challenged as part of a way forward. What's needed is global solidarity - and ideally some form of global leadership for how we emerge from the crisis connected by guiding principles and shared standards that will foster a new and better form of globalization.
While it will be clear that we need more global action to manage risks and secure sustainable prosperity, globalization will change. Expect reviews of supply chains and their resilience. Probably reduced travel but more virtual contact. The key relationship will be between the US and the rest of the West. Much depends on this improving. Global standard setting could become more significant.
Globalization has been under threat now for a number of years through the approach taken by countries like the US 'bringing economic activity home' and stressing national over international interests. Current commentary suggests that this approach will be given added impetus in the response to the economic damage done by the pandemic. It won't be the end of globalization, but the value of taking a global approach to world-wide questions—of protecting public health, economic reconstruction and climate change—will be questioned, by some with great skepticism, in the next year or so. Which is more than unfortunate, because the future depends absolutely on well-developed, funded and effective global cooperation.
There will be voices and are voices wanting to stay local and trash global but from COVID19 to climate change the solutions are still global even though global won’t mean the 1945 global. The challenge will be to build anew and lead afresh.
4. The spotlight has been firmly placed on inequality –- contract works, zero hours, little benefits, for those in ‘front line’ essential roles. Will governments get more involved in corporate matters and more regulation developed?
Yes. There will be more appetite for regulation of business, and more support for it – all argued as a way to lessen the vulnerability of our different countries.
It's clear that something has to change and I believe that swathes of society will no longer accept past treatment and working models. Governments will get more involved unless corporates face up to their share of responsibility. For those that have weathered the storm, I wonder how many will revisit the actions they took (eg, not paying suppliers, cutting contracts, not taking sufficient action soon enough for the health and safety of their workers…) and consider honestly and truthfully the consequences of those actions?
Yes. Government will be a more significant actor, despite its many obvious failings. It will be more used to setting requirements for firms and intervening as a customer and promoter of the public interest. Few governments will be prepared to adopt an ‘austerity’ approach to economic recovery. So expect higher taxation and obligations on corporates. Expect to see a heightened interest and concern about the long-term health of our environment.
As part of the response to the pandemic, governments around the world have already become deeply involved in corporate matters. Taking the UK as an example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already suggested that, because of the role the government has taken in managing through the economic consequences of the pandemic it will bring new expectations to bear on business and economic activity as the effects of the pandemic recede. These may go beyond regulation to new relationships between government and business in pursuit of public health and wellbeing. The vivid exposure of inequalities in terms of health, employment protections, rewards for essential work and quality of life will all have to be addressed.
Government will be more involved and will have intervened more broadly than the financial crash of 2007-8. Business can’t duck working with governments on recovery; rebuilding is vital and needed. Government will need advice, support, insight and good people and business leaders can show their purpose reflects the challenge by responding.
5. Do you think capitalism itself will change?
Capitalism won’t change, but the context in which it exists will.
This is a big wake-up call that challenges the existing model. The future has to be a blend of societal needs, sustainability of the planet and environment along with commercial opportunity and growth.
The pandemic will hasten changes that were already underway. The behavior of leaders will be under more scrutiny. The public will expect to see and experience improved standards of behavior and service. Representative business organizations will need to demonstrate a commitment and contribution that benefits the public. Capitalism will need to seek a new settlement with society and it will need leaders who pick up this responsibility and are able/talented/thoughtful enough to see it through.
Yes. Capitalism brings great benefits by focusing efforts to realize rewards from innovation and satisfaction of market demands. But by itself it is an insufficient means of satisfying social needs -for widespread public health, greater equality of opportunity and quality of life. Government and others - consumers, communities, employees - will have, in future, to be much more involved in the ways in which commercial organizations pursue their interests.
If leaders genuinely learn and respond, we will see the change and reform of capitalism - a moment when purpose leads, with profit the consequence. If not, governments of all political colors will intervene more, and with public support.”