Leadership Challenges Post Covid
The faintest glimmer of hope is reflecting off a trillion hypodermic needle tips, as we vaccinate our way out of the Covid pandemic nightmare. Very shortly, we will be back into it, but actually what will we be doing in this totally time shifted world. We have lost nearly two years and a half years of our normal lives, as well as millions of loved ones, through this virus. My colleague Matt Norman in Minnesota gave a presentation at our virtual Dale Carnegie Owner’s Meeting which focused on some of the challenges we will face going forward and I have adapted it for Japan. Here are five trends we need to start thinking about.
1. Managing a split workforce
Covid will be contained, but many in our workforce won’t be satisfied to be contained in the office anymore. They want the freedoms of working from home to continue to some extent. Regimented lives, genie like, have tasted freedom and won’t be so easily stuffed back in the 9 to 11 bottle. How do we avoid a two class system evolving of those present and accounted for and those invisible men and women no longer in the boss’s line of sight? How do we make sure information is flowing freely, quickly, accurately and equally throughout the organisation?
2. Selling virtually forever
By definition, if buyers are working from home, then selling online will continue. Listening to our clients, most Japanese salespeople have made a mess of it so far and so how long can this situation be tolerated? A big proportion of selling will go back to face to face, but not all. Are we just going to give up on the virtual sales component and leave that to our rivals to rule the field of business battle? Why can’t salespeople do both and do both at a very high skill competency level?
3. Leading to foster agility and resilience
Leaders in Japan were outed for their actual lack of competent leadership skills during the work from home phenomenon. Covid really showed how inflexible the systems were and how unagile firms were in Japan. Resilience and dealing with change are skills which can be learnt. The irony has been that most organisation stopped their training during Covid and tried to tough it out. Agility’s biggest enemies are inertia, red tape, politics, factional infighting, overly extended decision making processes and working in isolated silos. The base solutions to these problems are building real trust and dramatically improving communication. How do you do that when the team are scattered to the winds and are not that interested in going back to the old ways?
4. Leadership capability creation at all levels
Japan doesn’t seem to function well in a crisis. I believed in Japan Inc and the Japanese Government until the January 1995 Kobe earthquake. Much was revealed then. Natural disasters are part and parcel of life here — earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons, landslides, floods, etc. Yet we didn’t seem to learn much and when the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown combo hit, again the leadership was lacking. The 2020 Covid pandemic has been frustrating, especially seeing how poor the leadership has continued to be. Inside companies we need a culture where our people are confident to step up and become accountable and lead. This will never happen by itself. We need leaders who can create that environment and when we do that, speed of action becomes a powerful competitive advantage.
5. Post Covid employee engagement
Covid has raised a lot of questions about life, death, values, family. Are leaders thinking to get everyone back to the salt mines and work them like dogs, seeing them catch the last train home night after night. We have a severe population decline which is going to up the ante in business’s war for talent. Inflexibility will come at a concrete cost, as your people flee to a better home somewhere else. Why would they do that? Because the leaders are not able to understand the new reality and cannot respond to the changes needed. Leader communication skills, which were already tatty and quite poor before, will become own goal lethal in this new zero sum game.
While the pandemic pounds us with a continual barrage of issues, problems, inadequacies, contradictions and challenges, we tend to hunker down in our fox holes and hope for the best. “Hope”, as they say in the classics, “is not a great strategy”. What are the key issues we need to address as we begin to poke our noses above the parapet? It is clear we need to be thinking differently, because we are not going back to what was. So what are you thinking about the future world of work and what are doing about it today?