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Monday, August 10, 2020

Executive Education

CEOs as Corona Warriors!

In the battle against the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we are witness to a whole army of doctors, nurses, para-medical staff, health, and sanitation workers, emerging as warriors. Then there are dedicated police officials, media professionals, NGOs, and individuals who, as frontline heroes, are winning the hearts of people.

Post-Corona, performance of the corporate leaders during the pandemic will also be evaluated by their stakeholders. How did CEOs navigate the crisis?

What lessons did they learn and unlearn, and what lesson did they impart, on real-time?

The contributions made by CEOs today will decide tomorrow whether they will be hailed as real warriors and heroes or labelled as ‘also-rans’ and lame ducks? Indeed, their efforts, ingenuities, and skills deployed will also determine how fast their organizations bounces back, once normal era sets in.

But, what are the identifiers that would show CEOs have been learning fast, adapting fast and deciding fast? How does one know they were acting as real enablers and not status quoist?

Here are some identifiers/parameters on which CEOs could be evaluated:

  1. Effective communication: In the midst of government’s dynamic guidelines, print/electronic news and views, social media tweets and messages on the pandemic, it has been important for organizations to filter the galore of information and communicate with staff, with simplicity and clarity, regarding the evolving safety norms, SOPs and revised action plans. Similar seamless communication channels required to be established for other stakeholders as well. Effective communication being a key aspect of leadership, did the CEOs display it well?
  2. Empowerment of workforce: Building a workforce with the right skills, knowledge and mindset to stay agile, resilient and relevant in a disruptive business environment is critical. The pandemic is testing people on patience, perseverance, flexibility, positivity and ability to experiment. Now, going forward, attributes like empathy, relearning collaboration, managing hybrid schedules and working independently with minimum supervision will be hailed as very valuable. Did CEOs, as a team leader, tried to get to know their team better? Did they motivate and re-skilled the workforce in line with the new realities? How did they radiate positivity and hope?
  3. Reaching out to customers: The pandemic warranted attention on the part of the CEOs not only to set their home in order but also to ensure, in the best possible manner, to handhold their customers in need. The successful CEOs know how much these gestures and connect with customers at this hour would matter in future to foster a lasting relationship. So, how frequently, pro-actively, sensitively and fruitfully did the CEOs engage with their customers?
  4. Promotion of on-line learning/working: Surely, CEOs know how the present digital age have thrown many opportunities to upskill knowledge and how the transformational tools of data analytics, machine learning, chat bots and apps can be used to broaden and deepen learning landscape. They know learning is no more a function of place and time. The intense lockdown has created a situation where all these knowledge and capabilities can be optimally leveraged for anytime- anywhere learning/working and collaborative relearning. On-line training, video-conferencing, webinars are new normal. How far and how effectively these on-line platforms and engagement tools have been used by the CEOs for ease of learning, ease of working and ease of business?
  5. Attributes of empathy: The social distancing, collective confinement, disruptions in work-schedules, fear of lay-offs, etc. all have links with emotional make-up of the workforce. On the other hand, the crippled businesses, broken supply chains, dried-up income flows are some painful tales of the customers/borrowers/suppliers. Such a grim scenario calls for humane responses and work- culture. Sensitivity, and spirit of caring and support are very much need of the hour. Did CEOs demonstrate such empathetic attitude and actions?
  6. Experimenting with new ideas: Great CEOs build a climate where ideas are free-flowing, encouraged and respected. They bring forth and put in practice out-of-the-box ideas, novel strategies, and robust action plans in the organization to cope with new and dynamic situations. During the on-going crisis, did CEOs, as change-agents, tried to streamline processes and identify weaknesses in the operational apparatus? How did they manage inventory? How did they trouble-shoot virtually? Did they encourage/reward employees with useful feedback and ideas? If yes, how?

Market rewards organizations with strong leadership, vision, and futuristic thinking. Actions, values, and ethos, especially demonstrated during difficult times, matter a lot, stay in memory for long, and eventually make the organizations aspirational and its CEOs inspirational.


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Ram Krishna Sinha
Ram Krishna Sinha, former General Manager, Learning & Development At Bank of India and writes on contemporary issues. He has authored the book “X Factor @ Workplace” Ram Krishna Sinha is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.