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March 2021

Articles  /  SUCCESSFUL LEADER IN TIMES OF CRISIS AND RAPID CHANGE


March 19, 2021


Ramon S. Medina

President at Huris

Huris

mon.medina@huris.com.ph

Leaders have always been at the forefront of change in all types of business environments. Changes occur whether the organization is a start-up, growing, and is expanding operations or retrogressing or at worst folding up.

 

Leaders have been used to these types of change situations.  However, what has happened over the past six (6) months with the Covid-19 pandemic has never been experienced in the past several decades.

 

Leaders of nations all over the world have not been spared.  Almost all, if not all nations have been caught flat-footed.  They did not know what struck them. Not knowing how to respond to never-ending changes in crisis situations. Even the most advanced nations like the USA or even European nations are still experiencing difficulties coping with the pandemic.

From a local perspective, leaders of organizations whether they are small, medium, or large have to cope up with these never-ending challenges and risks. The risk is not limited to finding a solution to ensure that the company is going to survive. It also involves knowing how to manage the risk on the health of employees and their families.

With the new reality in business, the leadership challenges of managing organizations in a VUCA world based on readings of leadership books of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanusby. This theory is now put to the test.  While it appeared initially as a leadership theory, the time has come to put it into practice. It is not sufficient to know the "What" of a theory but more important is to know the "How", "When" and "Where" this theory can be effectively applied.  Otherwise, it will be a trial and error, not being aware of the inadequacies of the steps taken. What remedial actions have been missed and how to correct these missteps?

Down to present-day reality! How do we manage an organization in a pandemic situation like Covid-19? The crisis experienced even by scientists gives them a lot of sleepless nights trying to save lives, keeping nations afloat, and coming out with recovery efforts within the shortest period of time.

If we go over what leaders do in a Volatile Situation like Covid-19, they need to accelerate the learning cycle in technology.  Employees who were not asked to work at home, need to learn more than the computer basics.  They do not have IT, Staff, to handle technical glitches in their computers or internet connectivity.  They have to learn faster than others. They need to have tools like cellphones to communicate with co-employees who may not be available at the same time. Non-computer savvy individuals need to be a techie to remain productive. The shift in the learning landscape requires more than a simple transformation. It is a self-directed learning process supported by resources and tools to be provided to employees if the expectation is to remain productive in their job roles.

But the situation in business is not only Volatile. It is Uncertain! No one knows how long this pandemic will last. No one can safely say when taking medicines, it will not have side effects.  There is hope that a medical solution is being worked out but whether it will be effective remains Uncertain.

How long can the organization last without the expected revenues to continue to pay the salaries of employees? In an uncertain situation, the leader is not sure which steps to take and if these steps will give the desired results.  Will the consumer or client still buy the product?  Will they have enough funds to continue to patronize the products they love?

How do we address Uncertainty?  The leader will have to know external challenges in the marketplace.  Will, there will be a change in consumer behavior?  What adaptive measures in technology, products, business strategies need to be in place to survive? There are a lot of unanswered questions or blind spots the leader will have to contend with.

The leader needs to go beyond these two challenges of Volatility and Uncertainty. As he/she addresses these two challenges, the situation may be more complex and what it appears to be. To set an example: companies want to keep their employees safe from contamination of Covid-19.  They provide safety gadgets but is it a guarantee that there is no contamination when the employees go to work? There is no assurance, right?  The leader then needs to reflect whether it is good to provide some accommodations in the Office or Plant. If accommodations are provided, how will they handle the basic human requirements of privacy, toiletries, laundry, food, etc?  These may appear as simple solutions but it will require re-allocating financial resources that were not budgeted. The juggling of funds may take a toll on an organization that is not financially sound. The situation becomes complex and the decision to allow and give accommodation or allow stay-ins can be a tough decision to make.

The government has its own role to provide safety for its constituents. First, the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), Modified ECQ, then MGCQ, and now GCQ.  As the government issues guidelines, it raises more questions than what appeared to be clear as water. However, it is not simple and clear.  It is Ambiguous!  DOLE issues a guideline that encourages companies to provide shuttle services for their employees because it prevented or stopped the use of public transportation.  So how will employees go to work? Will the company provide a transportation allowance? How will the company continue to operate so that there will be revenues to pay for salaries and wages of employees?

The leader or leaders when faced with these different types of crisis situations are still expected to be successful if the company or organization will survive. There is no excuse for the leader not to be successful.

The leader will need to have a wider lens to cope with the External environment with an unknown magnitude, severity, and the limitation of knowledge, resources, and tools in the internal environment.  It is not sufficient to address the need for short-term survival, the leader will have to look into the future too for the sustainability of the operations and business.

Where is the leader now? How can the leader be ahead of others in taking steps to be recover lost grounds? Is this not a test of resiliency and adaptability under what is now known as the New Normal?

The successful leader should be able to navigate different situations as enumerated above.  The leader should continue to hone up their Soft Skills of curiosity, critical and creative thinking, resiliency, perseverance, adaptability, and commitment to finding new ways to deliver results.  The more difficult challenge is to adapt to change in a fast and rapid manner. Adaptability or flexibility is needed even if it means changing policies and practices to adapt to the new normal. A lot of great plans end up in filing cabinets gathering dust. Are these skills sufficient? Not yet! The discipline to implement plans is equally important. 

Many organizations want stability and it is the reason why Visions are not touched for a period of time.  In a crisis situation, even its Vision and Mission may have to be re-visited to see whether it is still as relevant as it was originally meant to be.  A vision is a desired state of mind but if the situation calls for change, the greatest challenge of the leader is to strive of change mindests and practices inspite of resistance in the organization. 

Let me give you a a true-to-life examples. San Miguel Corporation used to be known as a Beverage (Beer) company, then it transformed to be a Food (Purefoods) and Beverage (Beer and Ginebra) company, and now it is a highly diversified conglomerate.

Another true-to-life example. Uniqlo used to be a company where you buy their products in the Mall.  Now they deliver.  All major restaurants who used to have gourmet, casual dining, quick service, now deliver their products to the comfort of your homes.  If they opted to remain the way they used to be pre-Covid-19, chances are they will still be closed and not operating.

In every crisis situation, there are opportunities.  Have you not noticed there is now a lot of new entreprenuers? Employees who were contented to dress up, go to the Office, meet friends, are now in business. 

I know the owner of MaryGrace ensaymada. She is my neighbor who used to ask her domestic help to sell ensaymada in our small village every afternoon. Then, she joined Once-a-week Tiangge to sell her products.  Now, she has over 40 branches in different places. There are many other examples that we can recall.

They start small but the opportunity to grow the business is there if you have perseverance and commitment.  It is never too late to learn! Life long learning is not only a by-line! It is the need of the hour!

In summary, the leader to be successful in times of crisis and rapid change should go beyond knowing the hard skills of today and focus on the soft skills.  A professor once said, the Soft Skills of today will be the Hard Skills of tomorrow. Learn now! Avail of learning opportunities. Act now, not tomorrow for it may be too late for you and the organization! 

Ramon S. Medina

Mon’s vast experience in human resources stems from his long stint in the food and beverage industry. He is former Senior Vice President for Group HR of the RFM Group of Companies where he rose from the ranks. In 2003 he was elected PMAP President. In 2008, he became president of the PMAP Philippine Society of Fellows in People Management. He is an accredited international advisor and assessor of Investors in People (IiP)

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