(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)
Business and professional organizations are recovering from the unprecedented disruption caused across the board by the Covid-19 pandemic that had arrived without much notice and enveloped the population at large in deep fear and survivalist concerns.
The world is on its way to recovery and organizations relying on their job content and dependence on human resources are moving ahead after absorbing the paradigms of the 'new normal set about place and timing of work, methodology of communication and performance evaluation and the altered 'boss-subordinate' relationship.
Many of the shifts reflect an 'evolution of management and are hence fit for future times. Smart CEOs have grasped the learning from what was undoubtedly a first-time experience for everybody, including the leaders, employees, clients, investors and regulators. Business is all about human activity and a health crisis that directly impacted people regardless of distinctions of class, community and region challenged it in all aspects in an unending and unpredictable kind of way. And yet a deep insight and analysis of the demands that the Covid saga put on the leadership of all organizations yield extremely valuable lessons for it - for application in the times ahead. At least five of these can be easily deciphered.
First and foremost, the pandemic legitimized the call that a leader should be able to 'ride a challenge' and not merely cope with it so that the organization is carried forward amid all odds.
For this, it was necessary to have a correct understanding of the nature of the crisis itself - Covid was an emergency of external origin, was primarily a disabler of the human resource and was, in terms of 'competition', a great equalizer for all enterprises, big and small.
Madame Curie, the greatest woman scientist of all time, famously said that "nothing in life is to be feared but is to be understood", suggesting that understanding is the end of the problem. Lockdowns confined people indoors, creating a mortal scare of the "danger lurking in the air" but the nature of the threat of the virus required the logical triple precaution of the mask, social distancing and washing of hands to counter possible touch with a contaminated surface, took a long time to be understood - even after the confinement was lifted.
Leaders with scientific temperament and a certain familiarity with human psychology and behaviour did a better job of handling the crisis but many didn't understand simple things that mask without covering the nose had no meaning as the virus could get in with the breadth. The leadership's first duty even now is to keep all the members updated on the virus mutations that might still be coming back with varying effects and maintain the morale of the employees.
The second most important Covid learning for corporate leaders is that a prime responsibility that fell on them during the pandemic was to ensure the welfare of the employees even if it meant foregoing some of the corporate profits temporarily. Covid affected the precious human resource of the organization and expected the leadership to display a higher degree of emotional intelligence so that apart from the changes in working protocols compelled by the crisis, bosses gave the impression of being aware of the family concerns of their employees too.
They were required to send out the message that the corporate body was keeping up with necessary preventive medical arrangements such as oximeters, oxygen supply and special transport for a contingency. In a way, this paternal nurtural approach of the management has returned to the corporates for good. The enterprise will gain by receiving in return a much deeper organizational loyalty from its members and that would surely advance the cause of productivity as well.
Perhaps the most significant and lasting fallout of the Covid crisis is the adoption of 'work from home resulting in a happy adjustment of the enterprise with the so-called hybrid work environment for the future.
Both employees as well as the corporate employer needed each other and with a small one-time expenditure by the organization on fixing a workplace at home for the employee - saving the latter from the hassle of preparing for commuting to the company headquarters every day - the new arrangement is now in vogue with satisfaction on both sides. Flexible working hours, the viability of online team meetings and the introduction of shifts for attendance at the workplace provided a cost-effective alternative to the maintenance of an ostentatious corporate headquarters. All of this has made a hybrid work environment a new acceptable feature of businesses. The new challenge for the HRD leadership of ensuring supervision from a remote point, measuring the output and keeping up the vital camaraderie among the members of the organization, seems to have been met with experience overtime and a harmonious play of the new system is in evidence, marking a progressive shift in the practice of business management universally.
Of course, online work from home has come as an advantage to certain segments of the business - other than those concerning the physical manufacture of products - but online support functions have become important even for the latter. Technology has received a big boost in the post-Covid era. It is not a surprise that there is a phenomenal growth of global businesses offering online delivery of products and services. This trend is there to stay, but quality assurance has become pivotal for retaining a competitive edge since consumers are more impatient in today's environment. In the West, there is a debate as to whether the employees are beginning to place their comfort above their organizational commitment, but in the Indian context the business world is hopefully settling down to a productive economic outcome from the changes compelled by Covid.
In a situation of shrinking demands and disruption of supply chains, the study of local markets as also trends of globalization, tracking of social media marketing (SMM) and the general gathering of business intelligence have become much more crucial since reliable information is needed for diversification, the opening of subsidiaries and mid-course corrections - which are now the order of the day. Knowledge-based decision-making was never so important. Confidentiality of exclusive knowledge is vital too for the organization in these times when information is becoming public as soon as it is produced. Exclusive information makes a difference between a decision and a guess.
Apart from the scan of the external environ, the enterprise has to have a close look internally at how the human resource development programmes are working, how is information on insider's views on the corporate working being garnered and how is the competition possibly trying to poach the experienced hands of the organization.
Today once again the Toyota experience of feedback from the 'assembly line' is proving its worth. The moral of the story for the business world is that honesty pays in today's pandemic-ridden times. Only correct information is to be acted upon for formulating business strategy - being too tactical would not do - since what would bring success to a business enterprise is the established transparency of its dealings with the clients. Covid might have just brought the business world closer to creating the correct relationship with the consumers and discouraging trade malpractices.
If information is important for business, it is equally important to make sure that communications with partnering firms, clients and investors as also internal messaging are flawless in terms of avoiding any ambiguities, combining brevity with clarity and being prompt so that timely action is made possible. Face-to-face briefings are substituted by online reporting and advice - this is another upshot of the Covid crisis - and clearly, the leadership is on test for skills of producing competent and meaningful communications.
It would do a lot of good to the organization if its leadership looks afresh at the system of communications within the corporate body, keeping in view the hybrid work environment - this will also enable it to ensure the security of sensitive information being shared online. The days of lengthy letters drafted in black and white are over and training of senior executives in drafting short but complete messages online would be of great help.
The empathy one can show and the willingness to explain things one could express in a verbal conversation would be difficult to replicate in digital communications and this is an important reason why leaders who communicated well on- line would achieve quick success in today's times of scarcity of in-person contacts. In short, what Covid has done is to put a further onus on the leadership for maintaining the smooth functioning of the organization in general, and keeping up productivity in particular. (IANS)