faculty speak

Preparing for a Post-Pandemic Business world: Managerial Essentials

Covid-19: A transformative phase for you, me and all

With the global economy facing persistent uncertainty, most businesses are grappling to come to terms with the impact of the COVID-19, with a future seeming both uncertain and risky. For several businesses globally including those of India, the next few quarters will have only one important challenge, that is, how do they survive and grow in these challenging times. For some, there may be an opportunity to focus on how to emerge from the crisis much stronger, better positioned and as a highly valued business. Whatever goals the corporates might set in this new normal, organizations across are now convinced that it is essential to take steps to position their business model for the post-COVID-19 world, while taking care of their employees and stakeholders.    

Industry experts are predicting colossal economic losses for industries like hospitality, aviation, construction, manufacturing, MSMEs sector besides the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector, among others. This would lead to lay-offs and declining incomes. Societal disruptions are underway and Governments of various countries have announced unprecedented financial and monetary measures to ease the damage wreaked by the virus. Intransigent extended lockdowns and slow-paced unlocking are only adding to these uncertain times.

Innovative strategies undertaken by individuals and organizations have been a boon in navigating through these uncertain times. The Federal Reserve very recently warned that the largest market economy in the world, the US faces a ‘long road’ to recovery, but the Fed Chair Jerome Powel has committed to keeping interest rates near zero for the foreseeable future.

An Element “Unknown” – A tricky thing, but not hard enough to crack

There is an element of uncertainty – a conundrum, lots of unknowns, as to how the world will transform after the novel coronavirus is brought under control, but it is extremely unlikely that things will just go back to the way they were before. The workplaces are bound to change and some tech giants like Google and Twitter, among others, are already encouraging their workforce to operate from homes for the long haul. So the changing landscape only demands those unique skills that corporate professionals need and the strategic rejig companies embrace the way crisis affects various sectors and industries and most importantly consumer behaviour and investor psychology. A recently published study of Gallup global consultants revealed that all members of the Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) Roundtable believe that the economic environment is likely to be changed for some time, and their leadership is preparing their companies for today’s needs as well as the post-pandemic business world. The CHROs Roundtable as an organization represents over 700 of the world’s largest enterprises and how they diagnose the virus-triggered business impact matters a lot while seeing how businesses are proactively restructuring their business models with the kind of skills and people talents to manage the crisis and emerge victorious.

So, what are the strategic and tactical policy shifts and skills that will take individuals as well as organizations forward in a post-pandemic world? Here, we discuss a few intricate aspects as well as some attitudinal changes for managers to reshape and reposition market entities and assure success in this emergent scenario.           

  • Leadership, work teams and value creation

Leadership plays a crucial role in every aspect of the organizational preparedness to endure and manage a crisis well. During these times, people with strong leadership qualities can lead work teams and organizations to success. As the trends suggest that work-from-home (WFH) is going to be the next big thing to be managed,  major technology giants have already planned for the WFH scenario until the end of 2020 and beyond. So professionals with strong leadership abilities who can manage distant teams, keep them motivated, inspire collaborations, ensure smooth functioning and bring out the best in team members would be the best bet for organizations to thrive.     

The gig economy, a job market characterized by freelance or short-term contacts as opposed to permanent jobs, is only going to grow in a post-crisis world and people will be working in more fluent teams allowing them to lead at different times and different levels. As organizations are convinced about WFH as a viable long-term option, professionals with strong leadership skills, capable of taking teams along and contribute to companies value creation will be in greater demand.

Studies reveal that C-suite leaders through a combination of organizational and human-centred initiatives, can help make the transition to – or expand reliance on – a virtual workplace model that’s effective and satisfying to employees and all other stakeholders. Studies further point out that virtual work practices are for sure going to strengthen business resilience

  • Emotional intelligence, managerial proficiency and organizational endurance   

Closely linked to leadership is another ability of a successful professional that is critical in crisis management, in these challenging times, i.e. Emotional Intelligence (EI). The ability to be aware of, express, and control our emotions and be aware of others’ emotions is what EI is all about. Great leaders who successfully lead organizations are great empaths and can easily gauge the mental and emotional health of an employee very well. At uncertain times when an employee or any other stakeholder feels insecure about their jobs and the future of their organizations or their businesses, at such a time it is important to connect with them on an emotional level, raise their self-confidence and provide assurance. So professionals with strong EQ (emotional quotient) will be sought-after by organizations of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy, simply because they significantly raise the chances of survival for organizations in times of economic stress. So, it’s a win-win situation for organizations and their stakeholders.

Emotional Intelligence Domains and Competencies

SELF- AWARENESSSELF-MANAGEMENTSOCIAL AWARENESSRESLATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT
 Emotional self-control Influence
 AdaptabilityEmpathyCoach and mentor
Emotional self-awarenessAchievement orientation Conflict management
 Positive outlookOrganizational awarenessTeamwork
   Inspirational leadership

Source: What Makes a Leader-MORE THAN SOUND, LLC, 2017.

  • Tech-savviness and digital transformations

Experts and practitioners believe that hyper-automation is where the market is heading towards. That’s not a reason to fear, rather it’s an opportunity to prepare for the post-crisis world as acquiring these very technological skills will help one remain industry-relevant. As WFH becomes indispensable, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data, virtual and augmented reality and robotics will be the future that will help industries grow more resilient. Hence, it becomes imperative for professionals to develop an aptitude to learn new technologies and develop skills to use those tools comfortably as well as be able to work with them effectively in their day-to-day operations. More importantly, those professionals who help support companies exploit these technologies and create value will be in great demand, and for them, the rewards will be high.

  • Winning consumers: A scenario of temporary to transformative consumer behaviour 

The economic costs of a pandemic will be huge and long-lasting, leaving an impact on the way people spend that last penny earned. IMF is projecting a global recession as bad as or worse than the global financial crisis. Consumer confidence has plummeted across major global markets. During the Great Recession of 2008, people were quick to cut back on a host of discretionary expenses such as eating out and travel and they continued to do so for several years. Further, they also resorted to a variety of cost-saving strategies like using coupons and waiting for discount sales. Similarly, recent lock-downs already forced COVID-19 consumer behaviours – spending less on out-of-home eating and entertainment. This trend is bound to grow further as the pandemic lingers on. At the same time, experience also shows that people spend when they can and hence job protection is a critical element of crisis management from the point of view of policy stance and market resilience.     

Life after the pandemic will emerge as a new normal in many ways and it is critical to understand consumer behaviour. By observing the shopping pattern in countries like China that have witnessed both pre and post-peak phases of COVID-19, the private consumption in industries dealing in luxury items, such as the apparel and dining industries, has still not picked up significantly. In the US and elsewhere, people have stopped visiting public places, are stocking up on non-perishable goods, shifting their purchases from physical stores to online, preparing meals often at home and delaying routine doctor visits and other personal service appointments and are preferring to spend less on travel and entertainment.

So, companies and marketing professionals need to focus on understanding the changing consumption patterns, identify opportunities and provide innovative business solutions. Solutions that benefit consumers without compromising on value creation will see endurance and assure good results even in these challenging and transformative times. Be aware that customers will remember you and your actions well during difficult times like these. Jacking up the prices as people face shortages, say, could have a significant boomerang effect on your customer relationships. So be compassionate and express solidarity with your customers.    

  • Product portfolio and asset optimization across businesses

COVID-19 has created an unprecedented disruption across markets and the economic impacts are bound to be long-lasting. Undoubtedly, the post-crisis world is going to be different. Across markets, online retail and direct to consumer offerings have seen a significant rise, with Nielsen estimating that 600,000 households tried online grocery shopping for the first time in the UK during March 2020. At the same time, gig economy shopping models like Glovo in Spain and Buyme in Ireland have seen a surge in demand. Takeaway.com has witnessed a dip in order volumes during the early months of virus spread. Another Nielsen study from China shows they are emerging with more of a “homebody” mindset, where health and technology are the factors that will influence consumer spending and shopping habits in the short and long term.

On the other hand, many physical non-food retailers have had to suffer from prolonged closures. Many hotels, restaurants and bars are unable to operate until restrictions are lifted. Studies in mainland China show that 86% now expect to eat at home more often than before the pandemic. We see consumer preference changing rapidly and on an enduring basis.   

Experts and analysts in India are expecting a change in market leadership in the post-crisis business world in which telecoms backed by WFH choices and surge in data usage, healthcare, speciality chemicals, among others, to do well as compared to other sectors. 

Understanding transitory changes from those of structural, turn out to be critical, to position products and businesses to succeed in the post-COVID-19 world. For across businesses and more so for big enterprises, the corporate ability to dynamically assess which assets are bound to thrive, is bound to give them the leverage to benefit from the much-awaited recovery and a chance to prosper. For business buyers as well as private equity alike, the current subdued market scenario is the right time to plan for a target list of assets where a future investment or partnership may be mutually a win-win situation.

The Post-Crisis: The Way Forward

The COVID-19 crisis is an unfolding event bringing uncertainty to every aspect of professionals, organizations and the societies at large. So the element of ‘think the unthinkable’ aspect of 21st century professional life to be perceived with a lot more positivity and the same to be embedded into our attitudes and approaches in managing uncertain times. The other vital aspects of pre-requisites in these special times are adaptability and flexibility, creativity and critical thinking abilities besides the fuel of the 4th industrial revolution, i.e. the data literacy go a long way in pitching for better prospects. The right data and professionals with expertise to understand the data ensure that organizations respond in the right way should a future pandemic occur again by allowing them to understand business trends and shifting customer needs. Similarly, digital skills such as digital and coding skills, web development and digital marketing become even more important as the current crisis pushed the organizations to embrace digital transformation even more. 

Most of the successful leaders are voracious readers and life-long learners and highly positive and energetic in their engagements. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), in just five years, about 35% of the skills deemed essential today will change. Hence there is only one way to remain robust and relevant in any adverse market scenario in post-crisis business world which is   to commit to a lifetime of learning.

The virus has ravaged the world and the worst is yet to come. Organizations and managers running them must act today to ensure their present and future sustenance. Doing so will help global society as a whole to recover from this crude shock and surely become more cohesive in actions and gain much needed resilience in the process.  

Certainly, a more enlightened and integrated approaches are needed on the part of governments to manage the COVID-19 crisis effectively and create a right environment by bringing mass awareness and putting just right policies in place. As earlier rightly stated much of the economic and social stability come from protecting jobs and the incomes, especially of those not part of the policy discussions and consensus – vast number of small businesses, traders and migrant laborers  – ,but adversely affected by the pandemic and constitute major stakeholders.   

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Dr Gajavelli V S
Professor, Economics and Finance