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CEO Insights | Navigating through COVID-19 crisis

A. Ramachandran, Darpan Guha Choudhuri

The epicentre of this century’s largest humanitarian crisis has already shifted base from China and is now a global phenomenon, spanning over 150 countries and affecting directly or indirectly more than half the global population. While governments battle the fallout from the ensuing pandemic, the sheer scale of this disaster threatens to stretch the global socio-economic fabric to its very fibre, if unchecked. In our conversations with leaders from the Industrial & Manufacturing fraternity – here are our key takeaways:

The Achilles’ heel is the rapidly changing state of affairs

Every passing day has posed a different kind of challenge with regards to tackling the spread of the virus. At the time of writing, the total number of global cases had surpassed 340,000 including 14,000+ fatalities*. This is expected to have huge trade impacts, globally. (*As on 23rd March 2020).

There was a general consensus within the leaders we spoke to that – localization of leadership will be of paramount importance especially in large geographically dispersed organizations. In a time of crisis, organizational bureaucracy has no place and decision-making has to be agile, keeping in pace with the rapidly evolving ‘every-day’ scenario. Empowering regional (local) leaders across the value-chain with complete decision-making authority (within the broader organizational framework) might be an effective way to free up the bandwidth of senior leadership to enable them to think on other avenues to tackle the situation.

Sending the right message

Chairman of a multi-billion-dollar industrial conglomerate weighed in on sending the right message across his broader organization. His organization globally spans across multiple locations, employing a workforce of 20,000+ people including a high percentage of individuals at mining locations. He stated that it’s imperative that his larger workforce shouldn’t view COVID -19 specific policies for his corporate employees as a by-product of preferential treatment. In his organization, the employees have been empowered to take a decision to either work remotely or from the workplace, basis his / her assessment of the situation.

Employee Welfare Initiatives

All leaders emphasized on the need to implement relevant employee welfare initiatives ranging from – immediate travel embargo, remote working (wfh), leveraging technology, practical social distancing, improved personal hygiene at workplace etc.

Managing Director of a leading manufacturing major with a strong global footprint shed light on how they customised the concept of social distancing to better suit their employees without putting a dent in their business. Her entire workforce, she stated, is now divided into multiple groups who would work on alternate weeks from their workplace

Fostering the right environment

The CHRO of one of the fastest growing industrial majors spoke about creating the right environment for employees to work in these turbulent times. He opined that if a safe environment, consistent with all government advisory is provided and all necessary precautions are put in place, then there wouldn’t be a need to pause business cycles or hamper regular workflows in any way

Key initiatives which have been put in place keeping in mind the aggravating and ever-changing situation includes:

  • Employees with ageing parents have been advised to work remotely
  • Senior leaders have been advised to self-drive as opposed to employing a driver with the intent of minimizing human touch points in everyday life
  • Employees have been encouraged to use corporate pick-up / drop services, as opposed to public transport.

EMA Partners viewpoint

While still battling the COVID -19 crisis, organizations through thoughtful governance, pro-active community reach-out & development initiatives and corporate social innovation practices are trying to ensure that they take the right steps towards creating a safe environment for their employees and also aiding the larger society. Here are a few points on how we think they could further this cause in these trying times:

  • Organizations should exhibit nimbleness in thought and be flexible enough to move away from set templates
  • In an environment tailor-made to induce hasty decision making,leaders should have the courage to learn from their mistakes and course correct swiftly, to ensure minimal organizational consequence.
  • Leaders should display optimism while being fully cognizant of ground realities.
  • Transparent and regular communication with employees on crisis updates would be critical to ensure normalcy in operations.
  • As with all crisis, the key for organizations to come out of this unscathed would be to display empathy. At the core of it, this is a human tragedy and one shouldn’t lose sight of it.

The enormous scale and the overwhelming rate of transmission of the COVID -19 virus has typically resulted in a high degree of uncertainty and a feeling of powerlessness; the disorientation and strong emotional disturbance that follows is probably the most immediate and lasting outcome of this crisis.

The complete lack of visibility on a timeline to get over this, makes it imperative for businesses and leaders to learn from each other and help each other in the days to come. The immediate objective for leaders should be to take all necessary steps to ensure business continuity and ensure that their employees are working in a safe environment. Once again, at the core of it, this continues to be a human crisis and let us not lose sight of that.