Resilience and Leadership on the Road to Recovery
May 18, 2020
8 MIN READ

Building Resilience to Lead Your Company Through a Crisis

By Karen Scates

We’re hearing “when this is all over….” predictions and speculations from everyone around us about what life will be like after the COVID-19 pandemic. The phrase, “the new normal,” has been coined to express a world forever changed by isolation, fear, and a huge economic downturn. Today, companies are doing all they can to survive. Will there be clear winners, or will the companies that survive simply be those that demonstrate the greatest level of resiliency?

How can business leaders steer their organizations and teams toward greater resilience to meet the demands of life during and after a global economic meltdown? 

We asked some of the brightest minds in the world for their advice. You can access their responses in a series of videos: “Fueling the Next Wave of Innovation: Expert advice for companies on leading through a crisis.” 

For this blog, we’ve taken excerpts from interviews with these experts:

  • Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, Austin, and executive director of IC-squared Institute.
  • Tim Galles, chief idea officer at Barkley, and author of Scratch: How to Build a Potent Modern Brand From the Inside Out
  • Dr. Ioannis Ioannou, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School
  • Ravin Jesuthasan, futurist, author and managing director of Willis Towers Watson
  • Scott McCormick, president of the connected vehicle trade association
  • Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications at The Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth

Agility and resilience are keys to recovery

Along the road to economic recovery, the change in business focus is inevitable as external factors have eliminated any illusion that we would be able to return to the way we have for the last 11-12 years. The defining moment for many organizations will now be how they approach the next phase of the recession. Will they try to go back to the way things were, or will they adopt new, more sustainable approaches to their business practices?

“We have to think about ways to create a more broad resilience in the way that we do business. Part of being a responsible brand is not just being sustainable in the environmental sense, but to be sustainable in the business sense of it. Building a business in a way that will be robust to potential changes in the economy that might be out of people’s control.”

Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing, University of Texas, Austin

Watch the full video here

Being agile to respond to new market needs with new business models will involve rethinking our goals at the most basic level. The pursuit of efficiency and growth will both have to take a back seat to the pursuit of resilience and agility. Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

According to Ravin Jesuthasan, futurist, author and managing director of Willis Towers Watson, “Focus on resilience is going to be critical, equal to the agility to very rapidly pivot from where we are today to adjust to new normals. It includes things like making choices about how you allocate your capital, about how I cross train my people, and creating a more agile way of working where work is not bound up in very tightly defined jobs. Rather, we’ve got internal marketplaces for talent where talent can be redistributed and redeployed very quickly depending on where the work is, without having to move from one job to another. It means recognizing and rewarding leaders who demonstrate that resilience—who don’t go after that next dollar of growth or that next dollar of efficiency if it’s going to compromise the integrity of the business model.”

Leading with empathy

When the pandemic struck and organizations were forced to make choices about the bottom line, companies either cut costs and laid off many employees, or found creative ways to cut other costs or redeploy employees to different roles and even to adjacent organizations in need of assistance. As leaders, our ability to rethink job descriptions and responsibilities may be the key to increasing our organization’s ability to innovate and make an impact, not just on the bottom line but on people’s lives, the community, and the world at large.

“We’re not advocating giving people less responsibility. In fact, we’re asking our brands to give their people more responsibility. It’s a great way to drive innovation and to see who your best thinkers are. And then we’re asking brands to find new ways for different teams or different departments to start partnering and finding new ways to work together. I think that the brands that come out of this, that are evolving, that are creating, that are fixing, are going to feel stronger during the recovery.”

Tim Galles, chief idea officer, Barkley, and author of How to Build a Potent Modern Brand from the Inside Out.

Watch the full video here

In the last 10 years or so, a new employment contract has been forged between employers and employees. That contract states that the workplace will be a place of community, shared vision and values, and a place where people can express themselves and their passions through their work. Now that most people are working from home, the challenge of establishing community is more important than ever.

“It’s the employees that are most critical right now in times like this, because they are our ambassadors to our customers. They are the future of the organization. We really can’t do anything unless we’re handling the internal audience well, unless we’re treating them as assets and not liabilities.”

Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications, The Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth

The importance of strong stakeholder relationships

Regardless of the stage of recovery discussed, our experts emphasized the importance of relationships and how they impact everything from helping business leaders decide on short, middle, and long term goals, to defining innovations, to moving the company forward, and finally to determining the ultimate success of the organization. 

“The degree of transparency and accountability that exists in the current crisis did not exist back in the great recession. The value of intangible assets is particularly important in times of crisis. When the going gets rough is when you’re committed to the integrity of your message, the integrity of your mission. When those things are being tested, if you decide to go with the short-term approach, that means you failed that test, which means that you wrote off these stakeholder relationships and these intangible assets in the long run.”

Dr. Ioannis Ioannous, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, London Business School

The contingency plans that are put in place now, need to include plans to communicate with your employees, your supply chain, your customers and partners, and the community at large. Like everything else, those communications are not just about business, they need to be personal. empathetic, and genuine.

“You need that attachment to those people because if you care about them as suppliers, you care about them as people. Right now, everyone has had some level of anxiety about what’s going to happen and where it’s going to go.The first thing you need to do is reassure all of those people in your ecosystem that you plan to be part of it and you’re hoping they’re going to be part of it with you. You’ve got to address that.”

Scott McCormick, president, Connected Vehicle Trade Association

As business leaders grapple with business decisions to help them make it through the day-to-day challenges of a crisis with no discernable end and no clear outcomes, finding ways to create resilience will help brands pivot quickly to serve the needs of their key stakeholders and the community at large.

These organizations are rethinking everything from what they are manufacturing to how they can support their employees through redeployment not only within the organization, but in some cases to adjacent industries with immediate needs. Our experts all agree that organizations that pivot quickly while retaining a grasp on their brand’s core values and purpose are the ones that will emerge from this crisis as leaders.

Despite the doubt and anxiety, now is the time to strengthen your resolve and focus. Businesses will be remembered for how they responded with creativity, innovation, and customer-centricity.

Learn more about what brands should focus on, and find helpful resources and blogs to help companies navigate and lead through this crisis to come out of this stronger in our guide.

This is the second in a series of three blogs. To get the whole story, read:

Road to Recovery: Why Innovation Matters Now More Than Ever and Reinvention and Business Continuity in a Post-Pandemic World

Karen Scates is a storyteller with a passion for helping others through content. Argentine tango, good books and great wine round out Karen’s interests.

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