Wednesday May 20, 2020
With COVID-19 cases growing worldwide, business leaders are scrambling to deal with a wide variety of problems, from slumping sales and stalling supply chains to keeping employees healthy and making sure they can continue working.
Professors of Harvard Business School were able to answer how the coronavirus pandemic is likely to change how companies do business. Here’s what they said:
Organizations will develop trust-based cultures with employees
The coronavirus challenge demands an organization-wide, honest conversation that enables truth to speak to power about the corporate response to the challenge. Think of it as a new strategic initiative facing huge execution challenges. These require senior management to get the best information they can about barriers to execution, and it requires trust and commitment. That comes about when everyone in the organization knows that senior management wants to hear from lower levels about barriers to execution that might include their own leadership.
The coronavirus challenge, like any crisis, provides senior management a huge opportunity to develop a trust-based culture rapidly or, conversely, if not handled with an organization-wide honest conversation, to undermine their ability to develop a trust-based culture for years to come.
Businesses will help customers be more helpful
Forward-thinking leaders can run better organizations by creating conditions that allow customers to be more helpful. When service provision is a true partnership and customers are pitching in, employees are more productive, service outcomes are improved, and experiences are enhanced for everyone involved.
For example, cinemas have identified a concrete, helpful customer behavior—silencing phones before the movie begins. A simple reminder that demonstrates why it matters to everyone in the theater is all it has taken to practically eliminate interruptions during movies. Another success is how airlines have trained us all to take part in cleaning the plane before landing. During the final approach, a flight attendant asks over the P.A. that we pass our trash and unused items to a crew member in the aisle. On some flights, this message additionally describes a tight upcoming turnaround, and how passengers can help the cleaning crew achieve an on-time departure for the next flight. In both cases, we gladly do our part.
By identifying concrete ways in which customers can be helpful, providing clear instructions about what they can do, and designing transparency into why their partnership will make a positive difference for everyone involved, business leaders can improve interactions among their customers and employees, and help us all achieve better things together.
Remote work will become strategic
Working remotely is very effective if you can also restructure the organizational processes for how communication happens, how socialization happens, and how coordination happens.
In a short time it’s not possible to do everything, so there are a few things companies can focus on. First, in a remote world, it’s very important to not only communicate synchronously on Skype or Zoom, but asynchronously, where you’re not face to face on a screen.
Remote companies have well-established processes where people are socializing and no one is feeling isolated and falling through the cracks. That’s really important right now, especially with all the anxiety around us and schools getting closed and the fear and psychosis of the moment.
Leadership will engage people to work together creatively
We will come to learn that hiding bad news is never a good idea. That will mean recommitting ourselves to mastering the leadership skills to tell the truth and to engage people in the hard work of creation solutions together.
Mastering the design and management of teams will become an even more critical focus—or more accurately, mastering what I have called teaming—working in flexible groups with shifting membership, often from different locations, to address particular challenges. Depending on how long the current state lasts, we may see a shift away from static organizational structures toward dynamic team forms. This only works well under conditions of psychological safety, when leaders have made it crystal clear that every team member is welcome to speak up with ideas, concerns, and yes, bad news.
Standard operating practice will be elevated to a new level
Many of the changes companies will make in the short term are obvious: dramatically reduced travel, more work-from-home opportunities for white-collar workers, and changes in business operations to reduce human contact and to improve workplace hygiene.
The more interesting changes will play out after this public health emergency is behind us. In the past, companies have used the lessons learned during periods of disruption to improve their standard operating practices. For example, the great recession forced employers to revisit their staffing models. The result was a permanent shift in the ratio of part-time workers to full-time workers across the economy. COVID-19 may yield similar changes.
Business DNA will be sharing more informative blogs in the next couple of weeks. Visit our blogs page /blog.aspx and also wait for part 2 on how Covid-19 is already rewriting the future of Business next week!