Companies need to quickly capture what their employees liked about responsiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic, otherwise it might get lost and, given that the past few months have forced companies and their staff to be adaptable and flexible, it is essential to consider how acceptable change in the organisation might be for the long term.
This was the advice imparted by leading business author and academic Professor Margaret Heffernan when she addressed a Shannon Chamber webinar on the topic – ‘leading through uncertainty’.
The webinar was moderated by Derek McKay, managing director, Adare Human Resource Management, event sponsor, who used his immense knowledge and insights in the realm of human resources to ask very pertinent questions on how companies need to regroup once they are fully operational again.
“This pandemic has taught companies to think about preparedness as well as planning, to nurture relationships and to have a higher degree of trust,” stated Ms Heffernan.
“Cash may be king in a crisis as it buys time but this pandemic has taught us that relationships are crucial. If people care about each other, they can and will perform miracles. People have self-managed throughout the pandemic, become more agile, and daily online scrums have become the norm.
“Companies that have made little change during the crisis and are stuck in a business as usual mode show a lack of adaptability and will suffer more than those who have come through the crisis to a new place, accepting that uncertainty in not going away. They are using the core assets of their company in a new way and to ensure that they don’t revert to old habits, they will need to have good conversations with their workforces to identify what was good and bad in the pandemic. They will need to capture the good stuff and make it a permanent sense within their organisations.
“Capture the moments of clarity in the crisis and give people a sense of commitment,” she advised.
Questioned about embedding resilience into a company, Ms Heffernan responded: “Business leaders need to tell the truth at all times, be fair and don’t offer certainty if it can’t be delivered. Be honest and treat people like adults. It’s not always possible to make the perfect decision; leaders sometimes have to make sub-optimal decisions and being able to explain the principles as to how the decision was made is an important at the decision itself.”
Outlining the difference between risk and uncertainty, she stated: “Risk can be quantified whereas uncertainty cannot. It’s a given that uncertainties, such as pandemics, occur that affect society and by default business. Companies therefore need to think about preparedness alongside their normal planning mode and use the huge amount of knowledge trapped with their companies to experiment. There is a lot of good strategic thinking in organisations and this should be captured to experiment and be prepared for the unknowability of future challenges that lie ahead, such as future pandemics, which are inevitable.”
Commenting on the take-aways from the webinar, Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes said: “This webinar reinforced how critical it for businesses of all sizes to revisit their business models, think about what they have learned from the crisis, value collaborations, guard against offering false certainties, incorporate climate change into new preparedness plans, understand that the five-year plan is a thing of the past, value employees’ contributions to the organisation and keep upskilling them via training, something which Shannon Chamber is very focused on, having recently secured funding until Skillnet Ireland’s ReBound initiative.
“This was our first encounter with Professor Heffernan and we will certainly be bringing her back to do a presentation in a live setting as opposed to a virtual one. As a Professor of Practice at the University of Bath, Lead Faculty for the Forward Institute’s Responsible Leadership Programme and, through & Co., Merryck, mentoring CEOs and senior executives of major global organisations, she has amassed the knowledge and experience on a range of business topics that we want to tap into on behalf of our members, ” added Ms Downes.
This webinar was one of a continuing series of webinars being organised by Shannon Chamber; full details can be found at www.shannonchamber.ie/events-training
To register an expression of interest in participating in one of the 30 training programmes being offered free of change until Shannon Chamber Skillnet’s ReBound initiative, email firstname.lastname@example.org.