Business leadership in the post-pandemic world

Let’s be realistic – things aren’t going to stay the same. In fact, do we even want them too? Shouldn’t we be looking at the shake-up of the pandemic and seeing what can change for the better?

We’ve learned a huge amount about business leadership over the last year. Now is the time to consolidate our lessons and figure out how leadership can make businesses thrive in 2021 as the post-pandemic world emerges.

Panic has passed, longevity has set in
Back in spring 2020, the role of leadership was to respond with effective but measured approaches to an enormous seismic shift. Business leadership in 2020 predominantly took the form of reactive behaviour where every other business was facing the same pressures.

However, as the year went on, and the pandemic went on, we began to identify the potential winners and the losers. Those who stayed on a reactive footing began to waver. Those who tried to return to old ways floundered. On the other hand, those who shifted gears towards focusing on a proactive approach to a new normal began to emerge as the businesses that will survive in a post-pandemic world.

It’s become evident which areas need the attention of CEO’s and leadership, as we head into 2021.

Diversity and inclusion
The pandemic could wipe out quarter of a century’s progress in gender equality. Additionally, right in the depths of the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement gained world recognition and civil rights momentum.

The pandemic has shone an uncomfortable spotlight on inequality.

The businesses that will do well going forwards will be those that accept these uncomfortable facts and seek to address them. We know that diverse organisations are more profitable than non-diverse organisations. It’s also simply the right thing to do, and the pandemic has made customers care even more about businesses doing the right thing.

Diversity and inclusion has always been a tough area for leadership. By its very nature, unconscious bias makes it difficult to notice, challenge and change. But leadership, starting with the CEO and Managing Directors, need to notice that they are the conduits for change where diversity and inclusion are involved.

This requires a dedicated and conscious approach to C-suite/Director level recruitment, as well as recruitment across the business. You need to partner with talent specialists who themselves recognise the importance of diversity and inclusion. Furthermore, your talent mapping needs to plan for a more diverse future.

Being honest about diversity and inclusion is hard for senior leadership. However, by remembering that it pays off, the motivation should be there.

Physical health, mental health and wellbeing
The pandemic has made us all too aware of the importance of health in the workplace. With staff shortages due to absences, isolation due to responsibility and a growing awareness of our vulnerable members of staff, there’s been a shift in our understanding of physical health in the workplace.

Our approaches to sickness absence will likely never be the same again – we now see we have a real responsibility to lower transmission of infectious disease in the workplace.

Leadership teams that acted with integrity and insight regarding the physical health of their staff now have a strong and loyal workforce.

However, the pandemic made us realise more about mental health and the workplace even more. When our employees were faced with social isolation, uncertainty and worry, we still needed them to perform.

69% of the UK population have found Covid to negatively impact their mental health. Nonetheless, people’s experiences aren’t equal. Those from socioeconomically poorer backgrounds are faring worse.

This impact of the pandemic on people’s wellbeing will not disappear overnight. And a productive business needs a healthy workforce, in body and mind. This means that business leaders need to realistically consider ways in which they can help their workforce tackle mental health difficulties and support their workers as we move forwards in the post-pandemic world.

What this looks like for individual companies will vary, but we can assume that leaders need to take charge of leading open discussion on mental health. Schemes such as subsidised counselling, mental health days and lunchtime wellness like yoga, will become more common as we move forward.

And ultimately, these businesses will attract and retain the best talent.

We’re in it together
The pandemic drew out our inherent drive for teamwork and collaboration. It created a sense that we were all in it together. This is a positive concept that businesses will want to hold onto as we move forward. We want every individual worker pulling in the same direction.

Organisational leadership will need to nurture this characteristic if they don’t want to lose it when the intensity of the pandemic wears off. Now is the time for leadership to show that collaboration at all levels is welcomed, and allow it to form a central part of the company’s culture.

Leadership teams that do this successfully will be those brimming with new ideas for success.

Corporate responsibility
Not only did 2020 highlight the importance of looking after your employees, it highlighted what your customers and clients expect from you.

They don’t simply care about the product or service you are offering. They also care about what your brand does in the background. They want to know that you can be trusted in terms of an ethical supply chain. They want to see that you care about sustainability and the environment.

The pandemic has placed ethics and responsibility right at the forefront of customer’s minds. This movement was already in motion, but the pandemic gave it rocket fuel.

Leadership in the post-pandemic world must look to pay more than lip service to corporate social responsibility. Integrity needs to run through every aspect of the business and that will only happen if it is directed from the top.

Additionally, this needs to be combined with outstanding communication. From social media communication plans to internal communications, leadership needs to demonstrate how communication matters.

Exceptional communication needs to become a culturally-driven part of the organisation.

Make a change, move forwards and recover
The shake-up that the pandemic has brought hasn’t been easy for business. However, there’s no going back.

The businesses that are successful going forwards will be those with leadership that realise they can’t go back to ‘normal’. Instead, they can only change. But the change will reap rewards. There’s an opportunity sitting in front of CEO’s, Managing Directors and the entire leadership team as we head into 2021.

It’s time to grab it with both hands.

At First Executive Recruitment, we’re ready to help you move forwards with confidence and success.

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