How To Redefine Your Purpose For The New Business Reality
APAC Vice President at Center for Creative Leadership, offering cutting-edge leadership solutions.
Recently, our head of Asia-Pacific research and I interviewed a number of C-suite leaders across Asia and asked them what the key differentiator will be between organizations that come out of this pandemic stronger and those that suffer and perish. Their answer? Leadership.
As the adrenaline rush that many leaders found themselves in during the first weeks of the crisis settles, important questions related to the purpose of the business and the purpose for people arise. Deliberately slowing down to consider and solve for what is really needed in the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 era will be a key differentiator for the organizations — and leaders — who come out stronger.
Strategize for the long-term.
I remember the fight-or-flight response I experienced around mid-February when a team member ran into my office to inform me that there was a suspected case of COVID-19 on another floor of our Singapore office. My management team and I spent the first weeks of what was then an epidemic spreading primarily in Asia frantically putting safety measures and business continuity plans in place. Now, months into what is an ongoing pandemic, we realize we’ve still just gotten through the first couple kilometers of a 42-kilometer marathon. While we had to take immediate action, by around week six, we also deliberately paused to revisit what the organization set out to achieve, whether we would be able to do it in this new world and what changes would be required to pivot our business for success in the COVID-19 era. Here’s how to do the same:
• Pause for purpose. With a plethora of epidemiologic and economic data and predictions coming at us on a daily basis, the business landscape for senior leaders and leadership teams is and will continue to be very noisy in the coming months. Therefore, it’s extremely important to look ahead several years to consider what purpose the organization will serve in the post-COVID-19 world.
• Go back to the drawing board. Revisit what the organization set out to achieve and determine if you are able to do that in the new world. In the amusement park business, for example, their purpose may be to entertain, inform and inspire people. How that will be done going forward, however, may look very, very different.
• Slow down to then speed up. Going slower early on to absorb the impact and potential consequences will help you move much faster later on. With revenue plunging for most businesses, the immediate reaction to cut costs and resize the organization is natural. However, having a clear picture of what the organization will need to look like post-COVID-19 will help you cut to a size and shape that is future-ready. At the same time, keep in mind that how people are treated now will be remembered for years to come.
Here are two strategic coaching questions to ask yourself:
1. How relevant, meaningful and possible will the purpose of the organization or business unit be in the post-COVID-19 world?
2. How can you best leverage your leadership team or board to ensure you pause for purpose?
With high-tech advances, don’t lose the human touch.
As we witness 10 years of digital transformation seemingly happen over a period of days and months, we need to ensure we do not compromise the human touch. If the purpose of technology is to contribute to a sustainable future for humanity, then we need to quickly find more ways for technology and human touch to co-exist.
• Understand that you can have quality virtual conversations. In today’s work-from-home climate, employees have quickly embraced virtual collaboration platforms, and organizations are readily accepting that virtual conversations can be as productive as physical meetings. In the past few weeks, with the right platforms, I have had some of the most authentic and meaningful conversations with members of the team here in the region as well as friends and colleagues all across the world.
• Discuss your personal purpose. As we live through the biggest global change simulation we’ve experienced in our lifetime, many people are revisiting their personal purpose as they consider how they need to pivot their own skills and capabilities for the current situation and the future. Have open conversations that help team members look ahead and think through what is meaningful to them. Doing so will drive higher levels of trust and engagement.
• Consider your social purpose. With digital acceleration, we inevitably run the great risk of leaving many people behind. In light of the pandemic and upcoming G20 summit, the International Trade Union Confederation, representing 200 million workers in 163 countries and territories, has issued an open letter that calls on political leaders to commit to bold and coordinated actions that leave no one behind. As business leaders, we are responsible for helping team members get up to speed, cope and adjust to the new reality. While resources like employee support programs and well-being apps can help a lot, they should be more than a “tick the box” exercise and cannot replace human touch.
Here are two strategic coaching questions to ask yourself:
1. Has the business or organization created enough live online opportunities with a human touch to meet the social and emotional needs of our team members?
2. What would enable us to have even better conversations and stronger relationships in a virtual world?
The majority of leaders that we talk to say they are concerned that COVID-19 is having a negative effect on their ability to lead. While senior leaders may have been skilled at the balancing act in the best of times, they are really being put to the test now. Enlightened leaders at all levels, across thousands of organizations and hundreds of nations, will be required to claim victory over COVID-19.
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