How quickly our world shifted in just a few weeks. The speed of change created by the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 is unprecedented in peace time. As the economic impact of the virus starts to hit, we have been discussing what this means for businesses as they lean into these economic realities with a social responsibility.
The pressure on leaders of business is enormous right now. The disruption we are experiencing is presenting a real opportunity for leaders to do work from the balcony (the ‘balcony’ perspective as a way of stepping back from events to understand them) and we have been inspired by some of the examples we have seen. From FTSE 100 companies to small businesses, there are leaders out there imagining a future.
David Potts, CEO of the UK supermarket chain Morrisons, described how the company has paid attention to its core purpose. He explained that the biggest contribution they can make in the country is playing their part in feeding the nation. Morrisons took the decision to make immediate payment to all their small suppliers and to redefine their definition of a “small supplier” adding an additional thousand suppliers into the small supplier category. Keeping the supply chain healthy is key to enabling their purpose. Having observed a dramatic shift in consumer behaviour, they are now turning to new ways for customers to order food parcels and collaborating in new ways to expand their access and distribution capacity.
Leaders can do important balcony work now, look for new patterns, think about what it means to business not just in the crisis but beyond it too. This requires them to be realistic about the current situation and also provide hope for the future.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the daily routines of people around the world have been disrupted. These changes to the way people work, socialise, and even eat has made this a very real experience for people. Even before the virus makes members of their families unwell, there is a rise in anxiety as there is in any disruptive or uncertain environment. People are asking when it will be over, when things will go back to normal, who will make this better?
People look to leaders at this time to help ease their fear and to provide a sense of hope for the future. The burden is on leaders to reduce fear by thinking abundantly, providing a realistic view of the danger and being optimistic that if we take the right actions now, we will see an end to this that achieves the objective of protecting life.
Leaders need to experiment, test out new approaches and help people adjust to the new “normal”, assuring people that the changes they are making are worth it. They also need the courage to acknowledge vulnerability whilst looking to the horizon for solutions.
These questions from the Vickers strategy model can help.
Vickers was a key player in Churchill’s war ministry and was interested in what makes a good decision. His model asks us to think about situational context, what our values are and what our capability is. He asks:
- Where are the decisions being made?
- What is going on?
- How does the decision fit in with our values? Sometimes this gets missed as we struggle with targets, KPIs or shareholder value.
- What can we do? Given the context and our values, what do we have the capability to do?
In the examples quoted above, it is not so much about the quality of the decisions, as the future can’t be second guessed, but the authenticity and quality of the judgements.
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