Covid-19: Finding Possibilities in Instability

13. March 2020 - Terri McBride Share

The spread of Covid-19 continues to pose unanswered and unsolved questions for us all. As individuals and businesses are forced to change their practices in response to this humanitarian crisis, could this lead to opportunities for the future?

As news of Covid-19 continues to capture headlines and attention, business unit leaders and chief human resource officers (CHROs) are grappling with how to respond to the deeply personal and sometimes tragic nature of this situation. At the same time, we’re seeing glimmers of optimism as leaders work to navigate this challenging period.

In discussion with our clients, we’re hearing questions such as how do we enable business continuity in this constantly evolving situation? How do we enable creative problem-solving that will help us address the challenges? How do we maintain, and perhaps even increase, engagement when we’ve halted travel and moved to virtual meetings? How do we proactively maintain a safe and inclusive environment, when fearmongering has unfairly targeted specific groups?

The key concern underlying all of these questions is how to best support colleagues during what is fast becoming an unsettling period of transformation.

From these initial discussions about Covid-19, two themes have emerged. One is around the possibilities which could present themselves as we navigate this crisis, the other is recognising that a window of optimism may be opening.

Redefining ‘agility’

At an organisational level, Covid-19 has pushed the concept of ‘agility’ from an often-theoretical discussion to a moment of opportunity as organisations assess and refine their processes, structures, and even leadership mindsets. For one client, agility has meant quickly implementing strict business continuity plans, dividing current teams into distinct sub-teams that never interact physically, and creating new business timetables to ensure business coverage.

In parallel, as we seek to best enable our clients’ success during these disruptive times, we’ve tackled how we can be even more agile and responsive, from shifting global meetings to online gatherings and re-designing support in-the-moment to meet clients’ quickly changing needs.

A moment of fluidity

For organisations and individuals, this period of uncertainty has created a window of innovation and has started to create the conditions for those innovations to take root and thrive. This moment of fluidity and the lack of ‘business-as-usual’ is both unsettling and an opportunity to reconsider what is truly needed. One client organisation introduced a global ban on travel, which brought about the opportunity to innovate and enable quick up-take of virtual team-based problem-solving, a concept that had previously faced limited success.

A window of optimism

For organisations grappling with transformational change, this period may also create a window of optimism as needs are quickly prioritised and clarified. Transformation efforts often focus on five areas: motivation, expectation setting, education, enablement, and recognition and reward. During this period of unsettling uncertainty, there may exist the opportunity to step back and assess where positive role-modelling is taking place, where potential gaps, obstacles, and enablers exist in the organisation, and how colleagues are being positively supported and included as they deal with the deeply personal nature of this crisis

In one recent discussion, a CEO shared that their organisation had moved to increase their capacity for employees to work remotely. Instead of simply addressing the immediate technology needs, the organisation used the moment as an opportunity to enhance their capabilities. This allowed the firm to identify gaps in the overall technology platform and work to ‘future-proof’ the system.

“As leaders grapple with the very real challenges of Covid-19, there are multiple opportunities to lead with calm knowledge-based authenticity and to continue to support and enable safe and inclusive communities.”

Transforming leadership

At an individual level, there may also be a window of possibility for leaders to embrace new leadership skills and styles. As leaders grapple with the very real challenges of Covid-19, there are multiple opportunities to lead with calm, knowledge-based authenticity and to continue to support and enable safe and inclusive communities.

Senior leaders can feel open to sharing their challenges, fears, and hopes. While contexts will change, the vulnerability demonstrated and trust created will only serve to improve team performance.

Ultimately, as Covid-19 continues to create extremely challenging conditions for both individuals and organisations, it may also open up unexpected opportunities that could result, in the longer-term, in more effective organisation performance and more thoughtful leadership.

Terri McBride

Terri McBride has 20 years of international experience as a management consultant and business unit leader. Her background includes deep expertise in talent management, culture and transformational change, executive development, organisation and board effectiveness. She draws on her experience to assist clients in developing tangible solutions directly linked to milestone success. Terri has an MBA in Finance, MA in International Economics and International Relations, BA in Political Science and various psychometric certifications.