Leadership as we move from pandemic to endemic

As the business world shifts and adapts to a new normal with the pandemic moving towards becoming endemic, there has never been a better time for business leaders to re-evaluate their leadership approach.
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Abdullah Verachia, senior faculty and strategist at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), notes that there have been five major shifts over the last few years:

  1. Geopolitical shifts: There has been a strong and pervasive shift in terms of how countries are looking at positioning themselves. Verachia says there has also been an increase in nationalism – where countries are increasingly looking towards self-sufficiency through increased use of local manufacturing, the use of local supply chains and, consequently, local job creation.
  2. Economic shifts: Many EU countries have already moved to a post-pandemic boom, with bustling economies, while countries with lower vaccination rates or those that experienced a slower government response to Covid-19 are still very much in crisis-management mode.
  3. The misconception that all companies were negatively impacted by the pandemic: “Some industries actually thrived. For example, the video-on-demand industry which includes Netflix and Showmax saw a global shift from 600 million subscribers to 1.2 billion subscribers between 2019 and 2021. This is largely on the back of the new trend towards home nesting, where people are more comfortable and looking to spend more time at home,” says Verachia.
  4. Cognitive rewiring of behaviour: Society has adapted to new ways of working, partying and even shopping.
  5. Digital acceleration: While the general thinking has always been that younger people are more digitally savvy, this is no longer the case. People are adopting tech in their daily lives regardless of their age. “From the primary school student accessing electronic textbooks to the granny using Instagram to find new recipes, technology has become part of daily life,” he says.
  6. Environment: “We have seen a massive increase in environmental, social, governance (ESG) investment in the past 12 to 18 months alone and that is now one of the biggest priorities for companies and countries,” he says.

Against the above backdrop and with a new canvas, Verachia says leaders need a new combination of colours to paint on this canvas.

He advises that leaders look at building off the chassis of their company’s existing capabilities so that they are able to proactively adapt.

“The fuel of the future is in the superpowers of skills that can’t be digitised,” he says.

“We can digitise routine functions [and] repetitive actions, but we can’t digitise those skills that are uniquely human such as curiosity, innovation, experimentation. Part of this means giving your staff the time to innovate.”

Verachia points to the fact that companies have become more proactive when it comes to healthcare for their employees as the pandemic drove home the link between health and productivity. “We are now seeing a bigger drive towards preventative healthcare driven by the technology industry using things such as wearable devices. If you consider it from an economic point of view, healthier people put in fewer insurance claims and are more productive in the workforce,” he says.

There has also been a dramatic shift towards remote healthcare. For example, the Mayo Clinic had 4% remote visits pre-pandemic, and that rocketed to 85% remote visits at the height of the pandemic.

Leaders are now adapting to the changing nature of the workforce, which has moved from a traditional dogmatic view that work is only part-time or full-time, to one that embraces the view that you can’t have a blanket approach to staff. Verachia says the reality is that some staff members need to be in the office more often, some need to come in at regular intervals, and others can work from home exclusively.

“This also means that in South Africa, where we have massive unemployment, there is opportunity to look beyond the local economy, which has a limited employment base from an already over-burdened private sector and a bloated government workforce.

“Leaders can no longer operate in vacuums or silos but have to be cognisant of global changes and how it affects their business.

“For example, when the oil price goes up, it affects everything from the cost of food, to transport, to the cost of your product. An adaptive leader has to be able to make sense of market movements and relate them to their business and target market,” Verachia says.

Building on that, there has often been a tendency to look at how things are done in other countries and then try to retrofit it here.

Verachia cautions leaders that solutions need to be contextually relevant.

“To build really sustainable companies, we have to create shared value and that means thinking more comprehensively about the relationship between country and company. If the country goes downhill, this is going to ultimately impact your operating environment and your company,” he concludes.

Brought to you by the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).

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