Leaders need a makeover in the new normal

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COVID-19 is an acid test of leadership—only leaders who are able to come up with breakthrough ideas will survive.

Even though COVID-19 refuses to budge and continues to play havoc across the world, the corporates are not worried. Steering forward with able leadership, they are proving to be more resilient than ever.

Recently, on a Wednesday afternoon, keeping lethargy at bay, five diverse leaders took part in an energizing virtual round-table conversation organized by hireXP, to discuss the new normal post COVID-19. They candidly shared their experiences and a robust road map to the future.

WFH—The new workplace normal

COVID-19 has forced us to rethink the definition of the workplace. If work from home or WFH is the new normal, how are Indian corporates staying ahead and what is their long-term strategy for sustainability?

Lakshmi Menon, VP-HR, Medusind Solutions, opines, “I will not deny that the pandemic has woken up BCP, although prior to COVID-19 also, we had about 10-15 per cent of the workforce working from home.” Interestingly, for Medusind Solutions, it took just ten days and scaling of the IT team by 25 percent to achieve WFH for 100 per cent employees.

Having received warning signals from its offshore branches, Philips prepared for WFH — even before it was made mandatory here in India — by sending the entire workforce to WFH. Therefore, not only was it IT-ready, but it also re-shuffled the responsibilities of its workforce in advance, to meet the increasing demand of medical equipment.

“The future perspective is that, returning to the workplace will be sluggish, digital will get a boost and we will have to change the mindset of people with respect to virtual onboarding, learning and collaboration,” asserts Sakshi Sharma, HRBP, Philips Innovation Centre.

Empathy and trust—The essential traits in leaders

We are taking a big leap into the future, where the DNAs of all enterprising and visionary corporate leaders are undergoing a massive disruption. These are extraordinary times, for instance, tens of workplaces have multiplied into thousands—each employee works out of a different place/location. Furthermore, connecting with the team is not anything like before—virtual meetings take away people’s expressions, gazes and gestures making visual communication a nightmare.

Shruti Singh, Head-HR, Mobilous, wears multiple hats and agrees that employee confidence has hit rock bottom. Employees are suffering not only on account of the pandemic, but also because of infodemic. “Business leaders must resolve to indulge in authentic and transparent policy making. I fear that once the air is clear, we may go back to our old ways but leaders should ensure that the the four significant H—head, heart, hand and health —are never compromised.”

Leaders who are employee-oriented will thrive

Employee health and wellness will be a priority for leaders and benefits around them are bound to increase. Sharma shares, “We did an employee survey at all are sites using Amara— an AI-based chatbot by hireXP, to know from the horse’s mouth the challenges they are facing on account of WFH. The survey brought forward interesting insights on the employees and helped us chalk out a road map to enhance policies and practices.”

Sanjay Baxla, former VP-HR, DLF, stressed on the importance of a hybrid model of leading, which is very situational in nature. For instance, being authoritative at one time and submissive the next moment, adding fitness goals to employee’s KPIs and more.

Connection with employees will become deeper, despite the physical distance. Menon, who has been using Amara for two years now, to continuously engage with employees, shares, “The average age of an employee at Medusind is 28, and a large slice of the workforce comprises college pass-outs. Now, we have a matrix that shows that this lot is accelerating the digital transformation, and an engaging chatbot such as Amara has made connection possible with this cohort at a deeper level.”

Nandini Bhatnagar, Head Marketing & Communications, Sun Life ASC, moderated the virtual round table organized by hireXP. The following points sums the entire discussion on the road map to the new normal and the role of a disruptive leader.

  • COVID-19 is an acid test of leadership—only leaders who are able to come up with breakthrough ideas will survive.
  • Hybrid models of leadership and sound disaster-management systems need to be leveraged by leaders.
  • Leaders must take onus of driving digitization, shifting the gear for maximum speed.
  • Reliance on science and data will increase in the decision-making process with respect to people practices.
  • Employee experiences will be impartial and able leaders will depend on AI and machine learning to connect with employees.
  • Employees require protection from infodemic and health goals must become a part of KPIs.

After the pandemic, the focus will shift to healthcare and employee-welfare practices. Only leaders who truly want their workforces to develop and get rewarded will be able to lead successfully.

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