How 2020 Changed the Way We Lead

In a new world order dominated by a global pandemic and mounting demands for social change, business leadership looks vastly different. For most companies looking ahead into 2020, strategic plans were focused on how best to foster innovation, drive revenues and gain market share. Now, however, those same strategic plans are focused on how best to manage a stymied supply chain, control costs or maintain talent. And while businesses work hard to recover financially from the massive impact of a worldwide shutdown, consumers are increasing demands to see more socially-minded business practices and leaders who demonstrate diversity and inclusion across every aspect of their company.

As business leaders – whether small and local or large and global – how can you change your approach and strategies to meet the demands of our collective new reality? Can you effectively maintain your long term vision while making constant short term adjustments? Will revenues take a backseat to socially-minded goals and strategies? Can your business remain profitable while also striving for authenticity? 

These are real questions with complex answers. The good news, however, is that strong leadership skills are as effective now as they ever have been, and focusing on some of the foundational aspects of team leadership can prove to be the best strategy for moving through tough times and coming out on the other side poised for success.

Redefining the New Normal to the New Right Now

2020 has presented a time of transformational change. That can feel daunting to even the most seasoned business leaders, and it can be tempting to succumb to a ‘boil the ocean’ mindset, one that tries to tackle change in broad sweeping strokes. The issue with that, however, is that the earth has not stopped shifting beneath our feet. Even wisened experts can’t predict what lies ahead and how the full impact of the global pandemic will settle out.

Many of the changes that companies were forced to make in crisis mode will find their way to becoming permanent. This includes a more flexible workforce, greater reliability on technology that enables remote and virtual work experiences, and perhaps even a long term reduction in travel and in-office expenditures. 

Other changes, however, may just need to be the “normal” for now. Furloughed employees, drastic cost reductions or adaptations to product rollouts and distribution may not be permanent but may need to remain flexible for the foreseeable future.

Our new normal has made clear that adhering strictly to a set plan – whether that plan is 12 months or 10 years – is problematic. Leading through the New Right Now means maintaining awareness and a willingness to be nimble. It means keeping communication lines open and allowing an environment that enables experimentation and the ability to fail fast, pivot and reassess as often as is needed. 

The visual nature of StrategyBlocks is well-suited toward this New Now mentality because it allows you to see the efficacy of projects in real-time and quickly make necessary adjustments to ensure business continuity. Through a series of cascading blocks, StrategyBlocks’ maps and views offer a quick, visual representation across portfolios that can quickly highlight the success of a project based on delivery confidence, financial value, risk, and a host of other operational metrics.

Make employee wellness a top priority

Never before has the well-being of your employees mattered as much as it does today. Working in isolation, or with many distractions, can feel daunting. Additional pressures related to the global pandemic, including health, family and finances, can make even the most stalwart member of your team feel overwhelmed.

If your company is used to being in-person, you can feel a loss of control as you no longer know how much time your employees are putting into their jobs. There may be a temptation to tighten rules and provide strict monitoring – everything from Slack check-ins to keystroke monitoring to daily updates. This kind of micromanagement can backfire quickly, however, especially by some of your most engaged employees who resent feeling watched over.

With so much out of your control, how can you continue to effectively lead your team? During a crisis mode, the pendulum can swing mightily in one direction, but inevitably it needs to come back toward center. Employees need to know you are invested in their long term success and that you are setting up systems for them to continue to progress, at a reasonable level of autonomy, no matter what the New Normal becomes.

Continuing to promote workplace culture when the company is in flux and teams are remote can feel daunting. Communication is critical, from the top leadership on down, as is listening to employees at every level. By providing both macro and micro visibility, StrategyBlocks keeps the lines of communication open and helps leaders have a real sense of the strengths of their team and where challenges can be addressed and overcome.

Shift your mindset from commercial achievement to sustainable success

In an era where social justice is front and center, companies focused too heavily on profit and growth can face backlash. This seems counterintuitive on the one hand because growing the business and increasing revenues is the only way you can ensure success – the kind of success that continues to employ people and serve your customers.

On the other hand, however, dogged pursuit of business success can be seen as tone-deaf against the broader backdrop of systemic injustice and sweeping social reforms. In today’s world, sustainable leadership can deliver higher value than business leadership alone. 

Russell Reynolds Associates conducted an analysis of 55 sustainability pioneers – CEOs and board members who have demonstrated a track record of integrating sustainability into business strategy. The analysis uncovered how these leaders combine a ‘sustainable mindset’ with key leadership attributes. The sustainable mindset is a “purpose-driven belief that business is not a commercial activity divorced from the wider societal and environmental context in which it operates.” 

Noted economist Theodore Levitt once told the Harvard Business Review, “Management must think of itself not as producing products but as providing customer-creating value satisfactions. It must push this idea (and everything it means and requires) into every nook and cranny of the organization. It has to do this continuously and with the kind of flair that excites and stimulates the people in it. Otherwise, the company will be merely a series of pigeonholed parts, with no consolidating sense of purpose or direction.”

This type of value-centric thinking can have a powerful impact on every facet of the business. Diversity and inclusion initiatives can no longer be nice-to-haves; they are an integral part of each element of the business. Communication with employees is just as critical as communication to customers and should be handled just as sensitively and with as much transparency as possible. Engaging your teams to collaborate and innovate will require an environment where they feel heard and respected, and can be open to presenting feedback or concerns. 

Now is the time to assess immediate results from the 2020 crisis response your business underwent and consider how to address weaknesses and challenges for a new working environment ahead. The role of leadership is changing and companies will be looking to executives to help navigate toward a sustainable, inclusive future. StrategyBlocks is an excellent tool to help drive this new wave of leadership, helping you develop greater insights into every aspect of the organization to ultimately improve communication, transparency and results.