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5 Questions for Leaders to ask as businesses begin to return.

As firms slowly remove the dust sheets and move beyond this extraordinary and destructive pandemic period, two types of futures emerge for firms and their employees. The first is organisations who try to go back to how it was before this dreadful virus arrived. Their employees will experience difficult working conditions and already out of date work practices. Culture will be eroded.

The second category is firms who understand that there is no going back. There has never been a period of such total collective transformation. Changes in working arrangements, cultural practices, applications of technology and business value propositions. These businesses will not only respond to new demands, they will create new markets. Their leaders will re-purpose resources and pivot to new propositions for rising demand over the next 18 months. Their employees will experience real innovation, considerable learning, and momentous opportunity.

The difference between these two types of firms is Agility. The former will not adapt, while the latter will flow like mercury into the gaps and opportunities that arise. This is where the best talent will want to work. Being agile means thinking differently and decentralising decision making. They will take what they have learned during the pandemic and blend it with the best of the previous. Here are five questions for leaders to consider as they draw in recent learning and figure out how to make their organisations more responsive to transforming market places.
1. Who led your firm from the middle during lock down and this extended crisis period? 
These are not senior employees in your firm but key influencers throughout your organisation who you may want to consider for future leadership development. They are the people who brought others with them by demonstrating resilience, raising moral and showing commitment and adaptability. Which of your senior “leaders” let you down, failed to deliver consistently, kept away from the fire? These are the people you need to move on.

2. How will you de-layer your firm? 
Adaptable companies are flat structured. Information moves freely throughout enabling fast decision making and error correction. No matter what your organisation chart says, you are a hierarchical firm if you tolerate egotistical leaders. The first concern for such ego led executives is “how does this make me look?” They are driven to avoid any change or action that they perceive may diminish their personal status. To be a flat structured, agile organisation, only hire leaders with humility.

3. Does your firm make adequate use of talent on demand solutions? 
The speed at which the shutters came down on the economy meant many essential projects were shelved overnight. If they were good enough in the first place and they still matter, get out of the blocks now and have them delivered by hiring contractors (contingent professionals). Equally, if you do not work in HR, you may find it difficult to appreciate the scale of complexity facing HR functions everywhere as they return their workforces, aligned to employee welfare, health and safety legislation. Workforce capability and performance is challenging at any point, but against the backdrop of the Covid crisis it demands all their attention. Bring in contractor support for operational HR or HR project delivery now. Don’t wait until essential people services fail, creating down the line problems for your customers and other critical stakeholders, act now and improve your organisation agility with flexible resources.

4. What is the most creative move your firm has made under this crisis? 
For many leaders, struggling with the “now” challenges of their organisations understandably makes contemplating the “next” version of their business, almost impossible. When you are fighting for your enterprise’s daily existence, considering the “next new level” is tough. That said, innovation is at the heart of adaptation. What has your firm learned to do more efficiently? What has changed for your customers that impacts their needs now? If global supply chains remain a mess, what can your organisation do to exploit this? How many of your employees would grab an opportunity to work on an innovation task force to think laterally for your firm and your customers? 

5. How has your workplace changed for the better and what do you need to do to perpetuate this beyond this crisis? 
Learning needs to be fun and change set up as a challenge. Some of the more complex issues to be managed centre around formal and informal organisation design, particularly if you are like most firms, incorporating some element of remote working. How will you create structure and effective operating practices for employees in the future? How will you replicate the essential social elements of your culture and maintain a high-productivity ethos? What are the new engagement steps and rules for team members who might not be able to tap a colleague’s shoulder and ask for quick informal support? Engaging employees in addressing these difficult elements makes obvious sense on a number of levels.

Unlike previous global economic shocks, there are not too many ready-made answers to these new challenges. Leaders who lean on their employees to work out how most effectively to get from where they are now to where they want to be next, will have the greatest outcomes.

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