International Head of Leadership Development DLA Piper
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Reset, refocus and renew: how to lead organisations towards a post-pandemic world

For organisations to come out the other side of the pandemic with new strengths, opportunities and a reimagined focus, leaders must guide their people through three critical phases of the crisis: reset, refocus and renew. 

19th May 2020
International Head of Leadership Development DLA Piper
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I think it fair to say that the last few months have been chaotic for even the most resilient of organisations. Leaders across the globe have had to lean into the type of cataclysmic scenario usually reserved for movies or dystopian tv series.

Quite rightly, at the outset of the pandemic, most leaders took directive and immediate action to secure their business and protect their staff. Their focus was on resetting the business – ensuring its survival through decisive action and organising a raft of additional support to protect productivity and employee wellbeing.

Now we are seeing many organisations pivoting away from crisis management towards a focus on new opportunities. However, even as leaders take the first tentative steps towards reimagining their organisations, they will undoubtedly continue to face complexity, ambiguous information and unknown unknowns.

So what is it that leaders must now start doing to lead their organisations – and its employees – towards a post-pandemic world?

1. Reset

At the outset of the global crisis organisational leaders were forced to take swift and decisive action – slamming on the breaks if you will. During this ‘reset’ phase (which lasted approximately 4 weeks), the emphasis was on survival of organisations and the safety of employees.

Arguably many organisations have moved beyond the reset phase and now find themselves (largely due to the actions they took) in a new context characterised by complexity rather than chaos. And, just as the context has shifted, so too have leadership and leadership team requirements. 

During the refocus stage, leaders need to cautiously take their foot off the break and start to reimagine their organisations.

2. Refocus

This new context (which for many started approximately 4 weeks ago) is best termed ‘refocus’ and with the right mindset can bring a whole host of opportunities.

During the refocus stage, leaders need to cautiously take their foot off the break and start to reimagine their organisations. This stage requires a more distributed form of leadership and a ‘both/and’ mentality. In a refocus scenario, top teams must make decisions to protect their core business and begin to reimagine the future.

Putting power in the hands of your people

To do this successfully, executives must be willing to devolve leadership responsibility to teams of teams to provide: advisory input, help with collecting and analysing data, identifying new business opportunities and scenario planning. Distributing leadership responsibility will enable top teams to face current challenges head on while readying the business to leverage future opportunity.

Leaders should also encourage experimentation (within parameters) and remain sensitive to, as well as make sense of, the patterns that emerge as a result. A willingness to pivot the organisation or change track based on emerging data should be celebrated as a sign of agility rather than indecisiveness. At the same time top teams will need to rethink their strategies and agree a new set of immediate priorities informed by regularly tested beliefs. 

Listening to clients to spot new opportunities

In service industries, leaders should ensure their teams are engaging with their clients, not just as a form of immediate support, but to gain insight into the changing nature of their clients’ worlds. Reviewing current client challenges, key client data, as well as robust trends and updates in broader sectors and markets will likely lead to organisations spotting opportunities to create new and perhaps even transformational products and services.

Preparing for future skills

During ‘refocus’, leaders would be wise to lean on the support of the HR and OD teams to identify, and begin developing, the capabilities their organisations will need to seize future opportunities and new ways of working.

Required capabilities are likely to be varied, wide ranging and span both technical and intra/interpersonal. New capabilities will be dictated by the shifting organisational context alongside data and frequently tested beliefs about what customers and clients may need now and in the months to come.

Make no mistake, the way employees are treated during this crisis will come to either define or haunt leaders across all organisational contexts in years to come.  

Taking a people-centric approach

From an employee perspective, leaders should ensure they are regularly communicating with their employees and providing ways to test the emotional pulse of the organisation (regular but succinct wellbeing surveys are a useful source of data at this stage).

Providing transparent, unambiguous and factual updates about the business including what’s known and unknown, how the business is performing and when employees might return to the office will be welcomed by employees. Striking a delicate balance between vulnerability and bounded optimism while aligning people to the organisation’s purpose and values is also vitally important.

Throughout this stage leaders must continue to provide support to their employees and recognise the myriad of unique situations that many employees now find themselves in – some in challenging small spaces with children, others feeling liberated from the daily commute (and hundreds of variations in between). Emotional intelligence is needed in abundance – a lack of it is likely to be career limiting.

Make no mistake, the way employees are treated during this crisis will come to either define or haunt leaders across all organisational contexts in years to come.  

Creating space for reflection

Finally, leaders should ensure they are spending enough time in quiet introspection and reflection. While their focus has largely, and quite rightly, been on the safety of their people, leaders shouldn’t lose sight of the need to engage in self-care.

This should involve daily reflective practice, for example, using mindfulness to consider personal mindsets and emotional states. Leaders should also draw on, and make use of, the same organisational support mechanisms available and advocated to their employees. Doing so will likely pay as large a dividend as a continued focus on data and organisational results.

3. Renewal

While a sense of organisational renewal and a post-pandemic world may seem some way off, taking the steps described in the refocus section are vital if businesses and their leadership teams are to emerge as viable (and perhaps even stronger) entities.

Once in renewal, which I predict will start in October or November, leadership teams will need to rethink their style and priorities once again.

What’s absolute however, is that remaining hyper aware of emerging trends at both a societal, organisational, team and individual employee level will remain of utmost importance for the foreseeable future. 

 

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By SianModine
20th May 2020 15:36

I love your comment on 'distributed leadership'. This is definitely a time for leaders to trust their people to the full - it could be the spark of a whole new positive organization culture based on mutual appreciation, kindness, high performance and creativity.

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