“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”- Mike Tyson
One to one conversations were insightful and useful but something was missing. The catalyst for these dialogues came from conversations with a friend, a CEO of a multinational regional business, who stated that he was well served with invitations to attend webinars, read articles, and participate in surveys from respected, globally renowned sources, yet was missing speaking, without an agenda, with peers about how they were thinking and acting in face of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.
That catalyzing conversation, drew us to invite selected c-suite leaders to explore, in small groups, perspectives on the Future of Work and latterly on the topic of Connecting with Customers- to share and learn from each other in shaping our own leadership responses to the evolving new world.
Here are the key messages from the eight dialogues held throughout 2020:
- Building trust – Get comfortable with building relationships online. The handshake icebreaker is not available in our virtual toolkit but what can you do as an opening with someone you have never met? Trust is built through formal and informal, so additional contact ‘off-camera’ say via WhatsApp can form relations.
- Changing focus – You must stay in the game by changing your game. Now is the best time for experimentation, small, fast, and scalable based upon customers’ needs, and their changing requirements. In some cases, this may mean that you must be ruthless with your existing product lines. Ditch something that you love personally; by being selective now could end up being your survival tactic.
- Cost base containment – Cost containment can only go on for so long so. How do we ramp back up our operations without the cost levels becoming inefficient? How do you claw back costs incurred when pivoting to new ways of serving customers?
- Decision-making – has been problematic and sporadic. Does everyone agree? Does the first to speak on the call get to decide? If the leadership team is bought in and decisive with their vision, will the next level down understand, align, and move on the marching orders?
- Digital natives – shifting to social channels requires new competencies. Fresh talent can bring in new thinking and ideas to reimagine what you do. The dialogue series found that innovation rarely comes from the incumbent. The question is now “Why are we using traditional methods to solve new problems – what do customers need and how can we digitalize, at pace, to offer improved customer service and experience”.
- DNA of the company –organizational hierarchy has shifted to put more pressure on lower and mid-level roles as staff has been bombarded with project work and reporting requirements via endless video calls.
- Interaction – Give your people a break by setting up some social interactions with your staff. Your own business requires people’s social interaction and it is just as important as interacting with clients.
- Leadership toolkit – Your traditional leadership tools were made redundant in 2020. Skills such as empathy and resilience are now of paramount importance, but leaders need to upskill further to remain relevant and effective.
- No room for laggards – In an instant, the workforce changed, and virtual working practices have been switched on by the pandemic. Those unwilling to embrace technology quickly have fallen behind and have lost their connection.
- Personalization of services – Success with customers has been based upon bringing services to life and through greater personalization. Customers have reacted best to contact that has focused upon 121 interactions, video demonstrations and contact that is highly relevant and timely.
- Sales Skills – salespersons have had to adapt more than most from f2f and travel to using technologies to sell. It has been a steep learning curve for some, both in terms of learning how to use technologies to the increased level of preparation required to sell via a video call.
- Technologies and operations collide – tech and operational decisions are now the same, but choices should be based on enabling the simplification of processes and which solutions best meet the needs of the customer.
- Zoom plusses and minuses –Executives have found that virtual working has been a positive experience in terms of the ability to reach people (especially senior executives) worldwide with greater ease. It’s convenient and less intrusive than f2f. Boundaries and blockers have fallen quickly. But the shift to online meetings has led to back-to-back working practices, a lengthening of the working day without the travel commute and staff have been left with little headspace to think. This has led to fatigue and dwindling empathy from some leaders. The big question for 2021 will be: Are these current working conditions sustainable?
We strongly believe that our new world will require collaboration to address the super wicked problems that we are collectively faced with. We believe that collaboration, within a business and across sectors, societies, and countries, when balanced with the competition, will provide the foundation for long term success.