COVID-19 looks like being part of our everyday lives for a while yet, even with a vaccine reportedly on its way. Business leaders will want to see what lessons have been learned from the last six months, and how they can apply it to their own companies in the “next normal”.

Just weeks into the pandemic, the Harvard Business Review asked five influential businesspeople what leaders need to be effective during extraordinary times.

Their replies distilled down to five main points:

1. “Leaders should choose candor over charisma”

Be human, be optimistic but also realistic.Aim for “authentic dialogue and transparency”.

2. “This is a time for leadership, not management.“

Don’t sit back - be visible, approachable and engaged, Maintain that level of personal connection liberated through video conferencing.

3. “Be flexible and agile”

This as much a leadership approach as a company strategy. As Nancy McKinstry, CEO of Wolters Kluwer says:

“We need to keep asking: How can we help our customers? How can we help our communities? We need to clear away bureaucracy, address things very quickly, and be operationally agile.”

4. Getting things done

The pandemic has seen private sector companies partnering with health authorities and municipalities in a whole new way,. Gone are the long-winded negotiations and burdensome admin, replaced by swift action to find solutions for urgent issues. Manufacturers turned from producing consumer goods to medical equipment and PPE almost overnight. New contracts were agreed, cleared with legal, and signed within days. It can be done, and leaders need to keep that sense of excitement and ‘can do’ attitude moving forward.

5. Securing new talent

The next generation of employees will take a long, hard look at companies and their ethos, actions and how they treated their staff. If your business relies on new, fresh talent you need to give them a reason to look at our company first. Equally, prospective clients and customers want to know what your business stands for too. As Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco Systems says:

“The culture of organizations, and their people, and how leaders show up during this moment—all of that will define who’s going to be successful in the future. Employees and society want to see who you are as a company. What do you stand for?”

Preparing for the “next normal”

At time of writing, many countries are seeing a rise in infection rates, resulting in targeted local lockdowns, border closures, and tightening of previously relaxed restrictions. The difference is that local communities know this is for theirs and the greater good, and the level of acceptance seems to be relatively high. It’s this uncertainty that requires a different approach too, if your business is to avoid rolling from open and busy to shutdown and quiet.

In another HBR article published this week, the authors suggested three tactics for leaders to adopt now to prepare for whatever the next phase brings.

- Take a break to look at the bigger picture

Six months on, business leaders should sit back for a moment and take stock. How have your various marketplaces been affected? Are you allocating resources in the right place?

- Give yourself options

Flexibility is key to not just surviving but thriving. If your business can navigate through an uncertain road map, and take alternative routes where necessary, everyone will feel more confident - customers, employees and suppliers. As the article says:

“It’s tempting to see a path ahead and bet on it, but if anything, coronavirus has demonstrated the immense power to surprise and upend even well thought out assumptions about how the world works and who is likely to win.”

- As one door closes, another opens

Many of the statistics around COVID-19 are comparisons:

  • how many more infections this week than last week,
  • how has growth fallen compared with last quarter?
  • how is our economy doing compared with another county/province/country?
  • Innovative leaders don’t follow the trends or try to maintain their former averages or sales figures. Instead, they look for ethical opportunities to grow their business, keep their staff happy and engaged, and contribute to the community.

The near new future

Lessons learned during the past six months will certainly help as cases rise. As a recent Glove and Mail article says:

“If the wave grows, as most expect it to, Canada won’t be fighting blind against an enigmatic new virus. Lessons learned in the first round, if applied in the second, could help keep the coronavirus under control as schools reopen and the country heads into a long winter.”

The same applies to business. We are not fighting blind. The business that looks ahead is likely to stay ahead, and like the health measures, help flatten out adverse effects. As you local Chamber of Commerce, we’ll be closely monitoring the impact on our business community, and helping with practical measures such as our SafeStarter Kits, online networking, and #CanadaUnited campaign and grant scheme. (