Kaushal Sampat is the founder of Rubix Data Sciences (former president of Dun and Bradstreet India) is a veteran of the information services industry. Kaushal spent 18 years with Dun & Bradstreet India in various capacities, including President & Managing Director for 7 years. During his tenure, he helped establish the Dun & Bradstreet brand in India while driving the growth of its various businesses, namely Risk Management Solutions (RMS), Sales & Marketing Solutions (S&MS), Economic Analysis Group (EAG) and Learning Solutions. He has also managed the operations of the RMS business in the Middle East and Africa.
Throughout history, many landmark events have alteredlives and businesses. For those living through the 2020s, life will always be divided into pre-COVID and post COVID times. The work environment has drastically changed for both individuals and businesses. Remote working has transformed organisational dynamics, the lockdown has shifted customer preferences and priorities, work cultures have undergone a change, and financial pressures have increased. This change, though, is not temporary but is the new normal, and for business and business leaders to succeed, a new set of best practices have emerged.
Adopt a ‘Digital First’ Approach
In most companies, almost overnight, the workforce had to start working remotely. Only those businessesthat rapidly acquired the right digital tools to maintain business continuity have succeeded. As a leader, you need to keep up with the disruptive technologies that are being introduced into the market at breakneck speed, as the contactless mode of working will massively influence digitalization. Whatever you are planning to do, think of how you can automate the process and make it digital. This will compel you to reimagine various parts of your business and create disruptive business models, products, and services.
Improve Your Business’ Agility
Be like the tree that sways in a storm instead of the one that stands erect and eventually gets uprooted. The COVID storm has provided a strong case for leaders to think on their feet and make quick, data-driven decisions. This can be done by forming multi-disciplinary teams focusing on specific, priority missions. As a leader, empower these teams to take decisionsthat allow the business to pivot rapidly; aim for speed over perfection.Promote an organisational culture that fosters experimentation and tolerates honest failures; this is what will help make your business agile.
Cash is King
Yes, it is a cliché, but truer words have never been spoken. Businesses facedcash flow challenges since the onset of COVID for a variety of reasons. While revenues experienced downward pressure, operational expenses did not reduce commensurately. Salaries, rents, utility bills, and raw material and other input costs (that have risen) had to be paid. It is no surprise that companies were bleeding over the past 18 months. Therefore, as the business environment moves towards normalcy, it is important for managers to become acutely‘cash-conscious’ in order to reduce excessive inventory, plan capital expenditure carefully, and tighten credit exposure. It is imperative that employees are motivated and incentivised to have the mindset of ‘my money’ to optimise cash flows. As a business leader, do what you can to ensure that your company has adequate cash to tide over uncertain times.
Embrace and Analyse the Change
The world as we knew it before the pandemic has been completely upended. Carefully analyse changes in behaviour and habits that will require the development of new strategies, whether to cater to changed customer demands or to satisfy employee aspirations. A classic example is the ‘remote-first’ model adopted by many tech majors globally as a long-term measure to address employee demands post-COVID. Another example is the explosive growth in the hyperlocal delivery model, which has now become the norm for grocery and food purchases; post-COVID, consumer-facing businesses have to provide home delivery if they want to stay in business; it is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ feature.
It is important for leaders to identify behavioural drivers that are of a permanent nature, such as those driven by greater convenience or better economics. In order to flourish in the new normal, leaders will need to transform their businesses to cater to such drivers.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The new normal’s requirements of agility and resilience are tough goals to attain, given the uncertain times that we livein. Communication is key to achieving these goals. Communication instils trust, allays fear, encourages innovation, and enables quick action, whether within the organisation or externally, with customers and vendors, or other stakeholders, such as investors, regulators, and the general public.
While navigatingthe post-COVID recovery phase, as a leader you need to inspire your team to deal with uncertainty. Emphasize that their wellbeing matters to you and be empathetic. Communicate frequently and calm their nerves about the future by revealing short and long-term plans and strategies, especially considering the remote working environment.
Externally, customer expectations and behaviour have changed. Tailor your communications accordingly to better serve your customers and proactively engage with them. Similarly, communicate continuously withpartners, suppliers and vendors to allay fears and keep the relationship healthy.
Lastly, use social media and traditional PR wisely to flag your company’s initiatives to tide over the COVID crisis and its aftermath. This helps stakeholders develop confidence in your organisation’s stability. The bottom line is that leaders need to practice empathetic and honest communication in all situations, normal or otherwise.
Value In-house Talent
Many companies have had to make the tough decision of letting some of their employees go due to the pandemic. However, it would be prudent to ensure that the current talent within the organisation feels secure and motivated to deliver to the best of its abilities. It is an open secret that the benefits of reskilling existing staff far outweigh the costs ofreplacing them with new people. Investing in employees through reskilling and training instilsconfidence and loyalty in them and serves as a powerful incentive. Do everything possible to ensure that your team feels valued.
The pandemic has hastened the demise of the traditional command and control leadership style and structure. New business leaders will be those who embrace collaborative, agile and technology-driven approaches for driving sustainable business growth.