Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Time to move out of crisis leadership mode?

For many of us, leadership in the last year and a half has become rather reactive. For obvious reasons we have been in crisis mode to protect our people and ensure the survival of our businesses. As we start to emerge from this period, conditions will still be tough, but we need to become more proactive and strategic in leading our people into this next phase.

This does not mean that COVID-19 will not be in our thinking. I am sure there will be a few more waves, more variants and restrictions on businesses and office occupancy. The rate of progress will be uneven around the world. Disruptive and annoying though this will be we now do have a template on how to deal with it. It is time to think about our next set of challenges.

There are some benefits to leading in a crisis, bureaucracy tends to go out the window, inertia is broken and it is easy to create a common goal and to mobilise people in the pursuit of it.

Imagine if you set up a project at the beginning of 2020 to look at moving all your people to work from home, it would have taken years and innumerable committees and consultations. In an emergency we managed it in a handful of days.

We did not begin by looking at our organisation structure or our business processes, we focused on people and way of working and we made things happen fast. It is generally true that you don’t get more flexibility by adding more structure or more process. Hopefully leaders in future will learn from this experience and pay more attention to skills, culture and way of working as essential enablers of speed and flexibility.

However, we should expect the return of some bureaucracy, we moved very fast on some changes and we took a few risks, good governance will need to re-balance things. A simple example is around the ergonomics and health and safety implications of working from home. If people are going to be working this way for an extended period, we will need to make sure this is done properly.

As leaders we also need to get our heads up from this reactive mode and think more strategically about the future of our businesses.

Digital transformation has been accelerated by a decade in some organisations – we need to build the skills and capabilities to continue this transformation

We are already seeing an increase in interest in our matrix management training as many organisations restructure to become more integrated, share resources in a difficult environment and create the horizontal structures required for digital transformation.

Hybrid working is becoming a reality for many organisations but the focus right now is just around managing their return to work – and probably too much focus is on the question of how many days a week we should spend in the office.

The implications of hybrid however are significant and will take a long time to work through. What does hybrid mean for our succession and development processes and how will we overcome proximity bias. What will we need in the future from our offices and other facilities? how will we run a more globally dispersed workforce and what are they regulatory and tax implications of mobility. How will our collaboration and meetings evolve?

Hybrid is probably the most significant change in working patterns that I’ve seen in my lifetime and the implications will take years to emerge and to manage.

After the summer many of us will be working on our strategic plans and on detailed plans and budgets for 2022. Now is the time to start getting our heads out of reactive mode and thinking more strategically about the medium to longer term future.

I will be taking a couple of week’s vacation shortly. I am pretty good at not engaging in work topics during this time, but I know the way my subconscious works. I will prime it to think about some of these issues and then try and ignore them for two weeks. By the time I come back I will be bursting with ideas.

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