When things are going well, it is pretty easy being a business leader

Here in Australia, as we rolled through March 2020, it was clear this would be a year of contrasts. Initially, organisations had to focus on keeping employees and their families safe and preserving operations and business continuity as best as possible while the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. For many companies, lofty transformation programs were quickly replaced by a shorter-term focus on revenue generation, cost-cutting, execution and the ability to make fast decisions to support and motivate anxious staff.

“In crises, it is about survival, then recovery. Management and execution come to the fore. The priority is to preserve and generate capital. It’s about clear accountability for outcomes and controls, allocating scarce resources and becoming efficient,” John McFarlane, Chair, Westpac

A few months later and three weeks into the new financial year, ‘the day after tomorrow’ is certainly here. As you think about what the rest of 2020 may involve and where you’re taking your organisation, have you paused to ask: do I have the right people in place?

Organisations that maintain a level of sustainable success in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, have already learned how to run with ambiguity and constant disruption. That has been the business environment for at least a decade, maybe two. The organisations with cultures that tolerate the VUCA world will manage through the current climate and find ways to thrive in it. And as managers earn their money when the going gets tough, it is during a crisis such as COVID that corporate leaders show their mettle.  How organisations and leaders perform through 2020 will rapidly separate 2021’s winners from the losers.

As the pandemic marches on, organisations have had to become forward-looking and ruthlessly differentiate between high performers and others. Organisations who are culturally ready to keep employees engaged and motivated are well positioned to take advantage of the pent-up demand in the local and global economies. Morgan Young believes that, over the next twelve months, there are two key areas that will be critical to growing and gaining market share, locally or internationally: leadership, and recruitment.

The influence of leadership through, and beyond, a crisis

There’s no doubt leadership will play an even more vital role than usual as organisations navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by 2020’s pandemic. Agile leadership will enable organisations to pivot business quickly towards fresh opportunities, whether a new product, market or acquisition. Interestingly, there are growing numbers of opportunities for private equity and M&A teams in the current environment.

Beyond agile leadership, it is likely different leadership styles will need to be practised as the year evolves. Earlier in 2020, an affiliative and participative style of leadership, where decisions were relationship-based and made through consensus, seemed best suited to reassure and nurture stressed teams flung into a new reality.

Organisations that emerge from crises as stronger businesses typically have leaders who drive change around how they operate, how they engage employees, and are nimble and flexible in focusing, engaging, rewarding, and retaining employees. Communicative, action-oriented leadership gets results during peak crisis periods.

Beyond the peak crisis point, organisations and leaders need to proactively plan to ensure the people who will transform the company to thrive after the crisis are given every opportunity to succeed. Companies should look to driving efficiency and organisational design models, and to deploy more agile operating methodologies. Focus needs to centre on training and developing hard and soft skills, so employees are enabled, and ready, to act as the rebound curve arrives.

Recruitment priorities hiring during, and post, a crisis

Hiring during, and post, a crisis period can highlight the need for unexpected skills. For example, leaders may need to consider the current relevance of some of the specific skill sets in high demand 10 years ago. Following the financial crisis there was a huge increase in demand for credit risk, cyber-security, operational risk, technology, capital management and those experienced in managing investor relationships. Once again these skills will be in high demand. Additionally, newly desirable skill sets will likely emerge given the unique nature of the current global crisis. Regarding existing teams, organisations have to remain forward-looking and clearly differentiate between high performers and others.

When retaining high performers during, and beyond a crisis, it is important to remember what hasn’t changed: top talent has choices. The very best candidates will always have choices, and many are considering their personal future, and next career steps, right now. This could create a situation where average pay stagnates but the market value of top talent becomes even more expensive.

Why? Because great talent, the talent you want to hire, is still scarce. Scarcer still when international candidates may be more difficult to bring onshore. Top candidates can charge top rates because there is generally always a company willing to pay the premium for the talent they need to accelerate business into the future. As organisations reflect on talent needs for now and the medium term, competition for high performing talent will be as fierce as ever.

Do you have the right talent in place now to transform your company?

It is impossible to do well in any business cycle without thinking about, and planning for, the next one. For the rest of 2020 and into 2021, organisations need to put plans in place so the people who will transform the company are given every single opportunity to succeed.

Today, do you know who those people are in your team? Or do you know there are gaps in your leadership bench?

While we learn to live with the pandemic it will be a candidate’s market for top talent. The crisis should not preclude organisations from making a concentrated effort to take some judicious bets to attract top talent from the market. For some companies, the current environment could create unprecedented opportunities to connect with outstanding talent.

At Morgan Young, we’re experts at guiding the leadership search and advisory process, we understand the psyche of each individual candidate.  As founders and owners of the firm, our partners are hands-on, managing engagements and speaking to the market. We’re well-connected, discreet and effective.

Without question, this year will test the leadership acumen of senior management and will separate the organisations who can work through ambiguity from those who can’t. To succeed, you will need effective leaders, performing teams and great talent. Is that what you see on Zoom, or around you today?

If the answer is ‘no’, get in touch to explore how we can help.