Guest Article: Preparing to Win in the Post-COVID-19 World – Six Paradoxes Leaders Must Navigate

While Asian leaders continue to deal with the challenges associated with a global pandemic, they are also gradually bracing for the ‘post-COVID’ world – a world that remains mysteriously difficult to predict. As China inches towards a fragile normalcy, the global business community is looking to Asia to lead the way into the unknown.

Based on the collective wisdom of 20 C-suite leaders from across the research, we identified six paradoxes around people and business that Asian leaders must navigate in their journey to the ‘new normal.’

Slow Down, Go Fast

Going slow early to absorb the impact and potential consequences of the current disruption due to the pandemic will help leaders to move much faster later, as they implement even partially thought-out action steps and tactics. Leaders must not rush into decisions in crises, however much the pressure from stakeholders. Instead, they must collect as many data points as possible, and try to be cool-headed as they make decisions. Going slow will help leaders reflect upon critical tripping points and identify opportunities.

High Tech, Human Touch

One positive outcome of the pandemic and resulting work-from-home practices is the pace at which technology adoption has happened across the globe. However, as the world goes virtual for a prolonged period of time, organisations will need to be deliberate about retaining their culture. Organisations who can arm their workforce to operate virtually, yet maintain an emotional connect with the organisation culture will witness an uplift in employee engagement and productivity in the post-COVID world.

Axe the Fat, Preserve Muscle

C-suite leaders have already taken the first pass at reducing commissions, bonuses, and marketing costs. New hire costs and promotions are being highly scrutinised. Policies around furloughs and reduced work weeks are being discussed in board rooms. Organisations are questioning the merits of maintaining large, high-end offices in prime locations. Technology costs however are emerging as business critical investments. Organisations that take a balanced view of what to cut and how deep to cut, will get a disproportionate advantage during the turnaround period.

Globalise Digital, Localise Profit

The post-COVID era will rely much less on the cross-border movement of people and products, and much more on the movement of information, data and capital. Organisations and nations that can solve for the world with digital products will be best positioned. The pandemic has also exposed cracks in the global supply chain model that almost all large global multinational organisations have traditionally adopted. Organisations that rely on physical cross border movement of products and people will need to lean more on localised profit over the next one to two years.

Embrace Flexibility, Enhance Control

Organisations, especially managers, will need to get used to people working from home, even though traditionally, telecommuting is not widely accepted in most organisations. Employees will appreciate the flexibility, while telecommuting will also reduce pressure on local infrastructure. While leaders will need to trust their teams around work ethics, people also must show enhanced accountability to meet their work goals. Leaders therefore must get used to more flexibility, but simultaneously have tighter control to establish accountability and maintain productivity.

Empathise, Display Tough Love

The pandemic has drawn the world into the most significant health and an economic crises of our life-time. Leaders must show compassion towards their employees, clients, vendors, and partners. While leaders must be empathetic, they must also subtly enforce the new rules of engagement. Employees must understand that they will need to stretch and take personal onus for making the organisation successful. Clients must appreciate that stakeholders need to take a practical stand on relationships going forward.

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