Let’s face it! We thought COVID-19 was the worst crisis the world had ever faced, but even before its effects were over, political instability across the world began. The Russia-Ukraine war has affected supply chains worldwide, and there seems to be no relief soon. All these and others have severe effects on the global economy. Following the sharp slowdown in 2022, various international bodies have warned that there could be a recession in 2023. Indeed, in October 2022, the International Monetary Fund warned that the global economy’s growth would fall by 2.7 per cent in 2023.
As a leader, whether in government or the private sector, you have a unique role in inspiring confidence, even during times of turbulence. Already, there are signs that the projected global economic recession is beginning to bite. So, your organisational models could only succeed with proper leadership during hard times. But, while some effects are inevitable, you can prepare for the uncertain future and find a way to sail through the tough times. There are several strategies you can use to ensure that your organisation responds appropriately to the volatility that the global economy is facing now and in the future and still achieve sustainable success.
a) Mental health for leaders and employees
Working and living in times of uncertainty creates anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental-health-related issues. All these eventually affect performance, and it gets even worse when there are crises and volatilities in the market. As a leader, you are responsible for supporting activities that promote good mental wellbeing for everyone. One way to do so is to create initiatives and efforts that help reduce the effects of issues related to mental health. In your strategies as a leader, some of the best initiatives you can try include the following:
Counselling: Avail counselling to everyone and ensure leaders and employees have support when needed.
Platforms for sharing experiences: Create platforms or touch points where employees share their experiences and feelings. You can also use activities or sessions that help bring people together.
De-stigmatise mental health: Establish various programs that help de-stigmatise mental health in your organisation. The idea here is to create a community of support.
Notably, supporting mental health and wellness is a game changer. It separates organisations that thrive from those that suffer losses and stagnation, especially during crises. Moreover, unlike other challenges that affect organisations, mental wellness directly affects performance. So, let it be a priority area when leading during turbulent times just as Microsoft, Pinterest and Unilever have been taking promising steps in the right direction in employee wellbeing and in optimising performance for sustainable success.
b) Embrace Innovation & Adopt Innovative Practices
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of innovation/invention. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations that innovated at a fast pace thrived, while does that did not cease to exist. Chinese scientists sequenced the COVID virus in just three weeks. The UK’s National Health Service constructed a 4,000-bed capacity hospital within four days. Teams from London, Oxford and other places also developed vaccines in a few months and started testing rapidly. In addition, the CACOVID organised the financial muscle of the private sector and deployed resources for philanthropy offered to the downtrodden.
If you embrace innovation during a crisis, you increase your chances of survival. Your focus on innovation should be more than just during times of crisis. If you can sustain the same efforts over time, even after a crisis, you are sure of growth and top performance. To do so, you need to replicate proxy crises and allocate resources to innovation and build a culture of learning, collaboration and exploring novel solutions. That way, you will lead your organisation to success both during turbulent and good times
c) Communicate Effectively
Proper communication plays a very vital role during times of uncertainty. It enables organisations to function effectively despite disruptive events and risks. People want information, and whether good or bad, you need to ensure it gets to the right people on time using the right platform for young folks social media could be the best means while older employees might prefer emails. In addition, you need to provide clarity and direction if you want to sustain good performance. So, you need to step up your communication, especially when times change and tomorrow seems very uncertain. Here are suggestions that can help you communicate effectively:
- Control your messages and create one version
- Emphasise clarity over volume
- Provide updates regularly
- Don’t go into hiding when things get thick; provide leadership
- Stick to facts and avoid speculations
- Provide tools to aid communication and ensure leadership is on the same page
- Join the dots for your people lest rumor mongering becomes the order of the day.
It is crucially important to oversee your organisational story. Provide clear direction especially during crises. Make sure that communication is effective and that all messages reach the intended audience without distortion. That’s how giants sail through turbulent times and turn adversity into prosperity by building more resilient core competences that endures.
d) Emphasis on Purpose and Corporate Social Responsibility
Contributing to the communities and societies where your profits come from is one way to win during turbulent times. It is a move that creates a beneficial cycle that will help your organisation to remain afloat even during crisis times. Note, however, that CSR is not just about giving to the community near your organisation. Your moves must be relevant and help tackle social issues, environmental hazards, governance issues and others. Leaders should also embrace societal leadership, which entails inspiring solutions that addresses society’s theming challenges. The societal leader demonstrates ethical leadership even when others are cutting corners. They embody value-based leadership, inspire their team to embrace morality and their organisation is a bastion of compelling purpose. That’s the best way to create impact, and you, as a leader, should be at the forefront when doing such activities. The ethical leader consistently inspire their team to always embrace President John F Kennedy’s golden and evergreen advise that all should “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
e) Be More Strategic
Leaders need to be more strategic in dealing with turbulent times. Traditionally, as a leader, you would try to predict markets and competition and then plan accordingly. Employees and other stakeholders would then work with you in executing your plan. And since markets were relatively stable, the only task to do while executing your strategic plan is monitoring and working to keep everyone on track. Such an approach worked well in the past, but you cannot use it anymore these days because the competitive landscape is changing quickly.
While conventional strategy-making techniques are great, they often fail since they need to consider various eventualities. Global financial crises, oil price spikes, wars, pandemics, climate change, digital disruptions and others can render your plans and strategies useless quickly. So, how do you survive all these and steer your organisation successfully even during such turbulent times? You need to be more deliberate about the choices (e.g., around intrapreneurship, internationalisation, acquisitions and alliances) that you make and the actions (e.g., processes, practice and leadership style) that you take to position (e.g. around; culture, resources, macro-environment and engaging stakeholders) of your organisation for enduring success. Let your strategy-making be a continuous process which entail deliberately choosing a distinct set of activities and- is responsive to changing times to deliver a unique mix of value. This is what progressive and top 5 companies such as Amazon, Walmart and Apple all have in common.
f) Develop Core Competence in Engaging Stakeholders Locally, Regionally and Globally
Stakeholder engagement plays a very vital role in the success and growth of every organisation, especially during turbulent times. It would help if you had a plan to do such an engagement, and it should be well-structured and exhaustive. In your plan, be clear on stakeholder identification, their power, interest level and the influence they have in the day-to-day running of your organisation. You can use a matrix to define every area and make a plan for addressing every critical aspect.
To develop and enhance core competence in engaging stakeholders, use the right tools and do not leave anyone out. Engage all stakeholders, starting with local ones, those at a regional level and even those on the global stage. You may have to create smart and specific plans targeting each group. For effective communication and engagement, use the right digital tools such as big and deep data, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and internet of things. It saves time and ensures you include everyone. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement and Europe’s gas need due to the Russia-Ukraine war are two examples of immense opportunities that requires effective stakeholder engagement to unlock.
In conclusion, coping with the challenges of volatility, crises, and the dynamic global economy is challenging for leaders in government and the private sector these days. As a leader, you need to craft a winning strategy to keep you going and even grow despite the turbulence. Adopt the strategies shared here and improve your chances of succeeding as a leader.
Dr Alim Abubakre is on the advisory board of the London Business School Africa Club and is the non-executive chair of These Executive Minds (TEXEM)-An organization, which he founded and has trained over 4000 executives across multiple continents. He is a Senior Lecturer in International Business at Sheffield Business School (An AACSB accredited Business School) at Sheffield Hallam University. Sheffield Hallam was named the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020