Author: Chris Swan

It's hard to believe how much American life has changed in 2020. After enjoying a robust economy with a record-breaking streak of job growth, it's unimaginable that millions of Americans have now lost their jobs, while COVID-19 infections are nearing the grim two million milestone with 110,000 deaths.

In Illinois, the pandemic impacts us on dual fronts. We processed 500,000 unemployment claims between March 1 and April 4, more than were submitted in all of 2019. Unemployment has now reached nearly 750,000. According to Illinoispolicy.org, 1 in 4 Illinois workers have lost a job since the start of March.

However, when there is a forest fire and everything is burned to the ground, it doesn't take much time before the green starts to reappear. The question that we all are asking is, what will the world look like post-COVID? In some ways, this experience will be even more transformative for our economy than 9/11.

Remote work redefines efficiency 

In the past, we traveled because it drove business, or we thought it did. The thinking was that nothing entirely replaces meeting someone in person. However, from a pragmatic perspective, it wasn't often necessary or efficient. Now that we've all been working remotely, we will consider travel differently: Does it truly makes sense to fly from Chicago to California for a two-hour meeting? Indeed, yes, when there are large amounts of money or starting relationships, meeting people in person makes sense. However, there is the law of diminishing returns, and once you've made that personal connection, subsequent face-to-face meetings might not be that valuable.

Here is another question: Does it makes sense to have millions of people transit daily from one part of a city to the other, sometimes for three hours a day on congested roads or tied to mass transit schedules? From an efficiency standpoint, it can be a massive waste of resources, negatively impact work-life balance, and cause climate-changing pollution.

I reviewed data from AEC Advisors, a leading investment advisory firm specializing in professional services companies, which showed that companies expect full-time remote working to go from 5% of their workforce to 25%. That is seven times more people working from home than there were in February 2020. "Holy Cow!" as Cubs announcer Harry Carry used to bluster.

The world has changed, and I don't think it's going back. Recently I heard a CEO of a Fortune 500 engineering firm say that 87% of his staff did not want "business" to go back to the way it was. Humans have been released to find a better way.

Tomorrow will be different, are you ready for what comes next?

Confident, diverse, innovative leadership is more critical now than ever in a post-COVID, post-George Floyd world. "We know from ample research that leadership makes the greatest difference when the world around us is uncertain when we are unsure about what lies ahead" advises the Wharton School's World Economic Forum newsletter.

Your company's next phase is vital. Who is shaping your future? Is it enough to keep up, or should you be developing leaders nimble sufficient to pull off a reversal, turning a losing hand into a winning one? If there are weaknesses with your current team, now is the time to make changes. Here is how to start:

 

1) Evaluate what you need

During the Great Recession, I had a client tell me that "When everything was humming along, it was difficult for me to assess my leadership team. Today, with the world in disarray, it is much easier to see who is good and who is not."

Use this opportunity to fortify your leadership team, replacing weak leaders with those who understand what it is you are trying to achieve. Strategize about what the business should look like and find leaders who will take you there. In any team, six leadership styles emerge. Pursue a balance of these leadership archetypes: Visionaries, Explorers, Pioneers, Warriors, Navigators, and Mavericks. Understanding what your organization has and what it's missing is critical to your success.

2) Take advantage of the cycle

In September 2019, Glassdoor's senior economist and data scientist Daniel Zhao wrote: "The labor market is showing no signs of stopping as job openings on Glassdoor neared an all-time high. . . job openings rose a healthy 3.2 percent to 5.94 million in August, just below July's revised all-time high of 6 million job openings." By March 2020, Zhao lamented: "As the coronavirus outbreak escalates, so does its impact on the labor market…This decline in job openings on Glassdoor coincided with a record-breaking surge in unemployment insurance claims, signaling the tough situation facing workers, squeezed on both sides by layoffs and declining hiring."

Enter the white knight, the company that has the resources and wherewithal to hire smartly, expand their market presence and challenge workers who are now in a mood to hustle and take risks with their jobs in jeopardy or gone away altogether. When the broader job market was strong, employers were fighting over the 'B' players. Today, quickly finding the 'A' players and getting them on your team should be a top priority.

The truth is that economic uncertainty will spook some companies into making short-sighted decisions about people to save money. When everyone else is deciding whom to cut, a stable and aggressive company can lap the field with the message that now is the time to grow. Such a message is attractive to job seekers and morale-building for staff.

3) The expanding pool 

The job market changed quickly. Candidates who had stability and plenty of options a few months ago are now uncertain about their job security. They are open to new opportunities. The best candidates are thoughtful and careful about deciding to change jobs, but the first step of attraction is getting them to listen. If you have a strong balance sheet and a differentiated message, now is a great time to find your next level leaders.

You also may have decided that geography is less important than it was at the beginning of the year. Consequently, the number of candidates suitable for your business need may have expanded dramatically. Take advantage of this new reality.

4) The power of social distancing

Social distancing gives potential candidates distance from the distractions and eaves-dropping colleagues in the office. Those who might not have had the freedom or desire to talk while in the office are finding it easier to build relationships with recruiters when working from home. Granted, this is a double-edged sword, because your employees may also be developing relationships with recruiters. However, if you believe, as I do, that people are going to make judgments that put them in the best position to succeed, and that their motivation and success are at your company is going to be directly influenced by their satisfaction. Then you should seek to attract people who genuinely want to help you achieve your mission and let go of those that want to pursue other avenues. Therefore, casual conversations about opportunities with recruiters will only weed out the individuals who lack commitment, fit, or motivation to help you achieve your business goals. In the end, you will end up with the people who want to work for you.

Of course, you might be concerned that integrating a new leader during this time of Covid-19 might be a risk. For most businesses, ensuring that the right leaders are in place is an imperative that cannot be delayed. This global pandemic will come to an end. Having the right leaders to focus your team and expand the field is essential.

Now is the time to bring in a superb leader who personifies three ideals shared by Patrick Lencioni – "Be Human, Be Persistent, and Be Creative." Such a person can raise the performance of everyone in the organization and provide a refreshing jolt of energy.

 
 

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