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6 Ways leaders can prepare for a post-COVID workplace

Wilhelm Crous - Wednesday, June 17, 2020

COVID hasn’t just changed the world, but the very DNA of workplaces across the globe. It’s also thrown into sharp relief the importance of good leadership within an organisation. And good leadership may matter now more than ever as companies start to emerge from forced hibernation and begin to rebuild their revenue streams.

But how can a leader prepare for the challenges that will come next?

In a recent article by INSEAD, distinguished Professor Manfred Kets de Vries advised against knee-jerk reactions when creating a plan for the future. He also highlighted the six areas that are crucial for every leader should consider, when planning for the coming weeks and months:

1. Build scenarios

With so much change, uncertainty, fog and unknowns organisations should build at least three scenarios. From the worst case to the best. The impact of these scenarios should be closely assessed and this in turn will help companies to identify vulnerabilities and areas that require immediate action.

2. Emphasise meaning and culture

“In these difficult times, top management needs to provide employees with a sense of meaning”. Remind your employees of the bigger picture. What is the purpose of the company? What it is “trying” to achieve? Also show empathy and genuine care for the employees. Economic downturns are critical periods to reset and reinforce a company’s culture. It is also important that the core values and behaviours inform key talent decisions such as hiring, developing, promoting and termination.

3. Involve your employees in co-creating your firm’s turnaround plan

A great way to deal with a potentially decreasing morale is to engage employees in helping turn things around. It can be very motivating for employees to feel that they have the power to make a difference. Top management should encourage employees at all levels to provide achievable ideas that could prepare it for the future. Engage them in restructuring plans and in formulating new business models.

4. Don’t neglect training and development

“Resilient organisations don’t stop training and development in major downturns. They look at the situation as a great opportunity to upskill capabilities and preserve morale.” With proper learning and development opportunities the employees will master the new technologies and remote working practices, increase efficiency, reduce costs and obviously build the organisation’s capability to utilise new opportunities.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication is a good practice at all times. But in crises, managing the turnover mill becomes key. It is now all about transparency. It is not the time to retreat into your office. As Professor Nancy Koehn puts in in Forged in Crisis: “In the face of crisis, leaders have to show up”. They need to commit to open, consistent and honest communication in order to build trust. They also need to be empathetic and appreciative of employees’ willingness to take on greater responsibilities. This will reinforce a spirit of confidence and loyalty.

6. Be cautious about layoffs

Even in major downturns, it’s unwise to rush into laying off people. This could lead to “survivor syndrome” and result in negative effects being experienced by the remaining workforce such as fear, anger and a lack of loyalty and commitment due to perceived unfairness. At the earliest opportunity, high potentials will leave.

The challenge for leaders are enormous. Now is the time to show courage. As Prof Koehn said: “Courageous leadership is actually a result of individual people committing to work from their stronger selves, discovering a mighty purpose and motivating others to join their cause”. Kets de Vries points out that true leaders ensure their firm will come out of crisis re-energised and prepared to face the future. They find the courage and convictions to make the fundamental changes needed to survive this dramatic downturn. They also realise that culture and talent management are more important than ever.

With this in mind, we will be hosting a two-day online HR Leader Summit. The online HR Leader Summit, taking place on 23-24 June will discuss the new agenda for HR. We’ve secured speakers from leading organisations, such as: Old Mutual Limited, McDonalds SA, Heineken, Absa and Vodacom and this online event will explore some of the top challenges HR leaders face now (and in the future). You can learn more about this event – here.

Don't forget, if you're a member of our L&D Community,  HR Directors Community (for senior leaders) or HR Community (for HR executives of all levels), you qualify for a 20% discount on all KR webinars, online workshops and virtual conferences!

I hope we’ll see you online!


Kets de Vries, M. F. (2020, June 8). Seven Ways Leaders Can Prepare for Post-Pandemic Times. INSEAD KNOWLEDGE.
Koehn, N. (2017). Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times. Simon & Schuster.





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