Your employees have stepped into a crisis. What happens when it’s over?

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As the Covid-19 crisis emerges, many well-meaning senior executives are pushing to reactivate systems and restore operations. They want to see the organization return to “normal”, operate as before Covid-19.

Spread across these same companies are new corporate heroes, who brought in their expertise and acted quickly when the company needed it most. They have helped the organization quickly adapt to complex and brutal circumstances, evolving with new speed and agility. Many of the new heroes have broken red tape and cut red tape to connect with the right people and solve problems in real time, regardless of seniority or standard operating procedures.

Over the past year, we’ve followed the leadership lessons of the pandemic with more than 850 CEOs in 35 countries. Some powerful models have emerged: CEOs have been both amazed and inspired by how members of their organization have responded to the challenges of the crisis with enthusiasm, showing ingenuity, dedication and creativity. The new hero rank has some common characteristics, including a strong penchant for action and a willingness to learn by doing.

CEOs now face a defining moment of truth for their careers. The schism is growing between those who want a return to normalcy and those who want to maintain new working methods. According to a Bain survey, 65% of employees fear the pandemic-induced sense of urgency in their organizations will disappear. These heroes risk disappearing again into the fabric of pre-crisis organizational hierarchies. And the strong working relationship between these heroes and the C-Sequel, forged through the challenges of Covid-19, is at risk of blurring alongside bad pandemic memories.

Of the hundreds of pandemic hero stories we heard in our research, many fell into two categories, providing two salient lessons on how CEOs can create a new culture that maintains and elevates the voices of the most critical members. of their organizations.

Lesson # 1: Go Beyond the Matrix

We have heard many stories of leadership teams who knew what to do and freed their teams to do it. These CEOs recognized that in order to run the business better, increase speed and build trust, they needed managers to stand aside and give more freedom to the teams closest to customers.

“What we learned to do is empower our teams to deliver, but make sure there was enough creativity on the ground to adapt to rapid changes in local markets due to Covid -19 and the government’s response, ”said John Santa Maria, CEO of Coca. -Cola Femsa in Mexico.

As they attempt to maintain this organizational energy generated by the crisis, CEOs find that a lingering question becomes more urgent: how can companies develop a competitive strategy that lives in the boardroom, but also in the routines. and the behavior of its employees?

Before the pandemic, the answer was a matrix. Through hierarchical systems, senior leaders tended to micromanage business as usual, creating silos and pushing functions away from the front line. Across the organization, the voices of the hierarchy have whispered that execution work is work to be avoided, that good careers distance people from the customer and closer to the CEO.

The matrix is ​​slow and inflexible. It muffles the voices of the customer and the front line. It traps resources in silos. Yes, leaders need to hold their teams accountable for results, but that doesn’t require a constant presence.

To move away from the matrix in the post-pandemic business, some CEOs are reframing their organization around the metaphor of a Formula 1 team. The heroes who created the emergency during the pandemic are the drivers – and they ride. on the podium, rather than managers. Each round represents the customer experience, which he can gain or lose. Refueling teams support drivers by following known and practiced routines and avoiding deviations. And speed matters.

At Swiggy, one of India’s leading food ordering and delivery platforms, restaurant delivery team leaders are metaphorically in the driver’s seat. They are responsible for hiring the right restaurateurs, attracting the right consumers and building a team of delivery drivers. It is up to team leaders to meet the needs of all three groups, with the ultimate goal of a great customer experience. Providing invaluable support, Swiggy’s Net Promoter System team acts as a supply team. They help team leaders review daily survey feedback and data to determine what short- and long-term actions can help delight customers or resolve issues.

“There is a lot of freedom in our system, and that gives us speed. But there are also clear constraints. And that gives us speed and scale, ”says Swiggy COO Vivek Sunder.

Adopting the structure and behaviors of a Formula 1 team often requires significant changes on the part of senior leaders, as they must grant their teams new degrees of freedom and establish new levels of trust. The process can be uncomfortable at first, but the company-wide benefits are well worth it.

Lesson # 2: Amplify Heroes’ Ideas

In the second type of stories, the heroes acted as entrepreneurs. Although they worked in large companies, they came up with entirely new solutions and formed small cross-functional teams to execute them. They deployed agile working methods, testing, failing, adapting and retesting their solutions.

CEOs have learned that adapting to the speed of change requires new levels of agility, partnerships and sources of expertise. According to a Bain survey, 75% of CEOs say that while the pandemic hasn’t fundamentally changed their plans, it has forced them to accelerate their strategic programs. Some companies have quickly shifted their focus from finding the perfect solution to finding “good enough” solutions that might evolve. “We needed to quickly integrate the protocols into existing factories, even if they were only 70% of their full potential,” says one CEO. “Running 70% of the protocols in a few hours and getting better was way better than doing nothing for a week while we worked to be perfect. “

Winning companies will continue this mindset beyond Covid-19. The goal is to amplify the success of “good enough” innovations from the organization’s heroes, by providing the support and resources needed to scale these solutions across the organization.

To find and advance great ideas, rather than pushing back, senior leaders learn to champion the expertise and energy of these heroes who excel at translating ideas into routines. They will shift the time and talent of these heroes towards scaling ideas and building future businesses.

At Barilla, a multinational food company, the future of the organization is already in the hands of its heroes. Total 360-degree innovation cannot be a top-down push – it is a responsibility of its internal ecosystem. “To be successful, it had to be enthusiastically embraced by our top young talent in each of their markets,” says Mariapaola Vetruci, Strategy Director at Barilla. “We wanted them to present to our CEO and our group leadership team, learn from them and help them learn.” Through this bottom-up approach, leaders can raise the voice of heroes, gain their unique perspective, and inspire the next series of heroes to forge the future of the company.

Five Steps to Continuously Celebrating Heroes

As their businesses transition to a post-pandemic reality, top-performing CEOs will be surgical about the systems they are reactivating and the changes they make to the organization. The biggest hurdle CEOs will face is the ingrained behavior of senior leaders. In order to support a culture that celebrates heroes, the leadership team must unlearn the typical roles of the professional management system.

Among key CEOs, some common steps are emerging to transform leadership behaviors and rebuild the business without losing the heroes in the fray:

  • They co-create the object of their business. The crisis has restored the primacy of the goal – and the goal cannot be separated from the people. Engage corporate heroes to align with the “what” and “why” of the company’s mission, but empower them to understand the “how”.
  • They identify and share lessons from their top Formula 1 teams. The energy of winning drivers and crews can inspire managers to free the organization from the matrix. They will also come to recognize speed as a critical source of competitive advantage.
  • They put together teams of star players to take on their biggest challenges, shaping new ways of working for the rest of the organization.
  • They challenge senior leaders to accept conflict. It is up to leaders to balance the tensions between speed and scale, innovation against routine, and management of the business against its modification. In order to find the right balance, they must leave their egos at the door and tune in to the voices of the heroes.
  • They keep doing what they are doing. Top CEOs plan to continue using city halls to share and praise hero stories – inspiring future generations of heroes. They will invest heavily in mentoring and learning, recognizing that the heroes will be writing the future of the business.


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