Real Leaders

How the Pandemic Has Changed Corporate Leadership and How to Re-engage Your Employees


Individuals were forced to abruptly change their lifestyles, quite literally overnight, due to COVID-19. The uncertain future resulted in fear and trepidation, which extended far beyond the household level.

Corporations and organizations have struggled to survive amid pandemic conditions. Corporate leadership teams scrambled to pivot in meaningful ways to remain relevant in the marketplace, strategically source vital goods, and message unprecedented changes to their staff.

Change: The Only Constant

Organizational transformation generally occurs gradually over some time. Restructuring efforts often start with a pilot program, a detailed analysis from a reputable consultant, and a relatively significant amount of research. The sudden onset of a nearly unprecedented global pandemic, by contrast, blindsided everyone.

Corporate leaders faced with unique and ongoing challenges shifted their standard operating procedures. Fluidity and flexibility became the order of the day, and survival often hung in the balance. Strategic planning for long-term growth all but fell by the wayside as emergency procedures were implemented. Leaders were forced to make decisions on the fly.

Engaging Remote Employees

Perhaps the most critical task for business leaders during and beyond the pandemic has been employee engagement. A few short years ago, it would have been inconceivable to manage a predominately remote workforce effectively. However, due to the pandemic, leadership teams learned to implement makeshift accommodations until they could settle in and establish workable solutions for quarantined staff members. New software solutions replaced hardwired IT requirements with web-based applications. Coaching and development took place through virtual meetings and via email.

The general workforce has adapted to remote work, and today much of the recruiting process is carried out online. Leaders learned to recognize that the fears and drawbacks of managing a remote workforce were somewhat unfounded. Some companies were able to downsize or eliminate their physical office space altogether. Offsetting the cost of brick and mortar provided a budget for virtual team-building exercises and employee recognition gifts. Striking the best work-life balance is an ongoing challenge for some, but the flexibility associated with remote work has been a welcome benefit for workers.

Establishing and enforcing a corporate culture from a remote standpoint certainly presents unique challenges, but many business leaders have reported great success. Creative solutions have made virtual staff meetings productive and more enjoyable. The trauma of the pandemic brought employees closer together and more willing to take on new tasks. Managers adapted to new tools and expressed their gratitude to a remote workforce. Once employees found their most effective home workstation setup, individual productivity vastly increased across the board.

Profit and Loss Analysis

Even in the face of uncertainty and frequently changing mandates, leaders are still responsible for the business’s health. Chief Financial Officers reviewed balance sheets and anticipated budgets with a renewed zeal. Difficult decisions were made during uncomfortable, often tense, boardroom sessions. Virtually every industry implemented furloughs, layoffs, and temporary closures. Companies that took the hardest hits were forced to close their doors permanently. Even financially stable companies made drastic changes to secure reserves during the untold months of precarious cash flow.

Financial leaders were not alone in their new critical thinking and creative problem-solving endeavors. Operational Excellence managers radically changed their perspective in the face of the pandemic. Lean manufacturing techniques became both more and less critical during these challenging times. Efficient use of resources was vitally important for two reasons. First, the reduced revenue projects did not eliminate wasted inventory or sloppy production habits. Second, raw materials were becoming scarce. Increased demand and decreased availability resulted in several sharp price increases in a relatively short period.

Purchasing and Logistics

Raw material shortages and production facility closures caused lengthy delays. Customs and shipping regulation changes created significant backups, and finished goods often took months to reach port. Factories, retailers, and end-users were left waiting. Empty-handed and without the reassurance of a positive outlook, leaders employed their creative thinking skills. Some chose to pivot to a new product line completely, while others opted to improvise and fulfill partial orders while waiting for materials to become available. The various problem-solving approaches resulted in several new inventions and product lines inspired by the pandemic. Several companies repurposed their existing facilities and staff to produce, market, or sell personal protective equipment.

Leaders worldwide and across every industry were caught in the complex space of finding ways to keep the doors open when there was seemingly no reason to remain operational at historically low capacity levels. The difficult circumstances created a paradigm shift for the most successful leaders and companies and sparked a renewed passion and pure ingenuity among executive teams. Workers improvised with alternative resources and production techniques. Several new product lines, inventions, and process improvements were developed out of necessity.

Maintaining Customer Confidence

Marketing executives and managers focused on the customer experience also faced new challenges when the pandemic changed the traditional business model. Target audiences no longer had the means, the need, or the motivation to purchase according to their established patterns. Corporate leadership quickly realized the need to reach customers in a brand new way.

Marketers were tasked with upholding consumer confidence and brand recognition during the storm. This required a team to be acutely aware of the marketplace and have a keen sense of how consumers would likely behave or respond to various stimuli. A large majority of the pandemic campaigns focused on community, companionship, and general wellbeing. Consumers appreciated the transparency and level of support they felt coming from corporate entities.

In short, we have entered an entirely different corporate world, one that has required extreme agility on the part of business leaders, as they have been forced to adapt to realities that were largely inconceivable at the beginning of 2020. The pivot is ongoing, and in many cases, not the worst thing. Moreover, there is no turning back now. The business world is forever changed, and leaders must not only continue to adapt but be forward-thinking in anticipation of any disruption that might lie ahead.

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