The road ahead is long. #Covid-19 has shifted perspectives, changed #consumerbehaviors, and the way we operate. We are traveling unknown territories and traversing new landscapes. The earlier focus on profitability and growth had shifted to adaptability and resilience.
A few months ago, when we imagined our companies ‘thriving’, we thought we would be getting well adjusted to a new normal. But today, that entire equation has changed. Amid economic uncertainties, pay cuts, job insecurities, and more, to ‘thrive’ could very well mean to ride this wave and survive. And the road to really ‘thriving’ seems to be getting longer and more challenging. It is sort of like that blinking game we used to play as kids. We need to hold each other’s gaze and challenge not to blink. The first one to do so loses. Today, we need to sit still and hold on.
One of the most critical roles of a resilient leader today is to persevere and survive. We need to sustain our people working from home and are anxious, scared and stressed more than ever before. We need to maintain our organizations in these uncertain economies, so we make it to the other side. And more than ever, we need to keep our ability to stay calm and lead so that we can take on this long, arduous journey.
Though organizations are making plans on the way forward, they need to observe and cater to consumers’ changing needs. What was once offered and how it was shown may no longer be relevant. In that light, the historical data and understanding of their markets might also be obsolete. Organizations need to plan for pivoting their products or services to the consumer’s changing needs and prepare to be more agile and adapt quickly in case of future eventualities.
Let us look at a few examples of how consumer behavior is changing:
Mindful spending & shift to essentials:
The consumer is the one with pay cuts, anxiety about his next paycheck, and insecurity about his current job. With people expecting more negative effects of Covid on the economy, consumers expect longer periods of financial instability. They are shifting their spending largely to essentials like groceries and home supplies while cutting back on discretionary spending. Even as markets and online shopping is opening up, there is an established trend where people are more cautious about how they spend their money, choosing products that are less expensive to save money and prioritizing value and convenience. The largest categories of spending include groceries, takeout/delivery food, household supplies, children products (including clothes), and personal care products.
Increase in sales of retail products:
There has been a significant increase in online sales for various commodities. For example, with remote working and virtual classrooms, a household with one family computer now needs more. This is well illustrated in the recent sales numbers of Amazon Prime Day. Digital Commerce 360 estimates that despite the pandemic, Amazon Prime Day 2020 sales hit $10.4 billion – up from $7.16 billion (+45.2%) over Prime Day 2019 and from $4.19 billion (+148.2%) over Prime Day 2018.
Change in the way we buy:
Many categories of products have seen significant growth in their online sales. Many consumers plan to shop online even after brick-and-mortar stores reopen. The share of the money spent online is expected to increase. Besides online sales, contactless deliveries, drive-through services, etc., are also seeing higher adoption rates.
Change in real estate markets:
As many companies choose to make remote working a permanent feature for most of their staff, the young working-class chooses to cut costs and move back to their hometowns. As a result, many apartment complexes are now vacant in large cities. There is a growing demand for home purchasing in suburbs or peripheral locations and tier 2 & tier 3 cities due to the reverse migration. This allows the buyers to have better affordability for larger homes and better places and amenities.
According to a study by Emami Realty, 70 to 75% of the respondents in cities like Jhansi, Kanpur, Gwalior, Indore, Karnal, Panipat, and Agra preferred buying well-developed plots and independent villas instead of houses in group housing societies or high rise buildings.
Another concept that will no longer be relevant is the ‘live close to work’ or ‘walk to work’ homes. With work shifting to home, homebuyers will see sense in investing in homes in accessible locations.
Though the market is going through uncertainties and a downturn, home is where one is likely to feel safer than ever before. As a result, there is an increase in purchases of homes.
Change in work environments:
Another effect of companies choosing remote work as a permanent feature, offices are also moving away from large, crowded cities and reducing the migration of workers from villages to cities.
For example, Sridhar Vembu, founder of Zoho, has recently moved back to his hometown, a small hamlet, 650km from Chennai, to set up his headquarters. By making this move, he hopes to reduce villagers’ migration to the cities, encourage cross-fertilization of ideas, and bring in high-earning people into the villages. He hopes to set up smaller satellite-connected office centers where 10 to 20 people will work in villages across the country.
Focus on health and safety:
As individuals stay home longer with the pandemic still raging on and even anxious about their safety, the adage ‘Health is wealth’ has never been more true. Companies are changing their packaging and design to make their products safer for the end consumer. For example, restaurants are delivering through apps like Swiggy are choosing to pack food in double-layered packs; KFC has paused their ad campaign of ‘Finger-Lickin’ good’ as it does not sit well in the current situation, and grocers like Nature’s Basket are switching to single-use paper bags which can be quickly disposed of as versus the earlier cloth bags that they used to provide.
There is also a focus on immunity and health-boosting products. Consumers are searching for healthy recipes and natural products known to boost immunity like turmeric and ashwagandha. In that light, companies are repackaging their products to deliver the same message.
History will remember this time as the time of drastic changes, not just for our end consumers, but our products, services, people, leaders, and organizations alike.
This pandemic was unforeseen, and almost all of us were like deer caught in the headlights, not knowing what to do and how to sustain it. With this impending pandemic throwing a wrench in all our growth plans, every leader has had to pause and divert his/her energy and resources in firefighting and pivoting to adapt to the new normal and the changing needs the consumer. The need for agility, sustainability, and perseverance has never been tested in this magnitude ever before.
So, how does a leader change in these times to weatherproof his business?
This pandemic calls for deep reflection, change in perspectives, and focused planning to prepare for any future eventualities if they do occur.
1. A shift in mindset:
Before the pandemic, work from home was seen as a benefit to the employee and had a stigma of lowered performance was associated with it as immediate managers felt the loss of control in terms of monitoring output and hours put in. Today, with everyone being forced to work remotely and organizations not seeing a dip in productivity, this entire mindset has been spun on its head. The leaders of tomorrow could benefit from looking at work environments without boundaries. Today, geography is no more a constraint. The borders are on their way out while providing unlimited access to high-quality talent.
For example, an IT firm does not have to sit in IT hubs or metro cities like Bangalore any more and can save costs that would have been spent on infrastructure, brick-and-mortar offices, etc.
The most significant skill that a leader can build today is perseverance. As a market leader, before the pandemic, one might have focused on profitability and growth. But today, the operative word has shifted from ‘challenge’ to ‘adaptability’ and ‘resilience.' The leaders of today are running a marathon and not a hundred-meter sprint. Leaders need to cultivate the grit to dig in their heels and stand their ground during these uncertain times to survive and lead on the other side of this pandemic.
3. Development of teams:
With everyone working remotely and organizations having completely remote or blended teams, there is a need to build trust and foster relationships, and strengthen employees to become resilient leaders to take charge and make decisions for their units. The flipside of monitoring every employee’s time and effort is a waste of time and effort of the managerial staff and breeds disinterest and disengagement among teams. Resilient leaders need to proactively look for opportunities to hone their teams and their skill sets, groom them to take on more initiative, and encourage them to make independent decisions.
As a result of this, leaders may see a new gene of entrepreneurial streaks among employees. This could significantly improve the seamless working of remote teams and increase overall productivity. It is essential to be watchful, sensitive and encouraging of these behaviors as they will only benefit the groups and organizations in the long run.
4. Diversity and inclusion:
While there may be downsides to remote working, including feeling isolated, reduced bonding between teams, and working in silos, on the flip side, remote working lends itself to overcoming biases and improving inclusivity effortlessly.
Though organizations might take neutral standpoints and advocate it among their employees, human beings tend to harbor conscious or unconscious biases that can sometimes change their attitude or behavior towards their counterparts. These biases could be based on race, gender, sexual orientation, physical appearance, and more. Remote working, however, tends to fade these biases into the background as the focus is mainly on productivity and effectiveness.
Moreover, remote working also provides better opportunities for the physically challenged to work in environments that are better suited for their needs. Leaders today can easily take advantage of the remote working environments to greatly influence and improve the diversity and inclusion in their organizations.
5. Self- Leadership:
Before leading others, one must learn to lead oneself successfully - but this is often forgotten, overlooked, and pushed to the back burner. The essence of self-leadership can be summed up in the lines - “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” ~ ‘Invictus’ poem written by William Ernest Henley
And no one has demonstrated this better than #NelsonMandela. Even after twenty-seven years in prison, he came out advocating peace and reconciliation.
In a flight crisis, it is advised to first wear your oxygen mask before assisting others. Similarly, #leaders must first take care of themselves - physically, mentally, and #emotionally, to effectively lead others in the long run. The #leadership journey of ‘How can I inspire or lead others?’ starts by asking, ‘How can I inspire or lead myself?’
Resilience is an essential skill to develop in these trying times, not just as employees but also as leaders. Resilient leaders need to showcase an unyielding spirit in the face of hardships as our teams might look up to us to follow, learn, and emulate. We have to adopt the grit of marathoners and keep running till the finish line in that spirit. Research shows that perseverance is a high predictor of success in many endeavors.
As resilient leaders, we must sustain our people and our organizations, and ourselves so we can endure and survive the long road ahead while taking our teams, vendors, and stakeholders along.