How CEOs can build a resilient workforce post COVID19

 |  31 January 2022


COVID19 is the word on everyone’s lips. Even when we want to discuss something as mundane as the latest movie release or the last restaurant we visited, we are talking about the impact the COVID19 lockdowns have had on the way we entertain ourselves, how we feed ourselves and how we work.


We know that the global pandemic has put pressure on CEOs, business owners and senior executives like nothing since the global financial crisis… and even then, there were clues in the lead up to the GFC crisis. Many CEOs and businesses were able to respond well to the GFC and put mechanisms in place to navigate around the challenges.


This global pandemic and the economic impact of the global response to the pandemic have left many CEOs wondering how they can build a strong, resilient business and rebound during so much uncertainty.


At the writing of this white paper, the health impact of COVID19 has been felt by over 200 countries and billions of people. Hundreds of Millions have contracted the disease and while many of those have recovered over 5.6 million people around the world have lost their battle. People have been stood down, businesses have closed, and families have gone two years without hugging each other.


The Impact Big and Small

The impact on business is being felt by large and small businesses. The greatest impact has been on businesses in industries such as events, face to face training, and hospitality. We know these industries and others will rebound, but the impact on the smaller businesses may be too much to rebound from.


Although our empathy is well placed with supporting small businesses, medium and large businesses are also feeling the impact. Many of our large clients chose to pause projects as they navigate through the uncertainty of this period. Many others such as our clients in the University sectors have had budget cuts as the significance of not having the usual flood of international students accessing their services. We know that in some Australian Universities 40% of their revenue has been impacted by the COVID19 response.


Many of our other clients who are in Local, State and Federal Governments are now starting to rebound most quickly due to the essential nature of much of their services and also because of the ability to continue delivering local services without significant disruption. There has been a slow down in some services and speeding up in others.


We are also hearing about the great resignation and the pressure that work flexibly has put on big business. An outcome of poorly managed cultures and workforces is that as soon as people have the opportunity to leave, they will.


If I’m not being treated well, why would I stay?


You Can’t Spell Divorce Without COVID

Impacts of a financial nature are easy to feel and evident in our profit and loss reports, however, there is also an emotional impact being felt by many CEOs and their teams. Much of the support we have seen provided by businesses we work with have ranged from increasing communication to providing social connection and supporting the emotional impact through Employee Assistance Programs or access to Counsellors.


CEOs are seeing the emotional impact on their people as their personal relationships are put under strain as they endeavour to set the rules for working at home with spouses and children.


This has a greater impact on our people if they are unhappy at work also. We know that when the home is strong and work is not great, we manage through. When the home is not great but work is strong, we manage through. When both are not great, people make decisions to fix the problem by leaving it. Sometimes one over the other. Sometimes both.


Our Advice – Build a Resilient Workforce

When the heat is on and it’s an employees market you need to focus on real tangible solutions. You may immediately think we need new people, our recruitment efforts need to increase. Well that’s one way, but often a strategy that just repeats itself every few years.


This downturn in the market has a new name – ie: the great resignation – but it’s no different to the last time we faced this crisis of talent. When did we last face this you ask? Essentially every year since industrialisation. It just doubles in intensity when the media gets involved and the COVID pandemic has been a treasure trove for fear-based media.


Building a resilient workforce should be your strategy, not try to recruit more, yes you. At have to recruit but let’s make this the last time you are freaked out about the workforce, ok?


There are many ways to build a resilient workforce, but the one you have the most control over is your culture. Business cultures are a complex system and they are the element of your business that can’t be easily replicated by others. The others can steal your product ideas, your staff and your customers – but they can’t steal your culture.


Having a strong resilient culture that is collaborative and purpose-focused can be the key to battling in the “war for talent” and it can be the difference between your staff choosing an extra $10-20k of salary over staying with you because you treat them, well and they are engaged in work that is meaningful for them.


If you are finding it challenging to keep your people, check your culture first before you modify your remuneration and recruitment strategies.


Yes, there will be the time that you have to go and find new people from the market. With a strong culture, your business will be the one that is taking the talent from others.


What Sets You Apart?

When every business is affected in the same way and is working to adopt new ways of working the question every CEO needs to ask is…


What sets us apart from the rest in our industry?


More now than ever it is essential for future-focused CEOs to invest in the elements of their business that will set them apart from the rest. The secret sauce. Every business can compete on price and speed to market. What is unique for you are your leaders, your culture, your internal practices, and the experience you give your customer.


Research shows that businesses that focus on culture increase profit margins by 30-40% and set themselves apart in their marketing and customer experience.


You need a culture led by a competent and compassionate leader to provide the outcomes that you need for your people, customers or business.


Our approach to culture evolution is a practical and well-practised approach that has helped small businesses, not for profits, governments, large global corporations, and everything in between.


Think of this as a success framework. We recommend starting at stage one and continuing through to stage five with our expert assistance, particularly if this is the first time you have embarked on a cultural evolution. However, after each stage, you can choose to finish working with us and continue your culture evolution journey.


Seven ways CEOs can start to reinvent their business culture:

1. Give feedback - provide meaningful feedback to your executive colleagues
  1. 2. Seek feedback - ask peers and colleagues to give you meaningful feedback
  2. 3. Ask for help - research shows that asking for help increases trust
  3. 4. Think critically - think beyond the action and assess impact
  4. 5. Be curious - ask questions, follow your curiosity, help others be curious
  5. 6. Be reliable - do what you say you’re going to do
  6. 7. Be transparent - if you can’t do something, say it before it’s too late


We know that the world of recruitment is challenging at the moment, and we also know that the impact is less for businesses that have a strong culture. Focus on keeping the people you have and you will see others gravitate towards your business.


Global CEOs Advice - Becoming Resilient

Business Insider recently asked 200 CEOs from a variety of industries in the US and beyond a three-part question:

How will the way you operate change because of the coronavirus? How will your industry change? And how will the world change?

Here is a selection of that advice that we believe is insightful and provides inspiration for the Australian market.


Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb


When the comeback starts, it will start locally. People are going to take trips that are close to home, and they're going to want something affordable. Second, I think we're seeing that you can do a lot through videoconferencing, and that's going to have a big impact on how often people travel for work. Business travel isn't going to go away, but I think it's going to look very different in the future.



Katia Beauchamp, founder and CEO of Birchbox


This experience has added depth to what it means. Asking about each other's health and the well-being of families, meeting our team's families, pet families, and literally inviting each other into our homes, albeit virtually, has added depth that would take months or years to create. This experience will change how we relate and collaborate because it is bringing down the walls and inviting the whole person to the work at hand.


Giovanni Caforio, CEO and chairman of Bristol Myers Squibb


It is my belief that we are learning valuable lessons on being nimble, collaborating in new ways, and leveraging talent in new and different ways. Understanding that every person is navigating this crisis with a different personal reality, our work policies account for flexible hours and schedules, which enables our colleagues to better juggle their responsibilities at home with work.


Brian Hannasch, CEO of Circle K


We have also learned during the pandemic how to adapt to our customers' desires for a more frictionless journey at our locations. We have shown on a global scale that we are part of the solutions in the neighbourhoods where we work and live.


Lloyd Dean, CEO of CommonSpirit Health


The new future will be one in which our operations will need to anticipate and meet the demand of rapid surges. Our sustained resilience in the face of unanticipated stresses on our system is going to be more important than ever. We now have the tremendous duty to walk with our most vulnerable patients through their medical, behavioural, and social health needs that may have gone unattended during this crisis.


Ken Lin, founder and CEO of Credit Karma


Companies are having to rethink their business models to figure out how they can be successful in the long-term and still help their customers now. As a result, we're seeing businesses, banks, and other financial institutions offer programs to alleviate some of the financial burdens for Americans. You don't always associate the word "empathy" with financial-services institutions, but we're seeing the industry provide an unprecedented amount of support for consumers, which I hope will persist.


Julia Hartz, CEO of Eventbrite


The 1918 Spanish flu was the most devastating pandemic, infecting one-third of the world's population and killing tens of millions. Not coincidentally, the Roaring '20s quickly followed, as the world came together to experience a renaissance of theatre, music, and art. Human connection was re-established with even greater vigour.


Enrique Lores, president and CEO of HP


Everything we do will be guided by our values as a company. HP's founders once said, "The biggest competitive advantage is to do the right thing at the worst time." That's the mindset we all need to embrace right now.


Ryan Roslansky, incoming CEO of LinkedIn


We've seen an explosion in online learning. In March alone, 4 million hours were spent learning on LinkedIn. The demand for, and desire for, remote work has also quickly increased. On LinkedIn, we're seeing a massive 43% spike in the number of people who want to get jobs working remotely.


John Fallon, CEO of Pearson


Until a vaccine is found, periodic closures of schools and universities may make this a necessity. But longer-term, some students, especially young adult and adult learners will find the flexibility of online learning is better suited for them. While it hasn't always been easy, this moment of experimentation is actually our chance to improve virtual learning and make it more accessible for all. Making learning more widely available is a shift that ultimately can help millions of people make meaningful progress to a better life.


Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack


There are a lot of opportunities for innovation. A lot of new ways of working will become available to people and hopefully, people will be opportunistic in the pursuit of those things. I hope that we do use it as an opportunity to think critically about how we want the world to be set up and spend a little more time designing it as opposed to everything being reactive.


Stacy Brown-Philpot, CEO of TaskRabbit


This crisis provides a powerful reminder of our responsibilities to the communities we serve — and as companies, we all should always be mindful about what it means to act with purpose and as a force for good. As the CEO of TaskRabbit, I have witnessed first-hand the essential role that independent contractors have played in responding to the pandemic. That's why I'm optimistic that the shared economy and two-sided marketplaces will continue to grow — precisely because they provide the flexibility and opportunities for people and companies to adapt to the new normal.


If you want to support workforce planning, navigate the complexity and uncertainty, and/or improve your culture to increase retention, give us a call.


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All the best,

Michelle Holland

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