The COVID-19 pandemic is turning out to be the most difficult test of leadership. It is making or breaking leaders around the world. Here we present recommendations that would help leaders in the Advertising & Marketing industry make it.
The virus is not the only novel thing this year, the problems leaders across the industries, including A&M are facing is novel too. Past experiences and lessons learned may not have been as helpful, and all of it can overburden you too severely affecting an important segment of the ecosystem – leadership.
Ergo, we have compiled a few practices by taking cues from leaders responsible for a country’s response to COVID-19, accounts that turned the situation around, inputs that describe the present times, and aid leaders across the advertising & marketing realm.
Spell Out The Seriousness
It can be fairly easy for the workforce to be trapped in a bubble of thinking that since we continue to work from home, and we have been earning a salary that is ensuring our survival (even if it may be a decreased amount or is paid in parts), the situation will remain the same throughout the crisis.
Moreover, when most of us stay focussed on the present, we may drift away from the uncertain future. Sam Balsara, Chairman, Madison World estimates the AdEx collapse to be as much as 75-85%. In his professional life of 48 years, never has Sam seen a situation like this and the estimates are not very encouraging.
One of the most constructive pieces of advice given to the citizens by Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, during the early phase of the pandemic was, “This is serious. Take it seriously”.
In such a time, it is important for a leader to explain the seriousness of the issue to their employees and give them regular updates of the company’s standpoint, financial or otherwise, as they have the expertise and data to give a comprehensive overview. This will help the employees manage their resources and outlay better.
Unlike earlier times, there is no fixed period of time for a business to prosper or to stagnate, with advertising alike. Each day is different, and as a company’s standing is distinct each day, it is important for leaders to communicate with their workforce, now more than ever, and more importantly whilst maintaining complete transparency.
Hiding problems won’t solve them, but sharing problems can. Along with straightforward communication building more trust and turning the workforce more considerate with their efforts to improve the situation, it may also result in responses that can help. Which brings us to the next important practice for effective leadership right now.
Listen & Learn
Gravity Payments, a credit card processing, and financial services company was facing dire losses due to the pandemic, more severe than 9/11 and the Great Recession. They lost half of their $4 million monthly revenue.
The CEO of Gravity Payments, Dan Price estimated that the company would face bankruptcy in about four to six months. Now he had a choice to either let the company go bankrupt or to lay off twenty percent of the employees(40 of the 200 employees). He chose neither.
Instead, he held company-wide meetings and spent 40 hours talking with every employee about the finances and to solicit ideas. The solution drawn was volunteered pay cuts modified for each employee. This strategy will get them through 8-12 months with no layoffs.
With the whole company coming together, Gravity Payments is currently laying off 0 people. In a thread of tweets, Price mentioned, “I think bosses should always talk to their employees before making any big decisions. They know more about their jobs than you do”.
Including the workforce in the decision-making process can surprisingly solve more problems than we think. It also clears assumptions that they might hesitate to take a necessary step.
Try and hold regular meetings invariably. A one-on-one conversation can be more fruitful, as employees tend to feel more comfortable. It may be difficult due to time constraints, in that case, meetings with smaller groups can be a substitute.
Information Consumption & Decisiveness
As a leader, you might already be habitual to consuming information at uniform intervals, and you are aware expanding the span of information you consume would help you make well-informed decisions but now it will also help you provide better guidance to the workforce and will also give you foresight.
Ashish Bhasin, CEO, APAC and Chairman, India – Dentsu Aegis Network, in a conversation with Social Samosa mentioned that on the usual days he would read about 4-5 newspapers a day, these days he is reading about 12-15 newspapers in a single day, often from all over the world.
Staying informed out of leisure or out of necessity, both have benefits. Decisiveness is the need of the hour for every leader. Leaders need to skip the shock, anger, frustration, and fear, and be more efficient with the decision-making.
For instance, political leaders who were quicker with their responses and implemented or introduced measures to curb the outbreak at an earlier stage are in a better position right now than most countries. Similarly, the quicker you respond to the crisis, the faster you would be able to deal with it.
I learned this to be an important trait from Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, whose country will lift almost all of its restrictions & constraints and reports no active cases in the country.
In almost all of her communication throughout this time, you could sense empathy and care for the people that depend on her decisions and actions.
The recovery of New Zealand cannot be credited to her empathetic communication alone but when a leader is more empathetic, they understand the people’s problems better and solve it more effectively along with the trust they gain.
Remarking Ardern’s communication, Helen Clark, New Zealand Prime Minister (1999 to 2008), in a conversation with The Atlantic mentioned, “They (citizens) may even think, well, I don’t quite understand why [the government] did that, but I know she’s got our back. There’s a high level of trust and confidence in her because of that empathy”.
Along with the workforce having increased confidence in you, when you are dealing with the new “everyday” problems, having an empathetic point of view will also help you find its roots, and deal with it in a way that you don’ have to face them again.
Take A Break
Commenting on working from home, Santosh Padhi, Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder, Taproot Dentsu mentioned “Well, it’s never easy to work from home, and especially I don’t enjoy this period. I always believe in meeting people, sitting across a table, and solving a problem.
Shamsuddin Jasani, Group MD, Isobar South Asia stressed on the fact that it is more of work when working out of home and that he gets numerous calls which wasn’t the case when in office. The entire week goes into planning and strategizing things.
Most leaders alike have a heavier workflow, working remotely has its own challenges, and dealing with the crisis at present while trying to sustain a secure future can get too much. Like all humans, emotions can overwhelm a leader too. The one who is supposed to lead may sometimes feel lost.
On that account, it is vital for you to take regular breaks, unwind with a hobby (old or new). Do an activity that is not related to your professional work. It may as well be anything from cooking, singing, or staring at the ceiling, doing nothing. Maintaining your mental health is critical.
Now break a leg, and pass the test.