Philippe Fournet-Fayard
Eolis América Latina
Expert Contributor

Challenge Management and the Origin of the COVID-19 Crisis

By Philippe Fournet-Fayard | Fri, 07/31/2020 - 09:03

This unprecedented sanitary crisis is challenging many bases of our society, putting some at risk and magnifying others. It impacts at all levels: individual, family, community, company, and country. This is a great moment to go back to the fundamentals of our relationships and objectives. Let me talk about my experience as a CEO, and how I created conditions for turning this catastrophic situation into a wonderful opportunity.
At the individual level, the target (to not become crazy!) is to feel good about yourself, your personal objectives, your spirituality, your passions, and to prioritize them. I discovered that these times of introspection, barely available in normal life, were fundamental to assume my role as a man, as a father, and specifically as a manager. Meditation, reading and listening to others have been necessary to create the conditions for understanding what kind of man had to be the CEO of the company. And in this precise moment, what is the most important factor to preserve and develop in the company? Its core values!

In a period where there is no direct contact with employees, the core values of the company are the glue that holds together the workers, the customers, the shareholders, and the company strategy. This is what Jacques Attali calls the ethical raison d´être of the company, what allows the business to go on (at a reasonable level for the companies not used to home-office), what will make the people want to come back to the office after such a long break.

If you were able to show your employees that you care for them (especially in a country like Mexico where the government fully put on the companies all the efforts to support employment), to tell them directly that everybody is fighting for contracts to execute, and money to pay the wages, and hopefully some remaining margins, you will have created a strong link with senior employees, but also with the so different new generations. The companies that put the human being at the center of their strategy and communication will make the difference. That has always been the case, and today’s situation demonstrates it.

Another strong challenge that we all face during these days is trust. Those who did not trust their employees before, had to change their mind very quickly. And this is much more fundamental than buying a web meeting platform to hold video conferences or enabling people to connect to company servers. Again, it comes from the heart of the management philosophy. Empowering people, and having the right KPI’s in place, gives the manager vision and confidence, and gives the employee new room for autonomy and initiative. More than the fact that people can work from home, the enforced trust that had to be developed in the company will impact its life forever. This is THE opportunity created by the social containment.

What is then the role of the manager? It has not changed. The manager is still the one who must show the path, inform and share the knowns and the unknowns, the certainties and the doubts. It is not a weakness to show your employees that you also suffer under social distancing, the 24/7 home becoming the 24/7 office, the lack of contact with customers and colleagues, the chat at the coffee machine. This is a perfect time to demonstrate humanity from the top of the organization.

And let’s be honest. It is easier to communicate with the whole organization when you do not have to organize a physical meeting, and deal with the where, who and when. This is another main change that will remain, and that is already impacting our organizations. The lines of internal communication have been completely removed, modernized, opened in both ways, and across the org chart. The price for it? Yes, you as a manager have to tell the truth!

Getting people to adhere to the organization’s strategy and core values is a challenge when you do not have them “at hand.” They will only jump in if they are convinced to. You cannot oblige them by email or web conference. Trust must be developed in both directions and in communication channels across the org chart of the company. This needs a stronger personal involvement from the executives, and especially from the top manager. This pandemic shows human relationships as a risk; in the company, the response must be to put more human sense into the relationship between people, and in your community. The new generations are asking for it; COVID-19 is creating the conditions to do it.