Probably the most frequently mentioned quote I’ve heard during this pandemic is by Lenin, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. Clearly, 2020 has dramatically escalated business transformation – both in terms of challenges and opportunities.
To gain insight, on August 27, 2020, I moderated a panel of leaders in: financial services, retail, manufacturing, infrastructure, technology and telecommunications to talk about leadership during the pandemic and their view of the future. Many ideas emerged including: 5G, ESG, BlueJeans video-conferencing, and the virtual customer experience. The panel was:
– Fred Crawford, President, Aflac Incorporated
– Gina Drosos, CEO, Signet Jewelers (Kay’s Jared, Zales etc.)
– Dave Hopping, CEO, Siemens Smart infrastructure
– Sampath Sowmyanarayan, President, Global Enterprise Verizon Business
Robert Reiss: Talk about your leadership philosophy during 2020.
Dave Hopping: “Before the pandemic, our focus was on strategy, vision, empowerment and execution. Now our leadership goal is to create and embrace an ownership culture that supports flexible thinking and prioritizes value results versus activity results.”
Fred Crawford: “I have a philosophy that says, ‘take action and see things for what they are, not how you hope them to be” – you need to be transparent with yourself, your employees, and stakeholders on the risks and required actions and change. Investors for example will read more risk and assume there are more issues unless you are transparent. Sometimes you need to know how bad, bad looks, in order to find better solutions on how to deal with a problem.”
Gina Drosos: “My leadership philosophy before the pandemic was to continue to learn the work you do, empower the people around you, and execute a disciplined operating strategy. Today, the first two ideas remain, but I believe in the power of strategic agility now more than ever. “
Sampath Sowmyanarayan: “Right now, two things I look for. One is speed of change. How quickly can my teams and my technology teams and ops teams adapt to change quick? The second one is employee engagement at an even higher level. Two reasons, one, everyone is remote. Second is also a more social engagement.
Historically you had business and you had social issues and we’re very careful how we merge the two together. I think over the last six, seven months especially what’s going on in our country, we are seeing a lot more of those two lines cross paths and it is so important to stay connected to your employees.”
Reiss: As you look at the future, what is one important focus for you?
Drosos: “Retail, especially in the jewelry business, is all about trust. Post-COVID, customers will experience a more integrated shopping experience – one that better connects brick and mortar with technology. Also, the expectation that the shopping experience should be personalized and seamless will remain. Shopping online allows customers to customize their searches and wish lists, and leverage their personal creativity to make their purchases their own. It’s less about finding the right piece, and more about bringing your vision to life. Our virtual experience enables that in an innovative, exciting way.”
Crawford: “ As we structure things for flexibility we see digital advancements as a means to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce waste and go paperless in both the U.S. and Japan. For example we are investing 9 billion yen to reduce over 80 million pieces of paper in Japan in the next two years. While more efficient, it also reduces our carbon footprint. A lot of people think E-S-G, which stands for Environment, Social and Governance, should be E-E-S-G to reflect a focus on Employees. We see a move towards working remotely or a virtual workforce as offering a more flexible work-life balance and ability to increase our already diverse workforce as well.”
Hopping: “5G technology is essential for the future of business and provides the flexibility to meet our now normal. It enables us to diversify our workforce that is no longer bound by geographic location, create better work-life balance and make in-person buildings or work sites safer for those who will continue to work in-person. 5G is essential for building owners, managing indoor spaces and the future of the industry. Right now, people are enjoying being remote and the work life balance that accompanies this, but miss the social interaction and collaboration that the office provides. We are in a new normal where the future will be much more flexible and reliant on 5G to help enable us.”
Sowmyanarayan: “This pandemic has quickened the pace of digital transformation and has made video-conferencing the norm for communciations. That’s why Verizon recently acquired BlueJeans, which is the one video-conferencing technology specifically built for the enterprise. Its ‘smart meeting’ technology enables capturing real-time snippets of quotes and transcripts to make meetings significantly more productive and transferable … and also, by design, it is the most secure conferencing tool. We see BlueJeans as the video-conferencing tool that will become part of the DNA of the organization of the future.”
… In summary, leaders – perhaps more today than ever — have a keen ability to shape the future. With the volatility that 2020 has brought, now is the time to reimagine a stronger business, economy and society. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “The future depends on what you do today.”
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