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6 Management Skills for the Future of Business

Don’t wear face masks. Wear face masks. The elderly are vulnerable. The young are vulnerable. This will end soon. This will be seasonal. We knew this was coming. No one knew this was coming. The market is down. Now it’s up. Now it’s down.

News about COVID-19 whipsaws us with each headline and social media post. Here’s a truth to hang on to. It’s going to be a while before we get back to normal. When people say, “this is the new normal,” it doesn’t mean much because a day later everything changes. Then everyone says that’s the new normal…until the next day.

The truth is, today is abnormal and tomorrow will only bring a new abnormal. In this way, the impact of COVID-19 is unprecedented, which makes it difficult to model off the past. Savings and loan crisis, tech bubble, housing meltdown? Not the same. That doesn’t mean we stop looking forward. It does mean we should rethink how to lead when abnormal doesn’t yet have an end date.  

Management Skills for Moving Forward Through Change

1. Agility vs. Adaptability

Among the management skills you must have as a leader, acceptance that things will be unpredictable is the most important. You must expect randomness. That means you need to be agile and adaptable—which aren’t the same thing. Normally, you can adapt, and evolve over time as an organization. But right now, you must also be agile because we don’t know what’s coming next. Agile means you can change quickly within the boundaries of your existing organization. Your job is to create an environment that allows both to happen.

2. Keep People First

If your organization needs to be agile and adaptable, then so do your people. Asking that of them, requires them to trust you. They need to know you are working to support them. Do everything possible to take care of them (e.g. updated sick leave policies, remote work) and help them take of care of each other (e.g. virtual coffee chats, support groups). Be open with them. Let them know how you are doing, what worries you and what gives you hope.

In an unstable world, your care, honesty and humanity are stabilizers. Humility and forgiveness will also be necessary. Mistakes will be made by you and others. Have the humility to acknowledge mistakes and the ability to forgive others when they do the same. Those traits maximize learning and are the springboard for moving forward.

3. Contingency Plans…Plural

Every plan should have several contingency plans. Gather your team and ask, “If we do X, what happens if we can’t travel this year? What if a key person has to care for a family member? What if we don’t have the funding we hoped for?” Keep asking those types of questions for every part of your best laid plans.

Once you’ve planned, set a monthly cadence for revisiting goals, pulse checking organizational morale and assessing the needs of customers and communities. Yes, every month. Depending on your context, maybe every week. The way to beat randomness is by being responsive. To do that, you need to be in tune with all your stakeholders. This won’t always lead to specific actions, but it will ensure you don’t miss the critical moments when you need to pivot.

4. Execute. Pivot. Repeat.

Contingency planning is easy compared to executing the contingency plan. To succeed you need people who can execute no matter what you’ll face tomorrow. You need people who can easily pivot. Identify those people in your organization. Do all you can to retain them. They are critical to your success because for the next six to twelve months, you’ll be running in spurts. That doesn’t mean lose sight of the long game, but what we’re facing now is a series of short games strung together, with pivots at each point. Followed by execution. Pauses to assess. Pivots if needed. Then more execution.

5. Focus on Diversity

Emerging data suggest COVID-19 will impact marginalized populations the most. They may be represented in your workforce or relatives of teammates or your customers. Even if not, keep in mind that organizations are always part of a broader community. What you need inside your organization are people who understand how this is affecting a wide range of people and communities. It’s important to draw on multiple perspectives, particularly during uncertainty. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.

Stanford Professor James March has noted that homogeneous groups become progressively less able to create different solutions. Their backgrounds are so similar that their knowledge overlaps and adds no new information to the discussion. Diversity, however, increases the unique data living and breathing in your organization. When information is constantly evolving, diversifying the personal and professional experiences at the table will only strengthen decisions.

6. Anchor on Values and Principles

You will face moments when you need to make decisions without normal inputs like accurate information and data. In their absence, operational and cultural principles can play a similar role, serving as guidance for action and behavior. In those moments, anchor hard on your values and principles: This is what matters to us. This is how we operate. This is who decides. This is how we treat each other.

Hong Kong’s post-WWII rise to power is a great example of this management skill in action. To spur entrepreneurship, they relied less on economic data and operated on long-standing principles that prioritized local business owners. Your values and principles shouldn’t shift. Discuss them openly. Lionize people who exhibit them. They will keep your ship steady and provide much needed direction.

The New Abnormal

Your north star is still important. The path to get there has never been linear. Pivots always happen. Now they are going to happen harder and more frequently. The pendulum of recalibration, on every level, will continue to swing. It’s unclear when and where it will finally rest. As it swings, keep revisiting your leadership. People will remember how you reacted and the decisions you made in this moment. They are your employees, colleagues, friends, customers and community. They are future leaders and what you do teaches them how to lead the next time something similar comes around. And it will come around. Because this is the new abnormal and these are the management skills you must rely on to navigate it.

Excerpted with permission from Mastering the Hire by Chaka Booker, copyright Chaka Booker.

Chaka Booker

Chaka Booker is a Forbes monthly contributor and has also written for the Stanford Social Innovation Review and Success magazine. He is the author of Mastering the Hire, which focuses on unique interviewing strategies for consistently identifying great talent.

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