At Robert Half and Protiviti we believe there is tremendous value to be gained in collaborating and learning from each other at this challenging time. Hearing new and unexpected perspectives from others can help challenge your thinking, provide confidence in your own plans and increase your resilience.
More than 120 business leaders joined our thirteenth Enterprise & Market Resilience During COVID-19 virtual roundtable at 8.00 am on Thursday 11 June. The aim is to have an hour-long meeting each week on Thursdays and build a community of people from different industries who can share relevant materials and experiences of operating in ‘the new normal’.
- Businesses are gearing up for reopening operations with a mixture of health and safety measures and new digital processes.
- The frequency and quality of communications with stakeholders has increased significantly.
- But those communications should be authentic, empathetic and purposeful if brands are not to be exposed in the court of public opinion.
Returning and reimagining: the next stage for businesses
The general business mood has shifted to one where business leaders are looking forward to recovery, reactivation and re-evaluation, said Leyla Tindall, Managing Director, Robert Half Executive Search. The global recruitment barometer continues to show accelerating requirements for skilled professionals, while in the UK there is particular demand in London for technology candidates, accountants and lawyers.
Andrew Eddles is Finance Director for Operations and Channels at Dixons Carphone Warehouse, one of the UK’s largest retail organisations. He said that the huge uptick in demand for laptops and screens for home working and learning that the business saw in the early days of lockdown has continued over the past 12 weeks, along with sales of gaming consoles, printers and white goods.
Although the company has faced some stock shortages in its supply chain and has needed to address connectivity challenges for colleagues working from home, it has adapted processes and channel strategies to meet changing needs. For example, it has introduced apps that enable contact-free kerbside product pick-ups and live virtual demonstrations.
It has also redeployed store staff to work as contact centre agents to deal with a higher volume of queries, just as employee absence and sickness rates grew because of Coronavirus.
As the business prepares to reopen high street stores, Eddles believes there will be pent-up demand not just from customers wanting to return goods but also those who enjoy visiting stores. The experiential element of retail will become more important in an age of commoditised products, he said, which means bricks and mortar retail is here to stay – albeit augmented by digital channels.
People come first
Like all organisations, Dixons Carphone Warehouse has had to take important measures to protect staff and customers with PPE equipment, social distancing and signage in stores and warehouses - and to plan for risks including new cases of Covid-19 infection among its workforce.
The same applies to Asahi International, which is the custodian for leading super premium beer, ale, craft lager and cider brands. Its CFO Ronan Cummings said that the first action his organisation took was to agree three guiding principles to guide it through the pandemic: people and their safety came first, but business resilience needed to be protected and strong financials, including cashflow, safeguarded.
Board members committed to meeting every morning to exchange updates, then to send out email communications to employees to keep them informed of the latest developments. The board has stepped up communications significantly, ensuring board members are available to discuss any concerns and wellbeing issues staff may have, or to attend online meetings.
Asahi was coincidentally planning a move to a new HQ for back office staff, which would have involved all of its staff working remotely or from temporary offices. This meant it had already set up relevant technology, which could be accessed as the lockdown began, and that staff were fully prepared for the change.
Asahi has also protected jobs and remuneration for its people, while ensuring breweries and other workplaces are safe - and manufacturing hand sanitiser for use internally or for donation to other organisations. Its biggest challenge has been the switch from on-trade to off-trade sales, which has involved repackaging goods and changing stock keeping unit (SKU) codes.
Authentic, empathetic, purposeful
Victoria Cross, Managing Partner at corporate communications firm Instinctif, said that authenticity has never been more important than it is today. Brands jumping on the bandwagon of current issues without having the credentials to back up statements or views are quickly exposed by stakeholders.
Empathy for stakeholders in communications is also important, said Cross. She recommended the ‘family and friends’ test to check whether messages will resonate effectively with customers, who may well be experiencing poor levels of service. Without the right language, messages may come across as just another example of corporate speak.
And leaders should ensure they communicate with purpose, she added. Before sending out messages to customers or staff, check they are providing relevant information that people can’t already get from another source. Messages of reassurance and positivity, while still demonstrating realism, will be particularly welcomed.
The pandemic is creating an opportunity for business leaders and their communication teams to consider how to codify learnings and business change, and to ‘bottle up the good stuff’ for the future, concluded Cross, and that organisations’ crisis manuals will need to be updated to take account of similar situations to the current pandemic- and a potential second wave.
Read more about our previous virtual discussions during COVID-19.
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