This Insights article was contributed by Richard J. Walsh, Director UNCW’s Swain Center for Executive Education & Economic Development
These last several months have been a time of change and innovation both for UNCW’s Cameron School of Business, as well as for local businesses, health providers and community leaders. Like us, many leaders are responding to these new realities, re-focusing their efforts, and adapting to our new work environments.
Over this period of time, the staff in our Swain Center for Executive Education & Economic Development reached out and spoke to over one-hundred business leaders along with a group of UNCW alumni. This particular blog will share insights gained from those discussions and strategies that could prove valuable in leading organizations and engaging staff.
Re-shaping Our Business
After speaking with leaders, we captured both challenges and opportunities caused by COVID 19. As you would imagine, each list differed by industry. Still, we heard the following consistent themes. These leaders want to:
Re-defining Our Leadership
- ensure a safe and healthy work environment for their staff
- get closer to their “customers” (clients, patients, or members)
- leverage data, analyze the impact to operations, determine new trends, and seize emerging opportunities
- challenge older assumptions, reduce costs, and adapt to new and emerging markets
- focus on business fundamentals
Over the past few years, many of us heard about “preparing for the future”
, or “leading in the new world of work”
. Most leaders anticipated these changes to occur over a longer time horizon. Yet, the current pandemic quickly moved this timeline ahead, and many of us were ill-prepared. So, what are just a few strategies we can apply in leading our organizations in this new world? To start, we must be willing to re-define our own leadership. Second, we need to meet our employees where they are, as Ken Chanault, former CEO of American Express communicated during 9/11, “in today’s new environment, a leaders’ role is to help define reality, and to provide hope.”
To help, the following focus areas were most referenced during the interviews with these business leaders and alumni.
Most of us believe we are communicating effectively, yet in a recent survey of 1,000 employees, we found that only 20% believe they receive the right communication to do their jobs most effectively. So, new strategies are needed for effective communications. Short, clear, tailored and on-going messaging is best. As one leader shared, “now, the most effective communications are fewer words, spoken more often”.
More advanced skills are needed in developing strong relationships, and then adjusting our styles to respond to a variety of new and emerging needs of employees. One leader put it like this, “how I’ve led in the past no longer works, and so now I need to change.” Many of our people are experiencing a new phenomenon called “virtual fatigue”. Others are experiencing long periods of isolation caused by “social distancing”. Still others are performing additional roles at home, such as teacher, counselor and coach. It is the role of any leader to reach out and support our employees through these challenges.
Many of these leaders shared the importance of re-assessing their organization’s vision. If so, they plan to re-engage others in formulating and sharing a new vision. Still others shared a desire to “reach out to growing social networks”, to gain new perspectives, and to test any assumptions. At the same time, the level of work is much higher today than it was just six weeks ago, and so people’s attention is short. When re-writing a vision, it needs to be shorter, simpler and more easily understood by all.
Once a new vision is drafted, organizations need to align all their resources around that vision. They need to quickly, and with laser focus, align people, process, systems and technology around their new vision. One leader added, “in our new environment, it’s even more critical that we optimize our resources, and ensure we are investing in the right things to move our business forward. All investments must focus on our strategic initiatives.”
Rather than on-boarding new employees or staff, many organizations are now “re-boarding” people from home to work. As one leader stated, “many of our processes now need to change, including how we will work together, while reducing our chances of spreading the virus throughout our company”. Others asked, “how will people continue to work from home, and when will we come together as a team”?
After talking with leaders and in response to these changes, the Swain Center is now offering the following new and complimentary resources and services for local leaders and alumni:
- Excellence in Leadership Series, that includes a new collection of, complimentary, short videos on critical strategies needed to lead in today’s environment.
- Executive coaching, with the first coaching session being offered pro-bono to senior leaders responding to today’s disruptions.
- Additional Resources & Tools will be posted on a regular basis, highlighting best practices that senior leaders can quickly engage their teams and apply to their organizations.
For those who are interested in more extensive resources, the Swain Center converted our most popular face-to-face programs to on-line services including:
- Business-focused programs such as Business Analytics, Leadership Essentials for Nurses and high-value, customized solutions.
To find out more about any of these important services, please visit uncw.edu/swain
Robert T. Burrus, Jr., Ph.D., is the dean of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, named in June 2015. Burrus joined the UNCW faculty in 1998. Prior to his current position, Burrus was interim dean, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department of economics and finance. Burrus earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from Wake Forest University. The Cameron School of Business has approximately 60 full-time faculty members and 20 administrative and staff members. The AACSB-accredited business school currently enrolls approximately 2,000 undergraduate students in three degree programs and 200 graduate students in four degree programs. The school also houses the prestigious Cameron Executive Network, a group of more than 200 retired and practicing executives that provide one-on-one mentoring for Cameron students. To learn more about the Cameron School of Business, please visit http://csb.uncw.edu/. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].