Covid Leadership:

With Brexit on the horizon, 2020 was always likely to have its challenges; no one, however, could quite have predicted events thus far. You could argue that leadership has never been more critical – the consumer-facing industries, which rely heavily both on footfall and discretionary spend, have been particularly impacted by COVID-19. A well-respected retail CEO recently told Norman Broadbent that the task of keeping her senior team motivated to the level needed in a crisis situation “for months, with no end in sight” was “exhausting”. It is true that we are currently witnessing the redefinition of resilience and agility; we see some leaders rising to the challenge and others struggling.

In recent months, we have seen deeply humane behaviour – for example, an HR Director being the sole member of her leadership team to spend time during lockdown in the factory alongside key workers to show solidarity – and some concerning activity whereby a CEO was surprised to note that  no-one had been in touch with furloughed employees because the majority of the people team was also on furlough. A steady mind and good EQ are critical tools within the COVID leadership toolkit; in the months and years to come, today’s leaders will be held to account by both their employees and their consumers for their integrity.

Innovation and agility have also been seen as critical to preserving existing revenue streams as well as creating new ones. Some areas of the consumer and retail industry have seen demand increase significantly for certain products: a functional leader from a large technology retailer commented that “it’s like Black Friday or Christmas online every day right now”, and the CHRO from a large FMCG business told us that they were struggling to keep up with demand. Often, it is the goodwill of employees and their creative thinking that have been key to resolving the issues caused by these spikes, which are sometimes as much about supplier or commodity limitations. Solutions have included being more flexible on packaging formats to resolve supplier shortages, for example, and deploying existing brands into new markets to cover shortfall. For consumer businesses in particular, creating direct to consumer/D2C channels has also been important, allowing them (and their consumers) to circumvent some of the logistics issues that have bedevilled their traditional routes to market.

To paraphrase Churchill, a crisis is also an opportunity to re-evaluate talent and for organisations to ensure that they are well placed for Q4 2020 and beyond. According to a survey that we conducted earlier in the summer, only 42% of businesses are confident in their succession planning and three quarters of new hires do not have the skills required for the future success of their company. Norman Broadbent has continued to support our clients throughout the crisis; experienced digital leaders both interim and permanent have been in even higher demand over the past months. We have also been asked to support succession planning initiatives to ensure a strong pipeline and for research and insight to help benchmark internal leaders vs. external ones, supporting appointment decisions and ensuring confidence at board level in both current leadership as well as the talent pipeline.

No business was prepared for the dramatic changes we have seen since Covid-19 hit our shores. Against this backdrop, workable talent solutions delivered by trusted innovative partners will be critical to recovery. You need a partner experienced in managing high levels of change, who will deliver pragmatic and practical solutions for today and tomorrow, to budget and with space.

If you would like to hear more about Norman Broadbent’s solutions, talk through a potential assignment or talent problem in confidence, please don’t hesitate to contact us. These are challenging times but there is also great opportunity: we will support you in delivering the people and talent solutions needed to address issues and drive new growth.

If you would like to discuss this article, market trends more generally, or to have a confidential discussion about your own hiring challenges and plans, please do not hesitate to contact Lucie Shaw  via