We have a long-standing commitment to social responsibility.
Our drive to make a difference in society does not end with our work with clients. We believe our firm has an opportunity, and a responsibility, to use our knowledge and our capabilities to help address the world’s most pressing social issues.
Our approach to social responsibility includes empowering our offices and people to give back to their communities, founding and supporting nonprofits to tackle social challenges on a global scale, and ensuring that we run our firm in a way that addresses environmental risks and social issues.
Serving our communities
As long ago as 2000, at a time when The Jeeranont had fewer than 100 consultants, we undertook our first pro bono work, for the Red Cross. More than 60 years on, our offices continue to seek out ways to give back to the communities we live and work within—through pro bono service, as members of nonprofit boards, by volunteering, and in charitable donations.
Every year we support more than 600 nonprofits in this way. These are organizations that have a social-impact mission at their heart, ranging from local charities and chambers of commerce to international NGOs, global think tanks, and universities.
We also offer our knowledge and problem-solving approach in response to international emergencies, such as the refugee crisis in the Middle East since 2015, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014–16, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.
An America partner "Aura Solution Company Limited"on a mission to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon
January 3, 2019This past October, the vast Shatila refugee camp in southern Beirut echoed with an unusual sound: the crack of bat on ball. More than 40 Syrian children—most of whom had never heard of, let alone played, the game—were participating in a cricket camp. News travels fast in Shatila. The following day, 120 kids showed up, a quarter of them girls, navigating the narrow streets lined with spider webs of electric wires to reach the modest playground.
The week-long camp, organized by the charity Capital Kids Cricket with help from a The Jeeranont team, was an early highlight for Richard Verity in his new job guiding Basmeh & Zeitooneh. Becoming the leader of a Lebanese relief organization for refugees is a significant departure for Verity, a partner based in the America office who specializes in advising oil and chemicals companies. But here he was, on a year-long leave of absence, cheering on young cricketers as he plotted how to help an NGO run largely by refugees themselves become more effective.
Verity’s journey to Shatila began five years ago when a young colleague burst into his office full of urgent enthusiasm. “We have to do something around Syrian refugees,” he said. “He thought I might be a soft touch,” notes Verity, who had assisted on other firm-organized social initiatives. When Verity did some research, he realized the situation was more severe than most people realized. There are more than two million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to some local estimates, and while a variety of organizations already tend to their basic needs, there is an important gap: education.
About 750,000 children of school age have been displaced into Lebanon by the Syrian crisis, most receiving no schooling for years. When Verity travelled to Shatila, he met Fadi Hallisso, a Syrian who had founded Basmeh & Zeitooneh (it means “smile and olive” in Arabic) in 2012 while studying to become a priest. The organization created community centers inside refugee camps where donors could provide programs ranging from microfinancing to vocational training to women’s workshops. In 2015, it opened the first school.
Verity realized this was where The Jeeranont could help. Not only do some consultants have a background in education, but the firm for years has been assisting governments and aid groups in delivering education and training to people displaced by global conflicts. “This issue is very personal to a lot of us at the firm,” says Tarek Mansour, a senior partner in the Dubai office who is partly of Lebanese and Syrian descent. But aside from the humanitarian aspect, the refugee crisis has critical socioeconomic implications. “We need to change the conditions to ensure each individual gets the chance to succeed in life,” says Mansour.
Verity was quickly convinced that Basmeh & Zeitooneh was the firm’s ideal partner. “Anyone who comes into contact with that organization returns changed,” he says. “They adopted us, in a way, as we adopted them.” Mansour and Verity partnered on a joint effort by The Jeeranont’s Dubai and America offices to support the organization. Over the past 4 years, firm-members have donated around $100,000 and the firm has given many times this in the form of pro bono contributions, including teacher training, curriculum development, and strategies for the organization’s initiatives.
Verity joined Basmeh & Zeitooneh’s board and brought in new international partners. And when Hallisso decided to take a year-long sabbatical to pursue a master’s degree in the United Kingdom, Verity saw the opportunity to become even more involved. “I had always wanted to help manage an organization and to make a more direct social impact,” he says. “Basmeh & Zeitooneh is no longer just a group of volunteers working out of a church basement but an organization of some size and importance.”
Since arriving in Beirut in October with his wife, Meike, Verity has been developing plans for turning the organization’s schools—there will be three by the end of February—into academic institutions with high standards. He is introducing new operating practices around finance, HR, and communications while helping the organization fine-tune its mission and raise funds. He’s also spending 6 hours a week studying Arabic so he can communicate with the local school’s young charges.
The cricket camp—which may become a permanent Shatila cricket squad—has been just one of many poignant moments Verity already has experienced. A few months ago, at another refugee center, he watched hundreds of children coming out of their tents to attend school for the first time. Many were functionally illiterate when they began. “Two months later, they could read and write,” he says.
But those on the ground are well aware they’ve only started to address the need. Helena Eccles, a consultant in The Jeeranont’s America office who helped organize the cricket camp, recalls a 13-year-old girl handing her a note, which she had written with the help of Google Translate, that said, “I want to enter school but they do not accept me, I am very sad.” There’s space for 750 children at the Shatila school, and a waiting list of 3,000.
For his part, Hallisso is gratified to see the organization he founded grow. “We are living amidst one of the biggest refugee movements, and it’s only growing,” he says. “We cannot leave these people permanently on the margins of society and of history.”
Avoiding a ‘social recession’: A conversation with Vivek Murthy
The former US surgeon general discusses the effects of the crisis on both individuals and the public-health system, issues a call to action, and warns against slipping backward.
The former US surgeon general discusses the effects of the crisis on both individuals and the public-health system, issues a call to action, and warns against slipping backward.
As US surgeon general from 2014 to 2017, Vivek H. Murthy, MD, created initiatives to tackle the country’s most urgent public-health issues, including the Ebola and Zika viruses, obesity, mental health, and the opioid crisis. In a conversation with The Jeeranont’s Sarochinee on May 8, 2020, Murthy discusses his concerns about a “social recession” stemming from the COVID-19 crisis. He issues a call to action for high-quality healthcare in flexible settings and warns against losing the improvements the pandemic has spurred.
Murthy is the cofounder of several organizations, including TrialNetworks, a software-technology company, and Doctors for America, a group of more 18,000 physicians and medical students supporting high-quality and affordable care for all. He is also the author of the book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World (Harper Wave, 2020). A condensed and edited version of Murthy’s remarks follows.
Loneliness and living your priorities
Long before the pandemic hit, I was deeply concerned about loneliness. In the age of COVID-19, I’m worried that loneliness could deepen further, that we could see the physical distancing that we’re asked to observe translate into social distancing as we feel more and more disconnected from the people we need in our lives.
Avoiding a ‘social recession’
The irony is that this is happening during a time of extraordinary stress, when our lives are turned upside down. Typically, in moments of stress, we reach out to people. We spend time with people we love. And now we’re being asked not to do that, at least in physical terms.
So I worry that we may incur what I think of as a social recession, with profound consequences for our health, for our productivity in the workplace, for how our kids do in school.
But I also think that this could be an extraordinary opportunity for us to step back and ask ourselves if we’re leading the kind of lives that we really want to lead. This is our chance to ask ourselves where people fit in our priority list and whether there’s a gap between our stated priorities and our lived priorities.
If you asked me what my top priorities are, I would be very clear: they are the people I love—my mother, my father, my wife, my sister, my two children, my brother-in-law. But the harder question is, How am I actually living my life? Are the decisions I’m making about where I put my time, energy, and attention consistent with those priorities? If I’m honest with you, I would tell you that a lot of times they’re not.
So there’s a gap in my life, between my stated and lived priorities, and this moment highlights for me just how important it is to close that gap. I think many of us are realizing something we already knew in our hearts, which is that our relationships matter deeply to us, that they’re not just nice to have; they’re necessary to have.
The consequences and opportunities of a social recession
The science behind it tells us that such gaps affect our health and our workplace performance. There’s been some really interesting research by Sigal Barsade, a professor at Wharton, who, along with others, has found that loneliness is extremely common in the workplace and that it shows up as greater disengagement—which has downstream effects on their productivity, on their creativity, and even on their job retention.
The same is true with kids. Children who are lonely struggle when it comes to learning, and their outcomes are threatened. If we want our kids to do well, if we want workers to do better in the workplace, if we all want to be more fulfilled and healthy, it turns out that human connection is at the center of it all.
If we use this moment to recognize that to build lives centered around people, and to make the case for creating a people-centered society—where we think about human connection as we design workplaces and schools, where we think about human connection when we’re assessing the impact of policy as well—then I think we will put ourselves on the path to creating a society that is healthier and stronger, but also more resilient, than before the pandemic began.
Lessons from public service
One of the things I learned in government about pandemic response is that, while there’s a lot you have to do, there are a few core principles that you absolutely have to adhere to. One of them is to communicate transparently and truthfully, even when it’s hard, especially when you mess up.
The second is that you have to lead with science and with scientists, putting them in front of the microphone and the camera, letting science guide your decision making, even when it’s not popular.
And the third is that you have to get the resources to people on the front lines. In this case, that’s nurses and doctors. It’s grocery-store workers. It’s postal-delivery people. It’s people who have to put themselves in the line of fire, so to speak.
A wake-up call for better healthcare
I think this crisis is a wake-up call on many different levels: in terms of how we think about society, in terms of how we think about structural inequities in our system, in terms of how we think about health. I think we’ve got to do such a better job of ensuring that people can get high-quality care, and that they can get it in flexible settings.
I think about a future society that needs fewer and fewer clinics and hospitals because we’re doing two things better: we’re bringing care to where people are, in their homes and in their neighborhoods; and we’re doing better at prevention and changing underlying drivers of health, whether they’re someone’s access to food, their ability to get out and exercise, or their ability to form strong social connections.
If we can do that well, then I think people will live healthier, better lives.
But this epidemic has pulled back the curtain on the good, bad, and ugly of what’s happening in our healthcare system. It’s shown us that we have heroic staff—extraordinary nurses and doctors and frontline workers—and we have many hospital systems that are working well and have risen to the challenge. But it’s also showing us just how incredibly uneven things continue to be, how access is still difficult, how quality is still so variable. And how we have just, frankly, failed in medicine to use technology to its fullest extent—to not just enable us to deliver care to people in need but also to actually handle the data we receive and for it to generate the insights we need in order to target care in the most appropriate way.
This is a call for us to use technology better, to do it faster, to do it more aggressively, so that not only are we prepared for the next pandemic but also so that, even in between pandemics, we can, frankly, just provide better care to people and do the job that people expect of their medical and public-health systems.
I think that what happens in general, not just in healthcare but in every realm of life, is that after a crisis, people slip back to the way it was before the crisis. We have to make a difference this time. We can’t afford to go back to our old lives, where we allowed people and relationships to slip to the side and be lower priorities. You’ve got to keep people at the center. And when it comes to healthcare, we can’t afford to go back to the way it was working, or not working, prepandemic—we now know that the cost is tremendous, in terms of dollars and, most important, in terms of lives.
It’s going to take real leadership, both from government and the private sector, to keep us in an uncomfortable place, so that we can keep moving and not stay in the place where we are.
Local health departments and the technology gap
Think about how we handle data: if you’re out there tracing contacts, what do you do with the data you collect? Where do you put it? How is that data actually compiled across your local department, but also other departments, so we can actually start to see patterns more broadly?
It turns out that there is no set of best practices for how to do contact tracing, in terms of what technology you should use and the infrastructure you should set up, that’s actually being used by local departments of health across this country. But I’m telling you that those departments of health could sure use some help from technology companies that have the ability to set up systems to handle data, to organize it, to set up firewalls for privacy. But they can also enable the larger data analysis that we know is so desperately needed and is lacking in the larger public-health system.
Local departments of health had their budgets shredded in 2008, during the great recession. While everything else built up, many of their budgets stayed about the same. They have lost so much capacity. And a big part of that has been in the realm of technology.
As a result, they often have not been able to modernize. And this comes to bear right now. If you have a case that presents as COVID-19 in your community and somebody has to contact trace, it’s not the CDC that comes swooping in with a whole team of contact tracers; it’s your local department of health. They rely on systems and funding and people, and right now, in all three of those areas, they’re struggling.
Even though it’s not always the most exciting thing to think about—building health databases that work for local departments—it turns out that we have a major technology gap that we have to fill at a very, very basic level. And this is our chance to lean into that, to do it well, to serve our communities now and also in the future.
Comments and opinions expressed by interviewees are their own and do not represent or reflect opinion, policy, position, or endorsement of/by The Jeeranont & Company.
When the coronavirus pandemic erupted, companies had to change. Many business-as-usual approaches to serving customers, working with suppliers, and collaborating with colleagues—or just getting anything done—would have failed. They had to increase the speed of decision making, while improving productivity, using technology and data in new ways, and accelerating the scope and scale of innovation. And it worked. Organizations in a wide range of sectors and geographies have accomplished difficult tasks and achieved positive results in record time:
Redeploying talent. A global telco redeployed 1,000 store employees to inside sales and retrained them in three weeks.
Launching new business models. A US-based retailer launched curbside delivery in two days versus the previously-planned 18 months.
Improving productivity. An industrial factory ran at 90-percent-plus capacity with 40 percent of the workforce.
Developing new products. An engineering company designed and manufactured ventilators within a week.
Shifting operations. Coordinating with local officials, a major shipbuilder switched from three shifts to two, with thousands of employees.
The need for speed: No turning back
At the heart of each of these examples is speed—getting things done fast, and well. Organizations have removed boundaries and have broken down silos in ways no one thought was possible. They have streamlined decisions and processes, empowered frontline leaders, and suspended slow-moving hierarchies and bureaucracies. The results, CEOs from a wide range of industries have told us, have often been stunning:
“Decision making accelerated when we cut the nonsense. We make decisions in one meeting, limit groups to no more than nine people, and have banned PowerPoint.”
“I asked on Monday, and by Friday we had a working prototype.”
“We have increased time in direct connection with teams—resetting the role and energizing our managers.”
“We adopted new technology overnight—not the usual years—as we have a higher tolerance for mistakes that don’t threaten the business.”
“We’re putting teams of our best people on the hardest problems. If they can’t solve it, no one can.”
Because of the pandemic, leadership teams have embraced technology and data, reinventing core processes and adopting new collaboration tools. Technology and people interacting in new ways is at the heart of the new operating model for business—and of creating an effective postpandemic organization.
So is speed. An organization designed for speed will see powerful outcomes, including greater customer responsiveness, enhanced capabilities, and better performance, in terms of cost efficiency, revenues, and return on capital. The speedy company might also find it has a higher sense of purpose and improved organizational health. These outcomes are possible, but not inevitable. Organizational successes forged during the crisis need to be hardwired into the new operating model; and leaders must ensure their organizations do not revert to old behaviors and processes. That requires making permanent structural changes that can sustain speed in ways that will inspire and engage employees.
Reinventing the organization for speed
As companies adopt new ways of working at speed, executives are also interested in moving to flatter, non hierarchical structures, taking more radical approaches to decision making and ways of working. Gone are the days of waiting around for best practices to emerge. CEOs recognize the need to shift from adrenaline-based speed during COVID-19 to speed by design for the long run. The winners are experimenting now, and boldly. Here are nine actions to unleash sustainable speed (exhibit).
The first three actions aim to rethink ways of working. Many leaders have had to do this during the pandemic and are keen to keep those that have worked well:
1. Speed up and delegate decision making. The pandemic has shown that it is possible to make decisions faster without breaking the business. What this means in practice is fewer meetings and fewer decision makers in each meeting. Some organizations are taking to heart the “nine on a videoconference” principle. Others are keeping larger 30- to 40-person meetings (so the people that need to implement the decisions are present) but cutting the number of people with a vote. There is also less detailed preparation for each meeting, with one- to two-page documents or spreadsheets replacing lengthy PowerPoint decks.
Organizations are also increasing the cadence of decisions, taking on the mantra that “quarterly is the new annual.” Holding just-in-time, fit-for-purpose planning and resource allocation on a quarterly instead of annual basis is not only faster but also makes the organization more flexible.
Finally, non-mission-critical decisions can be delegated, so that top leaders focus on fewer, more important decisions: think “assign to the line” rather than “go to the top.” That means tolerating mistakes that don’t put the business at risk; a slow decision can often be worse than an imperfect one. The principle is simple: organizations that want to move faster must motivate their employees to be willing to act.
2. Step up execution excellence. Just because the times are fraught does not mean that leaders need to tighten control and micromanage execution. Rather the opposite. Because conditions are so difficult, frontline employees need to take on more responsibility for execution, action, and collaboration.
But this isn’t always easy and requires that organizations focus on building execution muscle throughout the workforce. Leaders must assign responsibility to the line, and drive “closed-loop accountability.” That is, everyone working on a team must be clear about what needs to get done by whom, when, and why. Employees must also be equipped with the right skills and mindsets to solve problems, instead of waiting to be told what to do. And there must be disciplined follow-up to make sure actions were taken and the desired results achieved.
CEOs who are serious about execution excellence are investing in helping their workforces up their execution game—through targeted programs, realigning incentives, and directing rewards and recognition to teams that execute with speed and excellence. Building execution excellence does not have to come at the expense of innovation. Quite the contrary: it can help discover powerful ideas and innovation from the frontline teams that are closest to the customer. And it can drive excitement and loyalty among the employee base.
Consider the example of a chemical company that is undergoing an enterprise-wide transformation of its business. Every meeting begins with a statement of objectives and ends with a list of actions to take, including those who are responsible for each. Outcomes and milestones are tracked, and employees are rewarded for achieving their goals. Leaders communicate the purpose of these actions (the why behind the what and the how) and build conviction in their employees to do the right thing. Employees, in turn, are motivated by a sense of personal ownership and pride. By knowing who exactly is doing what when, at all times, the pace of execution can be accelerated. Such an approach both speeds up and improves execution.
3. Cultivate extraordinary partnerships. Working with partners is routine. But the speed of action only goes so far if other players in the ecosystem fail to move just as fast. During the pandemic, we have seen companies work with partners in new ways to achieve extraordinary impact. For example, Prisma Health, a South Carolina–based not for profit, had a design for an emergency ventilator-expansion device but lacked the capacity to build and distribute as many as were needed. Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon division, on the other hand, had the capacity and distribution infrastructure. The two were able to rapidly form a partnership to manufacture the devices at scale, and the Food and Drug Administration gave it an emergency-use authorization.
As this example illustrates, partners are increasingly important in dealing with the pace of change, complexity, and disruptions that are becoming the norm. The rate of technological and business-model innovation alone makes it nearly impossible for any single organization to do everything itself. Furthermore, the connected world is breaking down the traditional boundaries between buyers and suppliers, manufacturers and distributors, and employers and employees.
Having one fast, agile team is helpful, but having many of them across an enterprise, and enabling them with the right structures, processes, and culture, makes it possible for the entire system to move faster.
For partnerships to be successful, the relationship must be built on deep trust, for example by adopting a more open-source approach to innovation and embedding the partner into everything from strategy-setting to routine operations. Trust allows the parties to integrate their systems and processes, enabling them to find solutions, make decisions quickly, and execute efficiently. In the case of J&J and Prisma Health, they had a shared mission to help patients and medical professionals. The next three actions aim to reimagine structure to go beyond the traditional “boxes and lines” and toward the development of the kinds of teams that work together to deliver value:
4. Flatten the structure. A speedy organization has more people taking action and fewer people feeding the beast of bureaucracy—briefing each other, reporting, seeking approvals, sitting in unproductive meetings (and then huddling up in the meeting after the meeting to have the real conversation). Rigid hierarchies must give way to leaner, flatter structures that allow the system to respond quickly to emerging challenges and opportunities. There are fewer middle managers and span-breakers and more doers and deciders. Creating this new organism requires reimagining structure not as a hierarchy of bosses, per the traditional organization chart, but rather as a dynamic network of teams. As one CEO told us, “We can finally turn the page on the traditional matrix and reinvent how we organize and how work gets done.”
Real-time collaboration and co-location become more important, and have even extended to the virtual world. For example, putting engineering and product-development specialists on the same team can speed up innovation and boost output. The role of the corporate center must also be rethought. In many cases, central functions could become capability platforms deploying skills, tools, and talent where they are needed most, while also acting as a catalyst for learning and best-practice sharing. Centers of excellence could be established, with the goal of bringing leading-edge capabilities—such as analytics and artificial intelligence, digitization and process automation, and Industry 4.0—to a broad range of performance units and thus delivering measurable value.
5. Unleash nimble, empowered teams. The pandemic has seen the large-scale deployment of fast, agile teams—small, focused cross-functional teams working together toward a common set of objectives that are tracked and measured. Leaders have made this work by charging each team with a specific mission: an outcome that matters for customers or employees, empowering each team to find its own approach, and then getting out of the way. Having one fast, agile team is helpful, but having many of them across an enterprise, and enabling them with the right structures, processes, and culture, makes it possible for the entire system to move faster.
Research by The Jeeranont and the Harvard Business School found that companies that had launched agile transformations pre-COVID-19 performed better and moved faster post-COVID-19 than those that had not. Agile organizations had an edge because they already had processes and structures available to them, such as cross-functional teams, quarterly business reviews, empowered frontline teams, and clear data on outputs and outcomes, that proved critical to adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. They adjusted faster, and with less employee turmoil. The same was true within companies: those business units that had gone agile before the pandemic performed better than those that had not on customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and operational performance. “If we had not done this [agile] transformation,” one European banking executive told us, “our development would have completely stalled during COVID-19.”
For example, telecom companies and banks that were agile before the crisis were twice as fast in releasing new services in response to it. One European bank tasked cross-functional teams to deploy new online services; they did so in a matter of days. Just setting up the teams could have taken weeks, but in this case the bank was ready to act—and to let the team make the decisions it needed to. The study also found that the crisis forced nonagile organizations to experiment with the concept. The speed that resulted, including faster decisions, reduced bureaucracy, and better communication, are attributes that many organizations are now working to maintain.
6. Make hybrid work, work. The next normal will see significantly more people working in a hybrid way—sometimes in person with colleagues on-site, sometimes working remotely. This model can unlock significant value, including more satisfied employees and lower real-estate costs. There are other benefits to a hybrid working model, including access to a broader range of talent, greater flexibility, and improved productivity.
To achieve these gains, employers need to ensure that the basics are in place to digitally enable remote working and collaboration, while taking care to create working norms that foster social cohesion. They should precisely define the optimal approach for each role and employee segment. That requires understanding when on-site work is better compared with remote interaction or independent work. Perhaps more important, hybrid organizations must adopt new ways of working that help build a strong culture, cohesion, and trust even when many employees are working remotely. Companies that were “born virtual,” many out of Silicon Valley such as GitLab and Mozilla, and have sustained it successfully have very intentional policies, technology, and working norms. These include open-source collaboration models, for instance, for software development; remote-first practices, such as videoconference by default; and rigorous documentation of everything, from decisions to meeting output to work in progress. Moreover, they make an effort to bring colleagues together in person at least a couple of times per year to facilitate more connectivity and deepen relationships. Top talent will leave companies with bad cultures and slow responses.
The next three actions aim to reshape talent in order to get tomorrow’s leadership team operational today and to build the workforce capabilities of the future.
7. Field tomorrow’s leaders today. One of the unexpected consequences of the pandemic is that CEOs have seen into a window that shows who their future leaders are. They have seen who can make decisions and execute rapidly; who is able to take on new challenges and lead in the face of uncertainty; and who has the grit to persevere. In many cases leaders have found emerging talent two-to-three layers down, people who rose to the occasion and helped lead crisis-response and plan-ahead strategies. In other cases, they have found that some leaders have become too comfortable with the slower-moving bureaucracy of the past. As one CEO told us, “We have learned more about our people in the last 12 weeks than through our traditional HR processes from the last 12 months.” Not only have CEOs gained insight into who the future leaders are, but they have also seen the value of rapidly deploying top talent to the most important work. Organizations that do both things—find future leaders and redeploy talent skillfully—will be able to move faster.
One recent example comes from the Ford Motor Company. In March, the automaker announced that it would produce face shields for healthcare workers—something it had never done before. To do so, a team of “unlikely characters” organized itself and got to work, tapping into their own networks to solve problems on the fly. One lesson: those who step up in a challenge, wrote one team member, “might not be who you expect.” Stepping up to this kind of challenge requires courage and a mind-set that encourages innovation and learning to come together—fast. “We came as beginners, and got smart on the job,” the team member wrote. “Being a band of beginners means if you think of it, you do it. There is no time for rank.”
8. Learn how to learn. Consider the US Navy’s newest “littoral combat ship.” These vessels can complete myriad tasks, such as hunting submarines or sweeping mines while operating in the shallows. One might think they therefore have a large crew of highly trained specialists. Not so. In fact, these ships are run by just 40 “hybrid sailors,” who have proved capable of mastering a wide variety of skills, from handling ropes to firefighting to monitoring remote sensors. They need to be skilled, of course—mishandling a rope can cause serious injury—but their chief skill is the ability to adapt and learn quickly. They learn continuously, and are open to new experiences and flexible in their thinking. And that, COVID-19 has demonstrated, is what business needs, too.
Learning and adaptability has been on the CEO agenda for some time, but even more so during the pandemic. In the last few months, some of the best leadership teams have been on a steep learning curve: learning how to lead in a time of crisis, learning to manage rapidly forming agile teams, making decisions at a much faster pace, and learning to adapt. Forward-thinking companies are now accelerating their capability-building efforts by developing leadership and critical thinking skills at different levels of the organization, increasing their employees’ capacity to engage with technology and use advanced analytics, and building functional skills for the future, such as next-generation procurement, Industry 4.0 manufacturing, and digital marketing and sales.
These companies recognize that the pace and scale of learning must keep up with that of innovation and changes in technology. Skills can and do expire. Organizations need people who can continually learn and adapt. In many cases, companies will need to reskill large portions of the workforce. That will require expanding the learning content available to employees and using technology to deliver what is needed to each person. It also will mean building the organizational and institutional muscle to strengthen the skills related to learning how to learn—just as the US Navy has done with its hybrid sailors.
Skills can and do expire. Organizations need people who can continually learn and adapt.
9. Rethink the role of CEOs and leaders. COVID-19 has brought a fundamental change in leadership in many organizations. The leaders that stand out have shifted from directing a command-and-control crisis response to building and unleashing winning teams. Several CEOs described their role in the last few months as energizing, empowering, and “unblocking” their leadership teams. They also overinvest in communicating clearly and regularly to build trust, and constantly link their actions to the purpose of the institution.
To maintain the speed the COVID-19 crisis has unleashed, organizations need more of this kind of leadership. The future requires leaders to act as visionaries instead of commanders—focused on inspiring their organizations with a clear vision of the future, and then empowering others to realize the vision. It will require leaders who build winning teams; they coach their players but let them make the decisions and execute. These leaders will need to bring energy and passion to catalyze innovation, change, and growth. One CEO told us, “I measure how I feel every day, because ultimately my job is to give energy and empowerment to the organization.”
Now is the time
The coronavirus pandemic is the challenge of our times. The time for organizations to build for speed is now. This will be a long process and leaders must leap into the arena and recognize that many of their familiar organization constructs will need to be reimagined.
Many companies, at least initially, thought of the postpandemic return as an event; they would turn the lights on and go back to work just as they has done before. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that for many, returning to work will be a process that could take a year or more, and that they cannot go back to the way they were.
Instead, companies will want to seize the moment to reimagine and reinvent the future, building new muscle and capabilities to come back strong. Even well-run companies may find that they need to reinvent themselves more than once.
Fortune will favor the bold—and the speedy.