As companies move forward into unchartered economic and social territory, they will need leaders who are capable of responding to dramatic change with a keen sense of strategy and a calm guiding hand. Executive recruitment will involve searching for candidates who are equal to the task of navigating the market effects of so-called ‘black swan’ world events, while also providing a strong, yet empathetic, presence internally. These leadership skills have never been more important, but recruiting for them now takes place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which complicates the interview process. It’s important for companies to understand that strong executive leadership candidates are available. Undertaking a successful search involves combining a strong sense of the characteristics they desire with a good game plan for evaluating candidates in an environment that makes face to face meetings difficult.
The Importance of Crisis Leadership
A new report on crisis leadership highlights the importance of steady leadership during periods of change.
“The leader has to be well-versed in transformation through uncertainty, as well as visionary. It is critical to plan for how the organization will adapt in the face of economic change in order to not only survive disruption but to come out of it in a better position than ever before. This requires the right balance of ambition and pragmatism achieved through an understanding of situations, their impact and their potential.”1
Big Picture Strategy During Periods of Change
COVID-19 created a myriad of challenges that needed immediate attention and, indeed, attention to detail is often key to survival during turbulent times. Equally important, however, is the ability to see the forest for the trees and respond with big picture ideas.
“While in a crisis it is easy to get consumed with micro issues, real leaders know that they must focus on macro issues like business strategy and future direction,” says Tim McNamara, vice chairman, U.S. at Odgers Berndtson. “Even boards are likely to have to step up and become more involved. Old ways of doing things will of necessity change.”2
Managing Remote Workforces
Although many companies are returning to their workplaces, the lockdown has cast a spotlight upon the possibilities of a remote workforce. Nobody knows exactly where the ball will land, but a more hybrid approach to office work vs. working remotely seems to be in store. Managing teams that are not physically present requires a different skill set, with new approaches to oversight and motivation as well as an increased reliance on technology. Even managing those who do physically return to the workplace will require a competent communicator with an empathetic manner. Leaders who are change averse or lacking in technological skills will find themselves ill equipped for this new environment.
The Importance of the CFO
Recent years have seen a greater appreciation for the role of the Chief Financial Officer. As companies re-evaluate their product and service offerings, pricing strategies, supply chain and more in response to COVID-19, the importance of financial leadership is being recognized.
“The CFO role has grown from “best accountant” to strategic thinker,” says Forbes magazine. “Historically, chief financial officers focused on financial reporting, compliance, and expense management. Rather than report facts after they happen, the CFO has instead become a driver of change throughout the organization. She is often the most important advisor the chief executive officer has, and is arguably the second most important executive in the company.”3
“Gone are the days when a CFO’s role was traditionally centred around cost and compliance,” reads a recent article in Exchange 4 Media. “It is now expanding to not just strategy and vision, but also to being a team-player that reaches beyond numbers and exhibits empathy, to chart a clear course for his team.”4
“Especially in the United States, currency fluctuations placed stress on our forecasting,” said Rick Zaboysky of Dovre Imports. “Hedging on currency is a necessary part of our planning. Beyond attempting to balance our inventory levels with anticipated demand, we also try to balance our forward contracts in such a way that allows us to avoid passing price increases down to our customers.”5
Recruiting Executives Remotely
Current social distancing protocols and travel restrictions mean that at least part of the interview process is likely to be done through video chats. Although this level of physical separation can make it difficult to establish a rapport, it’s not without its benefits. As we mentioned in a recent blog post, a remote workforce means access to a more geographically diverse talent pool, giving a company access to a greater than ever number of potential candidates.
Additionally, a candidate’s level of comfort with the remote approach to the recruitment process may be indicative of his or her level of ability to manage a remote workforce.
The old adage that the only thing certain is change feels very real in 2020. While nobody can predict the future, we can look to invest in executive leadership that display the attributes best suited for dealing with unexpected events.