PS: What I’ve seen in the last few years, especially during the pandemic, is that resilience is overrated. Too often, we have unrealistic expectations of people and particularly leaders. When looked at through another lens, vulnerability is powerful. There is a positive shift in leaders and managers to accept that being vulnerable makes us more real, more relatable, and doesn’t set unrealistic expectations. Recent Harvard Business Review research showed that the single biggest factor that triggers oxytocin levels in the brain at work is when a leader, manager, or colleague shows vulnerability. Resilience is sometimes not as powerful as we think. Being honest about that can have an even more powerful impact.
WC: The more senior you are, the more you are expected to cope with whatever’s thrown at you. There are extreme, controversial examples where organizations employ psychologists to perform regression reviews that dive into the foundational years and see the likely breaking point of their executives. There is also a tendency to encourage resilience, almost as though we’re in battle: the attitude that people should be patched up and put back into the field to sustain more attacks. The frustration is that the c-suite and also junior members are not making full use of their range of strengths and talents. If people feel as though they are being utilized in the best way and adding value, they will feel more motivated, resilient, and willing to cope with more issues.
CO: No one was prepared for the pandemic. I led an office of 20 people in Nairobi and my first thought was to move to help the business survive. My second priority was to protect employees. I believe if you look after the people in your organization, then money and growth will follow. Therefore, it is essential to seek to provide solutions that are amicable to both employees and employers. It has been amazing how we have all adapted in this unprecedented time, and, thankfully, Crowe Kenya was already on its digital transformation journey before the virus struck. However, remote working has been difficult in Africa, where power blackouts are frequent, and given only about 3 percent of the population across the continent has been vaccinated, we are still not in the clear.
WC: One of the main things leaders could do better is provide clear communications and context about what’s happening to the business and why specific directions are being taken. They have information about strategy and finances. But all too often, that information is not passed on to managers and other parts of the organization. It is natural to fill the knowledge gaps, and most of the time, we jump to negative conclusions. The human brain doesn’t cope well with ambiguity. No one likes to feel left in the dark. It doesn’t cost any money and only a little time, but if leaders can share their reasoning, it will have a big impact on boosting motivation.
CO: Technology is such a huge enabler and in this period of uncertainty it can help build resilience and agility. Over 10 years ago, I made the bold decision to go paperless and there was initially a lot of resistance from older employees. I worked out that I needed to convert them slowly and explain and stress the benefits. We have looked to recruit young people as they understand technology more and are, therefore, more flexible and innovative. By providing them with the tools and access to the Crowe global network, they can add value for our clients.
PS: At HSBC, we have invested consciously in upgrading all of our digital systems, but we have determined that the differentiator for us is always going to be the human advantage. Three skills that can’t – yet – be replicated by computers are communication, curiosity, and creativity. There is a lot of fear about computers taking over, but they are creating extraordinary new roles and that has to be embraced. There is great potential when you combine humans and technology, but the former must be trained to maximize the opportunity presented by the latter.
CO: While it is true that many office blocks in Nairobi are empty, and no one misses the horrendous road traffic, many young people find it hard to work efficiently at home – especially mothers, who are expected to look after children. The WiFi connection may not be excellent or consistent away from the office and will cost employees money. Plus, people tend to work longer hours when they are at home, which must be managed, so their mental health doesn’t suffer. Leaders have to ensure their team has all the tools they need and regularly check in with individual members.
PS: To be blunt, you have to be flexible and offer convenience if you want to attract top talent and customers. We have to remain relevant, and in the banking industry it is a challenge as the barrier to entry is lower than ever, with competitors entering the market. I heard the other day that there are more people on the planet that have a smartphone than a toothbrush, so it’s worth leaders bearing that in mind. Additionally, progressive work policies – such as shared parental leave or adoption leave – can make a significant difference in attracting and retaining talent. Now more than ever, organizations have to be passionate about supporting their people.
WC: Since the first lockdown in early 2020, we have had people desperate for advice about hybrid working and remote working management. The pandemic has exposed and magnified the shortcomings of leaders and managers who are not good at communicating. It is essential to develop your people, and you have to articulate the organizational vision so that it is relevant for the team. There is now a unique opportunity for leaders to engage with their employees, understand their needs and concerns, and better use their skills.