The New Skills of Post COVID-19 CEOs: Virtual Work Infrastructure, Empathy, Honesty and Flexibility

Burgos, 10 de enero del 2021.- The end of the current worldwide uncertainty is unknown. A pandemic without a clear ending, more than three months with the supply and demand effects almost crippled and the CEO´s capacity to analyse markets and plan results tied to the pure improvisation and forecasts for optimistic/pesimistic scenarios. Looking at that picture I have decided to read different experts analyses about managing direction in Europe and USA and I have eventually selected to Dana Brownlee, Senior Contributor at Forbes who has listed several managerial skills which I can identify with. On the other side, I have been paying special attention to one of my professional passions, Construction and Civil engineering. At that point, Jerónimo Van Schendel, IE lecturer, has explained how the Construction companies’ evolution must be (based on a sustainable digital transformation) and he has advised also to Managers about new ways to plan.

The digital boost that the Construction Industry needs

You can see below what I have got from the Mr.Van Schendel text, about the new digital reality that the Construction Companies must face to.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, 93% of construction industry players agreed that digitization would soon affect every process, according to a Roland Berger survey for developed countries, and yet only 6% of construction companies made full use of digital planning tools. However, the pandemic has pushed all types of sectors to find ways to effectively operate online, with equal doses of opportunity and setback – and construction is no exception.  In fact, the current situation around the globe might very well be the catalyst that the industry needs to achieve progressive, yet substantial – and necessary – digitization.

Interestingly, this global how-far-can-we-go-with-online-work simulacrum that companies around the world have been experiencing due to COVID-19, leaves no option other than to rapidly bring many analog activities into the digital environment. This is particularly the case for SMEs with processes including logistics, procurement, risk management, and design, and on-site production that can work more efficiently and save money being partially or completely digital when possible. Thus, the current situation opens the possibility to transform the construction’s digitization-shy stakeholders and agents into the kind of digital advocates that could facilitate an industry revolution in the years to come.

The delay in embracing digitalization is not due solely to cultural factors. Roadblocks are inherent to the construction industry, with its disaggregated value chains, a strong physical work component and high risk embedded in its operations – making it difficult to achieve consensus, integration, and stakeholder collaboration. Hence, this kind of forced digital momentum is an opportunity for leadership across the industry to take good note of how construction business operates during the pandemic, to work within the restrictions (and opportunities) presented, and to become advocates for digitization afterwards. We are in a moment of unprecedented transversal alignment.

Digitization brought on by the urgency of the pandemic helps us to envision new ways of working, methods that protect the world and create a sustainable future – even in an industry as ancient and seemingly intractable as construction. The veracity and traceability of the information collected throughout the construction process could now be guaranteed by progressively implementing technologies such as blockchain, and coordinating an increasing number of agents in all segments of industry, from residential and commercial building to industrial construction, who have genuine interest in creating and capturing value through sustainability. They, together with technology leaders, are fundamental to demanding digitization and guiding through this important change.

An industry like construction, which represents 13% of global GDP and is accountable for roughly one-third of global CO2 emissions, has natural ties to and implications with many other activities, including logistics, mechanics, and land management. It is also omnipresent in our daily lives. Although it may be easy to overlook, construction is crucial in the shaping of our streets, parks, highways, airports, homes, and schools – as well as the quality of the air around them.

A significant part of the world has recently developed an acute awareness of sustainability in certain value chains, for example in food and retail, demanding traceability, non-invasive production, and fair trade. By investing in digitization in construction, a path towards sustainability can be viable in this industry too. Not to mention it would also be highly profitable: the impact of digitization in construction is estimated to generate around 1.6 trillion USD. Furthermore, implementation can be facilitated through the sharing, to a reasonable extent, of the tools and frameworks that have already been used in the complex production ecosystems of other industries.

In the coming years, sustainability and digitization in construction should be considered essential and must be demanded as such by both those within the industry and outside of it. If we aim to make an impact, the complexity of this challenge urges the realm to consider embedded energy reduction as a non-negotiable requirement of construction services, of the same nature as structural integrity assurance or other requirements already in place. Hopefully this momentum shows itself to be at least one positive outcome of this current and difficult crisis.

Dana Brownlee, Senior Contributor at Forbes

In the current situation, the new CEO´s managerial skills search is a coveted award for any multinational, medium or small size company around the world. Maybe, no one knows them because probably we are going to discover them day to day. Now, we will have to settle for an “intellectual” search of them, so I found the following recommendations to be carried out by any CEO in their daily activity, from Dana Brownlee, Senior Contributor at Forbes 

Candor

Honesty without ambiguity. While honesty has always been an important leadership trait, this moment requires another level of honesty – candor. Arguably, the best antidote for a workplace climate of anxiety and cynicism is candor. People respond so much better to the known (even if the news isn’t great), than the unknown (which tends to fuel more anxiety) or even worse misleading half-truths or irresponsible optimism (which can irreparably damage trust long term). 

Consistent Reliable Fact-Based Communications

During this pandemic, there hasn’t been much that I could count on consistently, but for several weeks, I developed a habit of stopping for a few minutes around noon to hear New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily, fact filled matter of fact style COVID-19 briefings. Governor Cuomo has garnered praise for these briefings where he methodically provides fact based updates then responds to a wide range of journalists’ questions with the support of his team of experts and clearly competent staff. 

Empathy

Leaders often wear many hats and certainly as workers return to the workplace, leaders will become counselor in chief in many ways. Indeed, this tragedy has touched so many in such profound ways that many workers will be essentially working while grieving. For leaders who aren’t naturally empathetic, they should surround themselves with others who can help fill that gap. Unfortunately, just a few tone deaf, insensitive responses or decisions can have tragic consequences with an organization’s understandably fragile psyche during this time.

Managing Hybrid Teams

ButcherBox’s Founder and CEO Mike Salguero insists that ButcherBox is reconsidering what their workplace will look like going forward. “We were in the process of looking for new office space, or renovating our current space, and now our conversations around that space are shifting to thinking about a flexible format – less about dedicated offices and desks and more about collaboration space, meeting and large conference spaces,” explains Salguero.Managing hybrid, non co-located teams doesn’t just require changes in facilities, but also a shift in mindset and even day to day operations. Project Management Institute President and CEO Sunil Prashara warns that virtual/hybrid teams require a different style of leadership. “If you just sit back and don’t bring your virtual teams together regularly, work streams will fall apart,” warns Prashara.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Faced with unprecedented uncertainty, leaders will need to avoid the temptation to “stick with a decision” in an attempt to appear decisive and instead be willing to regularly review new data, information and feedback and change course if necessary. While businesses may resume operations based on a logical, clearly thought through plan, if (God forbid) their building experiences an outbreak for example, they will need to be mentally poised to dramatically shift course irrespective of the formal policy they may have just rolled out or spent countless hours developing. Indeed, for these leaders any delay in changing course can have drastic consequences for the viability of their business if not the health of their staff.

Humility

Leaders unfortunately are often expected to know it all and make perfect decisions, and the obvious truth is that they’re just as human and fallible as anyone else. In these unchartered waters one of the biggest mistakes leaders can make is pretending they know more than they do or making decisions relying only on their instinct or previous experience. Whether it’s knowledge related to public health science, modeling, statistics, human resources or even legal issues, leaders will undoubtedly find themselves needing to rely on expertise that they don’t themselves have in order to make the best decisions for the broader organization. As a result, humility will be a huge asset. It takes a strong leader to respond to a difficult question with “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” or step aside from the podium and allow an expert to field most of the questions, but as this pandemic continues to unfold, that may be just what’s required.

Active Listening

As leaders return to cubicles, elevators and conference rooms filled with an undercurrent of anxiety, it may be just as important for them to listen as to lead. Indeed, this may be one of those rare situations where hierarchy matters less and mass opinion could actually dictate next steps for the organization. While leaders debate the appropriate timing to open schools and businesses, others point out that customers and parents might be the real decision makers. Similar questions loom in the business arena. Can the business reopen in the traditional sense if workers or customers don’t feel safe and simply refuse to come? The decision about reopening is just one of many that are best made when the leader has his/her ear to the ground and is well aware of staff concerns, priorities and ideas. For example, to inform their layout planning decisions, ButcherBox CEO Mike Salguero plans to survey employees to gather their feedback on the right “office/telecommute mix.” 

By the way, today I open my professional Web. I am Manuel del Val, Managing Director at GreenMowers Spain and Portugal since last February 2020. Previously Doka UK Sales Director (2016-2019), Doka Israel Sales Manager (Feb 2015 Oct.2015), Doka Israel MD (Oct.2015 Dic.2015), Doka Iberica North Spain Branch Manager (2004-2015). RMD Kwikform North Spain (2001-2004). Ericsson Site Manager (1999-2001) and SGS Quality advisor (1998-1999). I have a degree in Civil Engineering from the Alfonso X El Sabio University (2006-2008) hold a MBA from IDE-CESEM (2004-2005), BSc in Civil Engineering from UBU (Burgos University) (1993-1999), and Master in Health and Safety from Fundación Universidad Empresa (1998-1999).

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