When non-essential stores reopen their doors from Monday, almost three months will have passed since the UK went into lockdown.
Bosses whose businesses have been forcibly hibernating will have spent much of the time figuring out how they are going to lead their organisation through the challenges that lie ahead.
As someone whose job is to place the right people in the right role I’ve similarly been thinking about the skills that will be in demand under this ‘new normal’.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, those retail leaders looking to rebuild piece-by-piece the business they had before won’t last the course. Not only has retailing changed in a very concrete way via social distancing and strict hygiene measures, changes that were already in motion before the pandemic struck – such as digital-first and channel-neutrality – have been accelerated.
Now is not the time for conservatism. Bosses will need to embrace disruption and think big. They must be prepared to look beyond the nuts and bolts of retail (though still important) to the wider role they play in people’s lives and the communities they serve. And they should be prepared to collaborate with other sector and industry leaders to create a broad vision for a sustainable economy.
Leaders will need to challenge themselves and their teams. CEOs should be asking themselves whether they are the right person to lead the business forwards. They should then ask the same question of every person sat around the boardroom table.
In a period of great uncertainty, future leaders will need to embrace a lack of control. Mistakes are inevitable. Those who dither for fear of getting things wrong will eventually be overtaken by those who learn from their mistakes and put them right.
Opposite views should be welcomed. Now is the worst time possible to surround yourself with ‘yes’ people.
Agility, flexibility and a sense of purpose will be key moving forwards. Leaders must set a clear strategy and trust and empower colleagues to find the right tactics to deliver it.
Leaders will need to show empathy with their staff. Frontline workers will suffer anxieties about being exposed to the virus. Senior executives should be visible and prepared to lead from the front, putting in shifts on the shop floor or warehouse to show staff they really are ‘all in this together’. Non-frontline staff will need support adapting to more remote ways of working.
Businesses will need to show empathy too with their customers. Listening to and acting on feedback will be more critical than ever at such a sensitive time.
Leadership matters in the best of times but it becomes doubly important in the worst of them.
Not every leader will adapt to the new landscape. Those that adopt a future mindset will give themselves and their business the best chance of success.