The lessons we learned in 2020 were undoubtedly challenging, demanding and somewhat painful. The pandemic was indiscriminate, affecting people, businesses and governments the world over. It taught us to address accelerated change and uncertainty with forethought and equanimity. It compelled us to embrace technology with necessary urgency. And it made us rethink, reframe and reimagine the future in a post-pandemic world. As we begin the New Year, we Now have the opportunity to reflect upon the one that just passed, look to the Next year armed with the lessons the pandemic imparted, and plan for recovery Beyond.
The New Normal dictated that we learn to manage our lives safely knowing that the virus will likely be with us for the foreseeable future. Leaders are called upon, more than ever, to lead their organizations with empathy and protect the well-being of their people. This is all while developing proactive measures to resume business operations and to contribute to economic recovery.
Before the government imposed the lockdown, SGV leadership had been preparing for potentially bigger disruptions, partly due to the earlier experience we had when Taal Volcano erupted. Our Business Continuity Management program included a Crisis Management Team (CMT) in place, and it was promptly activated in early March. This team comprises members from critical groups within the firm, including risk management, IT, finance, legal, support services, communications and talent. The CMT was able to project potential problems, address unforeseen ones and anticipate others, all with the goal of protecting the overall health and security of our people, their families, our clients, and all our other stakeholders. This was not an easy task, as there were no precedents to provide guidance nor best practices to speak of — the team continued to rely on evolving government directives and scientific pronouncements while confronting an unseen and unknown enemy.
NOW: LEADING WITH EMPATHY AND PROTECTING OUR PEOPLE
The beginning of the community quarantine saw everyone adjusting to what would become the New Normal, with new risks and challenges arising. This was especially true when several members of the workforce found themselves stranded, mobility severely impeded and some becoming completely unable to work. The situation necessitated that leaders be emphatic in understanding the unique challenges facing their people. Leaders needed to find ways not only to keep people motivated and engaged, but also ways to nurture their strengths and support their continuing development. Sincere empathy also builds trust among an organization’s people, and this trust in turn, builds confidence in leadership. The key is to communicate clearly, constantly and concretely for both internal and external audiences. One needs to be transparent, express understanding, and always speak with confidence.
Most importantly, the organization’s Purpose should be the overarching and guiding principle in overcoming challenges. Our own Purpose “to nurture leaders and enable businesses for a better Philippines” was like a mantra for all of us and which, I believe, continues to unify us in thought and action during this pandemic.
When our offices closed and the need for remote working became crucial, alternative work arrangements were swiftly carried out. IT and technology security policies were updated to address potential risks as well as ease the adjustment to remote working. Assistance was also provided to employees who were stranded or needed additional arrangements to continue working.
At the same time, the firm provided medical support for employees and maintained salaries and benefits. Health policies were reissued to heighten the awareness on how best to address the pandemic. Mental and emotional health programs were implemented as added support, with webinars and activities held virtually on various platforms to raise morale and foster a stronger sense of camaraderie. We had masses and monthly bible studies as well as daily bible verses to address the spiritual well-being of our people. It was very important to keep our people engaged.
The key takeaway is that organizations need to imagine and prepare for every eventuality. By anticipating possible issues and risks through scenario-planning and business continuity preparation, we became more agile and better prepared to protect our people.
NEXT: PROACTIVE MEASURES TO REOPEN BUSINESS
Understanding that life and business will need to go on during, and after, the pandemic, SGV developed proactive measures on how to safely maneuver in this new working world. Best practices from other EY member firms were consulted and adopted, and the strict compliance with SGV and government policies was enforced.
The firm mandated the regular sanitation and disinfection of all offices as well as provided masks and sanitizers to all employees. SGV also made use of daily health and work location monitoring reports for its workforce and health screening forms for guests. Reminders on how to stay safe were continuously communicated, such as when needing to leave one’s home to work or when working in other locations as potentially required by clients. As an example of one such communication, these practices were all highlighted in a complete guide called A Day in the Life of an SGVean in the New Normal which provided easy-to-understand and engaging guidance on important day-to-day health protocols.
BEYOND: DOING ONE’S PART TO CONTRIBUTE TO ECONOMIC RECOVERY
As part of SGV’s Purpose to enable businesses, the firm actively seeks ways to help companies plan for future recovery. We made it a point to help our clients build resiliency plans, and continuously provided thought leadership to both the private and public sectors. We share our knowledge regularly through webinars and virtual speaking engagements. CSR efforts continued in support of the greater community. They were coursed through the SGV Foundation, which oversaw donations to those deeply affected by the crisis, as well as calamities such as the Taal eruption and the powerful typhoons that hit the country.
In order to look forward, leaders must identify and address weaknesses in their current business models. Our previous articles encouraged C-Suites to urgently reinvent and streamline business practices in light of the pandemic, as well as to take a hard look at revenues and costs with the goal of identifying ways to make them more efficient. Leaders must also explore how technology and digital transformation can be utilized to strengthen businesses.
Furthermore, we encourage leaders to take the time to connect more with the people in their respective organizations. Embody your organization’s Purpose, and let it be the anchor that keeps everyone grounded.
Let us welcome the New Year filled with hope, optimism and faith.
This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.
Wilson P. Tan is the Country Managing Partner of SGV & Co.