Thriving leadership through pandemic

Thriving leadership through pandemic

Interview with ANA BER , CONSULTANT AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, Pendl & Piswanger

Q: The pandemic crisis has brought a lot of changes   in   our   lives   and   businesses.   What has been your company’s dynamic for  the  first  half  of  2020  and  how  do  you  see  its  evolution for the near future?

A.B. As an executive search and leadership advisory firm we were impacted as many other industries by the pandemic  crisis  but,  except  the  fact  that  all  our  meetings  moved  to  virtual  platforms  the  business  was almost as usual. For us it was very easy because we   were   since   more   than   2   years   completely   paperless  company,  all  our  processes  digitalized  since   technology   has   impacted   every   aspect   of   search    especially    in    finding    top    talent    and    assessment.If  the  first  half  of  the  year  brought  a  slow  down  of  our  business,  less  projects  than  the  previous  year,  the   second   half   is   much   more   dynamic   since   companies are looking to fill in the leadership gaps within  their  organizations  and  even  new  roles  are  created to answer the needs of actual times.

Q: How complex is the job market disruption after the lockdown? What has changed?

A.B. The disruption created by the sanitary and economic crisis generated by the pandemic has led to   a   change   of   leadership   roles   within   various   sectors. However, these roles did not exist before as such     so     you     need     an     excellent     business     understanding   besides   good   tools   to   search   for   talent with a complex set of skills and competencies adapted to the actual context.For us, to be able to answer our clients’ needs, it is increasing importance of finding talents with global competencies using extensive networks. Being part of one of the top 10 executive search organizations in  the  world,  InterSearch,  helps  a  lot  to  find  the  most-suited   candidates   with   the   right   skills   by   conducting  searches  on  a  far  more  international  scale. Of course, that it generates a larger candidate pool and increases the complexity of the assessment process.  Without  early  adoption  of  more  complex  and  innovative  search  methods  we  would  not  have  been  able  to  remain  a  trusted  advisor  and  deliver  results fast.Selecting  leaders  via  Zoom  is  a  difficult  decision  therefore  the  processes  getslonger  until  reaching  a  closing.

Q: Pendl & Piswanger Group is recognized as one  of  the  most  important  HR  providers  in CEE, having large corporates as clients. What  was  their  behavior  until  now?  Is  there  any  difference from what you experience locally?

A.B. Clients are now looking to search firms as strategic advisors  who  provide  counsel  on  a  broader  basis,  including   assessing   leadership   teams,   advising   management      teams      on      their      effectiveness,      succession  planning  and  culture  shaping  as  well  as  facilitating  the  onboarding  process  which  we  do  add on to our core executive search services. Our profession  requires  much  more  agility,  creativity,  and  business  acumen  to  serve  well  its  clients  from  different   industries.   In   a   volatile,   ever-shifting   business climate accelerated by pandemic, we have to be able to foresee the future of present roles and how leaders we place will be able to adapt fast and support   their   organizations   in   thriving   in   any   market conditions. Companies  all  over  the  world,  and  we  see  more  similarities  than  differences  when  comparing  with  all   60   markets   InterSearch   has   presence,   need   leaders  who  are  not  having  only  a  growth  mindset  but also own the qualities which are critical for them to  care  for  people  and  ensure  safety  and  trust  in  business recovery where is the case.Clients  need  more  than  ever  “plug-In  and  play”  solutions which makes our work even more focused on finding those talents fitting the present but also the future needs of organizations we work with. Just checking the boxes on fit per role is not enough since long     and,     the     more     volatile     the     economic     environment  gets,  the  more  attention  to  ability  to  adapt,  learn,  unlearn  and  re-learn  of  leaders  we  place is crucial.

Q: Which  are  the  top  5  priorities  on  your  CEO    agenda    today?    How    the    new    economic  reality  will  look  for  the  HR  industry?

A.B. 2020 is an interesting year and no one knows what the future will bring. Most  CEO  we  discussed  with  through  our  global  network    recognized    the    pressure    brought    by    pandemic,  but  many  sensed  an  opportunity  ahead.  Their    priorities    start    with    transforming    and    digitalizing  their  companies  because,  we  like  to  admit it or not, every company is a tech company, no matter the sector of activity. A second priority is spotting the trend and position themselves    rather    as    trends    setters    in    their    industries  than  followers.  Many  CEOs  are  ready  to  jump in cold water and try the unknown to support the growth of their organizations despite the times we  pass  while  increasing  operational  efficiencies.  The race now is to win new customers and to keep the existing ones. Ensuring  supply  chain  channels  efficiency  was  and  still  is  a  priority  of  CEOs  because  we  noticed  that  many companies are tending to rebuild their supply chains  (mainly  towards  a  more  decentralized  and  resilient model)We  saw  in  2020  more  and  more  the  focus  of  many  CEOs   in   promoting   a   purpose   that   serves   the   societyand  most  probably  their  action  from  this  year will have a crucial impact on the results of years to come. Last, but not least, is CEO focus on security and  safety  of  their  people  as  well  as  strengthening  the impact of compassionate leadership within their organizations.  Nobody  forgets,  and  CEOs  the  least,  that business is still a people business. Retaining the best  of  talents,  keeping  a  high  level  of  engagement  despite the odd times, mobilizing teams even when all  or  part  of  them  are  remote,  all  these  CEOs  are  doing   because   they   understand   that   companies   need  people  and  teams  to  feel  belonged,  energized  and  engaged  to  be  able  to  perform  and  thrive.  The  key  to  achieve  this  is  through  explicit,  continuous,  and transparent communication.

Q: We    are    crossing    a    period    full    of    challenges   and   changes.   How   do   you   prepare for a permanent shift in working relationships? How did remote work impact your activity and how do you see this evolution?

A.B. Clearly  remote  working  is  here  to  stay.  We  see  decision taken in this direction in many companies, no  matter  their  origin  or  industry.  Even  when  the  pandemic will end many employees will continue to work from home at least partially. Of course, despite the   many   benefits   of   WFH,   there   are   different   challenges  for  employees  and  organizations  such  how  employees  will  learn  new  skills,  how  do  you  keep  your  company’s  culture  intact,  how  do  you  prevent  your  career  development  to  be  impacted  when one of the keys for growth besides performance is internal networking,  etc.. and work from home is not  a  fit  for  every  sector  of  activity.  If  on  short  and  medium  term  there  are  studies  showing  increases  in productivity and job satisfaction, on longer termon longer term (more than 9 months) these positive impact decreases dramatically and leaders need to take into consideration these aspects.
In our case, because of our previous adopting technology and moving all processes online, moving quickly to an all-remote work did not pose any challenge to us. We are moving forward – taking care of our clients and candidates, about each other and focusing on our growth strategies. I am very proud of our team for adapting so quickly and seamlessly that no one from our clients or candidates even noticed. During this period we were giving webinars on different topics, with a focus on Diversity & Inclusion which is a point of high interest for us, supporting candidates in job hunting and companies in building recovery strategies.
This will continue along with flexible work arrangements and our commitment to the health and safety of our staff and partners (clients and candidates).
To make sure our team members don’t get affected by social isolation, we increased our employee communications via email, Teams and more frequent all-hands calls. We also implemented virtual activities to help our team deal with new anxieties and stressors and to also remain connected to each other and to the business. In June, we created a return to office playbook that includes differentiated schedules, guidance and mark-outs for physical distancing, available PPE, and “new rules for new times,“ required behaviors in spaces such as kitchens, conference rooms. So, started to come back to office partially.

Q: On      the      other      hand,      there      are      opportunities  in  every  crisis.  Which  are  the   opportunities   that   this   crisis   has   popped up for the HR industry?

 A.B. One  word:  digitalization.  Pandemic  was  /  is  an  opportunity  for  HR  to  go  through  a  major  and  fast  business   transformation.   During   this   period   HR   contribution   in   their   organizations   increased   I   would say because most employees looked at HR to be shown the path ahead. From my point of view it is  a  great  opportunity  for  HR  to  consolidate  their  already won place at the decision making table and influence  how  their  organizations  will  look  in  the  future. Best time ever for HR to shine!

Q: Indeed    the    crisis    accelerated    digital    technology  usage  in  every  aspects  of  a  business, including in HR. Which do you think is the next most important step in this process?

A.B. It is well known that HR is most probably the least digitalized area of a business, and more specifically, talking about our industry, it is also well known that executive  search  has  not  historically  been  among  the    most    innovative    or    technology    centered    industries.  Those  who  were  not  still  in  2020  from  technology point of view were forced to adopt new tech  faster  than  anyone  would  have  imagined.  HR,  including us, in executive search, need to understand and   focus   on   customer   satisfaction,   positively   influencing the entire customer experience cycle, if we  really  want  to  make  a  mark.  If  not,  we  will  become irrelevant.

Q: What’s your „Focus on ...“ advice for the managers of local companies during this times    dominated    of    uncertainty,    in    terms of human resources?

A.B. Focus  on  business  sustainability  and  on  people.  Show (or learn to show) trust in future, awareness, empathy, and compassion. Believe  in  your  people  and  you  will  see  amazing  results.  I  will  end  with  one  of  my  favorite  quotes  from  Zig  Ziglar:  “  A  lot  of  people  have  gone  further  than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”

You can also consult the interview in the document below: