Protecting your business and your employees

By Kate Lee

Placing Focus on the Future: An interview with Mark Cross and Randy Kates

With economies reopening, leaders need to focus on protecting their business and their employees so they can successfully accelerate through recovery and focus on the future.

Last week I sat down with Mark Cross and Randy Kates to hear their thoughts on what actions leaders need to be taking. Mark is a Senior Partner at Brimstone and a former executive at Kimberly-Clark and MeadWestvaco. Randy is a private equity executive and former Managing Director with Kimberly-Clark. Randy was the Managing Director for Kimberly-Clark’s global safety and PPE business during the SARS pandemic, the swine flu outbreak, and the Ebola outbreak.

Randy, what is different about the COVID-19 pandemic?

Randy: Unlike the events you mentioned, the COVID-19 outbreak struck the entire world with a simultaneous global blow. This, combined with the rapid spread of the disease and a lack of a coordinated global response, created supply chain disruptions and chaos in healthcare, economic, and social structures. Also, COVID-19 is invisible until it is not. Today, the world is focused on helping people change their behavior to protect their health and restart the economy.

When you look at the future of work, what do you see?  

Randy: Today’s offices and workspaces were created with the distinct purpose of bringing people together to create, debate, and engage. Creating new ways of safely doing these things until there is a vaccine, is going to be hard, but it is possible.

Also, people are worried about coming back to work. Leaders need to prioritize protecting employees while simultaneously focusing on engaging them so they can proactively participate in commerce and creativity.

Mark: I’ve conducted several focus groups with senior executives on this topic. What has come out of these groups is that the future of work will trend towards remote and that leaders need to focus on empathy, empowerment/trust, engagement, and enabling.

More than ever, leaders need to connect with their employees. They need to provide feedback, listen to their employees, and leaders need to make sure that their employees have the technology and tools, and at home setups required to be successful.

Leaders also need to shift their focus on output, not time or clicks. They need to empower and trust their employees – not install tracking software on their computers, not count every minute worked.

What are the most significant challenges leaders face right now?

Randy: Behavior shifts and customer commerce. The microbes are invisible, which makes it very hard to recognize the threat or be rewarded by the result of your actions. Educating, communicating, and modeling the desired behavior is critical to regaining the foundation of safety and trust. Customer engagement has the potential to be a welcome challenge to teams. Looking at where your customers are right now and how you can help them get to where they need to be – not with buzz words – but creating new ways of virtually engaging, listening, and creating new ways to grow together.

What about opportunity? Are there opportunities leaders should be considering?

Randy: Opportunities are emerging and will be clearer as the “curve” flattens, and we have the opportunity to “breathe” for a moment. The leadership opportunity is to ensure the way we work is clearly defined and communicated, which will both help people and businesses stay protected when a future major flare occurs.

Leaders should help people understand the facts and follow simple science. Masks slow the spread. You touch your face an average of 23 times per hour – sanitizing your hands and cleaning the surface makes a difference. Once upon a time, not so long ago, we allowed smoking in restaurants, seat belts and helmets were optional – until we followed the science that showed a human health benefit, and we made them a positive source of behavior change.

Mark: The U.S. achieved 3.5% unemployment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a level that some economists call full employment, even below the frictional unemployment threshold. That has all changed. Talented, hardworking people will now be available to help businesses prosper and grow. The organizations that find the talent, onboard them, and train them will likely have a competitive advantage.

At the same time, leaders need to look inside their organization and assess how their leaders have responded during the pandemic. The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity for leadership assessment – and development.

Finally, the world may, I repeat may, get more protectionist. Regardless, leaders are already looking at and will need to think strategically around the robustness of their supply chains. Long, complex, multi-continent supply chains may be adjusted as well as the reliance on sole-source suppliers. Onshoring may be back.

What do you think leaders need to be thinking about right now?

Mark: Leaders are going to need to exhibit more empathy, more trust, and listen more. They will need to contract with their teams how they are going to work together in both the re-opening phase as well as long-term. At Brimstone, we call this creating Ground Rules, and examples include what are core hours, and how often we will meet face to face. Most organizations will move towards more flexible work and smart, technology-enabled work.

Leaders need to focus on staying connected. They need to connect with their employees, with their direct reports, and with their teams. Virtual meetings can be effective, and they are critical. I am encouraging leaders to reduce large meeting time and to have more one on one meetings with their key people. They need to share insights and they need to listen to them.

Finally, leaders, now more than ever, need to celebrate wins and be very clear as to what success looks like.

Randy: Tackling uncertainty. Leaders need to be very clear on expectations of what a safe reopening looks like and need to create confidence through transparent communication and modeling the new desired behaviors. People seeing their leaders practicing great hygiene – wearing a mask, sanitizing hands, and disinfecting surfaces, will go further to motivating the desired new behavior than just about anything else these leaders can do in the short term.


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