Business leaders have led their organizations through multiple and often simultaneous crises over the past two years: the COVID-19 pandemic, financial shocks, a series of “century-old” weather events, social disruptions and… major labor shortages. Future-seeking leaders understand that leading a geopolitical crisis is different because of its unique nature and immediacy.
While many leaders were caught off guard by the COVID-19 pandemic, they were reasonably warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a strong possibility. Those who foresaw the rapid impact the invasion would have on people, economic volatility, supply chain, cyber, technology, reputation, and broader geopolitical considerations, especially in the context of concurrent crises .
Key business leadership lessons in the early days of the Ukraine crisis include:
1. Recognize tipping points and act decisively: There are many examples of companies supporting affected populations with essential goods and services such as food, water, internet services and electricity. By taking a long-term view, staying true to their organization’s purpose and values, and demonstrating courage, leaders have also delivered on their commitments to long-term goals while remaining focused on the risks of the ‘business. Pulling out of countries and getting rid of billions of dollars in assets may not seem conducive to long-term goals at first glance. Staying the course in the country may not seem like it either. But both strategies can reflect a longer-term, more nuanced view that recognizes tipping points while supporting values, purpose, and profit. Future-seeking leaders distinguish the values and actions of state leaders from the values of their employees, customers, and suppliers. They demonstrate that they support their people, wherever they are.
2. Focus on employee safety and well-being: While the safety and well-being of employees are often (and rightly) the first goals leaders focus on during any crisis, the actions required during a geopolitical conflict differ from other crises both by timing and type of action. For example, during the early hours of the Russian invasion, future-seeking leaders arranged for the immediate transfer of employees to safe areas, both for employee safety and business continuity. For employees unable to relocate, leaders remained in regular communication through emergency channels, providing physical and emotional support where possible. Anticipating that access to banking services would be limited due to the conflict or sanctions, they also prepaid employees in the affected areas.
3. Use elastic innovation to change decision-making processes: One of the most difficult challenges during crises is meeting immediate short-term needs at the expense of executing long-term strategies. Geopolitical disruption requires shifts in decision-making and resilient innovation processes, as well as rapid shifts in effort and investment in areas that may not have been part of original plans but respond to more immediate needs. Examples from the Ukrainian crisis have included the provision of new telecommunications, insurance and financial services in the affected areas. This approach allows organizations to manage and impact across multiple locations and time horizons, while continuing to deal with the pandemic, financial volatility, weather events, and the Great Resignation in parallel.
4. Acceleration of the supply chain and production continuity efforts: While in other crises the supply chain and production are impacted gradually, geopolitical crises threaten key processes almost immediately. To meet demand for products and supplies from Russia and Ukraine, forward-looking leaders accelerated trends already underway, such as offshoring or alternative operational strategies. To ensure the availability of raw materials, products and employees during blockades, border disputes, embargoes and military actions, they have also increased agile manufacturing and distributed sourcing, production, service and distribution practices. distribution while transitioning to remote work for employee safety and business. continuity.
5. Reinforce cybernetic and technological protection: While still on duty for computer science and technology defenses, leaders looking to the future have been quick to redouble their efforts by playing both defense and attack to protect data and infrastructure. For example, they use Advanced User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) to monitor normal user behavior, detect abnormal behavior or deviations from usual patterns, and take appropriate countermeasures. They also redistribute network resources to and from affected areas to protect local infrastructure and global network integrity.
During the Ukraine crisis, future-seeking leaders demonstrate organizational resilience, the ability to bounce back from adverse events and learn from those events, enabling them to emerge better positioned in the face of similar events. and to accelerate the recovery in the financial, operational and human terms:
· Financial: Use various risk mitigation and investment opportunities to adapt to unpredictable events and protect and sustain returns.
· Operational: Execute new ways of doing business, including emergency response planning, crisis management, workforce flexibility and technologies to operate no matter what.
· Human: Meeting the individual physical, emotional, financial and social well-being needs of employees and enabling employees and organizations to thrive under the most difficult conditions.
Leaders looking to the future literally pull all the pieces together in the fog of war, understanding that they only see part of what is happening and continually acknowledging the implications despite the need to make quick decisions before complete information is not available. They are agile and show courage when pivoting and are comfortable with ambiguity. They guide their colleagues through chaos by staying calm, listening, and acting quickly and decisively. They are learning from recent and more distant history knowing full well that this is a unique situation, that they will continue to learn and change their thinking in the weeks and months to come, and that they are well placed to have impact on future results.